Progress; toward what?

The purpose of exercise is to stimulate muscle growth. Muscle growth stimulation is a key benefit toward general health. How does one know then that their exercise process is effective? In other words, how is progress measured? Any so-called study that I’ve ever read on the subject of exercise effectiveness has measured the quantity of performance of the process used for exercise, and the vast majority use previously untrained subjects. It is absurd to suggest that anything other than skill acquisition i.e. coordination is responsible for any significant improvement in performance in a newly introduced activity. In this case the word training is appropriate instead of exercise. Even when a static measure of force is used there remains significant improvement, with practice, in one’s ability to recruit muscle fibers in producing force. This increase can be gained in a very short amount of time. However skill and fortitude are heavily involved and this disqualifies any claim of improvement in physical attributes.

If one is truly interested in testing for improvement in strength as an indicator of muscle growth, then one must choose an independent activity that is practiced with regularity for a minimum of six weeks prior to the beginning of the exercise process and continue that same regularity throughout the entire testing time frame. There are still plenty of factors that will skew results, but until someone makes at least this amount of effort the published reports will continue to be illegitimate.

Now, to the point. The purpose in the process of exercise is to inroad strength efficiently and not to perform efficiently as these are mutually exclusive. In “The Renaissance of Exercise”, Ken Hutchins addresses the idea of plateaus which are the appearance of progress flattening for a time. He lists 5 considerations for evaluating progress:

  • Form
  • Time between exercises
  • Sequence of exercises
  • Number of repetitions
  • Resistance

They are in the order of importance and that is typically the reverse order of the attention they receive. Form can always be improved and must be given the utmost attention in order for it to not degrade. Time between exercises should be the minimum that allows safety and form. Even a few seconds affects energy reserve and the performance outcome must be evaluated in light of that. Any exercise that is normally done last, when done first will display a significant difference. That does not equal improvement. Improvement may very well have occurred, but it cannot be evaluated meaningfully. The number of repetitions, time under load or whatever duration measurement is used is an easy thing to give far too much attention. It’s always tempting to compromise form for the sake of that count. The count is only legitimate if form is consistent. The desire to display an increase in resistance is another trap. Progress cannot be imposed externally. It must happen internally and be assessed objectively.

In the long term, progress can often appear to slow, stop or even reverse. Perception is not trustworthy. Progress might be advancing, but in an unexpected manner. If strict attention is given to form and time between, then the count may be down and a decrease in resistance may be called for. This could indicate that more intense inroading and thus a more effective growth stimulus is possible with less external load and more focused control. Stimulus is the goal, inroading is the process and performance is an indicator to be kept in proper context.

Exercise is defined by its purpose

Exercise is a process to stimulate a muscular growth mechanism. This is a shortened version of the definition of exercise developed by Ken Hutchins. It is succinct by design to focus on the important issue: stimulate muscle growth. A lot of confusion is perpetrated by creating, expanding and repeating incorrect associations. This confusion has fueled animosity from those who practice nearly every form of physical activity in search of exercise credits to increase their self-worth. How dare you suggest that my favorite activity is not exercise?

Here’s an excerpt from another promotional email that I received that clearly illustrates the stupidity that is so rampant:


Get Your Daily Workout In – One Minute at a Time

The benefits of regular exercise can’t be overstated – reduced risk of disease, healthier weight, better mood, and longer life.  All great reasons to get moving – but many of us still struggle to fit exercise into our schedules.
Adults need at least 2.5 hours, or 150 minutes, of moderate aerobic exercise every week – plus a couple muscle-building workouts – just to maintain good health.
If that sounds like WAY more time than you have, consider this:
•     2.5 hours a week is only thirty minutes a day, five days a week – plus
you can exercise in ten-minute intervals throughout the day and still get all the health benefits of a full workout.
 •     There are plenty of ways to squeeze a few more minutes of exercise into your day:
– Park at the back of the lot and walk (briskly!) into the office.
– Take every other step on the stairs, just for the challenge of it.
– Do a dozen squats every time you get up from your desk.
– Speed walk around the parking lot during your lunch break.  Just ten                  minutes can get you about 1,000 extra steps!
– Do a brisk lap around the grocery store before you start shopping.
– Use heavy items – like laundry detergent or a bag of groceries – as                   weights for bicep curls.
– Do jumping jacks during the commercial breaks while watching television.
– Try pushups against the counter while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.
•     Map out some activities that you can add to your daily routine – and then get started building that habit.  10 minutes here, 15 minutes there and before you know it you’re up to 30 minutes (or more) each day, enjoying all of those great health benefits!


