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.

9 thoughts on “The Place to Start

  1. You really kicked my butt today! My legs feel as sturdy as rubber bands and my upper body is very fatigued. So glad you are helping me get through these workouts because I would NOT push myself nearly as hard without you.

    • Think about how that illustrates the idea that exercise is very much opposite of our natural inclinations. In a calm and concentrated way you take yourself to the limit of your capabilities.

  2. Lots of good information here Ethan.

    I’m curious what your views are regarding the ability to inroad very deeply using timed static contractions vs. dynamic contractions. If I’m understanding correctly it would be possible to inroad greater with timed static contractions. I understand that the ability to inroad is going to vary with dynamic contractions depending the equipment used. I also understand that timed static contractions with measurable feedback would be better than without. Just kinda curious if you have any thoughts on all this. I’ve been following the RenEx site, Drew Baye’s site, along with some others. I would say the RenEx way makes the most sense to me in the exercise realm. Some of the motorized machines seem to be heading in the right direction, but this also seems to violate the volitional aspect of exercise? Anyways I like to read about all this stuff and discuss it online. I don’t really know anyone in person that cares about all this stuff.

  3. I feel that I should also say that I’m not implying that one should no longer do dynamic contractions. I guess from my perspective that both TSC’s with measurable feedback and dynamic contractions (ideally done on equipment that properly varies the resistance) would be the best forms of exercise one could do?

    • Donnie,
      Thanks for the thought provoking comments. I tried to put this in perspective a little bit in a response to Bill under Perpetually Dissatisfied on 10/6/12. No answer can ever address every part of the issue. Yes, an effort against a static, essentially infinite, load does permit unlimited inroad, and yes feedback is important because the static load does not necessitate a quality effort. I also think that the RenEx site is the best concentrated location for information. That team is very good at exposing the misinformation that is always rampant and directing the focus back to the real target. I think perhaps the best description of the concept of exercise is Ken Hutchins’ chapter on Manually Resisted Exercise in the Renaissance of Exercise book. It puts all of the elements in proper focus.
      I differ on your assessment of the motorized machines though. I think for the most part they are missing the point. Unless an apparatus tracks muscle and joint function, then any other feature of its design is already handicapped. I do think a robotic machine is possible that could deliver resistance very near the manually resisted method and I do think that dynamic exercise is ultimately superior to static if all important variables are under control. Given human behavior though, I believe that the static effort is the best way for a beginner to approach exercise. After learning proper control of breathing, contractile effort, conscious measured force production, eliminating extraneous actions and the ability to inroad intensely while resisting panic, then introducing movement in a fixed range would be preferable. All of these behaviors are increasingly challenging with movement and the correct variation of resistance is a must to keep the effort input at the desired level.
      As for the volitional effort in exercise, no machine can give it or take it away. I know what you mean though by “it seems to”. The acceleration of gravity doesn’t really necessitate the volitional effort, but it is a very powerful encourager. I think the quality of exercise depends far more on the subject than it does on the equipment.

      • Thank you for going into so much detail Ethan. I understand your thinking regarding manual resistance and motorized resistance. Ideally, should dynamic contraction exercise have progressively lower resistance as the trainee weakens into a given exercise?

        • Yes, I think it should. In fact, I believe the resistance should vary in an increasing load from the beginning to recruit motor units progressively the way the manually resisted exercise is intended. And then after reaching a set peak resistance and as strength is diminishing the load should decrease to a set amount until failure is reached even at that level of resistance. The big questions then are; How much peak force would be optimal?, How much time to get there? and How deep of an inroad provides the best stimulus without adverse effects? There’s a very wide range of opinion here for sure and there is a good bit of individual genetic variance.

  4. I think these questions really get to the precision of “flipping on the growth switch.” More precise than “going to failure” or the like.

    • I agree. Reaching failure is important, but we have to be aware and account for the variables involved in defining failure. That concept of turning on a switch is very valuable. I wasted a lot of years trying to force the switch to be more on.

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