Do I always have to train to failure in order to experience maximum muscle growth? A question that is definitely justified. Everyone knows this feeling when the last repetition goes worse than planned and you enter into a much closer relationship with the barbell than you would actually like. If you are one of the notorious late night buddies and prefer to train alone, it looks pretty bleak for you when an acute muscle failure occurs.
Every day you can see countless athletes in the local fitness studios who torment themselves to vomiting during muscle building training and who make their own muscles a slave. Basically, that’s exactly the right attitude – discipline is the most important parameter in strength training. But does it always have to be training to failure so that muscle building is really effective?
When does muscle failure occur?
Let’s take a closer look at the actual training process from the perspective of your luxurious dream body, which faces particularly high challenges during daily strength training or muscle building training.
Every grip on the dumbbell, every lifting and lowering of the dumbbell, every repetition and every contraction process within an exercise set is finally converted into a movement via a complex system of nerves, nerve switching points and different muscle fibers via your joint apparatus. The dumbbell is moving and you are looking forward to the muscle gains to be expected soon …
At each of these stimulus-processing switching points, however, sooner or later a more or less severe fatigue occurs, which increases with increasing load and can ultimately lead to a drop in performance. The degree of the increase in fatigue depends in particular on the training intensity, the training volume and the energetic requirements (energy supply) of your body.
Typical training-induced symptoms of fatigue are e.g.
- Decreasing motivation during training: Due to the progressive fatigue, your performance slowly but steadily decreases, the testosterone level can fluctuate and ultimately lead to decreased training motivation
- Increasing lactate accumulation within the muscle: Due to the increased metabolism of glycogen, the resulting lactate accumulates in the muscle and ultimately leads to a loss of performance if the lactate-related acidification no longer converts enough glycogen in the muscle can be
- Decreased peripheral nerve conduction speed for neural stimuli: Disturbances in the electrolyte balance can negatively influence the nervous switching system, stimuli are transported more slowly via the switching points, your muscle contractions become less efficient, muscular coordination decreases
- Empty creatine and glycogen stores: Intensive muscle work requires high energy input. If your creatine and glycogen stores are emptied, your performance in training drops rapidly. An adequate intake of carbohydrates before, during and after training is therefore of great importance, as otherwise premature muscle failure will occur due to low substrate availability
- Falling blood sugar level: If your muscles also use up all the glucose reserves in the blood for muscle work, your blood sugar level drops rapidly, which forces your muscles to only cover their energy needs from the consumption of the stored glycogen reserves. Sooner or later, muscle failure also occurs because the stored glycogen is used up much too quickly in the event of stress
- Disturbances in the electrolyte balance: Loss of electrolytes through sweating leads to disturbances in the intra- and extracellular space and can impair the ability of your muscles to contract because the homeostasis of important electrolytes such as potassium is disturbed and so the muscle work and transmission of Nerve impulses is severely impaired
Why training to failure is not always good
This list could go on almost indefinitely. I hope this shows how drastically your body’s homeostasis is disturbed by exercise. All processes, systems and parts of your body that are heavily used during training tire increasingly.
The greater this disruption, the longer it takes to regenerate the stressed system. So also the regeneration of your exhausted muscles.
So it is doubtful that maximum exhaustion triggers the most effective muscle growth. If you train to muscle failure in every training session and your training frequency, training intensity and training volume do not adapt to the degree of exhaustion of your muscles, sooner or later the strain on your muscle and nervous systems will be so immense that the amount of time until the next training session is simply no longer sufficient for complete regeneration. Welcome to overtraining.
The consequences of overtraining are far more drastic than the more temporary consequences of muscle failure. Once you see tendencies towards “overtraining”, you willingly skip training sessions. The training frequency decreases, the training volume decreases. The actual training intensity also suffers because you do not start the training with full performance.
Frequency, volume and intensity are much more important factors for your training success. Refrain from maximum muscle fatigue and regular training until total muscle failure. A classic training system with adequate weights and occasional fatigue sets (weights below 60% of 1 RM) achieve an effective hypertrophy effect and protect your nerves – in the truest sense of the word.
Muscle failure vs. Muscle fatigue
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to your limits when doing strength training! On the contrary. An intensive hypertrophy training that induces adequate muscle fatigue is very effective for efficient muscle building.
The hypertrophy processes (adaptation processes to the unusual stress caused by muscle building training) only run with maximum efficiency if you regularly push your muscles to their limits. In particular, your energy stores are strained by training to the point of muscle fatigue. Through the constant breakdown and rebuilding of your energy stores (carbohydrates or glycogen, creatine phosphate, ATP reserves), the muscular performance is also optimized in an effective way.
In our Hypertrophy Guide for men and women you can find out how you can intensify your muscle building training and adapt it to your personal training condition. This article is an excerpt from the extensive content of the guide, which guides you through all the fundamental training and nutritional basics from A to Z and explains the really important things to you in detail. A look at the guide will only cost you a few minutes, but can save months of training time. Your decision. But don’t complain about a lack of training success in the end if you start blindly in any training project …