Here in California our progress against the pandemic seems to be finally be making some headway, and gyms have reopened for indoor training at long last. Fitness enthusiasts who have been denied some of their favorite lifting activities and are anxious to reclaim their “beach bodies" can get back to hitting it hard! There’s likely a lot of sweating in masks, some swearing and soon to be burn out going on, unfortunately, as the concept of moderation isn’t a much of a strong suit for so many of our fellow citizens. I’m not sure why humans, especially in this town, seem to favor an “all-or-nothing” approach, but when it comes to fitness and nutrition this often leads to a “started-out-as-all-and-now-is-nothing” result.
The grandest plans for seven training days per week look like the fast track to success, but they are rarely sustainable, and unfortunately, they are also rarely reduced to a more realistic (and more successful) three day schedule. Too often the seven day plan just becomes a no day plan. In times like these, I’m reminded of why we’ve been able to sustain a regular training schedule so continuously for many years, and much of it is due to prioritizing adequate recovery and avoiding overtraining. It’s surprisingly simple to accomplish this with one of the overriding principles that influences much of our programming. This principle relates to what we call the Three "F’s." Although there are many F-words that spring effortlessly to mind when we think of working out, “fun,” “fantastic,” “fabulous,” etc., the three in this case are: “Frequent, Fresh and Flawless,” of course… what were you thinking the “F”s stood for?
At Breakthrough we are great believers in Occam’s razor and favor a minimalist approach to training; prioritizing “as much as necessary” over “as much as possible.” Avoiding injury or burn-out is an often overlooked component to making expeditious progress with your fitness. The Three "F’s" are an easy, concise reminder of how to approach your practice. The idea is to expose yourself to an exercise stimulus often (Frequent), when you are feeling rested enough (Fresh), striving to perform with perfect technique (Flawlesss). Reps pushed to failure, or burpees to the point of exhaustion need not apply for time on your regular training calendar. Every training day is not a fitness testing day.
Considering the prevalence of FOMO tactics (fear of missing out) that are leveraged by the fitness industry, you’d think you need to run marathons, lift competitively against your training partners and train like a soldier in boot camp every week to truly become fit and strong. You don’t. By practicing a few skills that carry over to a large number of athletic endeavors, we can achieve amazing results and avoid the high risk of injury or wasting many hours in the gym on junk reps. Owning your exercise regimen is like owning a car. Regular maintenance and mindful care are the basis for longevity. Treating the body like it’s a rental car that we can abuse for a short term and then turn back in is clearly a destructive mindset to have when it comes to training.
Frequent maintenance, or continuity of the training process in our case, is the first and most important of the “F”s. If you practice something often, with a high attention to proper technical performance, you will become more skilled at that thing. That’s why we think of our training sessions as practice and not “working out.” Learning how to create more tension in a muscle, for example, is one of the keys to gaining strength. A muscle capable of more intense contractions is more resilient, performs better, and looks better too!
When it comes to creating all this muscle tension, we also have to shake that tension out periodically and be sure to get enough rest between sets and between sessions. We are only able to squeeze our muscles so tightly because we’re usually “fresh” enough to have the energy to do it. A muscle that is “smoked” is not the safest muscle to wield heavy poundage with; better to wait until that muscle is fresh enough to handle the workload. As such, the performance of mentally focused athletic drills or lifts, while rested enough to execute near-perfect repetitions is your best bet. This freshness sets us up top be “Flawless” in our technique.
Preferably, the reps performed in a regular training session are almost never close to the point of failure, with a perceived rate of exertion of only about seven out of ten. This helps us keep them flawless (or as close to flawless as we can get). But how can that be challenging enough to get us the big results we want? Well, the benefits of lower repetition, moderate intensity practice are well documented. Soviet researchers discovered that as their weightlifters became stronger using these protocols, the same degree of tension generated by their muscles was accompanied by lower electrical activity. In other words, it took less and less effort to lift the same weight! They stayed very fresh and it helped them perform flawlessly. Furthermore, moderately intense (NOT high intensity) stimulation of nerve cells commanding the muscles (motorneurons) increases the strength of synaptic connections, and such motor activity promotes the wrapping of nerves with myelin, a neural insulator. This reduces any “leakage” of the nerve force, turning the wiring responsible for an exercise into a superconductor. This means that with practice, you’ll find that the same level of effort can produce harder and harder muscle contractions. In other words, you just got stronger. Whether you’re about to launch an exciting new exercise program to shape up for summer or are continuing your fitness journey, consider exerting the influence of the Three "F’s.” A Frequent, Fresh and Flawless practice schedule will keep you safer and help you stay stronger for years to come! Enjoy!