Should you workout to failure every set? How to train till failure and its benefits

The average lifter should not train till absolute failure every set simply because they don’t have to, to see the desired results of muscle and strength gain. 


Also, you should not train till failure every set to avoid injury. Training till failure every set increases your needed time to recover without necessarily increasing your amount of gain. 


For some experienced athletes training till failure is a must to maintain the proper intensity and stimulus to maintain and grow muscle.   

Everyone wants to make progress and everyone wants to make that same progress faster. Many want to learn how to make progress in the form of muscle gain or strength quicker.


Many of these people will look to supplements and some even sadly to steroids. Many others will look to different training programs and different ways of training.


 Many more still will look for different things with different caveats and nutritional advice.


Many people, such as myself will spend many many hundreds of hours of research studying and learning different things about Fitness Nutrition, and muscle gain.


I myself spent many hundreds of hours looking into the minutiae of exercise science simply because I love it and I find it very fascinating. One such topic that I found very fascinating is the topic of training till failure.


There are many people who say that training till failure is not the optimal way to train while still many others will claim that training to failure is the only way that you should train.


This topic will oftentimes divide the fitness community into two camps. The science-based lifters and the “ego lifters.” Science base lifters will often say that everything should be taken into account with as much detail as possible. While the ego lifters (not necessarily a derogative term in this case)  will say to simplify working out to its minimum while excelling. To simplify the process and maximize the outcome. 


One of these such ways is via the argument of working out till failure.


Many of you who are looking for a way to train better and gain more muscle eventually will come across the idea of training till failure. The real question at hand is should you train till failure and more specifically should you train to failure every set?





What are the benefits of training till failure?

There are certainly without a doubt benefits to training till failure. But, the real question is, are these benefits worth the negative side of training till failure? These negatives are a more difficult training style and a more intense and grueling workout regimen.


I and many others would say that yes, training until failure is worth it and has its benefits. These benefits I will lay out as follows.

1. Muscle Gain

As mentioned briefly above the primary benefit of training till failure is in the aspect of muscle gain. Individuals whose primary goal is the attaining and gaining of muscle will benefit the most from training till failure.


Working out can be broken down into a few very simple ideas with a few key things to keep in mind. When working out you should remember to maintain proper intensity,  volume, and recovery.


If you maximize these three things above then you will maximize your muscle growth potential.


All three of these things go hand in hand but, to maximize the amount that you can recover for example then you have to understand and keep the balance between recovery and training intensity.


If someone trains too much they are not able to recover quick enough to be ready and prepared for the next workout then they will not maximize their muscle growth potential.


All this being said, the thing you have to keep in mind when training till failure is not overworking yourself.


Many individuals who train till failure will fall into one of two camps. The person who trains to a failure every single set and barely counts the reps or the individual who trains till failure once every set of every workout. or more sparingly.


It is not specifically needed to train till failure every set of a workout particularly because this can lead to overtraining and a lack of recovery. However, you do benefit from training till failure you just have to make sure that you aren’t doing it too much.


To gain muscle the best as mentioned above you need to make sure that your intensity is maximized in accordance with your recovery and workout volume. You can do this by way of a few things.


You can maximize your intensity by as in today’s example working out till failure or as a different example using heavier weight with higher reps.


Or another example of using higher intensity is by training with very strict form and maintaining the other aspects as mentioned.


For most, it is best to train till failure a few sets of every exercise.


If a person was to train till failure in two out of four sets on bench press for example then that is probably the best approach for the average lifter. 


So, the biggest reason to train till failure (not all the time)  is to maximize your muscle gain.

2. The reward of training till failure

One smaller benefit of training till failure that many individuals don’t think about or don’t consider would be the aspect of its rewarding nature. 


Working out can oftentimes feel like a laborious task but, whenever you can reach your goals and celebrate in that moment then it makes it much easier and much more rewarding.


In the same way, if last week you did let’s say 10 reps on the bench press with a said weight. However this week you went further. Instead of doing 10 reps, you did 15 reps. 


Many individuals focus too much on the goal or the final outcome of working out. What many individuals however do not think about is the daily process.


It is easy to get caught up in the grind of working out particularly whenever you only focus on the end goal. Due to the nature of working out, it’ll be a long time before you reach your goal. Instead, individuals should try to focus more on their daily achievements. Seeing every workout and every set as a success and its own victory. 


What do we mean when we say training till failure?

After all this talk of training till failure I’m sure many of you might be wondering, what is training to a failure in the first place?


Well, it becomes abundantly clear whenever you have trained till failure on some lifts or exercises. These examples would include things such as bench press or squat.


Whenever you do these given exercises up until the very last moment in which you can give no more effort and the bar won’t move you know you’ve given your all.


An example of this would be doing 10 reps of 135 lbs on the bench press and then whenever the barbell touches your sternum you are unable to lift it back up no matter how hard you push. 

By doing this you know that you’ve given your all and that you’ve really pushed hard. This training in a set can be easily called training till failure.


So, there’s no need to overcomplicate the process of training till failure or at least in terms of some exercises such as these whenever it is abundantly clear that you can give no more.


However, some exercises are not quite so clear as to whenever you have gone to failure. One such exercise would be that of bicep curls.


Using this example we should keep in mind that training until failure will be slightly different from the example with bench press being that the line of failure is not quite so clear.


The most simple and easy way to determine reaching complete failure in terms of this type of exercise would be considering the form and its deterioration throughout the set. 


To use a similar example, you can do five clean repetitions with a bicep curl but then on the 11th, you start to reduce the range of motion to get another rep then on the 12th a little bit more, and so on. I would argue and so would many others that you have not reached complete failure on these exercises until you pushed slightly past form deterioration.


This type of working out makes sure that you maintain extreme intensity that will help with building muscle.


So, to define this otherwise vague phrase: 

Training till failure should be considered achieved whenever a person can no longer perform a rep with at least 50% capacity of a repetition’s perfect form.


This being as an example earlier, if instead of lifting the weight in the bicep curl down and all the way up you were only able to lift it half the way up. Using this definition at this point you have achieved failure and by now your muscles are definitely burning. Good job!

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