01 Sep THE WORKOUT ENVIRONMENT. Learn about the super slow zone owned by Sarasota Chiropractor.
THE WORKOUT ENVIRONMENT
by M. Doug McGuff, M.D.
Ken Hutchins, the inventor of the SuperSlow™ exercise protocol, was the first person to fully appreciate the importance of the workout environment. Through experience, he came to realize that most gym environments actually interfere with getting a good workout. Most commercial facilities are hot, noisy, crowded places filled with social and sexual tension, kind of like how the room is during a tubev.sex feature film shoot. The elements that actually helped to improve workout efficiency almost seemed to be deliberately absent. During the Osteoporosis Research Project that he supervised at the University of Florida, he actually got to design an ideal exercise environment. After supervising workouts (as well as performing his own workouts) in this environment, he could not believe the difference it made in workout quality and subsequent results. In his technical manual, Mr. Hutchins devotes an entire chapter to outlining what he calls the ideal exercise environment.
I will attempt to discuss some of these requirements in this chapter. Keep in mind that some of these elements will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in many commercial health clubs. This is why I recommend that, if it is available to you, you should try working out at a licensed SuperSlow facility. Most of you will not be able to workout at a licensed facility, so I will make some suggestions on how to incorporate these elements (as best as possible) in a commercial facility. As we touch upon each of these elements, you will see that one of the easiest ways to approach an ideal environment is to stay away from the gym during peak hours. Let us now discuss these elements individually.
One of the biggest mistakes the fitness industry has made is the propagation of the idea that exercise should be a social event. It seems that we can’t do any form of exercise that isn’t organized into a large group of people under the supervision of a single instructor. It is a great way for a gym to make the most money for the least overhead. As many as 50 gym members paying ten bucks for the session can be supervised by one instructor being paid minimum wage.
We are very willing to perform recreational exercise in a large group. However, truly productive exercise is hard, and will require effort-related behaviors that we may not want others to see. During the most productive part of a workout we may pant, hyperventilate, grimace, or even pass flatus. When there are onlookers, most people will subconsciously avoid the effort that might lead to embarrassment. It is very important that when working out, that you have a very serious, and focused mind-set. You should take your workout just as seriously as a world-class athlete would. However, if you do not yet look that part, you will be uncomfortable acting the part in front of an audience. Some of the people who need physical conditioning the most will not ever set foot in a gym for fear of being seen in workout attire. Talk about a Catch-22 scenario! Most importantly, I believe there is a strong biological drive to avoid meaningful exercise in front of others. Remember, a good workout requires inroad-the momentary weakening of muscle. The degree of weakening we seek is very significant and creates an instinctual sensation of vulnerability. It is natural that we do not want to demonstrate this kind of vulnerability in the presence of others. Even if we are very disciplined, I think inroading is spontaneously cut short in front of an audience, especially a crowd of strangers. Ideally, the only person observing you should be a qualified and trusted instructor. When you are pushed by someone who is non-threatening, professionally attired, and willing to guide you through the process, inroading can be much deeper. For those in commercial facilities, the best policy is to workout during non-peak hours or when the majority of the members are drawn away from the weight machines (such as during aerobics or spin classes). Most SuperSlow facilities will only train 2 or 3 clients at a time, instructors will keep clients out of each other’s way, and their are understood standards of etiquette between clients. At my Ultimate Exercise facilities, all exercise sessions are done in complete privacy, just the client and instructor. While this significantly affects how much money we can make out of a single facility, the workout is so much better we feel it is more than worth the sacrifice.
Some form of music is present in most commercial health clubs. Usually the music is some form of hard-driving techno-pop. The idea is that the music might help inspire you to work harder. Unless you like this kind of music, this is highly unlikely. Even if you do enjoy the music being played, it is probably still counterproductive.
The rhythm and beat of music are designed to make us move in accordance with that rhythm and beat. As we have discussed previously, proper resistance training has its own requirements in regard to speed of motion. It is very unlikely that the beat of a particular song will appropriately match the necessary workout cadence. Even if it were to match, we must remember that we desire to produce smooth, continuous movement. The beat of the music tends to encourage a pulsatile or segmented movement. Further, you will tend to accelerate during a crescendo, and slow when the volume falls.
Most importantly, properly performed exercise requires a great deal of concentration. It is very difficult to override your instinctual avoidance of inroading. To do so requires a very high degree of intellectual control and concentration. The last 30-40 seconds of a set will take much more concentration than is needed to answer a difficult exam question. Under circumstances that require that degree of concentration, any kind of music will prove irritating. Any distraction will hamper performance. At my Ultimate Exercise facilities we have no music, fans provide white noise, no one but the client is allowed back so their is no temptation to converse, and the instructor speaks only when instructional detail is needed. When the instructor does need to give the client instructions it is done in a calm, quiet voice. We never bark or yell instructions.
