Train to Failure Every Set? Research Says You Need Longer Recovery
Mike Mentzer, Casey Viator, Dorian Yates, Elliot Darden are some of the most intellectual teachers in the field of bodybuilding that revolutionized the sport of bodybuilding. The common training theory that they all held was that they believed in training to complete muscular failure each set. It seems logical that training to failure each set is the optimal way to recruit maximum amount of muscle fibers. While failure can be a valuable tool in a bodybuilder’s training routine, there is some evidence to indicate that it comes with a significant cost. Previous research has found that training to failure every set significantly increased resting levels of the catabolic hormone cortisol and suppressed anabolic growth factors such as IGF-1. This study demonstrated that taking every set to failure could lead to overtraining and a catabolic response. This study may indicate that bodybuilders who take every set to absolute failure may put themselves at risk of impeding long-term growth.
Researchers recently just published a study that may cause controversy among bodybuilders and researchers. Twenty-eight males completed a 4-week familiarization period and were three groups:
• Non-failure Rapid Contraction, Slow Eccentric (rapid concentric, 2 s eccentric). They lifted up the weight explosively and lowered the weight in 2 seconds, emphasizing the eccentric portion.
• Non-failure Rapid-Contraction and Lowering (rapid concentric, rapid eccentric). They lifted up the weight explosively and lowered the weight the weight explosively.
• Failure control (C, 2 s concentric, 2 s eccentric). Exercise is taken to complete muscle failure.
After 12 weeks of the study, the average number of repetitions per set was significantly lower in non-failure rapid shortening and non-failure stretch-shortening group compared with failure control. A significant increase in 1RM, maximal voluntary contraction, muscle size was observed for all groups; however, no between-group differences were detected. Similar adaptations across the three resistance training regimen suggest repetition failure is not critical to elicit significant neural and structural changes to skeletal muscle. In sum, the researchers found no difference in the routines that were taken to failure and those that were not. This study only lasted 12 weeks, so long term effects of taking every set to absolute muscular failure is not known. Regarding being better, make note that no study has ever shown that taking training to failure is better than stopping before failure. Training to failure too frequently can a possible lead to overtraining, as previously reported with the study that training to failure resulted in greater increases in cortisol and decreased IGF-1 levels. Any new study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine reports that training to failure each set needs longer recuperation than those not training to failure.
This study analyzed the time course of recovery following two resistance exercise protocols differing in level of effort: maximum (to failure) vs. half-maximum number of repetitions per set. Researchers had a group of volunteers perform 3 sets of bench presses and squats. Nine males performed either:
-3 sets of 8 repetitions to failure with their 80% 1RM load, and
– 3 sets of 4 repetitions with the same intensity (80% 1RM) but not to failure.
Training to failure resulted in greater neuromuscular fatigue and longer muscle recuperation than the not training to failure group for 48 hours. This indicates it takes a longer time for full muscle recovery following intense resistance exercise that is taken to failure compared with a similar workout where sets are terminated before failure is reached. This research suggests that you may want to train to failure occasionally but training to failure may lead to overtraining.
Sampson, J.A, and H. Groeller. “Is repetition failure critical for the development of muscle hypertrophy and strength?” Scand J Med Sci Sports (2015): Ahead of print.
González-Badillo JJ, Rodríguez-Rosell D, Sánchez-Medina L, Ribas J, López-López C, Mora-Custodio R, Yañez-García JM, Pareja-Blanco F. Short-term Recovery Following Resistance Exercise Leading or not to Failure. Int J Sports Med. 2015 Dec 14.