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  1. #1
    Registered User tkdnj's Avatar
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    What are your thoughts regarding going to failure?

    Hey all - What are your thoughts regarding going to failure? (failure defined as not being able to do another rep with proper form). Of course there's lots opinions on the web (Dr. Mike Israetel says no need to because it will negatively impact your next workout so leaving 2 reps in the tank is fine, Jeff Cavaliere says it's necessary, and others say just on the last set of each exercise, etc...). What have you guys found works best, especially for the over 35 crew? Goal is hypertrophy.
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    Fatter than last time ezra76's Avatar
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    In the past to failure worked and I would swear by it.

    Now, not so sure. Recovery has been brutal and flat out unproductive.

    It's not muscular but joint and cns recovery that is the issue. I'll go more in depth with workouts and stall points if needed .
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    How you define failure. On 5-rep scheme one might be lifting so heavy that even the first rep is questionable. Sounds familiar, isn't it? I bet you see this all the time. Called "ego lifts". On 20-rep sets (my fav) the actual failure is somewhat fuzzy and I often have to decide where to fail. I think proper question here is "what is the optimal level of intensity".

    On youtube there is a vid on this very subject. It is funny how every one interviewed in that video gently pussyfoot around a direct answer. The female lifter whatshername she gave awesome hint, something like "greatness does not come with casual effort" and another thought of her was that every one who has achieved anything in lifting was training obsessively. And this is the best answer.
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    I love heavy failure on squats and prefer a higher range for bench, swats maybe 1-2 reps and bench 2-3
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    Fatter than last time ezra76's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by weiss1967 View Post
    How you define failure. On 5-rep scheme one might be lifting so heavy that even the first rep is questionable. Sounds familiar, isn't it? I bet you see this all the time. Called "ego lifts". On 20-rep sets (my fav) the actual failure is somewhat fuzzy and I often have to decide where to fail. I think proper question here is "what is the optimal level of intensity".

    On youtube there is a vid on this very subject. It is funny how every one interviewed in that video gently pussyfoot around a direct answer. The female lifter whatshername she gave awesome hint, something like "greatness does not come with casual effort" and another thought of her was that every one who has achieved anything in lifting was training obsessively. And this is the best answer.
    Failure can be undefinitive yet the ultimate defininer, no? Not getting the rep is failure. It can get sketchy working out alone in the dungeon, trust me.
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    Registered User Payton1221's Avatar
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    My thoughts echo Ezra's: I used to think it was essential, but now? Probably not, but I like the idea of IF you're going to use it THEN use it on the last set.
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    Registered User tkdnj's Avatar
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    For this discussion, I am defining failure as not being able to do another rep with proper form in a hypertrophy range of 7-12 reps.
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    Registered User LWW's Avatar
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    My thoughts are that I once did an all out set of squats to failure and it was the greatest thing I ever did, however I've had problems of being able to "go there" since because I know how torturous this is, hopefully this last week of doing 21 reps gets me in a better mindset to get closer to 25reps next week, I probably won't get to point of failure as that would mean getting close to 30 reps, but we still got another 2-3 weeks of these 20 reps squats sessions.


    Generally I'd say going to failure here and there is good, along with not going to failure, listen to the body, but don't get complacent.

    When it comes to squats I have the angel and devil on my shoulders, I was brought up to squat to damn near failure, that is in my roots, there are days when I need to listen to "don't train even close to failure" side of my shoulder, whoever that is
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    It's another tool to use when appropriate... So, it depends...

    Data and anecdote suggest leaving 1or2 true* reps in the tank/@8 is actually better for most of your training, as the differences in muscle gain are statistically insignificant on a set for set basis..

    With the bonus you have better recovery and can do more sets. XD

    On isolation and machine stuff ect or in the higher rep ranges I have no problem overshooting and getting to failure on the odd set, and I actively choose to for band work as its very VERY easy to recover from regardless.

    On big compounds, or low rep sets I'll very rarely pass 2rir/@8. It's just not worth the extra recovery usually.

