Perpetually Dissatisfied

During the Olympic coverage, I caught a portion of a volleyball game for the US indoor women’s team. A comment made during the match sparked my interest. It was said that the team had adopted the phrase “perpetually dissatisfied” as a team motto. I found a blog from April in which John Kessel credits head coach Hugh McCutcheon with often saying “that his job is to be perpetually dissatisfied.” I think that all successful coaches have this desire to improve continually.

When it comes to exercise instruction, I consider it an important task to convince the subject to always be dissatisfied with their form, not to the point of discouragement, rather to be encourage to improve form no matter how good it becomes. The practice of exaggerating every subtlety keeps the focus on effort and not on external performance measure.

There is a strong association between movement intended for exercise and athletic or other physically demanding performance. We need to break that erroneous association. For a performance we must move with efficiency and reserve our ultimate strength as much as possible. For exercise we do the opposite. Exercise is to stimulate growth, giving us greater ability after the adaptation, allowing a better performance. When a performance activity is encumbered for the purpose of stimulating growth, then we practice a hampered performance and skills are diminished. Don’t be fooled by the sensationalism. Keep exercise and practice separate and as distinct as their respective purposes.

Now picking up the list of items for evaluating a subject’s level of proficiency that was started in a post in June, I’ve added some explanation to a few more of the items. Read through the list visualizing the process of an exercise session. How well do you adhere to the protocol? How many of these items have you gained mastery over? Are you progressing through the list or does anything seem out of order? Are you satisfied with your form? (I hope not.) Please add a comment with any thoughts or questions.

1)      Avoid distractions
2)      Position carefully
3)      Maintain stationary origin
4)      Mastery over breathing
5)      Proper attire

6)      Avoid firing out

Any exercise movement begins properly at the commencement of the positive stroke regardless of the point at which the load is accepted. It would be ideal to accept the load near the mid-range and move to the starting point to begin, but this is not often possible. Whether in the first or the last repetition of an exercise, never fire out of that bottom position. Move it like a rattlesnake is inches away and you want to make that movement without startling the snake into striking. The goal is to keep your force output as constant as possible throughout the entire repetition. This is a waste of energy (good!) and against our instincts (good!) but it intensifies the exercise (better) and avoids injury (best!).

7)      Avoid shifting positions

Since you’re already in the correct position (#2 above), there is no need to shift and fidget. If your exercise is going to have any value, it is going to be uncomfortable. When it becomes uncomfortable, your subconscious will challenge your resolve with a multitude of distractions. Learn to control the desire to escape toward comfort. Maximum results will never be possible without progressing in this area. It’s a never ending battle, learn to expect it, identify a single discrepancy and master it, and then find another to work on.

8)      Avoid re-gripping

Re-gripping is a specific form of shifting position. Establish your hand position from the start so that your forearm is directly in line with the application of the resistance. If you are pulling against the resistance then wrap your fingers securely around the handle and grip with only the amount of force necessary to maintain that position. Avoid curling your wrists. Concentrate on the larger muscles that move your upper arms. If you are pushing against resistance then don’t grip at all. Let your fingers settle in as much of a relaxed position as possible. Let the heel of your hand absorb the distributed force. The perceived need to re-grip is a distraction technique. Practice the conscious control of overcoming the distraction.

9)      Grasp the repetition cycle concept

It’s natural to think of a repetition as an out and back stroke. It’s also natural to think that our goal is to perform as many repetitions as possible. Unfortunately, what is natural in this case is also the most counterproductive. The idea of as many repetitions as possible leads to compromising form to save energy. It also leads to lingering in any portion of the repetition that requires less effort, again to save energy. By making the repetition into a continuous cycle of steady effort we waste energy and make the exercise effective toward stimulating growth.

10)   Avoid momentum

We learn about momentum without even realizing it. We use it all the time to our advantage as another energy saver. To make exercise as effective as possible we need to be aware of all of the energy saving techniques that we acquire naturally through practice. Once we become aware of the things that are used to give us mechanical advantage, we must give full concentration to eliminating their use.

