Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Making The Difficult (Impossible) Easy

Though I've met and talked to many masters and teachers of exercise all my life, I'm struck by how few have come to the realization that what they are all trying to achieve, is to make the difficult (impossible) easy, but instead, think it is their task and duty to make the easy, harder, until it is virtually impossible, if not literally so.

Obviously, that is "wrong understanding," since the very essence of understanding, is to make the complex very simple -- and not get lost in one's own confusion. And for students, that ability to reduce every bewildering complexity to a manageable simplicity, inspires them to get started as soon as possible, and stay with it as their fundamental approach to everything else -- for the rest of their life.

And that is what a lifelong regimen of exercise (activity) prepares one to do -- as well as achieve in the actual doing of it. So one of the requirements of a lifelong practice, is that which can be done everyday -- even and especially at one's worst, yet be just as meaningful at one's best, until eventually, there is no discernible difference between one's worst and best; one is simply "on," and always "on," if not "off."

Computers are very effective and efficient because they act in that manner -- either on or off, and not 10% on one time and 90% the next. Such machines would be unreliable, if not useless and dangerous -- and would be replaced at the earliest opportunity before they cause a catastrophic calamity. A calculator can't be right just 50% of the time; as soon as it is not 100% reliable, then it needs to be replaced entirely -- so that all one's time and energies are not consumed solving all the problems caused by that one error that snowballs into a lifetime of misery and undoing.

That would obviously be "right understanding." In modern information processing, or computer programming, that would be the "critical path," upon which all else succeeds or fails, and if that essential understanding is deficient, no amount of subsequent effort can make right. It is not that a hundred unrelated things are wrong, but one critical error that makes everything else go haywire, and makes the world seem to fall into chaos and disorder.

In ensuring that the body retains all its faculties, one has to actually fire up those neurological pathways daily -- to actually effect movement to the furthest range of that possibility, which is easier than it seems, but usually just not thought of.

The contemporary popular emphasis is on the action of the heart -- which is already working as well as it can. That is not the problem; nor is the breathing deficient -- but the end result action, implies all that, and not vice-versa. The critical path is that the focus and axis of movement is the furthest extremity activated -- because obviously to get there, those neurological impulses, have to travel from the brain all the way out to the movement articulated -- and if it is just centered on the action of the heart, than it is no movement at all, because that is the action that has to be activated as the minimum requirement of life -- but it only guarantees the minimum, and simply more of the minimum, does not indicate the maximum possibility.

But a definitive movement at the furthest extremities of the body, implies the neurological stimulation of that entire pathway and state. One cannot move a finger, unless the entire neurological pathway to it, is in working order -- and if it is intact, that improvement is entirely possible -- starting from any base level of proficiency.

The obvious exception, is when there is no responsiveness of any kind. The great masters of movement, can detect that discernible difference -- and achieve its highest expression and articulation. But one has to first recognize what is significant, willful movement -- at the highest level of its expression and possibility.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The McMinnville (Oregon) Experience

That intense pain and swelling is quite common and predictable among people who do high-intensity (resistance) training -- which is the equivalent of running a 100 yard dash over a mile. No matter how much one thinks they can impose mind over matter, the body will simply not allow it.

In this particular case, the instructor alternated two triceps isolation movements -- done to failure, for multiple sets, over a prolonged period of time (20 minutes). The original concept, was that it was one set done to failure -- and not multiple sets, or the "if one is good, more must be better" fallacy.

And the people originally motivated to try out that manner of training, were self-selected genetic freaks with a high capacity for pain, gain and recovery. Many were attracted to Nautilus training and principles for which they were not only given adequate warning of the effects, but were actually promised them as the ticket to rapid and dramatic gains, if one was willing to pay the price.

That was the ultimate "No pain, no gain" validation.

And while it would produce and sustain gains with as little as five minutes of such intense training a week!, but one always was recovering from such muscle soreness, and when finally recovering, repeated the pattern weekly -- and so there was never a moment when one felt one had achieved well-being, as one was always in the process of achieving it. So there was no fulfillment, or being, but only becoming -- something other than what one was, which, is in a psychological sense, a discontentment with the person one presently is.

That is very peculiar psychological profile of the competitive bodybuilder -- who despite often being the most formidable development in the room, often have this overwhelming sense of inadequacy -- of not being good enough. That is a very damaging mindset to have -- because of course, one is never satisfied with what one has, or is. They have to convince themselves that whatever they have, is never enough.

