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.

There’s Always Room for Improvement

The single focus of exercise is to stimulate muscle growth by inroading strength. This is not an attempt to oversimplify, but rather to properly identify the immediate target. The benefits that we desire don’t come about directly from exercise. They come about after the exercise is no longer present as a reaction to counter the potential threat that exercise poses.

Proper form is vital to making exercise effective, which goes without saying. The issue is that practicing proper form is very unnatural and our form begins degrading immediately, unless we give it the strictest attention. We have a very strong propensity to avoid danger and discomfort even when we take them on intentionally.

To continually progress in exercise we must be critical of our form and be diligent to improve it. By form improvement, I mean to maintain a constant load on the target musculature. It’s natural that with experience we learn the subtle mechanics of our own movements and of any apparatus that we use. Without realizing it, we learn to be more efficient and save our energy resources.

Think about how you can perform more work by resting periodically. This doesn’t mean inactivity necessarily, but can simply be changing to a different activity. Without thinking about it, we’re practicing efficiency to gain a greater quantity of work output. It’s all unloading from our effort if only momentarily. We shift position; we often adjust our stance or grip to avoid the discomfort of fatigue. We use acceleration to our advantage; our own stretch reflex saves energy, winding up and reversing suddenly. We use an off-on motion; short impulse movements accelerating and resting. We use momentum all the time; get a running start before impact. This is how a hammer works. Just try driving a nail without swinging the hammer and only pushing with a constant force. We use a change of pace; back off the effort when resistance is met and cruise through when we get a downhill run. Post a comment when you think of other examples.

All of this is natural and it makes good sense. This skill refinement is great for accomplishing work or for enjoying our recreation to the fullest. But for exercise effect, it’s the opposite of energy efficiency that’s needed.

Maximize the mechanism  =  maintain a continuous load  =  strict form  =
waste energy  =  override our strength preservation techniques

The following is a list that I’ve been composing to try to evaluate the level of exercise that a subject might be getting and what instruction would be appropriate to advance his/her progress. It still needs refinement, but it can be useful. Some items may be a bit redundant or out of order; it’s intended to be a progression. Read through it and picture yourself in your exercise session. How well do you adhere to the protocol? I’ve added some explanation to a few of the items. In the future, I intend to further elaborate on some more of the items. Again, please post any comments; it can only help.

1) Avoid distractions

Clear your mind of every event of the day. Tune out everything except your effort to apply strength from the targeted muscles. Determine to ignore every sensory input from your nose itching to a glimpse of movement outside the window to a car horn sounding. Don’t turn, don’t comment, don’t acknowledge. I recall a subject once had a fly land on her leg while engaged in an exercise. Her eyes never moved. I asked afterwards, and the fly had definitely been noticed but ignored.

2) Position carefully

Alignment in an exercise needs to be established before any load is accepted. The overall exercise session is more effective if time is not wasted moving between exercises, but safety and effect are enhanced if we take care to move under control. It’s well worth a couple of extra seconds to be properly positioned so that we don’t feel a need to adjust after we’re under load. Don’t be in a hurry to start the exercise. Don’t blend movements during transition to the next exercise. Imagine moving in a brisk demonstration of control.

3) Maintain stationary origin

The padding of the machines is designed to offer support and stability more than comfort. Once positioned, it’s normally intended that you stay in contact with the stabilizing support throughout the exercise movement. Avoid extraneous movements. Don’t let moving the apparatus become your goal. Concentrate on keeping a steady load on the muscles that are directly engaged the entire time.

4) Mastery over breathing

Review the information covered in the preliminary considerations to exercise. Study the Valsalva maneuver and become acquainted with its occurrence to break the association. Make a practice of freely ventilating before you begin exerting and refuse to let it stop. Be aware of any sound that indicates air flow is the least bit inhibited. Don’t allow your breathing to develop any rhythm because this reinforces the natural tendency to Valsalva.

5) Proper attire

The high level of effort involved in exercise quickly produces heat. It’s best to be dressed in a way that allows heat dissipation. Don’t allow the outdoor weather to influence your attire for exercise. Loose fitting, but not baggy shorts and a short sleeve tee shirt are best. These also help in viewing major joints for proper alignment and any form discrepancies. Flat comfortable gym shoes are best. Leave every unnecessary encumbrance behind; keys, wallets, change, belts, even glasses.

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
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

The Place to Start

The goal of Ideal Exercise is to simply provide clients the best possible exercise instruction available. Maximum results then are a matter of giving full effort to employing the instruction. An exercise revolution or renaissance is taking place and has been for decades now yet it is still relatively unknown. A large body of information is coming to light about proper exercise, yet the vast majority of material on this subject remains cluttered and misguided. Efforts to approach exercise intelligently have advanced from Nautilus and its forerunners through SuperSlow and now are best represented as Renaissance Exercise. The purpose then of the posts found here will be to disseminate information and dispel rumor and myth.

