How Training to Failure is Ruining Your Gains

November 13, 2019

By: Jared Blincow CSCS, FRC, Coach at LIFT Chicago

How many times have you heard that if you’re leaving reps on the table and not training to failure then you’re missing out on some serious gains? What if I told you there was an alternative approach that was just as effective, allowed for greater recovery, higher quality reps, and still yielded the same results?

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place where training to failure fits into a well-designed program (I’ve been known to rep out bicep curls until I can’t lift my arms the next every now and then) but if you’re consistently taking every single exercise you do to failure day in and day out then it might be time to reconsider your training habits. Here’s a few reasons why training to failure isn’t always the optimal option:

  • Training to failure has a much higher metabolic fatiguing effect than sub-maximal training (duh). If you’re taking your very first set to failure this will impact every other set you do that training session. Instead of being able to hit three consistent sets of 135 for 8 on bench press, you might only be able to go 135 for 10, 135 for 7, and 135 for 5, ultimately ending up with a lower total workload than if you left 1 or 2 reps in the tank for each set. 

  • Training to failure too often won’t allow your body to fully recover between training sessions. There’s a time and place to push the limits in the weight room, but if you are doing it every training session for weeks at a time you’re hurting you progress. You’re not allowing your body to fully recover for the next training session and potentially setting yourself up for injury or over training. 

  • Training to muscle failure and training to technical failure are two different things. Typically, when training to muscular failure the last few reps are “cheated” reps done with poor form and could potentially do more harm than good. Training to technical failure still forces us to work hard and push ourselves but keeps a few reps in reserve. This ensures we are moving efficiently and using the actual parts of the body we are trying to recruit. Taking a set of bicep curls to muscular fatigue and using a little body english to finish out the last few reps isn’t the worst thing in the world, but pushing a compound movement like the squat to absolute failure could be especially detrimental and put the body in a compromising position to squeak out those last couple reps.

  • Trained lifters who train consistently are able to recruit muscle groups more efficiently and don’t necessarily need to train to absolute failure in order to optimally fatigue the muscles. One adaptation of consistent weight training is an increase in neuromuscular coordination and greater motor unit control, creating greater muscle tension earlier in sets. 

  • Just because you aren’t training to failure doesn’t mean you aren’t working hard. I’m not saying that doing sets of 3 with a weight you can lift 15 times will get it done in the gym. However, progressively overloading movements, allowing time to recover between sessions, picking your times to push the envelope and training consistently will provide greater results than just picking up a weight and cranking out as many reps as you can do with poor form until you can’t lift your arms the next day. Quality reps and training sessions with sound programming will always outperform quantity.  

What People Are Saying About Lift Chicago

  • If you're looking to train with coaches in safe, and clean environment away from crowds this is it. These coaches have years of experience and bring their expertise to... read more

    Lisa Richards Avatar Lisa Richards

    Love everyone here and they all get to know you even if you aren't their client. I train with Abby twice a week and it's always a great experience. She... read more

    Christina Carrdellio Avatar Christina Carrdellio

    Lift Chicago is a fantastic full-service gym. The trainers are knowledgable and motivating, the facility is clean and bright, and they take all steps to insure health and safety. As... read more

    Margaret Berg Avatar Margaret Berg
  • Amazing Gym! All the instructors are incredible! I'm hooked! Never a dull moment! Every single second is used! Scheduling Training! One of the easiest and most transparent... read more

    Erik Fogel Avatar Erik Fogel

    Finished my first ten days of training here and truly impressed. The four trainers I alternated between were all very attentive and friendly. Paid attention to my goals and paced... read more

    Alexis Youn Avatar Alexis Youn

    Can't say enough good things about Lift! I started training with Abby after losing a substantial amount of weight and muscle tone and I can't thank her enough for her... read more

    Katie McCarthy Avatar Katie McCarthy
  • I've been training with Sarah for two years and she has been amazing to work with! Both locations are clean and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. I highly... read more

    Kathryn Sugrue Avatar Kathryn Sugrue

    Positive: Communication ,  Professionalism ,  Quality

    The Wheelands Avatar The Wheelands

    I have been working out at Lift Chicago for over 10 years. I love that the trainers create a new personal workout every couple of months for members and on... read more

    Kenya Brockett Avatar Kenya Brockett
  • I recently joined Lift ~2 months ago and it's been an incredible experience! Whether you're a beginner (like me) or seasoned pro, this gym caters to all. Victoria, my coach,... read more

    Lauren Dicken Avatar Lauren Dicken

    WOW!!! I cannot say enough great things about Lift Chicago! Truly a fantastic experience. First off, with all things COVID, I felt very safe and comfortable using the equipment. Every... read more

    Alexis Jawny Avatar Alexis Jawny

    I started training at LIFT over a year ago in prep for my wedding. I have never looked or felt better! I have worked with almost every coach, and they’re... read more

    Cara j Avatar Cara j
  • I also love the open gym and the equipment. They are constantly adding new things to make the best experience for their customers!

    Juana Fermin Avatar Juana Fermin

    I’ve been training at LIFT for 1.5 years. Each and every one of the trainers are knowledgeable, friendly, professional, and extremely efficient. It’s surprising how great of a workout you... read more

    Kendra Chavin Avatar Kendra Chavin

    Amazing, diverse gym. Place to get strong and lean.

    Malika Whitmore Avatar Malika Whitmore
  • I started attending the women’s lifting class and absolutely love it! It’s exciting, fun and welcoming for all different ability levels!

    Lainie Augensen Avatar Lainie Augensen

    I’ve been training at Lift since it opened (and with Josh elsewhere for a few years prior). As a middle aged endurance athlete, I used to think I should strength... read more

    Dana Rothschild Avatar Dana Rothschild

    I started training at LIFT over a year ago in prep for my wedding. I have never looked or felt better! I have worked with almost every coach, and they’re... read more

    Cara Avatar Cara
  • The trainers are extremely helpful, creating programs tailored to each individuals need. They have created an atmosphere that is inviting and fun!

    Isaac Wolfe Avatar Isaac Wolfe

    I have trained with the guys at Lift for a long time and consider my sessions to be some of my best long-term investments. My workouts there are sustainable, enjoyable... read more

    Brigid Sweeney Avatar Brigid Sweeney

    Hands down the best gym and the best trainers in the city. The entire experience from start to finish is outstanding. The staff is friendly, the equipment is... read more

    Kyle Portnoy Avatar Kyle Portnoy
  • Great variety of classes, the instructors are awesome! All very helpful and help you with any questions you may have.

    Allen Hernandez Avatar Allen Hernandez

    Love the Lift classes- they are really unique, with 5 circuits and a mix of weight stations with some cardio, too (rope pulls, sleds, etc.). The coaches are the best... read more

    Carrie Sweeney Avatar Carrie Sweeney

    Positive: Communication ,  Professionalism ,  Quality Love the Lift classes- they are really unique, with 5 circuits and a mix of weight stations with some cardio, too... read more

    Carrie Sweeney Avatar Carrie Sweeney