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