The Need for Non-Variation in Exercise
The Need for Non-Variation in Exercise
The argument for exercise (not resistance) variation has been a natural persuasion since before Nautilus. And it fostered a greater support and sales of ever-more-isolatory Nautilus equipment models addressing the numerous and distinct muscular and joint functions of the body. At Nautilus, we often boasted that – using only 12 Nautilus machines – we could provide a subject with a different exercise routine for every workout during the year without repeating any single routine. This was largely facilitated by a large repertoire of exercise sequences as well as protocols. Different routines might revolve around pre-exhaustion, double pre-exhaustion, triple pre-exhaustion, infimetrics, single-joint movements, multiple joint-movements, hyper, negative-only, negative-emphasized, negative-accentuated, and on and on. We entertained subjects with a surprise workout several times each week – every time they trained. We emphasized the benefits of shocking the subject’s system with routines to keep it off-guard and to continually require the body to adjust. This routine variation perhaps had much to do with the continual state of soreness some subjects experienced. Of course, the hard-core athletes liked this – even thrived on the soreness – and respected us for it. We often bemoaned the limited opportunity for variation in most of the Nautilus commercial facilities. Since they were constrained to herd people along in a systematic, repeatable flow, they were not up to representing Nautilus exercise for what it could be. After administering several thousand variations of workouts at DeLand, Florida, I grew more introspective. I found myself varying routines merely for the sake of variation – often for my supposed need for a diversion to survive each day of administering 20 workouts or a supposed need to see that I had impressed the subject or some onlooker. My attitude then: After all, this is Nautilus headquarters, the seat of serious, hard work. If anyone should ever see or experience a hard workout it had better occur here and now. They are unlikely to observe this in a commercial facility or in the school gym where nobody, especially the coach, knows the least about proper exercise. I assumed a borderline-rabid demeanor; however, it was intentionally and deliberately controlled for maximum effect. I probably learned some of these techniques from Arthur. After awhile, I became weary of supervising workouts. I came to dread it. It fatigued me to the point that I avoided training anyone – especially through a complete workout – whenever possible. Ellington sensed this and sympathized. What’s more, he may have initially influenced my negative attitude toward supervising workouts with his own attitude. Ellington offered other insights as though he had believed them for years, but he was only now going to divulge them to me. I guess Ellington, by then, regarded that I had supervised adequate numbers of workouts and had become a proficient instructor. He also surmised that my romance with exercise instruction was wearing thin. He stated: You know, Ken, most of what you do as an instructor is excellent and right down the Nautilus philosophy, but most of your effort is also just wasted energy on these visitors who come in off the street. All the intensity and excitement and yelling and screaming and mixed-up routines you go out of your way to provide for a workout is not understood or appreciated by most subjects. You are just beating yourself for nothing. It is possible, you know, to keep the intensity of the workouts extremely high, yet exhibit and feel controlled calmness in your personal behavior. Though startled by his attitude, I listened. For several months, Ellington reminded me to temper my excitement and exuberant chattering of encouragement and coercing. He also pressed me to lower my voice – both in pitch and volume. I eventually noticed that supervising 20 workouts per day was far less demanding if I sustained a less-intense personality. I did not want this approach to lessen the intensity of the workout and I retained the option to raise my voice and personal intensity as the subject and moment required. This remained a necessity – as Ellington said it would – with many of the athletes, since shouted commands were part of their conditioned stimulus/response programming. [I am remembered with respect by some professional athletes today. They reference my name to routines and workouts, which I am now ashamed. I regret that I did not show them the simple, straightforward, easily recordable, and truly progressive methods to work the major structures of the body. I suspect, however, that had I, they might have forgotten the experience or failed to notice the uniqueness of the approach entirely.] A part of my traditional habits remained, however. I continued the practice of continual variation in the workout routines. This slowly eroded as I took closer account of the excessive planning and record-keeping required, and the realization that I could not accurately chart and record performance and, therefore, provide true progression if successive workouts were different. As my discrimination for the finer points of form progressed, I appreciated the unreasonable expectation that average or even exceptional subjects master and retain proper technique on so many exercises and changing routines. Variation kept them ever confused. Then came the Nautilus Osteoporosis Study. I had an eight-month lead to carefully plan the most ideal approach for supervising the women subjects. Presented to me was the grand opportunity to instruct exercises in an ideal, clinically controlled environment, with ideal (before I realized the friction and resistance curve problems) equipment, in privacy, and with ample time to permit the subjects both to learn the exercises to competence and to comprehend the philosophy of the approach. Can you imagine my bewilderment when the pilot program nearly aborted because the subjects – with all my planned facilitation – were unable