Friday, April 27, 2012

The Holy Grail of Exercise (Bodybuilding)

One of the great motivations for people to exercise, has been the belief that exercise keeps one youthful and healthy -- which seems to be true until one reaches a peak at about 30 for most, give or take 10 years.

At some activities, a person will be considered "old" at 20, and on their downhill trajectory -- which is most characteristic of women gymnasts, and so, very few continue beyond their college careers (years).  In a lot of professional sports, that is also true but less obvious as the competition eliminates many by injury by the time they reach 20, so that many don't go on to professional competition because they've peaked at that age, or have suffered a career-ending injury, or an accumulation and culmination of injuries that tells them they have to do something else.

For unfortunately many at that time, it is to do nothing else -- because their condition precludes those possibilities they have previously excelled at, but fortunately, not every -- and nowhere is that more true than in the activity of "bodybuilding," in which one hopes to build up their body sufficiently, for whatever else they want to do, or simply look like they can.  In that way, the bodybuilder is the generalist in the world of (competitive) specialists.  Most bodybuilders are not competitive bodybuilders but a small percentage are -- and even among them, are an anomaly to the general category of that population sample.

In that way, it is not unlike a lot of other sports and activities -- because most people will experience a fight, threat and intimidation, without having the desire to become the world champion professional boxer, wrestler, or martial artist, in order to feel at ease in the world and their daily lives.  It will be sufficient for most, if they can just avoid those confrontations as much as possible, rather than rise to the pinnacle, inviting the challenges of all-comers at every opportunity.

Most involved in any activity, recognize that that is not how the "king of the hill" distinguishes themselves, but is more likely to be the one who feels no need to prove that distinction to everyone else, at every opportunity.  It is enough that they know that they have that capacity -- if they really need it, which reduces greatly, the possibility of needless injury and risk in doing anything life-challenging -- as the needs inevitably present themselves even in the most diligent and prudent, risk-averse life.  

Bad things happen to even good people.  They happen even more to those who are thoughtless and ill-prepared.  In fact, the best way to assure that bad things don't happen, is to be well-prepared for when/if they do.  The best way to do so, is to build up that reserve and capacity for responsiveness (action) -- without necessarily exhausting it too frequently -- while having the ability to access it, momentarily as needed -- which is the rationale for bodybuilding, or building up one's capacity and ability -- for the ultimate challenge, to one's own health and well-being.

That capacity only has to be maximally tested infrequently -- and not everyday, or constantly, or one begins to experience a rapid depletion and deterioration of health as one under constant stress, until one's capacity (for recuperation and recovery) is overwhelmed, which can be accumulative as well as acute.  That deteriorative process can begin as early as childhood -- for those who do not grow properly and fully, which we hope is what the conditioning process is all about -- and not something only a few discover in "extracurricular" activities.  That is rather, the whole point of any of it -- the "core curriculum," if you will.

That is the original meaning of education, or the academy -- for that purpose -- to develop one completely, and not just partially and fragmentarily, as has been the fashion in increasing specialization in which a partial and partisan understanding, is thought all that is necessary, instead of a whole one -- which is the meaning of comprehension, or "grasping the whole."

Living with a partial understanding of anything, is the most dangerous way to live -- in that one thinks they understand the whole, when they have not even begun to suspect the right questions.  So in everything we do,we are foremost developing a greater capacity to meet our greatest challenge, which is not just mental, physical, psychological, etc., but the total greatest response -- requiring the greatest development of all our faculties, and those responding on that level, are truly awesome -- and hardly ever seen just "treading the mills", and "putting in their time," as though that was all that was necessary, productive or meaningful.

The extraordinary challenges that define one's greatest capacities and responses, come quite unplanned and uninvited -- for those living even ordinary lives.  But their responses to those moments, are what transformed them to the extraordinary -- when most do not rise to the occasion, or recognize the significance -- of simply being and doing their best.  It is such moments, that one's being is one's doing -- and doesn't require one to do other than what one is.  That is the actualization and realization of who one is -- and the ultimate quest of every body/being.

Learning From the Heart  

Of all the things one can learn and practice to be proficient at, it should be obvious that the most critical of these, is what is most essential to defining life itself -- and that is the function of the heart in ensuring at least a minimal circulatory and respiratory effect.  Yet clearly, what matters beyond that in the voluntary muscular actions, is how individuals differentiate and excel in their functioning and continued vitality -- which is unclear and the subject of much debate and discussion, most of which is totally a waste of time, energy and resources, so that simply "more," would not be productive, but actually counterproductive -- and largely what they come to realize at some point in their lives mistakenly as the natural and inevitable "aging" process, rather than rightly recognizing it as the failure of their understanding.  But that is usually not suspected -- but rather assume, that their understanding of the process is "perfect," or perfected, but either their execution of that understanding falls short, or can make no difference after a certain point in life, no matter how valiant the efforts.

