Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

September 2020

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 Matthew Romans

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 Matthew Romans

Are You Breathing Properly?

I have been working my breathing a lot recently, both at rest and during exercise and other physical activity. Breathing is the single most fundamental function which sustains life. We cannot survive more than a few minutes without breathing. Breathing provides a constant flow of Oxygen to our cells and a constant regulation of our Carbon Dioxide levels. Hardly any of us ever think about breathing. We just breathe. However, certain breathing patterns can be significantly better or worse for our health, fitness, stamina, stress levels and even our longevity.

In his new book "Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art", Author James Nestor documents centuries of studies and practices on breathing and finds many benefits to slower, closed mouth breathing. Nose breathing filters the air we breathe, heats it and moistens for easier absorption. Nose breathing also lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, eases digestion, helps with erectile disfunction, menstrual issues, as well as many other benefits. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, leads to sleep apnea, snoring, weakened immune system, poor blood and cardiovascular scores, and many other maladies.

Nestor's primary advice is to practice nose breathing with roughly 5.5 second inhales and 5.5 second exhales as much as possible (about 6 breaths per minute). It can also be beneficial to nose breathe in as controlled a manner as possible while undergoing physical exertion like weight training, bike riding, or playing tennis. The reason is slower breathing keeps your CO2 levels higher, which accomplishes several critical things: CO2 helps separate Oxygen from its Hemoglobin transport so it can be more readily absorbed by your cells. CO2 also dilates blood vessels so oxygen can be better transported to active muscles. When you breathe too fast, especially through your mouth, you expel too much CO2, which will cause reduced blood flow to muscles, tissues and organs. According to Nestor, this can result in cramps, headaches, nausea, and even blacking out.

This slower, nose based breathing recommendation runs counter to what we have coached for years at Total Results. Our long-held thought was that rapid, mouth breathing was beneficial because we wanted to reduce CO2 levels. We thought this desirable because higher CO2 levels meant more acidic blood pH levels which can hamper immediate muscular force production. Although this strategy has scientific merit, it may be suboptimal because it is likely less important than keeping optimum levels of blood flowing to the muscles as long as feasible. It appears that lowering CO2 levels may be beneficial in a short term exercise setting but not be best for your long term health and fitness. We will continue to research this seeming breathing-exercise paradox.

Another book I just completed is "The Way of The Iceman, How the Wim Hof Method Creates Radiant, Long Term, Health" by Wim Hof and Koen De Jong. Wim Hof is world renowned for his stunts involving sitting in ice baths, running up Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but shorts, and other extreme temperature events. However, Hof's method for handling extreme temperatures and other physical demands involves controlled breathing exercises. Hof explains a number of breathing techniques he learned in India and developed over the last 25+ years, and he claims normal people like you and I can achieve amazing control over our bodies using these practices. I admit I hate cold temperatures and don't plan to practice the Wim Hof method and then go sit half naked in the snow. However, I will be trying these techniques to help my body adjust to temperature extremes and perhaps gain some health and psychological benefits.

You will never hear about something as simple, and low cost, as altering your breathing practices to enhance your health from the healthcare or media establishment. They are too intent on profiting from your poor health. Pharmaceuticals are prescribed like candy. Estimated global sales of statins alone are approaching $1 Trillion dollars globally! Imagine if simply practicing your breathing every day could improve several health markers. Add to that a healthy diet, regular high intensity exercise, daily movement, decent sleep and stress management, and you may well reduce or eliminate the need for expensive and potentially harmful medical interventions. I recommend reading these two books and making intentional breathing practices part of your lifestyle.

Posted September 11, 2020 by Matthew Romans

Knowledge of Results - A Key Component of Success, by Matthew Romans

"When feedback is immediate, clear, and concrete, people learn quickly. When feedback is delayed, abstract, and opaque, people rarely learn." - James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.

Giving feedback is a large part of what a Total Results instructor does when he supervises a workout. The feedback we give is always constructive, and it is our mission to provide whatever guidance is necessary to help you achieve optimal results. Naturally, some clients will require more verbal instructions than others. If a client demonstrates proper form, turnaround technique, and a minimum of form discrepancies, we will say as little as necessary during a workout so that we don't create unnecessary distraction. However, in order to maximize skill and achieve maximum physical benefits, the exercise subject must be made aware of how they are performing on a regular basis. A key component of success in any endeavor, whether it is exercise or learning to play golf, is knowledge of your results.

We want to create good habits, and that starts with accountability. Expectations should be made clear from the very beginning, and open communication between client and instructor is paramount. During each workout, however, communication should be mostly a one-way street. The client should say very little unless he or she is asked a direct question by the instructor; this is necessary to maintain the proper pace of the workout and avoid distractions which can blunt the exercise effect and increase the risk of injury. An instructor will occasionally use a cadence count to give the exercise subject a frame of reference for proper speed of movement, and will also immediately correct form discrepancies through the use of subtle verbal cues. This maximizes safety and efficiency, but also informs clients just how well they are performing and what they need to improve. Think of it as being similar to driving a car. When you are driving, you make numerous subtle and instinctive adjustments, such as checking your mirrors, speeding up/slowing down, and turning the wheel ever so slightly to merge or change lanes. The feedback an instructor provides during an exercise session must be administered immediately in order to correct mistakes and positively influence behavior. We learn far more from mistakes than from successes.

The instructor feedback doesn't stop at the end of the workout. It is customary to have a brief post-workout conversation about the client's performance, and let them know what they did well as well as where they can improve. This goes far beyond weight and time under load; the instructor will also apprise them of any concerns they have regarding form discrepancies or any changes to their exercise settings. Exercise subjects are encouraged to ask questions about our methodology and their progress. Regular body composition and circumference measurements are taken and shared with clients, so that there is another measurable marker of success. Cursory check-ins are done before every exercise session, but more in-depth check-ins are held every few months to discuss progress and address any concerns. This is important for the instructor as well, because it is an opportunity to learn more about how to best instruct and motivate that client to reach his or her potential.

It is impossible to improve firearm accuracy without feedback from your shooting instructor or without being able to view the target where you are shooting. A piano student being asked to play a concerto would have very little idea how well or how poorly he or she played without being able to hear (Beethoven being the exception). Knowledge of results is an essential component of success, even when your performance is less than optimal, which happens to all of us on occasion. I'll finish with one more quote from James Clear: "It's better to do less than you hoped than nothing at all. No zero days."

Posted September 01, 2020 by Matthew Romans