Good day, my friends. I hope you are all enjoying the spring and excited about the summer coming. I think it is a great time to talk about how to stay fit or lose a bit of weight.
How to stay fit or lose a bit of weight?
Before I start I would like to say that I am against neither diets nor running. In the right combination, these are great tools for your fitness. Though today I want to share with you another way which might a great addition to your current fitness training. It will require your attention and patience as at some point we will be talking science. I promise to keep light.
First let me tell you about movements in general, how we produce and develop them. For example, a single biceps flexion or an arm extension looks very simple. We do not think about how to do them as they come naturally to us. So does walking, running, crawling etc. But has it been always like that? Nor really. Ask your parents. I am sure they have quite a few funny stories about your very first steps.
We will be talking science
Let’s have a glimpse at how the Central Nervous System (CNS) facilitates your decision to bend the elbow.
This decision is made in the Prefrontal Cortex, a part of the brain right behind your Forehead. This part is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, decision making and has many other complex functions.
Next the Prefrontal Cortex “speaks” to the Pre-Motor Cortex, another part of the Brain, asking it to extract the instructions for the elbow flexion (a movement pattern) from the Cerebellum. The latter is another part of the Brain and stores thousands of different movement patterns which are algorithms telling us when, with what strength, for how long and what muscles to contract and relax in order to produce a movement. Even for such a simple action as the elbow flexion, we need to engage and disengage dozens of the muscles in a certain sequence to accomplish it.
Great! We got the elbow flexion pattern. Now the Pre-Motor Cortex sends it to the Motor Cortex, another part of the Brain, to be implemented. Since we know all necessary muscles and their parameters to be used, the Motor Cortex starts activating them by sending electrical impulses to the corresponding Motor Neurons inside the Spinal Cord.
A single Motor Neuron is connected to dozens or even millions of muscle cells of a part of a certain skeletal muscle. Once received an electrical impulse from the Motor Cortex it contracts all associated muscle cells. This simplification will make it clear. Let us assume that the biceps consists of 1 000 000 muscle cells, where each 100 000 of them is connected to a single Motor Neuron, which gives us 10 Motor Neurons. By activating only 1 Motor Neuron we will generate enough strength to lift a spoon, by activating 2 - to lift a plate, by activating 3 - to lift a dining table and so on. When we activate all 10 we will achieve the maximum contractile strength of the biceps. The same is applicable for each muscle participating in a movement.
When all needed Motor Neurons defined by the extracted elbow flexion motor-pattern have been activated we flex the biceps.
The Central Nervous System (CNS) facilitates your decision
The whole process resembles playing a piano. You must know the right order, timing and how hard one should hit the keys to produce a nice melody and not a deafening cacophony. I hope now you can see the complexity behind the seeming simplicity. And we did not even talk about how the electrical signals travel between the Brain’s parts and across the nervous tissue, how the atoms of sodium, potassium and other chemicals form and facilitate the electrical signals, how the signals jump from a neuron to a neuron using neurotransmitters (more than 60 types) being released into the synaptic clefts, how the neurotransmitters are stored and synthesized during a physical activity and so on and so forth. AND ALL THESE HAPPEN WITHIN A FRACTION OF A SECOND !!! Isn’t it amazing! I do not know about you but I am fascinated and mesmerized by it.
You must know the right order
In other words, the process of a single movement is very complex and sophisticated. We learn the motor activities from our experience. As kids, we touched everything, put everything in the mouth, tried running, walking, crawling, jumping, sitting. We often failed, learning the right sequences of the activities in a hard way. Thankfully we had amazing parents, mentors, trainers, coaches whose guidance speared us a lot of boo-boos. Now we are adults and our brain has all those patterns stored in the Cerebellum. Whenever we want to bend the knee or else we do not think about it, we just do it. By now It is a subliminal process which does not require the interaction of our conciseness.
A single movement is very complex and sophisticated
Now the interesting part. The fact that we do not have to think about how to implement running or walking means that all known movements are highly efficient in term of energy (calories) expenditure. We do not waste time and efforts on figuring out what muscles and when should be contracted, in what angel we need to position our joints etc. All these were figured out a long time ago. Even if you add an extra weight to a barbell while doing biceps curls or squats it will not lead to a significant increase in the energy spent. Simply because the pattern of the movement is still the same. Yes, it is heavier for sure, yet not far different.
All these were figured out a long time ago
In the human body, the energy spent on any physical activities is measured in the Calories or Kilocalories. What is the difference? 1 Calorie (Cal) is an amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1g of water by 1 degree Celsius. 1 Kilocalorie (Kcal) is an amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1kg of water by 1 degree Celsius. The calorie content described on food labels refers to kilocalories though it is written as just “Calories”. So a 250-calorie chocolate bar actually contains 250 000 Calories or 250 Kilocalories.
