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Total Results Blog

In-Season Weight Training for Competitive Athletes, by Matthew Romans

Regular weight training is critical for any athlete, regardless of what sport you play. Some athletes enjoy weight training, while others simply see it as a means to an end. Regardless of which of these categories an athlete falls under, the primary reasons an athlete should exercise are injury protection and prevention, maximization of metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning, and performance optimization. Many athletes focus on weight training during their off-season conditioning program, but lose sight of its importance once the season has begun. This often happens at the high school level, as many teams are using the same weight room and its availability can be limited, but I have seen it first hand at the collegiate level as well. It is my opinion that building strength during the competitive season is just as important as doing so in the off-season.

There is no question that the competitive season places a greater drain on the athlete's time and resources; with the demands of practices and games, rest and recovery are paramount. There are fewer days off during the season, and every idle day should be maximized while additional activity outside of sport should be minimal. That being said, strength gains are still possible during the season, and this should be a point of emphasis. There is no way to completely avoid injuries; they are an accepted risk that comes with the nature of playing any sport. However, the stronger and better conditioned an athlete is, the more protected they are against injury, and even injuries that do arise can be significantly lessened or minimized.

In addition to stressing the importance of regular safe and effective weight training during the season, coaches should also structure practices so that they do not wear down the athlete, and that there is a concentration on skill work. I played football in high school and college, and I saw first hand what happens when practices are too demanding and intense weight training is not done throughout the season. During my junior year in high school several of our key players sustained injuries during practice later in the season, and as a result we lost in the state semifinals instead of winning a championship.

How should in-season strength training workouts be structured? Muscle and joint functions in the human body remain the same whether you are in season or out of season, so it still makes sense to perform a full body workout that involves all of the major muscular structures in each session. I recommend one session per week during the season, although it does depend somewhat on the nature of the sport and how physically demanding it is. Some may think one session per week merely serves as maintenance, but in my opinion there is no such thing. The body either works to make improvements or it declines, but rarely does it maintain the status quo. Excellent strength gains can still be made during the season, provided proper nutrition and sleep are obtained. Certain exercises may need to be prioritized over others if you are training less frequently than in the off-season, particularly addressing the neck musculature if you participate in a combat sport such as wrestling, football, or martial arts.

Scheduling weekly workouts for a sport like football is pretty straightforward, since games are generally played on the same day each week. With other sports such as basketball, where you play multiple games in a week, you may have to strength train on different days each week. Ultimately, you want to be fresh and feel recovered on game day in order to optimize performance, so I do advise allowing a couple of days between workout and game. It's better to err on the side of too much recovery rather than not enough. The Total Results exercise protocol is perfect for athletes because it is predicated on a low volume of work with a slow speed of movement and careful change of direction, and the primary goal of each exercise is to inroad (fatigue) the musculature safely and efficiently enough to stimulate maximum physical improvements. No athlete should ever be injured in a weight room! We have worked with many athletes over the years, both in-season and out of season, and we can find the right combination of exercises no matter what sport you play. Tim coached high school lacrosse for many years, and several of his players did regular workouts with us.

Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 hysteria and fear mongering many fall athletes are not currently participating in their respective sports, but hopefully that changes before the winter season. Our structure and philosophy of in-season workouts can be applied no matter what sport you play. The idea is to stimulate physical improvements and protect against injury in order to maximize performance, without overtaxing recovery or negatively impacting the immune system. If you want to do what few other athletes are doing and reap the benefits of the Total Results exercise methodology, schedule an initial consultation and start maximizing your performance today.