    3-30reps / 0-4 reps in the tank are proven to give similar gains on a set to set basis. Im more partial to the 6-12 reps with 2rir for efficiency and how much more work I can do in that time. for hyp style work.

    *I'm not taking about bitching out with 7reps in the tank and saying its 2 .. 2rir is a Damn hard set of you are honest.
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    Registered User jademonkey's Avatar
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    It was much easier to go to failure all the time a few months after I started lifting before the weight started getting so heavy and joints started to feel it.

    Now, I go to the point of form breakdown on squats/deadlift all the time, but not failure to make the lift. There's many reps and many pounds between the 2 for those lifts.
    Bench, I've been having some nagging left shoulder pain so I haven't been pushing it lately. Still go to 0 rir on the last set here and there.
    Overhead and arnold press I love going to failure.
    Pulls (rows, pull downs) just get sloppier little by little so it's hard to define a "failure" point. I often start my sets using momentum, and other times stay slow and strict with a pause at full contraction.
    I will do barbell hack squats to failure sometimes, it burns like hell.
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  11. #11
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    Doesn't seem to do chit for deadlifts or pullups, helps bench a bit, calves grow with multiple sets to failure, hit or miss with squats, I like doing isolation exercises to failure all ime obviously
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    Crawling back under rock OldFartTom's Avatar
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    This adds very little in the way of intellectual rational info or debate, but it may be entertaining, at the very least for the background incidental/music (Yeah I know they took vitamins, I'm not getting into those debates)

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    Registered User Narrator02's Avatar
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    Dr Mike has extensive scientific studies to back his opinions. I'd stick with him
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    I try to leave one or two in the tank for compounds, but for isolation go further. But I think it depends on so many factors. You can tell when you need to back off though, so that's my only gauge.
    What's optimal for everyone...I haven't a clue.
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    Registered User shaneinga's Avatar
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    I know a lot of people advocate it. I listened to a Tim Ferris podcast with Seffi Cohen and she mentioned in her training she would go to failure. She holds 25 world records in powerlifting. Paul Carter, who I follow on IG, talks a lot about going to failure and minimizing junk volume. My understanding of his philosophy is go intense, go to failure and give your body time to recover. He is not a fan of needing to do a body part 2 and three times per week. Break the muscle down, feed it, and let it recover. Going to failure would definitely make sure you have not stopped short of breaking the muscle down. You have been lifting long enough to know what lifts taking to absolute failure would be worth doing and which ones the risk far outweighs the possible reward.

    On the contrary there are a lot of people who think going to absolute failure is not required to properly break down the muscle and instead depend on only progressive overload as the main driver to put on mass.

    I think both ways will get you were you want to go as long as you are progressing in weights or reps and intensity is kept high, you eat to your goal, and properly recover between sessions.
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    Registered User xTeTe's Avatar
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    I'm in the Greg Doucette camp... if you are intermediate or especially an advanced lifter... go harder than last time.

    I do set four (out of five) to failure and go beyond failure on my last set. I'll do pause reps or half reps after failure every time every exercise on that last set. The only time I may not do this is on the barbell bench or squat if I don't have a spotter.

    For posterity though, I do full body workouts Mon, Wed and Friday so I have more than enough recovery time. I also take fish oil and zinc, ensure I get good sleep and eat a lot on my off days. It's worked fine for me.
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  17. #17
    Fatter than last time ezra76's Avatar
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    Found my failure lol. Determined to get 185 4x6 on bench and only got 5 on set 3. Had to do the roll off. I can usually get it if I can get it to halfway but not this time.
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    Registered User Thegainswarden's Avatar
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    On my lift I go to failure. Everything else’s after that compound movement is accessory work. Of course you have to eat quite a bit, Stretch, and get plenty of rest for results.
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    Da1UnV bodyhard's Avatar
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    I typically train to concentric failure on my last set, but I can't see how anyone can train to either concentric or eccentric failure on their first or second set and still do another productive set.
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    Clearly Irrational blue9steel's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by tkdnj View Post
    Dr. Mike Israetel says no need to because it will negatively impact your next workout so leaving 2 reps in the tank is fine,
    I've been listing/reading a lot of his material lately, that's not his position. A quick summary would be that stimulus rises as you get closer to failure but fatigue rises even faster. Generally he advocates starting a mesocycle at somewhere around 3-4 RIR (since you're somewhat desensitized after your deload and can get productive training) and ending at 0 RIR (since you're going to deload next week so you might as well get the extra stimulus). He did say that on average 2 RIR probably has the best stimulus to fatigue ratio, but that's just an average and he specifically recommends against training that way all the time. Since switching to that method it's been working great for me, but YMMV.
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    Originally Posted by bodyhard View Post
    I typically train to concentric failure on my last set, but I can't see how anyone can train to either concentric or eccentric failure on their first or second set and still do another productive set.
    I agree, it would be crazy to fail every set.