250-calorie chocolate bar actually contains 250 000 Calories
Please be patient for a bit longer. Using Physics and Math we can easily calculate how many Kilocalories we need to lift 1kg through 1m. We will use the following equation:
PE = m*g*h
PE = Energy (in Joules. J)
m = mass (in kilograms, Kg)
g = gravitational acceleration of the earth in vacuum (a constant of 9.8 m/sec2)
h = height above earth's surface (in meters, M)
It means that we will need 9.81J (1kg * 9.81m/sec2 * 1m) or 0.000239006Kcal (use Google to convert Joules into Kilocalories) to lift 1Kg through 1M. As you can see it is not much. How much energy would you spend if you were to deadlift 100Kg 3 sets 5 reps each then? Hmm. Let’s see:
(0.000239006Kcal * 100Kg) * 5 reps * 3 sets = 0.358509 Kcal.
Wow! It is nothing indeed. After heavy deadlifts with 100Kg 3 sets 5 reps each we would spend only 0.358509Kcal. A reasonable question arises “How much should I lift to work off that delicious chocolate bar with 250Kcal?”. The answer is A LOT!
Wow! It is nothing indeed!
What about running or walking? These two activities are highly cost-effective. You would have to run fast for 4 to 7 hours to simply burn off a Starbucks coffee break with your friend or days to work off a good Friday dinner with nice wine. Of course, you can stop doing it and live without Starbucks, restaurants, wine .…friends. Not cool.
live without Starbucks, restaurants, wine .…friends
A typical way of losing weight used by many people is a strict diet with a low daily calorie intake in combination with 2-3 hour daily running and lifting weights 2-3 (sometimes 5 or even 6) times a week. It requires a lot of stressful work and willpower. Of course, we can always do it for a while and resume our regular routine after which would be wise to do.
There is another way to consider adding to your training. In the USSR a typical ration requirement for young gymnasts was and I guess still is (in Russia) 5 000 - 6 000 Kcal a day. A day!!! Yet they are strong, skinny, muscular and capture the imagination of many individuals for many different reasons. Why? Remember a complexity of the simple elbow flexion we talked about at the beginning of this article? Now imagine how much energy the body would spend if it were to learn how to do all those elements gymnasts do on the high bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, floor, rings. Correct - tremendous amount of energy.
Though there is another way
Imagine that as an adult you decide to learn a handstand. Absolutely unfamiliar movement for your body. Now you must go through the same process you went as a kind while learning how to walk. Your CNS needs to figure out a pattern for a new movement, a handstand. Not only do your muscles need to get stronger but your CNS also has to coordinate them and maintain the balance.
During the first time of the handstand journey, you will use a huge amount of “not the right muscles” in “not the right way” just to jump into a handstand. Of course those “not the right muscles” consume energy as you use hundreds of them at the same time. Literally hundreds. Not only that. Those hundreds of the muscles need to be controlled by the CNS. Sending electrical impulses and coordinating their work are highly “expansive” in term of kilocalories.
“Not the right muscles” consume energy
The Brain, only at rest, consumes 700-900Kcal just to keep your body going. When you start any mental task the energy consumption jumps over the roof. Recall your school years and exams. You must have felt physically exhausted after passing (or not) your midterms as if you had been unloading a truck for the whole day.
In other words, any new movements and their combinations will inevitably lead to a very high energy consumption owing to the inefficiency of the muscle use and great efforts made by the CNS. Even after you have learned a new complex movement it will require a lot of energy to perform it as hundreds of the muscles will still have to be deployed and coordinated. Besides, once a handstand has been conquered, you can build on it and start learning other skills based on a solid handstand and so on and so forth. In this way, you will keep high energy demand going as well as your enthusiasm to work out. Because it is a lot of fun to train for it and enormously satisfactory seeing the first results.
New movements lead to a very high energy consumption
It is fair to say that Gymnastics, Acrobatics, Dancing, Calisthenics and other activities of the kind are a great way to lose weight and stay fit. Of course, you do not have to go crazy and do all those jumps and summersaults. If a handstand gives you goosebumps, no worries! There are dozens of other movements and skills in Gymnastics you might want to try learning. Everyone at any age can do it. I am speaking from experience. I have a couple of students in their prime, 58, 60, 63, 65 and 72 years old. They do handstands, headstands, L-sits. Most of them gave me a look when I suggested trying something new, but now they are quite happy. If you like weightlifting then keep doing it but you might want to consider adding something from the mentioned above sports.
You do not have to go crazy
In general, it is a good idea to do what you cannot instead of what you can. Establish a personal goal to be 1% better than you were yesterday at what you do for your fitness. Learn movements and their combinations currently unavailable to your body.
Do what you cannot instead of what you can
That is it. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article and found it useful. Please leave your comments or questions in the Comment section below. I am very curious about your opinion. Have a great day everyone!