Do strength athletes have to stop training to failure?
Experienced strength athletes make more progress if they don't train to failure for 10 weeks, and halt their sets a few reps before the point of failure. This is the take home message of a human study, which American sports scientist Kevin Carroll published in Sports.
Carroll, who was affiliated with East Tennessee State University during his research, divided 15 experienced male strength athletes - they had been training with weights for almost 8 years - into 2 groups. During the 10-week experiment, both groups trained 3 times a week and did the same exercises.
One group made sets to failure. This was the Repetition Maximum-group.
The men in the other group made 65 to 90 percent of the reps they could have made. This short explanation does not do justice to the complexity of Carroll's research design, we are fully aware of it.... This was the Relative Intensity-group.
Click on the figure below for a larger version.
When the 10 weeks were over, in both groups the men's muscles had grown about the same.
When Carroll looked at the men's muscle tissue under the microscope, he saw that the strong type 2 muscle fibers in both groups had grown. The increase was significant in the Relative Intensity-group, not in the other group.
Finally, in the muscle cells of the men in the Relative Intensity-group, the production of contracting muscle proteins myosin heavy chain-2X, -2A and -C1 had increased more than in the muscle cells of the men who had trained to failure
"These results demonstrated a greater efffect for fiber and whole-muscle cross-sectional area following relative intensity training compared to repetition maximum training in well-trained males", Carroll summarizes. "These results, taken together with the previously published performance data, support the use of relative intensity training in well-trained populations over that of repetition maximum training."
Carroll's research shows that experienced strength athletes can benefit if they abandon the to failure principle for a few months. Whether you, as Carroll seems to do above, can also deduce that seasoned strength athletes should never train to failure at all?
Some scientists and trainers may draw this conclusion. For us, the ignorant but always arrogant compilers of this free web magazine, this is still a bridge too far.
Sports (Basel). 2019;7(7):169.
Study: strength training just as effective without doing sets to failure 22.06.2015
Strength athletes don't need to-failure sets to achieve growth 17.10.2014
Eleven weeks' not to-failure training just as effective as eleven weeks' to-failure 23.06.2010