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The New Synergy

November 10, 2011

This is a pivotal perspective piece sharing new insights intended for Personal Fitness Trainers, however, anyone seeking health and physical betterment will find this information valuable.  Personal Trainers should feel free forwarding this piece to their clients, as it should help them better understand their own potential and The Fitness Professional’s power to help them find change.

AS IT WAS

In 1994 I wrote my first book, Mind & Muscle: Fitness For All of You.  It was later re-released as the 348-page TRANSFORM.  From the first day I released Mind & Muscle, I believe I’ve said the word Synergy every day.  Some days 9 or 10 times.  Some days I probably said the word over 50 times, and each time I speak the word, it’s within the same context.

It typically sounds like this:

If you want to achieve Positive Physical Change, there are three synergistic components that must be in place.  If any one of them is absent, you will fail.  With that said, Synergy is simple to master.  It addresses the synergistic combination of the Right Nutrition, Moderate Aerobic Exercise, and a Concern for Muscle.  If you’ve been with me for any period of time, this is not unfamiliar to you.

As I would speak at international conferences and meet personal trainers who had learned of my track record, they’d commonly ask for “the secret.”  I’d Say there are two.  First, treat every client as the most important person in the world.  Secondly, apply Synergy.

Over the last four years I’ve reinforced my knowledge of synergy, refining each of the three categories, but I also completely immersed myself in a new learning experience.  For decades I’ve known that Synergy works.  It works for everyone who learns to integrate the three components . . . but I also look at a population where people attempt change and fail.  There had to be more to the picture.

I know hundreds of personal trainers who teach their clients the Synergy principle, and rarely deliver lasting physical improvement, so I began to study how and why people who applied a sensible strategy, even with the guidance of a professional personal trainer, often failed to adhere and follow through.  That renewed quest for knowledge led me to some amazing teachers, amazing new revelations, and more recently the evidence to support some groundbreaking theories that run smack head-on into the tired face of convention.

Today . . . . if I chose to, I could revise the entire concept of Synergy, not taking away from anything I’ve shared in the past, but adding a new platform of understanding.  Of course eating supportive of metabolism and desired outcome is vital.  Of course moderate aerobic exercise and a concern for muscle must be part of an overall change plan.  It’s just that I now understand these are subcategories under more all-encompassing headings.

The client need not understand the larger picture (although it’s certainly a valuable option).  The client must understand Synergy in its originally stated form.  If you are a fitness professional, and you’re going to guide someone . . . . or I daresay everyone you connect with . . . with the outcomes they seek, a higher level of understanding the complexity of the human machine and “the ghost inside that drives it,” adds an immense new ability and value.

WHAT’S “NEW?”

If I were to speak to a group of personal trainers to introduce The NEW Synergy, it would sound something like this:

If you want to achieve Positive Physical Change, there are three synergistic components that must be in place.  If any one of them is absent, you will fail.  With that said, Synergy is simple once you come to master it’s elements. The New Synergy addresses the following three pieces:  Meeting the Client Where the Client is Now, Training the Balance Between Load and Recovery, and Understanding the Power of Neural Rewiring.

I know that may sound esoteric and a bit out there, but much as Pilates, Kettlebells, and Crossfit all once seemed “out there,” with a new understanding of their value, the “crazy factor” goes away and they simply become a part of your knowledge base and toolbox.

About 15 years ago I was privileged to share a speaking podium with Deepak Chopra.  He struck me as one of the most balanced and intelligent people I’d ever had the opportunity to meet.  He was speaking about Quantum Healing, and he had a wonderful delivery of information the human mind is not fully ready to grasp . . . and my mind wasn’t fully grasping.  What I left that experience with was a clear sense that, if I am going to become a true expert in helping people find betterment, there is far more to know.  I continue to hold that sentiment, but today I have a greater understanding of the “connection” Dr. Chopra was referring to (along with a greater recognition of how much there is to learn).

Chopra discussed the distinction and connection between “mind” and physical manifestation.  It goes deeper than the age-old “as we think so shall we be.”  What we are taught to see as separate entities, Chopra saw as a larger “one.”  It sounds nice, but philosophers for centuries argued whether the mind is “fixed” once its wiring is in place, or whether the ghost in the machine, the soul or spirit or whatever was deemed to be the thinking part of the human animal, had the power to change “brain-wiring” and thus change potential.

The question no longer need be asked without answer.  Here’s something to chew on . . . every thought is physical.  The connection is indisputable.  I’ve met with and learned from doctors and neuroscientists who now have what were only a decade ago considered futuristic tools for understanding the mind.  Without invasive methodologies, they can now “map” an individual’s brain, tracking where memories are stored, what chain of neurons connect their dendrites during a specific thought, and how different people access different thoughts by creating unique pathways within each individual brain.  In other words, if you could shrink down to the size of a neuron, and hang around in your own brain, you’d see that a specific pathway lights up and the tentacle-like dendrites from neighboring neurons unite in a uniquely specific way anytime a specific image, sound, thought, or emotion is presented.