It is completely inappropriate to use moderate and aerobic in describing exercise. also, “workout” is a sensational jargon term for “feeling exhausted”. It has nothing to do with muscle building stimulating growth. The title states one minute at a time. Since it’s all cumulative, then how about 2 seconds at a time? It is not cumulative. The level of highest intensity is most important. Stimulation is achieved when a threshold is crossed. If it isn’t crossed, then nothing lasting results. It f it is crossed, then time is required to allow the growth. Interrupting that growth process is counterproductive. I won’t even attempt to address the rest of the deception in this piece that is built on these incorrect assumptions.

When a term gets overused and misused its meaning gets lost. If exercise is not distinct from activity and not different from recreation, then why would we have so many words to designate the same thing? Consider exercises as used in elementary school math. A concept like fractions is introduced and explained and then at the end of the chapter, exercises are presented. They typically progress from basic to challenging. What is the purpose for a student doing the exercises? Is it to have the exercises done? Is it to get the correct answer? Or is it to stimulate growth in the student to be able to do more complex things than ever before and ever more complex things in the future. The problem has already been worked many times before by others. We have the answer already in the back of the book. The point is to stimulate growth. The point is not keeping the child quiet or off the streets, as good as those things are. They are merely side effects. The point is growth. It is a long term adaptation. A student may work through problems for half an hour and find that their ability to continue is waning. Is that really growth? No! Not immediately. Growth comes over time. Exercise is an extreme. Growth is the adaptation to counter the extreme. If it isn’t challenging it won’t stimulate a change.

Now carry this logically into the realm of other activities. Take work for example. Work is a measure of output. It is not a measure of effort or energy. Those are inputs. Is work exercise? I was told many times in my formative years that when I did physical labor that I had gotten “my exercise for the day”. If the purpose of work is to get as much output accomplished as possible then it would be quite antithetical to exercise. To accomplish work, it is best to conserve resources and be efficient. The only point is to reach the desired amount of output. It is highly recommended to use tools to aid the process and save energy. The less challenging a task can be made, the more capability one has to do further work.

How about sporting activities? What is the purpose when we participate? Realistically the purpose is one of two things: To win in a performance or to improve in a practice. Athletic activities involve such skilled movements that to improve our ability involves rehearsing the skill in order to become more efficient in the movement. This means using less energy for a given output or achieving a greater output for the amount of energy expended. Again, like work output, this is antithetical to exercise. Practice for an athletic activity is productive when it is performed precisely. When fatigue sets in and the practice becomes sloppy, then it is counterproductive. To carry a practice to the point of being physically challenging enough to be exercise is also dangerous. On the other hand, a performance in competition is likely to be taken to the physical extreme yet that extreme is not the purpose, but rather to avoid that extreme by employing the practiced skill and reaching a higher level of performance is the point.

What about recreational activities? It’s often stated that exercise makes you feel better, maybe that it energizes you. Aren’t these benefits the actual purpose of recreation? Are exercise and recreation the same thing? Sometimes? Always? Never? NEVER! Why are there 2 different words? Again Ken Hutchins’ work in “Exercise vs. Recreation” is a great asset to understanding. Exercise and recreation are two completely different things because they have very different purposes. An attempt to get both at the same time only serves to compromise the integrity of each so that neither is accomplished.

Exercise is prescribed for growth stimulation. Keep it brief, intense and infrequent.

