Understanding Reversibility: If you don't use it, you lose it

The following post is the third installment in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of Reversibility. Previous posts address Adaptation and Progressive Overload, and Specificity. Future posts will address the Principles of Variability, and Individuality.

Last week, I was working with a client who had taken a few weeks off of training for a holiday. Shortly thereafter, she got sick with a cold, which also put her back in her training schedule. When she finally was able to return to training with me, she was shocked at how hard everything felt and how much more winded she was becoming at exercises that had previously felt much easier.

”How can this be? I’ve only been gone 4 weeks? Why do I feel like I am starting over completely?”

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I assured her that, while it might feel like she was completely starting over, this wasn’t the case. But I also had to explain that if she was feeling like her fitness had taken a pretty big step backwards, it was because it had.

In fitness, we talk an awful lot about progression, and about how we get stronger, faster, and more powerful when we train with regularity, consistency and intensity. However, we don’t always take the time to explain that the opposite is also true.

Of all the hard to swallow health pills there, the hardest one is very likely: if you don’t use it, you lose it. In fitness, we refer to this as the principle of reversibility.

In order to fully understand how reversibility works, it is first important to distinguish the necessary component of recovery from the less necessary and often harmful components of inactivity/ de-conditioning.

When the body trains, the muscles undergo damage. Don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing and the body is well equipped to deal with this damage and rebuild itself. As we saw in the post regarding progressive adaptation, this is actually a fundamental aspect of growth and it is the process of healing that actually allows us to grow stronger, faster, more powerful and more flexible.

Ensuring you get enough sleep can be a critical component of your training program.

Ensuring you get enough sleep can be a critical component of your training program.

Fundamental to understanding this process is the principle of recovery, or the period of time in which the body is at rest and able to focus its energy on rebuilding the damage done to the tissues. Recovery can take several forms, the most meaningful of which is sleep. (Yes, sleep is actually critical to your fitness and health goals. We will talk more about that in a future post!). Recovery can also be passive, where you take an entire day off of training altogether, or active, where you engage in lower intensity activities that are not designed to inflict significant additional damage to the working tissues. Failure to allow an adequate amount of time for tissue recovery can lead to serious health conditions, including over training syndrome,

Recovery is a fundamental aspect of fitness training, and absolutely critical to improving your over health. However, there is a relatively thin line between recovery and de-training. De-training occurs when we take prolonged breaks from our regularly training routines. This can happen as the result of an illness or injury, or just because life sometimes takes us out of the gym for a few weeks at a time.

How quickly a body begins to de-train depends on a large number of variables, including but not limited to age, fitness level, how long you have been training and the specific type of training. Well conditioned athletes who have structured periods of de-training (sometimes referred to as deloading) will generally feel the affects less intensely, whereas newer exercisers will feel the deconditioning effects in a faster, more profound way.

Not limited to losses in cardiopulmonary capacity (your ability to pump blood and circulate oxygen through your system effectively) and lean muscle mass, de-conditioning can also affect other physiological components of health including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar regulation.

When training for endurance performance, many athletes will include weeks in their program dedicated to strategically reducing their training l

When training for endurance performance, many athletes will include weeks in their program dedicated to strategically reducing their training l

According to Adam Tzur, author of The Science of Detraining: How long can you take a break from the gym before you lose muscle mass, strength, and endurance, detraining effects can be felt in as little as 2-3 weeks. Muscles start to atrophy after two to three weeks, though evidence indicates that these gains can be more quickly recovered with newer athletes. Simlarly, aerobic capacity can be impacted by up to 25% in four weeks, and flexibility can be decreased by up to 30% in as little as a month.

While there may be advantages to taking on a period of deloading, particularly for athletes or for people beginning to experience physical exhaustion, these should e executed strategically and with an understanding that there will be a cost to performance and progress.

Rather than completely stopping all training, most exercisers would benefit more from taking on a reduce maintenance training schedule in which typically involves training at a reduce frequency (less times per week), duration (less time per session), volume (less work load per session), or intensity (less difficulty in the work performed). A lightened training schedule can greatly preserve your fitness levels, either maintaining them entirely or significantly slowly the de-conditioning process.

