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February 15, 2024 12 min read

The debate over the necessity and efficacy of training to failure for optimal muscle strength has long been a topic of interest among fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and researchers alike. In this article, we'll look at what training to failure means, and explore why it is such a debated topic.

What is Meant by Training to Failure?

Training to failure is a weightlifting or resistance exercise technique to gain maximum muscle mass by performing repetitions of an exercise until you can no longer complete another repetition with proper form. In other words, you continue lifting until your muscles are so fatigued that they fail to lift the weight any further.

Advocates of training to failure claim that it ensures maximal muscle fiber recruitment and fatigue, which can lead to greater muscle growth and strength gains. By pushing your muscles to their limits, you stimulate greater adaptations in terms of muscle hypertrophy and strength.

However, opponents argue that training to failure on every set can lead to increased risk of injury, overtraining, and burnout. It can also impede recovery between workouts, potentially limiting overall progress.

With that said, multiple studies suggest that training to failure is not necessary for hypertrophy nor strength gains, claiming research results indicate similar results for those who leave a few reps or even just that last rep in the tank.

When training to failure, individuals typically engage in exercises that target specific muscle groups and aim to exhaust those muscles until they can no longer perform another repetition with proper form.

Some common types of exercises done when training to failure include:

1. Weight Training Exercises:

weight training exercise

— Squats

— Bench presses

— Deadlifts

— Bicep curls

— Tricep extensions

— Shoulder presses

2. Bodyweight Exercises:

Bodyweight Exercises

— Push-ups

— Pull-ups

— Dips

— Lunges

— Bodyweight squats

3. Isolation Exercises:

Isolation exercise

— Leg extensions

— Leg curls

— Calf raises

— Dumbbell flyes

— Lateral raises

— Concentration curls

4. Compound Exercises:

Compound Exercise

These are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

— Clean and press

— Bent-over rows

— Overhead press

— Squat presses

— Deadlift variations

When performing these exercises to failure, it's crucial to maintain proper form to minimize the risk of injury. Additionally, it's essential to listen to your body and avoid overtraining, as training to failure frequently can lead to excessive fatigue and potentially hinder progress.

Types of Failure That Can Occur When Training to Failure

Muscular Failure

When you train to failure, failure can manifest in various forms, reflecting different physiological and performance limitations. Here are the types of failure that can occur during training:

1. Muscular Failure

This is the most common type of repetition failure experienced during resistance training. Muscle failure occurs when the targeted skeletal muscles are unable to generate enough force to complete another repetition with proper form. It indicates fatigue and depletion of the muscle's energy stores, such as glycogen, and an inability to contract effectively.

2. Tempo or Cadence Failure

Tempo failure during training refers to the inability to maintain the desired tempo or speed of movement used for the initial few reps during resistance training exercises. When training to failure to enhance muscular strength, losing tempo can lead to compromised form, and ultimately, serious injuries.

3. Technical Failure

Technical failure occurs when you can no longer maintain proper exercise technique or good form, even if you still have some strength remaining in the muscles. It often precedes muscular failure and serves as a protective mechanism to prevent injury by signaling that the muscles are reaching their limits of fatigue and coordination.

4. Central Nervous System (CNS) Failure

CNS failure occurs when the central nervous system becomes unable to adequately recruit and activate the muscles to generate force. It can lead to secondary effects on the neuromuscular system, such as muscle weakness or paralysis, and loss of coordination due to the disruption of nerve signals from the brain to the muscles.

Rather than a specific muscle group reaching failure. CNS failure can limit performance and may contribute to decreased exercise performance and coordination.

5. Metabolic Failure

Metabolic failure refers to the point at which the body's energy systems, such as ATP-PCr (phosphocreatine), glycolytic, and oxidative pathways, are unable to meet the energy demands required for continued muscle contraction. It results in a buildup of metabolic byproducts, such as lactate and hydrogen ions, leading to muscle fatigue, discomfort, and the sensation of “burning” during exercise.

