Training in a commercial gym now and then I see some pretty gnarly shit. Personal trainers taking their clients to failure on every single set – bicep curling the bar up as their poor client struggles to get more than 3 reps out on their own on the bench press with the remaining 7 reps yelling ‘it’s all you bro’.
There is a time and place to train to failure. The time is definitely not always and the place is in the gym (obviously). You can get amazing (and probably better) gains if you leave 1-3 reps in reserve (RIR). That means stay somewhere between 1-3 reps shy of failure. It can be hard for beginner lifters to get a sense of this but it will come with time and training experience, young grasshopper.
If you train to failure early on in a workout or set you are likely to decrease the total amount of volume you are doing later on.
Let’s say you are doing a 60kg bench press.
If training to failure on set 1 your reps might look like this: 10. 8, 6, 5
If leaving 1-3 reps in reserve your reps might look like this: 10, 10, 9, 8
The latter style will see you having greater overall training volume and if you remember our last post on how many reps you should do we now know that training volume is most likely the biggest driver of muscle growth.
Going all the way to failure as well may also negatively affect your ability to perform later exercises in the workout. Say you’re going balls to the wall on your 4 sets of bench press by the time to you get to your dumbbell incline bench your muscles are fatigued and your volume is going to be far lower than what you could lift had you had left a bit of petrol in the old tank.
For the bigger compound movements I prefer to stay away for complete muscular failure. It can be downright dangerous doing something like a back squat which places heavy loading on the spine close to failure. At Lord of The Rig we really preach trying your best to hit the prescribed rep range. The smaller muscles can be trained to failure and closer to failure with far less risk of injury and less fatigue to your over all system. This doesn’t mean to throw form out the window by any means so still focus on keeping that in check.
The readers digest of training to failure can be as follows:
WHEN CAN TRAINING TO FAILURE BE DETRIMENTAL?
– When you do it early on in a set
– When you do it early on in a workout and you are still working the same body part
– Attempting to fail on big compound lifts can be very dangerous (back squats are an example and I know few people who could really train back squats to true failure)
WHEN CAN TRAINING TO FAILURE BE USEFUL?
– On the final set of a body part for that workout
– For smaller muscle groups (rear delts, biceps, triceps) as their is less systematic fatigue and these muscles tend to recover quicker
– Towards the end of a training phase for a more advanced trainee before a de-load
– When training a more metabolic ‘pump’ type phase
The bottom line is most individuals will do just fine leaving 1-3 reps in reserve and training to failure on occasion. Absolutely no need to smash your muscles in to oblivion each and every set because you saw Ronnie Coleman do it on the internet. LIGHTWEIGHT BABBYYYYYYYYYYYYY.
Happy lifting and as usual. If you have any questions at all holla at your Lord. (firstname.lastname@example.org)