    In addition to what I said before in regards to how I train to fail... I typically go RPE 7 on set one, RPE 8 on set two and RPE 9 on set three... then fail on set four, and beyond fail on set five.
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    Not on compounds (snatch, clean, jerks,squats, D/L etc). Always leave a rep or two in the tank. On some other stuff like isolation machines where failure would not be a train wreck.. maybe for some things.
    Please record my time/reps if I pass out
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  23. #23
    Registered User asrl78's Avatar
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    Steve Shaw (Massive Iron) advocates a make every set count attitude, whereby you have a target rep goal over three sets, and you do enough reps on every set to the point where you can't do another rep without form breakdown if not failure. If you reach your rep goal over the three sets, increase the weight. It is thus a double progression method, whereby you have two chances to improve each workout, either increase the weight or increase the volume.

    It sounds a logical system to me and I think I will try it when my gym eventually reopens (and I hope this will be the last time a pandemic lockdown shuts the gym for weeks at a time), my only concern is burning out. Going to near failure on every set when I am doing a full body workout three times a week with mostly compound movements is going to be very taxing, and I'm not sure if I will be able to recover quickly enough between sessions. I won't know for sure until I try.
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  24. #24
    Fatter than last time ezra76's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by asrl78 View Post
    Steve Shaw (Massive Iron) advocates a make every set count attitude, whereby you have a target rep goal over three sets, and you do enough reps on every set to the point where you can't do another rep without form breakdown if not failure. If you reach your rep goal over the three sets, increase the weight. It is thus a double progression method, whereby you have two chances to improve each workout, either increase the weight or increase the volume.

    It sounds a logical system to me and I think I will try it when my gym eventually reopens (and I hope this will be the last time a pandemic lockdown shuts the gym for weeks at a time), my only concern is burning out. Going to near failure on every set when I am doing a full body workout three times a week with mostly compound movements is going to be very taxing, and I'm not sure if I will be able to recover quickly enough between sessions. I won't know for sure until I try.
    I like that mindset. I've been using the #24. I get that with 3x8 or 4x6. I've been trying to basically get a weight 4x6, then get it 3x8, then move up in weight.
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  25. #25
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    Originally Posted by blue9steel View Post
    I've been listing/reading a lot of his material lately, that's not his position. A quick summary would be that stimulus rises as you get closer to failure but fatigue rises even faster. Generally he advocates starting a mesocycle at somewhere around 3-4 RIR (since you're somewhat desensitized after your deload and can get productive training) and ending at 0 RIR (since you're going to deload next week so you might as well get the extra stimulus). He did say that on average 2 RIR probably has the best stimulus to fatigue ratio, but that's just an average and he specifically recommends against training that way all the time. Since switching to that method it's been working great for me, but YMMV.
    I agree with you as I follow Dr. Mike closely. That said what I wrote: "Dr. Mike Israetel says no need to because it will negatively impact your next workout so leaving 2 reps in the tank is fine" is exactly what he said in this video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kwl5LiuCs4&t=21s
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  26. #26
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    These are all great replies... thanks for the input! A lot of the replies talk about compounds vs isolation exercises. For this discussion I was thinking about benching with dumbbells. A compound movement that you can fail on safely. (failure as I described earlier: going until you can't get another rep with proper form.... technical failure)

