Do you Need to Train to Failure to Make Gains? - The Muscle PhD

Do you Need to Train to Failure to Make Gains?

“You should only start counting once you feel pain!” You’ve probably heard this statement getting thrown around in your local gym, or even in some of your favorite movies! However, should you try to reach your absolute limit during each set? If not, then what’s the metric? If you’re scared of losing gains because you’re not training till failure, yet you’re uncertain of the validity of the “reps till failure” mindset, then here are some facts that will help you decide.

First off, what do people really mean when they’re talking about rep failure?


Failure in the fitness industry essentially means that you’ve reached your inability to complete another repetition with proper form. It’s important to always maintain proper form when it comes to your exercise routine, otherwise you risk injury! Now, say you have the proper form and you’re just about ready to start on your set, what should you focus on?

The key thing to focus on when it comes to any given set, is which repetitions are actually stimulating muscle growth. Repetitions become stimulating when you maximally recruit and fire the muscle. That’s where the “only start counting once you feel pain” mantra comes from. Basically, if you’re doing a set of 15 reps, the first 5-10 reps wouldn’t stimulate muscle growth at all, because you haven’t reached that super fatigued state. That fatigued state happens when you maximally activate and fire your muscle, and it’s required in order to stimulate the growth process. A 2012 study showed that repetitions become maximally activated on the last part of your set. So, maybe your last 3-4 reps.

Stimulus vs Long Term Goals

If you stop reading right about now, you’d probably be a strong proponent of the “training till failure” mindset. However, you need to ask yourself, are you all about stimulus, or are you looking for long term gains? Because there are also plenty of studies showing that if you don’t train to complete failure, you can still make gains and grow.

Instead of isolating your thought process to a single set, ask yourself, what if you’re doing 4 sets in that particular exercise? If you’re doing 4 sets of 10 reps, you’d probably get your stimulus on reps 8-10. If you hit that 10th rep, you’ll definitely grow, however you’ll start getting central fatigue, which will stop you from performing your best. And the next set you’d probably get only 6 reps, and around 4-5 reps on your final set. Meanwhile, if on your first set, you stopped at that 9th rep, you’d still get that stimulus to grow! And you’d probably be able to reach higher reps in your 2nd and 3rd sets, leaving you to go on till failure on your fourth set, in order to maximize your gains. Your goal should always be to use less reps if fatigued, but enough to stimulate the muscle.

We hope this article helped enlighten you on what it means to really hit failure on your workouts, we’ll see you next time you have any questions!

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