Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Exercising without Movement (Isometrics Reinvented)

As some may be old enough to recall, a manner of exercise that became the rage very briefly in the 1950s, was what was called "isometric" exercise -- notable for its lack of visible movement.  However, a lot was still going on within the body that was not so visible -- nor easily measured.

But the downfall of its popularity began when trainees would suffer the valsalva effect of holding their breath too long -- especially under the pressure of exertion.  That notable effect was when trainees would pass out -- which made it a very perilous style of training -- particularly around heavy metal and purposefully unforgiving objects.

Often, it was after the isometric exercise ended, when the real excitement began.  It is not unlike many single attempt limits in which the trainee passes out -- with often disastrous results for themselves, as well as those assisting them, or merely innocent bystanders.  There were even times when a squat rack was placed right next to a plate glass window -- with as one can imagine, spectacular chain-of-events.  So such antics quickly fell out of favor -- and few have thought to revisit the validity of the principles invoked.

But such a manner of training (exercising) is not particularly novel nor unprecedented, because yoga is distinctive for its postures and poses rather than movements -- but deliberately cultivates breathing while maintaining a relaxed position.  However, even the most fervent yoga practitioner will note that that increased range of movement comes because of a lack of substantial muscular development -- which is an byproduct of optimizing circulation.  Muscles, as well as all the organs of the body, reach their optimal performance, development and appearance, because the circulation to those organs, tissues and cells -- are optimized to keep them as well-nourished and toxic-free as possible.  Under such conditions, muscles grow larger because they are provided the nutrients to do so, while just as importantly, removing the toxins that build up as a result of those expenditures (exertions).

If those waste products are not first removed, then there is simply no room for the new to replace them -- so understanding that sequence, is key to optimizing the circulation -- and not simply making the heart work harder into the resistance presented when the capillaries are not drained by the proper understanding of that process.  All skeletal muscles must contract back towards the heart (proximal), from whatever axis of rotation the joint is articulating at (insertion).  In most real world activities, that would be at the neck, wrists or ankles -- but in activities contrived just to increase the heart rate arbitrarily and unnecessarily, that movement seldom proceeds beyond the hips and shoulders -- and even then, not by much.

And that is the problem when people report exercising as hard as ever, with only diminishing returns -- eventually to the point at which they think it is even non- or counterproductive.  At which they give up and fall into despair about their future prospects for good health and survival -- and think nothing else is possible -- because they largely think that nothing else is possible.  Many physical instructors and even other health professionals will insist that it is either their "way or the highway," even though they exhibit no evidence that their way actually works.  It is just enough that they all recommend the same thing -- that doesn't work for everybody else either.

But the inquiring mind might ask, "Is that all there is?"  "Are we all doomed in this way?"  One hopes not -- but it is not likely to be what everybody is insisting doesn't work.  They have to look deeper for a way that does -- and makes perfectly good sense to do so.

One of the earlier ideas to improve upon the isometric idea came in the concept of negative-accentuated exercise -- in which instead of focusing primarily on lifting a weight (positive-accentuated), one devoted more time and energy to lowering the weight from full contraction to full relaxation -- as sort of an isometric with movement.  The problem with this is that it still requires breath-holding as the method by which one is hoping to hold and lower the weight as slowly as possible -- and so causing the muscle to "fail" in this way.  However, this also made any familiar exercise even harder -- and less rewarding (validating), because the measure of its success -- was this notable failure.  It was called "muscle failure," when in fact, it was the failure of adequate circulation to the brain -- that causes all other exertions to cease.

What one wishes to do in any athletic or practical event, is actually to increase one's capabilities and perseverence as long as is required -- and not to prematurely and predictably fail.  At the wrong moment, that would be particularly disastrous -- and so the practicality of that manner of conditioning, is highly questionable, and of what use?  Predictably, that manner of training, while initially popular, was also quickly abandoned -- because conditioning with "failure," does not particularly make sense to those who wish to persevere long after the competition has dropped out.  They wish to be the "last man standing," and not the "first person out."

The problem with most static exercise modalities, is that they move from the presumably fully contracted position to the fully relaxed position -- and when they talk of increasing the range of motion, think in terms of increasing the range of relaxed position, rather than more productively, increasing the contraction beyond what they have thought to be the furthest extent in that direction -- yet that is obviously the movement that would have the greatest impact of forcing the fluid (blood) out of the capillaries at the extremities -- as the muscle contracts increasingly or momentarily as hard as it ever has.  That action forces the blood back towards the heart in the most powerful, obvious way -- creating the space for the heart to pump new blood into those areas.  Keep in mind that the heart is only an organ of less than a pound, and cannot overcome the resistance of miles of capillaries in which the blood is not moving.

