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Should You Train To Failure?


A very common approach to weight loss is to throw as much energy as possible into the training aspect of the process. However this is a big mistake because no matter how much extra exercise you do, if you consume more calories than you expend you’re not going to lose any weight.

The best way to describe this is to imagine how much tough it is to burn 500 calories on a treadmill, for you to head home from the gym and eat a couple of cookies to completely wipe out any energy expenditure you created.

Remember; it’s 10x easier and more efficient to eat some courgette spaghetti than commit an hours spin class. So use training for it’s best purpose; build or retain muscle mass and to help keep your body and organs healthy. Let the diet take care of fat loss.

So now that we have the bigger picture established it’s time to look at training specifics with the notion of training until failure.

This is when you reach either mechanical, or muscular failure on a resistance exercise.

Essentially repping until you can’t rep any more.

Should you do this?

It depends.

You might be thinking that training to failure you will work the muscle more, which is actually true.

But as we touched on in our intro, you need to consider the bigger picture when looking at training.

Let’s take two scenarios.

Scenario 1) you decide to train to failure on the dumbbell bench press. You have 3 sets of 8 reps to conquer.

Set 1 you manage to get 8 reps even though it was a total grind.

Because you are now wiped, set 2 comes around and you only manage to get 5 reps, and then in set 3 you only manage 4, for a grand total of 16 reps for this exercise.

Scenario 2) you do the exact same exercise and rep/set scheme. Only this time you decide to leave one rep in the tank after set and not train to muscular failure.

You get 7 reps on the first set which is one less than the trainer in scenario 1. However in set 2 you manage to get another 7 reps, and then 6 in set 3, for a grand total of 20 reps.

Now look at this over the course of a training week. You could be losing a lot of total reps because you chose to push it a little too hard.

So you can see this something you need to be aware of in your own training. Are you consistently pushing too much and possible losing out over the course of your training block?

However this doesn’t mean you should never go to failure.

When can you train to failure?

In the above example, we took a typical compound movement which utilises a lot of different muscles and takes some skill to perform.

However isolation exercises (dumbbell curls, leg extension machines, lateral raises) are a lot less taxing on your central nervous system and can performed to a higher degree of failure without risking too much fatigue or chance of injury.

Compare this to a more complex move like the squat. Very taxing and it yields a much greater chance of injury if you consistently go to failure.

And if you’re injured you’ll be accumulating 0 reps per week.

Bummer.

So I don’t see anything wrong with using some failure work in your isolation exercises, as well as some of your machine assisted compound movements like a cable row or leg press.

Just be self-aware of how you are performing and whether you feel a bit too achey after your sessions. If so, take off your ‘training to failure’ hat and stick to your sets and reps.

What about deloads?

I would avoid going to failure on deload weeks otherwise you’ll be defeating the purpose of it. Which is to reduce fatigue and manage your recovery.

One other thing to note is that there’s no harm in training the last set of a muscle group to failure, especially if you are feeling fresh and just want to rep it for the burnz.

Again, this works great with machine based compound movements or isolation exercises.

So always remember that pushing beyond your limit is not always productive and that it’s best you check yourself before you wreck yourself!


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