Proper exercise does not harm

Malpractice is improper conduct or simply misuse. (bad practice)
The following is excerpted from a story on “CBS This Morning” in February 2013. The article can be found at cbsnews.com/news/baby-boomers-and-boomeritis-how-to-avoid-exercising-injuries. The orange highlighting is my custom for setting off something that I find objectionable. It has taken me a year to become calm enough to address this appropriately.
(CBS News) Doctors are seeing an explosion of baby boomers coming in with injuries from exercise. The influx has been dubbed “boomeritis.”
“It’s a result of the mentality boomers have about exercise”, Dr. Riley Williams, an orthopedic surgeon who practices sports medicine at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, explained on “CBS This Morning.”
“You have to understand that this generation of individuals 45 and up have been bred on the idea that exercise is going to not only lengthen your life, but increase your quality of life and thus they’ve been exercising their whole lives,” he said. “As you get older, joints, ligaments, and tendons, they change, as we all know, and you’re going to have some injuries from time to time if you exercise vigorously.Williams said he doesn’t consider “boomeritis” to a big problem because it is associated with exercise.
He said, “I always stress in my office that I’d rather have a problem with my limbs as opposed to problems with my core, diabetes, heart disease and things, so as we know, vigorous exercise is a helpful approach. However, we start to have a certain type of commitment to our exercise and we ignore these normal signs that may warn us if something is coming about.
To avoid injury longer, Williams suggests a diverse set of exercising routines. He explained, “Take running, for example. I see a lot of five-day-week runners. It’s almost virtually impossible after a certain age to continue with that frequency, so I encourage people to do other things, biking, intense gym training, things that give you that high that we heard about that’s associated with running exclusively.”
Injuries are not an inherent part of exercise. Ken Hutchins teaches correctly that injury is the only thing that exercise can produce directly, but that proper exercise is done within the constraints of safety. Injury should never occur and it must never be deemed acceptable. Injury is however and inherent risk to varying degrees with recreational activities. This presentation clearly illustrates the usual confusion over the distinction between exercise and recreation. To not consider an increase in injuries problematic is abhorrent, and to disguise it with this supposed association with exercise displays a conflict of interest when it comes from an orthopedist.
To mention “core” (a meaningless jargon term), diabetes and heart disease are merely a play on sensationalism and not worthy of my time to rebut.
The ignored warning signs that are mentioned are not associated with proper exercise. they are associated with recreational activities. Proper exercise never imposes anything from without but involves the limit of volitional effort from within.
“To avoid injury longer” ??????????????  How about avoid injury. ? Varying activities and the associated “high” are indicators that the topic of discussion is again recreation. Recreation is a wonderful thing. Everyone should get as much as practical, but to undermine the benefit of exercise because of a misguided attempt to correct the problem of inaccurate risk assessment for one’s recreational activity is a big, albeit common, mistake.
This “doctor” goes on to praise openness to having joint replacements earlier in life. The suggestion is that the replacements contribute to quality of life because of the incorrectly supposed hazard of exercise.

Bad advice

Malpractice is improper conduct or simply misuse. (bad practice)
The following was excerpted from an email message that was sent out with the intent of promoting better health. It was copied directly, minus pictures, to avoid any mistakes. The orange highlighting is my custom for setting off something that I find objectionable.
WEEK 2: MIND WHAT YOU EAT.
 
Studies have shown that mindfulness can help improve mood and psychological well-being. Paying attention while eating assures full digestion and nutritional benefits.
QUICK TIPS FOR MINDFUL
DAILY ACTIVITIES

  • Don’t eat standing, walking or driving. While multitasking can be good for some activities, it takes away from mindful eating. Sit down or pull the car over, and take some time to enjoy your food.
  • Eat without distraction. Focusing on food is challenging when you are watching television or sitting at your desk surrounded by clutter. First, choose to eat at the dining room or kitchen table. Next, clear everything off the table except for your food. Finally, sit down and enjoy your meal!
  • If you don’t really enjoy the food, don’t eat it! There’s no reason to waste calories. If you don’t enjoy the food you’re eating, stop eating it and find something else.

Most of these suggestions are reasonable, but to promote an association between diet and entertainment is misguided. The purpose of diet is to provide the best possible balance of nutrients (that includes quantity in balance) to fuel the mechanism. I’m all for paying attention. I just think that improper eating is most often a result of seeking pleasure, and this message is only encouraging the problem.

At first glance this message might seem harmless, but this kind of misleading idea snuck into our conversations leads to it becoming accepted only for familiarity though it has no credibility. The fact that words can be arranged in a sentence doesn’t mean they convey anything legitimate, and when the idea is put forth from one that poses as authoritative, the damage can be extensive.