And so, one would often find oneself in a roomful of the most imposing persons on the planet, and none of them felt they were "good enough." There could only be one "winner," and everybody else, had this tremendous sense of "failure." And that is why the concept of training to failure, ultimately, is counterproductive, no matter how much one gains otherwise.

For ultimately, the greatest gain, is this sense of fulfillment, that one has "arrived," because if one never can, and feels their goals slipping even farther away with each achievement and victory, then one has established the inevitability of their own defeat.

So the lesson learned, is the greater understanding of the actual limits of human possibilities and actualities -- and reasonable expectations and outcomes.


Friday, August 13, 2010

The Quantum Leap FROM Nautilus Principles

When one takes and tests ideas to their logical ultimate conclusions, they frequently break down to reveal an even more basic greater truth.

When one exercises with great (maximal) intensity, obviously, it cannot be maintained (sustained) for very long, and the recovery from such exertions and efforts might take a week to fully recover from -- during which time there is extreme muscular soreness and awareness until that recovery, whereupon, the program schedule would inflict another pain-inducing workout -- even though at that pace, gains would continue, if the program would.

But after three-six weeks of accelerated growth and progress this way, the body demands a further week of rest to recover and fully recharge -- because the demand on the resources are so extraordinary, to even those with exceptional recovery abilities.

So while once a week of a five minute training session of high intensity would theoretically continue gains, as a practical matter, life is unsustainable at that rate of change and challenge without suffering an imminent injury or breakdown of some sort -- which is the reality of running the body at maximum capacity with no margin of reserves for any extended period.

What was required was actually throttling back from that precipice -- to what extent and level? The most instructive and informative organ for this, is the heart -- that is the only organ that must always function reliably, no matter what. And the only way it does, is either to contract fully -- or not, which is the familiar pulse, or beating of the heart.

What Nautilus principles ultimately advocated, was that a maximal effort was to be exerted in the "relaxation" phase as much as the "contraction," which obviously would have made the whole sense of relaxation, impossible -- because it then became one continuous "contraction," or effort, that was sustained for as long as possible -- which naturally, will result in muscle failure, but far before that, result in the cessation of circulation to the brain -- which will shut down all further efforts until the normal order (balance) is restored.

That was also the problem with "isometric" exercises advocated earlier -- that those sustained efforts, caused trainees of that system, to pass out -- from the cessation of blood flow to the brain, when a maximal contraction (state) is sustained for as long as possible. The natural, healthful functioning of the body, is to effect change, from one state to the other -- which is the essence of a flow. A fully contracted state, OR a fully relaxed state without an interval of change -- is disruptive, and the sign of dysfunction and death.

Contrary to popular thinking, increased effectiveness of circulation to any part of the body, and particularly to the extremities which is usually the problem in most people experiencing decreased functioning and decline, is that changing the heart rate is not the essential factor, but rather, ensuring that the voluntary muscles, particularly at the extremities, exhibit and manifest this alternation of muscular state of contraction and relaxation.

However, in most traditional exercises, no attention is paid to the movement and muscular states at these extremities, which implies the health of the rest of the neuromuscular and cardiovascular pathways to effect. Because muscles must always contract from their further insertion towards its origin, beginning at that actual focus of rotation, causes a chain reaction to initiate from that point -- back to the origin of all the muscles near the heart. That is very convenient since the weakness of most individuals is not due to the heart not pumping out to the extremities, but the extremities not pumping blood back to the heart.

This is particularly noticeable in people with congestive heart failure with the notable swelling in their extremities, which they usually further immobilize and exacerbate. To a lesser degree, this condition can be seen in most people ordinarily deemed to be normal and healthy, but give the impression of being bloated in those regions, or obviously, "fat."

Every person undoubtedly has muscles, but most people have never trained, or conditioned their muscles for any particular expression other than to be flaccid -- and this is also the problem of people as they age, to lose the muscularity of expression -- to which they often surgically affix their faces in an immobile expression of responsiveness (contraction), seemingly unaware that they have the ability to effect those appearances with a modicum of conditioning exercises.

That is also true for all the muscles of the body. Most people lack the ability to transform themselves instantly into a more desirable and pleasing shape, with the exception of the bodybuilders, who expressly do. But even they do not realize, that if they alternated those contractions (poses) with relaxation intervals, that would be the easiest way to maintain and even improve their ability to do so -- at the normal rate of the resting heart beat, of approximately sixty per minute!

