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Monday, August 28, 2017

Exercise versus Recreation

Probably one of the most seminal things I’ve ever read about exercise was an article written by Ken Hutchins, the originator of Superslow.  Ken’s exercise protocol was groundbreaking, in that he pinpointed exactly what the actual goal should be in exercise!  

If you don’t know what you are even aiming at, you are never going to hit the target!  And it is a true statement that: the vast majority of people, exercise “specialists” included- don’t know what exercise really is, and what the real goal of exercise is.  

Most “exercise” falls in the recreation category, not exercise.  Real exercise has the goal of improving physical fitness, period.  This means doing what it takes to improve-

Muscular size, strength and endurance
Bone strength
Cardiovascular efficiency
Enhanced flexibility
Contributing to body leanness
Increased resistance to injury

That makes perfect sense, right?  Exercise is all about improving your body.  Of course, stress relief and other benefits also incidentally accrue- but the bottom line in physical improvement!  Exercise should send a signal to the body- improve, or you may die.  The basic demands of nature are that severe.  

I think that many in the paleo community, as well as of course the general public, are completely ignorant of this.  The prevailing concept is that any movement is exercise.  

Wrong.  Just “moving”, whether it be in a sport, or any other activity, however strenuous, is recreation, not exercise.  Recreation is fun.  Exercise is definitely not fun- it is hard, uncomfortable, and brutal!  To be truly effective, it must go just beyond your comfort zone, into a place where you want to stop before you’ve reached real fatigue- but you don’t!  You go on, doing a couple of more reps, even though it burns.  You do this for the results, not because it’s “fun”.  

It’s kind of a fine point, because almost everyone says they are walking, or running, or skiing, or playing football or baseball or doing Cross Fit or dancing for exercise.  You may gain a small bit of physical benefit from these activities, but it is incidental, and comes at the cost of possible injury and is a very inefficient means of increasing fitness.  For instance, in most sports, let’s pick football for instance, the off-season is when players concentrate on actually building fitness.  Then, during the playing season, they progressively become less and less fit, as they overtrain and inevitably get injured.  Their sport is recreation, not exercise.

Real Exercise is actually pushing yourself hard, but briefly.  This not only increases muscular size, strength and endurance- it also trains your cardio system at the same time, since stressing the musculature is exactly the way that we stress, (and thus enhance) the cardiovascular system!  

The other component of real exercise is allowing the body adequate nutrition, and the time for the body to adapt to the exercise stimulus.  The body does not grow stronger while you are exercising- it can only rebuild once you are done.  If you sleep adequately, eat a good, paleo type of diet, and wait long enough before you truly exercise again- why then, your body will grow stronger, and better, more resilient- it will improve.  This, my friend, is true exercise!

Now, Ken Hutchins went to extremes.  He recommended training to absolute failure, and then taking 5 days or so between sessions.  I disagree with this, as I found that not only does maximum muscular overload become dangerous in the long term, but this practice ignores the importance of the daily, or near daily oxygenation of the blood pumping through the musculature.  I believe this blood pumping, only achievable with high-rep exercise, is crucial for overall health and fitness!  

Hence, my recommendation of doing high rep calisthenics, along with near maximum resistance isometrics, self resisted exercises, and above all virtual resistance exercises.  These can all be done perfectly safely, and they all address the six factors of real exercise that I mentioned before.  

In addition, doing a set of super slow exercise, such as pushups done really, really slowly- (10 seconds up, 10 down) is a brutal, yet highly effective way to perform real exercise!  In fact, it is the “most bang for the buck” of any exercise you can do.  But do it in moderation.  

It is that taxing on the central nervous system, and can “burn you out” if you do it too much.  I say, exercise daily!  Enjoy it, but make sure you make it hard, not fun.  Then, take a walk in the woods.  Go dancing.  Play basketball, baseball, or whatever trips your trigger.  Recreation is great, really!  Enjoy it- that’s what it’s for.

Just don’t think it is exercise.