I want to begin with 3 principles that are fundamental. These are all interrelated along with many more concepts. The objective is to begin highlighting the key ideas that must be understood and never be disregarded. 1) The single focus of exercise is to maximize the mechanism of the human body. It is important to avoid overcomplicating this as well as oversimplifying it. This must be considered in practical terms and viewed as a long term goal. 2) It is important to consider the balance of all factors that are involved. No single issue can be isolated. Everything must be considered in its proper context.
3) Critical thinking must be diligently employed. Sensationalism will be soundly rejected here and sometimes will be brought to light only to be ridiculed. We are only going to deal with things which are supported by solid principles. Every assertion remains open to challenge and refinement.

Let’s expand on the critical thinking first. Proper exercise is not to be taken casually. Exercise and activity are not synonymous though there can be some overlap. The goal of maximizing the mechanism brings to light an important distinction from recreation which has pleasure as its focus. Comparable to anything that we do as a decisive regimen, personal hygiene for example, exercise is essentially the opposite of what we would do naturally. On the other hand, recreation is something that we will gravitate toward without thinking. Exercise properly fits within the medical industry and not in the entertainment industry, and our first priority must be to do no harm. The science of biology must never be violated in our practice of exercise. When it is violated then we must heed the warning and avoid the offender.

The practice of exercise is by no means a complete and settled issue. We are continually searching to refine our method. As with the science of chemistry which is heavily dependent on theory and observation, we are dealing with elements that we can’t directly see. We can be certain, however that the human body is designed to respond in a logical manner. There are built in mechanisms for adaptation and for self-protection. As we hypothesize and observe how our formulated challenges to the body are balanced with responses to the demand, we are able to reason whether a theory is supported or not.

The fitness gimmick industry preys on the wishes of the impulse buyer with the help of our news media and infomercials. As long as critical thinking is avoided, the sales pitch will remain a lucrative venture and misinformation will continue to far outweigh the truth and good sense. It’s much easier to promote some useless apparatus or special movement that will do wonders and pay an attractive person to pose alongside than it is to clearly present the facts.

There is a strong sensational appeal to recreational activities packaged as exercise. While recreation is very good and in a lot of cases may have beneficial physical conditioning effects, it remains a poor replacement for proper exercise. At best, if the activity is for pleasure, then any serious adaptation toward physical improvement is very limited. At worst, if the activity proceeds beyond enjoyment, then it likely becomes a hazard due to fatigue leading to limited coordination. Even if the hazard is avoided, it ceases to be enjoyable. It is natural that our best efforts to adhere to the purpose of maximizing the mechanism will degrade toward a more recreational activity. There is a strong appeal to find satisfaction immediately. We fall into incorrect associations such as a greater quantity of movement or time resulting in greater effect. The opposite is true. Greater quality of effort will result in greater effect and at the same time it will reduce the quantity that is possible.

Now let’s concentrate more on maximizing the mechanism of the human body as the single focus of exercise. The body cannot possibly be at its maximum capability at all times. At the end of an exercise session we reach a dramatically weakened condition yet our goal is to be as strong and capable as possible. Do you recognize the apparent opposite here, and the need for critical thinking? This is also an opportunity for the concept of balance to gain consideration. The power by which we move around is produced in the skeletal muscles. Since moving around is obviously important to us, then maintaining the energy reserve and the force producing mechanism is also obviously important. The skeletal muscle system is complex beyond the scope of this post. For now simply understand that the system responds to demand. Increased demand will tend to stimulate growth and conversely decreased demand will tend toward atrophy. Remember the body responds logically. There are limits in each direction and these relationships are not a linear proportion so be careful not to let the idea become an oversimplification. How this growth is stimulated is much debated.

This is why balance is presented here as a fundamental concept. It offers part of the explanation of growth stimulation and how we can best affect that stimulus. The human body is homeostatic, that is it tends to maintain equilibrium. There are a lot of resources and processes available to that end. Consider perspiration and shivering which are used to regulate temperature within a small range.

For the purpose of muscular strength and exercise this means that the weakened condition that we put ourselves in through the exercise process is the one extreme of the proverbial pendulum swing. To maintain equilibrium the body will respond by growing stronger. Understanding this concept is vital to our maximum results because we can undermine our own efforts. It’s important to recognize that the weakened condition must be unusual. It must be the extreme of the pendulum and we must allow the reaction in the opposite direction to be completed. If our stimulus is small then the reaction may be small or even nonexistent. If our stimulus is too great we risk irreversible damage. If our stimulus is repeated too often then the rebound may not occur and the equilibrium may shift toward a weaker condition established as the norm.

Our quest then becomes striking the proper balance, considering all pertinent factors through logical, critical thinking to make the most of our effort to maximize the mechanism. The implication then is that an intense, controlled and infrequent exercise session will offer superior growth stimulus along with the benefits that naturally accompany the growth.