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]

The Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment states that training to failure is necessary for maximal hypertrophic response.[2]

Heavy or light weights?[edit]

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% 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% of their maximum.[3][non-primary source needed]

Going beyond initial failure[edit]

When the athlete has reached initial failure (i.e. fails to perform a further repetition), the exercise can be continued by making the exercise easier (change of posture, switching to lower weight) or by recruiting help (from a spotting partner or by involving another bodypart).

Repetition Max (RM)[edit]

Working out your Repetition Max (such as your 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 reps can be used, for instance a 10RM or 15RM, in fact your 10RM weight will be much more useful for you in terms of training for hypertrophy than your 1RM[citation needed]. Some say it can be performed with a much lower risk of joint injury (due to the lower weight)[citation needed], while others say a 1RM is safer because failure occurs due to absolute inability of your muscles to perform at the attempted weight rather than due to fatigue.[4] Your 10RM would be the weight at which you can do 10 repetitions, but fail to fully perform the 11th rep - whether that be from loss of form or just natural inability.

Types of failure[edit]

There are multiple types of failure 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.
  • 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 for repetitions can no longer be maintained. Additional repetitions cannot be performed using proper form.
  • Absolute failure. No additional repetitions can be performed, even with poor form.

Training to absolute failure is potentially harmful and should be used sparingly, usually only for determining Repetition Max. 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) 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 2017-09-03.
  2. ^ Page 124 in: Ian Maitin (2015). Current Diagnosis and Treatment Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. McGraw Hill Professional. 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. ^ Rippetoe, Mark; Kilgore, Lon (2006). Practical Programming for Strength Training. The Aasgard Company. ISBN 978-0-9768054-1-0.