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Informations sur les Sciences de l'Entraînement Sportif

Training to failure or not: Impact on hypertrophy and strength

by P. Debraux | 12 February 2021

sport, fitness, resistance training, muscle, strength, gain, muscle, mass, training, failure, science

In resistance training, whatever their level, resistance-trained individuals are often puzzled as to the "right" method to choose to obtain the gains they want. Indeed, training strategies to optimize results in muscle strength and hypertrophy are numerous, as well as the variables with which it is necessary to play to achieve your goals, such as frequency, volume, intensity, tempo, the type of resistance, the exercises selection or even the exercises order… (see our articles on frequency and volume). Not to mention the fact that it is often extremely difficult to judge which variable has the most impact on your results.

According to the size principle established by Henneman in 1957, during an effort, the motor units are recruited in an orderly manner: the smallest first, then the largest. In practice, this results in the initial recruitment of type I muscle fibers, then during exercise, with fatigue appearing, to that of type II fibers. All this is aimed at maintaining the production of force. From this point of view, the idea of training for muscle failure appeared. Muscle failure consists of performing a set with as many repetitions as possible (without stopping to rest). Failure is defined as the moment when no additional repetitions can be achieved. For some, this way of training is optimal for muscle hypertrophy and strength since such a series assumes that all available motor units are recruited.

However, the results of studies interested in the subject are often as divergent as their protocol, which does not allow clear conclusions to be drawn on the subject. Some studies have shown that training to failure results in better hypertrophy and stronger gains in strength. Others saw no difference. And some have even found a detrimental effect with training to failure. What is it really ?

The Study

An international team of researchers carried out a meta-analysis (a statistical analysis taking into account the results of several studies, which makes it possible to virtually increase the number of participants and therefore the statistical power) on the subject to make it possible to sort out taking into account the most recent studies on the subject. Thus, the researchers set certain criteria to choose the most relevant studies on the subject:

  • Random distribution of participants (of any age) in the experimental groups
  • Comparison of the effects of training to failure vs. not to failure
  • Measurement of changes in muscle strength and / or hypertrophy
  • An experimental protocol of at least 6 weeks
  • Participants in apparently healthy

Studies using the blood flow restriction technique or concurrent training method (that is, the combination of strength training and cardiovascular endurance training) were not included for this meta-analysis.

Results & Analyzes

The authors finally selected 15 studies that met all the selection criteria. The total number of participants was 394 people (129 women and 265 men). All these people were young adults. Of these studies, 6 included regular resistance-trained participants, while the rest were performed with untrained individuals. The experimental protocols lasted between 6 and 14 weeks with a training frequency of 2 to 3 sessions per week. Gains in hypertrophy were studied in 7 studies, involving 219 people. Of these 7 studies, only 2 were conducted with resistance-trained participants. Gains in muscle strength and hypertrophy were assessed using 1, 6 and 10RM tests and measurements of cross-sectional area or muscle thickness.

The main results of this study show that there is no significant difference in strength gains between training to failure and conventional training. However, studies in which the volume was not equalized show an advantage for "classic" training. Conversely, studies in which the volume was equalized show no difference between the two types of training. In general, when the volume is not equated, the non-failure training groups have a higher training volume. And strength gains are correlated with training volume.

Regarding hypertrophy, the results of this meta-analysis show that there is no difference between the two types of training. But looking only at studies that included resistance-trained individuals, the data shows that training to failure has a significantly greater impact on hypertrophy.

Finally, no difference according to the training level, the body region or the exercises selection was observed either for strength or for hypertrophy.

Practical Applications

Based on current scientific knowledge, this meta-analysis seems to show that there is no significant difference in strength and/or hypertrophy between non-failure training and training to failure. Therefore, it would not be necessary to systematically train to failure (that is, on each set) to increase your strength in a way greater than a workout where the sets would end with a few reps in reserve. However, no detrimental effects of training to failure were observed. It is therefore quite possible, depending on individual preferences, to choose one or the other method.

Regarding muscle hypertrophy, this meta-analysis shows that it is not necessary to train to failure for better gains in muscle mass. However, the small number of studies including resistance-trained participants does not allow a clear conclusion to be drawn. Here the data seems to indicate that for resistance-trained individuals, training to failure would be a better strategy for hypertrophy. It should also be noted that some studies suggest that training to failure would be more beneficial for workouts where the loads are relatively low (e.g., 30% 1RM). But with higher loads (i.e., 60-90% 1RM), failure or not, at equal volume, there would be no differences in terms of muscle mass gain.


  1. Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Orazem J and Sabol F. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy : a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sport Health Sci, 2021.

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