    FYI - for the most part I do 3-4 working sets per exercise, leave 1 RIR on most sets except the last set, in which I go to technical failure

    A typical chest workout on push day (I do a push / legs / pull / off REPEAT routine), would look like:

    Flat dumbbell bench: 3 working sets (1 of which would be to technical failure)
    Incline dumbbell bench: 4 working sets (1 of which would be to technical failure)
    Machine Flyes: 3 working sets (all to technical failure)
    Last edited by tkdnj; 01-12-2021 at 03:00 PM.
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  27. #27
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    Originally Posted by shaneinga View Post
    Paul Carter, who I follow on IG, talks a lot about going to failure and minimizing junk volume.
    I posted in the thread where someone was wanting an abbreviated program to drop all of the redundant exercises. Three HARD sets of pressing, pulling, and legs, and I know that I've had a good workout. If you're going to get on stage, then I suppose you need a good dose of isolation exercises, but the average gym rat, stick with the "money" exercises like some variation of a bench, squat, deadlift and/or pull-up, etc. I still don't know for certain if one must go to failure BUT going to failure AND doing lots of "junk volume" is just going to dig you further into that need-recovery hole.
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  28. #28
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    Originally Posted by OldFartTom View Post
    This adds very little in the way of intellectual rational info or debate, but it may be entertaining, at the very least for the background incidental/music (Yeah I know they took vitamins, I'm not getting into those debates)

    That fuking form did not break. Fuk fuk! Wow

    Going to the OP, I am a newbie still and was working out Ballz to the wallz RPE 10 and sloppy last few reps. I thought if I didn’t beat myself I wouldn’t get stronger /grow.

    Well 2 years later I am kuch healthier and much stronger than when I started but really I could’ve had more gains.

    I was loosing strength after getting to a certain point and then I would get injured - reduce the weights and start over. So I was forced to deload and resulted in spinning wheels for a while.

    Till I figured out after being told over and over on this forum by some smart people like MyEgoProblem that busting Ballz is not the point. Recently I have been deloading every 6th week and I tried couple different Deload metbods that didn’t work for me. For me I have to increase intensity to 90% 1RM and do two to three reps for two sets and i come back stronger and recovered.

    First couple weeks, it’s RPE 8, then RPE 8.5/9 for next couple weeks and RPE 9/9.5/10 (depending if I made a mistake judging if I was gonna get that rep or not lol) 5th week.

    6th is Deload/recovery week.

    So far seems to be working for me great. So I’m going to failure but only on my week before Deloads

    I get tempted to start week 1 at my week 5 weights but I’ve been resetting my weights to 10RM and follow the Greskull LP /fit variant. Get 2x5 and 1xAMRAP set (stop at the RPE as mentioned above).

    Don’t feel like chit anymore like was before I started taking Deloads and stopped going to failure all the time
    Last edited by TryingBB; 01-12-2021 at 09:02 PM.
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  29. #29
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    Originally Posted by Payton1221 View Post
    I posted in the thread where someone was wanting an abbreviated program to drop all of the redundant exercises. Three HARD sets of pressing, pulling, and legs, and I know that I've had a good workout. If you're going to get on stage, then I suppose you need a good dose of isolation exercises, but the average gym rat, stick with the "money" exercises like some variation of a bench, squat, deadlift and/or pull-up, etc. I still don't know for certain if one must go to failure BUT going to failure AND doing lots of "junk volume" is just going to dig you further into that need-recovery hole.
    Good post,

    Having the needle in red constantly will destroy any engine, especially if its an older machine.
    Please record my time/reps if I pass out
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  30. #30
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    Originally Posted by Cantplankwell View Post
    Good post,

    Having the needle in red constantly will destroy any engine, especially if its an older machine.
    Indeed!
    Yesterday about 4 hours after this thread started Mike Israetel posted a short video on intensity - talked pretty much about this!
    Why NOT?

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