The Assumed vs the Real Objective of Exercise

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

    Far too many people assume that the objective of exercise is to simply do more and more—at least if you want to get good results.  The emphasis is always on increasing the parameters of the workout—the number of sets and reps, how often, and how long.  But proper exercise is NOT about simply doing more and more—it IS about crossing a threshold to stimulate change and then letting your body make that change through proper recovery.  Failing to understand this creates “exercise” recommendations that can wear you out with fatigue, but produce very little in terms of real world results.  

     A good example of this was published in The Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation in 1996 by Leon, Casal, and Jacobs Jr., and involved men exercising on stairs and treadmills at 40-50% of their top effort (VO2 max).  They trained several hours a week and burned 2,000 calories a week in those exercises.  There was no progression in the training protocol and basically the men just burned calories.  Actually, the routine looked very much like what most people do today for exercise and, in fact, the study was undertaken to see what effect such exercise would have on risk factors.  There was none. The men showed no improvement in cardiovascular fitness, lipid profile, body composition, heart rate or blood pressure.  The many hours of exercise amounted to little more than a waste of time and effort.  

     What was missing?  Essentially, the intensity to promote a response, and some kind of progression to keep improving once the initial adaptation was made.  You see, the real objective of exercise is not simply to do your routine, but to recruit and fatigue muscle fibers to stimulate a response.  That’s why excellent results are NOT dependent on how much or how often you exercise. They are dependent on what level of stimulation YOU need to create a response from your body and how long it takes YOUR body to recover and create that response. Please read that again and again until it sinks in!

     The irony in all of this is that once an acceptable level of intensity has been reached, it takes very little time to produce really good results.  A fraction of the time compared to what many are actually doing.  This was demonstrated in a published scientific study by Dr. Vincent Bocchicchio in 2006 with 86 individuals ages 18 to 72 of all different fitness levels.  Recognizing that all exercise is resistance exercise he sought to create a protocol that would give participants all the benefits of exercise, safely, in minimum time.  He called this the SMaRT protocol which stands for Slow Maximum Resistance Training.  This protocol was measured against cardiovascular exercise, where the weight training group utilized seven relatively slow movements, working major muscle groups for one set, taking muscles to momentary fatigue.  The program was completed twice a week with about three days of recovery time in between workouts.  Over five weeks, half of the individuals completed 3 ½ hours of cardio exercise each week and the other half completed the “SMaRT” exercise program twice a week (30 minutes, weekly total).

     The results showed that when compared against the hours of cardio exercise, the “SMaRT” exercise program tested approximately twice as effective.  This was true in the assessment of aerobic power, upper and lower body strength, trunk flexibility, resting blood pressure and resting heart rate.  And in body composition, the SMaRT exercise program was over 18 times more effective in promoting fat loss and muscle gain than the hours of cardio!  They increased body leanness by 4.5% in five weeks compared to just 0.24% in the cardio group.  And all this was done exercising in only ½ hour a week!  More than double the results or benefits in less than 1/7th the amount of time.  Amazing.

     The reason this protocol worked so well is not because it is so short, but because the seven weight training exercises thoroughly recruited and fatigued the available muscle fibers.  That is the real objective of result producing exercise. The slow, biomechanically correct movements bring the injury rate to zero, while being so demanding by the end of each set that both strengthening and cardiovascular benefits are reaped.  Time friendly and effective, this type of exercise is not only successful—it is sustainable, and can be utilized by reasonably healthy people of all ages.  If you would like more information, or a free demonstration of how to do this type of workout, simply give me a call at 706-278-WELL.  We here at the Bradley Wellness Center would be glad to help you!

Submitted by: Thomas Morrison, Fitness Coordinator, Bradley Wellness Center