Express yourself, but please don’t be offended if I ignore it

We’re less than a week from the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics. A few weeks ago I began to realize some anticipation for the spectacle, but it faded quickly as past experience has reminded me that there will be very little sport presented in comparison to the nauseating amount of meaningless interviews. The athletes will display some tremendous gifts and skill and I’m convinced that the network will exceed my expectations in presenting the competitions. My expectation is that their coverage will be more horrendous than ever.

I don’t remember a time when sports spectacle wasn’t inundated with the moronic repetition of “What does this mean to you?” and “What will it take for you to win?” I don’t want to belittle the competitors; it’s just that I’m interested in the competition and not their thoughts. I’m sure their lives are interesting, but plenty of other peoples’ lives are more interesting and this forum is athletic competition. There’s enough action to fill the air time without interrupting with the chit-chat. I expect it to be worse than ever because for nearly two decades television programming has increasingly gravitated toward what some erroneously call “reality tv” which is nothing but mindless commentary.

So what does any of that have to do with exercise? Only that it points out a natural human propensity to express ourselves. Since the only purpose for exercise is to increase muscular strength, and efficiently reaching an intense level of inroad is what precipitates that adaptation, then the resources that are used for self-expression are detracted from the goal. It’s another example of something that we do naturally that must be consciously overridden in order to get the greatest effect.

It should be obvious why an exercise session must be conducted in a private setting. Beyond that, communication between instructor and subject should be restricted to one direction while the session is in progress. A qualified instructor knows the experience of extreme effort. There is never a need to express discomfort or even to acknowledge that an instruction is understood. It’s important to demonstrate the compliance for one’s own benefit even if it’s not perceivable outwardly.

For the final time; the list that I composed as a measure of progressing to more effective exercise with the last 5 items expounded. Think critically about taking each one to the extreme for the purpose of improving the exercise stimulus.

1)      Avoid distractions
2)      Position carefully
3)      Maintain stationary origin
4)      Mastery over breathing
5)      Proper attire
6)      Avoid firing out
7)      Avoid shifting positions
8)      Avoid re-gripping
9)      Grasp the repetition cycle concept
10)   Avoid momentum
11)   Minimize acceleration
12)   Mastery over turnarounds
13)   Constant load
14)   Mastery over unloading
15)   Exi t 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

Failure is a goal. This is one of many apparent contradictions associated with exercise. How is failure defined? For the purpose of charting performance, failure is the point at which movement within prescribed form ceases. (Prescribed form includes, at least, all of the factors on this list.) Yet the stopping of the movement in proper form may result from the subject’s choice rather than the muscle’s strength being inroaded. This nebulous amount of inroad is really the goal because it is the thing that provides the stimulus for growth. Failure is considered the goal because it provides a defined limit, albeit a crude definition. If a deep inroad is reached without failure occurring then intensity is low and the stimulus likely is less than optimal. If failure is met without deep inroad then intensity may be too high for optimal stimulus. The important thing is that reaching failure is not decided upon, but rather it is decided against yet occurs because of exhausted resources.

22)   Eliminate facial expression

Just like form discrepancies, facial expression is a natural function almost involuntary. Gritting teeth, grimacing and squinting all seem to creep in unless there is a conscious effort to remove them. A little bit of attention can be very effective at directing that energy toward the muscular effort that is intended. This allows those muscles to be challenged more deeply instead of being interrupted by the subconscious shift of focus.

23)   Move quickly between exercises

This doesn’t mean rush. It means moves purposefully. Take the time to unload correctly, but don’t add anything extra; shaking or stretching. These are really nothing more than stall tactics. Move in the most direct path to the next exercise and load in the same purposeful manner. Hurrying to start the movement can only detract from the desired effect. Moving with precision doesn’t require more time than moving recklessly.

24)   Engage squeeze technique

This probably has the appearance of the most pointless use of energy possible. It certainly would be except for the fact that inroading strength intensely is the only point to exercise. That means this high level of effort is the most on target technique possible. It is critically important that it be used under control. I prefer to call it a maximum effort and that maximum effort is precisely why its controlled use is critical. It is a gradual buildup of effort against a practically infinite resistance at the point of fullest contraction, the stroke peak of the positive movement. It requires a positive stop for an extension movement that will prevent full extension and thus prevent unloading. The point is not to display force output (hammering against the stop is not useful although it may impress those who are immature) but rather to present the highest challenge. For the sake of safety it should only be used during the 3rd and subsequent repetitions. Approximately a minute into intense effort, the force possible at maximum effort is well diminished from the force available at fresh strength. This allows one to use a very high effective load even while employing a lesser load setting which then allows deeper inroad at failure. Proper instruction is essential.

