What Does Training to Failure Actually Mean

When it comes to rep ranges, is training to failure the best option or should you leave a few reps in the tank?

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When designing a fitness routine for yourself there are a lot of options to choose from in regards to sets and rep ranges.

For the newbies out there it looks something like this:

  • 1 to 5 reps = Strength Building
  • 6 to 12 reps = Muscle Building/Hypertrophy
  • 13 to 20 reps = Endurance

We can get a little more technical than that but that is the basic guidelines for rep ranges.

One thing we did leave off that list though is training to failure.

Where on the list does that belong? Well that’s where training to failure get’s very tricky for many people.

The term “training to failure” is often misunderstood or misapplied.

Many think training to failure is something you do every set of every exercise.

Or that is pushing out every last rep despite form.

Some fell it is a finisher you do where you pump out 100 reps to get that extra “pump.”

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What is training to failure?

One thing training to failure is not is pushing yourself despite bad form. I am sure you have seen times or even done it yourself where you are doing something like a bench press and you can’t get the bar up on your own.

You twist and turn and fight with every ounce to get the bar up and realize its hopeless unless your spotter helps out.

That is not training to failure that is training to complete fatigue.

This is dangerous and while can be a tool used on rare occasions is not what we are talking about.

Training like that I would argue is a waste. Once you are to that point, you are not going to see enough muscle growth from pushing out that extra one or two reps to make it worth while.

I would argue its better to not do that and you would see better gains.

Training to failure is the point where you can no longer lift the weight on your own without sacrificing form.

That means it is completely safe and not going to raise the chance of injury.

You can do this with just about any exercise despite rep range. If you are doing a heavy lift like the back squat and you get two reps and know you can’t do another without sacrificing form then you have reached failure.

The back squat is one of the best if not the best exercise when it comes to training the entire body. It is a serious move and at the same time is quite dangerous if performed improperly.

Once you hit that point, you don’t go further.

It is perfectly fine to hold back one or two reps if you are doing heavy work but you still want to get to a point in the training where you are creating muscle growth by pushing yourself.

Training to failure can also be for things like a simple bicep curl. When it comes to a smaller muscle like the bicep, you can cheat a little if you need to get that extra pump. Cheating is not that big of a deal so go for that extra to help your bicep pump.

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Treat it like it is

Realize that training to failure is a tool. It is not something you need or should do all the time.

There are benefits to leaving a few reps in the tank.

Just like you not use a hammer to screw in an outlet, training to failure is not for every situation.

It is important to remember that when we train we create two reactions for the muscle. The muscles must (1) recover and (2) adapt.

When you work out to the point of your muscles being exhausted, they have to focus more energy on recovery instead of growth.

This means you must wait longer before training them again.

However if you are training each muscle group multiple times a week, it is good to train your muscles with just enough volume so they focus on growth or adaptation and not so much on recovery.

People often go into the gym with the mind set of how much can I do? Change it up and start asking how little you can do.

Do just enough to see growth without over taxing your muscles. Every once in a while throw in a failure round for a little extra. But like all tools, it does not need to be in every workout and in every set.


AEon Fitness is owned by CPT Ron Nattress. From the day Ron started walking he was involved in some sort of sport or activity. Tragically at a young age Ron became seriously ill with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. For many years he spent his childhood in a wheel chair and watching others enjoy the activities he loved. Determined to get his life back he did everything he could to get out of the wheelchair and back on the field. At around the age of 13 he finally had his condition under control enough to get out of the chair.  Around 15 years old he started lifting weights and doing activities that involved a lot of movement. He also focused a lot of effort on his diet. He quickly fell in love with the feeling it gave him. Finally able to move without pain he realized the change exercise and and nutrition can play in a person's health. From this point, it was decided that he wanted to help others get their health back under control. After getting certified with as a personal trainer he spent the next 15 years helping people achieve their fitness goals. Becoming an expert in special populations, Ron has found key ways to help people with arthritis, PCOS, diabetes, and many other serious health concerns. During these years, he also found a passion for cooking. Ron spent 10 years working as a chef in some of the finest restaurants in California. As a trainer by day and chef by night, he now has shifted his energy to writing cook books that provide healthy and delicious recipes.

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