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A video tour

Since I cannot embed video here on my site because I am too frugal, here’s a link to video tours of my machines at present:

 

Make sure to check my comments below.

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Know Limits

I always hesitate to write anything, especially anything speculative in nature. All too often I have seen mere suggestion turned into dogma in the world of strength training. This is usually the recipe for calcification of thought and schism within the wider community. I have always written with the idea of expanding understanding. I have nothing to sell, I only wish to provoke thought and exploration. Don’t get me wrong, if I suddenly figured this whole mess out and came up with the end all be all solution to the conundrum that is strength training I would not turn down the profit potential if it fell into my lap. But, and as the saying goes: it’s a big one, due to the fact that we are multi factorial human physiologies with quite a bit of variation within the narrow confines of biological viability, there is no one right answer.

Problem is, so many apparent solutions will work, some for a long time, some for a brief moment, but many will evoke a response, just usually not for the reason initially thought.

So, I will dare to think out loud and speculate some more.

I have been mulling over an idea.

I, for lack of a better moniker, have called this idea the hierarchy of failure.

Already there is danger in the use of the word failure as this is, at least to some, a controversial concept associated with a certain type of training philosophy, And yet, even within that community there is no real consensus as to what constitutes training to failure. Is it momentary? How deep? Total? Partial? Negative? Positive? So many factors.

That is not really the failure I am talking about here, at least in that limited of a scope. It may, in fact, be part of what I am speculating about, but it is not all I intend when I speculate on a hierarchy of failure.

No, I am interested in what creates limits or barriers to results.

What fails when stimulus is present and yet nothing positive happens as a result? Is it improper methodology? Wrong rep scheme? Too high? Too Low? Are the weights too heavy, too light, not full range? The questions become endless.

Yes, there are certainly those who wisely address nutritional factors as well as supplementation and, in more extreme cases, pharmacologic interventions.

Why?

Why, even with the most aggressive, the most intense, the most logical, the most advanced of all of the above do some fail to get results, or fail to get results anywhere close in proportion to the effort expended?

What fails in the process that prohibits the ability to:

Refuel

Recover

Repair

Grow?

The above are not necessarily one and the same. The easy thing would be to focus this process on only the musculature, but the wise reader already knows that there are support systems that must be working at least minimally to support any of the above. Maximally would be ideal.

Depletion, Roadblocks, Detours

What follows are my initial notes on the Hierarchy of Failure:

Substrate: Lack of (eg: glycogen, oxygen, etc. could be lack of intake of any one of many nutritional components.)

Process: Capacity exceeded ( MTHFR methylation pathways, etc)

Systemic: Liver, Heart and lungs, extracellular matrix, pancreas, etc

The ability, or lack thereof, to refuel, recover, repair, and/or grow will be limited by the earliest weakness in the the above hierarchy of failure.

Aging as the progression of chronic depletion.

Aging is the lack of ability to completely refuel, recover, repair, and grow. It may also be a final stage of chronic depletion of some necessary nutrient or the displacement over time of one optimal nutrient with a usurper. I think of bromine displacing iodine, for instance. Would this have an impact, then, on vascular health and support thus limiting the repair and recovery of many systems including skeletal muscle?

So here I am, speculating when there are far more qualified scientific minds out there that are putting the pieces of this puzzle together. Chris Masterjohn, PhD comes to mind with the incredible body of work he has been putting together regarding the role of nutrition in systemic function.

I used to think that I could some day come up with the end all, be all solution for everyone when it came to strength training. Logic tempts one into reductionism that way. That is a trap that leads to a dead end. Perhaps the end all, be all solution is that one must avoid the temptation to think there is a right answer. Once one roadblock is identified in the suggested hierarchy, it may very well be that it’s on to the next roadblock after some period of progress that was allowed by finding the prior stumbling block.

Thing is, a plateau may misdirect effort. If results aren’t forthcoming, one may get stuck trying to adjust the wrong thing. Changing rep schemes, training heavier, lighter, longer, shorter, whatever, won’t change a thing if there is an underlying systemic road block that won’t allow progress no matter how many bros are screaming in your face to psych you up for the next set.

