By Arthur Jones
CAUSE AND EFFECT: an understanding of the requirements for productive exercise is
essential for the production of good results from exercise. Which, in at least one sense, is a
misleading statement, because exercise does not PRODUCE physiological improvement,
increases in muscular size and strength; instead exercise STIMULATES physiological changes.
But any actual improvements that follow is a result of the body's response to that stimulus
provided by exercise.
The things you can be, the limits of your potential size, strength, intelligence and several other
things, were determined before you where born, were dictated by your genetics; but what you
will be is largely determined by stimulation provided by experience. Given the proper
stimulation, your body will respond by improving; assuming that only all the requirements for
such improvement are provided, essentially meaning that you can not grow without food, water,
air, and regardless of any stimulation.
If you never perform work or exercise with your hands, never expose your hands to force of any
kind, you will never the less find that the skin on the palms of your hands is thicker than the skin
on the back of your hands. Why? Because millions of years of evolution has established the need
for thicker skin on your palms; the palms are more likely to be exposed to potentially-dangerous
forces, and thus need to be stronger than the back of your hands. The same thing being true in
regard to your feet: skin on the bottom is thicker than skin on the top for the same reason.
And if you never walked a step in your life the skin on the bottom would still be thicker then that
on top. And much the same situation exists in regard to your muscles: with no exercise of any
kind, some of your muscles would be larger and stronger than some others.
By far the vast majority of children born in this country today, will grow up without having been
exposed to anything in the way of either hard work or meaningful exercise, yet their muscles,
with no stimulation from any source, will never the less grow to a certain size and strength. And
just why does growth stop at that point? Because the body does not sense any need for greater
muscular size and strength; the existing level, low as it is, nevertheless is enough to provide any
requirements imposed by the activities of daily living.
Additional increases in muscular size and strength will be provided only if the body senses that
such greater strength is needed; you have probably heard the expression"If you don't use it, you
will lose it." Which is a true statement, but it is also true that if you don't need it you will never
get it in the first place. So you must convince your body that greater muscular size and strength is
required, that the existing levels are not enough for your requirements.
With no stimulation for growth the body will nevertheless provide enough strength to meet your
actual needs, PLUS AT LEAST SOME ADDITIONAL STRENGTH AS A RESERVE FOR
EMERGENCY USE. If that "extra" level of strength is never used, then no growth will occur;
but if you do call upon that "extra" emergency level of strength, than you are sending a clear
signal to the body that even more strength is required. Thus the need for so-called "overload" in
productive exercise; and while you can obviously not lift an impossibly heavy weight, you must,
at least, lift as much as possible, and then must attempt to lift the impossible load.
Which DOES NOT mean trying to lift the impossibly-heavy weight once. But it does mean that
you should try to stop when it becomes momentarily impossible to perform one or more
repetitions in good form. Do as many repetitions in good form, and then, after you fail, try to do
one more repetition.
But isn't that dangerous? No, it is not dangerous: so long as the style of performance, or "form,"
of an exercise remains constant, then the force imposed upon the body also remains constant. If
you perform ten repetitions and then fail, the last repetition will certainly fell heavier then the
first one did; but that is an illusion, the last repetition felt heavier only because of fatigue from
the earlier repetitions had momentarily reduce your starting level of strength.
If your starting level of strength is 100, and if you exercise with 80 pounds of resistance, then
the first repetition will be relatively easy, the weight will feel light; because, at that point in the
exercise, you still have "extra" strength that you are not yet using, you are working at a
"submaximal" level of resistance.
Then, repetition by repetition, it will appear that the weight is getting heavier; but, as stated
above, that is an illusion, the weight seems to be getting heavier only because you are getting
weaker from fatigue. During the final repetition, your strength, and the resistance will be the
same. So, during that final repetition, you are working with maximum resistance. One more
repetition in good form is then momentarily impossible because your remaining strength is then
less the level of resistance. At that point, your remaining strength might be 79, down only 21
percent from your fresh level, but 79 will not lift 80, so you are forced to stop.
Danger from exercise occurs only when the imposed force of resistance exceeds the existing
level of structural strength of some part of the body; if the "breaking strength" of a muscle, a
tendon, or a bone is 100, then a force of 100 or more will break something, will cause an injury.
Just "how heavy" the weight feels is of no importance; but it must fell heavy at the end of a
properly-performed exercise; if not, then there is no overload, and thus little or no stimulation
for growth. Remember: you must convince the body that additional strength is required.
Having done that properly, than you should avoid any hard exercise long enough for the body to
respond properly. If growth stimulation is provided too often, without enough time for full
recovery between workouts, then growth becomes impossible; in extreme cases, too much
exercise will cause losses in size and strength. And if you are training regularly, but are not
getting any stronger, then you are probably training too much, or too often.
If you take a wood rasp and use it to scrape the skin on the palm of your hand, scrape it hard but
not so hard that you remove the skin on your hand, and if you do this about twice each week,
then you will rather quickly produce a heavy callus on your hand in the place that you scraped it.
Such scraping tells the hand that the existing level of skin thickness was not enough to deal with
the forces being encountered, so the development of a callus is an attempt by the body to
strengthen your hand. But if, instead, you scrape it too often, then no callus will ever be
produced; instead, the skin itself becomes thinner. The muscles respond to overload in a very
In exercise you have a choice: you can exercise "hard" or you can exercise "a lot," but you
cannot do both. Relatively "light" exercise is usually a waste of time and energy, regardless of
how much of it you perform, because there is little or no overload. "Heavy" exercise, working
to failure, does provide overload, but very little of it is actually required to stimulate muscular
growth, and too much will prevent growth, or even cause losses in size and strength.