Train to Failure… or Failure to Train?

Train to failure

Training to failure is a term you’ve probably heard thrown around at the gym… possibly by some big dude with heaps of muscles... But, what does it mean? And doesn’t training to failure sound just a bit dramatic? In today’s blog, we will take a look at what it means exactly and how it can work for you.

When an athlete trains to failure, it basically involves performing exercises until they are physically incapable of completing another repetition with proper form. By reaching their limits of strength, they are actually stimulating the muscles to grow.

Sounds great, right?

But... be aware - it also comes with potential risks, and it may not be suitable as a strength building system for everyone. If performed correctly, however, with the help of a knowledgeable coach, it can be a game changer for building some muscle and becoming super strong.

How does overloading the muscles work?

Training to failure means you are essentially exhausting your muscle fibres, pushing them to work to their absolute max. This process leads to little micro-tears in the muscle tissue.

If you rest and recover sufficiently after strength training, then the muscles will rebuild and grow even stronger, adapting to the stress they experienced during the workout. This is known as the ‘overload principle’ and is a fundamental aspect of progressive resistance training.

What are the benefits of progressive ‘overload’?

There are many benefits to this principle, especially for those looking to lift heavier or make noticeable physical changes and strength gains.


Advocates of the train to failure (progressive overload) principle believe that it is an effective way to maximise muscle recruitment and induce muscle hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is a natural process that occurs in the body and encourages the cells or tissues in the body to grow. Hypertrophy occurs as a result of a change in stimuli. In this sense, it refers to the muscle fibres enlarging and those muscles increasing in size as a result of exercising or pushing those muscles to their limit.

Tracking progress and increasing motivation

How much can you press on the machine? How is your squat?

These benchmarks can be a great way of measuring your strength over a period of time. Using the train until failure principle you can assess your strength limits and track your progress in the gym as you work on these specific strength areas. Pushing yourself to the point of failure is a fantastic way to suss out your current capacity and then set new goals for future training sessions.

This approach can be highly motivating for those looking for trackable gains and progress.

Are there any risks with training to failure?

Now, before you skip down the gym and start pumping out a set of max squats, it’s important to understand that training to failure does carry some potential risks.

Injury risk

If you are going for big sets and training your muscles to the point of fatigue, inevitably your form can suffer, making you more susceptible to strains, sprains, and other injuries. Over time, this repetitive strain could lead to chronic issues which again could hinder your training progress. A smart approach is definitely needed to avoid this common pitfall.

Burnout risk

Another issue we see in the gym with folks who train to failure is excessive fatigue. This leads to the need for longer recovery periods, and can also affect consistency.

Similarly, pushing your body to its absolute limits in every workout may leave you feeling drained and unable to perform optimally in later sessions. Unfortunately, burnout can occur, especially if your training is inconsistent or you’re struggling to bring your a-game to class.

Choose your moves wisely

Not all exercises are suited for training to failure.

Compound movements like squats or deadlifts, when performed to failure, can pose safety risks as there are often heavy loads involved. You can get stuck in a position which can cause panic, or worse you could injure yourself if you’re not experienced with bailing from a lift.

If you are looking to improve your numbers in these lifts, you should definitely be following a strength program and seeking the help of a qualified personal trainer. If you’re looking to increase strength on your own, then isolation exercises or machine-based movements may be safer options for training to failure.

Is training to failure right for me?

As with most approaches to exercise or fitness programs there are individual factors which determine if this is appropriate for you. These include:

  • Your age
  • Your fitness level
  • Your training experience
  • Your overall health

Beginners or mature adults, for instance, might be better off with less intense training regimens to avoid unnecessary strain and reduce the risk of injuries.


Another buzzword in the fitness world is de-loading.

If you’re looking to make these strength gains, we recommend that you incorporate periods of de-loading with lighter weights or active recovery. These periods allow your body to recover fully and adapt to the stress placed on it. Neglecting a proper plan for recovery can also lead to stagnation in progress or over-training and overloading these muscles to the point of excess fatigue or injury.

Your next step

So… yes, definitely, training to failure can be an incredible tool for muscle growth and strength gains however, we recommend that you have a specific program created for you based on your individual circumstances. And it’s important that beginners, older athletes and those with certain health conditions should approach this type of training with caution.

The awesome team of personal trainers at Live Fit Gym can help ensure proper form and safety to minimise the risk of injury. And remember that fitness is a journey; and consistent, well-balanced training with adequate recovery is essential for long-term progress and overall well-being.

If you’re keen to get jacked or want to get stronger and more muscular, then check in with a personal trainer today and see if the ‘train to failure’ approach is right for you.