Taking it a step further, our wiring is shaped more by environment and awareness than by anything genetic.  Sure, some people are born with a greater predisposition to be worriers, others better wired for extroversion, but once we begin to observe, think, hear, and do, we begin to create our own internal programs.

WE ARE THE SAME, BUT WE ARE DIFFERENT

We understand how the “Same But Different Paradox” applies physically and biochemically (we’re made of the same stuff but our physical bodies, preferences, habits, and biochemical interactions are unique).  Now I want you to understand it as it relates to the way each one of us is wired to think, to act, to dream, and to want.  In other words, while we all come with the same machinery, our individual machines have the ability to redesign, repair, or destroy themselves in uniquely individual ways, and that goes far beyond the physical.

Here’s where it gets exciting.  With a greater knowledge and a new skill set, you can step into the world of rewiring.  I’m not suggesting you attempt armchair psychiatry, but I am strongly suggesting that you have a greater ability to control adherence, motivation, distraction, procrastination, and outcome in yourself and others than you ever knew.  You can rewire neuronal connections by directing differently, by learning to identify unique traits and patterns, and by steering focus and imagination.

Why are some people so driven to exercise and others so prone to slip after a matter of weeks?  Wiring.

Why are some people able to contentedly eat the same foods every day and others convinced they’ll get bored without constant variety?  Wiring.

So, with that baseline of understanding, let’s look further into what I referred to as “The New Synergy.”

WHERE THE CLIENT IS NOW

A friend and associate, Dr David Haase, a Mayo-clinic trained physician with an integrative practice aimed at restoring health, recently doled out a compliment which I readily received, and it was that compliment that helped me crystallize something I believed I did innately into a strategy that I could teach others.  After explaining why he didn’t particularly respect or trust personal trainers, he told me he he’d feel differently if trainers were more like I was.  He went on to say, “what you do that is so important is, you meet the client where the client is now.”

All personal trainers will, as a knee-jerk, insist that they assess individuals, and that they customize programs, but the reality is, the assessment is typically addressed as one-dimensional.  They either look at structure or performance ability.  That’s important.  Very important. But there are other factors that, when considered, provide a much better sense of the individual strategy that must be applied.

I’ve learned to look at attitude, perceived potential, anticipated outcome, prevalent or likely obstacles, biochemical irregularities (high blood sugar, low testosterone, thyroid irregularity, etc.), and not only exercise history, but also the “wiring” that has evolved as the client progressed through that unique history.

I’ve learned to treat someone who has belief in his or her own potential to change very differently than someone who lives with doubt in that regard.  I’ve learned to understand threshold as an individual factor, and someone with a low threshold for risk or challenge is going to be approached very differently than someone who says, “I want you to kick my ass.”

I’ve learned to conduct a three-hour assessment before taking anyone through an exercise program, and I’ve been told it’s the most thorough assessment my clients have ever received, anywhere, by anyone.  It isn’t physically invasive, but it’s 1/3 physical, 1/3 performance, and 1/3 emotional and attitudinal.  They’re also asked to furnish specific lab reports, not to diagnose anything, but to recognize the baseline as a point for comparison down the road.

I wouldn’t suggest every personal trainer now begin to integrate a three-hour assessment into their client strategy, but . . . I would say an understanding of what, beyond the physical, plays into recognizing a baseline gives any trainer a massive advantage in knowing how to get a client to stick with it ongoing until and after results manifest.’

That leads us to the second part of what I called The New Synergy, Training the Balance Between Load and Recovery.

OXIDATIVE STRESS VS. RECOVERY

Personal trainers understand anabolism (growth), catabolism (cellular breakdown), and energy production, and in that they design programs aimed at stimulating muscle anabolism, metabolism, and aerobic capacity.  They understand that if an individual overtrains, that individual may hormonally shift into a catabolic mode where “more exercise” results in deterioration.  It is with that understanding and perspective that they approach Load and Recovery.  Exercise is the stressor, sleep, rest, and recuperation the variants of recovery.

I’ve come to understand the age-old approach, not as wrong, but as myopic.  It ignores an important factor.  “Load” can be redefined as “Stress” and while stress can be a catalyst for improvement (ask the muscles to do a bit more than they’re used to and they’ll grow to accommodate the new need), stress at a physical, emotional, or environmental level creates stress-induced oxidation at the cellular level.  In other words, while we may or may not “feel” stress, that stress affects us by translating to oxidative activity and microtrauma in the tiny cells that make up our beings.

The human body, as most living things, is astoundingly capable of balancing load and recovery.  The lion hunts, the lion eats, the lion sleeps.  After sleep, the lion awakens to hunger pangs.  Energized.  He hunts, he eats, he sleeps.  That’s a simplification of Load, Fuel, and Recovery, and each piece of that puzzle is vital.  Our world may be more complex than life for a big cat on the African Plain, but, just as lions do, we need energy output, fuel, and recovery.

