Despite being advocated for promoting muscle growth, new research suggests that it may be best sometimes to stop a few reps short of failure.



  • Failure gym is a metaphorical concept, suggesting that failures in life are like a gym where you “work out” your resilience, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence.
  • Training near but not to muscular failure is more effective for muscle growth.
  • Training to full muscular failure prolongs recovery time.
  • Long-term heavy training to failure isn’t beneficial.
  • Training at 60–80% of a 1-RM without reaching failure can be as effective as training to failure.
  • For very light weights (<30% of a 1-RM), train to failure.
  • Light training (30% of a 1-RM) not to failure has lower protein synthesis than both light and heavy training to failure.


Thirty-two physically active males completed eight weeks of resistance training at low (30% of a 1-RM) and high loads (80% of a 1-RM) to failure and not to failure.

High-load training to failure and not training to failure resulted in similar muscle growth. The low-load training that stopped short of failure did not see changes in muscle growth, whereas the low-load to failure experienced similar muscle growth as the high-load training programs. Both heavy-weight training protocols gained strength compared to the low-load training program. (13)


Some suggest that training closer to failure is associated with greater muscle growth. The newest study by Rissanen et al. suggests that lifters may be able to train further away from failure than once thought. Previous studies have shown that 40% velocity loss results in greater muscle growth than 20% velocity loss.

Strength gains are greater with lower velocity loss. Researchers had men and women complete eight weeks of velocity-based training using the Smith machine squat and bench press. One group of males and females trained with a 20% velocity loss threshold, and another group of males and females trained with a 40% velocity loss threshold.


One would expect the results to be in line with previous research. Still, the results found that the 20% velocity loss (the group that trained further away from failure) had similar increases in leg growth as the 40% velocity loss group (trained closer to failure). The males training with the 40% velocity loss (training closer to failure) had a small but not statistically significant increase in quad growth.

Both groups in the 40% velocity loss group performed significantly more reps than the 20% velocity group. For example, the women in the 40% velocity group averaged 833.4 reps, whereas the 20% velocity loss group averaged 673.7 reps. Another interesting finding was the females training with a 40% velocity loss group gained (non-significantly) more strength than the female 20% velocity loss group.

This is in direct contrast to what other researchers have found, but it suggests that women may need to train closer to failure for strength gains. This is the only study to report this, so we need to wait for other studies to validate this. There are many other studies with resistance exercises in females in which training closer to failure increases muscle mass. (14)


Based on the articles on the website, many of you probably realize that there is a relationship between fatigue, volume, and muscle growth. If you have read any fitness magazine or bodybuilding book in the past decade, it usually advocated training to complete muscular failure each set for muscle growth.

Some bodybuilding gurus recommended even training past lifting failure by having your workout partner assist you in doing additional reps once fatigued. A good way of judging how close you are approaching failure is to gauge how fast the concentric part of the lift slows with each additional repetition.

Despite being advocated for promoting muscle growth, new research suggests that it may be best sometimes to stop a few reps short of failure.


The debate on training for failure each set is has been going on for decades. For those who don’t know, training to failure takes an enormous toll on the muscular and nervous systems.

Studies have found that training to complete muscular failure increases muscle fatigue and decreases performance in the subsequent sets.[1,2] This means that the subsequent intensity of the workout will be further reduced in each set because of fatigue.

When you train to fail so that you can’t complete another repetition, this results in the cellular depletion of substrates. The subject’s training to failure marked a decrease in power output during the last 5 repetitions of each set. This was accompanied by an 80% fall in phosphocreatine and a 21% drop in ATP levels.


Subjects that did half the reps and stopped before failure had a 15% drop in phosphocreatine levels and no depletion of ATP levels and maintained power output throughout the entire training protocol.[3] Training to failure elicits a greater cellular toll on the body.

Lifting to failure each set is also going to extend recuperation time. Researchers tested strength and workout capacity following eight sets of bench press to failure and subjects repeated the workout at 24-, 48-, 72-, and 96 hours following training.

Subjects’ maximal strength was decreased for 72 hours; furthermore, their ability to perform their baseline work capacity was still decreased for 96 hours.[4] It has been demonstrated that training to failure caused sustained fatigue and performance drops the following day in the bench press (-7.2%) and half-squat (-11.1%), whereas there were no performance drops when training two reps shy of failure the previous day.[5]

This suggests that when you train to failure on each set will prolong your ability to retrain that muscle again. What if you train with most of your sets away from failure but take the last set to failure? Researchers compared two bench press programs using 80% of a 1-RM completing five sets.


