The Rocking Chair of Homeostasis: The Key to Training Progress

The human body is remarkable. One aspect that does not cease to amaze me is the body's ability to adapt. Think about the smell, for instance; we've all experienced those rank odors that just are not appealing to the nose. After a while, whether we want it to or not we grow used to the smell. 

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This ability to adapt is both a good and bad aspect in regards to training. To some extent we want the adaptation to occur because, well this is how we improve. However, this adaptation is something we must also battle against because if our body stops adapting due to lack of appropriate stimuli, then we will not improve or grow. This adaptation is called homeostasis, and because of it, if we want to see results we have to treat our body as if we are in a dating relationship with it. Hear me out. 

Good relationships are like a rocking chair. Have you ever sat in a rocking chair? What happens when you rock too far back? If you have tried this, there is always the feeling that the rocking chair may slip right out from under you. Have you ever leaned too far forward? You are no longer comfortable and may even feel some cramping take the place of said comfort. If you've ever been in a dating relationship where you rocked too far back you find your significant other may not be all too pleased and start writing you off. If you push too far forward and do not give any space, you may find your significant other acting aloof feeling overcrowded. With this in mind let's explore what homeostasis is and what it does. 

 

Homeostasis is the bodies desire to keep everything balanced and is the primary driver as to why adaptation occurs. Training disrupts homeostasis by presenting a stimulus that causes stress and the body responds by preparing itself for the stressor for the next time said stressor presents itself to the body. The body's desire for homeostasis is how we grow. 

However, if we continually do the same thing all the time eventually the body no longer perceives what we are doing as a stressor, and the adaptation either slows down substantially or in some cases stops occurring. 

We want homeostasis to occur, and at the same time, we want to disrupt homeostasis. As a result, different strategies have to be employed. We must understand the functions of the autonomic nervous system as well as periodization. In all honesty, understanding how the balance of disrupting and encouraging homeostasis is the foundation of fitness. Fitness professionals, myself included, are continually trying to figure out how to go about manipulating homeostasis for best results. I will do my best in this post to help give you the framework for the disruption strategy.

The first thing to understand is something called volume. Volume, in regards to training, is the total work performed during a workout. In most cases the formula for volume is sets*reps*weight. In our disruption strategy volume over time, must continuously increase. However, it should be thought of like two steps forward one step backward type of plan. The easiest way to improve volume is just to increase one of the three variables within the formula I presented. You do not need to increase all three at the same time, but such is a tangent for another occasion. Naturally, and subtly increase one at a time, and you will steadily disrupt homeostasis in a recoverable manner. 

Aside from understanding volume is learning and even mastering exercise variations. This is where movement patterns come into the discussion. At HPI we focus on six main movement patterns:

  1. Squat (Quad Dominant)
  2. Hinge (Hip Dominant)
  3. Single Leg
  4. Reach (Vertical/Horizontal)
  5. Pull (Vertical/Horizontal)
  6. Core (Crawl, Carry, etc.)

For each of these movement patterns, I can think of at least three different exercise you can perform that will disrupt homeostasis enough to cause a need for adaptation without severely hindering recovery. However, this will be a later post in the series.

Finally, recovery must be taken into account. During moments of recovery, this is where our body adapts the most. However, we mustn't recover all the time. Otherwise, this ends up being pointless. 

I hope you are starting to see how our bodies must be treated with the thought of balance. Just like the rocking chair of relationships so also must we treat homeostasis as a rocking chair. Push too far with training and our body may become overtrained, but pull too far back and we will not present enough stimulus for our body to adapt. 

 

So where is the balance? How do we stay comfortable in the rocking chair known as training and our body's response? These are subjects I will discuss in coming posts.
 

Do Athletes Really Need 10,000 Hours?

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000-hour rule. Essentially stating, it takes 10,000 hours and a decade of dedication to become an expert in your chosen endeavor. With such a revelation, many people pursue this lofty goal to achieve “expert” status. As a result, in youth athletics, the idea of long-term athletic development, has become synonymous with the 10,000-hour rule. Suddenly, the specialization of youth sports is on the rise, because the assumption has become that the younger an athlete is when they reach these 10,000 hours, the more chance they have of becoming successful.

