Study: strength training just as effective without doing sets to failure

Honestly speaking we – the ignorant but pig-headed compilers of this gratis web magazine – don’t believe a word of the human study that Australian sports scientists are about to publish in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. According to their study, it’s not necessary to squeeze as many reps as possible out of a strength training session. Even so, the study is of course news.

The researchers did an experiment with 26 male students who had never done weight training before. [Know why we’ve put this passage in italics? If you have the answer send a mail to ergolognewsletter@gmail.com. The correct answers will win a free subscription to our newsletter! And the wrong ones will too!]

The researchers got the students to train their biceps three times a week for a period of 12 weeks.

Study: strength training just as effective without doing sets to failure

The mini-training sessions consisted of four sets. The students trained with 85 percent of the weight at which they could just manage 1 rep. The researchers let the subjects rest for three minutes between sets.

The researchers divided the students into three groups. The control group [C] trained in the traditional way, doing as many reps as they could for each set: i.e. they did reps to failure, usually managing about six. Each upward [concentric] and return [eccentric] movement took two seconds to perform.

A second group did four reps per set, so didn’t train to failure. This group also took two seconds for each concentric and eccentric movement [RS].

The students in the third group also did four reps per set, so also not to failure. This group also took two seconds to do the eccentric movement. But they were told to make the concentric movement as explosive as they could [SCC].


The muscle circumference [CSA] increased a little more in the men who trained in the traditional way, but the difference was not statistically significant.



The subjects in all three groups gained about the same amount of strength.

“This investigation has shown that a reduced volume, non-failure resistance training regimen can elicit equivalent gains in strength, muscle activation, and muscle CSA than increased training volume regimen to failure”, the researchers wrote.

“However, the current research design cannot confirm this outcome particularly for compound multi-joint movements. Thus, further investigations appear warranted to determine the influence of rapid muscle activation, repetition failure, and resistance training volume.”

Is repetition failure critical for the development of muscle hypertrophy and strength?


This investigation sought to determine the effect of resistance training to failure on functional, structural and neural elbow flexor muscle adaptation. Twenty-eight males completed a 4-week familiarization period and were then counterbalanced on the basis of responsiveness across; non-failure rapid shortening (RS; rapid concentric, 2?s eccentric), non-failure stretch-shortening (SSC; rapid concentric, rapid eccentric), and failure control (C, 2?s concentric, 2?s eccentric), for a 12-week unilateral elbow flexor resistance training regimen, 3 × week using 85% of one repetition maximum (1RM). 1RM, maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), muscle cross-sectional area (CSA), and muscle activation (EMGRMS ) of the agonist, antagonist, and stabilizer muscles were assessed before and after the 12-week training period. The average number of repetitions per set was significantly lower in RS 4.2 [confidence interval (CI): 4.2, 4.3] and SSC 4.2 (CI: 4.2, 4.3) compared with C 6.1 (CI: 5.8, 6.4). A significant increase in 1RM (30.5%), MVC (13.3%), CSA (11.4%), and agonist EMGRMS (22.1%) was observed; however, no between-group differences were detected. In contrast, antagonist EMGRMS increased significantly in SSC (40.5%) and C (23.3%), but decreased in RS (13.5%). Similar adaptations across the three resistance training regimen suggest repetition failure is not critical to elicit significant neural and structural changes to skeletal muscle.

PMID: 25809472 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25809472

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