Are you working to failure in every approach? Or never get to it? Learn how to optimize the final set for maximum results and minimum risk.
Question: Is it necessary to train to failure for muscle development? And if not necessary, then at least expedient?
The eternal question of gyms, and one of the hot topics of modern experiments. Before you ask this question to the coolest guy in the gym (he will answer you “yes, of course!”), Let’s look at the pros and cons.
To begin with, you can gain solid muscle mass without training to failure, you can be sure of that. This is proved by an experiment in which college students were randomly divided into 2 groups. The guys did 4 sets of biceps curls, in the first group – to failure, in the second – without failure, with a margin of 1 or 2 repetitions. The weight was at 85% of the one-repetition maximum ( 1RM ), that is, with a refusal, the guys did about 6 reps, in the second group – about 4. In 12 weeks, all participants in the experiment achieved a significant – and the same – increase in biceps volume.
The results of the experiment are supported by data from a recent study in which participants did 3 sets of leg extension in the machine with 80% and 30% of 1RM. The growth of the quads was the same, regardless of whether they brought the set to failure or left fuel in the tanks for a couple more reps.
Note: The participants in these experiments were newcomers to strength training.
What about experienced athletes?
Some say strength training veterans should do their best to fully stimulate the full spectrum of muscle fibers. While there are almost no serious controlled studies on this topic and no definitive verdict can be reached, there are a few things that can be said with a great deal of certainty. At the very least, training to failure ensures that your muscles are progressively overloaded and continually adapting.
But then the next question arises: “If you train to failure in each approach, won’t it be harmful?” Answer: very likely.
First, training to failure usually reduces the amount of stress you can do in a given training session. Since the volume of load is the main driver of muscle hypertrophy, its decrease can negatively affect the generation of growth stimuli.
Moreover, constant training to failure can lead to a kind of overtraining, which will generally put an end to muscle growth. And here, before you start screaming that overtraining syndrome is a myth, let me be clear.
Research in my lab has shown no symptoms of overtraining in young athletes. For a relatively short period of time (4-6 weeks), everything was fine, even when the participants performed several heavy sets of basic exercises in each workout. Still, there is evidence that several months of strength training to failure can lead to negative changes in anabolic hormone levels. This indicates a state of overtraining – or at least a negative effect of such a regimen on muscle growth.
How to use disclaimer profitably
Given the acute shortage of scientific papers on the topic under discussion, we have to draw our own conclusions about training to failure. Here are my thoughts.
Properly planned and selective training to failure can help you maximize your muscle potential. My recommended approach is to keep one or two reps on the first sets of the exercise, and then work to failure on the last set. Dorian Yates, and others, have used this strategy with great success.
However, it is necessary to take into account the specifics of the exercise. Multi-joint movements, especially those performed with free weights, expose the nervous and muscular system to a much greater load than single-joint exercises. You should be careful with the approaches to failure to exercise such as squats, bench press and deadlift. Use rejection relatively rarely in these exercises.
Conversely, you can use refusal more actively when performing single-joint movements. Because they do not drain the muscles and central nervous system as much, all-the-money approaches will not significantly reduce training volume. Doing machine biceps curls or overhead block extensions? Train to failure. Next in line is the deadlift or the bench press? Perhaps not worth it.
Failure training can be used with less caution when it comes to short periods of time. A four-week mesocycle, in which most of the sets are brought to failure, can be used as a “shock phase” to achieve supercompensation and reach a new level of physical development. But it is definitely not worth applying such a strategy for several months, since it will cease to be effective. Correct periodization of the training process will provide that balance of stimulation and recovery, which will give stable results in the long term.