Stopping Your Sets Short Of Failure…

Should You Train To Failure or Not ?

When it comes to bodybuilding training, many guys believe that lifting to failure is the best way to build muscle.

I used to feel the same way when I started training as a teenager back in the early 1990’s because…


  • Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty Training System was very popular back then.
  • Dorian Yate’s was the reigning Mr. Olympia and he was known for his “Blood & Gut’s” workouts.
  • And there were several bodybuilding coaches and gurus who all preached high intensity training where you pushed yourself to failure and beyond with forced reps, negatives, drop sets, etc.

Now don’t get me wrong, you can certainly build muscle training with this kind of intensity. But it’s overkill, and the risks very often outweigh the rewards.

Pretty much everyone who has trained with high intensity workouts like this for any length of time has suffered their fair share of training injuries…
(In my case it was a torn lat muscle and 2 torn biceps).

In addition to that, pushing yourself to failure places major stress on your central nervous system. After several weeks of following such a program you’ll end up feeling overtrained and mentally & physically burnt out due to CNS exhaustion.


How To Stimulate Muscle Growth…

To stimulate muscle growth you have to train with progressive overload and push yourself, but it doesn’t mean that you have to lift to failure on each and every set. You can make great gains and do so in a safe manner by stopping your sets 1-2 reps shy of failure.

By doing this you’ll be able to build up training momentum, where you finish your workouts feeling strong, confident, and eager to get back into the gym again for your next workout. Rather than feeling exhausted, beat up, and dreading your next training session.


Stopping Short Of Failure Doesn’t Mean You’re Lazy…

To see a prime example of productive weight training workouts that stop sets shy of failure, just look at competitive powerlifters & weight lifters.

Powerlifter’s push themselves hard and train with heavy weights, but they almost always stop their sets short of failure and rack the barbell by themselves.

In fact, the only time you really see a powerlifter hit failure is if they max out and miss a lift. You’ll rarely ever see them rep out to failure and then get their spotter to help them squeeze out forced reps, negatives, etc.


The Key To Long Term Muscle Gains…

The secret to building muscle is being consistent with your training over the long term. And the only way to do that is to remain injury free.

Stopping your sets short of failure and racking the weight with 1-2 reps left in reserve will NOT hinder your progress. But if you push yourself to failure and get injured, that will definitely hinder your progress.

An injury could set you back weeks, months, and in some cases you may never fully recover. The risk just isn’t worth it.

You need to train smart and think of the bigger picture. Building muscle is a lot like a marathon, you have to pace yourself and stay in the game for the long term.


If you would like help with planning your bodybuilding training program, than I recommend that you sign up for my Total Fitness Bodybuilding “Inner Circle” Coaching Club.

As a member of the “Inner Circle” Coaching Club you’ll get on going training and nutritional advice, including the Workout Of The Month program. This is where you’ll get a brand new training program each month. Each “Workout Of The Month” builds on the previous month’s training and is specifically designed to help you make continuous progress over the long term towards your muscle building goals.

Click on the link below to get more information on how you can become a Total Fitness Bodybuilding “Inner Circle” member… www.TotalFitnessBodybuilding.com

About The Author

leehayward

Lee Hayward is a competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online helping people build muscle, lose bodyfat, and get in shape since 1999. Lee was selected as one of the Top Fitness Trainers Online through YouTube's Next Trainer Program and his work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes.

4 Comments

  • If you grasp this simple concept it can help you enjoy better gains in the gym. The secret to building muscle is being consistent with your training over the long term. And the only way to do that is to remain injury free.

    Stopping your sets short of failure and racking the weight with 1-2 reps left in reserve will NOT hinder your progress. But if you push yourself to failure and get injured, that will definitely hinder your progress.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Joseph Gregorio

    Reply Reply

    Simple yet effective. Great Post Lee!

    There are many times when going to failure simply isn’t the right way to go about training, particularly when doing high volume.

    I think we sometimes forget that our bodies are not a machine but a continually evolving mechanism that needs just the right amount of stimulation to progress. I guess ego will sometimes get the better of many lifters.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Jonathan Kay

    Reply Reply

    Great article, and I could not agree more.

    First off, one cannot train “full out” all the time, especially after age 40. The risk of burn out and injury are far too great. As mentioned, gains come over the long term being injury free.

    Secondly, something you know but did not mention – gains come through variety. Lifters hit a wall (call it “diminishing returns”) at a certain point, and more intensity will be of only marginal help.
    You get more by changing routines up, say every 3 months. The muscles adapt, but do not grow.

    I really wish I read more of these articles before my elbow ucl injury. Over training 5 years ago, and even now I have an injury that flares up each session and must be managed! Other than PRP therapy, nothing to do.

    Thanks Lee!!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • William S

    Reply Reply

    Lee,

    Great article. Do you think 2-3 reps short of failure would be too light?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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