Knowing what the real limiting factor may be may just lead to removing limitations. Know limits for no limits?

I used to take great pride in going through my workouts in as little time as possible when I first started training on Nautilus equipment back in the late 1970’s. It was the classic HIT paradigm.

As a trainer, I also took great pride in obliterating my young charges with the same.

That’s not how I started out in the fitness/weightlifiting world, however.

Back in my junior high years (age 13 or so) I discovered my older brother’s Hollywood Healthways basic weight set complete with 5 foot bar and two dumbbell bars and 110 pounds of weight. Not that I wasn’t aware of its existence prior to this, it’s just that I was finally old enough to start using the weights.

I grew up with plenty of physical activity and conditioning around our house. My dad was a gymnast on the Springfield College Gymnastics Team while working on his Phys Ed degree before going off to serve in the Navy as a pilot in World War II. He would, with my older brother and me, teach us triple balance stunts as well as general gymnastics.

My brother was a wrestler. We had a barn. In the summer months, when the high school was basically closed, we would move the wrestling mats from there to the top of our barn. The wrestling team would come over for workouts. We had a chin bar attached to a wall up there as well as having my brother’s weight set up there. I was no older than 7 or 8 by the time my brother graduated but I would hang out around the team when they were over working out. They would pin me.. but none of them ever taught me any counters. I became very adept at getting pinned as witnessed by my unproductive wrestling career in junior high. In order to gain access to the upstairs for these workouts you had to climb a rope. I got very skilled at rope climbing as a result.

I stray.

When I started using those weights as a 13 year old, I had a couple of buddies that would come over in the summer time to work out with me. We would set up in the space between the house and the barn and go to work on marathon benching sessions. As we progressed through the years, we combined our resources and ended up with several hundred pounds of weights and moved in to a friend’s shed out back of his house. It was more suitable for year round work but we would still move things outside on nice days. One day we had the bar set up for dead lifts with about 360 pounds on the bar when said friend’s 90 plus year old grandpa happened by. He stooped over, picked up one end of the bar a foot or so, dropped and said “eh, that ain’t heavy” and walked away. It still amuses me to this day.

In need of more weight, and perhaps some structure, I started early morning before school workouts with another buddy later in high school. He would pick me up in his purple Grand Prix, we would drive up to the Y where they would let us in before official opening hours along with a number of others, we would go through our workouts, shower up, and head to the donut shop for some post workout carb loading before school.

Then, one day, I went to this new place called Nautilus of Canton.

Paul Fair was the owner and he was the one who took me through a complimentary introductory workout. I wasn’t some ego filled workout lunatic, I was just a curious kid who wanted to see what it was all about. He put me through the paces. We started on leg extension. He ended up adding more weight and doing some forced reps. He told me to follow him quickly to the next machine (Leg Curl.) I hopped off to follow him and promptly ended up in a newborn Bambi like heap on the floor. My quads were on fire and I couldn’t stand up for a few seconds.

I was hooked.

I read everything I could get my hands on after I joined the club and, pretty early on, made it my mission to work there.

We trainers would keep track of our success in taking hot shot high school kids through puke inducing workouts.. especially when they would say something like “my friends told me Nautilus won’t make you strong” or “you can’t get big using machines to train.”

I worked out various workout variations to keep things interesting and still have one of my handout sheets with a series of whole body variations around here somewhere.

I began to think about building equipment.

I made my first accessory for the multi ex machine. It was a seated calf raise attachment that allowed you to sit in a chair, place the pads across the top of the thighs with the chain attached to the resistance arm, flip a lever to take out the chain slack and load up the stretch position by putting the locking pin in. It was a cool little device.

I also made my first infimetric leg extension machine while there.

Long story short, I ended up having a falling out after having worked there for several years. I went to another facility that had Nautilus equipment for a little while before I went crazy during a snow storm while living at my parents’ house. I grabbed anything I could and built myself some semblance of a gym. I still had a couple hundred pounds of weights sitting around and so, naturally, all the machines I made were plate loading. I made a cool 45 degree duo poly pullover machine out of lumber and some steel. I blew up a side shot of the Nautilus Super Pullover machine so that I could make a template for my cams. That’s one machine I desperately wish I had never trashed! By the time the winter storm had passed I had a pretty complete little gym.

