Is Training to Failure a Good Idea?

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Question: How close to failure should you train?

Key Takeaways

  1. Training to failure prolonged recovery time compared to non-failure training protocols.
  2. It’s probably a good idea to leave a couple reps in the tank at the end of each workout.
  3. You can always do more tomorrow, but you can’t undo the excessive damage you did yesterday.

Today’s topic popped up on my radar because I may or may not have just done way too many pull-ups in a training session (a week ago…) and am still a bit sore from it… You know, theoretically…

Anyway, around here we are, firm believers, in smarter training.

Which is to say I’d rather yo not be completely crushed by the workouts every single day.

Although we do push our athletes to the limit from time to time. Not every workout is a complete and total beatdown.

Which is why this study where researchers looked at 10 different training conditions in an attempt to see just how recovery was affected by training to failure stood out.

Researchers sought to find out:

How much does training to failure and the number of reps performed per set affect the magnitude and duration of fatigue and recovery?

What I liked about this study is that the researches measured fatigue in two different ways which I’ll call “the practical” and “the scientific”

Measurment Table

As you can see in the table above, the “practical” or the mechanical measurements actually look at how fast the athlete is able to move the bar and also how much their vertical jump decreased with fatigue.

This is something that I like my athletes to do their best to pay attention to in their workouts.

On the endurance side of things, I recommend people end their interval workouts when their pace drops off a cliff. If we can’t keep the pace where it needs to be, then we are just causing excess damage and fatigue without much benefit.

It’s all about cost/benefit or, ultimately, getting the most bang for your buck. Especially when you’re training to be at a high level of performance every day so you can make it home at night.

In this study, a decrease in bar speed (from rep to rep / set to set / session to session) not only shows fatigue in that one workout but is also telling of how your recovery is going to be over the next few days.

Specifically, the training protocols that went to failure, especially when higher-repetitions were used caused bigger and longer lasting declines in both lifting velocity and vertical jump height.

Additionally, biochemical markers of fatigue, specifically creatine kinase (Which is an enzyme researchers commonly use to assess muscle damage) was significantly elevated in the high-rep/failure protocols.

So, as I said before, there is definitely a time and place to push your limit and see how hard you can push yourself in a training session.

However, those sessions should be the exception, not the rule.

If you’re like most people (you are) you probably have to get up the next day and be somewhat of a functional human.

If you’re in the military or a LEO, you not only have to be a functional human, but you need to be prepared for the unknown.

If you’re so jacked up from training that you can’t do your job safely, then you’re wrong (Not as wrong as those slugs that can’t do their job correctly because they never work out…But you know what I mean).

This is where smart workout programming comes into play AND where you need to check your ego (especially if you have training partners) and pay attention to how you are feeling from exercise to exercise and session to session then adjust accordingly.

Like I said before, you can always do more tomorrow, but you can’t undo the damage you did yesterday.

When you’re training for life, QUALITY will always trump QUANTITY.

Your practical takeaways

  1. Training to failure causes more fatigue & longer recovery times (#shocking), especially when using higher volumes
  2. This is likely bad because excessive fatigue & longer recovery times leads to a decrease in training volume, frequency, and intensity.
  3. Leaving a few reps in the tank will probably not really make much of a difference as far as gettin dam #gainz and will probably leave you more recovered for the next training session – Win, win.

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