6. Cardiovascular Failure

In some cases, particularly during high-intensity or endurance-based exercises, cardiovascular failure can occur. This type of failure is characterized by an inability of the cardiovascular system to adequately supply oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles or to remove metabolic waste products efficiently. It can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and an elevated heart rate.

Understanding the different types of failure can help athletes and fitness enthusiasts better gauge their performance, manage training intensity, and prevent injury during resistance training and other forms of exercise, especially when training to failure.

Is Training to Failure Necessary? — What Does Research Suggest?

Muscle Hypertrophy & Training to Failure

Studies comparing training to failure with training leaving some reps in reserve (RIR) have produced varied results, and the optimal approach may depend on factors such as individual goals, training experience, and specific exercise protocols. Here's an overview of some key findings:

Muscle Hypertrophy

— Some studies suggest that training to failure may result in greater muscle hypertrophy compared to stopping short of failure. This is often attributed to the higher levels of muscle activation and metabolic stress associated with training to failure.

— However, other research strongly suggests that similar hypertrophic gains can be achieved with both training to failure and stopping short of failure, particularly when you do the same number of reps at the same intensity.

— Overall, the importance of training to failure for maximizing muscle hypertrophy remains a topic of debate, and individual variability may play a significant role in determining the optimal approach.

Strength Gains

— Research comparing strength gains between training to failure and stopping short of failure has produced mixed results. Some studies have shown greater strength improvements with training to failure, while others have found no significant differences between conditions.

— Factors such as training volume, intensity, exercise selection, and participant characteristics may influence the strength outcomes associated with each approach.

Recovery and Fatigue

— Training to failure typically induces greater levels of muscular fatigue and central nervous system stress compared to stopping short of failure. This can result in longer recovery times between workouts and an increased risk of overtraining or injury. This applies particularly when training frequency is high or when training multiple muscle groups in a single session.

— Leaving some reps in reserve allows for greater overall training volume while minimizing the cumulative fatigue experienced during a workout or training cycle. This may promote better recovery and adherence to the training program over time.

Performance and Technique

— Training to failure may lead to greater degradation in exercise technique and performance as fatigue accumulates, increasing the risk of injury.

— Stopping short of failure allows for better maintenance of proper form throughout the set, reducing the likelihood of form breakdown and injury.

Individual Variability

— Individual responses to training to failure versus stopping short of failure can vary widely.

— Some individuals may respond better to one approach over the other based on factors such as genetics, training experience and fitness level, recovery capacity, and personal preferences.

Numerous studies into training to failure vs. keeping reps in reserve have been published across the world e.g., Spain (2006), Scandinavia (2016), Australia (2016), and Brazil (2018). Some are for training to failure, some against, and some inconclusive

However, an international team of researchers carried out statistical analysis taking into account the results of several of the most recent studies on the subject.

The main results of this systematic review show that there is no significant difference in strength gains, nor hypertrophy, between training to failure and conventional training.

Pros and Cons of Training to Failure

The practice of intentionally achieving failure during resistance exercise sets is prevalent in both recreational and sports conditioning settings. Despite the limited number of studies that have directly compared failure versus nonfailure training approaches, the benefits of training to failure are strongly backed by anecdotal evidence among bodybuilders and powerlifters.

Training to failure, like any training method, has its own set of pros and cons. Let's break them down:


1. Maximal Muscle Fiber Recruitment: Training to failure ensures that you're recruiting as many muscle fibers as possible during a set, which can lead to greater muscle growth and strength gains.

2. Potential for Increased Hypertrophy: Pushing muscles to failure can create greater metabolic stress and muscle damage, which are both factors that contribute to muscle growth (hypertrophy).

3. Psychological Benefit: Some individuals find training to failure mentally satisfying, as it allows them to push themselves to their limits and feel a sense of accomplishment.

4. Breaking Plateaus: For experienced lifters who have hit a plateau in their progress, incorporating occasional sets to failure can help break through stagnation and stimulate further adaptation.


1. Increased Risk of Injury: Training to failure increases the likelihood of technique and form breakdown as fatigue sets in, which can lead to injury, especially if proper technique is not maintained.