Throughout all this, my emphasis was on strict form and using the rush factor for my training. There was also a search for the optimal (read: least) number of workouts per week. I started out with the typical Monday, Wednesday, Friday three days a week workout schedule and made decent progress. When I got to seeming sticking points, the general consensus among Nautilus trainers was to cut back workouts. There was never a thought of doing any more. The mantra was always workout as little as possible with reference to some Arthurian quote along the lines that if you worked out properly, long workouts should be impossible. Chasing the puke inducing workout was de rigueur.

That was all well and good while I was relatively young and somewhat healthy.

It doesn’t work for someone who is in a constant state of borderline collapse into autoimmune flares for a host of conditions.

Those puke inducing workouts became a trigger for flares of those conditions that would set me back weeks, if not months.

I could no longer tolerate it.

I did work my way back to whole body workouts as I recovered from the primary damage done to my body but there was definitely a line I dared not cross lest I crash and burn badly.

Also, I had to take into account that the whole rush factor, regardless of how mindful and disciplined I tried to be, really took away from meaningful depth of effect for virtually all muscle groups.

Progress was slow.

I tried to cut back to less workouts but found that, at my age, I began to notice a pattern. The workout would make me feel better. In fact, I would often feel like I needed to workout the next day because I felt stronger. But, no, I needed the recovery time and would wait another day or two. By the time the next workout was scheduled to roll around I would feel lousy and weak. The workout would make me feel better again. The up and down cycle of working out and then waiting was a roller coaster that wasn’t conducive to feeling vitally good. The gains were very slow, when they happened at all.

I have become a heretic.

I workout, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways almost every day now. Every so often I will spend the day working the whole body, but most days I work a few parts here and there. Sometimes I work body parts on consecutive days.

My advantage, of course, is that my office is also my gym is also my basement, is also my home. I have full access any time I want.

That three day a week, half hour workout is genius for a facility that is catering to busy professionals who need to optimize their time and get the best ROI for general health purposes.

It sucks for me though.

Today, for instance, I woke up with the feeling that I needed to work back and triceps. So I did low back, lat rows, and triceps extension pretty heavily and for a few high rep sets. I threw in ab curls while I was at it. A little later in the day I worked some chest and shoulders fairly light with an extreme focus on form.

Oh, that reminds me!

Rep schemes.

The traditional HIT Nautilus paradigm usually focused on either 8-12 reps or, perhaps, 15-20 for lower body with a 2 count, 4 count cadence. That’s what we militantly taught when I was working at Nautilus of Canton. I recently revisited some footage of Arthur training a subject down at the Nautilus studios in Florida. The cadence he was coaching bore no resemblance to what we taught back then.

I have liberated myself to move at whatever speed I need to. Some days it is a 2-4 cadence or even slower. Funny thing is, at that cadence, I will, without fail, fail by or before the 12th repetition almost regardless of the weight being used. I can take a heavier weight and do something akin to a 1-1.5 cadence and easily get 20 to 30 reps with that same weight. I don’t have anything other than my lifetime of experience to justify what I am about to say, but the slow failure seems to be a failure due to neurological failure, an inability to tolerate the pain the slow movement induces with little actual depth of effect to the working muscle. The faster cadence with higher reps fatigues the muscle far before it becomes neurologically intolerable.

So, my body seems to respond favorably to daily background noise of physical toil spread throughout the day. My body seems to respond unfavorably to the neurological background noise of slow repetitions for the most part. That kind of background noise seems to be a barrier to sufficient stimulus for continued growth and maintenance of strength at my advancing age.