to follow my instructions or learn to perform the exercises in a safe and productive manner? Some of the university researchers advanced the consideration to remain consistent with the chosen exercise routine so that productive bone growth could be associated with particular routines or exercises. In any case, this vast project required more standardization than what I had yet devised. I readily accepted that it would be impossible to supervise 60 subjects – standardized between three instructors for several years –and permit, much less insist upon, incessantly varied workout routines. I then systematized SuperSlow. Its development forced my mind to acquire an austerity never before imagined by me or anyone else. I tightened and simplified our workout routines. I reflected on Ellington’s appeal to just get subjects to learn a few basic exercises, but with perfect execution, deep concentration, and ultimate intensity.Occasionally, I lapsed back to some of my old habits. This was fortuitous in that I observed its effect on my study subjects: A raised voice was an obstacle to learning and concentration. And to attempt to learn more than one – sometimes two – new exercises overwhelmed them. With more, both instructor and subject became impatient and frustrated. It was always a mistake to pace the learning material faster than the subject’s slowest acquisition rate. And once enough exercises had been mastered to provide a complete routine, it was a mistake to modify the program until after several months. Of course, routine variation was often imposed because of equipment changes [Nautilus occasionally sent new models to use in the study] or because of health-related obstacles. I arbitrarily altered the exercise selection only when the subject showed stagnation in performance for weeks with no other explanation. For instance, if the stagnation could be blamed on her lack of intensity, I kept the present routine. It might appear that improvement would again ensue with a new routine, but she might also grow temporarily weaker in the interim as we obtained proficiency (as well as a new baseline for performance assessment) in the new exercises. The following story underscores a subject’s fleeting competence in a given exercise: Doris was a 50-year-old subject. After supervising Doris for approximately a year (she was no novice), she hurt her back (moderately) while playing tennis. I decided to alter the routine to avoid those exercises most suspect to irritate her inflamed back. One exercise deleted was the On-the-Side Leg Curl. Doris has been performing this exercise for several weeks – perhaps months. I promised her that we would return to this exercise as soon as her back had normalized. Within about five weeks, Doris’ back seemed normal. Without warning, I led her to the On-the-Side Leg Curl. Instead of cautiously mounting the machine, she just stood beside it and indignantly asked, Aren’t you going to show me how to use it?The machine had not been relocated in the room or painted a different color. She had no memory of any experience with it whatsoever. I notice similar behavior in most of my subjects –even advanced subjects. By the way, we now consider such on-the-side machines as a design discrepancy and not tolerated in the RenEx philosophy. While I was in Gainesville, I met Greg Smits. He surveyed the attendance behavior of members at the Gainesville Health and Fitness Center and found that most new members rarely attended their workouts longer than about six weeks. I grew to fixate on the six-week figure. The Six-Week SyndromeAt the conclusion of some of Ellington’s presentations, he declares that most people do not have the discipline, patience, and motivation to be successful with any endeavor – be it their marriage, an academic study, or a diet – for more than about ix weeks. I also saw other behaviors that hover about the six-week interval: A novice usually requires about sex weeks to become reasonably confident and competent on a basic routine (the generic routine) of exercises. It requires about six weeks for the instructor to gradually ease the weight selection up to the level needed for most novices to experience moderate-to-high intensity in all of their exercises and for the repetitions to fall within the time-range guideline. At about the six-week point, the novice begins to lose his feeling of novelty. Although he does not intellectually accept the fact that exercise is plain old hard work, his more base senses are alerting him that he no longer fancies what he is doing. It is then that he states that he is bored with his present routine. He requests to learn new exercises. A battery of new exercises, of course, renews his attitude of novelty, which plays up to his assumptions romance without drudgery. At the six-week point, the novice has just obtained an objective baseline with his original routine. Although the novice experiences the fastest muscular-strength improvement of his life during these six weeks, most of the apparent strength improvements perceived as increases in performance resistances are instead and actually due to learning effect. This learning effect is comprised of general familiarity with the equipment and methods plus increased proficiency in motor skill. His instructor assumes the baseline –although not acknowledged as the baseline to the instructor – to indicate a performance plateau; so what does he do but recommend a change of routine? This satisfies the subject’s whim to see the resistances ever improving again. And to the instructor this confirms his belief that he successfully broke the subject’s plateau. In reality, the subject’s progress has to practically from scratch anew. The instructor must go through the process of mastering new exercises, learning to set up the weights and perhaps different seat adjustments, becoming accustomed to recording all of this on a different area of his workout chart, decreasing the time between the exercises with all the new information to process, and tweaking the resistances upward for another several weeks to attain a baseline once