25)   Inroad beyond failure

What’s the point in trying if I’m physically unable to make the thing move? Aha! That is the point. Movement of the machine or of the body is not what we’re after. Movement is a result of making some effort; it isn’t a cause of anything. The inroad is what we are after. Movement is an unnecessary distraction. Once the point of failure is reached then it is important to not allow the effort to diminish even though the force output is plummeting. It requires great will and discipline to continue inroading for an additional 10 seconds while there is no apparent incentive.

This list is meant to be simply a tool for evaluating progress in the practice of exercise. There is no way to quantify any of these items. Improvement is always available. The latter items are those that are increasingly dependent on the prior items all in an effort to more efficiently inroad. The depth to which this inroading is effective and possible through this process is a far more complex topic.

Now is the time for self-expression. Please share thoughts and ideas. I promise I won’t ignore them. :)

Sweat every detail (none of it is small stuff)

It’s been too long since I have written a blog entry. I have been caught up in an effort to improve some equipment. As advanced as the MedX machines are beyond the vast majority of exercise equipment, there is room for fine tuning especially since it was produced with the intention of using movements that are more than twice the appropriate pace. I have a great appreciation for the work of Ken Hutchins and the entire RenEx team especially since they have been careful to appreciate the work of Arthur Jones and other contributors. Their concept is right on target and will continually be refined.

I have gone through an extensive process to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the leg curl machine for starters. I chose to start with it because it is a single joint exercise and that simple form allows a little bit less complexity in analyzing the muscle mechanics involved. I also chose it because it is used by more clients than the knee extension machine, but this means that it is also less available to work on refining.

I’ve balanced the movement arm as much as is practical, and I need to now determine an average weight of subjects’ legs resting on the movement arm in the start position and counter balance that. That weight has a varying effect on the effort required throughout the movement thus it should be neutralized. I’ve had a new cam made to vary the resistance through the stroke more closely matching the hamstrings’ varying strength capabilities during movement. This will need another refinement once the subject’s leg weight is counterbalanced. I’ve reduced friction by using improved guides on the weight stack that run clean and dry.

All these steps make for some very subtle improvements that very few clients will recognize. For those who focus their efforts as instructed though it will take away some potential distractions. It offers an improved environment and thus the opportunity for a better result. The onus remains as always on the subject to make the most of it.

Now to pick up my list of items to use in evaluating one’s level of progress, here are some thoughts on the next 5 items. Comments are always appreciated.

1)      Avoid distractions
2)      Position carefully
3)      Maintain stationary origin
4)      Mastery over breathing
5)      Proper attire
6)      Avoid firing out
7)      Avoid shifting positions
8)      Avoid re-gripping
9)      Grasp the repetition cycle concept
10)   Avoid momentum
11)   Minimize acceleration
12)   Mastery over turnarounds
13)   Constant load
14)   Mastery over unloading
15)   Exit properly

16)   Mastery over discrepancies

Exercise is not a natural function. It is something that we do intentionally. Form discrepancies on the other hand come very naturally. Jabbing, heaving, shifting, bouncing and yanking are all terms commonly used to describe motion that we use to take advantage of momentum in order to save energy. We learn these techniques without even being aware of them. The key for exercise is to be aware of our tendencies and consciously override them. Be aware that they take place very subtly and that there may be little or no outward signs.

17)   Avoid changing speed

Another subconscious way to save energy is to linger in any position that requires less effort and to hurry through an area that requires more. Without intention the positive stroke will become faster and the negative will drag out slower. Decisively do the opposite of what comes naturally.

18)   Mastery over pace

This involves more than simply maintaining a constant speed of movement because the movement is not what is important but rather the steady decline of the strength reserve. Focus on the delivery of force so that the muscles stay constantly loaded. Find that pace that seems to be the most oppressive and intentionally drain the strength.