2. Greater Fatigue and Recovery Requirements: Working to failure places significant stress on the muscles and the central nervous system, requiring longer recovery times between workouts and potentially leading to overtraining if not managed properly.

3. Diminished Performance on Subsequent Sets: Should you train to failure on one set, it may compromise your ability to perform subsequent sets with proper form and intensity, potentially limiting overall workout volume and effectiveness.

4. Not Suitable for Beginners: Beginners may lack the experience and body awareness necessary to safely push themselves to failure without risking injury. Beginners need to focus on building a strong foundation of proper form and gradually increasing intensity over time.

5. Potential for Burnout: Constantly pushing to failure can lead to mental and physical burnout, diminishing motivation and enjoyment of exercise over time.

Ultimately, whether training to failure is appropriate for you depends on factors such as your training experience, goals, and individual response to the method.


When is it Okay to Train to Failure?

Failure training can be okay in certain situations and for certain individuals, but it's essential to approach it thoughtfully and strategically. Here are some scenarios where training to failure might be appropriate:

  1. Plateau Breaking: If you've hit a plateau in your strength training progress and traditional training methods haven't been effective, incorporating occasional sets to failure can help shock the muscles and stimulate further adaptation. Explore scientific ways to help you blast through plateaus.

  2. Advanced Lifters: Experienced weight lifters who have developed a strong foundation of strength, technique, and body awareness may safely incorporate training to failure into their routines, as they're more likely to maintain proper form and manage fatigue effectively.

  3. Hypertrophy Emphasis: For individuals primarily focused on muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), training to failure can be a useful tool to maximize metabolic stress and muscle damage, both of which contribute to hypertrophy.

  4. Specific Training Goals: If your goal is to increase muscular endurance or to improve your mental toughness and resilience, training to failure occasionally can be beneficial.

  5. Isolation Exercises: Training to failure may be more suitable for isolation exercises (exercises that target a single muscle group) than compound exercises, as the risk of injury is generally lower with isolation movements.

  6. Periodization: Incorporating training to failure strategically within a periodized training program, where intensity varies over time, can help minimize the risk of overtraining and optimize results.

However, even in these scenarios, it's crucial to exercise caution and moderation.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

— Limit training to failure to specific sets or exercises within a workout, rather than every set.

— Prioritize proper form and technique at all times to minimize the risk of injury.

— Pay attention to your body's signals and adjust your training intensity accordingly. If you're consistently feeling overly fatigued or experiencing persistent soreness, dial back on the intensity.

— Ensure adequate rest and recovery between workouts to allow your muscles and central nervous system to recover fully.

Ultimately, whether you should train to failure depends on your individual goals and overall training program. It's always a good idea to consult a qualified fitness professional or personal trainer to determine the best approach for you.

The Effects of Training to Failure on Hormone Production

Hormone production and training to failure

Training to failure can have various effects on hormone levels, particularly those associated with muscle growth, repair, and adaptation. Here's how training to failure influences hormone levels:

1. Testosterone

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone that plays a key role in promoting muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. Intense resistance exercise, including training to failure, can transiently increase testosterone levels immediately following the workout. This acute elevation in testosterone may contribute to the muscle repair and growth process.

2. Growth Hormone (GH)

Growth hormone is another anabolic hormone that stimulates protein synthesis and muscle growth. Like testosterone, GH levels can rise acutely in response to intense resistance exercise, including training to failure. However, the magnitude of the increase may be influenced by factors such as exercise intensity, volume, and individual characteristics.

3. Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1)

IGF-1 is a hormone with anabolic properties that is closely associated with muscle growth and repair. Intense resistance exercise, such as training to failure, can stimulate the release of IGF-1, which plays a role in mediating the hypertrophic response to exercise.

4. Cortisol

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that is released in response to stress, including intense exercise. While cortisol has important functions in metabolism and stress adaptation, chronically elevated levels can have detrimental effects on muscle tissue.

Some studies have suggested that training to failure may lead to increases in cortisol levels, particularly during prolonged or high-volume workouts. However, the significance of these transient increases in cortisol to muscle growth and adaptation is still debated.