Oh, and a side note here for Donnie Hunt: I still have to use some of my infimetric equipment for some exercises that I don’t have weighted equivalents for such as leg extension. I can set the midrange in such a way that I am either using a full ROM or a partial ROM. The full ROM seems to evoke a neurologically based failure whereas the partials seem to allow a much more effective targeting of the muscle. With partials, I may end up doing a much higher rep scheme.. to the tune of 50 or so partials.. but the effect is much more depth of effect for the muscle and less of a neural pain barrier to try to overcome. So, yes, there’s so much potential to explore and experiment still out there.

Since I have adopted the idea of a bit of work every day strategy, I have actually seen a gain of several pounds on the scale in a short time while also seeing a leaning out effect on fat around my midsection. I don’t have the up and down physical cycles associated with prolonged rest between workouts and I just plain old feel physically better on a daily basis.

My hat’s off to those who can tolerate the whole HIT ideal but, considering my circumstances, it is no longer for me.

Confessions of an exercise pragmatist.

Anyone who is a machine design and use purist may want to avert their gaze and not read the words that follow.

Consider yourself warned.

Many years ago, when I was in college, I would stop over at the gym to grab a work out when time allowed in an otherwise busy schedule that included the commute and family responsibilities. It was a fine little facility before the university took it upon themselves to, with the use of future student fees, build a mega sports and recreation facility replete with more cardio equipment than you could shake a barbell at. No, the old Memorial Gym had, tucked in beside the multipurpose court area, a nice little line of Nautilus equipment that I was more than happy to avail myself of. It was, for the most part, fairly well appointed. It did, however, lack any sort of leg press, multi ex machine, and (this one’s the kicker) pullover or other lat machine. Other than that.. Well I guess, in retrospect, it wasn’t really that well appointed. It did have the Low Back machine as well as the Abdominal Curl, Leg Extension, Leg Curl, Arm Cross, Lateral Raise, Multi Bicep and Triceps. It was seldom busy which made getting through the workout rather easy and efficient.

That lack of a Pullover though.

I had been building equipment for several years by this point and was always willing to look at things from a practical and functional point of view. In my early years of being a Nautilus trainer at the old place, I would have NEVER considered the sacrilege of using a machine in any way other than originally designed and intended. No how, no way.

Still, that lack of a Pullover.. and no multi ex machine to at least do weighted chins to compensate.

That Multi Bicep curl.. it had possibilities.

I did it. I turned myself around. I placed my shoulders where the elbows go, (helps that I am more gymnast sized than guard or tackle sized) arched my back somewhat awkwardly, reached over and behind my head, grabbed the handles and.. pulled over. A Pullover!

You know, it wasn’t half bad. Considering the lack of a proper machine it was actually quite satisfactory.

I have often contended that, if necessary, I could get a complete workout on the Multi Ex machine alone. I liken it, kind of, to the guy that used to play at the local golf course. He was bored with the game and having to carry all those clubs around. He would walk in, five iron in hand, and head out to the course. His challenge was to play each round with only that five iron. He was pretty darned good and came a lot closer to shooting even par with that club than I could ever come with a full complement of equipment.

Pragmatism.

Pragmatism has led me down the path of making do with what is available. Yes, I have built many pieces of equipment and have, from time to time, had pretty awesome and nearly complete (whatever that means) workout equipment lineups. There have also been times where, lacking anything but a few basic machines, I have learned to adapt and be creative.

I have, until the last month or so when I have added the three pieces of original Nautilus equipment, been using the five remaining infimetric/negative upload prototypes I managed to hang on to over the years. One of those platforms is basically my multi exercise machine. I can pretty much do a complete workout on that one machine alone if need be and have always thought that would be the one I would take with me if I had to choose only one.

Well, the return to weighted exercise has started in force.

The only problem is that the three machines appear to be a rather incomplete circuit. One could scarcely imagine getting much balance from a Low Back, Leg Curl, and a Triceps Extension machine.

And yet..

Well, I still use my other machines to get a more complete leg workout as I have an infimetric Leg Extension as well as an infimetric Leg Press to add to the mix. I am working on conversions for all five machines that will allow.. well.. that’s for later.

Enter the Multi Triceps.

The emphasis is on the Multi.

It’s now my upper body Multi Ex machine.