19)   Recognize and avoid energy savings

The items in this list can seem redundant and they do overlap a good bit. All form discrepancies are a result of the sensation of fatigue and an accompanying lack of self-control. The discomfort of exercise is not desirable, but it is inherently related to the growth stimulus that is desired. If the limit is not seriously challenged, then why would any change take place to expand the limit? Real progress involves distinguishing discomfort from pain and disregarding the discomfort instead of avoiding it or masking it with distractions. Take the time to honestly evaluate every element of an exercise session. Identify any behaviors that result from avoiding discomfort and eliminate them.

20)   Exaggerate range and form

Focus your concentration before you begin. Don’t be in a hurry to accomplish some reps. Make the first bit of movement more gentle and subtle than what you imagine is appropriate. Creep out of the start, creep to the end point, reach it emphatically, and creep back away from it. Waste energy with more emphasis on form every chance you get. When you’re convinced that you’ve performed flawlessly, do it even better. If you receive instruction follow it; more than follow it; exaggerate it. Make the movement appear as if the resistance is less than half of what it really is.

21)   Reach legitimate failure
22)   Eliminate facial expression
23)   Move quickly between exercises
24)   Engage squeeze technique
25)   Inroad beyond failure

There’s No Psychological Reward

In 2006 my exercise sessions were done at a fitness center that was popular enough that I was forced to wait until about 15 minutes before closing time to start. I would observe the activity in the room and when I thought I had enough of an opening, I would set the five machines in reverse order and hope that everyone there was more interested in their conversations than in using the equipment that I had planned.

One night as I finished my last exercise and unloaded from the resistance I glanced across the aisle at a man who was seated on a chest press machine looking quite relaxed. He was shaking his head and sort of smiling as he said “There’s just no psychological reward”. I asked for clarification while still breathing heavily. He explained that he observed and understood the protocol that I used, but that he couldn’t find any satisfaction in it; such effort only leading to ultimate failure.

I assured him that I understood his viewpoint and moved on. I wondered later if it would have helped him for me to explain my purpose, but I concluded that this was a classic case of “no explanation is possible”. I convey the story here because I find it an accurate illustration of the distinction between exercise and recreation.

Recreational activity is often confused for exercise. Sports, aerobics, step aerobics, danceaerobics, this aerobics, that aerobics, kick boxing, pilates, yoga, taebo, boot camp, crossfit, p90x, zumba, spinning, running, swimming, just move it, play60, wii, x-box … I could go on indefinitely. Recreation is a good thing. I encourage everyone to get as much as they care to. I don’t understand why people are often offended to hear their favorite activities referred to as recreation? Other activities get confused for exercise also that fit into the categories of work or skill enhancement. The important characteristic is “what’s the purpose?”

The purpose of skill is simply to become more efficient at any given task; from a backhand stroke in tennis to stacking hay bales on a flatbed truck, get the mission accomplished with the least possible expenditure; nothing wasted; nothing extra. The purpose of work is simply to get the object moved from its present state to the more preferred state. The single purpose of recreation is enjoyment. None of these activities have exhaustion for a target. It may be an ancillary effect, but it’s not desirable.

Conversely, exercise has one simple immediate goal and that is exhaustion of strength in order to provoke the reaction of overcompensation. When work, recreation or skill activities are confused with exercise and are taken to an extreme that nears exhaustion the result is always bad. The goal of each is undermined; skill is diminished, work is counterproductive, and recreation ceases to be enjoyable. The worst part is that each becomes dangerous at the same time that its purpose is eroded.

Exercise is not intended to provide a psychological reward. The reward is a physical improvement.

Now returning to the level evaluation list that was begun a long time back. I’ll elaborate on the next five items. Once again read through the list visualizing the process of an exercise session and add a comment with any thoughts.

1)      Avoid distractions
2)      Position carefully
3)      Maintain stationary origin
4)      Mastery over breathing
5)      Proper attire
6)      Avoid firing out
7)      Avoid shifting positions
8)      Avoid re-gripping
9)      Grasp the repetition cycle concept
10)   Avoid momentum

11)   Minimize acceleration

Imagine a slow buildup of your force to just meet the resistance setting and balance it at that level for a fraction of a second and then add the smallest possible increment until movement begins. This is a big waste of energy. It makes for quality exercise. Don’t be in a rush to get movement started, rather exaggerate the opposite extreme. Every change of pace and direction involves acceleration. Realize its existence and master your control over it.

