Qualifying the Stimulus before Quantifying the Stimulus.
To qualify, means to meet the required standards. To qualify in sport, you have played to required standards to progress. In work, to qualify you have met the right standards in terms of achievements. In academia, to qualify you have met the right standards to pass and gain qualification. Fitness is no different. In order to count a repetition or bout of exercise it first must qualify.
I am going to try my best to explain this. Hopefully, we all know to make improvement with our body we need to continually externally stimulate it with Progressive Overload, in order to impart an internal adaptation to create the improvement we are seeking. In simple terms, if we want to get stronger we need to lift heavier weights, then heavier weights again and again. In running terms, we need to run faster, then faster, and faster again. But it isn't quite that simple. More is not always better.
I am going to address this issue. How can we increase load and frequency, if the initial stimulus isn't the same. Again putting this into running terms, as I know a lot of my readers are runners. How can we deviate between which run is ‘better’ if on day 1 we ran 6 miles in 60 minutes, and on day 2 we ran for 70 minutes but don’t know how far, the terrain was different and the weather was different. If we do not know which run was better, how do we know if we achieved ‘Progressive Overload’. We quite simply cannot quantify which run has the greater output for us.
This is why it is important to perfect the art of the training stimulus, before increasing load, reps and sets to achieve progression. When we talk about load, reps and sets, most of the time we are discussing the lifting of weights in regard to resistance training. For this example, if you are runner, you can exchange this words for distance, time, % of max heart rate, or other methods of how you track on monitor your runs.
Lets taking squatting as our example. Which is going to produce the greatest outcome for us. 3 sets of 10 reps at 100kg. Or 3 sets of 12 reps at 100kg. The clear and obvious choice is the 2nd option. Because we are doing 6 more reps at the same load. But what if I was to tell you, that for the first set of 12 reps, all repetitions were perfect, however fatigued set in, and in the second set only 9 were of a good standard, and in the final set, a mere 6 repetitions met the required standard. Now which option has the greater output. The standard of squat can vary hugely, half repetitions, speeding up the rep, contraction intensity, the amount fo rest between reps and using different biomechanics to make the squat easier for the exact muscles we are trying to target. Now you can begin to see why qualifying every repetition is important, if we want to implement progressive overload correctly, and ultimately improve.
How can we address this. In the ideal world, we want to make every repetition of an exercise exactly the same, in terms of speed, contraction, biomechanics and intensity. In relation to running, we want to make every variable the same, the weather, the ground, the elevation, the time we run, air pressure, there is a huge amount of variables and some of these are quite unrealistic to control, but in a perfect world we would do. This becomes important, if you are tracking and monitoring intensely for progression. If you run for enjoyment and ‘general’ health, I don’t expect you to run at the same time, on the same route, in the same weather and only run when the barometric pressure is a specific reading. All I am doing here, is trying to help relate running and cardiovascular exercise to qualifying the stimulus before quantifying it.
A different way of looking at this, is you could run on flat ground at 6mph for 30 minutes, on another day you could run at 6mph for 30 minutes on ground that has a slight elevation and the ground reduces your efficiency between the floor and you trainer by 5%. At a quick glance, both runs look the same. Same distance, same time, same speed. However the 2nd option, when you look at little more detail is going to have greater output for you. Because we are able to qualify the stimulus against a benchmark. This is another option we have when qualifying a repetition. Is that if we have a perfect benchmark, we can go beyond this, by making the exercise harder. Usually this would come from an increase in load. However an increase in time, a decrease in rest, can have the same benefit.
In conclusion then, how best can we measure progression. Perfect every rep, measure every stimuli, if you are runner track your runs, make notes on the weather, the time, the conditions, even you fuel (food), but that is a whole other article. Remember, more is not always better, if what you are doing does not met the standard.