So, long story short: Next time you decide to take a few weeks off from the gym, make sure you remember to include some activity during your break- even if it`s just short bouts of strength or aerobic training, to keep your progress in tip top shape!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Zita Dube-Lockhart (BA/D. HS, CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.

Understanding Specificity: Practice Makes Perfect

The following post is the second in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of Specificity. Future posts will address the Principles of Reversibility, Variability, and Individuality.

If you want to learn to jump higher, eventually your feet need to actually leave the ground!

If you want to learn to jump higher, eventually your feet need to actually leave the ground!

This May, the Generate Fitness team has decided to explore “getting comfortable with discomfort”. There are so many ways in life that this phrase applies, and the gym is no exception. The simple, cliche, and sometimes hard to accept, truth is that nothing changes unless you do.

Last week, we took at look at the fitness principles of adaptation and progressive overload, and how these two phenomenons related back to forcing your body to always feel challenged and pushed. Most of our growth lies in how much effort we are putting into our work, and fitness is no exception.

But what about those times where you feel like all you do is work harder and harder, and still don’t seem to feel like your progress is in a rut? Or you really want to improve at one specific type of training, but find that nothing you do is working for you. Well, it is entirely possible that you are working as hard as you can, but on the wrong things.

Today, we’re going to explore the principle of specificity, or- as I like to call it- “practice makes perfect!”

Training to be an exceptional goaltender in hockey is vastly different from training to be a defensemen, and even more different than the training done to be an elite level runner.

Training to be an exceptional goaltender in hockey is vastly different from training to be a defensemen, and even more different than the training done to be an elite level runner.

In exercise science, specificity refers to the fact that the body adapts to the specific stimulus and stress to which it is exposed. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that if you want to get better at something, you need to work on it, or on its specific elements.

That’s right, folks. This is just about the the most brutal it gets: No amount of squats will make you better at burpees. Squats will absolutely allow you to improve in certain elements of a burpee, but without the upper torso engagement and closed kinetic chain component, the squat is simply a completely different exercise that works on completely different elements of your strength.

The same applies for any other skill such as flexibility, balance or coordination, or activity, be it running, cycling, kickboxing, dance. You will only improve in ways that you train yourself to improve in. Hockey players must focus on various elements of fitness training that are related to their sport. And being great at hockey does not necessarily equate being an amazing long distance runner. The two actually have very little in common besides requiring a lot of aerobic endurance.

It’s easy to understand how a sport or activity might require specific training, but it becomes a little harder to apply that same principle to our own individual training, especially when participating in group fitness. Most of us don’t have specific training goals beyond wanting to be healthier in an overall, holistic sense. Some of us may want to improve our aerobic endurance, or increase our muscle mass, but even these are much less specified than the training goals of performance athletes.

And since, in group fitness, you don’t control your program design, and may have some movements that are outside of your scope of ability, your ability to manage specificity may be even further limited.

This is why working with instructors who are highly qualified and capable of designing well-rounded programs that have appropriate modifications that will accurately reflect the movement patterns being trained becomes so very important. In part 2 of Specificity, we will explore in more detail how using the For Every Body Movement Scaffolding System, or other program design approaches can ensure that you are giving your body all the tools it needs to progress in a well rounded way that is specific to your needs.

Zita Dube-Lockhart (CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.

Understanding Adaptation: Putting Progression Into Practice

The following post is the first in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of progressive overload. Future posts will address the Principles of Specificity, Reversibility, Variability, and Individuality.

Earlier this week, we discussed the principles of Adaptation and Progression, and how these both relate back to your fitness goals. Put simply, you need to contsantly increase the demands upon your body for it to continue to improve. This is true not only for strength training, but also for developing aerobic fitness, improving stability, gaining flexibility and developing muscular endurance.

Feeling uncertain about how to progress your exercise can lead to a fitness rut, where you continue to do the exact same thing but with less and less results.

Feeling uncertain about how to progress your exercise can lead to a fitness rut, where you continue to do the exact same thing but with less and less results.