If you work out in a commercial gym, a quiet environment is almost out of the question. However, here are a few suggestions. If you go during non-peak hours (particularly early morning) the manager may be willing to turn off the music. Foam earplugs will not completely block out sound, but will allow you to internalize and concentrate a little better. A cassette recorder with a white noise tape may be helpful, but can be a little cumbersome. Lastly, Bose ™ makes a noise cancellation headset designed for air travelers that does a fairly amazing job of eliminating environmental noise.
The ideal exercise environment described by Ken Hutchins is mostly about having an environment free of distractions, where you can give your full attention to the task at hand. Privacy and quiet are the two main elements to a distraction free environment. However, there are some sub-categories of these two elements that deserve some mention.
Children must be excluded from your workout environment. Children of any age seek the attention of their parents continuously and will compete for primary attention if the parent is otherwise engaged. Of particular concern are infants and toddlers. An infant crying is biologically the most attention-demanding noise we will ever hear. We are programmed by nature to give instant priority to this sound. Having your infant on the floor in a car seat may seem harmless enough, but if it makes even the slightest noise, your workout will be disrupted. If you are distracted at the wrong moment, you could even hurt yourself. Toddlers are even worse. A toddler has mobility and willfulness. These characteristics make a toddler unwelcome in the workout room.
Mirrors are present in most gyms, but are of no value to a workout. Some might argue that they help you monitor your form. However, motor activities that require even more skill are never performed in front of a mirror. Our muscular and nervous systems possess proprioceptive capabilities that are quite advanced and do not need visual monitoring. Mirrors hamper concentration by pulling any visual stimulus in the room into your field of vision. In addition, mirrors make you visible to everyone else in the room, thus hampering your privacy.
Bright colors are also ubiquitous in most health clubs. Brightly painted machines with pastel padding and neon lights are not uncommon. Our experience has shown that bright colors are distracting and during a hard workout can actually be nauseating. It is as if you have entered some exertion-induced Alice in Wonderland experience. Black, White and shades of gray are much more conducive to concentration. At Ultimate Exercise our equipment is white with black padding and the carpet is a neutral gray. Ken Hutchins makes all of his SuperSlow Systems equipment in black and white. The more visually neutral you workout area, the better.
Scantily clad clients or instructors are also a distraction. You cannot control the dress of the clientele, all you can do is avoid the crowds. Most workout attire is not designed for functionality; instead, it is designed to attract sexual attention. Nothing is more distracting than an attractive member of the opposite sex wrapped tightly in spandex, and nothing is more repulsive than an unattractive person in that sort of get-up. If you are training under an instructor (hopefully SuperSlow certified), you should insist on professional attire. An instructor in a tank top or even a nice sweat suit is silly. The client is the one working out, not the instructor. If the instructor dresses in workout clothes (especially if they are revealing clothes), it sends the signal that he or she is competing with you. This undermines trust and will subvert your willingness to make yourself vulnerable through inroading. Dress slacks and a long sleeve shirt are the minimum you should expect. Ideally, male instructors should wear a tie. Your instructor should be dressed as you would expect your doctor to dress. You are every bit as vulnerable in the workout room as you are in the doctor’s office. You will be momentarily weakened, you may behave embarrassingly, and you will be in some discomfort. Proper attire acknowledges what you are going through and builds trust. Insist on it.
Once again, Ken Hutchins discovered this important element of the ideal workout environment. During the Osteoporosis Research Project, the air conditioning malfunctioned and kept the temperature in the low 60’s. Despite the seeming discomfort, they pushed on with the scheduled workouts. Much to their surprise, the researches found an across-the-board improvement in the study subjects’ workout performance. Further reflection reveals why this is true. Hard muscular work produces a lot of heat. This is true because most of the enzymatic reactions in muscle contraction are heat liberating reactions, and because working muscles have a lot of friction. This heat is produced so rapidly, that the body cannot dissipate it quickly enough and the temperature within the muscles (and body in general) starts to rise. The processes that drive muscular contraction are temperature dependent. Once too much heat accumulates, the muscles will fatigue and fail. The mechanism for this is still unknown, but Dr. Timothy Noakes (an exercise physiologist from South Africa) believes it is some sort of neurological regulator that protects us from hyperthermia (overheating). Exactly why this occurs does not matter, what does matter is that this is another way in which the inroading process can be cut short.