12)   Mastery over turnarounds

Approach each extreme of a stroke with careful precision. Don’t bump into either end. Sneak in to that stroke peak gradually and take the time to definitively meet it before turning around and sneaking back away from it all the time consciously keeping as near as possible the exact same force applied. Reach the bottom out without allowing any sound, but feel that slight difference while maintaining the force in the same direction, and then leave the bottom out without a sound again and not even a hint of jolt.

13)   Constant load

This idea crosses over into minimal acceleration, turnarounds and momentum. Focus every bit of attention on measuring the force applied to the movement arm as if the weight stack is being carried by a strand of wire precisely gaged to be on the verge of snapping.

14)   Mastery over unloading

In the same way that the repetition cycle and the turnarounds are strictly under control, when failure is reached, continue to handle the apparatus as if it’s delicate. The concern here is not for the machine of course but for safety and quality of the exercise. Keep any movement under strict form and make the bottom out silent again. Take that extra second to gradually lower the tension after touching down.

15)   Exit properly

Once you’re unloaded from the resistance mechanism, focus on removing yourself from the machine safely yet quickly. Don’t merge movements together, rather keep them separated. Turn, if needed, then get your feet firmly planted, then stand. Make each one distinct like a robot from a bad sci-fi movie. When you have gained control of your motor functions, step to the next exercise. Your coordination is not expected to be normal at this point. Emphasize the same care as you load into the next. Maybe #2 Position carefully should be first on this list and #15 Exit properly should be second.

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

Exercise is not a competition

The single purpose of exercise is to stimulate muscle growth. That may seem too simplistic but I think that often there is great value in getting to the crux of the issue. We all want optimal health, strength improvement, increased functional ability or fill in another phrase that you use to describe the specifics of the interrelated results. The important thing is to understand that these things come about by reactions of the human body’s protective mechanisms. The reaction characteristics are important. The outward show is not. It’s an easy trap to associate more performance with more effect. That direct correlation just doesn’t exist.

The purpose of a competition is to rate a performance against a scale for comparison. The measure of the external result is all that matters in this case. Strength, health, functional ability or whatever your chosen term is will contribute toward the competitive performance, but there are many other factors involved at the same time. Getting that one more repetition or lifting that increased weight is more likely to come from an improvement in efficiency and skill than from pure physical gain. Therefore it is important to decide whether our immediate goal is to improve physically (exercise) or to achieve a measure of performance (compete) because the best approach toward one is very different from the best approach to the other.

Legitimate strength gains, muscle growth and all of the residual effects that come along to keep proper balance will only be triggered by a high demand of strength use. This is not the same as a high registered performance. Our strength is continually changing moment by moment as it is being drained or recovered according to demand. Any technique that is used to get a higher level of performance output involves finding momentary recovery and this is contrary to the goal of exercise.

Consider lifting a bag of sand. Pick a weight for the bag that would be a serious challenge yet manageable. Using strict form and proper positioning, with your legs, lift to a standing position and then lower it and put it down softly. It takes about 2 seconds. Wait a full minute and do it again. Do that 60 times in an hour. How much of your strength is used up? (Hint: Can you do it once more immediately?)

Now consider the same bag of sand is resting on a scale that reads its weight accurately. From the same starting position put enough lift into that bag so that it moves only very little if at all but the scale reads a steady 1 pound and hold that amount of force perfectly still (if that’s possible) for 2 minutes. How much of your strength is used up in comparison to the first scenario? (Hint: Can you lift that bag one time immediately like in the first scenario?) Which of these scenarios would have a more profound effect on your body’s adaptive mechanism over the next week? Compare the amount of work accomplished (the measure of performance) in each scenario.

What happens to the exercise apparatus is not important. What is important is what happens to your momentary strength level and the response that is activated. Don’t try to defeat the machine. It doesn’t have any will against you. Don’t be concerned about achieving a personal best in performance measure. That only encourages the confusion of focusing on skill and efficiency. The important thing in an exercise session is provoking the reaction, flipping the switch, providing the impetus for the skeletal muscular system to be enhanced. This growth is a long term process and it doesn’t matter if there is anything immediate to show for the effort or not.

