When people are striving to gain strength, many people wonder “should you train to failure when strength training”. While some people argue that this training method will do nothing but cause injuries, others believe that it’s the most effective way to build strong muscles. We will examine why training to failure is beneficial when it’s done properly. The key to getting the most benefit from strength training to failure is doing it properly.

Different types of muscle failure

First, we must understand that any time we take part in strength training, or any type of exercise for that matter, there is a risk of injury. However, the majority of strength training injuries do not necessarily occur as a result of training to failure. Most injuries result from improper lifting techniques, bad form, as well as doing too much too soon. Furthermore, when you are training, there are different types of failure, including:

  • Tempo failure
  • Technique failure
  • Tolerance failure

Tempo failure is when you begin to struggle to lift the weight or perform the reps at the same speed as you did when you first started your set. Technique failure is when your form starts to suffer if you continue performing your reps. Tolerance failure is best described as the burning sensation that you get in your muscles that makes it hard for you to keep going.

When You Should Train to Failure

Now that we know the different types of failure, we can begin to examine why and when should you train to failure when strength training. If you are doing your set and are feeling a burning sensation in your muscles which causes you to slow down the pace at while you are lifting, then you are experiencing tolerance and tempo failure. At that point, you still doing useful reps that will be hugely beneficial to developing your overall strength. However, the moment you begin to have to alter your form in order to perform your reps, you experience technique failure. In this case, technique failure is the only type of failure that puts you at risk for injuries when strength training. As soon as you begin to experience technique failure, all the reps that follow are completely useless and do more harm than good.

With that in mind, we can take advantage of training to failure and do it properly. As we can see, training to failure is just another tool in our toolbox. We all know that tools are only useful when they are used properly.

Don’t Stop When You Feel the Burn

Therefore, if you are strength training and you “feel the burn”, you can keep going for a few more reps and doing so will help you get stronger over time. For example, if you struggled to do 16 bicep curls with 12 lb weights, but managed to complete the set without compromising your form, you’ve achieved tolerance failure. Eventually, your body will adapt to the demand you place upon it and you will get to a point where you will be able to do 18 reps before you get to failure. Then, it will take 20 reps. After that, in order to get stronger, you will need to also progressively increase the weight. After a few months of consistent training, it may take you 20 reps of bicep curls with 25 lb weights before you experience failure. Tempo failure is most useful for those athletes who are training for explosive power. This type of training requires you to stop your set when you can no longer perform your reps at a certain speed.

Conclusion: Should you train to failure when strength training?

As we can see, training to failure will help you gain strength provided that you use proper form when performing your reps. Training to failure allows you to challenge yourself and keep track of how far you can take your body before you start to “feel the burn” or have to slow down the speed at which you perform your reps. If you take adequate time to recover after your strength training session, your muscles will repair themselves and get stronger. Once you recover, it will take more weight or more reps in order for you to be able to train to failure. Therefore, training to failure is an effective way to strength train provided that it’s done properly.