So while much is made of the various traditions and conventions of muscular effort in the ancient and primitive ways that have persisted as to what is the best things one can do, we've never thought to use the entirety of the muscular system that exists throughout the body, to directly and greatly optimize the circulatory and respiratory effect as the value in itself -- and not as an adjunct to lifting a weight or moving the body any distance.  The critical work is entirely that which is done within the body -- not simply as a meditation, or thought -- but the requirements of actually effecting the optimal circulatory effect that produces the health of the cells and organs -- without the drain and risk of injury to that which is counterproductive to achieving and maintaining that health, including the added stress, impact and blunt trauma force we have come to associate with "beneficial" activities.

The action of the heart is to do no other work but to fully contract albeit momentarily -- and instantly relax, and spend 99% of its phase, out of the peak contraction, which we can also call peak intensity.  So while the heart always achieves peak intensity, or fullest contraction, it does so only for the briefest instant and then is relaxing out of it -- and not sustaining a maximal contraction for any prolonged period -- which then becomes counterproductive, just as it would be disastrous for the heart to seize in that way -- impeding the optimal functioning and flow.  That manner would be undesirable and life-threatening.  The requirements for peak power production from any (every) muscle is characteristically, a peak (full) contraction achieved only for an instant -- and not sustained for any length of time, but which is characteristically how most people exercise to make it harder, and to feel the "burn."

Yet those rapid fire contractions and immediate release, are not the result of resistance but simply the understanding of what position a  muscle be in to produce the shortest length of that muscle (contraction).  That is not dependent on the amount of resistance to achieve, and in fact, the addition of resistance and other impediments, make such movement difficult if not impossible to achieve -- and is always counterproductive to that maximal effect -- without resistance.

That is a startling revelation to most in the exercise instruction business -- who have never given it a lot of thought, if any at all.  They have simply carried on the tradition, whether it really works or not, but now that many more realize the value and difference life-extending and life-enhancing practices can make in their already extended lives and years, there is an understanding beyond the usual "brute force" as the miracle ingredient in achieving this higher understanding and functioning.

So rather than seeing how long one can hold a pose, posture, or muscular contraction -- the value really is in achieving a position for the briefest moment and relaxing otherwise -- as the exercise effect of greatest significance and benefit, which would also be the least stressful manner to conduct such an activity -- and thus likely to be done, and sustained as a healthful life practice -- not requiring extraordinary motivation to maintain.

The Necessity of Beginning at the End 

Those with the familiarity of the physiology of muscle design and function know that muscular activation, must occur from the insertion or farthest end of the muscle to the origin of that muscle -- which then merges into the insertion of the supporting muscular structure, etc., until they all reach the center of the body, close to the heart, and the primary reason for this, is that the contraction of the muscles forces fluid (blood) dynamically and powerfully back towards the heart, and into the heart by the contraction of the heart creating a momentary vacuum in forcing blood out in the other direction.

It is the dependence on the skeletal (voluntary) muscles to perform and optimize this pumping back towards the heart, that is largely the beneficial exercise effect -- in optimizing the circulation throughout the body by also creating the space for which the heart can pump blood into.  That is the huge part of the circulatory effect not understood by those who think the circulatory effect is limited to the heart alone -- because it is the heart working in conjunction with the other muscles of the body to direct (allow) that flow properly and effectively.

That is what even the ancient health strategies tried to do -- but clearly with less understanding and information than we now have of that process.  Yet because of the specialist point of view (training), they believe one thing has no relationship to anything else -- and the muscles at the extremities of the body, have no relationship to the muscle most central to the body -- when it is an easy thing to see how they are integrally related -- so that a circulation problem's impact, is likely to be greatest at the furthest distance from the heart (the extremities), rather than the heart itself, or exclusively, with a profound impact in the health and functioning, of the head, hands and feet -- which are the extremities of the body.

They cannot be maintained optimally, and primarily, as an afterthought -- but should be the primary objective and realization of the importance of exercise and what it means to fitness -- particularly in a prolonged life of cumulative effects that continue to get worse with time (age), and thinking that nothing can be done -- but to exercise in the typical emphasis on the functioning of the heart, rather than the movements that begin at the extremities that then can trigger integrated muscular contractions that are much more efficient than isolated muscular contractions could ever be.  The body just doesn't want to work that way -- was not evolved and designed to function optimally in that manner -- with each muscle acting in isolation from every other.

The "system" wants to be fully developed, and will not allow, one part to be developed disproportionately to every other, because such a system of disparities and unequal development, produces great weaknesses in relation to great strengths -- which is a danger in the integrity of any individual.  That is the well-recognized need for balance, symmetry and moderation in everything we do -- and not the great imbalances modern thinking often produces of one aspect dominating all the others -- because it believes it has this "perfect" knowledge, or perfected knowledge -- when it hasn't even begun to suspect the right questions.  That is the arrogance of thinking that what one knows, is all that can be known -- and leads to monstrous certainties that are the great inhumanities of history and society, as well as individual dysfunctions.


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