What exactly does someone mean when they talk about inroading?
What exactly do they mean when they talk about outroading?
Seems like a simple set of questions.
Only, I think they are both highly misapplied and largely misunderstood and downright abused concepts in the high intensity training world.
Analogies are destined, ultimately, to be somewhat useless as they attempt to describe something they are not. And yet, they may be somewhat helpful in illustrating something we don’t know with something we do know. That which we do know may contain elements and parallels of truth about the unknown subject but, since it is not the actual unknown subject, cannot possibly be a direct explanation for that which is still only partially understood.
There are a lot of theories as to the function of skeletal muscle. There are a lot of theories about neurological function. There are a lot of theories about energy systems in muscle metabolism. There are a lot of theories about muscle fiber types. There is a lot of speculation about how all these elements actually work together. Any serious thought in this direction will always be confounded by the poorly understood effect of the plasticity of these elements on the appearance of results to the point that you can “verify” almost any pet theory if you design your studies properly. It is hard to know what is actually being measured in most studies and as a result, most add very little towards cohesive clarity of the system beyond this plasticity.
The skeletal system and the support given to it by the organs of the body is a very sophisticated biomechanical machine. It’s kind of like an automobile. When it all works together it gets you from point A to point B very effectively. There are many who take this on faith without ever knowing what is really going on beneath the surface, under the hood. Even expert automobile mechanics get lost somewhere between the theoretically perfect function and getting that unknown something extra out of a high performance race car. What kind of vehicle? One set up for optimal performance on the drag strip? That car would likely be a failure in a 24 hour Daytona or Lemans race. One set up for dirt track racing probably wouldn’t fare too well at the drag strip. You begin to get the idea. The same elements with minor but important combined differences yield performance of very different qualities. Anyone here for a Tractor Pull?
What road do we want our muscles to be on? What track are we trying to run. Do we want to travel the out road or the in road and how do we best fit in to whatever road we should be on?
I think there needs to be some sort of cursory attempt to define the important terms here.
Inroad. I believe there are those who associate the concept of momentary muscle failure as synonymous with the term inroad. They figure that failure to lift a weight after X number of repetitions equals an inroad as the net difference in a reduction between starting strength and failure. Most often there is some attempt to establish maximum strength and then to work at some preselected percentage of the starting weight, usually eighty percent. Thus, they figure, failure under these guidelines means a twenty percent inroad.
It is dangerous to assume that failure, under this circumstance, actually represents any inroad at all.
There are many possible explanations as to why a subject would reach the point of not being able to work past a certain point and many of these reasons are due to outroading. But wait, I just used another undefined term to refute the existence of a phenomenon I have still not defined.
Inroad is not failure.
Failure is simply reaching the point, due to any number of factors, in which the subject is no longer able to control, lift or lower the given weight being used in an imposed load exercise implement. It is hard to describe this to someone who has never actually performed a meaningful set of exercise in a generated force exercise like infimetrics. Failure does not occur in infimetrics. It does occur in the closely related akinetics as akinetics is infimetrics married to imposed load, albeit a smaller than normal load. This may lead to deeper inroading but most load the akinetic set too heavily to actually accomplish this leading to simple failure with the appearance of greater “inroad” without really effectively accomplishing this. Inroad is facilitated in infimetrics but can easily be confounding to the person looking for infimetrics to create failure instead of inroad. Because of this is becomes easy to create situations of outroading with infimetrics if a subject is trying to make infimetrics behave like something it is not. That being imposed load exercise.
I have still left the concept of inroad undefined. It is no small task to pull all the elements of inroading together. You have to take into account the energy delivery systems of the metabolic environment of the muscle. You then have to factor in the mechanical means with which you are either generating or imposing force with which to make this metabolic capacity set to work. There is the need, also, to consider the role of the neurological system in signaling all the parts of the system to work together without attempting to override any of the elements.
