When you do weight training, should each set be till your last breath or till you don’t have the strength to squeeze out another rep?
I am not going to give you a one word answer to this question because the wiser thing would be to understand the rewards and risks in both the ways of training. So what does training till failure mean? Different people might have different definitions, but let us define it once more just to bring everyone on same page –
Training till failure is the inability to complete a repetition with full range of motion for a given set of an exercise.
Now let us try and understand the mechanics of training till failure, and compare it with the mechanics of not training till failure.
Training till failure:
We often have a mindset of giving our all in each and every set of any workout. It’s a general belief that if we train till failure we will have good growth in terms of muscle quantity (muscle hypertrophy) and strength. We back this theory with an explanation that when we hit failure it will increase muscle soreness. That, in our minds, seems to imply better metabolite accumulation and thus the better gains.
But by having such a mindset, we are looking at it from only one angle; let’s see it from another angle as well. Factors like fatigue, recovery, and training performance cannot be overlooked. As we are targeting optimum gains with a structured and right way of training, we should not leave any stone unturned. Training till failure has shown to enhance the local muscle endurance, i.e. the worked muscle endurance and has also helped to increase total repetitions performed in a given workout. But the study that has found these results also stated that this way of training resulted in fall of resting concentration of IGF-1 and rise of IGFBP-3. There was no change in serum GH and testosterone to cortisol ratio, but a substantial fall in testosterone and rise in cortisol levels was observed few times during the research.
Note that IGF -1, IGFBP -3, Testosterone, cortisol are the hormones in our body which are a good markers of growth, fatigue and stress.
This study was conducted on trained basketball athletes for a duration of 16 weeks.
Training not till failure:
The findings from the research that I talked about earlier in this article also studied those athletes who didn’t train till failure by keeping some repetition in reserve. This form of training came out quite good for the power output for the worked muscle group and for strength too. There was a fall in resting concentration of cortisol and rise of testosterone level after 11 weeks of training.
So then, the findings from this research calls for a mindset revision! Which is the best way of training with the goal of better gains and increased performance?
Is there a clear winner?
I would say we have two winners here. There are benefits in both ways of training. After understanding the hormonal behaviour and the outcome of the research, let’s link them into simple logic.
Training till failure will give you good performance in terms of endurance of the worked muscle group. This will help in performing more repetitions for a given weight or load. But only training this way will produce a lot of fatigue as we are not giving enough room for recovery. The central nervous system (CNS) fatigue takes a longer time to dissipate compared to muscle fatigue alone.
Training not till failure will help you in better power and strength gains but misses the endurance part.
Therefore, a good structured periodised training program with a proper balance and implementation of both ways of training will give you the best of both worlds and both training techniques, and also help to minimise risks.
So, next time when someone screams to hit failure in heavy compound lifts, you would know what to do!
Article Credits – Suraj Ray