spinning plates

By Justin Thacker MS, RD, LD, ACSM-HFS, CES, USAW, CSCS
Do you have exercise A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder)? WARNING: This article is intended for those with goals larger than, “just trying to be more healthy.” I will keep this one short, lol. Still with me?

Problem: people haphazardly go exercise without a plan. They do different things each time, and base their work off of somewhat arbitrary indicators of work; like sweat, ‘burn,’ perceived exertion, perceived pain or work output (which is as reliable as the weather).  They don’t use graduated measurable workloads (weight, reps, tonnage, distance, heart rate, range of motion/quality movement, etc.)

Did you know that it takes roughly 6 weeks for the body (mostly nervous system) to adapt to a given stimulus (exercise)?There is a lot to consider with this, but let’s say you just began doing barbell curls for sets of 10 reps.Your ability to even do this task well is determined by your neural coordination to first move the barbell from point A to B correctly with the proper range of motion and form.

Then you have to determine a challenging enough load to perform for those 10 reps (considering you are using adequate form). Could you have performed that weight for 3 more reps? If so, it is too light, unless it is a warm up set. Could you have performed 11 reps if I held a gun to your head? Probably just right if the prescribed reps were 10. Could you perform 8 clean ones and 2 ugly ones? Then too heavy “sucka”, take some weight off and clean your form.

Now that you have the proper stimulus, over these 6 weeks there will be improvements in neurological efficiency and muscle recruitment to become more efficient at performing that task placed upon it. You get better form and can now do the same weight and reps with seemingly less effort. These are mostly neurological changes, NOT much on the muscular side of the fence. Once the body has become neurologically tuned in, it has now reached its capacity to change or respond to the given stimulus and the only way new muscular growth or change can occur is by upping the stimulus. This will require an increase in stimulus via more weight, reps, time under tension, and the only way the muscle can cope with this is to begin building more contractile protein filaments (muscle tissue). That again assumes you put your honest time in, worked hard and didn’t let up in this process. So, if you did not progress in that stimulus, no change. You gave it no reason to and are only merely maintaining your current status (hey, you’re still burning calories, still exercising, leading a healthier life…but, don’t expect to look any better naked).

To review, not until you reach relative mastery of a movement, find the appropriate stimulus (i.e. work, intensity, weight, reps) and remain consistent with this dose of stimulation will the positive effects of muscular CHANGE and composition occur. Now, there are of course many variables in this; how advanced you are, how long you have been training, how coordinated you are, how much focus/concentration you use on every set/rep can all shorten these time frames.

For example, the most elite athletes/trainees can adapt to a stimulus in just 2 repeated exposures (2 weeks or 2 training exposures in your given training template). But, this takes much time, practice, and even the right genes. So, as a beginner or even intermediate, no need to get too fancy. Do the hard honest work. Master the basics for the best results!  Novelty is the enemy!  And don’t fall for the p90x muscle confusion maximum variety nonsense. This will only make you bad at everything with no lasting progress. It’s just like trying to learn math, you can’t just jump right too algebra if you can’t add and subtract.  And, the better your addition and subtraction are, the easier algebra will be.

focusSo, consider that single exposures of an exercise are literally nothing other than generalized work. It does burn calories but not a progressive building block for a better organism/human. This will also hurt your fat loss efforts as you are not putting on the lean mass that will burn more calories at rest.

The point: exercise should not be general or generic. But, specific and consistent. You have to get good at what you are doing first and then progressively exceed your current capabilities to yield any sort of progress or change. There is a very strong correlation to trying everything under the sun and sucking at everything. STAY AWAY FROM THE SHINY OBJECTS!

Sure, if your goal is simply weight loss, general exercise and movement will burn calories and move you closer to your goal, but it is in NO way OPTIMAL to get you to that result. And if you’re like the thousands of people I have spoken with regarding goals, you want to achieve these goals as fast as possible. Why waste any time, effort, or pain?

treadmill bikeYour body is an amazing adaptation machine, and it immediately finds ways to become efficient and deal with any dose of stress you give it. This means that daily things like walking the dog, taking the stairs, parking further away, should not be considered exercise but rather activities of daily life that do not wear you down. If you have more than modest goals, you have to be clear, specific, and focused on progressing at a certain battery of exercises that will drive you to that goal and you must spend as much time and energy on them to master them.  That exercise is standing between you and your goals, attack it with everything you’ve got.

More on the problem: people have insane exercise ADD. Shape magazine, Muscle and Fitness, Dr Oz, etc. are all loading you with tons of information and flashy new exercise gimmicks. This will paralyze your focus and actions as well as dilute your efforts and results. You would be much better off being the best you can be at 5 exercises vs. doing 500 poorly!

Do not measure the exercise by its gimmickry/challenging nature, but its ability to yield results. I am sorry, but sometimes that means it won’t be fun. But, are you here to have fun or to achieve results? It is NICE to have fun, but not a NEED.

Variety on the basics should be more in the form of changing sets and reps as well as the load. For example, do 2-6 weeks of 10 reps, do 2-6 weeks of 5 reps, and then 2-6 weeks do 3 reps for the respective exercise. And the goal is to achieve your best work capacity with the best form possible. As you go back to the 10 reps again, your goal should always be to match or beat the previous performances. This is how you gain and maintain true lasting progress.