Lions don’t drive.  Lions don’t receive upsetting emails or phone calls.  Lions don’t go to jobs they hate, and they rarely have any overly stressful relationship issues.  We do, and in that, we face chronic stressors.  It isn’t the phone that causes oxidative stress, but it’s the emotional response we have to the news or tone presented directly into one ear.  Hate your job, work five days, a week, and your load is increased.  Go to the gym and try to alleviate stress with a 90-minute intensive workout and your oxidative stress load continues to swell.  Go home and unknowingly breathe in the chemicals from the fertilizer used on your lawn, the formaldehyde used to protect your furniture in manufacturing, and the pesticide the exterminator used to kill your ant problem, and the stress load becomes unnervingly chronic.  This has to play in to meeting the client where the client is now.  If we are going to add Load, we have to work with the Client to reduce the response to external stressors, and/or we have to further consider Recovery which can be either passive or proactive.

WE SHOULDN’T BE AMAZED – IT MAKES SENSE

I’ve seen amazing changes in people when they learned to balance Load and Recovery.  I’ve seen people who struggled with fitness for years, failing to see results from their exercise sessions, find complete transformation in 90 days after they left stressful relationships.  I’ve seen people who were diagnosed with debilitating conditions find new energy and health when they traded their stressful jobs for passion.

No, we cannot and should not tell her clients where to work, who to partner with, or who to fall in love with, but, those are elegant examples of how environment contributes to the all-too-common imbalance between stress and recuperation.

I’ll also mention I’ve had a stunning number of clients who were habitually committed to 45-60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day increase muscle, reduce bodyfat, and increase oxygen utilization when they were cut back to six minutes of aerobic exercise a day following a brief but efficient resistance session.

These aren’t oddities, nor should they be shocking.  They are simply “what happens” when you consider and affect the balance between Load and Recovery.

FULL CIRCLE: BACK TO THE BRAIN

We now arrive at the third and final element in the New Synergy.  Neural rewiring.  This is the piece that brings it all together.  It gives you the ability to recognize opportunities to facilitate change in belief systems, in emotional responses, and in attitudinal habits often mistaken for “personality.”

There’s a new and evolving science, Neuroplasticity, which has such far-reaching potential it may become the essence of the quantum leap to maximizing human power.  By recognizing the ability to change neural wiring, neuroplasticians (many of them forward-thinking neurosurgeons or psychiatrists who have come to understand the human brain in a way that overshadows previous paradigms) have demonstrated the brain’s remarkable capacity for change.  They’re helping stroke victims who were incapacitated as an entire side of their body “died,” to regain 85 – 100% function . . . by using exercises that cause the brain, not to repair the damage, but to change its wiring so that healthy parts of the brain take over the roles of the damaged part.  I’m not exaggerating a bit when I tell you that incredible scientists have taught blind people to see . . . without using their damaged eyes, by understanding neuroplasticity.

If these outcomes are possible, imagine what personal trainers can do when they learn to change habitual pathways.

Imagine, as an example, if an individual has been a perpetual frustrated dieter, yet despite her lack of long term positive outcome, she still lives under the belief “eat less weigh less.”  When you attempt to coach this woman to eat frequently, every few hours, her stuck belief rejects the thought, and if she tries to follow your direction, her limbic system, the part of her brain that regulates emotion, senses danger.  Understand, this is what the brain does when it wires.  It attempts to find the best path for self-preservation, and if a conscious belief permeates the subconscious, if someone is told for years and years that they have to diet, rational thought is overridden.  The brain wires the thought of “more food” to “more hurt” and it does what it knows how to do.  It signals a small sector of brain called the amygdale to summon up the stress response, and communication between brain, pituitary, and adrenals send the “fight or flight” system into overdrive.  The body increases oxidative stress.  The hormonal environment shifts into a chronic state of catabolism.  The conscious mind interprets these feelings as stressful, and decides it best to stop eating and start dieting.  This may sound as if this weight-loss-wanting woman is running a bizarre mental program.  She isn’t.  She’s just running the wrong one, and she doesn’t know it.  If you can get her to create new dendrite connections, new neuronal pathways that make her feel a sense of achievement and victory when she completes a day of supportive eating, imagine how her outcome potential changes, not only emotionally, but physically.

ENTERING THE FUTURE

In the weeks and months to come I’ll share further information on The New Synergy.  While much of it will be written for personal trainers, I believe anyone seeking physical betterment will find extreme value in better understanding the strategies and techniques that can maximize the potential of the long-standing and forever-valid original presentation of Synergy, the Right Nutrition, Moderate Aerobic Exercise, and a Concern for Muscle.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2011 12:45 pm

    Nicely said, something I think many of us as personal trainers automatically put into action without close examination of the process.

  2. November 15, 2011 2:23 am

    Thanks for all your work in our field Phil!!

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