Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

March 2023

Controlling Your Emotions

A Total Results exercise session is a physically and mentally stressful event. Because our workouts are so demanding, this is one reason why they are so brief and relatively infrequent. We often talk about the dose-response relationship of exercise as being similar to that of taking medication; we want the minimum dose necessary to elicit the proper adaptive response. If you look at it from another perspective, we are, in a sense, fooling our bodies into believing that we are involved in a life-and-death struggle in performing this workout. This is because the human body wants to maintain homeostasis whenever possible, and needs a very good reason to mobilize precious resources in order to make physical improvements. In reality, we are in a perfectly safe and clinically controlled environment where the variables of exercise frequency, intensity, and duration are carefully monitored and potentially dangerous forces are kept to a minimum. However, to the body, the workout is interpreted as an existential threat, and one can only work at a high level of intensity for so long; 20 minutes is not just something we can get away with, it is a biological necessity.

High intensity exercise can often be accompanied by a wide range of emotions, particularly with inexperienced trainees that are not accustomed to intense weight training or physical discomfort. Clients often exhibit fear, panic, and frustration as they grapple with this new undertaking and work on learning something that is relatively unfamiliar to them. All of this is perfectly normal. The ancient Stoic philosophers never said that you should bury your emotions or pretend that they don't exist. What they teach us are strategies that can be implemented to help us control our emotions so that they don't get the better of us. This certainly can pay dividends in everyday life, but also in an exercise setting. Allowing your emotions to influence you during a workout can lead to form discrepancies that significantly increase the risk of injury. As always, the primary focus of an instructor is client safety.

Reaching momentary muscular failure for the first time can throw you for a mental loop. If you have never experienced this before, it is difficult to prepare for the feeling that comes along with pushing as hard as you can against a movement arm and not seeing it move. In boxing, it has been said that one of the most difficult things to deal with psychologically is to hit the other guy with your best punch and watch it have no effect. This is similar to what happens the initial time you reach muscular failure. You're pushing as hard as you can (even though the musculature is quite feeble at this point) and it's still not moving. Sometimes clients take on an incorrect mentality and confuse the assumed and the real objectives of exercise. The real objective of each exercise is to inroad (fatigue) the musculature as thoroughly and safely as we possibly can, as this is the necessary stimulus that spurs the body into action. However, clients at first will often believe it is about performing as many repetitions with as much weight as possible. This can lead to taking liberties with form and an increased risk of injury, so it should be avoided. As movement bogs down and failure approaches, remind yourself that this is the most effective part of the exercise, and that this is the ultimate goal. It will help you to maintain the correct frame of mind. Grace under pressure can be defined as keeping your composure in times of turmoil.

Fear is a common emotion that we experience, whether it's fear of muscular failure or fear of the accompanying exertional discomfort. Sometimes clients will simply remark that, "It hurts," although in the heat of the moment they usually can't provide more specific information. Once they are out of the machine and in a less stressful place, I ask them if what they experienced was sharp and sudden (usually indicating an injury), or just a dull ache that intensified as the exercise progressed. Nine times out of ten, it's the latter. In most cases fear of something, whether it's a fear of heights, snakes, or crowds, is far worse in our minds than what is true in reality. In the book "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor", author Donald Robertson, who is a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist, talks about the concept of emotional habituation. One definition I found online for this notion is, "a psychological learning process wherein there is a decrease in response to a stimulus after being repeatedly exposed to it." After you experience a few times the dull ache of fatigued muscles accompanied by muscular failure, it becomes a lot less scary to deal with. When this happens, fear is far less likely to lead to panic. We want to avoid that fight/flight response that prevents us from being able to process and execute the cues given by the instructor. Repeated exposure to something leaves us far less sensitive to the experience. Remember, it's only exercise, not a true life-and-death event. Simply accept the fact that you will eventually reach the point where the weight will no longer move, and understand that this is physiologically very positive. Do not be frustrated if your time under load is not what you expected it to be. If you have given your very best effort, you have done all that you could.

What are some things you can focus on in order to control your emotions? One strategy is to remain almost detached, as if you are observing your workout from outside your body. This way you are not so emotionally invested in the minutiae of each repetition, but are really looking at it from an intellectual point of view. A sense of inevitability is also helpful. If you say to yourself, "I know this will be difficult, but it's only 20 minutes," that makes it far less mentally stressful. Relish the opportunity to accomplish something challenging and meaningful. Relax your face and jaw; many clients carry a lot of unnecessary tension this way and can prematurely fatigue themselves in this fashion. This can also lead to Val Salva and elevated blood pressure, which are both contraindicated. Breathe freely and continuously throughout each exercise to make things just a little easier. Another point of emphasis is head and neck stability. Not only do we want to protect the neck musculature and guard against exercise-induced headache, but without neck relaxation and stability we cannot effectively inroad any of the other musculature.

People who have difficulty managing their emotions often find themselves more wiped out at the end of a session, due to the toll it takes on the system. We simply want to stimulate physical improvements, not leave you completely spent after a workout. Former Vice Presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale was able to survive seven years in a Vietnamese POW camp by remaining calm and controlling his emotions; if he had given in to fear and despair he never would have made it. If Admiral Stockdale could do that, you can certainly handle one or two 20 minute workouts per week. Master yourself!

