Welcome back. In my last post The Surprising Truth About Rep Range & Muscle Growth I suggested that for hypertrophy (muscle growth) to occur, muscles must be continually challenged and progressively overloaded – please see the post mentioned for further information on progressive overloading.
However, we also discovered that the widely accepted 8-12 rep range for hypertrophy might not be as strict as we once thought. A couple of research papers also report significant hypertrophy between 3 and 20 repetitions. (1) (2) They suggest that:
“marked hypertrophy is possible at both higher and lower loads when the sets were performed with maximum effort or taken to muscular failure.” (2)
However, working until muscle failure can cause significant fibre damage.
Is it then, fibre damage that invokes muscle hypertrophy?
To answer this question I looked into eccentric training – a form of training that overloads the eccentric or lowering part of a movement and is noted for its higher level of muscle fibre damage. Three recent studies into eccentric training suggest that:
“eccentric training which employs high mechanical loads are essential stimuli to optimise exercise-induced muscle hypertrophy”. (3)
In fact, ALL three studies suggest that resistance training which comprises of high-force eccentric movements can promote greater muscular hypertrophy than programs using concentric actions alone (3) (4) (5)
However, eccentric training can also carry with it many negative aspects such as:
- Muscle soreness
- Reduced neural reflexes
- Altered resting state
- And acute strength losses (3); as well as a few broken ribs on the bench press if your training partner isn’t focusing!
As there is a higher chance of overtraining when employing this method, training volume should be altered accordingly.
Should I go to failure on every set?
This varies depending upon your training goal, your level of experience and your personal preference.
Personally, I love training to failure on the last set of each exercise, but let’s not get confused.
Training to muscle failure does not mean creating a dumbbell crash zone around you (yes I’ve been told to get out of someones ‘crash zone’ before).
It means pushing yourself to a point where another rep with perfect technique would be impossible.
That said, I would not recommend training to failure if the following applies:
- You are new to training.
- You are not confident with the technique.
- If you are training for strength (the 1-5 rep range at 85% +).
- If you are performing an exercise which could compromise your lower back.
Other than that train hard, train smart and never take three scoops!
What are your thoughts? Has eccentric training worked for you? Do you train to failure on every set? Leave a comment below!
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