Today, I want to discuss a popular style of training otherwise known as training until failure. Specifically, I want to go over what it is, its function, the benefits vs risks, the science behind it and how it has helped me improve both my physique and strength.
What is training until failure?
According to Wikipedia, “In weight training, training to failure is repeating an exercise (such as the bench press) to the point of momentary muscular failure, i.e. the point where the neuromuscular system can no longer produce adequate force to overcome a specific workload.”
How is training until failure useful for hypertrophy (muscle gain/fat loss)?
The thinking behind training until failure is that pushing our bodies to break as many muscle cells during training is going to lead to more muscle growth. Training until failure looks like pushing every set until the body is fatigued by leaving no reps in the tank. It is training at one’s highest intensity to ensure total muscle damage by virtue of increased mechanical tension throughout our sets.
What are the benefits of training until failure?
Training until failure is useful for increasing training stimulus and recruiting more motor units.
“But as you do more reps, these 50% of fibres start to fatigue, and so your body recruits other motor units to help out. If you do reps to failure, you will train the highest possible number of muscle fibres. The more you train, the more your body will adapt to create long term improvements in strength, stamina, and hypertrophy.”
You essentially use more muscle fibers than you otherwise would training at a lower intensity. By training until failure, training intensity is also increased, this is useful for both hypertrophy and strength. Training until failure can also be useful as we tend to underestimate the amount of repetitions that we can perform in a given set. It therefore can push us out of our routine into developing more strength and muscle gains. Furthermore, it can help increase our muscular endurance.
Check out this post for a more comprehensive breakdown of the benefits of training until failure.
What are the risks of training until failure?
One argument against this method of training is that it results in more systemic fatigue and could potentially increase one’s susceptibility towards future injury.
What is the science behind muscle growth, how can training until failure accelerate this process?
“Muscle growth is primarily determined by mechanical loading on individual muscle fibers. Once stimulated by this mechanical loading, the individual muscle fibers then adapt, and increase in diameter (Beardsley, 2017).”
Muscle grows by being activated and trained using slow contractions. “It needs to contract at a speed that is slow enough to allow sufficient actin-myosin bindings to form simultaneously, and thereby produce a high level of mechanical loading on the individual muscle fiber. Fast fiber contraction velocities do not allow this to occur, because the higher contraction speed causes actin-myosin bindings to detach too quickly, and this keeps the mechanical loading on the individual muscle fiber low. (Beardsley,2017).
How does this apply to lifting heavy?
“When lifting a heavy weight, the muscle fibers can only contract slowly, because of the force-velocity relationship. Therefore, the fibers that are activated are also subjected to a high level of mechanical loading (Beardsley, 2017).
Lifting heavy thereby gives the body a favorable chance to grow. Compare this to lifting lighter weights where maximal motor unit recruitment is not achieved (Beardsley, 2017). It does not create the necessary amount of stimulus for the muscle to grow (Beardsley, 2017).
We can also see how training until failure can activate more muscle cells at a slow contraction with the advantage being more muscle cells being active during our sets.
How did training until failure improve my physique/strength?
I have been training with a weight-lifting coach for the last three months. My squat has gone from the 60-70kg range to 85kg-90kg for 1 rep. Check out my tips on how to improve your squat here. My coach has also pushed me using this technique and this has made me stronger, more muscular and confident with my training.
Check out my training videos below:
I hope that you enjoyed this post on training until failure, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments section below!