Is it Safe to Train to Failure?

You may have heard fellow gym goers talking about “training to failure” and wondered what this meant. You may have thought, like many others, “is it safe to train to failure?”. This article will look at how safe it is to train to failure.

Firstly, lets define what is meant by training to failure. Training to failure means that you cannot perform 1 further rep. It wouldn’t matter if you were offered a £1m – it just wouldn’t be possible. However, this can be a very effective method for experienced athletes to train through a particular plateau.

Training to Failure

So, lets take a look at training to failure in a little more detail. This may also be known as concentric failure (opposite of eccentric). At this point, it would be good to point out that this intentional failure is different to a failed rep. A failed rep is where you are planning for a particular training set, for example – 10 repetitions – but unintentionally fail before getting to the end of the set. An example of training to failure would be 3 x 10 repetitions of bicep curl, with an additional set of failure. Here, the athlete would perform repetitions until they are unable to perform another repetition.

Training to failure is best used for single joint movements – such as bicep curl, rows, tricep extension and shouldn’t be used for compound movements such as snatch or squat. This is because there is a significant increase to the health and safety risks of these lifts for failure.

Training Age

Training to failure is a method that should be reserved for experiences lifters, who have been training for a number of years. One of the main reasons for this is that when athletes start training, consistency is key. Therefore, the additional soreness that may be experienced from training in this way may hinder this.

An alternative, for those starting out with resistance training, should be training for a particular fatigue level. The “Reps in Reserve” model allows lifters to work towards a number of repetitions that are ‘left in the tank’. An example of this would be RIR2, this would be that that there are 2 reps left in reserve.

In addition to this, experienced athletes should wait for off-season or training towards a particular goal when training to failure. This method is often seen with bodybuilders and powerlifters.

What are the Risks with Training to Failure?

According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “… training to failure should not be performed repeatedly over long periods, due to the high potential for […] injuries.”

In addition to this, there is the potential for a decrease in quality of form and technique. For example, as the athlete starts to fatigue in a bicep curl the back may start to arch and the concentric movement becomes uncontrolled. Further, there is the additional risk of dropping a particular weight which may cause broken bones.

When training to failure, there may be excessive breakdown of muscle fibres which can cause a release of myoglobin, resulting in potential kidney damage (rhabdo).

So, why train to failure?

A study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that training to failure, as a planned periodic schedule, can be lifters break through plateaus.

The study also discusses the increased of HGH and testosterone when training to failure. This is because the body secretes more of these hormones as there is more damage to the muscle. Further to this, a study by the Journal of Applied Physiology found that training to failure can also increase the size of the muscle (hypertrophy).

How can I Train to Failure?

If you have trained for a number of years, with good form and a solid strength base and want to take your training to the next level, one of the best ways is to work with a find a coach. Luckily, this is a service we offer.

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