Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Only Movement that Matters

About 35 years ago, a friend working for NASA, asked me how it would be possible for astronauts in space to maintain their fitness levels, since prolonged periods of weightlessness seemed to have a deteriorative effect on the body -- since there was no resistance (weight) to keep the muscles and bones strong.

As one of the pioneers of "high intensity training," through my various experiments with "state of the art training concepts," 40 years ago, we knew definitively that as little as one five-minute workout a week could produce the stimulus and demand for the muscles to grow at a fairly dramatic rapid pace -- but the entirety of the time not training, would be spent recovering and recuperating from the crippling pain of muscle soreness -- that could be briefly ameliorated, by just attempting to produce movement during that recovery period of 7-10 days -- before experiencing normalcy again.

Otherwise, the soreness was so intense, that any movement at all, caused tremendous pain, requiring tremendous effort to produce any movement at all. The sole objective was to achieve as rapid muscle growth as possible -- with as little training time as possible -- and every other consideration was considered the cost of achieving those objectives -- even if it meant to be in a state of constant pain and recovery from such brutal workouts, that could be conducted only on the frequency of once a week, for five minutes.

That is the justification for high intensity workouts -- that if one increases the intensity to the maximum challenge, the body has to fail -- and then subsequently recover, and take a week or so of recovery time, to actually get stronger and bigger muscles.

But even if one is highly motivated enough to withstand excruciating constant pain for prolonged though predictable, controlled periods of one's conditioning in that manner, the much larger question is whether that is a sustainable life beyond short term objectives of achieving maximal growth. Invariably after 4-6 weeks of such brutally intense training, we required a longer break before starting up again, with even more people interested in such gains -- if such a thing were possible.

But training that way myself as the lead subject, as well as supervising the training of many others, was very exhausting, requiring one to break from that involvement and study, to relish once again in not being obsessed that one's entire life and energies, were not so singlemindedly focused just in producing the most intense workout experience possible, and recovering from that experience -- to attain a constantly higher normal.

Eventually, one notices beginning age 30 that one no longer has the same recovery ability -- and is prone to injury or exhaustion as a major consequence of their training -- which then becomes obviously counterproductive. Thus many fall away from their training and rigorous conditioning for the first time in their entire lives -- some never to return to those rigors, but a few adapting, or finding some greater key to the greater objective of making life truly better for themselves in all the ways, and not merely on singular measurements that could even be contraindicative to improving the health and quality of life.

So the other end of the question, once I was sure of what could maximize the pain and recovery from it, was what level of movement, could be done every day, at any time, as often as one wanted to, without producing such pain and requiring extraordinary recovery? This is the question that few think to ask -- in a culture and world that always demands "more." How much less can one do, and still get the same or even better results because of it? And what does that have to be?

The movement that makes the greatest positive difference is the movement that happens as the muscle alternately contracts and relaxes to actually move blood (cells) throughout the body -- and not the movements external to the body such as the movement of weights or even moving the body entirely from its frame of reference, such as running, jumping or swimming. That is to say, that the movement of greatest importance, cannot be seen in such traditional parameters of gross movement, but occurs entirely within the body itself, and to a great extent, in the changing of the state of the muscles from its greatest contracted state to its relaxation -- and not just one or the other, as is preferred in yoga or isometric contractions.

It's really much simpler than that -- to effect the flow of the blood -- even while watching television, sitting at a computer, or even lying down wondering if one can get up today. It's less important to run a mile if one feels like running a mile than it is just getting out of bed when one thinks he might not be able to (anymore) -- and it is such responses to such challenges, that is the conditioning one needs to overcome whatever difficulties and challenges one expects to prepare themselves for in a long life of varied experiences -- rather than the endless treadmill of doing the one same thing from the day they were born to their last, until one finally doesn't or can't.

That's what doesn't change -- even in "outer space," as long as one is still alive.


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