I learnt that sets till failure have different drawbacks like increased risk of injury, overtraining, fatigue and potentially less muscle growth in the long term (here and here, for example).

The thing is that I like training till failure. I train with my bodyweight, thus I do not increase weight but reps and my general goal is to increase the number of consecutive push ups, pull ups, time in dead hang, and so on. Once I reach higher reps I go for an progression of the according exercise - and then I again start to push the limits and increase the reps or the time of each set for this progression. Usually I go till failure while increasing the reps/ time.

After reading about drawbacks of till failure sets I want to adapt my training routine. What happens if I simply train until a few reps before failure, will this give me the desired gains without the risks of till failure sets? Should I go for "technical failure" sets, as this source seems to suggest?

1 Answer 1


The idea is that full-failure sets increase the recovery time required for the workout, and if you keep doing full-failure sets every workout then you will burn out sooner. So a full-failure workout may have slightly more anabolic signaling than a near-failure workout, but it comes at the cost of increased fatigue. Increased fatigue means the following workouts become less and less effective, and chance of injury increases.

So to counter this, some people have adapted the near-failure workout strategy which sacrifices the full anabolic signaling of a full-failure workout to achieve a more long-term goal of constant progression. These near-failure sets usually go until there is a reps-in-reserve (RIR) of around 2-3. The downside to this strategy is that it's sometimes difficult to gauge accurately, especially for people inexperienced or people trying new workouts. Sometimes a 5-6 RIR can feel like a 2 RIR, but a failure is unmistakable.

There is something to be said about stopping on technical failure because if you start shifting in to different positions to accommodate a weakness, then you're no longer really training the movement you are targeting. It could also be argued that near-failure training has more longevity because it reduces the chance of injury.

Personally, I feel this is heavily dependent on the person performing and their lifestyle. People have done both strategies and gotten quite successful on each. There probably isn't much of a reason to change if you're feeling fully recovered by the time you do your next workout.

I think, assuming you don't get injured, they will both yield similar results in the long-term, but the full-failure workout will require more deload weeks for more recovery.


As Thomas Markov mentioned in the comments, exercise selection is also really important too. The recovery demands of a full-failure workout of compound movements are going to be really high compared to smaller single-joint exercises, and larger muscle groups will take longer than smaller muscle groups. So it's usually just fine to go to failure on tricep extensions, but not barbell bench press for example.

So in the case of bodyweight exercises, bodyweight squats will take longer to recover than pushups which will take longer than dead-hangs and so on. Still, if you're fully recovering by the next workout and you're making some progress, then you're probably doing just fine.

  • Exercise selection matters here too. Taking competition standard SBD to failure is going to have significantly greater recovery demands than lower-fatigue variations like a leg press, dumbbell press, and smith-RDL (just examples). You can take cable curls to failure all you want and it won’t knock you down real hard. But have you ever tried doing deficit deadlifts for sets of 8 at RPE 8-10?
    – Thomas Markov
    Commented Jan 22 at 19:51

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