In school, we understand that failure (i.e. getting an F on a test) isn’t a good thing. As we grow and mature, we’re taught that “failure” is OK, and it may even be a “good/great” thing, if you learn from it, that is.
In the world of bodybuilding and hypertrophy, failure has elite status. Some may even claim it as “essential” to getting results.
But, is that really the case? Or is this just another instance of “broscience” trumping actual science and human physiology?
That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss today.
Training to Failure: Is It Necessary/Beneficial?
As with most things in life, training to failure revolves around the individual, including his/her particular preferences, goals and lifestyle.
Depending on where you are in your fitness journey (and what sources you’ve turned to about fitness information), you may or may not have experimented with training to failure.
Certain outlets/influencers profess that training to failure is “essential” to getting results while others say that training to failure is completely unnecessary.
So, what’s the truth?
Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but before you start training to failure, here are 5 questions you need to answer when deciding, “should I train to failure?”:
- What is your goal?
- What exercises are you performing to failure?
- How often should you train to failure?
- How do you like to train?
- What is your quality of life outside of training?
Training to Failure: What is Your Goal?
Fat loss, body recomposition, hypertrophy, maximal strength development, improved athleticism, etc.
The decision to train to failure should depend on what your goal is.
Short of being an elite bodybuilder that’s been training for over a decade and competing professionally, training to failure is NOT necessary to build muscle, lose fat, become a better athlete, etc. If anything, it undermines your ability to see results from your training.
Training to Failure: What Exercises Are You Performing to Failure?
Certain exercises are better suited to training to failure than others. It’s as simple as that.
Performing certain exercises to absolute failure can result in severe injury (e.g. back squats, barbell bench press, conventional deadlifts, etc.).
Other exercises can be safely trained to failure. These include bodyweight exercises, such as push ups, bodyweight rows, or bodyweight squats. Basically, any exercise you can perform with good form to where you don’t have to worry about a heavy weight causing catastrophic damage to your body.
Bodyweight burnout exercises can be a novel way to induce progressive overload or help break through a plateau, but taking heavy weight-bearing exercises to failure generally is frowned upon.
Training to Failure: How Often Should You Train to Failure?
Training to failure is incredibly stressful to the body and mind/nervous system.
Intense exercise is just one (albeit a great one) among many different sources of stress your body encounters each day. Keep in mind that your body has a finite amount of resources to deal with the myriad stressors you experience.
If you live a high-stress life (e.g. poor sleep, busy work schedule, working mother/father, etc.), then your recovery mechanisms are already being taxed. Add training to failure on top of that, and you’re red-lining yourself, possibly without realizing it.
Also, keep in mind that training to failure regularly can increase the risk of physical injury and/or “burnout” (i.e. where you just don’t feel like training anymore).
The more frequently you train to failure, the more you toe the line of potential injury.
In other words, as you approach failure, exercise form breakdown can occur which can lead to considerable loads being placed on body structures that aren’t meant to bear those loads (e.g. your lower back), which can lead to sprains, strains, pain, and injury.
Training to Failure: How Do You Like to Train?
Personal preference is a major determinant in your ability to stick to a particular diet or exercise program.
For example, if you don’t particularly enjoy eating meat, then you won’t have much success adopting a carnivore diet (even if it’s promoted as the “best diet for fat loss”).
Put in the context of training, do you enjoy training to failure?
Is pushing your mind and body to the absolute breaking point motivating or completely and utterly draining?
How you respond to these questions will impact your decisions to train to failure.
Training to Failure: Quality of Life
Failure training spikes cortisol levels and leaves you feeling exhausted.
If you have a relatively low stress lifestyle (e.g. early adulthood, no kids, plenty of sleep, etc.), then your ability to train to failure is likely greater than someone that is 35+ with a house full of kids, full-time/high-stress job, etc.
In other words, the younger and lower stress lifestyle you lead, the more frequently you can train to failure.
But, if you have considerable sources of stress in your life -- work, finances, personal relationships, etc., then your ability to completely and utterly wreck your body is compromised.
Keep these factors in mind when deciding if you want to experiment with training to failure.
The Bottom Line on Training to Failure
If your goal is to lose body fat, add muscle, build strength, and/or improve overall health & fitness, training to failure is NOT necessary. In fact, training to failure could be a key factor why you’re not seeing results during your transformation challenge.
If you are a competition-level bodybuilder, or someone who loves to feel “wrecked” after a workout, then training to failure may be an option, but for the everyday Joe/Jane, it is not required. You can get all the results you want (and more) without training to failure.
That being said, if you do enjoy training to failure, then there are certain supplements that can help to reduce feelings of systemic fatigue as well as help mental energy and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE).
This includes the likes of caffeine, citrulline, Nitrosigine, and other powerful ergogenics contained in our line of best-selling pre workout supplements, including 1UP Pre Women, 1UP Pre Men, and 1UP Stim-Free Pre. One other beneficial supplement that can help you push harder in your workouts, especially if you enjoy training to failure, is creatine monohydrate, which is included at the full research-backed dose of 5 grams in Pure Rebuild.
- Sampson JA, Groeller H. Is repetition failure critical for the development of muscle hypertrophy and strength? Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Apr;26(4):375-83. doi: 10.1111/sms.12445. Epub 2015 Mar 24. PMID: 25809472.
- Vieira, Alexandra F.1; Umpierre, Daniel2,3,4; Teodoro, Juliana L.1; Lisboa, Salime C.1; Baroni, Bruno M.5; Izquierdo, Mikel6; Cadore, Eduardo L.1 Effects of Resistance Training Performed to Failure or Not to Failure on Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Power Output, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: February 04, 2021 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print - Issue - doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003936