Going back to the car analogy it might be understood that the fuel tank and fuel delivery system are the circulatory system responsible for delivering elements of energy to the metabolic environment of the muscles or the engine. The electrical system is responsible for proper signaling and sequencing of firing the spark plugs in order to burn the fuel that is either in reserve (in the reservoir of the carburetor) or being delivered according to momentary need as in a fuel injection system. The engine, at idle, is sort of like basal metabolism. It is going to burn a certain amount of energy just to stay running. It can be revved without being engaged through the transmission to do any meaningful work or it can be put into gear and you then get movement. Whereas a vehicle is usually either carbureted or fuel injected, we muscle driven machines are a hybrid vehicle of sorts. Our slow twitch fibers are, oddly enough, fuel injected and rely on a steady delivery of energy to operate in an optimal way. The circulatory system is the fuel injector system but has the unique ability to run in a multi fuel environment. Fats or sugars. Flex fuel! The intermediate or type II fibers are adaptive over time and can run with characteristics like type I slow twitch fibers or more like, but not exactly like the type II a’s. This plasticity of function is influenced over time by the chosen method of training and leads to the self fulfilling phenomenon of getting the function you are training for within your genetic limits. Perhaps the type II’s could be compared to the traditional carbureted fuel delivery system where they are tapped into a fuel delivery system but have a reservoir in the carburetor to account for delivery lag when you step on it for a fast getaway. The type IIa’s? Think NiOx. BAM! huge boost and maximum speed but a short ride. Burst of speed or strength but not sustainable for long. You then default back to the delivered energy system and capacity of the prior two types.
Of course, if you have the car in the wrong gear for any of the above scenarios, it is this interface of engine speed, energy delivery and transmission where an element of inroading versus outroading starts to reveal itself.
I will interject my personal opinion here and state that I believe many training mistakes are made, of necessity, because imposed load equipment forces the trainee to always compromise the speed element in favor of load to make up for the deficiency of the source of resistance. This applies even to those who profess to move fast with an imposed load. This only exacerbates the force discrepancies and is sort of the muscle machine equivalent of a neutral slam. Fun as all get out when you are a teenager but brutal when you have to foot the repair bills as an adult.
In a manual transmission it is possible to select any number of gears in which you desire to start. It is most logical to start with low gear and coordinate increasingly higher gears with ever increasing speed. You could attempt to start out in a high gear from a dead stop but this requires a technique known as slipping the clutch and it wears out a clutch in short order. Wear and tear or failure due to working outside the ideal working range of all the elements of the machine working in synchronicity. That is not inroad. It is failure and it can also be expensive.
What analogous situation exists in the muscle machine? It is quite possible to try to override the mechanism by which the body wants to recruit in an orderly fashion by attempting maximum lifts. Strength demonstrations rely on overrides and can result in impressive displays. Strong men have been performing amazing feats of strength ever since one of our ancestors needed to hoist part of a freshly killed mastodon in order to carry it away to their cave. The bigger the chunk the better off your family unit probably was. This is not to say it is the best training strategy, however.
The problem here is that when the muscle reaches failure, it may not have created inroad of the entirety of the metabolic capacity of the muscle as a complete system. The fastest twitch muscle fibers, which may occur in various proportions in different muscles groups with distributive variety from subject to subject as well, might end up failing under a very high load scenario. If the need was for all the muscle fibers to engage to lift a very heavy load for a short duration is limited by these fibers, failure occurs when they fatigue even though there was much potential systemic capacity at a different speed or lower imposed load. If the subject is so extreme in their fiber type that type IIa fast twitch truly represents the majority of the fibers in the muscle (not all that likely) then a decent inroad may have also been evoked by this act. If, however, they are more typical of the generic genetic middle ground it is likely that the failure event circumvented inroad to any great degree because, at a much lower load or force, there is still plenty of reserve metabolic capacity remaining in the muscle. Thus, there is failure but little or nothing in the way of inroad.
