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.