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But what about machines? You can feel the burn on machines, man! And they’re so much safer than circular hunks of iron! Right? So if you can feel your muscles work, why do the (unsafe) barbell / free-weight thingy?

There’s a reason the examples I listed before were barbell and bodyweight exercises (free-weight exercise in general): they are ideal for gravity+ and load.

The first “flaw” in machines (from a gravity+ standpoint) is that the load isn’t alongside gravity.

In a machine chest press, you’re pushing horizontally. Gravity is vertical. This is why a 100 pound machine chest press isn’t the same as a 100 pound barbell bench press.

Of course, you can just add more weight to the machine stack (which would increase the load), so let’s go to numero dos “flaw.”

Take off your shoes, socks. Stand up. Now lift your right leg in the air. Balance on your left leg for sixty seconds.

Note how your body fidgets to keep your balance. And if not your entire body, then at least your lower leg.

Now rest for a little bit. Stand back up, hold onto your desk, and do the same balance drill.

Note how nothing fidgets or works to keep your balance. You’re anchored to the desk, so the desk balances you.

When you’re balancing yourself (or an object) using your own means, the strain (threat) on your system is more comprehensive. Your body works harder because you have to stabilize and control yourself.

There’s something about moving and controlling your body (or an object) through space. 

See, we often fall for reductionsim.

Want to understand how clock works? Take it apart. Look at the bits and pieces. Understand how they work in isolation. Then you’ll know how they work together. Boom.

This = reductionism. You take something big, reduce it to it’s pieces, look at the pieces, understand the pieces, and then you understand how the pieces work together in the bigger thing.

We have an obsession over muscle. I get it. it’s the visible manifestation of a world we cannot see. the body is an amazing complex thing, underneath that there flesh.

And culture doesn’t help. Bodybuilding magazines are all about isolating muscles and splitting training up by muscles.

So it’s easy to correlate the following:

building muscle : training muscle

But, turns out, reductionism works for machines and simple systems, but not complex dynamic emergent systems

The rally cry for emergence is something Aristotle said long ago: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Meaning once the separate parts come together, the new whole is something entirely different.

Like Voltron.

Or a cloud.

can you take apart a cloud? Can you understand a cloud by looking at hydrogen molecules in isolation?

you can know everything about how something works alone, but “everything” changes once it’s sewn into something else.


You hear that?

The body is an emergent system.

(Bet you couldn’t see that coming.)

Muscle is just a middle man. It’s a clump of beef that spasms when jolted with biological electricity.

consider that muscle funnels into tendon, which then funnels into bone. The entire system is like a bungee cord system thingie.

You wouldn’t bungee jump if the cord (or the cord’s attachment) wasn’t strong enough to support you.

Similarly, the body isn’t going to build a muscle so big and strong that it rips its tendon from the bone

and this bone stuff interesting because there’s a relationship between bone and muscle.

As David Epstein describes in The Sports Gene:

Holway compares the skeleton to an empty bookcase. One bookcase that is four inches wider than another will weigh only slightly more. But fill both cases with books and suddenly the little bit of extra width on the broader bookcase translates to a considerable amount of weight.

Holway has found that each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bone supports a maximum of five kilograms (11 pounds) of muscle. Five-to-one, then, is a general limit of the human muscle bookcase.

(Epstein says that women are more like 4.2 to 1. Those using steroids are known to eclipse 5 to 1.)

And bone also remodels much like muscle. Julius Wolff was a surgeon that created a now-popular law (not surprisingly known as Wolff’s law) that states bone remodels under the presence of external stress.

Holway measured the forearms of a group of tennis players ranked in the top twenty in the world and found that their racket arms grew slightly differently from their nonracket arms. The racket-side forearm bones of the players grew around a quarter-inch longer than the forearm bone of the nonracket arm. And the elbow joint widened a centimeter. Like muscle, bone responds to the exercise. Even nonathletes tend to have more bone in the arm they write with simply because they use it more, so the bone becomes stronger and capable of supporting more muscle.

(Emphasis mine.)

So if muscle is at the mercy of bone strength, why even think about muscle? Why not think about the bone(s).


Why not..?

Ha! How’s that for shift? Instead of thinking about muscles, think about bones. We couldn’t do such a thing. Could we? Hmmm.

See, the entire system has to be considered. The more comprehensive the strain (threat), the better.

We often get wrapped up in the local (muscular) strain (threat). So let’s zoom out.

009 →

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

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