So, heavy loads moved at lugging speeds might actually be an outroading event. This doesn’t even consider the necessary strategies of bracing or cheats that sometimes accompany such attempts. Please note I said sometimes. I realize there are many skilled lifters who train with the intelligent choice not to demonstrate but rather to train for strength with imposed load equipment. When this is understood you begin to realize it is not about becoming efficient in movement, which is what any power lifter or Olympic lifter seeks to do, i.e.: maximum efficiency for minimal effort. Rather, in training for maximum metabolic inroading it is often necessary to consider ways to make the exercise less efficient.
This is where the idea of strict form, in the extreme, can actually become a barrier to proper inroading. Warning: adult content ahead. This concept is not meant for the novice or those who try to rationalize away the whole concept of strength demonstration as a substitute for proper strength stimulus training regardless of whether your tool of choice happens to involve imposed load or generated load equipment. Form is important, just not as important as some may think when dealing with infimetrics.
What I am about to say might be heresy to machine geeks, of which I have long been a member of that fraternity. Form in its single planar linear manifestations on a machine or with a free weight, it will be discovered, is hampered by deviating from the single optimal plane of movement necessary to move the most amount of weight for a given exercise. Lifts and exercises will lure the subject into greater and greater efficiencies through the imposition of “perfect” form. This is, I believe, responsible for the “stronger but not bigger” phenomenon many advanced trainees encounter to great frustration. I am not even addressing the element of speed here, merely the whole concept of planar movement. There was a lifter a few weeks ago relating how he failed to get the set number of repetitions during a given workout and was further discouraged when he discovered that he accidentally underloaded the bar as well. This could have turned out to be more productive than he thought if he were to realize that, perhaps, he was less efficient in his lifting mechanics. He might have deviated from the optimal lifting path with force being deflected off line thus involving more metabolic effort of the target muscles (good from a training perspective, bad from an ego perspective) than had he been efficient. That underload might also have not overloaded the neurological signaling as much which might have prevented the exercise from crossing into the adrenal stress realm. ( I just made that last part up… but I will think about that some more.. Not willing to retract the possibility at this point.)
As an illustration of intentional inefficiency I think about some of my infimetric single joint machines. Since biceps exercises are relatively familiar to most readers, I will use that as an example. When I use the simple cable and pulley set up I demonstrated in my last video it doesn’t matter in which plane I am moving. There is really no lateral deflection possible with that set up as it all results in the generated force being directed through the single pulley and its attachment. Granted, angular deflection does reduce the efficiency of transfer to the pulley and scale but it is hard to deviate too far from the optimal line of pull for accurate readings with this set up.
On the seated bicep curl prototype, however, the machine rotates in a single plane. If you move your arms, in flexion, in that exact plane, the reading on the scale reflects accurately the work being done in the metabolic realm of the muscle being worked. If, however, you deviate by trying to create movement that is slightly out of the single plane while still limiting yourself to bicep activation (this is quite possible, BTW) the movement is far less efficient, there is more metabolic work going on in the muscle, which is a very good thing from an inroading point of view, but the scale does not reflect the deviation from the single plane. I have designed a multi axis sensor set up that would allow for readings in multiple planar intersections but the cost would be so ridiculous for such a negligible return on meaningful information for the average trainee as to be worthless outside of extreme theoretical discussion.
Suffice it to say, strictness of form and limitations of speed may have the unintended effect of reducing the efficiency of getting at the muscle’s metabolic capacity thus creating accidental outroading. Our bodies have an uncanny propensity to make hard work as efficient and easy as possible. We want to be inefficient in order to make significant inroad into the total metabolic reserve of the muscle in question if we really want to create a strength stimulus of any meaning. Otherwise we are merely producing toil, not stimulus.
But wait. Where does speed come in?
This is so difficult to put into a cohesive argument without just resorting to the poor example of just saying “whatever.” No one knows all the answers and I am only trying to spur serious thought and further examination of all the possible elements.
When dealing with a multifactorial event, you ignore or favor only some of the elements at your own peril.
There is a need to examine the role of all the elements and see how they may potentially interlace to create potentials that go beyond the simplistic mechanical work analysis models that have so paralyzed the proper perception of how it all works together. This is further complicated by the propensity to adapt the machine of the body to machines that are deficient, regardless of how well crafted they may seem to be. A limitation is still a limitation, even if it is a limitation that is less limited but very expensive.
