Training to Exhaustion

Training to exhaustion requires longer recovery between workouts.

Bodybuilders can learn from the techniques of elite powerlifters, as many powerlifters don’t train to complete exhaustion every set. If you watched a powerlifter squatting with 500 pounds using reps of 5 for 5 sets, one would think that would take a significant toll on the body’s recuperation and nervous system. Contrary to the powerlifter throwing around 500 hundred on the squat, if you saw a bodybuilding training with German Volume Training, using ten sets of ten repetitions with 315 on the squat, one would think because the bodybuilder is using a lighter weight, he can recuperate faster – but new research proves otherwise.

Traditionally, bodybuilders use much lighter weight, but will train each body part two to three times per week, whereas a powerlifter will use much heavier weight but train once a week. Bodybuilders who are looking for muscle growth will train more frequent workouts because they know that frequent workouts allow a more anabolic environment over the course of the training week. Bodybuilders should consider that there is a thin line between frequent training to generate an anabolic response and overtraining. Previous research has reported that workouts involving greater volumes and training to failure have recently been shown to cause more muscle damage and take longer to recuperate from.

Researchers wanted to examine the effects of two different workouts with heavy and light weights on anabolic signaling responses and the length of time required to recover post-workout, in strength-trained males. Subjects did two exercises, each comprising four sets of knee extensions to muscular failure, with three minutes of rest between sets.

– One workout was performed with a light load (30 percent of 1RM), and
– The other with a heavy load (80 percent of 1RM).

Muscles recuperation

At first glance, one would expect the workout with 80 percent of a 1-RM would take longer to recuperate from, but that’s not what the researchers found. Markers of muscle strength were reduced significantly more at 48 hours post-exercise with lightweight, compared to with heavy weight workout. This suggests that muscles recuperation had not entirely taken place in the group that used a lighter weight. When training to failure, strength training with light loads takes longer to recover from than the same number of sets of heavy loads, while the anabolic signaling response is similar. This may be due to the higher peripheral fatigue from tissue metabolic stress that occurs with high repetition training to failure. If you are training to exhaustion each set, be aware that you are going to need more prolonged periods of recuperation than stopping short of training to failure each set. Current research suggests that regardless of the weight being used, even if using lightweight, training to exhaustion requires longer recuperation between workouts.

Haun CT, Mumford PW, Roberson PA, Romero MA, Mobley CB, Kephart WC, Anderson RG, Colquhoun RJ, Muddle TWD, Luera MJ, Mackey CS, Pascoe DD, Young KC, Martin JS, DeFreitas JM, Jenkins NDM, Roberts MD. Molecular, neuromuscular, and recovery responses to light versus heavy resistance exercise in young men. Physiol Rep. 2017 Sep;5(18).

Bartolomei, S., Sadres, E., Church, D. D., Arroyo, E., Gordon III, J. A., Varanoske, A. N., & Hoffman, J. R. (2017). Comparison of the recovery response from high-intensity and high-volume resistance exercise in trained men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 1-12.

Morán-Navarro, R., Pérez, C. E., Mora-Rodríguez, R., de la Cruz-Sánchez, E., González-Badillo, J. J., Sánchez-Medina, L., & Pallarés, J. G. (2017). Time course of recovery following resistance training leading or not to failure. European Journal of Applied Physiology , 1-13.