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.

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. :)

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.

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

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.