Jerry Brainum breaks down the straight facts on training to failure and if it’s necessary for optimal muscle growth.

Training to failure is a concept that is often talked about in bodybuilding, strength sports, and weightlifting. The basic concept is all in the phrase – you must train so hard that you cannot physically lift any further. The theory is that this pushes your muscle fibers to such a level that you get the best muscle growth possible. But does the science back up the claims? In our latest episode of Straight Facts, Jerry Brainum dives deep into training to failure.

There’s no questioning that training to failure works – Jerry Brainum confirms the statistics back up as much – but is it necessary? Or can the same results be obtained without having to train go failure? Training to failure is easier said than done. In actuality, many people who claim to train go failure don’t actually reach it. The training strategy requires a truly focused and powerful mind – as hitting failure is extremely painful.

The reality is – training to failure requires a person to lift past their perceived limits. When they feel like they can’t do anymore, that’s the exact moment they need to keep pushing. Training partners help motivate to get to this level. But there are still many who don’t actually reach that point.

Luckily, according to Jerry Brainum and his research, there are other ways to build massive muscle just as optimally as training to failure. Let’s break down what training to failure actually accomplishes – and how other training tactics can do something similar.

What Happens When You Train to Failure?

There are two important types of muscle fibers – Type 1 and Type 2.

  • Type 1 fibers are connected more towards strength endurance. These are the first fibers to be hit when you lift weights. They lead to the least amount of physical growth – but can certainly still improve your physique and help make you stronger.
  • Type 2 fibers are where the real massive growth happens. Unfortunately, if you don’t train hard enough these fibers will barely even be affected. That’s where training to failure comes in. Pushing that far will hit these vital fibers. This leads to real deal massive growth.

As Jerry Brainum puts it, if you are lifting lighter weight with higher volume – you will need to train to failure. If not, you won’t build the kind of massive muscle you may be seeking and plateau quickly.

However, Type 2 muscle fibers can be reached an alternative way. Increasing to heavy weight will hit Type 2 fibers. By heavy, we mean a big increase in the kind of core weight you typically lift. When lifting heavy weight, studies have shown that Type 2 fibers are activated without hitting failure.

Should You Lift Light to Failure? Or Heavy?

So which tactic works for you. Also of note – there are many other types of training tactics but for the topic of this discussion we will talk about the big categories of lifting heavy vs lifting light.

Jerry Brainum explains that it largely comes to what works for your individual ability. Some people have the fortitude to train and push to failure. Others would rather lift heavy weight than push so far. However, there are some things you should consider.


Jerry Brainum warns that consistently training heavy (not to failure) over the long term will lead to joint problems and possible future injury. Old school bodybuilders like Dorian Yates loved to train heavy to achieve his legendary physique. But it comes at a cost.

On the flip side, if you do high volume light training – you run the risk of not actually reaching failure. Wasting your time and becoming frustrated once you hit a plateau.

That’s why Jerry Brainum suggests periodization.

What is Periodization?

Jerry Brainum explains that periodization is the act of cycling through different training styles over a long term schedule.

  • Lift light to failure for 3 months.
  • Then switch to lifting heavy not to failure for 3 months, then repeat.

This tactic helps prevent you from mentally burning out. It also helps prevent your body from adapting to one style. Variation in a workout routine is vital to breaking through plateaus – so this training schedule can be very helpful to reaching goals as optimally as possible.

You can watch Jerry Brainum break down training to failure in full detail in our latest episode of Straight Facts above. Also make sure to stop by every Wednesday for new episodes of the podcast!

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.