Training to Failure

I want to answer questions that I get all the time from TT readers. ”

Should I train to failure?” and also, “Why don’t you recommend training to failure in the Turbulence Training program?”

Here’s the truth:

When lifting with weights for strength or muscle building, it is NOT mandatory that you train to failure – for a few reasons.

First, experienced coaches like Jim Wendler, Jason Ferruggia, Alwyn Cosgrove, etc. all agree. Failure is not necessary for results.

Second, I have done in-the-lab scientific research that shows your nervous system hits 100% muscle activation – recruiting all of your muscle mass – without going to failure.

This was part of my undergraduate thesis research performed with the legendary Dr. Digby Sale back at McMaster University in 1998 (my Glory Days, as Springstein would say!).

In that study (never published – unlike my creatine workout study and my Master’s thesis), we had young men do a leg press workout under two conditions (in random order).

In one workout, the subjects did 5 sets of 80% 1 RM to failure with 3 minutes of rest between sets. In the other workout, they did 5 sets of 80% 1 RM to failure with only 1 minute of rest.

Not surprisingly, we found they were able to do fewer reps in sets 3, 4, and 5 when they had only 1 minute of rest.

But we also found that once they hit around 90% of failure (for example on repetition 9 out of 10), that they were already recruiting 100% of their total muscle activation (as determined from a 1 RM test).

So that means you can activate all of your muscle without training to failure.

(Another cool finding was that you can do a LOT of reps with 80% of your 1 rep max for lower body exercises. Your legs are more fatigue- resistant than your upper body muscles. Some subjects were getting 20 reps in the first set even though they were using “heavy” resistance. It was definitely proof of mind-over-matter.)

Given this information, I tell people to NOT train to failure with exercises like dumbbell presses, barbell squats, bench presses, etc., because you can safely get FULL muscle activation without the RISK of training to failure (and losing form or dropping the weight).

Remember, people die every year by dropping the barbell across their chest in a bench press. So be careful with training to failure. And YES, as a stupid young kid training alone at the Stratford YMCA, I once was ‘trapped’ under 185 pounds in the bench press. Lucky for me, I didn’t hurt myself wriggling out from under it.

I was such a young goofball back then…and now I’m just an old goofball.  That said, if you use LIGHT weight and train to failure, you can build muscle (if you’re a beginner). That’s the finding of a new research study from my friend, Dr. Stuart Phillips, back at McMaster University.
And finally, for fat loss, you can train even closer to failure – with perfect form – on exercises like bodyweight squats and pushups and mountain climbers, etc.

But just remember, when you go to failure, people often ‘contort’ their bodies and that’s where injuries happen. For example, we’ve all seen people strain to get one more pullup – but that’s where neck injuries occur.

So once you lose perfect form, STOP the set.

Another way to train to near failure with an even greater metabolic response will be revealed next week in the Home Workout Revolution NO-Equipment Workout System .

You’ll get to follow along with me in those 51 workout videos where I put myself – and other TT Trainers – to the limit (with perfect form) in AWESOME fat burning bodyweight exercises.

You’re going to love it.

Stay tuned for next TUESDAY.

Until then, let me tell you about my 3 hour workout in San Francisco on Wednesday. After flying in from Toronto (boy, were my arms tired – LOL), I walked all across this amazing city.  So many tremendous neighborhoods, and extremely challenging hills!

What can I say about San Fran that hasn’t already been said before? It’s really fantastic. I started on Market Street, climbed Nob Hill, back down to Chinatown, up more hills across Union street to The Presidio (grabbed a few Golden Gate bridge photos), then down by the water to Pier 39, and finally back to my hotel via Union Square.

Although to be honest, my legs went to failure at Pier 39 and I grabbed a cap ride to Union Square. What a gorgeous day and now I have a better frame of reference for so many car chase movie scenes.

After that was dinner at Bourbon Steak. For those foodies, it’s a Michael Mina restaurant. Again, to be honest, it was just okay, nothing amazing.  I had the rib eye with sauteed spinach and mushrooms, as well as some of the Brussel sprouts (but without all
of the toppings).

But be careful, they bring you 3 flavors of French fries (!) instead of bread to start the meal. That could be dangerous. I had 2-3 fries of each variety, and that was enough of a treat.

Alright, time to mosey on to some meetings with my friends at It’s your last chance to join our free-to-enter Transformation Contest and win our money at:

It doesn’t matter where you are right now, you will benefit from the FOUR pillars of success: Accountability, Social Support, Incentives to Act, and a Deadline to meet.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” ~ Zig Zigler

Be proud of yourself for taking action, getting out of your comfort zones, and getting closer to the business and life of your dreams. It’s your life and doing the right thing is more important than what other people think or say about you.

Stay strong.

Get stronger,

Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Certified Turbulence Trainer

PS – Now is the time. This is your year.

This will be your best year ever. You CAN change – dramatically.

It all starts with harnessing the power of the four pillars of Support, Accountability, Incentives, and a Deadline in the ETR Transformation Contest at:

Looking forward to your success!