Posted October 15, 2020 by Tim Rankin

Understanding Form Discrepancies, by Matthew Romans

One of the things that sets the Total Results exercise methodology apart from all other types of weight training is a clear distinction between the assumed exercise objective and the real exercise objective. We have talked about this in previous articles, but it bears repeating. The assumed objective is to perform as many repetitions with as much weight as possible, while the real objective is to inroad (fatigue) the musculature as safely, deeply, and efficiently as you are able. In my opinion, one of Ken Hutchins' (the creator of our protocol) greatest intellectual accomplishments is his articulation of this distinction; if another exercise philosophy has identified or stated something similar, I am unaware of it. Our job as exercise instructors is to assist each client in achieving the real exercise objective and creating the best stimulus possible. In order to do that, we facilitate safe entry and exit of each machine, monitor proper alignment and positioning, and encourage clients to move quickly from one exercise to the next in order to maximize metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning.

I believe that the most important duty of an exercise instructor is to acknowledge and correct form discrepancies. What exactly are form discrepancies? They are deviations, sometimes very slight, from smooth movement and proper exercise form. It's important to understand that this is rarely a conscious decision on the part of the client to do the wrong thing; discrepancies are usually subconscious ways for the body and mind to make the exercise just a little bit easier. Form discrepancies matter and need to be corrected immediately because they can increase the risk of injury and momentarily unload the intended musculature. As you might expect, for this reason form discrepancies are at cross purposes with the primary exercise objective.

The first few weeks of training are critically important for the novice client, as this is where good habits are established. It is during this time that they acquire skill by learning proper form, work toward a more meaningful level of resistance, and gain an understanding of proper exercise intensity. Beginning exercise weights tend to be estimated conservatively, as using too heavy a weight can lead to bad habits. If the weights are gradually increased, the client can better process the verbal and visual cues given by the instructor and execute them with more efficiency and less wasted effort and energy. I should point out that even the most experienced client with excellent motor control does not achieve absolutely perfect form on every repetition of every exercise, but that is the standard that we measure ourselves against.

Some form discrepancies are not necessarily movement-specific, but are classified as discrepancies because of other health considerations that can accompany them. An inability to keep your head still and in neutral position can cause neck strain and lead to an exercise-induced headache. Facial grimacing can momentarily spike your blood pressure and inhibit free breathing, while performing a Valsalva maneuver (breath holding while creating back pressure in your abdominal cavity) can prevent venous return (return of blood back to the right side of the heart), and raise blood pressure unnecessarily. Other form discrepancies are more likely to occur on certain exercises. Elevation of the scapula (shoulder blades) is commonly seen on the Row and Pulldown, but especially on the Chest Press. These are all compound exercises, which means they involve multiple muscles groups and multiple joints, and these exercises have a weak link, in that the smallest muscle group involved will be a limiting factor. If your scapulae are elevated on the Chest Press, the smaller and weaker triceps will bear more of the load and fatigue before the larger and weaker chest muscles. Pushing through your forefoot and lifting your butt out of the seat on the Leg Press can put your spinal column in some jeopardy. Flexing your hips (bringing your knees up) on the Seated Leg Curl lessens the involvement of your hamstrings to a slight degree, since one of the main muscular functions of this muscle group is to extend the hip. These are small things that can make a significant difference in terms of your exercise experience.

It is the duty of the Total Results instructor to acknowledge and correct form discrepancies in real time, as they happen. If they are not corrected immediately, the opportunity to modify the behavior is lost. It's important for the client to understand that we are not purposely trying to be critical or make them feel badly, but rather to provide constructive feedback. In fact, it should be the objective of both the instructor and the client for the instructor to say as little as possible; this means that the client is using excellent form and there is very little for the instructor to correct. We want to help you achieve maximum benefit from each exercise. Our mission is your amazing!

Posted October 09, 2020 by Tim Rankin

The Importance of Strengthening Your Neck, By Matthew Romans

The muscles that make up the neck are incredibly important but are often overlooked and neglected by most exercise enthusiasts. While the neck musculature is fairly small in comparison to some of the muscles of the torso and legs, these muscles play a critical role in one's posture and body alignment in a multitude of everyday tasks. As anyone who has slept in an unusual position and woken up with a stiff neck knows, the neck muscles are delicate structures, but they have the potential to become very strong if they are exercised properly. Why do so many trainees neglect these muscles, and what is the best way for them to be addressed? What is the downside of not exercising your neck muscles?

