can training to failure improve muscle growth


is training to failure necessary for muscle growth?

Training to failure is something that’s brought up time and time again when talking about strategies to maximize them muscle gains and strength. After all, going to failure means giving it your best effort, which one would assume would give the best results.

Research suggests training to failure, although can be effective, wasn’t always necessary, especially for large, compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. But the problem with that was that not much direct research existed then, particularly in the case of muscle gains in resistance trained subjects, like those of you that have been going to the gym for a while. But now, we’ve come across a new training-to-failure study, which, lo and behold, looked directly at muscle hypertrophy in resistance trained men.

If we’re lucky, we’ll leave with a better answer to the question: Will training to failure improve muscle growth?

In this study, 15 resistance trained men were split into two different training groups for 10 weeks training 3 times a week. The first training group utilized a “relative intensity” training protocol, where the amount of weight used was a percentage relative to the maximal load for any given amount of sets and reps. For example, if a subject is estimated to bench press 220 pounds maximally for 3 sets of 10, then during the actual experiment, they will lift a submaximal percentage instead, like 90% of 220, or roughly benching 200 pounds.

This ensures that these subjects do NOT reach muscular failure while maintaining high volume. The second group would then be the group reaching failure. These subjects trained with a load estimated to reach muscular failure in the final set at a certain amount of reps. For example, if the prescribed protocol was to train with an RM zone of 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps, then it was necessary that the load is heavy enough for the subject to FAIL on
the third and final set within that 8 to 12 rep range. If subjects didn’t fail in that range, be it they did less or more reps, the weight is then adjusted for subsequent sessions to ensure that they do. In short, one group didn’t train to failure and another did and both performed a similar amount of total work volume. The observation of this study was in multiple muscle-based outcomes.

The researchers not only looked into general muscle growth, but also changes in specific muscle fibers, type 1 and type 2, muscle thickness, and changes in relevant muscle proteins, like motor. But enough about the study design, which certainly seemed pretty thorough, let’s get onto the results.

For changes in type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers cross-sectional area, the non-failure training group was the only group to reach statistically significant increases in both fiber types. Anatomical cross-sectional area also favored non-failure training, but with statistically significant improvements for both groups in terms of muscle thickness. But on both a whole and single-fiber level, it was very clear that non-failure training led to better hypertrophic adaptations. Now, why is that?

According to the researchers, the difference is, quote, “possibly due to a lack of recovery allowed by virtue of consistently training to failure in the RM group, rather than insufficient stimuli.” They supported the notion of lacking recovery being the issue by referencing past studies demonstrating that failure training can delay neuromuscular performance by up to 24 to 48 hours post-exercise.

In essence, training to failure hurts your recovery. Hurting recovery thus hurts your gains. Now if we piece the findings of this new study together with the findings of the studies in the previous video, then the conclusion honestly doesn’t change much. Training to failure can still be effective in sporadic uses as long as recovery isn’t hindered.

But there are other factors, like volume and intensity that are much more important. As far as the answer specifically to, “will training to failure improve muscle growth and only muscle growth,” It looks like it’s leaning towards… nah, not really. In the end, you’re probably better sticking with less training to failure, more volume, and of course, more recovery.

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