You may be only 45 or 31 or even 23, but your body is ancient. Behaviorally, we humans may have made great strides, but anatomically our bodies are very much like those of our hairier ancestors some 200,000 years ago.
Anthropologists say that our bodies evolved in ways that ensure our survival in a constantly changing environment. We have built-in systems designed for homeostasis that keep our bodies on an even keel—happy and cozy and unchanging.
Think about it. Appetite occurs when you need calories to maintain your body size and energy needs. Fatigue happens when you need sleep so that your body can be restored and revitalized. You start to shiver when the biting cold threatens your 98.6-degree internal temperature, and blood moves out of your extremities inward to protect your vital organs. Your heart rate increases, your eyes widen, and blood shoots to your arms and legs to fuel action when you feel threatened. All of these responses are your body’s automatic attempts to deal with crisis and return to homeostasis. To put it simply, your body abhors change and will do anything in its power to return to a state of safety and boring sameness. It sees any change as a threat and fights hard for homeostasis, even when change would be good for you. That’s one reason losing weight and gaining muscle strength are so difficult to accomplish.
In order to create a change in your body, you must override your current scenario—your homeostasis—and that usually requires actions that are different from what you’ve been doing. In order to change, you must change. You need to break out of your comfort zone. This is why I relate muscular growth in the gym to personal growth in your life. It’s all the same! You have to be uncomfortable if you want to achieve something bigger and better.
The only way to override homeostasis and create change is to expose your body to the new stimulus over and over and over. In training for strength, that means exposing your muscles to progressive resistance, heavier and heavier weights that keep on challenging them. In essence, you need to make your muscles work harder and harder. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The exercises don’t get easier, but you will get better.
All of the 90-day training programs in this book are designed around this concept and provide your muscles with the perfect amount of “stress” to make them stronger. Each month, your program will progress so that you are tackling new challenges and pushing your muscles to break through homeostasis. Each month, the workout will get harder, and you will get stronger, leaner, and fitter. Remember, a pound of muscle is smaller in size than a pound of fat, so even if the weight on the scale doesn’t change (and it will), you are going to be smaller and tighter if you add muscle.
Take that, ancient body!
Your Body on Strength Training
In the gym you create muscle and strength by exposing your body to resistance that is beyond your current ability. Over time, continued exposure forces your muscles to physically change. The technical term for this is hypertrophy. When a muscle is significantly challenged, muscle cells become agitated, kicking off a chain reaction that increases the diameter of the muscle fiber. The amount of challenge you put on your muscle can be called tension. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “time under tension.” It’s a very important concept in strength training. Lifting a light object causes a small amount of tension. Lifting a heavy object slowly causes great tension. This is where the magic happens. Heavy tension causes microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. The greater the pressure inside your muscle, the more extensive the “damage” to your muscle fibers. But I don’t want you to think of this damage as a bad thing because it’s ultimately what helps you become stronger.
Damage is the building block of strength and muscle development. The greater the time and pressure, the greater the damage to your muscle. This breaking down is followed by a period of repair and recovery. This is the special sauce where the real strength and muscles are made. Your workouts are only as good as your recoveries.