While there is no question that a customized and individualized exercise program designed by a Qualified Exercise Professional is the most effective way to ensure effective way to ensure that you are continuously progressing your workouts towards your specific goal, working with Personal Trainers isn’t always a preferred or realistic approach for many people. That’s why so many choose group fitness options which allow them access to high quality programming for a fraction of the cost, and with the added benefit of building a community of friends.

There is a belief in the fitness industry that group fitness, by its very nature, can not effectively deliver a progressive overload due to the generic nature of the programs. Research indicates that, after an initial period of growth and development, many participants find their results slowing down or plateauing altogether.

As a seasoned CSEP Certified Personal Trainer, as well as an AFAA Group Fitness Instructor and NCCP Sports Coach, I sincerely believe that this phenomenon is due to 2 critical issues:

  1. On the part of the instructor, it is created by a lack of structure and informed progressive planning in their program design, and

  2. On the part of the participant, a lack of understanding of how and when to influence their own work outs and push themselves beyond their comfort zone. (Which is, in large part, why I am writing this series for you!)

Increasing your weight is one of the easiest and most effective ways to progress your workload.

Increasing your weight is one of the easiest and most effective ways to progress your workload.

A well designed program, along with a sound base of knowledge, can and should effectively be able to create a progressive overload in virtually all participants. So today, we will take a look at some of the easiest ways to progress your group fitness workouts based on the programs you are using and the fitness goals you have in mind.

Increase the weight

Go ahead, load up that bar! Grab that heavier dumbbell! Take your push up from wall to your knees! Increasing the weight refers to the literal amount of weight you are trying to work with.

  • Best For: Building larger muscles and increasing overall strength

  • Most Applicable in: Classes that utilize resistance training equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands, such as Surge, Short Circuit, and Transformer.

Do more reps

Need to distract yourself from that muscle burn feeling? Try counting your reps in each set! Aiming to do one or two reps more per exercise set can dramatically increase your workload. Going from 10 reps to 12 reps is a 20% rep increase! That’s massive!

  • Best For: Increasing muscular endurance and re-enforcing proper technique at lighter loads.

  • Most Applicable In: Classes that are timed such as Surge, Short Circuit, and TRX

Balance training work is a trained fitness component that focuses on core stability.

Balance training work is a trained fitness component that focuses on core stability.

Decrease the base of support

Did you know that balancing on one foot requires effort from your toes all the way up to your head! Balance is a trained fitness component that involves significant core stabilization. Taking exercises from two feet to one foot, or from a stable base to an unstable one is an easy and efficient way to progress your work out.

  • Best For: Improving stability and muscular endurance, and integrating the core

  • Most Applicable In: Classes that focus on lower weights and higher repetitions, though it can be integrated into most unchoreographed/lightly choreographed workouts. Ideal for Open Barre, Fuze, Short Circuit, TRX and Surge.

Choose the right progression for your can make your workout much more effective! Remember: master a movement at its most basic level before trying to progress it.

Choose the right progression for your can make your workout much more effective! Remember: master a movement at its most basic level before trying to progress it.

Manipulate the range of motion

Range of motion (ROM) is best described as the full movement potential of a joint, usually in extension or flexion. Now, in exercise, refine this definition to include safety, efficiency and effectiveness, as not all human bodies are able to fully move their joints to their full capacity. A person’s ROM is a reflection of their flexibility. We can manipulate ROM as a training tool by either a) seeking to get as much range as is safely possible with each repetition, or b) targeting specific muscle fibres through strategically utilized partial range movements (ie: working only the top half or bottom half of a movement)

  • Best for: increasing the size and shape of a muscle, as well improving the flexibility about a joint.

  • Most Applicable In: Virtually all classes, but specifically relevant in Transformer, Pound Fitness, Open Barre, and CardioLIT, where choreography can sometimes impede ROM.

Play with the tempo

One of the best things about Group Fitness is the MUSIC! But did you know that Tempo- or the speed at which you are working- isn’t just about the tunes? Your movement tempo can greatly affect your fatigue levels, either by slow down and focusing on control and stability, or by speeding things up and trigger our fast-twitch, speech responsive muscle fibres!

