Should I train to failure to gain muscle?  How many delegates?

Should I train to failure to gain muscle? How many delegates?

Pumping Iron (1977) shows how 30-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger would win the Mr. Olympia, the largest bodybuilding competition in the world. In one scene of the documentary, Arnold claims that training “until failure” is necessary to gain strength.

“Crossing the pain barrier makes the muscles grow (…). It’s the last three or four repetitions that make the muscles grow,” says the actor.

Arnold is, to this day, a reference for many people who train in gyms in search of strong, defined muscles. The methodology adopted by the Austrian continued to be used for decades – and was perfected with the development of science and training techniques.

Review of articles conducted by the Laboratory of Neuromuscular Adaptations for Resistance Training of the Department of Physical Education in UFScar (Universidade Federal de São Carlos), in São Paulo, assess how important training is to muscle failure – doing the repetitions of an exercise until you don’t have the strength to perform any other movement.

The article suggests that for untrained people, training at a high intensity until failure is not necessary. But in trained individuals, evidence suggests that there is a greater increase in muscle strength after high-intensity resistance exercises performed for muscle failure, compared to no failure.

According to Júlio Benvenutti Bueno de Camargo, a specialist in strength training science at UFScar, the data available to date shows that performing sets to the point of muscle failure does not appear to provide an additional benefit in strength gains and hypertrophy.

“It remains unclear how close sets are to failure and whether their use depends (or not) on other variables, such as intensity (weight lifted) and volume (number of repetitions and sets). Future studies analyzing adaptive responses to muscle failure use may help to understand topic better,” he concludes.

Training to failure is helpful but not necessary

Photo: iStock

While “failure” does not need to be used for inflationary gains, it is part of an important training criterion. In the practice of bodybuilding, there is a concept of 1 RM (maximum one repetition), which is the maximum weight that a person can lift in a given exercise by doing only one repetition correctly.

Gustavo Zorzi, MSc in Human Movement Sciences and member of the Advanced Group for Research in Human Performance at Unimep (Methodist University of Piracicaba), in São Paulo, explains.

Let’s take a practical example. Let’s say that by doing one repetition of the bench press, you can lift 100 kg. Therefore, in training, you can use 70% to 90% of this load – that is, you will train from 70 kg to 90 kg, depending on the proposed number of repetitions in the set.

“The problem with this method is that as a person evolves (or stops training), these numbers change, which is why the repetition area (8 to 12, for example) can be more applicable in everyday life,” Zorzi says.

It is common, in the initial training plan, to have a series of exercises prepared by a physical education specialist with a predetermined number of repetitions. In this scheme, those who train should stay within this repetition zone, with 8 to 12 being the most used.

In practice, if you’ve completed the maximum number of repetitions within the suggested range (12) and feel you can still do at least one more movement, it’s time to increase the weight.

In these cases, training is not based on muscle failure, but on the specified number of repetitions. says Marco Uchida, professor at the Faculty of Physical Education at Unicamp (State University of Campinas), in São Paulo.

Especially for beginners, creating a number of repetitions, even if they are far from the area of ​​​​failure, brings good results in gaining muscle. “Business shows that exercising at 30% max load promotes muscle mass gain similar to training with 80% max load, provided it is the same total volume of exercise,” Uchida says.

However, this only applies to muscle hypertrophy. When it comes to gaining strength, the techniques are different. “Studies show that the higher the density, the stronger the expression.”

That is, going back to the bench press example, a person who does 3 sets of 10 reps with a 60 kg weight can have a similar bulge to someone who does 5 sets of 6 reps with an 80 kg weight. However, an individual who trained with more load would gain more strength.

bench press, bench press - iStock - iStock
Photo: iStock

Inflation, strength and endurance

In short, for those looking to build muscle, the number of repetitions in each set is less important than the total volume of training. For those looking to gain strength, the combination of high loads and low repetitions is even more interesting.

“Both protocols can yield significant gains in maximum strength and endurance. However, given the specificity of the applied stimulus, it appears that the greatest strength gains actually result from using higher weights (thus leading to fewer repetitions) , especially due to neural adaptations,” says Giulio Benvenotti Bueno de Camargo.

Similarly, protocols with a higher number of repetitions (and less weight) result in greater gains in muscular endurance, as a result of increased fatigue tolerance. “It is worth noting, however, that individuals who have limitations regarding the use of higher loads are still able to increase strength even with lower weights, as long as the chain reaches the point of fatigue (muscle failure),” Camargo adds.

How many reps do you do for each bodybuilding goal?

The most commonly used traditional training areas suggest that roughly the amount of repetitions for each goal would be:

  • 2 to 6 repetitions to gain strength;
  • 8 to 12 repetitions of hypertrophy;
  • 16+ resistance reps.

It should be noted that the higher the number of repetitions, the lower the load used in the exercise. And that these numbers are just general references. In addition to repetition, there are other important variables of results, such as the quality of the execution of the movements, the types of exercises chosen, the time of rest between movements, the formats of the chains (drop sets, duo sets, tri sets), weekly training volume, etc.

Is lifting weight slowly better?

It’s common for some people to repeat too slowly – a method called “too slow” – and say it helps with hypertrophy. “But some research and testing from the early 2000s, with people taking 10 seconds per repetition (5 in the concentric phase and 5 in the eccentric phase), for example, has not shown that ultra slow is more efficient,” adds Marcus Uchida. .

The expert notes that, in general, no one method is superior to the other: it is interesting to incorporate it into a training routine. By changing the way exercises are performed, there are gains in motivation (due to the new challenge), as well as diversifying the stimuli, preventing the body from adapting to the exercises and stopping to develop.

“In the end, there are many variables and the main aspect of getting results is to repeat the training at least twice a week. There is no point in doing a thousand types of training if there is no good rest or food etc.,” reinforces Uchida.


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