With very little adaptive work necessary I am now using it for not only triceps training but also for Chest Press, Overhead Press, Lat Row, and Bicep Curl. In fact, the bicep curl is amazingly effective and the cam profile seems better than any piece of variable resistance cam or lever designed machine I have ever used for bicep curls. Huh! Thing is, with proper body positioning, the other exercises have very little, if any, compromise as well. In fact, I have always had problems with shoulder work whether it be side lateral raises or an overhead press movement. As I have found the proper seat height for this, I am able to work my delts and not have back and shoulder issues for the first time in forever. I am actually enjoying the thought of working my shoulders for the first time ever. Go figure.

So, while not quite so egregious, especially in light of the fact that I am at home and not interfering with any other workouts as I crawl in and out of the machine in various ways I am, in effect, curling in the squat rack.

Oh, the other confession I have to make involves the Low Back Machine. I simply turn around and use it for Abdominal Curls. It compares favorably to the old Ab Curl I used to have. It’ll do in a pinch.

Just don’t sound the lunk alarm on me for misuse of the equipment.

Well, I don’t know where to start.

I have been mulling this over for the last several weeks now and have been stuck.

I have been experimenting with infimetrics in some way or another ever since I first heard a recording of Arthur Jones’ West Point talk on The Future of Exercise back in 1979.

I was intrigued by the possibilities of this, especially in light of the arguments he put forward for the potential of it being “the perfect exercise.”

I built my first working prototype of an infimetric leg extension in 1980, albeit a very crude one that I had to sort of awkwardly balance on my grandmother’s painted silver wooden stool to use because I wasn’t too adept at total machine design at first.

I wanted to buy one of the infimetric bench presses from the Wood brothers in Cincinnati back in 1982 but didn’t have the spare cash at the time.

I took my convertible infimetric leg extension, leg curl prototype in the trunk of my orange VW Rabbit down to Lake Helen, Florida in 1983 as my resume in hopes of asking Arthur for employment with Nautilus Sports Medical Industries. I got to see Jumbolair Ranch as well as tour the facilities, but the attempted presentation of my machine never happened as Arthur shot down my idea pretty quickly sight unseen.

Because of the encouraging words of his son Gary, who observed the whole exchange, I kept working on all manner of equipment ranging from infimetrics and pneumatic assist negative upload machines to body on carriage as weight source to plateloading leverage machines.

I have built, recycled, or discarded a hundred prototypes over the decades while also acquiring a few commercial grade Nautilus machines and some ProMaxima machines. I also had to divest myself of all of those at the depths of my health crisis.

The last ten years, as I have recovered from devastating illness, I have worked my way back to being healthy enough to tolerate working out.

At first, I tinkered with my prototypes and made many of them plate loading. As my health returned, I began to concentrate on infimetrics with hopes that my little N=1 experiment would help prove the effectiveness of infimetric training once and for all.

Last month, someone offered a Nautilus Low Back machine to me.

I brought it home and set it up among my infimetric and pneumatic assist negative upload machines.

Something changed.

It was shortly after this that a friend offered two more pieces of equipment to me. My son and I drove out to Illinois to pick up the Nautilus Leg Curl and the Nautilus Multi Triceps machines.

Very suddenly, infimetrics has become an afterthought.

Weight bearing exercise has energized my training in ways I am having a hard time describing or quantifying, especially in light of how it shines a bright light on the glaring inadequacies of infimetrics and also of the pneumatic assist negative upload training I was hybridizing with the infimetrics.

Forty years after the beginning of my infatuation and pursuit of infimetrics I have come to the conclusion that it was all in vain. I think I now know why Arthur seemed to suddenly drop the development of it with no further mention after about 1980 or so. And yet, the argument was so convincing.

I won’t even begin to cover exactly what I am doing with my training at present as that is a whole different can of worms that will likely get me banished from the hard corp HIT and Nautilus training community. I have lived on the outside looking in for decades now anyway so I guess I won’t mind if that happens. I do know that, respecting my health limitations, I have found I must train differently than all I grew to espouse as a Nautilus trainer all those years ago.

I have failed.

Time to move on to the next phase.