Unfortunately, literature has shown that while this 10,000-hour rule may be right for musicians and chess grandmasters, it does not apply to athletes. In fact, long-term athletic development was never originally supposed to be modeled by the 10,000-hour rule. Instead what long term athletic development points out is that each athlete goes through a maturation process and during this maturation process “windows of opportunity” open up. The theory is that these windows of opportunity are the moments of the athlete's physiological age where certain qualities will be optimally trained. For instance, according to this model strength training will be most beneficial for male athletes around the age of 16 (Ford et al., 2011). 

However, such a model falls short because quite frankly not everyone’s body matures the same. Take, for instance, NBA legend Scottie Pippen; he was 6’1” when he was 19 and the next thing you know he turns 20 and is 6’8”. Suffice to say, his window of opportunity for various qualities happened a little bit later in life. 

Bottom line, regardless of what you subscribe to, 10,000 hours or long term athletic development, it is important to heed the adage “you cannot fit a square peg in a round hole.” Each athlete is different, both in their physical maturation but also in their personality. Research has shown that a majority of athletes are best developed when exposed to a variety of stimulations such as sports, training qualities, etc. Exposing an athlete to these qualities is what we like to call in the business general physical preparation, the foundation of long-term athletic development. 

References

Ford, P., Croix, M. D. S., Lloyd, R., Meyers, R., Mousavi, M., Oliver, J., . . .  Williams, C. (2011). The long-term athlete development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(4), 389-402.

A Wellness Approach to the Holidays

When you think about the upcoming holidays, do you feel anxious and uneasy or happy and excited ? Does your heart pound, and mind race with details of the gathering that you plan to be the best ever? 

For most of us we look forward to what should be a slower more peaceful time of the year. 

 THE  REALITY   for most of us, is that it's very busy and not so peaceful. There are extra errands to run for that perfect gift and chores to do in preparation of our house guests, add that to our day to day responsibilities and you have HOLIDAY STRESS.

The extra stressors of the holiday acts as immediate stress to the body, signaling a fight or flight response from the central nervous system. The brain tells the Hypothalamus to tell the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When the immediate stress is over, the central nervous system tells the body to return to its normal state. However, if the body can not return to its normal state because the stressor, (the holiday season) is still present or there was no physical release of these hormones, they will build up in the system and cause havoc to the mind and body.  

Our body in response to the added responsibilities of the holidays will go into over drive and release additional cortisol and adrenaline to help us adapt. In the short term this may be helpful but if we don’t manage it head on we are setting ourselves up for what could be a challenging start to a healthy new year.

Here are 3 things to help combat and meet the effects of stress head on so that it does not interrupt the spirit of the upcoming holidays 

 

  1. Eat foods that lower stress  - 
    1. Foods like Steel Cut Oatmeal boosts the levels of Serotonin and calm the brain
    2. Oranges decrease levels os stress hormones and strengthen the immune system.
    3. Spinach and leafy greens have magnesium which can help fight stress headaches and fatigue
    4. Omega 3 fatty fish can prevent surges of the stress hormones and fight against winter depression 
    5. Avocados high in potassium reduce high blood pressure and can curve your craving for a high-fat treat this holiday season
    6. Almonds full of vitamins like Vitamin E to boost your immune system and can make you more resilient to the holiday stress and depression 
  2. Exercise  - We all know that exercise is important AND during this holiday season probably a little more challenging to get to the gym. But even 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity a couple times a week; i.e.  walking , running elliptical ,will help the body recreate the “flight” response releasing the stress hormones and decreasing the cortisol levels in our body. Can’t fit 20 minutes that into your day?  Break it up, do stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, park a good distance away from the front of the store. Every little bit helps
  3. Take some time to breath and be mindful - It may seem like the impossible to take 5 minutes during this season for yourself but research shows that giving yourself time to “just be” will help bring you back to the present where you can make more conscious sound decisions, even i  rewards to your spending.  It can also help you relax and decompress during stressful times by slowing your heart rate , lowering your blood pressure and decreasing your cortisol levels. 

Make this the year that you enjoy your holidays and go into the new year feeling healthy and prepared instead of making That your new years resolution.