A basic understanding of neck anatomy and function helps bring things into a clear focus. The neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae, and all of the surrounding musculature provide support and protection for these vertebrae. There are four major movements of the neck: anterior flexion (lowering your chin toward your chest), posterior extension (pressing the back of your head toward your rear end), lateral flexion (moving your ear toward your shoulder), and rotation (looking over your shoulder). Anterior flexion is performed primarily by the sternocleidomastoid and splenius muscles; conversely, the action of posterior extension is done by the upper trapezius, splenius, semispinalis and erector spinae muscles. Lateral flexion is accomplished by contracting the sternocleidomastoid, while the same muscle also performs cervical rotation with assistance by the upper trapezius and splenius. The range of motion for all four of these movements is fairly small, but cervical extension is the largest of the four. There are additional muscles in the neck besides the ones already mentioned, and many of them are smaller, deeper, and aid in actions like chewing, swallowing, and talking.

Why do so many people avoid strengthening their neck? One reason is that it is not top of mind for most people, especially those that don't suffer from an injury or debility. The bulk of exercise enthusiasts and gym rats tend to focus on the muscles that are the largest and located on the front side of their bodies, and the neck muscles don't fall into that category. Another reason is that they may be fearful of injury. This is a legitimate concern. As I mentioned above, the neck muscles can be very easily injured if they are not addressed properly, and most weight training protocols utilize a fast speed of movement that produces a high amount of force. This can exponentially increase the risk of injury. These other protocols also do not pay careful attention to proper alignment or head positioning, which are also critically important. Finally, most of the equipment available in commercial health clubs and gyms is poorly engineered, and many do not even have machines that target this musculature. Your neck muscles and vertebrae are too important to risk working with a poorly educated "personal trainer" or using substandard equipment.

In my opinion, every person can benefit from strengthening their neck musculature and keeping their cervical vertebrae healthy, especially if you have a history of a neck condition or injury, participate in combat sports (football, wrestling, martial arts, etc.), or regularly suffer from migraines or other types of headaches. Think about what happens when one gets in a car accident and suffers from the painful effects of whiplash; strong neck muscles can minimize this damage.

How do we address the neck muscles at Total Results? Most clients perform the Cervical Extension exercise to address the muscles of the posterior neck, largely because this addresses the greatest amount of musculature, but also because this seems to provide the most benefit. We have two machines that we use, one made by MedX, and the other by Super Slow Systems. Both of them work extremely well, and can be used not just for cervical extension, but they also have the capacity to allow for lateral and anterior flexion. Manual resistance can also be used for this (and all) exercise(s), either in a dynamic fashion or as a Timed Static Contraction. The Overhead Press exercise, while not specifically for the neck, does involve the trapezius muscle and encompasses the rear part of the neck. Working to strengthen the major shoulder muscles, which the Overhead Press does, can help provide a sturdier base of support for your neck muscles. Another exercise that can help strengthen the neck muscles is a dumbbell shrug, but this is one that we rarely use except in a situation where a client suffers from chronic exercise-induced headache. Our workouts are generally structured in a manner where we exercise the largest muscles first, so the Cervical Extension is likely to come near the end of a session, but we can modify the order of exercises to meet our clients' needs.

Total Results has seen its share of neck debilities in the nearly 20 years that we have been in business. We have dealt with relatively minor muscle weakness as well more advanced conditions like cervical fusions (my own mother is a Total Results client and has had both a cervical as well as a lumbar fusion), and we have seen some remarkable improvements. Years ago I had a client who was in his late 70's or early 80's at the time that he started working with me. This gentleman suffered neck pain and diminished function as a result of playing college football, and he had a difficult time turning (rotating) his head to check his blind spot when he drove. After a couple of months performing the Cervical Extension exercise, he was able to turn his head without any impediment. Other Total Results clients have experienced similar successes.

