Some workouts, fitness instructors, and gyms even encourage something called training to failure, which they claim will lead to gains, but it can actually stall your progress or send you backwards and do more damage than good. So what exactly is training to failure and overtraining, and how and why should you avoid it?
Training to failure is most common in weight training, but it can be done with a variety of exercises. It is often done with heavy weights or a challenging move, which is repeated until your muscles fail and you cannot perform any more repetitions.
Some even push themselves beyond the initial failure, modifying the exercise to make it slightly easier and completing more reps until their muscles fail again. Training to failure happens in CrossFit, which measures exercises in time, so you are encouraged to continue for the entire time even if you are facing muscle failure.
Pushing your muscles too far can do more damage than simply making you sore. Overtraining leads to hormonal changes, like an increase in cortisol levels, which leads to a decrease in testosterone and DHEA levels.
Testosterone and DHEA are important for muscle repair, so overtraining could actually prevent you from building the muscles you think you’re working on. These hormonal changes can also affect your sleep and hand-eye coordination. With constant overtraining, your muscles may even begin to break down.
As muscles break down, parts of the muscle fibers may get into your bloodstream and eventually clog your kidneys, leading to a potentially life-threatening condition called rhabdomyolysis.
Injuries can easily occur when muscles are trained to failure. Think about it: you’re pushing your muscles to their limit, sometimes when they haven’t recovered from the last workout. It sounds like you’re asking for an injury.
It’s not hard to avoid overtraining, simply don’t follow the training to failure idea and give yourself plenty of recovery time in between workouts. If you plan to work with a personal trainer, ask for their views on training to failure or let them know from the beginning that you’re not comfortable with the idea.
Research boot camps to see if the descriptions mention training to failure (as a warning, many CrossFit programs believe in this method as it is celebrated for being an extremely high-intensity workout.) If you’re working out on your own, plan to increase repetitions with each workout, so you work up to higher reps instead of working your muscles to their breaking point.
Listen to your body: when your muscles are telling you that they’ve had enough, they mean it. Give yourself lots of recovery time so that you can make the most out of every workout and reap the maximum rewards for your effort instead of damaging your body.