Is Training To Failure Good For Hypertrophy?


You may have heard the common advice to push yourself to muscle failure if you want to maximize muscle hypertrophy. The distance to failure, or the estimated number of repetitions in a sequence before reaching momentary failure, can be measured using the repetitions in reserve (RIR) or A rating of perceived exertion (PRE) method. These methods can help control the intensity of effort and ensure that sets are performed sufficiently close to momentary failure, which has been found to be important for muscle growth.

While there is some conflicting evidence, recent research suggests that training to momentary failure may not be necessary for muscle growth. Novice exercisers can achieve substantial muscle growth without training close to failure, while advanced trainees may benefit from doing some sets to failure sparingly, particularly for moderate or lighter loads. The type of exercise should also be considered, with multi-joint movements with free weights being more challenging and recruiting more muscles than single-joint movements.

A study conducted by Ferreira et al. (2017) examined the effects of training in bench presses up to failure. The researchers found that training until failure can cause significant muscle soreness and damage, impairing performance for up to 72 hours. This indicates that training to failure in every session may not be the most efficient way to build muscle.

In fact, it has been suggested that training to failure may not increase muscle growth through muscle protein synthesis. Phillips et al. (1999) propose that all active muscle protein synthesis is used solely for recovery from exercise-induced muscle cell damage rather than for muscle cell hypertrophy. Additionally, Davies et al. (2016) found that training to failure does not increase strength development.

These findings indicate that exercising until muscle failure may not be as effective for muscle growth as once thought. It is important to find a balance between challenging yourself and allowing for proper recovery time to maximize gains. If the goal is to train a muscle group two-three times a week, it may be best to limit training to failure to every other session to ensure that the overall weekly training volume is not affected. In this way, the muscles have enough time to recover, and the active muscle protein synthesis can be used for muscle cell hypertrophy rather than just for recovery.

It is important to note that while training to failure may not be the most efficient way to build muscle, it can still be a valuable tool in your workout routine. Pushing yourself to failure in some sessions can help you break through plateaus and challenge your muscles in new ways. However, it is essential to balance this with proper recovery time and not overdo it in every session. Also, estimating the distance to failure can be challenging, with participants tending to underestimate the number of repetitions remaining to failure. However, this can be improved by making estimates closer to failure, using heavier loads, or performing the assessment in later sets.

In summary, while some sets should be performed until momentary failure for muscle growth, it may be advisable to perform the majority of sets with one to a few repetitions in reserve. This can help control the stimulus-fatigue ratio and avoid possible adverse effects on recovery.


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