For years, I have heard that training to failure is bad, as you only “teach your body to fail”.
I also read, hear and see compelling evidence of people who do that top achieve a certain level of muscular mass gain. While it’s not a sustainable process, limited to a single set, it is still done and the argument for it, versus the one against it, is that it stimulates growth hormone.
So, I am taking a neutral stance, or Stu McGill’s answer of “it depends”, which I will base solely on semantics.
First off, what is failure? Simplified, it is the inability to continue (in this context). T-Nation (Testosterone Nation) has quite a few articles on the topic of failure, and they even define the various stages (technical being one of them, where form fails, but one can still keep going until reaching muscular failure, which, when spotted, is the inability to do a single rep, even partial).
Are we really training to fail, or are we training to push harder? Is the body really learning to fail, and what does that mean? That when that log falls on your leg in the woods, you can only lift it off your limb 7 times and the 8th time, you can’t? Maybe after the first time, you might want to watch what you’re doing and not have to repeat that mistake. I think it’s training the mind honestly.
I am a big proponent of an”Easy Strength” approach to training, but I also believe in having to go all out once in a while, otherwise, you really train yourself to fail by not pushing, by learning to walk away. An all-out “to failure” set will require more recovery, and your performance in the gym on the same lift next time will tell you if you need more or less recovery.
The other argument I want to make on that “meme-friendly” saying, and it’s something I disagree with despite respecting the source, is because the same school of anti-failure also promotes “supra-maximal”holds, meaning attempting a certain lift with a weight that one cannot lift normally and fighting, fighting, fighting even if only isometrically holding it at the sticky point for 5-10 seconds, because you are then allegedly teaching your CNS to handle the load. But, if you are not lifting the weight to full range of motion, isn’t that a fail?
How to Olympic athletes, or fighters, train? Do they train harder at times to make the event easier, or do they train easier to save their energy? Both concepts work, both are used, and it’s a matter of trial and error for the individual, or mindset.
I personally am not looking at high mass gains right now. I don’t have the bandwidth, the caloric funds, the recovery time and frankly, the setbacks associated with moving around at a weight that takes away some of my mobility, agility and actual daily needs, with the associated maintenance and added wardrobe. However, by adopting the “no failure” concept for too long, I have lost the ability to push way past the burn at times, and that, IMHO, is a dulling of that survival instinct.
What do you think?