It’s common in developing athletes to think that training to failure is the best way to make gains in the weight room. A study done by Moran-Navarro in the European Journal of Applied Physiology compared the time course of recovery following resistance training programs that didn’t and did lead to failure. The study displayed interesting findings on the ability to recover from failure vs non-failure training.
The study took 10 men and did 3 protocols with measurements in neuromuscular, metabolic, and hormonal performance from 12 hours pre training to 72 hours post training. The training protocols were as follows:
I’ll spare you the details on the whole study itself. If you want those finer details you can find the study linked below.
Training to failure resulted in significantly larger declines in the neuromuscular system at low moderate and high loads even when completing the same total training volume. The study showed greater amounts of fatigue between 24-72 hours post training in all aspects of loading. At 72 hours fatigue had still not surpassed the other protocols. What is very interesting is the similarity in recovery of the 3×5 and 6×5 protocols. We use cluster sets often for this exact purpose…to combat large amounts of fatigue. This has huge implications especially during an inseason period when the ability to recover is paramount. Practices happen daily along with 4-5 games per week. Residual fatigue lasting more than 72 hours from a weight room session should not be the norm.
The results to the biochemical markers of acute fatigue such as ammonia and GH, but especially delayed fatigue markers such as Creatine Kinase showed recovery which was vastly different between the program that went to failure vs not. This again showed that training to muscle failure may significantly slow down the recovery of metabolic and hormonal homeostasis.
Leaving several reps in the tank vs going to failure even when using the same total volume and load resulted in considerably faster recovery of neuromuscular performance between 24 and 48 hours. This alone is huge for athletes. They still have to master a sport skill outside of their training in the weight room. We often forget that adaptive energy is limited. They have to be able to leave enough energy for all the other activities that they undertake in their sport and sport practices.