Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

October 2020

Incremental Improvements Add Up to Big Success, by Matthew Romans

Many people talk about the idea of thinking big. In fact, one of the best personal development books I've ever read was "The Magic of Thinking Big", by David J. Schwartz. In that book, the author talks about having a creative mindset, keeping a positive attitude, believing in yourself. I subscribe to these concepts one hundred percent; however, I also believe it's important to think small. When I say think small, I mean to focus on the details, to take the time to enjoy the little things, and to get the most out of each day. No matter what endeavor you pursue, if you strive to get incrementally better each time you might be surprised at what you can accomplish. In the field of exercise, contrary to what you may have heard, there is no quick fix. Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved instantly, and lasting results are obtained over the long term, not right away. Overnight success stories are often months or years in the making.

Working to build strength is the most effective way to elicit positive physical change. A major tenet of the Total Results exercise philosophy is to be progressive in terms of resistance, because if you don't challenge your muscles with heavier weights there is no incentive to the body to produce positive change. We estimate conservatively in terms of beginning resistance in order to teach proper form and speed of movement, but once a client has achieved proficiency we want to get them to reach momentary muscular failure. The greatest poundage increases a client will experience will occur in the first several weeks of training; it's not uncommon for us to add ten or fifteen pounds to the Leg Press in order to heighten exercise intensity. Once the client reaches momentary muscular failure consistently on all the exercises in the routine, the increments added to the weight stack will be smaller; 2.5 pounds for some exercises, and 1.25 pounds for others. This may not seem like much, but over time this translates into a significant gain in strength.

Incremental improvements can also take place in terms of fat loss. We generally recommend a rate of loss of one to two pounds per week, in order to ensure that you are losing just fat and are not also losing muscle. Certainly total weight loss is important, but it doesn't tell the entire story, which is why we also take body composition and circumference measurements. If you were to consistently lose one pound per week (as we recommend) for three months, that would end up being a total loss of 12 pounds, which would be a significant change in terms of body composition.

The same incremental mindset can be used with your approach to exercise form. Strive to get a little more proficient each workout, and focus on one thing to improve upon (breathing, turnarounds, pace, etc). Process the cues and information that your instructor gives you, and then execute. Aim to inroad the musculature just a little bit deeper. If you focus just a little more on shutting out the background noise of life during your workout, you will notice an improved level of concentration that translates into a more effective exercise stimulus. Have the attitude of one repetition at a time, one exercise at a time, and one workout at a time.

You can take this same approach with the things that you do outside of your regular Total Results workouts. If your sleep habits need improvement, try going to bed just a few minutes earlier each night until your body clock resets. Turn off your phone or other electronic device just a little bit sooner, so that you don't expose yourself to artificial light as late, and your body can produce the melatonin necessary to facilitate falling asleep. Start incorporating a little more essential fats into your diet and consuming just a little less sugar to help get your metabolism functioning more efficiently.

Thinking small is not a negative thing, but rather, a positive prism through which to view life. Focus on doing the little things right, see the big picture, and be in it for the long haul. Remember, there is no such thing as a quick fix, and Rome was not built in a day. With a plan of action, attention to detail, persistence, and a positive mindset, success can be yours. How badly do you want it?

Posted October 27, 2020 by Matthew Romans

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 Matthew Romans

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 Matthew Romans

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 Matthew Romans