Stimulate, Don't Annihilate, by Matthew Romans
Posted August 27, 2020 by Matthew Romans
The Total Results exercise philosophy is based on the principle of muscular inroad. We want to fatigue the muscular structures deeply enough to elicit a stimulus. A stimulus is necessary to give the body a reason to make adaptations, such as increases in muscular strength, thicker bones, improved cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, and resistance to injury. One subject often discussed among exercise enthusiasts is how deeply one should inroad to achieve an optimal exercise stimulus. Is there a way to measure the percentage of muscular inroad? If so, what is the ideal percentage? Is it necessary to feel completely incapacitated following a Total Results workout? These are all valid questions to consider.
The human body generally wants to maintain homeostasis; it wants to conserve resources whenever possible. This is one reason our body temperature remains relatively consistent most of the time, unless we are fighting off an infection. Because the body seeks to maintain the status quo, it is fairly resistant to change. All of those improvements that we seek to stimulate by performing a Total Results workout are metabolically expensive to achieve, so the body needs a very good reason to adapt. We are essentially fooling the body into believing that we are dealing with a threat to its survival, even though your workout takes place in a perfectly safe environment. Your mind may comprehend that you are performing slow weight training, but your muscles, bones, joints, and internal organs think you are doing something akin to wrestling with a saber-tooth tiger. Slowly and carefully taking each exercise to the point of momentary muscular failure, and then pushing for an additional five to ten seconds at the end of the exercise (thorough inroad) is the stimulus necessary for physical improvements.
How can we measure a percentage of muscular inroad? Ken Hutchins (founder of our exercise protocol) gives an example of this in Super Slow: The Ultimate Exercise Protocol. Let's say that you could lift 120 pounds on the biceps curl exercise, but select 70 pounds as your resistance. After reaching muscular failure and pushing for an additional five to ten seconds, you have inroaded your biceps muscles approximately 58 percent. What is the ideal percentage of inroad? We still do not know. As Ken says, "With what little we know about exercise, we can at least assume that growth stimulation is closely linked to inroad and a deeper inroad is increased assurance of growth stimulation." There are really only two objective measurements of effort, zero and 100 percent. Putting forth no effort accomplishes nothing of value, but giving 100 percent effort (i.e. - going to muscular failure) assures us that we have done everything possible to achieve a proper exercise stimulus.
Is it necessary or desirable to feel completely incapacitated following a Total Results workout? In my opinion, the answer is no. To some trainees, achieving such a state may seem like a badge of honor, but it is certainly not a requirement. Ken Hutchins had a couple of exercise subjects many years ago that he referred to as "alpha subjects"; one male and one female who were both in their twenties at the time. Both were able to train so intensely that they were completely incapacitated for a short time following their workouts, yet they were able to make steady progress without suffering any deleterious long term effects. I should point out that this is extremely rare; in more than twenty years as an instructor I have never worked with anyone as focused or neurologically efficient as these two subjects. You should not vomit, feel completely spent or incapacitated following a workout; if so, it likely means that you are overtrained or are performing too great a volume of exercise. In fact, greater systemic exhaustion can often be the result of panic and performing outroading behaviors such as grimacing, Val Salva (breath holding), and thrashing about in the machine, which is one reason why it is best to remain calm during your workout. In addition, exercise has a narrow therapeutic window, meaning that the difference between not enough and too much is very small. Just like with medication, we want the smallest amount of exercise necessary to achieve the greatest benefit. Not enough exercise will stimulate no improvements, while too much exercise has a toxic effect and can lead to illness, injury, and stagnation or reversal of progress.
We want to stimulate improvements without overtaxing the immune system or your body's ability to recover for the next workout. It is important to keep exercise volume low; this is why our clients exercise no more than twice per week and they perform only one set of each of 5-7 exercises. Research by Wayne Westcott, PhD, has shown that performing multiple sets of an exercise provides no additional benefit, and only serves to reintroduce the same stimulus multiple times while consuming valuable recovery resources along the way. We rarely use advanced techniques like breakdowns or rep assists, because they could unnecessarily overdo exercise volume do more harm than good.
You should feel fatigued and out of breath following an intense Total Results workout, but you should also feel invigorated and have a sense of accomplishment when you walk out of our studio. Take pride in knowing that you gave your best effort, and also in knowing that you are doing the best thing possible to maintain your health and longevity for many years to come. Exercise smarter with Total Results.