- Donna Taylor

Holiday Fit Tips + Free Thanksgiving Day Fat Burning Workout

Three days away from Thanksgiving. The one day a year where the amount of food I eat isn't considered abnormal. The holidays are also one of the leading contributors to the rise of our nation's overweight population. Much of what is gained during this next month is rarely, completely burned away. 

 

Here are some tips to make the most of your holidays. Helping you stay fit and still enjoy delightful delicacies, and time with your friends and family.

  1. Stay Well Hydrated - Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated will help improve satiety levels and reduce cravings. This means you won't eat as much during get-togethers, nor will you have as much of a desire to pig out.
  2. Go hard on protein, but easy on gravy - Much liking staying hydrated protein will help keep you satieted. However I recommend sticking with more of the dry type condiments like salt and pepper. This being said, if you do add gravy to your meal just don't go crazy. Also real, grassfed butter can be a nice substitute.
  3. Don't skip your workouts - It's very easy to explain away working out because the gym is closed or with your family. However what I am about to give you is a fast and easy 15 minute workout that only requires using your body. Are you ready?

This routine is to be treated as a circuit. You will rest and perform as prescribed, and you can even perform this circuit several times per week.

  1. Bodyweight Squats - 8 to 10 reps
  2. Push-ups (Or Hands Elevated Push-ups) - 5 to 8 reps
  3. Plank - 15 seconds
  4. Jumping Jacks - 15 reps
  5. Reverse Lunges - 6 reps per leg
  6. Glute Bridges (Single Leg or Double Leg) - 10 reps

If you're a beginner you will perform these exercises resting 30 seconds between each. After doing all 6 exercises you will rest 90 seconds than repeat 4 more times.

If you're intermediate you will add 10 seconds to plank. Rest 20 seconds between each exercise, and rest 75-90 seconds after all 6 exercises. You will repeat 5 times

If you're advanced you will add 20 seconds to the plank. Rest 20 seconds between each exercise. Rest 75 seconds after all 6 exercises, and repeat 6 circuits.

There you have it. Two really simple tips to help you eat healthier along with a killer workout.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Dave

 

Making a Plan pt. 6 - Are You Using the Right Sets and Reps for Your Goal?

I'll admit, when you are new to training you sometimes feel like you need the Rosetta Stone just to understand the exercises let alone understanding how many sets and reps you should do. Us trainers have a bad habit of simply assuming everyone can read our mind. I fall into this trap more frequently than I would like to admit, just ask my wife... 

 

So what does it mean when you see a sequence like "6x45"? Well fortunately You don't have to do any multiplication. Rather it's reasonable to assume the first number will tell you how many sets you are going to perform and the second number is how many reps you will perform for each of those sets. Regardless of how the information is presented usually the first number will be the sets and the second number the reps. 

The real problem arises because sets and reps aren't as simple as they seem. Depending on the muscular quality you want to train you will change your sets and reps accordingly. 

For instance strength is often best trained from the 1-6 rep range. I personally like 3-5 reps as my sweet spot for myself and athletes.

Building muscle tends to work best between 6-12 reps, and muscular endurance tends to work best with 12 or more reps.

However the operative word for each of these is "tends". There are times where I will hit hypertrophy performing upwards to 15 reps, and hit strength performing 10 reps. Some may argue that I'm not really training strength or hypertrophy if this happens. Well much like trying to decide who is the greatest wizard Dumbeldore or Gandalf this is a discussion which isn't very relevant to the lesson in this post.

The truth is most strength training is spent under 5 reps, and most muscle building will spent around 8 - 12 reps. 

Determining sets is another conundrum all in it's own. Usually the higher the reps the less sets you want to be doing. There are some physiological explanations for this but I think time is the biggest consideration. Basically, I don't want myself or my athlete's to spend more than 90 minutes in a gym. Any longer and we're doing it wrong. And quite frankly I try to aim for under 75 minutes. 

Suffice to say, it's usually a safe bet to think of it like this

  • Strength = 3-8 sets for 1-6 reps
  • Hypertrophy = 3-5 sets for 6-12 reps
  • Muscular Endurance = 2-4 sets for 12+ reps

For the sake of simplicity I am choosing to keep this black and white. And for most everyone I find these tend to be good ranges when training each of these qualities.

Our next post in this series will dig a little bit deeper and discuss frequency and volume depending on what you want to train and where you are at in your training career.

- Dave