Should You Train To Failure?

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This is the first study to comprehensively examine the recovery time course of training to failure versus not, with matched volume.

Metabolic markers of fatigue, an indirect marker of muscle damage, and high-, medium-, and low-load strength performance all required 24-48 hours longer to return to baseline in a 3×10 to failure group compared to a 6×5 group training with the same load. Three sets of 10 to failure on squats and bench press had lasting effects for two  days. An entire session taken to failure would likely have longer lasting effects. When working with loads of ~70% 1RM or higher, stopping at a 5-9 RPE will likely  result in similar strength and hypertrophy adaptations compared to taking sets to failure (10 RPE) with a matched volume and load.

Training to failure, even when volume is matched and relative load is matched, will produce more fatigue than stopping well short of it (5 RPE) when using moderately heavy loads. This fatigue will likely negatively impact performance intra-session, and potentially in the subsequent session or two within the week.

Failure has a place in training, but should be planned for. Good rules of thumb are to use it on the last set of isolation exercises when they are the last exercise for a given muscle group, for max repetition testing when you have a spotter, and not in sessions within a few days of heavy compound lifting in which you are chasing new personal bests.

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Time course of recovery following resistance training leading or not to failure. doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3725-7.

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