By Dan Carter
“No amount of low-intensity exercise will produce the results that come from an actually small amount of high-intensity training.” Arthur Jones, Creator of Nautilus and MedX exercise equipment.
This article begins with a discussion of the benefits from proper strength training. However, its major purpose is to define the real objective as it applies to the performance of each exercise in a strength training session. The concepts that form the knowledge to get the most from SuperSlow exercise.
Strength training increases muscle mass and strength. Increased muscle mass improves body shape and raises metabolism. Most important but often overlooked, increased muscular strength improves functional-ability. The ability to perform work or recreation with less effort. There are many other positive physiological benefits of strength training, but for this article, these should suffice.
It is important to understand the degrees to which cardiovascular ability and muscular strength can be improved. Both factors are genetically determined and differ for each individual. The major components of cardiovascular conditioning, the heart and lungs, can be improved very little if at all, however, muscular strength can be increased an average of 300%. Cardiovascular improvements are near impossible to measure, but strength increase can be measured easily by charting weight and time (repetitions or time-under-load). Even if cardiovascular ability could improve dramatically, it would not produce one ounce of work, only muscles produce work. (Strength increase is usually responsible for what is perceived as cardiovascular improvement.) Realistically, the heart and lungs exist to serve working muscles. Therefore, the ability of strength training to vastly improve functional-ability, and cardiovascular conditioning through working muscle, is by far the most productive form of exercise. It is not unusual for male and female clients to double strength in twenty sessions of SuperSlow exercise, an approximate eight-hour investment.
The three most misunderstood components of exercise are intensity, duration, and recovery. In most cases, intensity is too low, duration too long, and recovery too short to produce optimum, if any benefit.
Intensity refers to degree of effort. To produce positive physical change, the body must be threatened with a degree of effort never before experienced. Continuing an exercise until, despite 100% controlled effort, the weight will not move, then continuing to try to produce movement achieves the required intensity. This process is known as reaching momentary muscular failure, which results in a stimulus, a condition that elicits a physiologic response. Lesser intensity poses no threat, therefore the body responds with no change because there is no stimulus. Proper intensity is the first prerequisite of the real objective.
Duration of each exercise, as well as the session, is directly related to recovery. Exceeding 20 to 30 minutes of intense exercise can prolong recovery by days. Fortunately, if intensity is high, and rest between exercises is minimal, it is almost physically impossible to continue exercise beyond 30 minutes.
Intense exercise consumes a tremendous amount of biochemical resources. Recovering these resources is immediately necessary for survival. Depending on the individual, this process can take from 3 to 10 days. The production of additional muscle (overcompensation) will occur only after this process is complete. Most importantly, if recovery is not complete before we exercise again, no overcompensation will occur. This doesn’t mean optimal overcompensation, it means none.
Understanding these biological processes is important to fully understand the real objective of strength training. The following concepts provide the knowledge needed to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time, and reduce impact on precious recovery resources.
The assumed objective is to lift as much weight for as much time as possible. This more-is-better mindset leads to form discrepancies (cheating), many of which are attempts to find rest, make exercise easier, and therefore delay or avoid momentary muscular failure. Popular discrepancies are grimacing, moving too fast, val-salva, wiggling, jabbing at the weight, starting and stopping. This approach may result in more weight and time, and possibly the desired intensity, but at the expense of recovery resources. Like conserving fuel by driving from Chicago to Miami by way of Phoenix.
Increases in weight and time should be viewed as byproducts of the real objective, not the objective itself. They occur after proper application of intensity, duration, and recovery. If the assumed objective unnecessarily consumes recovery resources, overcompensation can be delayed, if not prevented.
The real objective is to fatigue the muscle as deeply and quickly as possible regardless of weight or time. Achieving momentary muscular failure directly and efficiently. This process requires constant striving to perfect exercise technique. Avoiding even the slightest discrepancy, therefore eliminating rest, making the exercise harder and more efficient. A great degree of muscular discomfort will result, caused by lactic acid produced when fatiguing a muscle faster than it can recover. This discomfort will not hurt us, is not an indication of impending injury. It is the stimulus-producing realm of exercise, the good stuff. This discomfort is the achievement of the real objective, up to and beyond the point the weight will no longer move, we want to get as much as we can stand.
The last seconds should be approached calmly. Continue pushing though the weight does not move. Resist the temptation to compromise form for additional movement. The muscle is fatiguing rapidly despite lack of movement. Within seconds the weight will begin to fall regardless of efforts to stop it. Controlling this descent, as the muscle continues to fatigue, is the last step to the real objective. These last 10 to 15 seconds are a huge challenge, but are the most productive part of the exercise. These are the seconds you should enter the studio to challenge.
Exercising with intense effort is an acquired skill. Though you have the knowledge to exercise with great intensity, you do not have to use it every session. Initially, use it when you feel able, and as you apply it more frequently your results will improve.
The last, most uncomfortable seconds of an exercise are often perceived as dangerous. This discomfort is simply lactic acid produced by fatiguing a muscle faster than it can recover. It is not a sign of impending injury. It is actually the safest point in the exercise. The muscle is at its weakest and cannot produce enough force for movement, let alone injury. As Arthur Jones once said “The harder it seems, the easier it is.”
Duration is an overlooked factor as strength is increased. Dramatic strength increase should be accompanied by reductions in both individual exercise and session duration. Doubling strength without reducing duration can result in twice the amount of work performed. This additional work can delay recovery by days. Therefore, moving quickly between exercises and reducing duration are absolutely necessary to minimize work.
Rest between exercises might seem beneficial, allowing more weight and time. Unfortunately, it is again, the assumed objective. Moving quickly raises metabolic and cardiovascular demand, reducing weight, time and work, while increasing depth of fatigue. If rested strength is 100 pounds, but moving quickly produces muscular failure in the same time with only 80, fatigue is 20% deeper. The body perceives this deeper fatigue as a bigger threat, a greater stimulus. This is a rare case when less work produces greater benefit. Time between machines should be 15-30 seconds. If you can talk, you’re moving too slow.
Aggressively increasing weight, thereby reducing individual exercise duration and total session time, results in significant work reduction. For example, increasing weight by 30% can reduce duration (time) by as much as 50%, and work by more than 50%. Multiply this by four to six exercises for significant recovery resource savings.
A degree of effort, qualifying as 100% intensity is the first requirement to produce a stimulus serving as an ultimatum to the body to adapt and enhance. Without this stimulus, proper duration and recovery are irrelevant; the body simply maintains the status quo. If the stimulus is present and duration is too long and/or recovery is too short, intensity is irrelevant. Only 100% intensity, approximately fifteen to twenty-five minutes duration, and a minimum of seventy-two hours recovery will result in optimum progress.
Below is a mental checklist to use in achieving the real objective.
Real Objective; fatigue the muscle as deeply and quickly as possible, regardless of weight or time.
No talking; concentration is impossible for client and instructor when talking.
Concentrate; perfect form requires much thought, clear your mind of all distractions.
Go slow; maximizing safety and concentration of muscular effort, and minimizing momentum to better load the muscles we are exercising.
Breathe; raising blood PH, allowing muscles to work longer and fatigue deeper.
Challenge muscular discomfort; this is the stimulus-producing realm of exercise. It will not injure you. Don’t sacrifice form for movement or rest; keep the muscles loaded, fatiguing the muscles quickly. Move quickly between machines; in 15 to 30 seconds, fatiguing muscles deeply and conserving precious recovery resources.