Training to Failure vs Near Failure


The debate between training to failure and stopping short of it, known as near failure, has long been a topic of discussion among fitness enthusiasts and experts alike. Both methods have their proponents and detractors, each citing scientific studies to support their claims. In this comprehensive article, we delve into the latest research to shed light on this debate and provide insights into optimising muscle growth.

Understanding Training to Failure and Near Failure: Before delving into the scientific evidence, let’s define our terms. Training to failure involves pushing a set to the point where it’s impossible to complete another repetition with proper form. On the other hand, training near failure entails stopping a set one or two reps short of absolute failure, preserving some energy and avoiding complete muscular fatigue.

Scientific Studies

Examining the Evidence A recent study conducted by Fisher et al. (year) employed a within-subjects design to compare the effects of training to failure versus near failure on muscle hypertrophy. Eighteen experienced lifters participated in unilateral leg presses and leg extensions for eight weeks, with one leg trained to failure and the other to near failure. The study found that both methods resulted in similar levels of muscle hypertrophy, indicating that training to failure may not offer significant advantages over stopping short of it.

Moreover, a meta-analysis by Schoenfeld et al. (year) examined multiple studies on the topic and concluded that both training to failure and stopping short of it can lead to significant muscle growth. The analysis revealed that training volume, intensity, and frequency are more important determinants of hypertrophy than the proximity to failure.

Neuromuscular Fatigue and Recovery

While both training methods can stimulate muscle growth, it’s essential to consider their impact on neuromuscular fatigue and recovery. Training to failure induces greater neuromuscular fatigue and muscle damage, necessitating longer recovery periods between workouts. In contrast, stopping short of failure may allow for more frequent training sessions and better overall recovery.

A study by Davies et al. (year) investigated the effects of training to failure on neuromuscular fatigue and found that it can impair motor unit recruitment and decrease force output in subsequent sets. This highlights the importance of strategic planning and adequate recovery when incorporating training to failure into a workout regimen.

Practical Applications

Tailoring Your Training Approach Given the evidence presented, how can individuals optimise their training approach for maximal muscle growth? Here are some practical recommendations based on scientific findings:

  1. Individual Variation: Recognise that individual responses to training stimuli vary. Some individuals may thrive with training to failure, while others may benefit more from stopping short of it. Experiment with different approaches to find what works best for your body.
  2. Periodisation: Incorporate periodisation strategies into your training program to vary the intensity and volume over time. Periods of training to failure can be alternated with phases of near failure to manage fatigue and prevent overtraining.
  3. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body’s signals during workouts. Push yourself to the appropriate level of intensity without sacrificing form or risking injury. If you’re consistently unable to complete sets with proper form, it may be a sign that you’re training too close to failure.
  4. Recovery Optimisation: Prioritise recovery strategies such as adequate sleep, nutrition, and active rest days to support muscle repair and growth. Balancing training intensity with sufficient recovery is key to long-term progress and injury prevention.

Training to Failure on First Working Set

Should you avoid going to failure on your first or second working set? The decision to avoid going to failure on the first and second working sets depends on various factors, including individual training goals, workout intensity, and recovery capacity. Going to failure on you first working set, especially if you plan to pyramid up in weight load, may have negative performance effects when you reach the higher weight load on the later sets.

Going to failure on the first working set can potentially lead to quicker fatigue when lifting heavier weights on subsequent sets, which may reduce the number of reps you can achieve. Here’s why:

  1. Muscular Fatigue: Going to failure on the first working set exhausts the muscles to a significant degree, depleting energy stores and inducing fatigue. This fatigue can impair muscle performance and reduce the capacity to generate force during subsequent sets, particularly when lifting heavier weights.
  2. Central Nervous System (CNS) Fatigue: Intense efforts to failure can also lead to central nervous system fatigue, affecting neuromuscular coordination and motor unit recruitment. This can impair muscle activation and reduce the efficiency of muscle contractions, further contributing to decreased performance on later sets.
  3. Recovery Requirements: Recovery from going to failure requires time for muscle repair and replenishment of energy stores. If insufficient time is allotted between sets or exercises, residual fatigue from the first set may carry over to subsequent sets, compromising overall workout performance.

Ultimately, while going to failure can be a valuable tool for stimulating muscle growth and pushing past plateaus, it’s essential to consider the potential drawbacks and manage fatigue effectively to maintain overall workout quality and progress.

The debate between training to failure and near failure is nuanced, with scientific evidence suggesting that both methods can effectively stimulate muscle growth. Rather than adhering strictly to one approach, individuals should consider their training goals, recovery capacity, and personal preferences when designing their workout routines. By incorporating elements of both training to failure and near failure, individuals can optimise their training approach for maximal muscle hypertrophy while minimising the risk of overtraining and injury. As with any aspect of fitness, experimentation, adaptation, and consistency are key to achieving optimal results in bodybuilding and strength training.


  1. Fisher, J. P., Carlson, L., Steele, J., & Smith, D. (Year). Title of the study. Journal Name, Volume(Issue), Page range.
  2. Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (Year). Effects of training to failure versus non-failure on strength, hypertrophy, and muscle architecture: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal Name, Volume(Issue), Page range.
  3. Davies, T. B., Kuang, K., Orr, R., Halaki, M., & Hackett, D. (Year). Effect of training leading to repetition failure on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 48(2), 487-502.