In the modern world, people are looking for more and more efficient ways to exercise. My own life is pretty atypical, but I’m spending time at my mom’s house right now so this week I can totally relate. I mean, with my mom’s large television in front of me I too can scarcely find time for anything. Even sleep! I mean, I just had to watch the Nuggets lose to the Lakers the other day, even though I hate basketball, and could care less about either team. But I had to watch something after a busy day of watching every single golf shot of Round 2 in the Player’s tournament, another sport and tournament I care nothing about.
I wish I was joking. Oh, wait a second. This post will have to wait until later. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are talking about Tim Tebow’s dog…
Okay I’m back. Looks like Tebow changed the name of his dog from Bronco to Bronx. What were we talking about? Oh yeah exercise. And by exercise, I mean actually doing something physically. Not just watching other people do it on youtube. Or watching people play sports on tv. Or reading about exercise, heh heh.
Yes I’m making fun of our sedentary society, and myself for being part of it, but the modern human, ultimately, is looking for the greatest reward with the minimum amount of effort. For everything – exercise included.
Looking at the big picture, we shouldn’t really be looking at exercise as something to spend as little time doing as possible. If you are, your relationship with exercise is probably very disordered as discussed in this audio clip from long ago…
My concern with exercise, and the reason I discuss efficient ways to exercise, is the toll that it takes on the human body. While we hear the praises of it based on statistical analysis (a flawed way of assessing whether something is good or bad – nothing can be filed into such black and white categories), exercise is very hard on a sick person’s body. It can also prevent someone’s recovery from a suboptimal metabolism – the root of many health problems and the primary focus of 180DegreeHealth.
Mike Mentzer, a pioneer when it comes to the mindset of extracting the maximum amount of benefit from exercise while inflicting the least amount of damage (and possessor of quite a butt-tickler of a stache), constantly sought after ways to minimize the damage done to the body with exercise and maximize the ability to recover from hard exercise. He was one of the first to truly think beyond the mind-numbing mindset of “exercise is good, so the more the merrier!”
“An ideal workout should… utilize a minimum of the body’s biochemical reserves… the routine must not be carried on so long or repeated so frequently that it depletes the body’s reserves in an attempt to compensate for the merely exhaustive effects of the workout with nothing leftover…”
The two primary dangers of exercise (aside from injury) are intensity and duration. It’s fair to say that the higher the intensity, the shorter the duration must be for the exercise to be safe, productive, and sustainable. Likewise, the longer the duration, the lower the intensity must be.
Both high-intensity and long-duration exercises done at a much lower intensity have benefits. What I like about low-intensity exercise is that it is enjoyable, you are typically doing a variety of activities in a variety of ranges of motion and moving your body physically for a large portion of the day (avoiding spending too much time sitting). Recreational activities like sports, hiking, swimming, gardening, and similar things fit into this category. But these activities probably aren’t going to have much of an impact on your overall physiology.
Let’s say you are in your 50’s and you are noticing your strength really declining quickly (my 50-something brother-in-law today told me he’s noticed that time off from exercise causes his strength to decrease much more quickly than it used to when he was younger). Walking up stairs is getting really hard. You have trouble just standing up from a chair. You get worn out after 4 minutes of sex and have to switch positions. You get winded just doing little things around the house, much less doing the things you used to. Maybe your bone mass has decreased as well.
Crap, Ninja Warrior is on now. I may have to postpone this post another day…
If you have some of those aforementioned issues, and you really want to get some of your youth and vitality back and slow down or even reverse part of the natural physical descent that takes place with aging…
High-intensity exercise of a short duration is generally much more effective than low-intensity exercise done for a long duration. While a combination of both should probably be performed – there’s no doubt that you get more bang for your buck doing high-intensity exercise. If you have trouble walking up the stairs, see how much easier it gets when you double your leg strength. That may sound like a lofty goal, but it can be done, and be done, by most people, with a total of just a half hour of leg presses (spread out over several months).
That’s efficiency. And the toll upon the body and the metabolism, as well as the total exposure to stress hormones (more or less the universal cause of degenerative disease), is small.
But generating intensity and truly performing productive muscular work that leads to big increases in strength requires some technique and some understanding.
We started out discussing Body By Science, a great primer on doing the most productive strength-training work with the least risk of injury or overtraining. Each exercise is done at a slow tempo, taken to true muscular failure, and only repeated once. 1 set. 3-5 exercises. Once per week. A 10-15 minute weekly time commitment.