And Another Thing

Continuing on with the whole idea of ceasing to measure and chart, I discovered another element to add to my work.

First, though, as I have been thinking about why I needed to discontinue with the accounting method of workouts, has been the realization that the whole process of developing set schemes and charts eventually leads to the muscles becoming subservient to the task to be measured.

I cannot tell you how many times the approach of the tenth rep, or the twelfth, or the twentieth, you get the picture, leads to an inevitable cessation of the exercise even if it was nowhere near effective. In fact, I recall quite clearly so many clients I trained who would have won Academy Awards for best actor or actress in a workout video based solely upon their feigned efforts on the final reps when they actually had so much more in the tank.

Setting aside the need to count, with no preset expectation as to rep schemes has allowed me to simply focus on working the muscle as hard as possible. That means different things at different times and I am not sure I can clarify this particular statement any further at present.

I do know that I am free to dig deep into my bag of tricks to vary things during the working set in ways that structure has not allowed in the past. I mentioned in an earlier post about this that, when performing infimetric reps, I had this sudden inclination to stop each repetition at mid range when both limbs were in the middle of the movement and kind of re-load the exercise before continuing on. Yesterday I took this a step further and did a prolonged static upload (some would say static hold which would hold true for a weighted exercise as you cannot effectively hold against an upload with a set weight) that is only possible with infimetrics or with someone manually uploading a weighted exercise. Each time I reached midpoint, which would be every half repetition, I would do a static upload for several seconds before continuing on to the contracted position for each side. Now whether this will lose effectiveness over time due to the predictable midpoint for each exercise remains to be seen and I may experiment with offset static uploads to hit different quadrants of movement. We shall see.

Quadrants.

That brings partial range into the equation as well. No matter how smooth, how seemingly accurate, how well designed the machine or the exercise, there are always parts of the range of an exercise that allow for relative rest compared to what inevitably becomes the sticking point.

I have become quite comfortable with working these inequities in the range with partial repetitions. I would much rather work a part of the range that fully engages the target muscle without peripheral groups taking over and creating opportunity for the target muscle to rest. This often involves working some unconventional angles that the cable based machines allow me to do more easily than the fixed plane movement arms that are on some of my other machines.

I guess that point here is that even after four decades of experimenting with this equipment and these modes, I still have much to learn.

There’s always another thing to learn.

The Day I Stopped Counting..

My workouts actually started to count.

I am sure this will make some people upset.

For so many years I was of the school of workout accounting. I have charted workouts going back for decades. I have schemed workout protocols. I have theorized about the best way to structure a workout. I have sought to measure what can be measured, even devising recording equipment to be able to quantify infimetric work.

Today, I left all of that behind.

Actually, a few weeks ago I stopped charting my workouts.

That alone was a huge change for me. Yes, I was still aware of counting reps and noticing the time it took for the total workout, but I was no longer recording every single rep or other parameters I have been tracking for some time. I still have my original workout files from decades past when I worked out and worked at Nautilus of Canton.

Today, I quit all that.

I no longer concerned myself with how many repetitions I was doing or how long I was taking on each exercise.

The liberation was eye opening.

I was suddenly free to vary the repetition speed, the repetition range, the duration of each exercise, and any other variation that was dictated by the progression of the work being done.

It’s not as if I was totally unaware of the number of repetitions I was doing but I wasn’t actively counting them. There was no set termination point other than perceived depth of effect. I was also free to do partial repetitions as I sensed they were needed from time to time.

I started each exercise with infimetrics.

Oddly enough, by not counting I found myself varying path of movement on those exercises where there was that freedom of movement. Removing restrictions seemed to carry over to other elements of the working set. I found myself doing more partial zone type reps and, with infimetrics, found this odd urge to pause each rep at midpoint to reload before taking each side into full contraction. This alone was worth the discovery. I then transitioned quickly to negative upload and, as a result of the infimetrics, reached fatigue on the negatives much more quickly and effectively.

I can’t tell you how many repetitions I performed. I can’t tell you exactly how long the workout lasted.

I don’t really care.

It was the best workout I have had in a long, long time.