Olympic lifters, powerlifters and athletes in general don’t train to failure. Is training to failure necessary to build muscle?

Colin: Quite simply put no, lifting to failure is not necessary to build muscle. I know people who swear by training to failure and people who will virtually never train to failure, both with great results. The benefit to never training to failure is it’s much easier on your central nervous system. Even as someone who isn’t a big believer in what overtraining has become to be widely known as (think things like the belief your muscles will become catabolic from overtraining which there is absolutely no research to back up) I would recommend more frequent deloads if you do train to failure a lot. As we’ve talked about frequently, training for size and training for strength are two different animals. This is why training to failure is so much more popular for bodybuilders than it is for athletes. As always what’s optimal for each person depends on your goals and your genetics.

Dara: No, training to failure is not necessary to build muscle, but done correctly it can be an effective strategy. The key here is that is should not be your only strategy. Training to failure is very taxing on the body, which is precisely why it can be effective, but also why you shouldn’t do it too much. Olympic lifters, power lifters, and athletes whose goal is performance, not aesthetics, don’t train to make their muscles bigger, but rather to get stronger and better execute their lifts or sport. Training to failure is meant to trigger muscle hypertrophy which is not a primary concern for these athletes and could actually lead to injury which would mean downtime which is not desirable. Used correctly, training to failure can be a beneficial addition to a hypertrophy program, but it is not necessary.

Matt: I think what sometimes gets confused with training to failure is the definition. It means that you can not complete another rep without assistance or your form breaking down (cheat reps). What most think it means is forced reps and negatives because they use their spotter to get 2 or 3 more reps when they can no longer lift, or rest-pause reps, drop sets and supersets.

I personally always train to failure, often even in warm up sets, and I never use a spotter. When you’ve trained long enough you know when you’ve reached that point and your mechanics are beginning to break down. Getting 25 to 30 reps in a warm up set to failure is going to build the energy systems required to feed muscle growth and will also build the muscle fibers as well, and the weight is light enough that there is no risk of injury going to failure right out of the gate.

I’m aware that I haven’t answered the question. Is it necessary to train to failure in order to grow muscle? In order for your muscles to grow they need to be asked to do more than they are capable of doing. Training to failure is the surest way of accomplishing this without massively taxing your nervous system and muscles with drop sets, supersets, forced reps, rest-pause reps or negatives. Or worse, performing often dangerous cheat reps. I cringe when I see someone bounce deep squats or arch their back on the flat bench.

Michael: It’s my understanding that in order for the body to recognize that it lacks the resources (muscle) necessary to successfully complete a task, it must be faced with a challenge that is beyond it’s current capabilities.

If my body is already capable of meeting a challenge, it needn’t change, ie add muscle. Therefore, I must train to failure to stimulate hypertrophy, right?

Matt: Agreed.

Round 1: The best fat loss method

Round 2: Fasted vs fed cardio for fatloss

Round 3: Fat loss and muscle-building supplements

Round 4: Nutrient timing/meal frequency for fat loss/muscle-building

Round 5: The best 3 exercises

Round 6: The ideal training program

Round 7: How much protein for fat loss

Round 8: The last 10 pounds

Round 9: The ultimate training split

Round 10: Do carbs or fats make you fat?

Round 11: Is it better to lose fat or build muscle first?

Round 12: Low reps or high reps for maximum muscle mass?

Round 13: Muscle-building strategy: bulk-up or lean gain?

Happy Lifting!

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