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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Ever forward

By Pete Ryan

You often hear the quote “I want to maintain”, or “I just don’t want to lose any strength/size”.  This might be a reasonable sounding goal and it can often be the outcome in the older trainee, but I do not believe it should be a goal. I will give my reasoning below.

The human body is a dynamic organism. It is not like a car or a bike. If you store it carefully, it will not maintain its abilities. What happens is a body is in two states.  The body is either anabolic or catabolic, so it is either growing and rebuilding, or it is consuming itself and destroying unnecessary parts of itself.  This is an on-going process that occurs all the time. Being catabolic can be health promoting by removing old or damaged cells, but it can also have a negative impact by removing hard fought for muscle, bone density, tendon durability or fascia strength. Meanwhile we have anabolic effects which involves adding tissue, this can be muscle and lean tissue, but adding fat is also an anabolic event. So, our goal is to create methods that heighten the positive effects of both the catabolic and anabolic processes in the body. We want to remove old and damaged cells, while also promoting the creation of new lean tissue with minimal increases in fat storage.

The best way to achieve these goals is through progressive resistance exercise. This can be bodyweight, or using equipment. Note the name of this type of exercise. PROGRESSIVE resistance exercise. That is the goal, but why is it important to progress, and what do we mean by progression?
Let us look at progression, or to be more precise, let’s look at non-progression. Let’s say you reach a point where you believe 10 reps of 100 pounds in an exercise is ‘strong enough’. So, you always do 10 reps or 100 pounds.  If you never go over that your body will adapt to it, you will become more efficient at the movement and you will end up with the very minimum you need to do that 10 reps of 100 pounds. Any issue, ANY problem that increases stress or stops you training will drop you below that level. As you age, it will become progressively harder to get those 10 reps. If you reached 10 reps of 100 pounds with ease at 30 years old, by 50 you will be struggling to get it, by 65 years old you probably won’t have it any more…and you will blame old age. It will not be aging that took that lift away from you, it will be the lack of progression.

Now let us look at what we mean by progression.  When we talk about progression most people think of ‘intensity’ the actually weight lifted, but that is an oversimplification of progression.  Yes if you lifted 90 pounds and later lifted 100 pounds then you have progressed, but there are other options. The amount of reps done during an exercise, a harder variation of an exercise, taking less time between sets, even trying new forms of exercise that stimulate the body in novel ways and develop new skills, all of these are forms of progression.

Most people realise that you cannot keep adding weight to an exercise (or repetitions).  There is a limit, most people will never lift 1,000 pounds or do 1,000 pull-ups in day, but you can progress by cycling exercises so throughout your life you continue to progress and move forward.
Let’s return to the person who believes 10 reps of 100 pounds is ‘strong enough’.  My argument is they should be aiming at higher numbers (let’s say 125-150 pounds for 12-15 reps), but not do it every week. They should do a mesa cycle working up to that peak and then move on to other exercises, then return again regularly and aim at equalling or ideally bettering that goal. So suppose you have four mesa cycles in a year (3 months each). Mesa cycle 1 would be get to 12-15 reps of 125-150 pounds doing the exercise, mesa cycle 2 could be doing a variation of the same exercise or working the same muscle groups using other exercises, mesa cycle 3 could be working up to 3-5 reps with 175-200 pounds of that exercise, mesa cycle 4 could be another variation that works the same muscle groups.  You can also do variations other than increasing weight or reps, think about the rest time between sets, what you do before this exercise.  So, you could cut your rest time between sets from 1 minute to 30 seconds, or if you are doing a curl, do a chin up before you do the curl.  All these things will change the results and create new demands on your body.  You have more than a lifetime of tweaks to play with. No one will ever have time to try every variable or even every type of exercise available. So, progression is possible throughout life and expect to set goals and repeatedly conquer them throughout your life, go forward, ever forward.

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