more. Note that most exercise studies last only six weeks. I often confront subjects who wish a change in their workout routine. I am not always entirely opposed to this change, but I strive to curb it as much as is reasonably possible. And do not, by this chapter, conclude that I am opposed to exercise variation. I am not. But I am opposed to its emphasis and wanton abuse at the expense of exercise mastery and recording accuracy. One comment never fails to punch my tirade button: I’m getting bored with my present exercise routine.Do you expect to be entertained by exercise? Do you consider diversion a critical ingredient of your exercise program? If so, you need to have a stern talk with yourself. You are confused and have your priorities out of order. We are not in the entertainment business. We are in the human biology business. It incenses me that most public statements regarding exercise are restricted to stock notions and sweet nothings. This is epitomized by Do exercises that you enjoy, and Emphasize variation in your exercises.These statements fall into line with people’s natural tendencies. Proper exercise is usually diametrically opposed to instincts. For the most part, I interpret boredom in an exercise program as a good sign. Correspondingly, I often reply good when someone complains to me that they have become bored. On the down side, a complaint of boredom tells me that the subject has failed to learn to focus and concentrate during the exercises. On the up side, he has not yet learned everything and can look forward to discovering new heights of awareness about his body and his mind. It also tells me that he is beginning to work hard and that he has passed the stage of novelty and playtime. He is set for serious, meaningful work. Of course, most subjects do not reflect on this with my same conclusions. Do you know of anything in your life that was truly worthwhile or profitable that was also quick and easy – even pursuits that ultimately gave you pleasure and interested you greatly? … No, you have not and never will. Be delighted that RenEx is hard work. It is a sign that you will profit greatly from it. Be thankful that it requires concentration and that you cannot perform it proficiently while you are daydreaming. Ellington Darden once criticized that the public believes it posh to perform their workouts wearing Sony Walkmans and the like to get their minds off their workouts. On the contrary, they need to get their minds on their workouts. Not only will better, safer, physical results occur with improved concentration, but tremendous emotional stress is relieved by high-intensity, RenEx exercise. By focusing deeply, subjects temporarily drive all other daily worries out of their minds. The subjects that achieve this best concentrate the deepest during their workouts. I know several individuals who think nothing of spending four or five hours on Saturday or Sunday mornings carefully and deliberately practicing to perfect a golf putt. But these same individuals are not willing to spend four or five minutes of study to perfect a particular exercise like the leg press. Of those that demonstrate discipline in one area, many are unlikely to apply it to exercise. Exercise seems to be taken for granted. No exceptions are taken to the acceptance that learning to play a musical instrument, to become a computer programmer, or to conquer calculus requires discipline and study, but exercise apparently fails to deserve comparable attention. But most people exhibit a lack of discipline in everything they do. I regard the topics of excessive boredom and routine variation – these topics are cause-and-effect – in a broader, critical sense. It reflects a lack of intelligent discipline. Do you complain to your dentist that you become bored with brushing and flossing your teeth? You may think it to yourself, but I hope you realize how childish and irrational you would sound if you actually whined to your dentist regarding this necessary chore of life. You brush and floss your teeth because it has to be done. If you don’t, you suffer the consequences. And there is a logical approach and system to most efficiently brush your teeth, to mow your lawn, to clean your house, or to perform your job. And any of these tasks carry a certain degree of toil and drudgery. But you had better not perform them mindlessly. Without concentration, you might bruise your gums, cut off your feet, throw out some important document, or get fired. Jim Flanagan is a dear and longtime friend of mine and I certainly wish him no ill will. But I do have some philosophical bones to pick with him. In 1982, Jim became the acid test of the efficacy of the slow method, which ultimately led to RenEx. His unprecedented and unrepeated personal success was terminated solely because he said he was bored. On several occasions since, Jim has remarked in passing that SuperSlow is one of the best training methods, but it sure is boring.At the Club Industry Show in Chicago on November 9, 1991, a friend of mine asked Jim why his company did not enforce SuperSlow standards. Jim simply shrugged his shoulders and said, Who cares? Besides, SuperSlow is so boring.Jim continually tells people that SuperSlow is great, but Ken needs to have more variation. I disagree. Jim needs to understand his inability to focus and work harder to correct it. In response to Jim’s original complaint, I addressed the issue of boredom in the SuperSlow Paper in 1982. The paper seemed so positive regarding SuperSlow that I felt compelled to balance it with something negative. I mentioned that some people may find it boring.Bob Hicks, an engineer and consulting confidant of mine, expressed outrage and chided me harshly that I had acquiesced and made allowances to Jim’s charge. Bob emphatically contended that SuperSlow is anything but boring. If I have the ability to think at all, SuperSlow is the most exciting, intellectually demanding, painful, emotionally and physically consuming thing I can ever do. Anyone who finds it boring isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing.
