Unconventional Training Laird Hamilton

Many serious athletes and body builders commonly use the phrase, “working to failure.” This is a reference to repeating the same exercise or moment until you can’t complete another repetition, therefore until you “fail.” Believe it or not, working to “failure” is a good thing. While it may sound surprising to many, the goal of high-intensity exercise is to actually cause physical trauma to muscle fibers, which could technically be characterized as muscle injury. By doing multiple repetitions of the same exercise until you simply do not have the strength to do one more rep, you cause the maximum trauma to the muscle fibers.

Traumatize muscle fibers
After the muscle fibers are traumatized, a biological effort to repair and replace the damaged muscle fibers takes place. Essentially what occurs is that satellite cells move into the damaged area and fuse together with the traumatized muscle fibers repairing and increasing the thickness of muscle protein strands, as well as forming new ones. So it’s this act of traumatizing and damaging muscle fibers that leads to muscle development and improved strength.

Stimulate growth hormone production and eat more protein
According to extensive research conducted by the University of New Mexico, high-intensity resistance training is the most effective type of exercise for promoting muscle development. Their research concludes that successful muscle development requires consistently elevated levels of growth hormone plus greater protein intake. Both of which are necessary to optimize muscle development.

Growth hormones are highly recognized for their role in muscle growth, as well as triggering fat metabolism for energy during the muscle growth process. The amount of growth hormones produced by the pituitary gland is dependent on exercise intensity, the greater the intensity of the workout, the higher the resulting growth hormone production.  A higher level of growth hormone enhances protein synthesis into muscle within 2 to 4 hours of exercise. Therefore, increased protein intake post exercise is also necessary.

Work to failure
The implications of the complexities of muscle development means that high intensity exercise, where you work your muscles to failure (combined with properly timed protein intake), is the most effective way to build muscle, and as we get older potentially the only way. Happily, multiple studies show the detrimental effects of aging on muscle development can be restrained or even reversed with regular high intensity resistance exercise combined with proper protein intake.

So next time you exercise, test your limits and try something that may seem a little unconventional. Pick one or two muscle groups to focus on, and work to complete muscle failure. Alternate back and forth between consecutive sets of just two movements (such as dumbbell squat presses, and forward lunges with dumbbell arm curls), doing each set until failure. After completing multiple sets of each exercise until you can hardly do one more rep of either exercise (“total failure”), move on to two new exercises.

Build muscle, burn fat, and stay young
While it may sound counterintuitive, try to traumatize your muscles by doing high intensity resistance training and working to total failure. Don’t just go through the motions, it’s important to work hard to get the best results. You can improve at almost any age and any fitness level; it just takes a little work and attention to proper nutrition. Remember, “Working to failure” is the most effective way to build muscle, burn fat, and stay young.


Written by
John Wildman

Laird Hamilton
Laird Hamilton

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