To Train To Failure? Or to NOT Train To Failure?

November 10, 2010 by  
Filed under The Fitness Bug

Work Smarter, Not Harder…

You all know that saying… right?

Of course you do!

However, I prefer to say work harder and smarter. Now, lets adapt that concept to the bodybuilding…

Lift smarter, Get bigger

Which is mostly true, in all it’s simplicity.

Now back to the headline.

To Train To Failure? Or to NOT Train To Failure?

I decided to analyze this due to a recent argument I stumbled upon.

(A) Train to failure

(B) Don’t train to failure (Leave some gas in the tank)

Some facts

Slow twitch muscle fibers – Contract for a long period of time, yet provide weak bursts of power

Fast twitch muscle fibers – Contract fast, provide strong bursts of power, yet fatigue much quicker


  • A 100 meter runner (Will mostly have fast twitch muscle fibers – Evident via their high calf muscles)
  • A 400 meter runner (Will mostly have slow twitch muscle fibers – Evident via their lengthy calf muscles)

(A) Train to failure

Concept A suggests that training to failure and maxing out those last few reps (With everything you have to give) will begin recruiting  muscle fibers that are rarely used. These muscle fibers ONLY come into play when your muscles are engaged in high intensity weight training. Most people don’t ‘actually’ train to failure. Most people ‘actually’ stop at 80%. Therefore REALLY training to failure will REALLY recruit more muscle fibers.

The result…

Better gains

Note: At this point, both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited. However, the fast twitch muscle fibers will fatigue before the slow twitch muscle fibers do.

(B) Don’t train to failure (Leave some gas in the tank)

Now, this is a concept that I included in the Unique Bodyweight Exercise ebook. A routine that focuses on increasing strength gains and muscle mass.

This concept suggests that training to failure will kill the performance of your fast twitch muscle fibers while they are at their peak. Therefore, resulting in smaller strength gains.

This concept suggests that leaving a little in the tank (Ending each set just before you begin to fatigue) will ensure that you use your fast twitch muscle fibers when they are at their best, resulting in better overall strength gains.

Now, I agree with both concepts…

  • Depending on the specifics
  • Depending on what the individuals goals are

The specifics

Now, you’ll hear and read these types of debates all the time. Or why one study suggests top follow concept A over concept B or vice versa. But a key point a lot of these studies fail to miss is the specifics.

  • How many test participants were there?
  • What was the ratio of those testing concept a to those testing concept B
  • What was the male/female ratio?
  • What are their body types and training backgrounds?
  • How did they lift during the test (Slow eccentric movements? Fast?)
  • What were the participants rest periods prior to the test?
  • Did they all follow the same nutrition plan prior to the test?
  • Do they all share the same current strength levels?
  • Who conducted the test?
  • How many sets were performed?

These are just example specifics, there could be many others.

Now, sound advice is what you are after… right? Of course it is. That’s why you have found your way to this article.


Therefore, whenever you read some new study or concept, make sure you look deep into the specifics of that new study. Because what you read may well be sound advice, yes. But it may not be advice that is in line with YOUR goals!

Your goals will ultimately determine the structure of your workout.

Here’s a basic understanding of a weightlifting goal chart to abide by.

  1. Training for strength = 2 – 4 reps
  2. Training for strength and mass = 8 – 10 reps
  3. Training for endurance = 16 – 20 reps

And how to lift for super gains…

1) Start with lightweights – This will allow you to understand how to lift the weights properly regardless of the exercise.

2) Do the exercise properly – Once you have mastered how to do it, focus on control and execution.
3) Lift at moderate speed – Explosive yes! But not fast and not slow.

4) Increase the weight – Do the above 3, but always aim to increase the weight.

You can air your thoughts in the comments section below and let me know what your goals are too.

Wait, Shaun, you can’t leave us hanging. Which concept would you choose?

Well, for my current goals, which is to look like my all time favorite fictional hero

Image credit:

(Kratos of God of War)

I would choose concept A.

I’ll see you in the comments.

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