Strengthening the neck muscles is a key in maintaining excellent posture, protecting against injury, and lessening or eliminating the headaches that can come from having to hold your head upright all day. These muscles should not be allowed to atrophy; they need to be kept strong and healthy just like the rest of the body. You need an experienced and knowledgeable instructor with impeccably engineered equipment to show you how it's done. Get Total Results.

Posted October 02, 2020 by Tim Rankin

A Closer Look at Muscular Failure, by Matthew Romans

If you are a Total Results client or regular reader of our blog articles, you know that a major tenet of our philosophy is to take each exercise to the point of momentary muscular failure. This is the stimulus point that the body requires in order to make physical adaptations in terms of building muscle and bone, and improving cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning. It is also critical to reach muscular failure so that glycogen (stored carbohydrate) can be emptied from the muscle cells and insulin sensitivity can be maintained. How do we define momentary muscular failure, and why does it seem to occur differently in some clients than it does in others? What really goes on when we reach this point?

Confusion can sometimes occur when we talk about the assumed objective versus the real objective of exercise. The assumed objective is to perform as many repetitions with as much weight as we possibly can. This is false, and can lead to injury, as one may take liberties with their form just for the sake of completing more repetitions. The real exercise objective is to inroad (fatigue) the musculature as thoroughly and efficiently as we can, and that entails going to momentary muscular failure. We can define this as the point in a dynamic exercise (which we use the vast majority of the time in our workouts) where forward movement is no longer possible in good form. The primary function of a muscle is to produce force to enable movement. To go a little further, your muscles are momentarily weakened enough so that they are not capable of generating sufficient force to overcome the resistance on the machine you are using. In a Timed Static Contraction, there is no real way to know when failure has been reached, since no movement is performed. When clients perform an exercise in Negative-Only fashion, I define the point of failure as that juncture when the weight cannot be lowered in at least eight seconds. However, Negative-Only exercise involves transference of the resistance from the instructor to the client on every repetition, thus resulting in very brief unloading of the musculature. These are reasons why I believe that performing a dynamic movement is optimal, whenever possible.

Can you still achieve physical benefits if you don't go to momentary muscular failure? The short answer is yes, and some of those benefits include reduction/relief of joint pain, stress relief, and improved confidence. While we do encourage our clients to push to and beyond the point of muscular failure, there are certain situations in which we stop short of that point. If a client frequently experiences exercise-induced headaches (EIH), we often stop the exercise just before they feel head pain. This enables the exercise subject to get some benefit without exacerbating the problem. We might also go just short of failure if a client has a tendency to panic or perform unsafe behavior near the end of an exercise when fatigue has increased. Safety is paramount, so we are willing to make that our priority over a deeper muscular inroad.

Clients often remark that reaching momentary muscular failure seems different on certain exercises. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, certain exercises involve a greater or lesser amount of muscle; the Pulldown exercise encompasses almost the entire upper body musculature, so it is going to have a greater systemic effect than a smaller exercise like the Tricep Extension. The second reason has to do with equipment design. Many of our machines are designed with cams that vary the resistance based on leverage; your muscles are stronger in some positions and weaker in others. In theory, the cam effect should allow you to reach momentary muscular failure at random different points in the range of motion. In practice, that's not always the case. These machines are an engineering marvel; you won't find better equipment anywhere else. However, most of them were not mass produced; they were made one at a time and have subtle engineering differences in the design of the cams. Years of experience have shown me that on certain exercises like the Leg Press and Lumbar Extension, most people reach muscular failure at or near the bottom out position. Finally, each individual client has a different mental and physical makeup, temperament, and tolerance for discomfort, so it only makes sense that the experience of reaching muscular failure can vary for many people.

You can still derive much benefit if you don't work to momentary muscular failure, but in my opinion better results come from pushing to the point where movement in good form is no longer possible, followed by a five to ten second thorough inroad. In addition to the physical benefits described above, there is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment in giving your best momentary effort and knowing that you did all that you could do to stimulate physical improvements. Take pride in knowing that you are doing something that most other people are not. The word failure has a negative connotation in all other walks of life, but at Total Results failure equals success!

