Training to failure

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In weight training, training to failure is repeating an exercise (such as the bench press) to the point of momentary muscular failure, i.e. the point where the neuromuscular system can no longer produce adequate force to overcome a specific workload.[1] Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment states that training to failure is necessary for maximal hypertrophic response.[2]


A 2010 study concluded that training to failure with lower loads with more repetitions can be more beneficial for muscle building than using higher loads with fewer repetitions. In this study, participants who trained to failure with a weight equal to 30 per cent of their single repetition maximum (1RM) had higher levels of muscle-building proteins 24 hours after their training session than participants who trained to failure with a weight that was 90 per cent of their maximum.[3][4]

Initial failure[edit]

When the athlete has reached initial failure (i.e. fails to perform a further repetition), rather than ending the current set, the exercise can be continued by making the exercise easier (switching to another similar exercise e.g. pull-ups to chin-ups, switching to another (correct) form of the same exercise, switching to lower weight) or by recruiting help (from a spotting partner or by involving another body part). The athlete may also choose to use the rest-pause method or other advanced techniques.

Repetition maximum[edit]

Determining a repetition maximum (RM; such as 1RM) must be done to true failure, so this also can be considered a form of training to failure. Though 1RM is the most popular and commonly used, any number of repetitions can be used, for instance a 10RM or 15RM. A 10RM weight is more useful in terms of training for hypertrophy than a 1RM.[5] There is less consensus as to why a 10RM is actually safer; it may be because a 10RM can be performed with a much lower risk of joint injury (due to the lower weight),[6] but also potentially because failure occurs due to absolute inability of the muscles to perform at the attempted weight (rather than due to fatigue).[7] A 10RM would be the weight at which a person can do 10 repetitions, but fail to fully perform the 11th.

Types of failure[edit]

There are multiple types of failure[8][9] that can be reached before ending a set. They are listed here in order of increasing intensity.

  • Pre-failure: The set is ended just before failure, as judged based on sensory feedback from the muscles and joints (proprioception).
  • Tempo failure: The tempo or cadence used for the initial few repetitions can no longer be maintained. Additional repetitions cannot be performed at the same tempo.
  • Form failure: Proper form or technique for repetitions can no longer be maintained. Additional repetitions cannot be performed using proper form.

When determining repetition maximum, form failure should be used. Training past form failure can cause joint and muscle injury and should never be attempted. Beginners should train to pre-failure or tempo failure, while focusing on maintaining proper form.

Stages of failure in high-intensity training[edit]

High-intensity training (HIT) is a form of strength training that involves brief, infrequent, intense workouts at a low volume of repetitions and sets. HIT distinguishes three stages of muscle failure. The first stage consists of normal repetitions performed in a slow, controlled manner until no further repetitions can be completed (failure). The second stage consists of a controlled static hold until failure. The third stage consists of negative repetitions performed in a slow, controlled manner until failure. After all three stages of failure are reached the muscle is considered thoroughly exhausted and the set is complete.


  1. ^ Len Kravitz. "Training to Failure". University of New Mexico. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  2. ^ Ian Maitin (2015). Current Diagnosis and Treatment Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. McGraw Hill Professional. p. 124. ISBN 9780071793308.
  3. ^ Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men
  4. ^ Pumping iron: Lighter weights just as effective as heavier weights to gain muscle, build strength
  5. ^ Gym, Old School. "Max Reps vs. 1 Rep Max". Old School Gym. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  6. ^ "High rep resistance training is a key to strength and no injuries". Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  7. ^ Rippetoe, Mark; Kilgore, Lon (2006). Practical Programming for Strength Training. The Aasgard Company. ISBN 978-0-9768054-1-0.
  8. ^ "Injury Risk and the 'Cascade of Failure' — PT Direct". Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Should You Train to Failure (THE ANSWER!)". Retrieved 5 June 2020.