The body loses internal heat by three different mechanisms: conduction, convection, and evaporation. If the environment outside the body is cooler than the internal body temperature, then the heat will follow this temperature gradient and be lost to the external environment. Conduction refers to direct transfer of heat from one object to another. An example of this would be your body losing heat into the cool upholstery on the exercise machine. Convection refers to loss of heat into the surrounding cooler air. For conduction and convection to be a significant source of heat loss, there has to be a large temperature gradient. Your body will lose a lot of heat by these mechanisms when it is 40 degrees out, and very little when it is 95 degrees out. This is because there is a very small gradient between your body at 98.6 and the environment at 95 degrees. When conduction and convection fail as heat loss mechanisms, your body then resorts to an evaporative heat loss mechanism: sweating. Applying moisture to the surface that is losing heat accelerates heat loss because evaporating moisture carries a lot of heat.
In a workout, we want to lose heat at a quick enough rate, so that the muscles fail because of maximal inroading, not because of heat buildup. By the time your body has to resort to an evaporative heat-loss mechanism, it is already too late. You will fatigue prematurely because of heat buildup. If the temperature is at an ideal 61 degrees, you can effectively lose exercise-related heat buildup through conduction and convection. At the beginning of your workout, it feels uncomfortably chilly, but by the conclusion of your workout, it will feel perfect to you and you will not have a drop of sweat on you. More importantly, you will have inroaded as efficiently as possible and given your body the greatest stimulus for improvement possible.
You should not worry that your muscles will not be “warmed up”. Remember, this is very low force activity and the warm-up is built-in to the workout. By your second repetition, your muscles will be plenty warmed up. Achieving a cool workout environment in a commercial health club will be difficult, but here are a few hints:
Dress cool: exposing skin will allow you more surface area to lose heat from.
Ask: ask the management to turn down the thermostat and turn on any fans.
Avoid: avoid crowded times. More people working out means more heat lost into the surrounding environment, which means less chance for you to dissipate your own body heat.
Find: find a licensed SuperSlow facility, or one of my Ultimate Exercise facilities. These facilities have all the elements of an ideal environment, including proper temperature.
Proper equipment is essential to getting the most out of SuperSlow. We will discuss the most important characteristics of equipment that you should look for, then I will list my favorite equipment with comments about any strong or weak points. The most important considerations in equipment are low friction, resistance curves, and small increments of resistance.
Low friction in the workout apparatus is the most important element to consider. If you are using equipment that has chains, frayed cables, poor lubrication or misaligned weight stacks, then the friction just in the machine will be very high. When friction is high, you simply cannot perform SuperSlow. As you attempt to move, the machine will bind up and stick. To get it moving again, you have to accelerate. However, as you try to slow down again, the friction takes over and the machine will bind up. Essentially your movement turns into a series of “stick-break loose-stick-break loose”.
Here are some things to look for when identifying low friction equipment:
-Minimal pivot points: the fewer pulleys between the weight stack and you, the less friction you will encounter. Pulleys should actually have sealed bearings, as opposed to just using bushings.
-Kevlar belts over pulleys are better than steel cable. Steel cable is better than chain.
-Weight stacks should not bind on guide rods. Remove the pin from the weight stack and move the single plate the remains. You should not feel any scrubbing or binding.
Most modern exercise equipment incorporates some means of varying the resistance in an attempt to match your body’s force producing capabilities at different points of the range of motion. Because of leverage factors you may not be able to move as much weight at one position of an exercise as you can at another position. Through use of cams and levers, we can attempt to vary the resistance supplied by the weight stack so it matches your body’s capabilities at different positions. Some equipment does a very good job with resistance variation, and others do less well. Med-X, and Nautilus equipment uses a combination of cams and levers that produce very good resistance curves. Hammer equipment is good, but less ideal because it relies mostly on levers to vary resistance. All of these brands are available in commercial health clubs and are well suited for SuperSlow. There are other brands such as Cybex, Icarian, Body Masters, and others that score well on having low friction, but (in my opinion) their biomechanics and resistance curves are less ideal. These are still acceptable for performing SuperSlow. Really, the SuperSlow protocol will improve your workout on any equipment, but if you have access to the suggested brands, you should use them preferentially. If you are selecting a health club, look for these brands.
With knowledge of what constitutes and ideal workout environment, you can make choices to get the most possible out of your health club. If there is a licensed SuperSlow facility in your area, I strongly suggest you sign up; it is more expensive, but well worth the price.