Sundstrup, E., Jakobsen, M. D., Andersen, C. H., Zebisz, M. K., & Andersen, L. L. (2011). Muscle activation strategies during strength training with heavy loading versus repetitions to failure. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(5). Supplement abstract 2298.

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This study compared the physiological effect of failure versus non-failure strength training. It evaluated neck/shoulder muscle activation with electromyography when going to failure during dynamic shoulder abduction (lateral raise) performed with elastic tubing in females (N = 15). Ss were employed in sedentary occupations (office workers and laboratory technicians) and performed a set with heavy loading (3 RM) and a set of repetitions to failure with lower resistance in a lateral raise with elastic tubing. Electromyographic (EMG) activity and median power frequency of the deltoid, trapezius, splenius capitis, and infraspinatus were measured during each set of contractions.

Normalized EMG recordings during the set to failure were significantly lower during the first repetition and significantly higher during the latter repetitions compared with normalized EMG during the heavy 3 RM set. Normalized EMG for all four muscles increased throughout the set to failure in a curvilinear fashion, and reached a plateau during the final repetitions. Median power frequency for all four muscles decreased throughout the set to failure in a linear fashion, but the slope of the curve was significantly lower in the splenius compared with the other three muscles.

Implication. A high level of muscle activity can be reached without going to the state of momentary muscle fatigue in resistance training. Ss can positively gain strength and power without always going to the strict discomfort and acute physical effort associated with repetitions to failure. Resistance training effects can be obtained while possibly lowering the amount of active muscle damage by not exercising to extreme fatigue. Training athletes do not need to be subjected to extreme resistance training efforts in order to gain strength.

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