A brief review in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Willardson suggests otherwise. A review of the literature outlines several factors to consider when training to failure. In this review failure is defined as "the point during a resistance exercise set when muscles can no longer produce sufficient force to control a given load". The review reveals the following findings regarding the use of training to failure.
- Optimal improvements in muscle performance occur when planned variations are implemented into the training program of advanced lifters
- Training to failure may provide sufficient stimulus to push past an existing training plateau through greater activation of motor units and a larger endocrine response
- Training to failure may be associated with increased risk for injury
Based on the above findings, Willardson makes the following recommendations:
- Training to failure should not be practiced for extended periods of time in a training cycle due to increased risk for overuse injury and potentially decreasing growth enhancing endocrine response
- Training to failure should be incorporated conservatively throughout the planned training cycle of advanced lifters and could be useful in pushing through a plateau
- There is no reason for recreational lifters or older adults to lift to failure
- Strength and conditioning professionals should consider the goals of the individual when designing an optimal load for their client
The review concludes there is more research needing to be done regarding the issue of training to failure on performance measures such as muscular power, hypertrophy, and local endurance. Willardson states there remains a great deal we have to learn regarding the precise physiological mechanisms at play regarding the outcomes of training to failure.
Willardson, J. (2007). The Application of Training to Failure in Periodized Multiple-Set Resistance Programs. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(2), 628-631.