One group trained to full failure for every set, while another stopped 3 reps short of failure for most sets but went to full failure on the last set. The full failure group saw a consistent drop in reps, work, and bar speed across sets. However, the group that mostly stopped short of failure maintained better bar speed, consistent reps, and work across sets, and felt less stressed during exercises. This indicates it’s better to limit training to failure to just one set rather than every set.[6]

This suggests that if you feel you must train to failure, minimize it to one set, as the effects are lesser than taking every set to failure.


Several studies have found that training to complete muscular failure was superior to traditional training for muscle growth. However, earlier research studies used untrained or somewhat trained subjects. The total training volume was higher in the training to failure groups (i.e., more reps) which led to greater muscle mass.

Other issues with the research on training to failure are how some researchers define failure. Some have used training to momentary failure (inability to complete another repetition) and volitional failure (subjects end the set without going to complete muscular failure).[7]

Thus, it has been recommended that the research community standardize their definition of the training to failure to get accurate data on training to failure.

In athletes who combine resistance training with specific sports training, it seems rational to not train to failure each set, considering stopping short of failure results in similar or even greater muscle strength and power gains compared with resistance training to failure[8].


Recent studies have found that training just shy or close to muscular failure is better for muscle growth than training to failure each set for trained subjects.[9] Several meta-analyses of training to failure vs. not training to failure found that there is no overall benefit of training for strength or muscle growth when training volume is similar.[10-12]



1.     Sanmy R. Nóbrega et al., “Effect of Resistance Training to Muscle Failure vs. Volitional Interruption at High- and Low-Intensities on Muscle Mass and Strength,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 32, no. 1 (January 2018): 162–69.

2.       Natalia Santanielo et al., “Effect of Resistance Training to Muscle Failure vs Non-Failure on Strength, Hypertrophy and Muscle Architecture in Trained Individuals,” Biology of Sport 37, no. 4 (December 2020): 333–41.

3.       Esteban M. Gorostiaga et al., “Energy Metabolism during Repeated Sets of Leg Press Exercise Leading to Failure or Not,” PLOS ONE 7, no. 7 (July 13, 2012): e40621.

4.       Diogo V. Ferreira et al., “Dissociated Time Course between Peak Torque and Total Work Recovery Following Bench Press Training in Resistance Trained Men,” Physiology & Behavior 179 (October 1, 2017): 143–47.

5.       Domingo Ramos-Campo et al., “Effects of Resistance Training Intensity on the Sleep Quality and Strength Recovery in Trained Men: A Randomized Cross-over Study,” Biology of Sport 38 (August 1, 2020).

6.       Gerald T. Mangine et al., “Effect of the Repetitions-In-Reserve Resistance Training Strategy on Bench Press Performance, Perceived Effort, and Recovery in Trained Men,” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 36, no. 1 (January 2022): 1–9.

7.     Pelland, Joshua & Robinson, Zac & Remmert, Jacob & Cerminaro, Rebecca & Benitez, Brian & John, Thomas & Helms, Eric & Zourdos, Michael. (2022). Methods for Controlling and Reporting Resistance Training Proximity to Failure: Current Issues and Future Directions. Sports Medicine. 1-12. 10.1007/s40279-022-01667-2.


8.       Alexandra F. Vieira et al., “Effects of Resistance Training Performed to Failure or Not to Failure on Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Power Output: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis.,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35, no. 4 (April 1, 2021): 1165–75.

9.       Tim Davies et al., “Effect of Training Leading to Repetition Failure on Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 46, no. 4 (April 2016): 487–502.

10.  Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Orazem J, Sabol F. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sport Health Sci. 2021;S2095–2546(21):00007–7.

11.  Vieira AF, Umpierre D, Teodoro JL, Lisboa SC, Baroni BM, Izquierdo M, et al. Effects of resistance training performed to failure or not to failure on muscle strength, hypertrophy, and power output: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2021;35:1165–75.

12.    Alexandra F. Vieira et al., “Effects of Resistance Training Performed to Failure or Not to Failure on Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Power Output: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis.,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35, no. 4 (April 1, 2021): 1165–75.

13. Lasevicius, T., Schoenfeld, B. J., Silva-Batista, C., Barros, T. S., Aihara, A. Y., Brendon, H., Longo, A. R., Tricoli, V., Peres, B. A., & Teixeira, E. L. (2022). Muscle Failure Promotes Greater Muscle Hypertrophy in Low-Load but Not in High-Load Resistance Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 36(2), 346–351.

14. Rissanen, J., Walker, S., Pareja-Blanco, F., & Häkkinen, K. (2022). Velocity-based resistance training: do women need greater velocity loss to maximize adaptations?. European journal of applied physiology, 122(5), 1269–1280.

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