One can enhance or direct the circulation to any area of the body, with that focus, initiated and activated by that axis of movement. One needs no other equipment but the understanding that the lengthening (relaxation) and contraction (shortening) of the muscles in that way, at that focal points -- is the necessary physics of that process, that not coincidentally, optimizes functioning and well-being, for any other purpose.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The State of the Art

Forty years ago, I began a program in the basement of the Boston YMCA titled "Scientific Weight-training," (maybe the first adult-education, co-ed classes on the subject) partly to test the claim made by Arthur Jones, that one only needed five minutes and five exercises, to work an individual to complete muscular failure (exhaustion), because such a high-intensity workout, was the best way to stimulate maximal gains, although such a workout, when first undertaken would also result in extreme muscle soreness the likes of which one would never encounter otherwise -- but after the initial shock, one could then engage on that level without as severe effects as experienced the first time.

Many people, working out that way for the first time, would predictably get sick and throw up, but surprisingly, those who never got over that reaction, tended to be those who were otherwise those one expected not to -- the best conditioned athletes, or those who ran the Boston Marathon. As I think back on those days and the reason for that paradox, the obvious answer to me, is that they were the ones who by training, pushed farther than learned to withdraw -- which would be the intelligent response to such trauma.

In any maximal exhaustion, the wise body, would learn to first increase the reserve -- and not the capacity, for exhaustion -- to failure. This is a critical survival response -- observed daily in the wild kingdom, of animals always holding back rather than going all-out, because even if one does manage to catch one's prey, if one is totally exhausted in that effort, one then becomes the prey of a fresh predator, who merely has to happen onto that opportunity for victory.

And so a primal, intelligent response of survival (fitness), is the imperative that one never go to complete failure and exhaustion -- under any circumstances, because that would never be an intelligent thing to do. Thus a better guide than unilaterally going all-out, is to first determine the level of power, capability, and reserve (fatigue), in the other, and then exerting only enough to surpass it appropriately, and if it cannot be exercised with a probability of success, one quickly learned to recognize that, and save oneself for a better time and circumstances.

That is also a huge part of "game strategy," which is first taking in and assessing the information, before acting without any attention and regard to its appropriateness -- resulting in a fatal, or critical defeat. This is also the judgment critical to undertaking and accomplishing anything -- which is usually thought as a separate and unrelated subject, but certainly, is integral to all undertakings.

One has to improve one's chances for success, in all the many ways, before it is enough, just to play the game. With few exceptions, most games are not over in five minutes -- and so, a great part of the conditioning for life, is how does one persist long enough to have a good chance of prevailing?

So while it is often impressive what one can do in five minutes, what matters is how long one stays in the game -- which in most athletic competitions, ends usually by age 50, at which time many think they've done enough for the rest of their lives, even if they never do anything again. Thus a better question to ask, "Is what manner of conditioning, allows one to persist at it all one's life," and not quit at any time?

Surprisingly, it still takes that five minutes, of five well-designed, intelligent movements, to maintain and improve the range of useful movement, and particularly, the expressions at the vital head (face), hands and feet that ultimately account for discernible and useful movement, in those regarded and perceived as vital, fully-capable, responsive human beings.

Even in the worst case scenario when responsiveness is not certain, one would best determine that by asking for an affirmation at any extremity, and not that they comply with a situp, pushup, or one lap around the track -- as a "yes." This is particularly important in determining whether any efforts to increase one's capabilities begin at a minimal "1," or the futile "0." That's always the biggest difference, and not going from 100%, to 110%, or whatever sports hyperbole one fancies.

Thus the state of the art in conditioning, is first and foremost, one's understanding -- before any effort is made -- instead of charging out enthusiastically into the arena, and finding that real lions fill the coliseum.

Even what we used to call the "ravages of time," are not the same for everyone -- and those who learn to work with nature (environment) display an ease and comfort in moving in that environment, rather than those trained to reflexively struggle against it and everyone else, thinking misguidedly, that simply that is enough to get to the "top," and have one's way with everyone else.

That is especially true of one's regard towards one's self, or body -- that it is an enemy to be tortured and tormented, or one can befriend it, and thereby rely on it, to do what beneficially needs to be done. The trite cliches, are not about understanding but a way of preventing one from thinking deeply about these things -- which some would call "meditation," or the mental aspects of the preparation (conditioning).

Adepts and masters of any activity, realize this growing importance of their "practice" -- if they are still at it until the day they die. And if that is the case, that is why they are masters at what they do -- and not simply recall increasingly, their former days of glory as though that were their best and highest understanding, and state of the art.