To failure, or not to failure, is that even a question?

If am trying to gain some muscle mass should I always train to failure?  Thanks,


Hi Billy,

Thanks for the question.

As is my answer to most things in life, it depends, and even more so, it depends on who you ask.  But understand this; training to failure is not synonymous with muscle growth, and I personally I feel that it can be dangerous if utilized by the wrong populations, and can have an adverse training effect if used in the wrong situations. 

With no understanding of your weight training experience level, current and long term training approach, training frequency, biological age, short and long term training goals are etc., the best I can do provide you a fairly general answer.

First, let’s establish muscle growth contributors: hormones, food, training stimulus and ample recovery from those training sessions.  Lacking any of these four things will significantly limit muscle growth.  For instance, prepubescent populations shouldn’t concern themselves with muscle gain due to lack of hormone production, and should focus more on improving integrity of connective tissue, learning proper motor patters, and becoming more neurologically efficient.  Similarly, those who don’t eat enough, nor get adequate rest in between training sessions, are significantly limiting growth potential.  I’d closely investigate those two things as many looking to gain muscle are strikingly lacking in these two areas.  As I believe your question pertains more to finding the “magical” set and rep scheme, I can tell you there isn’t one, but staying within certain rep and total volume ranges will ensure high amounts of tissue disruption, without always needing to train to failure.  

If I, or any of my athletes are engaged in a hypertrophy focused training block, I always prefer training to positive failure for most sets, defined as when one can no longer complete another rep with good form.  This strategy mainly pertains to their accessory work which depending on the time of year, and programming intentions, will typically fall in the 7-15 rep/set range.  A variety of factors will determine how many total sets/sessions/frequency.  I’ll also shorten rest in between sets.  Sets will always stop feeling like they had another 2 reps “in the tank” during their main compound movement (ie. squat, deadlift, etc.) of the day.  That’s my strength coach-biased answer, and I’m sticking to it…for now. 

Below is a picture of “Big Joe;” he’s the dude in the blue singlet.

 “Big Joe” trained with us at SAPT to prep for his wrestling and baseball seasons.  “Big Joe” is now a Division 1 athlete at a big-time SEC school.  “Big Joe,” never trained to absolute failure with us at SAPT and “Big Joe” is…well…big.

If you’re looking to safely and intelligently put on some muscle, and improve function this offseason, you gotta get in touch with us by clicking HERE

Neurological efficiency is where it’s at, though,