11)   Minimize acceleration
12)   Mastery over turnarounds
13)   Constant load
14)   Mastery over unloading
15)   Exit properly
16)   Mastery over discrepancies
17)   Avoid changing speed
18)   Mastery over pace
19)   Recognize and avoid energy savings
20)   Exaggerate range and form
21)   Reach legitimate failure
22)   Eliminate facial expression
23)   Move quickly between exercises
24)   Engage squeeze technique
25)   Inroad beyond failure

Realistic Expectations, Delayed Gratification

First the bad news; you can’t get the benefits of exercise from a spa experience. The good news is that you can reach your personal best and it doesn’t require a struggle. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into a spa lie down on a couch and take a nap or engage in a leisurely conversation and then leave after half an hour feeling relaxed and rejuvenated and confident that you are more fit and capable of any physical activity than you were when you entered. That’s obviously not realistic, yet such amenities are often given priority when choosing an exercise facility. The pampered sensation is quite appealing.

The truth is that no amount of exercise benefit can be simply granted to you or imposed on you. It isn’t a treatment that is applied like a manicure or a haircut. Exercise is done consciously; pushing the limits of our strength in order to stimulate growth; to expand the limit. This growth is a reaction to the threat to our equilibrium that exercise presents and that is inherently uncomfortable. This does not mean that everything that is uncomfortable will stimulate benefit. It’s a common trap to think that doing penance by punishing ourselves or subjecting ourselves to torture will gain us a reward.

The results that we gain are largely determined by three factors; 1) Genetics, 2) Our willingness to give effort and 3) Our method. Regardless of any other factor, our genetic potential is fixed. Don’t play the comparison game. It’s unfair. The best we can do is to maximize the attributes that we’ve been given and not be disgruntled that someone else may display greater ability while giving relatively little effort.

Our individual genetic potential is like a window. It represents a range of possible physical attributes. Within that window our effort and our method determine the extent of these attributes that are realized. Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda won the gold medal in the men’s marathon in London. Looking at him, it is easy to see that genetically he is well suited to that event. He is very slight of frame. His legs are strong enough to carry his weight for that number of strides at that high pace. His method is to train specifically for that distance and pace. His effort was enough to put him at the extreme limit of his genetic window. (This is not necessarily his optimal health.)

Behdad Salimikordasiabi of Iran won the gold medal in the men’s heaviest class of weight lifting. Again, it’s very easy to see that he is genetically suited to that event. His method was to train for the specific movements against a heavy load. His effort was enough to put him at the head of the class. (This is not necessarily his optimal health.)

Both of these men are examples of a genetic window that is fairly extreme, a method that pushes to one extreme within that window and an extreme effort. If Kiprotich had trained with his maximum effort using Salimikordasiabi’s methods, then Kiprotich would not have been in London to compete in any event. Likewise if Salimikordasiabi had trained his absolute best using Kiprotich’s methods, then he too could only hope to be a spectator. In fact it’s likely that if these two had cross trained this way then Kiprotich would still outperform Salimikordasiabi in the marathon and Salimikordasiabi would still outperform Kiprotich in weight lifting, but neither would be anywhere near exceptional by Olympic standards. That’s how big the genetic factor is, yet most of us do not have a window that is close to any extreme. And these two men are not opposite extremes, they are different extremes. Also understand that these men’s training methods are not exercise though the training methods did include some measure of exercise method. Training and exercise are two very different things.

With our genetic window already determined we can concentrate on our level of effort given to our selected method. Proper exercise means one thing: stimulate muscle growth by introducing a high demand in order to adapt with greater strength capability. The renaissance method offers the ideal exercise by being the most efficient way to deliver that demand. Our best effort then yields the best results allowed by our genetics.

An important thing to remember is that there is a big difference between long term results and immediate achievement. A grand display of strength today is not at all the goal of exercise. Rather the growth for a long time to come which will afford improved strength when needed is the point.

Consider math exercises in elementary school. What is the point? Is it to obtain the correct answer right now? We already know that answer. It’s in the appendix of the book. Is that particular answer what we’re after? Or is it an increasing ability to use various functions to become able to do greater things for a long time to come? Growth is the goal. The immediate performance is just one of the tools we use to guide our progress.

Understand the goal, carefully determine the method, apply full effort, and evaluate the results according to genetic potential.

5 Ways to Lose Weight

Indiscriminate weight loss is not a healthy concept. Listed below are five categories of weight loss in order of speediness and consequently in reverse order of healthiness. I believe every method of weight reduction that has ever been contrived will fit in one of these categories.

