Purpose: We aimed to perform a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of training to muscle failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy.
Methods: Meta-analyses of effect sizes (ESs) explored the effects of training to failure vs. non-failure on strength and hypertrophy. Subgroup meta-analyses explored potential moderating effects of variables such as training status (trained vs. untrained), training volume (volume equated vs. volume non-equated), body region (upper vs. lower), exercise selection (multi- vs. single-joint exercises (only for strength)), and study design (independent vs. dependent groups).
Results: Fifteen studies were included in the review. All studies included young adults as participants. Meta-analysis indicated no significant difference between the training conditions for muscular strength (ES = -0.09, 95% confidence interval (95%CI): -0.22 to 0.05) and for hypertrophy (ES = 0.22, 95%CI: -0.11 to 0.55). Subgroup analyses that stratified the studies according to body region, exercise selection, or study design showed no significant differences between training conditions. In studies that did not equate training volume between the groups, the analysis showed significant favoring of non-failure training on strength gains (ES = -0.32, 95%CI: -0.57 to -0.07). In the subgroup analysis for resistance-trained individuals, the analysis showed a significant effect of training to failure for muscle hypertrophy (ES = 0.15, 95%CI: 0.03-0.26).
Conclusion: Training to muscle failure does not seem to be required for gains in strength and muscle size. However, training in this manner does not seem to have detrimental effects on these adaptations, either. More studies should be conducted among older adults and highly trained individuals to improve the generalizability of these findings.
Keywords: 1RM; Cross-sectional area; Data synthesis; Muscle size.
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