5. Other Hormones

Other hormones, such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine), may also be affected by training to failure. These hormones are involved in the body's acute stress response and can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and energy mobilization during intense exercise.

It's important to note that the hormonal response to training to failure is complex and can be influenced by various factors, including individual characteristics, training status, exercise protocol, and nutritional status.

Additionally, the acute changes in hormone levels observed immediately following exercise may not necessarily translate to long-term changes in muscle growth or performance. Overall, while hormonal responses to training to failure may play a role in muscle adaptation, they are just one of many factors involved, and their significance should be considered within the context of a comprehensive training program.

Recovery After Training to Failure

Recovering after training to failure is crucial for optimizing muscle growth, preventing injury, and maintaining overall health and performance.

The body needs between 24 and 48 hours to recover from the intensity of training to failure.

Here are some notes for ensuring sufficient recovery:

Sufficient Nutrition

1. Nutrition

Consuming an adequate amount of protein and carbohydrates post-workout is essential for muscle repair and glycogen replenishment. Aim to consume a balanced meal or snack containing protein and carbs within 30–60 minutes after your workout.

2. Hydration

Replenish fluids lost during exercise by drinking water before, during, and after your workout. Proper hydration is vital for supporting muscle function and recovery.

3. Rest

Ensure you get enough sleep, as this is when the body repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue. Aim for 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night to support recovery.

The body produces testosterone and growth hormones during sleep, particularly during the deeper stages of sleep, such as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These hormones are crucial for various physiological processes, including muscle growth, muscle repair, metabolism, bone density, energy levels, and overall health.

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4. Active Recovery

Engage in light physical activity or low-intensity exercise on rest days to promote blood flow, reduce muscle stiffness, and enhance recovery. Activities like walking, swimming, or yoga can be beneficial.

5. Foam Rolling and Stretching

Incorporate foam rolling and stretching into your post-workout routine to alleviate muscle tightness and improve flexibility. Focus on the muscles worked during your training session.

6. Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to signs of overtraining, such as persistent fatigue, decreased performance, and increased soreness. If you're feeling overly fatigued or experiencing excessive muscle soreness, consider taking an extra rest day or reducing training intensity.

7. Periodization

Implement a structured training program that includes periods of higher and lower intensity to prevent overtraining and promote recovery. Periodization allows for strategic variation in training volume and intensity to optimize results while minimizing the risk of burnout and injury.

8. Massage or Bodywork

Consider incorporating massage therapy or other forms of bodywork into your recovery routine like cryotherapy to reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and accelerate recovery.

9. Supplementation

Supplementation & Training to Failure

Certain supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine, and multivitamins may support recovery and reduce muscle soreness when used in conjunction with a balanced diet and proper hydration.

Moreover, consuming enough protein to support hypertrophy and allow adequate recovery is not easily attained.

However, supplementing protein intake with high-quality protein powder is a low-calorie and convenient way to ensure your body gets the protein it needs for optimal recovery after training to failure.

10. Consistency

Consistently prioritize recovery practices and listen to your body's needs to ensure long-term progress and sustainability in your training program.

By implementing these recovery strategies, you can support your body's ability to adapt to training stress, recover effectively, and maximize the benefits of training to failure while minimizing the risk of injury or overtraining while building muscle.


In conclusion, the question of whether training to failure is necessary for muscle building lacks a definitive answer and is ultimately dependent on individual goals, preferences, and circumstances. While training to failure can be a valuable tool for some individuals seeking maximal muscle growth and strength gains, it may not be suitable or sustainable for everyone.

Balancing the potential benefits of training to failure with the risks of injury, overtraining, and burnout requires careful consideration and a personalized approach to training.

Alternative strategies, such as leaving some reps in reserve, periodizing training intensity, and focusing on progressive overload, can also yield significant improvements in muscle size, strength, and performance while minimizing the potential drawbacks associated with training to failure.

Ultimately, the key lies in finding a training and nutrition approach that aligns with one's goals, abilities, and preferences, and that allows for consistent progress and long-term adherence to a balanced and sustainable fitness regimen.