One thing that fascinates me about human behavior is why we do those things we “know we shouldn’t” and don’t do those things we “know we should”. Relate to that statement? I certainly do!
Specific steps must be taken to make any desired change and a critical, usually overlooked, piece is to understand more (which often involves reading & as we’ve seen is another of the “Neglected Four” ) about the subject you wish to bring into your life.
Exercise is a perfect example. Know anyone who says “I know I should” exercise – and doesn’t? We are finishing our series on “The Neglected Four” and in his 2nd guest post Florida State University Coach Michael Bradley helps us define exactly “what is exercise?”
Michael trains athletes – helping them get physically stronger, which makes them faster, safer and emotionally stronger (benefits not just for athletes) and in doing so takes their performance in their sport to another level. Michael is passionate about cutting through the mountains of mis-information that is published on exercise, and helping the average guy and gal enjoy more efficient (as in save time!) safer and therefore effective exercise. Great stuff.
Thanks to Michael for writing this original content for Live, Lead, Look.
Exercise for Adults: Part 2
As discussed in Exercise for Adults: Part 1, I define exercise as a purposeful and meaningful overload that creates a stress that can then be systematically progressed as the body adapts. In order to get results from exercise, then, you have to place your body under enough stress that it begins to adapt or change. If your body isn’t stressed, or, you exercise below a certain level of intensity of effort, your activity will do little or nothing to stimulate changes in your body. Unfortunately, most people don’t actually know how hard they must train and how much intensity of effort they must exert to see real success in their exercise. The purpose of this installment is to help you understand what nature demands the stress of exercise should be in order to get results.
Muscles work under the control of the brain and nervous system. The body was designed to conserve energy, which means that it “recruits” or “fires” muscle only on an “as needed” basis. By its very nature, then, the brain is only going to recruit or contract the minimum number of muscle fibers necessary to do whatever job they are being called upon to do. If a weight can be lifted with seven muscle fibers instead of one hundred, then that is what the nervous system will use. This makes sense from both a design and evolutionary viewpoint: Your body will not randomly fire muscles for no reason since it costs energy to do so.
The implication of how the nervous system interacts with muscle is both simple and profound. In order to properly overload the most muscle and make deep inroads into the number of fibers being recruited, the muscle must be placed in a “critical” situation — a situation in which the nervous system is forced to recruit the maximum number of fibers possible. This condition occurs at the end of a properly performed set of repetitions, when the exercise is only terminated because no further movement of the resistance occurs. In other words, you’ve achieved the right intensity of effort when you absolutely cannot move that weight another inch — even in the face of a fire-breathing dragon.
Here’s what recruiting the maximum number of muscle fibers possible looks like in practice: Select a weight with which you can perform at least seven or eight repetitions in good form — but no more than about twelve or fifteen. The first few repetitions should feel moderately heavy. The middle few repetitions should feel difficult. Toward the end of the set, movement will feel uncomfortable and you will begin to question whether further repetitions are possible. It is at this point that overload begins. It is also at this point that you must become highly motivated to continue. Some people like to imagine extreme circumstances, as if their life is on the line if they do not get one more repetition. With that level of motivation, if you still cannot move the weight, then you have done all you can — and your nervous system has called upon all the fibers it can.
Learning to train like this is a skill that almost everyone can develop. For those who wish to start, I recommend going to a weight room and selecting one simple exercise on a machine. A chest press or pull-down machine are good choices. Make a couple of guesses as to the correct resistance and then once you have it set, try to wring as much effort out of one set of that one exercise as you can. At no point during the set should you jerk the weight, thrash around, or hold your breath. The resistance should move slowly and deliberately and your breathing should be short, shallow, and constant: Similar such as taught in Lamaze classes.
See just how hard you can train for one single set. When you are done with that one set on that one exercise, go ahead and do whatever else you had planned to do that day at the gym, or just go home. The next time you work out, do that same exercise for one set, and then do a second exercise, but no more. Applying purposeful and meaningful overload is a skill that you have to learn, and trying to do several exercises right away will short circuit your education because you will subconsciously hold back your effort in order to get through more work.
In Part Three, we will discuss the critical topic of technique or style of performance and introduce the second known stimulus to producing results from exercise: high tension.