Posted September 23, 2020 by Tim Rankin

Atomic Habits - a book review, by Matthew Romans

James Clear is an author and speaker whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Time, Entrepreneur, and on CBS News This Morning. In 2018 he wrote the book "Atomic Habits", which discusses what habits are and how they are created, and also how to build good habits and break bad habits. Mr. Clear dealt with severe adversity when he was a sophomore in high school. While on the baseball team, he was accidentally hit in the face with a baseball bat and suffered a broken nose, multiple skull fractures and two shattered eye sockets. He suffered multiple seizures and was placed in a medically induced coma. Eventually Clear recovered, but his dream of one day playing professional baseball was irreparably damaged, although he did go on to play baseball in college. Ironically, it was this debilitating experience that led to his interest in habits, as he wanted to do everything he could possibly do to get back on the baseball diamond.

One interesting subject that is addressed in the book is the difference between goals and systems. Mr. Clear says that, "Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results." So much is made about the importance of goal-setting in terms of achieving success, but while it is important to know where you want to go, it doesn't mean much if you don't have a plan of how to get there. Habits (especially good ones) are components of the system you implement in order to get where you want to go. A habit is defined as "...a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic." There is a feedback loop that triggers all of human behavior: try, fail, learn, try differently. It is the same for infants learning to walk as it is for adults learning more complex skills. Building habits is really about creating solutions to problems that we regularly face.

There is a very simple science to how habits work. It starts with a cue, which triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. This is followed by a craving, and that is the motivational force behind every habit. Without a good reason, no action will follow. Next comes a response, which is the habit that you will actually perform. Lastly, the response delivers a reward; this is the end goal of every habit. If one of these requirements is not met, a habit will not be created. While this sounds very intuitive and self-explanatory, credit should go to the author for putting it together in an organized way that can be easily understood. We think of habits as being either good or bad for us, but Mr .Clear says, "There are only effective habits. That is, effective at solving problems. All habits serve you in some way-even the bad ones-which is why you repeat them." In order to create good habits, you should make the habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. It stands to reason that it is easier to stick with a behavior that is easy to do, leaves us feeling satisfied, and is in the forefront of our minds. Conversely, to break bad habits they should be made invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying. Habits that are not top of mind, hard to stick with, and don't provide much of a payoff are much easier to eliminate from our lives.

Another topic that I found pertinent is the effect of one's environment on habits and motivation. The author believes (as the title of chapter six says) that motivation is overrated, and that one's environment has a great impact on the sustainability of a habit, as well as a relapse into negative habits. What we see around us has a major influence on our behavior; an example given is if you want to practice playing the guitar more often, keep the guitar on its stand somewhere visible in the room instead of in a closet. Make the cue for the behavior a larger part of the environment. Likewise, if you want to make regular Total Results exercise sessions a part of your routine, synchronize your calendar to send an alert to your phone for your workout. On the other hand, if you are a recovering alcoholic that wants to abstain from alcohol, it's wise not to keep beer in the refrigerator or spend time hanging out in a bar. Again, this is something that seems pretty intuitive, but Mr. Clear made the point in an organized and relatable way.

Atomic Habits ties in very nicely with many of the concepts and principles we espouse at Total Results. We try to instill good habits in our clients, not just during their workouts, but also when they are outside of our studio. This includes proper sleep, managing stress, nutrition, and additional activity. We hope to educate you about thought processes you can take with you into other avenues, and while we teach the proper mindset for you to achieve the best workout possible, we also believe that best motivation is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Mr. Clear is of the belief (and I concur) that, "The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom." While everyone experiences a lack of motivation at one time or another, successful people,"...Still find a way to show up despite feelings of boredom." Creating great habits is about seeing incremental progress and using that as motivation to stay the course in order to get to where you want to go. While Total Results exercise might not be entertaining or flashy to many people, it is the best exercise system for making progress and achieving optimal health. As the author says, "The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over."

Posted September 11, 2020 by Tim Rankin