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SHOULD YOU TRAIN TO FAILURE? YES, BUT…

Should you be training to failure every time you work out?

The answer is YES, but let me qualify that.

I want to see you training to failure on every single set of every exercise in every workout you’re doing, because that’s the fastest way to increase muscle mass.

In fact, if you’re NOT training to failure you’re pretty much wasting your valuable training time!

However…

Many people don’t realize there are actually three types of failure: technique failure, tolerance failure and tempo failure.

There are three types of failure: technique failure, tolerance failure and tempo failure.

And you have to know the difference between the three and how to effectively use each in order to make sure you’re actually training to failure and getting the benefits of it.

Let’s go through an example each of the three types of failure to help you make sure you’re getting the most out of this powerful training tool.

TECHNIQUE FAILURE

Technique failure involves training a specific technique to failure while maintaining good form, without being concerned about a slowing of tempo.

You can see me here performing a pullup.  I’m doing it as more of a strength based, hypertrophy based exercise until I reach failure in my technique.

technique failure with pullups
Performing a pullup to technique failure means continuing to push through the burn by cranking out as many reps as possible with good form, even if you need to slow your tempo.

I want to go as hard as I can. If my tempo has to slow down that’s okay, as long as I continue practice good form, and follow the same technique.

Toward the end I begin to struggle to get reps, but I keep going.  In terms of tolerance, the burn is killing me but I’m still pushing through because I’m trying to train to failure.

Now, what I DON’T want to do is change my technique!  Once you start dropping down from the bar or you get tired and begin to practice shitty form, you’ve reached failure. Period.

It’s not really productive reps at this point, so you’re done.

bad form on the pullup
When working on technique failure, once my form degrades I’m no longer performing productive reps, so I’ve reached failure.

TOLERANCE FAILURE

Training to tolerance failure is often done with a high rep exercise in which your tolerance to the burn is what causes you to fail.

For example, here I’m performing curls with a piece of tubing.

tolerance failure with tubing curls
Performing biceps curls with tubing is a high rep exercise in which eventually your ability to withstand the burn will determine when you hit failure.

It’s likely that with this exercise you’ll be able to maintain the tempo and the technique, because the weight isn’t heavy enough for you to begin struggling with form.

But your tolerance level will change over time as your ability to withstand the burn declines.

At some point, I can’t maintain my resilience to the burn, and I have to let go and fail.

reaching tolerance failure with tubing curls
When performing a high rep exercise such as these tubing curls, eventually your tolerance decreases and you’ll have to let go and fail.

TEMPO FAILURE

The tempo failure technique is typically used when you’re training for power or explosiveness, and so once your tempo decreases you’ve reached failure.

Here I’m performing an explosive Cable Push Press.

tempo failure with cable push press
When training for power or explosiveness, as soon as your tempo decreases, you’ve hit failure.

For athletes, explosive training is very important, and there is certainly a component of speed built into every rep. If you’re not hitting the proper tempo of less than 1.2 seconds per rep, then you’re not training for power anymore.

If you’re not hitting the proper tempo of less than 1.2 seconds per rep, then you’re not training for power anymore.

So guess what?

That means you’ve reached failure.

You can see that as I start to get slower and slower, that is an indicator for me to quit.

reaching tempo failure with cable push press
If you’re training for power, once your tempo begins to slow that’s a sign that you’re reaching failure.

As you can see, whether or not you’ve reached failure depends on what goal you’re training for and what type of failure you’re training to.

But understand this: if you want to create change in your muscles you’d better train to some type of failure. If you just do sub-maximal sets, not touching any of these types of failure, your time in the gym isn’t really productive.

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THE HIGHLIGHT REEL:
Should You Train to Failure

  1. You should be training to failure on every set of every exercise in every workout you’re doing. But there are 3 types of failure, and what constitutes failure will depend on what goal you’re performing each exercise for.
  2. In technique failure you have failed once you can no longer maintain good form on the exercise, regardless of how bad the burn is or how much you may need to slow your tempo to keep pushing out reps.
  3. In higher rep exercises, you will likely reach tolerance failure as your ability to withstand the burn will decrease over time, and you’re unlikely to need to slow reps or to have your form degrade due to the use of lower weight/resistance.
  4. When training for power, typically you will be training to tempo failure. Once you can no longer push out explosive reps at a tempo of about 1.2 seconds per rep, you’re no longer training for power and you’ve reached tempo failure.

If you’re looking for a complete training program that puts all the science back in strength then head to ATHLEANX.com.  You can determine which of our programs best suits your needs using our Program Selector.

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