Realize that Bob’s hobbies are stunt flying, parachuting, climbing Egyptian pyramids in the middle of the night, and motorcycle racing on Kawasaki Ninjas. In our 2011 view of all that RenEx has to offer, saying that RenEx is boring and is begging for greater variation is as nonsensical as the comment in the movie Amadeus, by Emperor Joseph I that Mozart’s music, has too many notes.Pros & Cons of Non-Variation & VariationI assert again, it is not my intention, by this chapter, to completely negate the value of some variation. There are valid instances where variation is indicated. And there are certainly many instances, as already stated, where variation is destructive to the exercise program. Occasionally, a subject who has been with me for several weeks will ask, Are we ever going to do those other machines? or What is all the other equipment for that I don’t use?My usual answer is: With the generic routine you have been performing, you are performing the most effective exercises, the exercises involving the largest muscles of the body, the most easily-learned exercises, and the easiest exercises to standardize and record. It is also that routine that most advanced subjects will always return to as the foundation of their exercise program. Once you reach a level of intensity and strength whereby you seem to remain fatigued an excessive time between workouts, we will learn a new, less-demanding routine. Also, many of the other machines and exercises are to allow us a way around physical problems and limitations, should such arise. Eventually, you may have two, three, or four different routines that you rotate your workouts among.Case #1:I have a female subject, an engineer, who I have supervised consistently for 18 years. She rotates between four different routines. She continues to show slight improvements in some areas. Case #2: I have a male subject, a dentist, who I have supervised once weekly, consistently for 15 years, performing the same routine of six exercises. His performances seems to have plateaued, yet once every six-to-eight months his leg press performance notches upwards. This surprises both of us. Case #3:Another instructor, at my request, trained one of my advanced subjects who regularly rotated among three different routines. In an attempt to impress the subject with skill and finesse, the instructor blended the generic routine with another and altered seat settings on the Leg Press. Fortunately, my subject was not injured. The next time I supervised the subject on the same routine, I failed to notice all the changes until the workout was in progress. The subject became frustrated that she could not perform, I was unable to correct the chart and machine settings on the fly, and the other instructor was embarrassed by the disrespect the incident had caused. Case #4:Several years ago, Lou Abato took a two-week vacation and left his subjects to be supervised by one of his staff members. He returned to find two of his subjects injured due to creative changes made in their workout routines by the substitute instructor.Case #5:I have a woman subject who has worked with me twice weekly for 15 years. She rotates among three routines. I have learned over the years to avoid progressing her. Her form is erratic. When she has, on rare occasions in the past, shown perfection on an exercise, this perfection has been wildly inconsistent. She segments and falls through uncontrollably most of the time. Her blend of unusual muscular strength and discipline with inconsistently poor motor control is an enigma to me. Her two daughters are very strong and were impressive athletes when younger. Case 6:I presently train a relatively elder novice subject who is extremely weak. After about 10 workouts, she still has profound difficulty remembering how to mount the equipment and perform most of the exercises. I am loath to introduce her to any more exercises until she obtains strength and confidence. Case #7:I presently train two different women who have somewhat comparable debilities involving the left side of their torsos. One is from a mastectomy. The other is from an automobile accident. Although they have been with me only four months, I have introduced four different routines to each. This was done in an attempt to find an approach to address their inadequacies. Although I find the application of so many routines confusing and frustrating in one sense, this is exactly the reason I possess the capability in my studio. Fortunately, both of these subjects possess the motor control and focus to properly execute a myriad of commands and motions.