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How to train to failure and do it properly

Pushing your body to its limits may sound intense and scary, but when done safely, it’s a proven way to maximize muscle growth.

Training to failure refers to the point of an exercise where you can no longer perform another repetition with proper form. This is beneficial for muscle growth because it creates a high level of stress on the muscles, stimulating your muscle fibres to adapt and grow stronger.

Why you should train to failure

If you’re new to the gym, you can achieve robust muscle gains without training close to failure (1). However, as you become more experienced, the need to increase workout intensity becomes more important, and multiple reviews have demonstrated this.

If we review two large reviews, one from 2021 and another from 2022, both found that training to failure provided similar muscle gains in comparison to not training to failure for new gym goers (1,2). But, as previously mentioned, the more training experience you have, the need to push your body and progressively overload it by training to failure, is an effective strategy to see muscle gains.

How to train to failure

When you get to the point when training to failure is needed in your program, there are a few things you should consider.

Not every exercise needs or should be trained to failure, and I suggest picking specific exercises or points of your routine where you can safely train to failure. This is especially important as you could injure yourself or the people working out around you, so always ensure you can perform the exercise properly before you begin taking it to failure.

That 2021 study recommends using single-join exercises or machines to train to failure as you can minimize injury risk. For example, you could push yourself to failure during your last set of seated dumbbell bicep curls or leg extensions. Both options allow you to safely drop the weight on the ground, or in the case of machines, back to the racked position.

You also don’t want to perform your first set to failure, as you won’t be able to continue with your other sets. You should be able to successfully get through the previous sets with adequate reps in the tank and perform your last set to failure. For example, if you’re performing 4 sets of a particular exercise for 12 reps each, you would perform the first 3 sets without failure, then subsequently perform the last set to failure.

Now when you’re ready to perform an exercise, you’ll want to make sure you can do so without injuring yourself or the people around you. Not every area of the gym is adequately spaced out for you, requiring you to set it up your space properly.

Below is a full video with exercise demonstrations on how to properly train to failure.

Keep these things in mind

While you may feel like a badass lifting to failure, moderation and safety are key here. You don’t want to train to failure all the time because it can lead to overtraining and psychological burnout.

Your recovery is also important to consider here. The more stress placed on your body, the more recovery is required.

A 2017 review took 10 highly trained athletes through three protocols: one where participants trained until they couldn’t do any more repetitions, and two others where they stopped before reaching that point, but with varied intensities (3). They found that when participants trained to failure, they needed more time to recover after their workout in comparison to when they didn’t train to failure.

With this in mind, train to failure every now and again for optimal muscle growth and to reduce the risk of fitness fatigue.

Moderation and safety are key

Training to failure may sound unsafe and intense, but when it’s done in moderation and you have set up your area properly, it allows trained individuals to challenge their body so they continue to see results.

I hope this helps you progress and progressively overload your routine to continue seeing results.


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  1. Schoenfeld, B., Fisher, J., Grgic, J., Haun, C., Helms, E., Phillips, S., ... & Vigotsky, A. (2021). Resistance training recommendations to maximize muscle hypertrophy in an athletic population: Position stand of the IUSCA. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 1(1).

  2. Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Orazem, J., & Sabol, F. (2022). Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 11 (2), 202-211.

  3. Morán-Navarro, R., Pérez, C. E., Mora-Rodríguez, R., de la Cruz-Sánchez, E., González-Badillo, J. J., Sánchez-Medina, L., & Pallarés, J. G. (2017). Time course of recovery following resistance training leading or not to failure. European journal of applied physiology, 117, 2387-2399.


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