Russ Howe PTI
Posted in: Training

Want To Boost Muscle Growth By 60%? Train To Failure


Want To Boost Muscle Growth By 60%? Train To Failure / 4th May 2018

Today I'm going to show you how to improve your muscle building results by as much as 60%.

Nope, not a typo.

Sixty percent!

There are thousands upon thousands of people going to the gym but unsatisfied with their workouts and their results, and he technique I'm going to show you today is something most people never really grasp.

So this information will put you ahead of the pack in your local gym.

Yes, we're talking about training to failure.

is training to failure better for muscle building

What Is Training To Failure?

I have a question for you:

"How hard should you hit a muscle to optimize results?"

Should you be training to the point of being unable to perform another rep? Or should you stop just short?

This is something which has been debated for many years in the fitness world, with the crux of the matter often being left to personal opinions. But a mountain of academic research exists which will give you a definitive answer, and it can make a big difference to your results.

If you are new to training, you may not be familiar with the term 'failure'.

In the gym, it's not a bad thing. Training to failure means using a weight significant enough that you are unable to continue performing reps after the designated target number in your set.

So if you're aiming for a ten rep set, that tenth rep should be damn near impossible to pull out of the bag.

how many reps to build the most muscle

Is It Superior For Muscle Growth?

In a nutshell, yes.

I encourage all of my clients to get into the habit of training to failure, as it encourages the most 'bang for your buck' in terms of lean muscle growth. And if you don't live close enough to get personal training from me, but you do tackle my free workout programs on the website, you’ll notice that every workout is a war.

I set them out like this for very good reason.

Back in 2010, a team of researchers from McMaster University, Canada, tested the effects of training a muscle group across a variety of different styles of training in order to determine which approach yielded optimal muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth)

They worked with three groups of subjects:

  • Group A performed 4-5 reps with a weight that caused muscle failure
  • Group B performed 25 reps with a weight that caused muscle failure
  • Group C performed 25 reps but did not cause muscle failure

I recently touched upon the startling results, which were published in the PloS One Journal, in my article on high reps vs low reps because it went on to change the way we think about bodybuilding-style training forever.

Firstly, it was the first major study to confirm that you can build just as much lean muscle with higher reps as you can with lower reps.

In fact, in this study the higher rep group (group B) built 60% more lean muscle than the low rep group (group A).

60% is not something to be sniffed at, right?

It's huge!

This led on to a follow-up study that compared classic 8-12 rep training versus higher reps and found the same conclusion: high reps can be just as good as low reps when it comes to hypertrophy! (1)

But for today's article I want to talk about why you should be training to failure, and to do that we need to look at the results of the third group of trainees in this 2010 study.

You see, the high rep group may have built 60% more lean muscle than the low rep group here, but it's definitely worth pointing out that both groups obtained results significantly higher than the group who were not causing muscle failure! (2)

training to failure

In 2011, another study compared the effects of the exact same training protocols (failure at 1-5 reps, failure at 25 reps, non-failure at 25 reps) and came to the exact same conclusion. (3)

So one thing is for sure..

Regardless of whether you are training with super low reps (1-5), medium reps (8-12) or high reps (15+), if you truly want to maximize your potential to build lean muscle then you need to be using a weight that you find challenging.

training to failure for muscle growth

Let's take a look at the follow-up study, published in 2012, which looked at the following three protocols:

  • Group A performed 8-12 reps with a weight that caused muscle failure
  • Group B performed 20-30 reps with a weight that caused muscle failure

They reported that both groups saw a lean muscle increase of around 7%.

The key point?

Again, both groups used weights which were able to achieve muscle failure.

should you train a muscle to failure?

In 2012, a further study published in the Journal of Physiology looked at the effects of 'time under tension' training versus performing regular reps and sets.

This time, the researchers wanted to test the theory that performing slower, more controlled repetitions would encourage greater muscle growth that performing reps at a regular tempo.

The results suggested that the time under tension group (who were performing 2 second repetitions until failure) achieved significantly better hypertrophy results that the second group of trainees, who were simply doing 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

MPS (muscle protein synthesis) was increased by 114% in the TUT group, versus only 77% in the other group. (4)

These results are great, and the media ran away with this story, claiming that we should ditch regular sets and reps, and replace it with a time under tension method instead.

But when we look at what was really going on here, you can see that they didn't actually discover that 'time under tension' training was better than regular sets and reps. The key difference in results came down to the fact that the TUT group were keeping tension on their target muscle long enough to achieve muscle failure, whereas the second group were not.

training to failure

What Does 'Training To Failure' Actually Do?

So, you've seen the research showing why training to failure improves muscle growth.

But let's take a quick look at what's going on inside your body when you're in the gym, doing it.

This will help you to better understand the process, as opposed to just blindly hammering away at the weights.

When we train a muscle to true failure (i.e. we are unable to perform another rep with good technique), we increase metabolic stress.

This is a process in which causes the release of several key muscle building hormones.

In my high rep article, I touched upon the fact that using higher rep ranges allows you to induce more metabolic stress because you’re hitting both the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers within a muscle belly.

Well, training the muscle with a weight which causes failure is absolutely paramount to making this happen.

In fact, this is why  the study group who trained with their 25 rep failure weight experienced a much greater anabolic response.

Your rep target should be used simply as a guide to tell you when the pain should be getting unbearable.

So in terms of rep per set, there are numerous benefits to be had from training in the 8-12 range as well as the 20-30 range, which is why I have my clients doing both.

  • 1-5 reps will build strength and neuro-muscular adaptations
  • 8-12 reps will promote muscular hypertrophy and strength
  • 15+ reps will build muscular endurance and muscular hypertrophy

Sure, it's OK to perform warm-up sets and yes, obviously, you'd need to use a different weight for each of those situations in order to achieve failure by your target number of reps, but the one constant in this equation is that it should not feel “easy" when you reach the main crux of your workout. We are always looking to take the muscle to failure in order to maximize potential muscle building gains.

So there you have it.

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  1. Mitchell, C. J., et al. “Resistance Exercise Load Does Not Determine Training-Mediated Hypertrophic Gains In Young Men”. J Appl Physiol. in press, 2012.
  2. Burd, N. A., et al. “Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise In Young Men.” PLoS ONE 5(8): e12033, 2010.
  3. Burd, N. A., et al. “Enhanced Amino Acid Sensitivity Of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Persists For Up To 24 Hours After Resistance Exercise In Young Men.” J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):568-73.
  4. Burd, N.A., et al. “Muscle Time Under Tension During Resistance Exercise Stimulates Differential Muscle Protein Sub-Fractional Synthetic Responses In Men.” J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15;590(Pt 2):351-62.

how many reps to build muscle?