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Training to Failure and Rest Time: How to Find the Optimal Balance in Your Workouts

Have you ever felt that moment in the gym where you can't complete another rep? This sensation is known as "training to failure," which is a crucial indicator of workout intensity for many fitness enthusiasts. Studies show that understanding and properly utilizing training to failure can significantly enhance workout results.

What is Training to Failure?

  1. Technique Failure: Inability to complete the full range of motion (Full ROM) with proper form, such as only achieving partial pull-ups (Partial Range).

2. Absolute Failure: Inability to complete the movement even with improper form, for example, being unable to finish a pull-up despite imbalanced hands or kicking.

Is Training to Failure Good or Bad?

Training to failure requires longer recovery times, and insufficient recovery can decrease weekly training volume (Smith et al., 2008). Additionally, absolute failure does not substantially aid muscle growth (Schoenfeld, 2010). However, training to failure acts as an indicator, helping you assess workout intensity. For example:
  1. Have you reached failure?

  2. Can you increase the intensity?

  3. Do you need to increase the intensity?

These questions help you adjust your training strategy to achieve optimal results.

Rest Time Distribution Recommendations

Rest time is closely related to training to failure. Shorter rest periods increase training intensity and the likelihood of reaching failure (Haff et al., 2003). Conversely, longer rest periods reduce this likelihood.

RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion): A scale that quantifies perceived effort during exercise, based on heart rate, muscle fatigue, breathing frequency, etc. (Borg, 1982). The ideal RPE range for training is 6-8, with recommended rest times of 1-4 minutes.

RIR (Reps in Reserve): A scale that measures exercise intensity by the number of reps left in reserve. Fewer RIR means higher effort (Zourdos et al., 2016). The ideal RIR range is 2-4, with recommended rest times also being 1-4 minutes.

However, this does not mean rest times must always be between 1-4 minutes. Depending on the training intensity, rest times need to be flexibly adjusted. For example, maximum strength tests require longer rest periods, while corrective exercises may need shorter rest periods.


Training to failure is a critical indicator in workouts, significantly influencing training outcomes. By distinguishing between technique failure and absolute failure, we can better understand our training limits. While training to failure increases recovery time, it also provides an essential gauge for adjusting training intensity.

Moreover, distributing rest times wisely is crucial. By using the RPE and RIR scales, we can scientifically adjust rest times for optimal training results. Research shows that shorter rest periods can enhance training intensity but also increase the likelihood of reaching failure.

In summary, understanding and appropriately utilizing training to failure and rest periods can help us find the best balance in training, achieving ideal muscle growth and strength improvement.

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This series aims to provide an in-depth, easy-to-understand interpretation of various books related to health, exercise science, and sports psychology, helping you embark on a healthier, more scientific fitness journey.

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  1. Borg, G. (1982). Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 14(5), 377-381.

  2. Haff, G. G., Hobbs, R. T., Haff, E. E., & Sands, W. A. (2003). Cluster training: A novel method for introducing training program variation. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 25(5), 42-47.

  3. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

  4. Smith, D. J., Norris, S. R., & Hogg, J. M. (2008). Performance evaluation of swimmers: Scientific tools. Sports Medicine, 32(9), 539-554.

  5. Zourdos, M. C., Dolan, C., Quiles, J. M., Klemp, A., Jo, E., Loenneke, J. P., & Blanco, R. (2016). Efficacy of daily one-repetition maximum training in well-trained powerlifters and weightlifters: A case series. Nutrition & Metabolism, 13(1), 42.

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