Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

Local vs Systemic Exercise Effect, by Matthew Romans

The ostensible purpose of performing regular Total Results exercise is to increase muscular strength. As we have learned, building strength leads to a number of other physical improvements, such as increased insulin sensitivity, improved metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning, resistance to injury, and even facilitation of fat loss. Each exercise that is performed in the course of a workout will have an effect on the muscle or muscles that are involved in that particular exercise ( e.g.- the biceps muscles during a bicep curl). This is referred to as a local effect. Exercise also leads to what is called a systemic effect, which is the impact that the entire exercise session has on the whole body in terms of stimulus. What does this mean, and is one or the other more effective for producing physical improvements? Let's take a closer look.

I have stated in previous articles that there is a dose-response relationship to exercise, and that according to Dr. Doug McGuff, exercise has a narrow therapeutic window. This means that too much exercise can have a toxic effect on the body, and that not enough exercise will not stimulate any physical improvements. We want to perform the minimal amount of exercise necessary to elicit the stimulus; too much exercise and/or too much activity between exercise sessions will prevent the body from making adaptations, and can increase the risk for injury or illness. In order to stimulate the greatest overall exercise effect, you need to exercise briefly and intensely, and cover all of the major musculature of the body.

To achieve optimum benefit, workouts should last no more than 30 minutes, preferably 20 minutes or less. The longer an exercise session lasts, the more the body releases the stress hormone cortisol. This is problematic because cortisol can impede your body's most important functions, such as sleep and digestion, and it can also contribute to weight gain. Advocates of split training routines train way too long and too frequently. They generally subscribe to performing multiple sets of each exercise, and as a result, rarely train with anything resembling high intensity (effort). Bodybuilders that utilize this approach fail to understand that the body is far more than the sum of its parts. The body functions as a unit and should be exercised as a unit. One properly performed set of each exercise is all that is required to elicit the stimulus; multiple sets just reintroduce the same stimulus more than once and consume valuable recovery resources, but do not provide additional benefit.

Weight training exercises can be classified as either simple or compound movements. Simple movements generally involve one joint and smaller muscle groups, while compound movements involve multiple joints and larger muscle groups. Both movements have their benefits. Compound movements involve a greater amount of muscle in a shorter period of time, which will lead to shorter and more intense workouts. On the other hand, simple movements effectively target smaller muscles more directly, such as in the Cervical Extension exercise for the posterior neck, and in the External Rotation exercise for the muscles of the rotator cuff. This is certainly beneficial from a rehabilitation standpoint.

Both a local and systemic exercise effect are important for us to achieve maximum health. Someone suffering from lower back pain due to a herniated disc will need to perform direct (local) exercise for the spinal erector muscles in order to strengthen the spinal column and reduce pain. By the same token, if our workouts consist only of simple movements to cover the body's major musculature, the workouts will be far less efficient. This is why much of the workout should consist of compound movements, so that we can cover more ground in less time. Larger exercises like the Leg Press and Pulldown will stimulate growth in muscles that are not directly involved in those exercises. Arthur Jones (founder of Nautilus and MedX) referred to this as the indirect effect. I have often told clients that if they were in a time crunch and only had time to perform two exercises, the Leg Press and Pulldown exercises would cover all of the body's musculature with the exception of the neck. Conversely, a simple exercise like a Triceps Extension will do very little to stimulate musculature outside of the triceps.

Reaching momentary muscular failure on each exercise creates microtrauma, which are microscopic tears in the individual muscle fibers. Between this event and your next exercise session, the body produces an inflammatory response, which stimulates the release of growth hormone. This growth hormone is released in proportion to the amount of muscle inroaded during an exercise session. In the interim, the body must (through proper diet) replenish its glycogen stores (the primary fuel source for intense exercise). Now the body goes about the process of repairing the muscle tissue that has been damaged during the intense workout. If the exercise session takes too long or uses up too many recovery resources along the way to the stimulus, the repair and recovery process will take longer (if the variables of exercise frequency, duration, and intensity are properly regulated by your instructor, you should recover within 3-7 days). When the above requirements have been met, your body will adapt and you will then be ready for your next exercise session.

We want to achieve both a local and systemic exercise effect in order to optimize physical improvements. Our goal is to strengthen any problem areas (joints) you might have, while giving you the best overall metabolic effect possible. We will use both simple and compound exercises to get the job done. Less than one hour of exercise per week is all that it takes. We are here to serve you. Stop putting it off and start today.

Posted March 25, 2020 by Tim Rankin