Training to Failure: Is It Worth the Risk?

Training to the point of failure can have its benefits - but it can also increase the likelihood of injury if we don't do it the right way!
February 18, 2023
Training to Failure: Is It Worth the Risk?


This is a common question we get, and as with most questions - it depends!

Training to the point of failure can definitely have its benefits - but it can also increase the likelihood of injury if we don't do it the right way.

We're going to break it down for you so that you can be a little more clear on if and when you should be training toward failure.

To start, this question should really be broken down into two separate ones:

1) "Do I need to train to failure for my goal?"

2) "When should I be training to failure during my workout (if the above answer is yes)?'

To answer the first part, we want to look at the different Training Goals that people have. At Stoked, we have 3 Training Goals that people choose from.

The Three Types of Training Goals

1. Health and Wellness - Are you looking to train for longevity? Do you want your doctor to be happy with the different metrics they pay attention to? Then training for Health & Wellness is your main goal!

2. Strength and Performance - Interested in getting stronger? Or maybe you want to increase your endurance and have more energy? If there is a quality of athleticism that you are trying to improve, then you'll be prioritizing Strength & Performance.

3. Body Composition - Body Composition is the goal that concerns itself the most with trying to gain muscle, lose fat, or a combination of both. Getting lean, toning up, adding mass, and bulking up all fall under this category!

Each of these goals require different styles of training to meet their desired outcome.

For people with Health and Wellness Goals, training to failure is not really needed - although I do think it's good to do an audit every once in awhile to have a better idea of your true intensity threshold.

For anyone with Strength and Performance Goals, it is definitely beneficial to sometimes train to failure, but it isn't going to be your main concern. I like leaving room in the tank during our main strength work, and if I am having someone go to failure, it would be during their accessories (if said accessories were programmed with muscle gain in mind).

Lastly, if someone has Body Composition Goals - ESPECIALLY in a time where they are trying to gain muscle, then I think it is absolutely to train to failure. Now, I will say there are some needed nuances here!

  1. The first nuance is their experience level. I like to avoid training to failure for most new lifters at Stoked - regardless of their goal. Newer lifters can make great gains with very little work, so the added training to failure can just add wear-and-tear and fatigue to their body. Also, we try to stress that the most important session is always the next one, and it doesn't make it any easier to get to that next session if the new lifter is too sore to workout.

  2. The second nuance is their actual body comp goal. As I mentioned, I think that if someone has goals of muscle gain, and are experienced lifters, then they will absolutely need to train to failure. This is because the true driver of muscle gain is something called Mechanical Tension - and more specifically, high degrees of Mechanical Tension. We are reaching high degrees of Mechanical Tension when our muscles are close to failure, and the speed of our movement begins to slow down to a halt. This sets off a variety of biological processes that essentially tell our bodies to grow more muscle.

    This is in contrast to someone who may only care about losing fat. If that's the case, then training to failure is not needed (however, if they are experienced, they still could to maintain the most amount of muscle while cutting fat).

Now that we know the goals, when is it best to train to failure?

Okay, so now that we got the first question out of the way, it's time to talk about the second - "When should I be training to failure during my workout?"

For things like power and strength (think explosive movements like box jumps and broad jumps - and heavier compound lifts like squats, bench, and deadlifts) we tend to stay away from true failure, and instead, will train close to "Form Failure" or whenever our form starts to, let's face it, look like sh*t.

The reason being, these kinds of exercises:

A) Require a lot more energy
B) Cause more fatigue
C) Should be done as technically proficient as possible to avoid injury

Basically, if you get too tired and technique breaks down, your chances of getting hurt increases.

And at Stoked, our number one rule is to do no harm - so lifting close to failure on these exercises is typically frowned upon with very few exceptions.

However, there are times where we find it’s totally OK for the right person at the right time to tread that line.

One example that I mentioned early is experienced lifters who are training for muscle gain. These lifters can, and will, push close to/at failure for a lot of their exercises.

Outside of that specific goal, however, it's fine for many people to train to failure on things like accessory isolation movements (who doesn’t love doing curls til your arms fall off) and conditioning (low impact choices like sled pushes are great here).

These exercises won’t beat you up too much if you get to failure, and they’re self-limiting - meaning that when you do hit failure, the exercise is over. For example, if you can't push a sled any more, then the exercise is over. However, if you hit failure at the bottom of a squat, then you still have a loaded bar on your back that needs to come off.

Training to Failure - Right or Wrong?

Overall, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, "Should people train to failure?"

Goals, experience level, and timing during the workout all will play a part in determining whether or not it is right for you.

If you need help figuring out if you're someone who would benefit from training to failure, then we recommend taking advantage of our 14 Day Trial here at Stoked. To learn more, click here!

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