As I have noted before, speed may play just as important (and possibly even more important) a role in the recruitment of all muscle fiber types as relates to overall metabolic impact and depletion for the purposes of stimulating hypertrophic response in skeletal muscle provided you have access to a method or machine that does not restrict speed, either by cam profile requirements or gravity limitations. At this point it appears that infimetrics is the only type of exercise that allows for all of this and the ability to create whatever upload needed. Pure speed based body weight exercises suffer from the same limitations of imposed loads in response to things like momentum and inertia but fall short of weighted exercises to the degree that it is difficult to change resistance levels according to increasing capacities unless you are into radical binging and purging or ankle weights.
I need to step back and take a breather here.
Load thresholds versus speed thresholds as an entree to muscle fiber recruitment.
In the past I was just as inclined as most to view increased in working load via more weight as the way to access functional fiber type thresholds. The theory being that if an initial working weight in a set was too let you would never cross over the threshold into anaerobic muscle fiber recruitment. Speed had little or nothing to do with the whole equation other than to make sure you moved slow enough to cancel out the momentum that would be possible by moving too fast and throwing the weight. This limit on speed, slowed to extremes, was entirely load dependent to cross this threshold below which toil but not stimulus would occur.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when speed came in to the picture. I was toying with the idea of maximum speed with my pneumatically based negative assist equipment. the interesting thing about this method of training is that the lifting portion was dependent on a maximum speed effort for maximum resistance. The way I had the cylinder plumbed and the valves actuated and vented meant that, when the negative upload released, you could move very slowly to lift the device back into the contracted position. By doing this, you gave yourself a very big rest phase. The alternative was to push as fast as you possibly could. The exhaust was controlled and I could set it with a limiting device so that this didn’t cause a fast release of cylinder pressure. In trying to move as fast as possible you were trying to force the exhaust of the compressed air in the cylinder. The faster you attempted to do this, the more resistance you got. All along, I thought I was doing a negative focused activity. In hind sight I realize I was doing a maximum speed type of training with the positive and negative being optimally uploaded. The negative phase was not really the heavy negative most associate with straight negatives. The fluidity of compressed air, when regulated for optimal effect on these machines, would allow for a stopping of the negative and even a slight reversal in the early repetitions. In all, it was a unique combination of speed and relative contouring. Ultimately, though, it is imposed load and, as such, does not have the flexibility on the fly to follow the metabolic contour as it changes throughout the working set and is limited as a result just like other imposed load equipment.
So, even though speed was seemingly less limited and inversely in the positive with this type of machine, it did tend to push things in the direction of load thresholds. Speed was, of necessity, very slow.
Speed under generated load seems, at this time to have metabolic consequences unlike any other form of exercise I have ever encountered. There is the load threshold but it also seems there might very well be a speed threshold of greater significance when it comes to recruitment of the fastest twitch muscle fibers. The systemic impact if speed based infimetric training takes me across certain metabolic respiratory factors in a much different way than imposed load. Load based threshold crossing would take me to failure but do very little in the way of inroad. On the other hand speed based generated load seems to exhaust the entirety of the target muscle group much more effectively.
Certainly speculative and very unscientific and anecdotal at this time but I throw this out there for further discussion.
In the meantime, I will continue to make attempts at pulling all the elements together into a more cohesive, plausible working model.
So, at this point in time it would seem that inroad is anything that allows you to get to the total metabolic capacity of a muscle without working outside of supporting circulatory, neurological or profile characteristics. Working in the right gear at the right speed and the right load to allow a total exhaustion that is in no way short circuited until all the fibers are sufficiently fatigued to signal the adaptive response of hypertrophy.
Outroading would be any element not properly accounted for, be it speed, load, inertia, energy utilization false concepts of range of motion, improper use of statics or other elements that may short circuit the process.
Infimetrics challenges the user to experience a shift in the thought processes to combine these potential elements in ways not accessible in imposed load exercise.
Still a lot to think about!
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