What It Really Means When You Train To Failure

Gym-goers and fitness fans are familiar with pushing themselves to the max. Whether that's going one more mile or doing one more rep, there's motivation to go further. The term "train to failure" is a common phrase used for strength training and weightlifting. Although the word "failure" usually has a negative connotation, in this context it means pushing your body until it can no longer perform a movement, and it's believed to have potential benefits (via Verywell Fit).

There are pros and cons associated with training to failure that are important to consider. It may increase muscle mass and help experienced athletes break through a training plateau, but the drawbacks might include hindering muscle growth, poor technique or form, and overtraining that can lead to injury.

According to Insider, exercising to failure can have positive outcomes when done strategically and allowing the body enough rest to recover. Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City-based personal trainer, tells Insider, "Working out to failure can be beneficial if your body can still maintain exercising several times a week. Overdoing maximum effort can leave your body feeling sluggish and put your muscles at risk of severe injuries."

There are also two categories of training failure: absolute failure and technical failure (per Legion Athletics). Doing as many reps until you're unable to continue the exercise is absolute failure. Lifting weights to the point where you can no longer complete the exercise with proper form is technical failure. Both techniques should be approached carefully.

When it's a good idea to train to failure

The main motivation behind training to failure is the belief it will lead to more muscle activation, eventually increasing strength and gains (via Legion Athletics). Training to failure isn't the only effective workout method, but it can speed up the process.

Dan Geraci, a kinesiologist and gym-owner in Chicago, explains to SELF, "By training to failure, the number of sets someone needs to perform to develop a body part can be cut down tremendously."

It can also aid experienced weightlifters in avoiding a plateau. In a 2007 review published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers concluded that when the body is (occasionally) pushed to the max, this may be beneficial because it releases muscle-building hormones.

"People who have built up their strength levels, have good joint stability, know what their bodies are capable of, and are looking to increase muscle size are good candidates for using training to failure," Dr. Anna Swisher, director of education and performance at Eleiko, tells SELF. However, SELF warns that even these people should only train to failure occasionally, and should get enough recovery between workouts.

Training to failure is not recommended for most people (per Verywell Fit). However, progress can still be made by completing moderate-intensity exercise that suits your abilities and needs. This can protect you from dangerous mistakes. If you do opt to train to failure, consider working with a trainer to ensure you're doing it safely.