Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

August 2019

Abdominal Muscles and the Myth of Spot Reduction by Matthew Romans

The mainstream fitness industry is famous for peddling all kinds of worthless products, pills, and drinks. If you're above a certain age, most of the following inventions should sound familiar from late night infomercials: Shake Weight, 8 Minute Abs, Ab Rocket, Vibration Belts, and the Thigh Master (which was developed by the same man who marketed the Mood ring in the 1970s). While I believe in the concept of "let the buyer beware", I also believe that the sellers of these products prey upon the ignorance of an unsuspecting public. Most of these products have little to no scientific basis whatsoever, but are dressed up in colorful packaging, shrewd marketing, and outrageous claims. Another source of confusion is the concept of spot reduction, and the role of the abdominal muscles in fat loss.

Spot reduction is the idea that you can exercise certain muscles in the body to reduce body fat in that area. Just as body fat percentage can vary from one person to the next, how and where that body fat is stored (and in what amount) is also individually-based and multifactorial. These factors include, in no particular order, diet, genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors, and exercise. The popular notion is that if you want to reduce body fat in your midsection or your hips, you should perform exercises that target those specific body parts.

Please allow me to explode this myth: there is no such thing as spot reduction! The concept has no biological basis whatsoever. The fitness vultures have been trying to sell this for years, and it is false. Doing sit-ups, crunches, or any number of other abdominal exercises is not going to reduce visceral fat. While it is certainly true that building lean muscle through progressive high-intensity weight training (exercise) is a very important ally in the pursuit of fat loss, you cannot lose fat specifically from just one area of the body. When fat is metabolized, the liver has discretion over where it comes from. If fat loss is your goal, you need to create a caloric deficit by eating fewer total calories, while minimizing the consumption of excessive grains, sugars, and other processed foods. Regular strength training will do more to increase your metabolism and change your body's shape than any other form of activity; while a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same amount, muscle is more compact and takes up less space than does fat.

Please don't misunderstand me and think that the abdominal muscles are not important. The abdominals are very important; their functions are to flex the trunk (bend forward at the waist), tilt the pelvis, and they are heavily involved in breathing. Keeping your abdominal muscles strong is very important for maintaining functionality and protecting against injury, however they don't need as much direct stimulation as you might think. The abdominals are very much involved in every exercise of a Total Results workout, even when they are not targeted directly. Think about exercises like the Pulldown, Chest Press, and Overhead Press that involve the torso slump at the end of the positive movement phase; that is trunk flexion performed by the abdominal muscles. By the time we get around to targeting them directly on the Linear Spine Flexion or the manually-resisted crunch, those muscles are pretty fatigued. All of these exercises engage the abdominal muscles as a unit, rather than just working the upper or lower abdominals.

There is no such thing as spot reduction, and doing a million abdominal crunches is counterproductive. Don't fall prey to scam artists and exercise products with no scientific basis. The Total Results exercise philosophy is grounded in the classical sciences and an ancestrally appropriate nutritional approach. We have nearly 20 years of experience in helping people become stronger, fitter, and get more out of life, and we challenge ourselves to increase our knowledge every day. Our goal is to pass that knowledge on to you. Schedule an appointment today!

Posted August 29, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Neurological Efficiency and Skill Acquisition in Exercise, by Matthew Romans

When a new client begins the Total Results exercise regimen, we use the first few sessions to determine proper machine settings, gauge beginning strength and conditioning levels, identify any joint issues, and teach the exercise protocol. Teaching the protocol is an ongoing process, of course, but the first few sessions are very important in order to establish good habits and the proper mindset for serious exercise. Two important and interrelated factors, one within your control and one outside of your control, have a significant impact on the exercise stimulus that you generate during the course of a workout: neurological efficiency and skill acquisition.

In terms of muscle biology, a motor unit is a group of muscle fibers controlled by a motor neuron. Groups of motor neurons often work together to coordinate the effort of contracting a single muscle group. The All-or-None law dictates that either all of the muscle fibers associated with a neuron will contract in response to a stimulus, or none will contract.

Neurological efficiency is the percentage of muscle fibers that can be recruited in an all-out effort. It is genetically predetermined and cannot be changed. Interestingly, most people's neurological efficiency falls between 15 and 30 percent, but there are exceptions on either side. People who are less neurologically efficient may initially have a hard time maintaining a smooth movement and getting a feel for proper speed while using our exercise protocol. It is rare to find someone with a neurological efficiency of greater than 40 percent; such individuals have been referred to by Ken Hutchins as "alpha subjects.", and he has only worked with two such subjects in his entire career. Since these extremely neurologically efficient individuals inroad their musculature more deeply than most people, they will require fewer exercises in their routine and more time between workouts to recover properly.

You might ask why at least some people don't have a neurological efficiency of 100 percent. This would pose a tremendous threat to the safety of the human body; muscles would probably tear from their musculotendinous attachments, bones would break, and one would reach a state of utter exhaustion. The body has protective measures in place to guard against injury, and while the body interprets intense exercise as a threat, we want to stimulate the body in the safest manner possible.

The body's recovery ability is somewhat fragile; injury and illness can occur if exercise volume and frequency exceed the minimum amount necessary to stimulate the growth mechanism. This is why we only go to positive muscular failure rather than total muscular failure on each exercise.

While we cannot really improve neurological efficiency, we can improve exercise form and achieve a deeper inroad and exercise stimulus by working to acquire skill.

Skill acquisition should be the main objective of both the subject and the instructor in the first several exercise sessions, and it happens by consistently performing specific movement patterns. This is what I often refer to as the learning phase. As the client encounters more meaningful levels of resistance, a greater command of movement speed, pace, smoothness of movement, and turnaround technique is the result. Total Results workouts involve gross motor movements (over a larger range of motion and encompassing a greater amount of muscle) rather than fine motor movements (such as a skill like playing the piano, which involves much less muscle), so they are much easier to learn. Many of our exercises are compound movements; these exercises are generally the easiest for beginners to learn, and they target more muscle in less time.

Once novice clients have mastered the initial selection of exercises, we usually introduce additional exercises and alternate them from one workout to the next. This provides a little variety to the exercise routine. Excellent form is paramount; this makes the exercise safer and leads to a more effective stimulus.

Regardless of how neurologically efficient you are or what genetic hand you have been dealt, through continuously applied effort, a willingness to learn, and a positive attitude you can maximize your genetic blueprint with the Total Results exercise philosophy. Schedule an initial consultation today!

Posted August 26, 2019 by Matthew Romans