Does Exercise Science Matter?

By James Walker CCS, STM, BioSig, Master Trainer

Does exercise science matter when training? First of all, what is exercise science? Exercise Science is the study of human movement and the related biological responses. Movement becomes a science through precise study, analysis, and documentation of exercise and sport type activities. It involves biomechanics, kinesiology, physiology, and health and constructs usable principles from this science into training. Well what are these principles of exercise science? There are many exercise science principles. In this article I will list and briefly describe 10 scientific principles of training, in no particular order.

1. Super Compensation is the amount of time required for the body to fully recover from the previous workout or workouts.

  • There should be full recovery prior to repeating the same muscle workout for the best gains.
  • This will result in strength increases of 1-2% or by 1-2 repetitions each week.
  • Optimal increases will not occur with out the proper rest, recovery, and regeneration.

2. Periodization – is a pre-planed training plan, which consists of short or long-term cycles (days vs. weeks vs. months), with changes in the workout at regular intervals.

  • By manipulating your training variables, such as variations in exercises, reps, sets, and weight load intensities you will maximize your progress and motivation, and help to prevent plateaus, injuries, and over-training.

3. Time Under Tension (TUT)  is the time required to complete a rep or a set (group of reps). TUT is influenced by the tempo.

  • Muscle fiber type recruitment and energy system type utilization depends on time under tension.
  • e.g., tempo x reps = total time under tension per set, 302 tempo = 5 seconds total tempo x 6 reps = 30 seconds of time under tension per set.

4. Tempo-is the pace, rhythm, and time required for each repetition.

  • Planned tempo use will ensure correct muscle fiber and energy system recruitment, and will reduce injury and faulty motor patterns.
  • Tempo is usually expressed in counts e.g., 302, 301, 30X or 402, 401, 40X, or 502, 501, 50X, that are normal but may be 31X, 512, 911 counts.
  • The first number represents the negative (eccentric) phase of the rep, usually expressed in a 2-9 range.
  • The second number usually represents the midway point, usually expressed in a 0-2 range.
  • The last number represents the positive (concentric) phase, usually expressed in a X-2 range.
  • e.g., a 302 tempo for an arm curl, starting position at the bottom with the weight in front of thigh, a 2 count is performed while the weight is curled up to the shoulders, a 0 pause at the top or midway position,  a 3 count is done while lowering the weight to the start.

5.Technique and Posture – proper form and posture are necessary for correct muscle recruitment and optimal strength gains.

  • If a movement cannot be performed with the correct technique, form, and posture it should be stopped.
  • An assessment should be made to determine the reason, so that the necessary corrections can be made.
  • Remember correct technique and posture will optimize neural drive to the correct muscles and will prevent faulty muscle recruitment patterns and injury.
  • e.g., excessive forward lean vs. upright torso in the squat, places undue stress on the knees and lower back regions.

6. Reflex Inhibition –when a muscle is injured by repetitive use, trauma, faulty motor patterns, imbalances, or scar tissue, the central nervous system shuts down the neural drive to the muscle (turns off the muscle) to protect it from further injury.

7. Posture, Stability, and Synergist Muscles – are muscles that assist the primary (larger) muscles by helping to hold a position to achieve the desired action. This help is called synergist.

  • e.g., when sprinting the ankle dorsi-flexor muscles and the toe extensor muscles put the foot in the correct position prior to the foot strike.
  • The synergist may also assist in achieving a particular action.
  • ,e.g; in elbow flexion the arm biceps muscle may get assistance from the forearm brachioradialis muscle.
  • Often these muscles are the smaller muscles and/or the secondary actions of neighboring muscles.

8. Over Training-is caused by constant training that does not allow adequate time for recovery, regeneration, or super compensation to occur.

  • Symptoms may include irritability, increases in injury, healing time, resting heart rate, normal blood pressure, illness, and changes in mood and appetite, decreases in immune system and performance.
  • In addition there may be excessive inflammation, scar tissue formation, over compensation by other muscle groups, soft tissue strains and tears, bone fractures, and a weakened level of strength and conditioning.

9. Overload and Progressive Loading – neuromuscular adaptation occurs as a result of progressive amounts of overload or in other words your body adapts to small progressive amounts of stress (the fictitious Greek wrestler Milo carrying the calf until it’s a full grown bull).

  • This adaptation is optimal when the progression of stress or overload is gradual and in small increments of 1-5% of the working intensity level (also called the Kaizen Principle of constant and never ending improvement by increasing in small increments over a long period of time).

10. Central Nervous System (CNS) – is made up of the brain, spinal cord, nerve pathways, and sensors to the muscles and organs.

  • The impulse or signal to the muscles from the spinal cord is called neural drive, involving motor or efferent neurons, nerve fibers, motor units, motoneurons, and muscle fibers.
  • The central nervous system response is extremely fast and gets better with repeated efforts but happens instantly, e.g., picking up a pencil vs. picking up a 50 lb dumbbell. The CNS instantly determines if the task can be completed, what muscles to recruit, and how to perform the task. It knows the difference between the weight of the pencil and the 50lb dumbbell even with your eyes closed by touch and feel.
  • Things that interrupt and obstruct CNS neural drive are poor posture, improper form, inflexibility, strength imbalances, nerve injury, and scar tissue.

These are just a few of many scientific principles that can and should be incorporated into a training program. By incorporating them you will achieve results at a much faster, safer, calculated, predictable, and repeatable outcome. Look for a trainer or strength coach who understands and employs principles such as these and you will be on your way to new gains in strength and a different outlook towards training.

References: J. Hartmann & H.Tunnemann, Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports; Lippincott-Williams-Wilkins, Fundamentals of Musculoskeletal Assessment Techniques; Thomas Baechle, Essentials Of Strength Training And Conditioning; Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Science And Practice Of Strength Training; Charles Poliquin, Poliquin Principles; Carol Oatis, Kinesiology-The Mechanics & Pathomechanics of Human Movement.