But the evacuation always has to precede the inflow -- because the resistance in the capillaries, is too difficult to overcome.  It has to be pumping into a vacuum as much as possible to achieve -- by understanding the action of the muscles to contract back towards the heart -- and in that contraction, compressing the fluids in that direction -- towards the renewing and recycling organs of the body.  That's what most produces and assures healthful functioning of the body.  Nature has done the hard part -- in designing and evolving everything that way.  We still need to read the User's Manual to get maximum use out of it -- and volumes have been written to get even more.

But unfortunately, most settle for the minimal use of it -- rather than its fullest potential to upgrade our lives to much higher levels than ever thought possible before.  That's when the real magic is unleashed -- tapping the power of the unthinkable.  The position in which one thinks is the end position, is only the beginning -- and one can dispense with the rest.  The range that can be extended and articulated (expressed), doesn't end where most think it does -- but actually begins at that point at which most think further movement is not possible.  Further efforts in that direction, causes a super-contraction -- while seemingly producing very little discernible movement.  However, the resistance from further contraction, is maximal -- and that is the very powerful effect of producing the maximum internal compression pushing blood back to the heart.

Then, even the slightest relaxation, draws blood from the heart into that vacuum (space).  And so, it is not a steady, constant contraction that is most effective in achieving that circulatory effect, but rather, pulsing in very brief, but powerful supercontractions -- that only seems like a constant isometric contraction.  That alternation of muscular state would obviously produce a similar pumping effect as the heart -- which has to be an alternation between the contracted muscle and a relaxation -- even while an overt movement is minimal.  It is the movement within the body that is far more important than any outward show of it -- for the health benefit.

And the health benefit, should be the longterm objective of exercise -- and not just throwing a ball further, running faster, jumping higher, and lifting more weight, but in the doing so, prematurely shortening their life and well-being -- as is so often witnessed in using the highly competitive model to measure one's progress.  Thus, many training in that fashion, have a brief moment of fame, and then a much longer period of disability, and premature death.  Some are willing to accept that trade-off, but many more, would opt for a longer life, in good health as the overwhelming quality and quantity of life.

But as many people know, or recognize, movements become increasingly problematical with age -- so the trick is to attain the benefits -- without experiencing the pain and disincentives for doing so -- which brings most people to an abrupt stop in their activities, even as much as they've enjoyed it previously all their life.  There comes a time when even that is no longer possible, or bearable.  So how does one get around that?  Exercising with minimal movement -- but unprecedented effectiveness.  The exercise must now begin where they previously would have ended it.

A good example is to lay down on a surface and bring the knees up to one's chest as much as possible -- and once attaining that position, straightening the legs, and from that position, move the feet further towards the head, and even down to the floor if that is possible.  Every inch of moving in that direction, will produce an unprecedented muscular contraction -- most notably of the abdominals, but of all the muscles also -- in a way that moving the feet in the more conventional direction (back to relaxation), could never.  The quality and intensity of the contraction, determines the effective of the compression of the blood back towards the heart -- and on each momentary relaxation, the heart has space to fill with new blood.  Otherwise, the heart is totally ineffective -- because it cannot overcome the resistance of miles of capillaries with blood that remains in it.  That is not possible, but simply returns to the heart.

The blood has to be first evacuated -- and then the resulting space, creates a vacuum where new blood can readily flow.  It can't work any other way.  It is just physically impossible -- no matter how much one thinks it is so.  It just doesn't work that way -- or could it.  That's why the isometric contraction -- beginning with the conventional endpoint, is the most powerful way to effect this action -- because nothing else is possible.

This is a particularly useful way for those with movement limitations to exercise -- because it obviates the need for overt movement, while maximizing the internal movement, which is the flow of blood back to the heart.  In more primitive times, people would move their hands, feet and necks much more -- but now that is seen mostly in performers in dance, gymnastics, diving and other athletics -- but is less obvious in all the athletic movements -- that are overshadowed by other measurements of significance.  Many purely fitness activities overlook these critical and fine motor coordinations -- thinking wrongly, that gross movements are all that is necessary to make the heart work harder.  But the lack is not the dereliction of the heart but of every other muscle of sedentary contemporary living to do its vital part to complete the circulatory process and pathway -- particularly to the head, hands and feet, that are the familiar and obvious signs of deterioration and aging.

Understanding and focusing on only one part of it, does not make it a whole, or even complete understanding of this vital health process.  One needs to see the larger picture -- and not mistake a small part, as the whole story. -- yet thinking one understands anything at all.  People don't just die from one thing; they die from everything.  Similarly, life is not just one thing -- but everything.