And the funny thing is, what worked back in the days of Arnold and before, work just as well today. There has been very little innovation in this area.  imply, more laboratory confirmation that big rock, free weight, compound movements are at the top of the food chain and you have to increase work demands.

If you find yourself following every shinny flashy object exercise, or trying to run before you walk, you will be merely spinning in your tracks and become VERY frustrated.  Active and healthy, yes!  However, life changing transformation and performance improvements?  After the first few weeks not so much.

3 Common Pitfall Populations:

  1. 3 sets of 10 reps of anything and everything you may encounter in the gym or see in a magazine.
  2. 3 sets of 10 reps of the same thing every week, every year (because you are so damn distracted by everything else to focus on your training).
  3. Extreme random variety: poorly designed Crossfit (but, design and Crossfit aren’t supposed to jive)

One of the worst things you can do is changing up what you are doing every single workout and having no plan. No consistent plan of stimulus that progress to causes neurological and macular morphological changes.  You are never giving the body a reason for it and it is too energy costly to simply make this CHNAGE haphazardly. The body would rather deal with other rations and stressors. But, give it a reason to adapt to a stimulus with repeated progressive exposures and progress you will see. Yes, it gets harder and harder as you find your true limits and you will see less return on investment as you go and advance. But, that is where you can’t let up and have to push on, there is a tipping point. You just have to find it. You know those people you look at and say, “They make it look so easy.”  Or, “they just seem like they don’t have to work so hard.”  Or, “it is sooooo much harder for me.” Hahahahhahahha, No! They have just been putting in their due diligence and have been cracking away at that exercise for years (literally thousands of reps).

If you never take the time and effort to become good at it, you won’t get the benefit from it. Consider the first time you do anything how low your efficiency level is. But, that doesn’t mean stop, that means, you need to keep getting after it, make it a strength.

Pain will always precede progress.  Perhaps, this is why the ADD PROBLEM is so rampant.  As soon as the demand becomes too challenging or mundane, switching to something else releases the mental and physical tension…don’t fall for it! Stay focused, through good times and bad. No one walks in the gym feeling like a million bucks every day. It’s those who find a way through anyway who truly find success (and this is all your mental game). Likewise, consider this concept:” a change is as good as a rest.” This is VERY true and how you to “roll with the resistance.” This is when going from 10s to 5s makes sense with the same exercise or perhaps even after a continuous cycle of 4-12 weeks of repeated progressive exposures then and only then is a new movement warranted.

So ask yourself, what are the best exercises? How good am I at them?  When is the last time I did them? Did I give it everything I had? Have I been progressing with it?

Consider your goal and the work you must do to get to that goal like a long rope with a rock tied to it at the end. Where, the length of the rope and weight of the rock is proportionate to the size/difficulty of you goal.

To achieve that goal, it is simple, start pulling on that rope repeatedly, as hard and as fast as you can manage, until the rock has reached you. It should be a direct straight path to you. Any tangents or detours from pulling as hard and as fast as you can handle on that rope will only slow you down.

pull the ropeWhat happens first when you pick up that rope?  You take slack out of the line (the beginning stages of exercise, a new movement, or plan). Then you pull hard enough to generate movement of the rock (the hardest part, to take the first step, to get the rock/ball rolling).

The next step is to generate speed and momentum (where the fun progress and actualization occur, the acquired taste, the fun part that.  This is where your progress begins to snowball and become noticeable).

Finally, you grind down and keep pulling as hard and as fast as you can and just as you fully commit yourself and lose yourself in the process you realize the rock has made it too you!  Now, on to longer ropes and bigger rocks!

BUT, what happens?  People pick up the rope, they take the slack out of the line, tug on it, and drop it. They realize the weight and length of the task and drop it. Then, they go find a different rope, drop it, and again, and again. Failure after failure and more frustration. The irony was that each rope had success connected to it, they just where not willing to put in the elbow grease into it.

Another sad situation is once they get the rock moving they drop the rope and lose the momentum that they had built and become too discouraged to pick back up the rope again try to gain new momentum.  When all they have to do is pick it back up, and pull like hell. Simple plan, simple process.

Remember, pain proceeds progress, pressure makes demands, the journey is the reward, and all that deep stuff…Exercise should be fun, and not misery, but, at the end of the day this is not all sunshine and rainbows.  If you have extraordinary goals in mind, you’re going to have a large rope with a huge weight at the end to overcome.  You will need to keep both hands on the rope and not get distracted.

This should also tell you why it is not wise to have more than one rope in your hands at once!

Final review: There are a couple things effective exercise is not.  It is not random, and it is not as simple as just going to be physically active.  The idea of, “move more, eat less,” is extremely misleading.

No, millions of dollars, countless hours, and lifetimes of work are dedicated to finding the best approaches to yield the fastest results in the littlest time.  Don’t get me wrong, something is better than nothing.  But if you want real, measurable, life changing results, you need to have a solid plan and stick to it! No plan is magical and will never do the work for you. World champions have been made on approaches as radically contrasting as the Russian & Bulgarian models of training. You only get out what you put in, so unless your goal is to simply be healthier, you need do drop this A.D.D. habit!

Good news! If you’ve made it this far, you probably don’t have A.D.D., and your Exercise A.D.D. is now cured!

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