Posted March 23, 2023 by Matthew Romans

What to Focus On Between Workouts

At Total Results, one of our main goals is to provide value to our clients by maintaining a position as an educational resource. I believe that no individual has the market cornered on knowledge, so I strive to learn from a variety of sources with the hope that I might be able to share some of what I have learned with the amazing clients that I work with every day. I am often asked by clients about a great many things that pertain to exercise, nutrition, and general health. This might include the latest nutritional supplement (don't waste your money), what to eat, what type of mattress to buy, or something related to sports performance. I generally give the most educated answer I am able to provide, but if it's something that's outside of my knowledge or scope of practice I'm happy to either research further or point the client in another direction. One common question that I am asked, particularly by newer clients, is, "What should I be doing in between workouts?" While on the surface this may seem like a pretty simple question to answer, there are several factors that I must consider before I give my answer. Every individual has different goals and lifestyles, and there is no one-size-fits-all response. Sure, I can give general advice that will work for most people, but in order to optimize success I need to find out about the client's daily habits and what they ultimately want to achieve.

Based on the vast number of different diet/nutritional books available on Amazon, I think we can safely say that there is no single best way to eat that will work equally well for everybody. Each individual has their own genetic makeup, as well as their own food likes, dislikes, and allergies. You can see differences in the paleolithic/ketogenic styles of eating, and there are even some contradictions between the two. Having said that, I think most reasoned people that have studied nutrition (and aren't trying to sell you anything) will agree that minimizing processed foods and sugar is probably a wise decision. We know enough about how Big Agriculture has changed the nutritional content of commercially available food (and the corresponding rise in chronic disease) to understand that it has not been a positive trend. You really can't go wrong consuming a largely single-ingredient, whole-food diet, because it will give you the biggest bang for your nutritional buck. Inflation and the corresponding recent trend of higher food prices is really unfortunate, because it seems like the food with the highest nutritional value costs the most, but look at it as an investment in your health. Don't worry about counting calories, or figuring out a percentage of which macronutrients to consume; this is more likely to be time-consuming and cause frustration. Eat until you are no longer hungry and then step away from the table. Avoid stressing out over food; eating a meal should be an enjoyable experience, not one filled with anxiety.

I have talked a lot recently about intermittent fasting, and have read and reviewed two excellent books on the subject. Simply put, it is one of the best things that you can do to improve your health and produce benefits that are both seen and unseen. Fasting is a perfect complement to the strength training that you do at Total Results, because your body needs a reason to continue to build and maintain muscle while you slightly reduce your caloric intake with very little effort. It is really not as difficult to do as most people think; it only involves not eating for slightly longer stretches of time than you are generally accustomed. Just because you are fasting more doesn't mean you have to deny yourself certain foods; this is why restrictive diets don't work over the long term. Intermittent fasting is not a diet, it is a lifestyle modification. Everyone's lifestyle and schedule is a little different, but you can adapt your approach to fit your life. That will give you the best chance to succeed.

Physical movement in between sessions is a good thing. We are human beings, and I don't believe we were meant to sit around all day. How active you should be between Total Results workouts is dependent on a few factors: whether you perform one or two sessions per week, what additional activities you pursue, how well you sleep (more on this to come), and what it is that you ultimately hope to achieve. Total Results clients may come once per week due to cost, distance traveled, schedule limitations, or because they were not properly recovering with two sessions per week. Those that exercise more intensely will require a longer recovery period, especially if they are more active between sessions. A client that pursues Total Results strength training in order to improve their golf game or to optimize sports performance will likely have more finite recovery ability, due to increased activity. Charting workout performance by the instructor is critical, but this also requires the client to listen to their body. As one gets stronger and fitter, they will become more in tune when something feels off. Don't ignore this signal! Also, forget about the idea of getting 10,000 steps in per day. It may be fun to track, but that number is completely arbitrary and won't translate into any meaningful physiological change. Remember, there is a fine line between being active and overdoing it.

Proper restful sleep is essential, in fact you can't have any sustained period of progress without it. You can buck the trend for a while with caffeine, but sooner or later your workout performance will grind to a halt if you don't get enough sleep. I have mentioned this in previous articles, but setting a consistent bedtime and wake time is just as important for adults as it is for teenagers. If your body clock is all over the place, or if you're exposing yourself to too much artificial light (in the form of electronics) in the evening hours just before bed, your body will not produce the necessary melatonin required for falling asleep. Strive to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep consistently throughout the week. I find that meditating in the evening hours helps me not only to "power down", but also to manage stress, and it does not require a huge time commitment. Practicing mindfulness at some point throughout the day will help you to become more self-aware, which is always a good thing. Finally, try to read and learn new things; this will help you to keep an open mind and will make you a more effective learner at Total Results. Our workouts are an educational experience, but they don't take place in a traditional classroom setting.

These are some suggestions to focus on in between workouts. If you develop the right mindset, give your best effort, and live well, positive results will come. They may not happen immediately, but remember that this is a process. If you fall off track a little, don't beat yourself up over it. Look at it as a temporary defeat rather than a failure, and learn from it. We just want you to get one percent better each day. You are in control of your own destiny.

Posted March 07, 2023 by Matthew Romans