Why Training to Failure and Deloading is the Best Way to Gain Muscle

Apr 3, 2023 mindpump

When I first started lifting, I was always told to train to failure. That if you weren’t sore the next day you didn’t train hard enough. While there is some merit to that advice, it isn’t 100% true. As is most things in the fitness world, that answer lies somewhere in between.

Why Train to Failure?

The science behind training to failure is creating the most tension on the muscle. The more tension you create, the more muscle fibers that get recruited. If you don’t train to failure, you aren’t maximally stimulating every muscle fiber. Pushing a weight to failure maximizes the mechanical tension that is produced.  

There is a term called effective reps. Let’s say you are doing curls for a set of 10. Now, not all 10 reps hurt right? Usually you can coast through the first 5 or 6. After that, the burn kicks in, and it gets significantly harder to finish those last 3-4 reps. That is effective reps. Some coaches believe it is only under those last few reps where the muscle growth occurs. Because of this then, you may come across programs that focus on how many EFFECTIVE reps you can get done. This is definitely true 

Why Can Failure Training Be Bad?

The downside to the above is the cost it takes to get there. If you train every single exercise, at every set, to failure, for weeks and weeks, you have to consider what toll it takes. What is that volume doing to your body? How hard are you pushing your joints?

You don’t want to be training to failure ALL the time, because it’s not worth the risk. At a certain point you risk overtraining, and spending way too much time recovering. If all your days are spent recovering, that’s less time (and thus less overall volume which stimulates muscle growth) building the muscle. You want more frequent shots at stimulating the muscle, not just taking off days. This is even more crucial for compound lifts that hit a lot of muscle and utilize a lot of weight. Imagine maxing out a heavy squat every week. It isn’t sustainable.

The Solution

So we know training to failure can be good, but too much is bad. So the solution is to allow yourself to tap into failure training occasionally. Studies have shown training 2-3 reps shy of failure produces the same, if not better results than those who trained to failure all the time. Let’s not forget you’re also allowing more recovery and it is less taxing on the joints so you are winning all around.

The issue is most people don’t know what true failure feels like. What they think is failure usually ends up being 4-5 reps shy of actual failure. So this is where occasionally adding in failure training can work.  

So my suggestion is to take a 4-6 week training block, and spend most of the time 2-3 reps shy of failure. Towards the end, or possibly alternating every other week, include some failure training. This will allow you to reap the rewards of both worlds. You will also finally get to experience what true failure is, so that it may better inform your other weeks of training without spending too much time on failure.


So now we know including some failure training, while staying mostly in the 2-3 reps shy zone seems to be a good setup. At some point, the volume will still add up. After a 4 week training block you will have presumably continued to add more weight, or more reps than the week before. Think about how much more volume you’ve gotten to by week 4 compared to week 1. Again, this is not sustainable. A deload week should follow.

After you’ve accumulated enough volume, you’ll hit that point you can’t beat the week before. This means your body has hit its limit and needs a break. A deload week is when you do half the intensity and volume as your normal training. You are going for a supercompensation effect, where you give your body a week to recover, and catch up to all that accumulated volume and fatigue you’ve generated. By doing this, you will ensure better gains than trying to fight throught the plateau without rest.

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