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

7 thoughts on “Perpetually Dissatisfied

  1. The information on this website makes a great deal of sense to me. Is there any growth stimulating difference in contracting against a machine movement arm/weight that forces the trainee to move slowly as opposed to contracting against a machine movement arm where the speed has to be controlled by the trainee? The second scenario would be safer and result in less wear and tear correct?

    • Bill,
      Those are great questions because they get at the very essence of exercise. When it comes to both stimulation effectiveness and safety, the most important factor is the behavior of the subject. The operation of the machine is a factor, but it is secondary. Growth stimulation is determined by the level of strength inroad and the intensity (shorter time) with which it is presented.
      Your first scenario of fixed speed determined by the apparatus may or may not inroad efficiently. If the subject makes little effort and goes along for the ride, then stimulation will be nonexistent. On the other hand if the effort is haphazard and wildly varying, then it can be dangerous. If the subject presents a serious, controlled and progressively intense effort, then it may be optimal stimulation and completely safe.
      Your second scenario presents the same possibilities but for different reasons. If the subject uses a well controlled volitional speed, but too little resistance, then the stimulus will be lacking. Even with a speed of motion that is controlled, form discrepancies can introduce excessive force, though it is usually the attempt to accelerate quickly that presents the danger. If a resistance level that demands high effort is selected and the subject presents that controlled effort continuously, then a deep inroad is possible without risk of injury.
      The machine cannot make exercise effective or safe, the subject is primarily responsible for that, but a poor apparatus can reduce either effectiveness or safety. A machine that dictates the speed (if it is a slow speed that allows the subject to keep control of effort) can be very effective and safe. Essentially, that’s what a static effort (isometric) is; a speed fixed at zero. The subject can make it very effective safely. It sure does help to have some feedback though, something to indicate effort level. That’s an advantage that an unrestricted speed of apparatus affords. If effort falls off, it becomes obvious.
      I hope I answered your questions without too much tedium. If I did, it will likely raise more questions. That would be a good thing. Let’s all keep improving.

  2. Thank you for the very detailed response Ethan.

    There is no tedium in your response 🙂 I have wondered if there is a greater stimulus for hypertrophy when using heavier loads/ shorter TULs vs. lighter loads with longer TULs?

    Using a non motorized machine that varies the resistance to the point of causing a slow speed of the trainee would probably have similar or the same potential possibilities or what you talked about in your response?

    When doing static contractions against an immovable object it is possible to keep contracting as your strength progressively, temporarily weakens. Wouldn’t this temporary weakening have relevance when using dynamic contractions?

  3. I feel like I should say also that I realize that the higher the load or the greater the force of contraction the more potential for injury arises as we climb this ladder. There is also greater potential for bracing, outroading, and form breakdown.

    • I think that a higher load obviously means a higher immediate demand externally. Form erosion is a way of reducing that demand internally. I think your questions are targeting that careful balance of how much of each variable is optimal since all of the variables affect each other. That temporary weakening (inroading) is always relevant whether static or dynamic, positive or negative. Adjusting the variables is the means for tweaking the rate and depth of the inroading. That’s a complex subject due to individuality, possible variety of adaptive responses and unknown variables. One thing I am convinced of; we can never have too good form. Everything else we can likely go too extreme in either direction.

  4. Hi Ethan,
    Yesterday during the session, I thought about you were saying “not to brace”. I wanted to talk about it afterwards but was in a hurry. Can you advise what you are reffering to.

    • Turner,
      That’s a good and complex question. Bracing is something we do unconsciously in a pushing movement. Remember we naturally find ways to save energy and that’s contrary to the objective of exercise.
      The chest press is where I brought it up. The tendency is to flex or curl the trunk at the upper turnaround and let the those muscles absorb some of the negative. This offers a temporary relief by shifting the load very subtly instead of the strict stability that we intend to maintain. Also, elbows lowering and shoulders elevating can give a slight load shift and possibly some added friction if elbows are tucked in enough.
      The goal is to track exactly the same movement in the positive and the negative. It takes full concentration under such a load.

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