Should I Train to Failure?

By: Jon Cardozo

One of the terms you'll come across the most while reading bodybuilding forums is training to failure. You may have heard this around the gym, but often people will throw around these terms without really knowing what they mean. It's important to define these terms since they can have a big influence (positive or negative) on our training regimens.

So, what exactly is training to failure? To put it in simple terms, training to failure means lifting weights with a particular muscle until it can not physically lift anymore. I have seen one muscle building guru tell his readers that training to failure is essential for building muscle. One trainer's testimonial explained how he reached a plateau in his training. When he's switched his training styles he began to make consistent progress again. He refocused his efforts on lifting to the point just before failure (which took some practice) and on making gradual progress each week. As you can tell, the subject is controversial, and you'll have to find your own answers to the question. One trainer explained it this way.

Vincent Delmonte, who went through an incredible transformation himself, tries to distinguish between momentary failure and absolute failure. Training to momentary failure means that you perform enough reps for your muscle to fail before moving on to another muscle group. Absolute failure, in contrast, would mean that your entire body is completely wiped out from exhaustion. This kind of training should be considered overkill as it puts a heavy strain on your nervous system and immune system, not just your muscles. These bodies systems take longer to recover, so you may require additional rest even if your muscles feel ready to train again. You can probably see by now how this could cause great delays in your training programs, not to mention it can put you at risk for serious injuries or illness.

Vince illustrates his point with an example. He tells us that sprinters develop significant mass in their legs, but they do not accomplish this by training to complete failure. Can you imagine sprinters running and running until they literally collapse from exhaustion? I think you would agree that this is not the wisest approach.

It is also important to realize that training to failure may not be the best approach to measure your progress. If you simply train each muscle until it fails, you don't have a reliable benchmark to tell you if you are moving in the right direction. Your endurance can certainly change daily due to a number of factors. A better approach would be to keep precise records on how much weight you lift, how many repetitions you perform, and how long your workout lasts. This is where a step by step, comprehensive program can take you a long way towards achieving your objectives.

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