  • Best For: A slowed tempo will help to develop and strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibres which are responsible for muscular endurance, and an increased tempo will fire off the fast twitch muscle fibres responsible for power and explosive reaction.

  • Most Applicable In: This technique is one of the primary one used in choreographed fitness classes such as Transformer, CardioLIT, Open Barre and Pound. Non-choregraphed programs such as Short Circuit and TRX may also make use of tempo manipulations to increase or change workload.

  • NOTE: Remember that increasing your speed should never come at the expense of your form! Safety first, friends!

Maximize OR Minimize your recovery

So I know that this one seems contradictory. After all, how can two polar opposite approaches both yield the same result? The trick to recovery is understanding your training goals and what your body needs to do to best achieve these.

If, for example, you are working on aerobic endurance, then achieving and maintaining a steady-state heart rate might be the best strategy for your class. In this case, performing continuous or near work might be the most effective strategy. Alternatively, if your training goal is to perform high intensity work or to work as hard as you can for a short period of time, recovery periods become essential for allowing your body to recover fully and work at its maximum potential with every set.

The simple rule of thumb here is “the harder you work, the more taking recovery periods matters.” A high quality recovery period can improve your work out, but too much recovery can impede your progress, so make sure to talk to your instructor about how to best manage this in their classes.

  • Best for: Manipulating the body’s reaction to exercise to allow it to better achieve your training goal.

  • Applicable in: Shorter Recovery interval: CardioLIT, Pound, Running Club, Kickboxing, TRX, Fuze; Higher recovery interval: Surge, Short Circuit, Transformer

Integrate additional muscles

This one is actually quite simple. While there is definitely a time and place for isolated resistance training, working on only one muscle group at a time, the more of your body you use at once, the harder your body needs to work. Compounding exercises, or working on several muscle groups simultaneously, is an extremely effective strategy for increasing your workload and progressing your workouts.

  • Best For: Exercises that allow for greater leeway when it comes to form and precision (ie: Step Ups, with an integration of cross body upper torso/arm movements), or that work two or more muscle groups as part of their design (ie: Bicep curl to shoulder press).

  • Most Applicable In: CardioLIT, Pound Fitness, TRX, and Short Circuit.

A little jumping can go a long way towards pumping up the heart rate and increasing the cardiopulmonary demands.

A little jumping can go a long way towards pumping up the heart rate and increasing the cardiopulmonary demands.

Explore explosiveness

Sometimes, the most effective ‘weight’ is the one created by your own body! Adding hops, jumps and plyometrics to cardio body weight movements can leave you feeling mighty sweaty, super out-of-breathy. Amp these up by adding directional changes or involving all the different planes of motion! Upper body plyometrics are also excellent progression options and include plyometric punches, push ups, throws, tosses and slams.

  • Best for: Improving muscle speed and power, muscle recruitment and the density of fast-twitch muscle fibres.

  • Most Applicable In: CardioLIT, Kickboxing, and the BODY WEIGHT components of TRX, Kickboxing, Surge, Short Circuit,

  • NOTE: Weighted plyometrics are extremely high impact, can be damaging to the joints and should only be attempted by seasoned athletes under the supervision of qualified exercise professionals.

So there you have it. While not exhaustive, these 8 strategies are practical, easy to integrate progression options that will allow you to maximize your work out and take control of your fitness level. Remember, your instructors are your partners in this process. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help, advice or specific modifications to help you get the most out of your time with them!

But wait! We taught you how to progress your workouts…but how do you know when to progress them? Well, we will talk about that a little more when we take a closer look at intensity later in this series!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zita Bitmoji Bio.png

Zita Dube-Lockhart (CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.

#GenFitTips: Understanding Adaptation Pt. 1

The following post is the first in a five post series called “Understanding The Principles Of Fitness”. This post concerns the principle of progressive overload. Future posts will address the Principles of Specificity, Reversibility, Variability, and Individuality.