Become aware of the ways that we subconsciously learn to save energy. Make a conscious effort to override them. Acceleration, momentum, shifting positions, alternating active muscle groups, varying pace, gripping unnecessarily, grunting and grimacing as a distraction are some of the many ways that we avoid the onset of failure. Learn to do what is unnatural; approach the failure as the ultimate goal. That doesn’t mean deciding to stop the effort. It means continuing the effort without breaking form even beyond the point of inability to continue movement. Maintaining strict form means everything, continuing movement means nothing for exercise.

An objective view and proper instruction are invaluable to this end. Forget about challenging the machine for performance measure. Concentrate on challenging yourself to strict adherence to the instruction. Exaggerate careful control regardless of the fact that you will be used up sooner. That’s the real target.

Filling the Tank

The human body is a collection of many interdependent systems. Each one can be very intricate on its own, and the complexity is multiplied by their interaction. Analogies to other well known and simpler systems can be helpful in analyzing and predicting the reaction to a given input. Care must always be taken to not carry an analogy to detail beyond that which is appropriate, and the details must be logical and simple enough to insure that sensationalism is avoided and that applications are reasonable. With that out of the way, here’s a little satirical story that I think makes a point.

 

Years ago I had a job that required me to drive 50 miles per day round trip. I drove a pickup truck that could travel 20 miles on a gallon of gas. All of the numbers here will be rounded to make the math less complicated.  It’s not about the numbers, it’s about reasoning. With other trips included, I routinely drove 400 miles per week. Since the truck had a tank that held 20 gallons, I filled up once a week with 20 gallons and my world was in perfect harmony.

I bought a sedan for commuting to work because I rarely needed to haul a load with the pickup. The car uses gas more efficiently; it can travel 30 miles on a gallon, but it has a smaller tank; only 15 gallons. After one week with the new car, driving my usual 400 miles, when I pumped the normal 20 gallons, some gas, more than 6 gallons, spilled onto the ground. Yes, that is ridiculous; this is where the satire begins.

The next week I was prepared with a couple of 5 gallon portable tanks to hold the spillage. It wasn’t long before space in the car was becoming limited due to the number of gas containers I was carrying around. A few months later, my job location changed and I was routinely driving only 300 miles per week. Now at fill up time there was only space for 10 gallons in the tank, and my 20 gallon weekly fill up was requiring more and more containers. Why not simply put less in since more is being stored than is being used? That’s a good question, but old habits die hard.

Finally, I decided to mount a trailer hitch to the car and buy a trailer to haul all of the containers. This helped to ease my storage problem since I hadn’t considered that overconsumption might be my real problem. After all, I wasn’t pumping that much gas, at least not any more than the amount to which I had become accustomed. The best part was that now with all the added weight, my gas mileage was down to 25 miles per gallon. The more I accumulate the more it takes to haul it all around. I know it sounds wasteful, but it does seem to work out doesn’t it?

I solved the issue completely by driving a good little bit out of my way on every trip. Just an extra 200 miles per week and I’ve got my world back in harmony. About half way through each week I top of the tank from the storage containers and by the end of the week my 20 gallon fill up is just enough for the tank and containers.

 

This ludicrous tale is intentionally frustrating to read in order to illustrate how silly some very common thinking is in regards to fueling the human body for our intended activity. To suggest that the body is fueled as simply and directly as an automobile is way off the mark. How many times have you heard someone refer to planning some activity to burn off excess calories being consumed? Usually this idea involves a gross exaggeration of the number of additional calories used during any activity, and the body’s storage and energy systems are far more complex than a tank, pump and injectors.

The majority of energy used by the body is not evident in physical activity. The cellular activities that go on beyond our consciousness are very expensive metabolically and their levels vary throughout the stages of life. The notion that we can control our fat storage significantly by adding activity is misguided. No amount of exercise can make up for the overeating that can be done in just a few minutes.

One simple strategy remains effective. Exercise to stimulate muscle growth. Improve the strength of the mechanism. Eat to fuel the mechanism according to need. This requires balance of quality and quantity. If the storage tank is becoming more full than desired, then consider whether more fuel is being put in than required or is the balance of fuel improper so that energy production is hindered. Continually reassess and adjust as needed.

To attempt to calculate energy expenditure in activity and balance it to overconsumption is a blatant fallacy. It makes no more sense than to waste time driving extra mileage in order to use up a predetermined amount of fuel.

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