Should You Train to Failure?

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Should you train to failure or not?

Nobody seems to know for sure.

So I will end the confusion.

And, just so everyone is clear, training to failure literally means that the weight is falling back down on you. You actually never want to do that.

Instead you can train to technical failure. That’s the point where another rep with perfect technique would be impossible.

But even that’s a little far for my liking. I always tell people to stop sets with 1-2 perfect reps in the tank. Now, granted those 1-2 reps will be hard and much slower than the previous ones. But they will still be perfect as far as the form as concerned.

When form starts breaking down, you start getting out of the groove, flaring body parts that shouldn’t be flaring, and the rep is going to take five or more seconds to complete you’ve gone to far.

You want to stop before that happens.

Definitely Avoid Coming Anywhere Near Failure on all of the Following:

  • Olympic lifts
  • Jumps
  • Throws
  • Anything you are trying to learn
  • Anything with a technical aspect
  • Anything that will compromise your lower back like a bent 
over row
  • Big barbell lifts you haven’t mastered
  • Anything in the 1-5 range or 85% and above

You Can Go Very Close to Failure On:

  • Bodyweight exercises done for 8 reps and above
  • DB exercises done for 8 reps and above
  • Barbell presses if you have mastered technique and are 
doing them for sets of 8 and above, with focus on size over 
  • Sled pushing and dragging. Again, not necessary but fine.
  • Hard conditioning drills that aren’t technical or don’t 
pose an injury risk if form breaks down. Not necessary but 
conditioning is brutal and you’ve gotta lay it all on the line.

If you train hard but smart you can avoid overtraining and injury. Sometimes people want to push it and I get that. And there are definitely studies that show training to failure leads to better size and strength gains.

So what I would recommend is that if you want to train to failure (and you should, sometimes) you don’t do it on more than about 3-5 total sets per workout. That gives you the best of both worlds.

A word of caution, though- if you don’t recover well or get sick easily, I’d totally skip the failure sets or just limit to 1-2 per workout, and not at every training session.

Everyone’s tolerance is different and you have to do your best honest self assessment.

I hope this helps you get closer to your goals.