Should You Train To Failure Every Set?

training to failure
August 10, 2022 0 Comments

Table of Contents

Should You Train To Failure Every Set?

Absolutely not, it is a bad idea to train to failure every set. All you will be doing is breaking the muscles down too much and increasing the risks of injury.

Training to failure is something that should be done sparingly and is better suited to isolation exercises. It can be taxing on the central nervous system.

It is better to stop a rep or two short of failure generally. Like the bodybuilder Lee Haney says “stimulate, don’t annihilate”.

Training To Failure Is Better On Isolation Exercises

As a general rule, training to failure is better served for isolation exercises. This is because isolation exercises involve less overall muscle groups. Therefore, the risk of injury is a lot less and it is less taxing on the CNS.

Dumbbell bicep curls for example involve the biceps and forearms predominantly. You can take exercises like this to failure more often without any negative effects. They are less taxing on the CNS, the most important thing is to perform the exercise with good technique.

If you are doing your dumbbell curls with very bad form and lots of cheating, then it is a lot more dangerous to go to failure with bad technique. It is more likely that you will risk an injury.

It goes without saying that it is important to execute all your exercises with good technique. It will allow better progression long term and it is more likely that you will stay injury free long term.

If you are going to train to failure be sure to listen to your body. If your technique starts to break down and get sloppy on your 6th rep, don’t try a 7th rep to reach “failure”. Long term you will do more harm than good. 
bicep curl

Older Trainees vs Younger Trainees 

I am going to examine the idea of training to failure for both older trainees and younger trainees. For older lifters, training to failure should be done a lot more sparingly. This is because it takes longer for older people to recover between training sessions.

As you get older, the risk of injury also becomes higher. You can’t go balls to the walls in the same way as someone who is very young. You have to be a lot more mindful of your body. The focus would be better placed on getting more tension on the muscle.

This could be achieved by using tempo training. Younger trainees have less wear and tear on their joints and muscles, as a result they can get away with training to failure a bit more often. 

In both young trainees and old trainees, it is crucial to ensure proper technique is utilised on all exercises. You should always listen to your body to reduce the risks of incurring injuries. 

One advantage that older lifters have is they have a lot more experience in the gym. Therefore, they will be able to listen to their bodies and know when it is time to push things and when it’s time to take it easy.

Often younger people can be more reckless and impatient. They take greater risks with their body and can push their bodies past their limits too often. Another good example is the use of forced reps. 

Very often you will see younger people in the gym pushing past failure by doing forced reps! In my view this is completely counterproductive and is essentially ego lifting. 

Enhanced Lifters Can Train To Failure More Often

Lifters that are on anabolic steroids or other PEDs can train to failure more often. This is because they can recover a lot faster between training sessions than natural lifters.

It also means that they can tolerate a higher weekly volume of training compared with naturals. This is something that is very important to understand. You can’t be natural and expect to be able to train the exact same way as someone who is enhanced.

Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding 

Training to failure is a concept that is more prevalent amongst bodybuilders than powerlifters. As the main focus of a powerlifter is the big 3 (squat, bench and deadlift) they can’t tolerate going to failure too much.

With such heavy loads, training to failure regularly will result in the CNS becoming taxed and an inability to recover between sessions. Progress will be hampered as a result.

Bodybuilders perform a lot more isolation exercises and hit the muscles from lots of different angles. Their main focus is looking strong, whereas powerlifters are concerned with being strong. 

Therefore, bodybuilders can handle going to failure more often. Since they perform more isolation exercises they will not cause too much stress from training to failure. Just as long as they ensure good technique is utilised.


Frank Zane Approach

Frank Zane is a famous bodybuilder and doesn’t believe in training to failure. He doesn’t believe in setting up a situation of doubt or “failure”.

If he says he will do 8 reps on an exercise and gets to the 6th rep and feels it getting pretty tough, he will deliberately do a slower negative making the 6th rep his last one. 

Then he rests 20 seconds and cranks out the remaining 2 reps. Frank believes in mantric speech and doing what you say you are going to do. By training in this way he is able to follow through with what he says he will do. This develops personal power. 

On the contrary, if you are aiming to do 8 reps and go to failure and fail the 8th rep psychologically this can be more damaging. There is something to be said for Frank Zane’s approach and few can argue with him. He is the original “king of aesthetics”.

To get more training advice from Frank Zane watch the video below.


What Studies Say

There has been a lot of research on this topic of training to failure. I am going to sum up some of the key points from all the research.

Training to failure could cause adverse physiological responses such as increased blood pressure. The highest blood pressure responses occur at failure during a set of resistance exercise [1].

In a study by Stowers et al.[2] symptoms of overwork included reduced performance in the legs and hips’ strength and power. This was seen in some of the subjects in the three sets to failure group after seven weeks.

Final Thoughts

In this article, I have answered the question “should you train to failure every set?”. The answer is no, you should train to failure sparingly. It is also better served for isolation exercises on the whole.

Long term use of training to failure on big compound exercises will result in reduced strength and power. Therefore, powerlifters shouldn’t go to failure very often on their big movements.

Athlean X has an interesting article about training to failure, he believes that if you are not training to muscle failure you are wasting your time. His article is a bit polarising, I don’t fully agree with all his points. You can view his article here

For injury prevention it is better to stop most of your sets one or two reps short of failure. This also has psychological benefits as hinted at by the bodybuilder Frank Zane.

If you have any questions on this topic please leave me a comment below.

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training. 

>> Read my mind muscle connection article 


[1] :Fleck SJ, Dean LS (1987) Resistance-training experience and pressor response during resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol 63:116–120

Freedson P, Chang B, Katch F, Kroll W, Rippe J, Alpert J, Byrnes W
(1984) Intra-arterial blood pressure during free weight and hydraulic resistive
exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 16:131

Tim; McMillan, Jim; Scala, Dwight; Davis, Voris; Wilson, Dennis; Stone,
Mike. The Short-Term Effects of Three Different Strength-Power Training
Methods. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal: June 1983 –
Volume 5 – Issue 3 – p 24-27


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