 Translocation

A change of location is the fastest way to lose the most weight possible. If you could travel to the moon, you could decrease your weight by 83% in just a few days. This is, of course absurd, but it illustrates the fundamental need to use terms accurately. Weight is the force of attraction between two bodies of matter. When we measure our weight, we are measuring the force of gravity between the mass of the earth and the mass of our body. Gravity varies with altitude and even with latitude so that we can lose weight (or gain weight) simply by moving to a different location. On the earth’s surface the changes are extremely small, but by traveling into space we can lose a tremendous amount of weight in very little time.

The problem is that this kind of weight loss has no effect on our physical condition. The issue then is not weight loss, but body composition. The focus must be achieving and maintaining an appropriate quantity of stored fat. I’m sorry if the “F” word offends you, but its use is necessary in order to make sense of the issue unless one prefers adipose which is a less recognizable term for the same thing. The word fat is not intended to be insulting; it is tissue; matter; a noun. It is not meant as an adjective. It has absolutely nothing to do with the value or the character of a person. To fuel routine activity, the body must store some fat for later use.

Weight is only one indicator used in evaluating our physical condition, but it does not deserve the amount of significance that is given to it. The trend of weight should be considered over a span of several weeks. There are far too many variables and fluctuations for one reading to be considered meaningful. Even a body mass index can be deceptive. It is possible to be over-fatted and under-muscled thus within a normal range on a chart, yet unhealthy.

 Amputation

A lame joke from years ago stated that if you want to lose 15lbs. of ugly fat fast, you should cut off your head. This is another good illustration that weight loss is not necessarily an improvement in condition and in fact can be very unhealthy. The sad truth is that some surgical procedures that are routinely performed fit in this category. A normal human body functions logically, and if it continually receives more energy resource than it expends, then it will store the excess as fat.

The body does a marvelous balancing act regulating demands and resources, but its ability to function may be limited by an imbalance of important nutrients. Losing weight indiscriminately should not be the focus. Maintaining a healthy balance of fuel intake is the important issue. We can invent excuses but the simple fact is that if a body stores more fat than is necessary, then the diet needs to be adjusted regardless of what the scale says. The scale can be one useful tool in making sure that adjustments are in a healthy amount and direction.

 Dehydration

Athletes competing in a sport with weight classifications have, for decades, used this method of reducing their weight to be just under a specified limit only long enough to weigh in. They ultimately compromise their performance by attempting to gain an advantage this way. It is important to understand that the body is mostly water, and that water is critical to the proper balance.

We consume and expel a considerable amount of water in various ways each day. As a result, our weight fluctuates continuously as the body balances its use of water with its availability. A perceived weight gain may be a healthy change, if it’s caused by a return to proper hydration, while a weight loss can be unhealthy. The body will quickly counteract any temporary gain or loss that is a result of water intake.

 Malnutrition

Each new fad diet plan makes shallow promises as they reveal the secret of easy weight loss by fanatically avoiding a few evil foods or adding a few magic foods. The claim of fast results is a sure sign of a gimmick that will be at best a disappointment or worse, very harmful. Since the body continuously regulates itself, the lack of proper fuel results in biological functions being curtailed. It seems that the first function to be cut is coherent thought which exacerbates the tendency to follow inane “weight” loss methods. A diet should never be thought of as a short term endeavor, but rather a constantly adjusted process of finding balance. All foods contain healthful nutrients. The proportion of each is the deciding factor of an unhealthy diet. Overconsumption of anything, even essential nutrients becomes malnutrition the same way that under consumption of important nutrients does.

 Calibration

Our diet is the means by which we replenish the fuel used in activities of life. The word diet has been misused to suggest denial and restriction. Our society enjoys more leisure than any other in history and that leads to an unhealthy view that food is a form of entertainment. We have become so accustomed to pampering that we believe we deserve immediate remedy; a diet plan that will quickly put me back to the starting point, and will allow me to continue with the unhealthy lifestyle that resulted in a poor condition. This seems to fit a popular satirical definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.

Biochemistry is a very complex science, but at a very elementary level balanced nutrition includes enough protein to support cell regeneration, enough unsaturated fats to support endocrine function and the balance of carbohydrates to fuel muscular contraction for activity. It’s easy to be satisfied with the amount of effort put toward health care and at the same time be unsatisfied with the resulting condition. The truth is; health care is a cause and effect relationship. If we are to enjoy the desired effect, then we must exert control over the cause.