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The other day, after a particularly grueling session of CardioLIT, a participant exclaimed “Just when I thought I was getting better at this, Zita brings in new choreography and shows me just how close to death I actually am!”

It was intended as a joke, a bit of self-deprecating snicker among close friends, but I felt the need to address it with the group.

I answered, “You know that I keep making things harder for you on purpose, right? That it’s not that you aren’t as fit as you thought you were, but it’s that you are actually way fitter than before which means I have to find new ways to challenge you even more?”

This led to a great discussion about one of my favourite training principles: Progressive Overload.

We hear a lot in modern fitness culture that exercise “doesn’t get easier; you just get better.

And, like so many things in pop-fitness culture, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Exercises DO get easier as you get stronger, and if you want to continue getting stronger, you need to constantly remember to find ways to challenge yourself.

Whether you are trying to get faster, stronger, or even more flexible, the key to fitness success lies in "progressive overload", the gradual increase of physical demands placed on the body beyond its normal capacities.

Using modifications and progressions is an excellent way of creating additional stress in an exercise.

Using modifications and progressions is an excellent way of creating additional stress in an exercise.

You see, the body is a brilliant machine that is designed to do one primary thing: to stay alive as long as it can. And one of the ways that it does this is by adaptation to its environment. The body is capable of making amazing changes in order to meed the demands placed upon it. It does this by carefully measuring and balancing its energy expenditure and energy balance. Note: The body will use more energy when it needs to, and conserve energy when it doesn’t need to in order to use it in the future.

Every time you perform a strenuous physical activity, your body undergoes stress. Ligaments and tendons are stretched, muscle fibres are torn (we call these tears “micro tears”) , and stored energy is consumed. After the stress is over, your body enters into a restorative cycle, during which several systems activate to repair the damage that the tissues have undergone. If this damage is minor, the recovery process is quick and easy. If the damage is more significant, the recovery process takes longer.

The repair process for skeletal muscle, the type of muscle that we use to move our bodies, results a few fascinating changes, all of which directly relate to the type of activity we underwent. We call this the Principle of Specificity. The body is capable of becoming stronger, faster, leaner, more powerful, more flexible and more energy efficient. It truly is remarkable!

But change is hard, even for a body designed to undergo it. And all of these changes require expending energy. Now remember: The body has one major job. and that is to stay alive. The best way to stay alive is to store as much energy as possible in order to have it available for use when it needs it.

This means that, while the body is fully capable of expending energy, it will not expend energy on things that it doesn’t feel it needs to. It only adapts to new environments when it feels that it is forced to.

Changing your load is another excellent way to progress or regress exercise, particularly in group fitness settings.

Changing your load is another excellent way to progress or regress exercise, particularly in group fitness settings.

As the body is exposed to the same stimulus repeatedly, it becomes increasingly well adapted to that specific activity. This is why a CardioLIT or Open Barre routine that may have seemed impossible a few weeks earlier becomes easier as you perform it more often. Every time you perform it, the body undergoes its adaptation cycle as a response to the stress that you imposed on it.

But what happens when the ‘stress’ doesn’t actually feel like stress anymore? What happens when you have gotten so good at the routine, and your body has gotten so well adapted to it, that it doesn’t feel like work anymore?

Well, then your body gives itself a Big Ol’ Proverbial Pat-On-The-Back and stops sending the signals to change. After all, it no longer needs to change. It has become perfectly suited to the demands you are placing on it. It has undergone a successful adaptation. It no longer perceives a reason to make you stronger, faster, or more resilient.

This means that, in order to keep progressing in your fitness goals, you must continue to find ways to make your workouts more challenging. By strategically changing the stress your body is undergoing, you can create the variability you need in order to change and grow.

In “Understanding Adaptation Pt. 2, we will talk more about the many different strategies you can use to keep yourself growing and adapting!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

zita bitmoji Bio 3 (2).png

Zita Dube-Lockhart (CSEP CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI) is known for her voracious appetite for t̶a̶c̶o̶s̶ knowledge and her unquenchable t̶h̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶e̶ passion for creating accessible fitness opportunities for every body and everyone.