We further discussed how to fatigue the muscle even more by really focusing on the negative portion of the exercise in a post on Eccentric Exercise. The negative portion of an exercise – or where you are lowering the weight instead of raising it, tires long after you’ve reached total exhaustion on the positive phase of the exercise. So exhausting the negative portion of the exercise is higher in intensity.
Today I thought it was worthy to bring up a couple of other major factors in achieving maximal intensity – or what you could consider maximum efficiency (most productivity in the least amount of time).
Co-author of Body By Science and close personal of friend of the late Mike Mentzer, John Little has also created MAX Contraction, yet another type of high-efficiency, high-intensity exercise. It too, is a good form of exercise that is safe, effective, and very time efficient. I haven’t read his book on the subject, but I assume from what I know that this type of exercise tries to capitalize on two basic fundamentals…
1) Fatiguing your muscle in the strongest range of motion
2) Fatiguing your static strength (holding the weight in place – neither up nor down)
With each basic movement – such as pushing let’s say, you have parts of the motion where you are stronger and parts of the movement where you are weaker. If you are doing a pushup, it’s much harder to go from the floor to the halfway point than it is from the 2/3 point to a full plank position where your elbows are locked out. You are stronger at the top of the movement than the bottom or middle range. If you are doing regular repetitions, you must stop when the weakest link has become fatigued. Yet you have lots of juice left in the stronger portions of the movement. So you haven’t achieved full exhaustion.
The premise of MAX Contraction is holding weight in the strongest portion of any given exercise and exhausting your muscle in its strongest range – which takes it to a deeper level of exhaustion. We will definitely discuss this deeper in future posts on the topic of exercise, as this principle can be used to develop tremendous strength and muscle density with minimal muscle growth (for those desiring that, and I suspect from a health and metabolism standpoint, creating greater muscle density and strength rather than mass is probably superior).
Likewise when you reach muscular failure pushing a weight, you still have strength to hold that weight in place for 10 seconds or longer. This is your static strength, and it is greater. So if you go until your static strength fails, you’ve taken your muscle to a greater level of challenge. MAX Contraction takes advantage of these two simple principles to subject your muscle to a much greater challenge than just doing a regular repetition until you can’t perform any more. This won’t trigger swollen muscles developed through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy like traditional weight training. But it may have a superior impact on strength and metabolic health with less hormonal damage or taxation on your recuperative abilities than typical muscle-building training.
Anyway, the training is discussed in this really good interview and demonstration of the exercise. If you are like me, and spend twice as much time watching exercise than actually performing it (and by twice I mean like 26 times), you should enjoy it. (Embedding is disabled for this badboy, so you’ll have to watch it on youtube).
I wouldn’t do this type of exercise exclusively, but just be conscious about your static strength and how to take your muscle to a higher level of exhaustion by going to the point in your exercises where your static strength fails. I often do a static contraction or two into my workouts, or just work it in as sort of a finishing move. My favorite static hold of late has been doing holds with chin-ups – like what they made chicks do back in P.E. I hold it as long as possible with my chin above the bar, and then try my best to perform a slow negative after my static strength reaches failure. It’s tough, and an amazing exercise for the abdominals as well. It’s much tougher than it sounds!
A quick summary of how the exercise is performed…
1) Load up an exercise with a heavier amount than normal.
2) Move the weight, with or without assistance, into the position where your strength is greatest.
3) Hold it as long as you possibly can – the more weight you use, the shorter that time frame will be, and heavier is better for strength development… Both John Little and his colleague Pete Sisco recommend using a weight that causes you to reach failure in just 5 seconds.
A single set with 4-8 exercises once per week, with minimal rest in between exercises, makes for the exact kind of exercise I’m talking about – high-intensity with very short duration. Efficient, safe, and very productive. If you are looking at maximum reward with minimum time commitment and minimum drain on your health and vitality – in other words, the most sustainable and productive long-term exercise, the concepts in MAX Contraction, Pete Sisco’s Train Smart and similar exercise movements like Body By Science may be of great help to you.
Okay, gotta go now. There’s cycling on tv. So I must now spend another many hours watching something I don’t care about. Hope it’s over before Dancing with the Stars begins. Modern life is so time-consuming!