Exercise: Quality or Quantity?

By Joshua Trentine, OVERLOAD Fitness

Many people begin their practice of exercising with a fixation on some sort of external goal, chasing after some target when their primary objective is usually to improve their body composition and functional ability via exercise, rather than simply getting better at various activities.

Often people set out to achieve a goal and hope this goal will provoke change to their body. In reality, their training is designed to make them as efficient as possible at achieving the external goal rather than being as efficient as possible at stimulating the body’s adaptive mechanisms. For the purpose of this article, we will call the external goal the “assumed objective;” i.e. one might set a goal such as walk a mile, run a marathon, do 1,000 sit-ups, lift as much weight for as many reps as possible, or swim across a lake. While all of these activities produce an “exercise effect,” they will not produce the best possible results with regard to body composition and overall functional ability because they lack the most exacting stimuli; the training addresses the activity rather than the body.  If you make your goal simply to achieve a task, the body will always find the path of least resistance.  The goal should be to stimulate the muscles, in other words find the path of greatest resistance.

What I’m suggesting is that there are qualitative measures that can be taken to achieve the most efficient, safe, intense, and sustainable exercise stimuli; therefore,  rather than trying to add more  activity to our already busy lives, we should focus on quality over quantity.

For the purpose of this article, we will call these qualitative measures “the real exercise objective.” The real objective of exercise is to momentarily weaken the musculature in order to set forth a cascade of biological events that relate to adaptation of the muscles and all of their supportive sub-systems: cardiovascular, hormonal, bone, etc.

The real exercise objective is best accomplished with the quality of the exercise stress. The body can easily adapt to doing more activity; however, unfortunately it’s not always in a positive way, as the adaptation to excessive activity can include muscle loss, bone loss, decreased metabolic rate, and often overuse injury.

How do we define exercise quality? One word: INTENSITY. Intensity is directly related to the quality of muscular contraction (our volitional effort) and the corresponding rate of fatigue. Note that there is an inverse relationship between exercise intensity (quality) and exercise volume (quantity).

You can work hard or you can work long, but you cannot work your hardest and longest at the same time. In order to sustain long duration activity you must reduce the intensity and reducing intensity is the opposite of taking the qualitative approach. Doing more activity is always going to hit a point of diminishing returns. Using more intensity within the constraints of safety will only produce better results.

Characteristics of High Quality Exercise:

  1. High-intensity Strength Exercise
  2. Progressive in nature
  3. Brief (30 minutes or less)
  4. Infrequent (1 to 2 times per week)
  5. Designed to fatigue the muscle as safely, deeply and effectively as possible
  6. Not fun
  7. Done in a cool environment (62 to 68 degrees)
  8. Avoids distractions
  9. Done slow and under control (minimizing acceleration and momentum when changing direction of  movement)
  10. Repetition range 6 to 12
  11. Avoid rest between exercises
  12. Continue exercise until the point of momentary muscular failure
  13. Progress resistance when at the high end of the repetition range

Strength training in this manner will give you the most bang for your buck!

If you are interested in more information about quality exercise, please contact an exercise specialist at OVERLOAD FITNESS 216.292.7659 or www.OverloadFitness.com.