Check this out: I was recently reading an article as part of my research by world-renowned coach Christian Thibaudeau (from Quebec, Canada).
He admits near the beginning of the post that, “I’ve been forced to rethink my stance” on whether or not people should train to failure for hypertrophy (size gains).
He goes on, “…now it’s clear that maximum muscle growth may be impossible without it [going to failure]”
Sounds like what I’ve been saying for years, right?
He’s basing his assertion on the results of a recent study . I’ll get into that in a second, but let me first break down the Biology of Failure…or why taking a set to that last possible rep is undeniably going to stimulate more growth than stopping short.
THE SCIENCE OF THE SUPERIORITY OF FAILURE
- Let’s say you’re curling a weight that is heavy enough to force failure on the 10th rep (you cannot possibly get that 11th rep).
- Question: How hard was the 1st rep in that set? Easy, right?
- The 3rd rep? Still kinda easy, but more difficult than the first.
- And on it goes. Each rep is more difficult than the previous one. Many people might stop at rep 7 or 8, but they’re making a mistake.
- So what’s happening as each rep gets harder and harder?
- Your body will recruit more and more muscle fibers to help you complete more reps.
- And that’s not all. It recruits more and more of the type of fibers that are predominantly responsible for growth – type 2b fibers.
- Ok, so it’s now abundantly clear that in order to maximum the total number of fibers AND the maximum number of growth fibers, you must take your sets to the last possible rep.
- This is, in fact, the trigger for stimulating size increases in the muscle fibers.
MUSCLE DAMAGE AND METABOLIC STRESS
And there’s even more in addition to the muscle fiber recruitment argument. Taking a set to positive failure:
- Maximizes “metabolic stress”. And metabolic stress rates correlate positively with muscle hypertrophy/growth.
- Maximizes muscle damage. This leads to inflammation, which leads to the release of growth factors that stimulate protein synthesis. Damage the muscle and stimulate the thickening of individual muscle fibers.
- The sheer stress and fatigue caused by those last reps is a form of “cellular disruption”that causes an increase in all the growth factors i.e those responsible for protein synthesis rates.
Going even beyond positive failure with some “outside-of-the-box” thinking is what forms the basis of my Advanced Blast Workouts. They include unique techniques you’ve never heard of…because I created them! They’ll take you way beyond your current levels of intensity – above 100% – or what I call Hyper-Intense Training. And it works to produce really fast new gains in size for the arms, chest and legs. (typically in 7-10 days).
I have ‘Blast Workouts’ for the ARMS | CHEST | LEGS
HOW TO “TRIGGER” GROWTH
Here’s a great quote from the Christian Thibaudeau article:
“The act of hitting failure – and not the accumulation of muscle fatigue – would seem to be the trigger for growth. So you can’t simply do more work to get more growth if you never reach the point where you trigger max hypertrophy. This means reaching failure on a set is likely the actual trigger for optimal growth and protein synthesis.”
The study  that Thibaudeau was referencing in his post showed that different groups of bodybuilders lifting different weights experienced the same level of hypertrophy gains so long as the set was taken to the point of failure. Lighter weights, heavier weights wasn’t the critical factor. But the point of failure was the key.
If you have my free Targeted Hypertrophy Training workout (download it below), you’ll know that I present 7 studies in there that clearly show that failure is the trigger point for stimulating growth.
STILL NOT CONVINCED? NEED MORE STUDIES?
Ok, here’s 2 more…
This study  saw subjects bench press 3 times a week, one group going to failure and the other not-to-failure (the total reps/total volume being the same). The failure group experienced better increases in strength despite the total volume being equal.
“Bench press training that leads to repetition failure induces greater strength gains than nonfailure training in the bench press exercise for elite junior team sport athletes.”
Another study , again totalling the same number of reps and sets, saw the failure group gain more muscle.
The group doing straight reps to failure experienced greater increases in 1 Rep Max, maximal isometric strength, and muscular endurance.
The failure group also showed a marked increase in muscle cross-sectional area (size), whereas the WR and CON groups did not. Bottom line: the failure group got bigger and stronger over 12 weeks. The other groups did not.
Want to jack up your intensity? I put together 6 movements from the “Golden Era Techniques” that Arnold and those others guys used. Enter your details below to get them immediately…
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WHAT IS FAILURE?
I just want to clarify this. Sometimes this is called failure, positive failure, or momentary muscular failure. Either way, it’s the primary factor in trigger hypertrophy. I define positive failure as:
That point in a set when you can no longer complete the full range of the positive/lifting part of the rep without assistance.
THT TRAINING IS WHAT YOU NEED
If you want a truly effective workout based on the science, get free THT right now.
If you have any confusion about going to failure, how many sets to do, how many reps per set to do, overtraining, the best exercises for growth, it’s all covered in THT. And it won’t cost you a penny!
After inputting your email, you will be taken directly to the download page for instant access to the workout. You don’t need to log into your email to click on any confirmation link.
Train With Intensity i.e. To Failure!
 Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul 1; 113(1): 71–77
 Training leading to repetition failure enhances bench press strength gains in elite junior athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):382-8.
 The impact of metabolic stress on hormonal responses and muscular adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Jun;37(6):955-63.
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It just makes sense. I don’t understand why you’d want to “stop short” anyway. Push to the limit to stimulate new size. Simple.
Agreed 100%. I go to to failure on whatever it is I’m doing. THT workout to failure, burn out sets to failure, HIIT cardio to failure.
I’m turning 41 this year and I push harder and with 100% intensity more than most of the young guys and Guy my age in the gym. I’m not saying I’m better than them, but something I’ve noticed more and more over the years. And not to mention, only a select few that record their progress. I dunno how you’d ever know where your at, and mental preparation needed for a great productive workout.
Great stuff Mark. And not surprising in the least.
@Jason.yeah I know exactly the guys in the gym you are talking about. And they never build any muscle. They always look the same, even after a year of training.