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Understanding Exercise and Choosing Your Alpha Exercise and Beta Activities

Why do you exercise?

When you decided that you wanted to commence an exercise program, what went through your mind? I bet it was one of the reasons listed below.



Typically, there are four categories of motivators or values for wanting to commence exercise. Do let us know if you can think of others!

Health concerns

  • Get fit/fitter
  • Be healthier… (for my future, to enjoy my kids/grand kids, my doctor has told me I should etc.)
  • Improve my cardiovascular fitness/”heart-health”
  • Be stronger

Aesthetic concerns

  • Look good naked
  • Build my muscles/physique
  • Lose weight

Sport-related concerns

  • Become adept at a particular physical/activity sport
  • Rise to a specific physical challenge and excel at it
  • * Do exercise that will support my current sporting endeavors

Psycho-social concerns

  • Do a physical activity/form of exercise that is FUN
  • An opportunity to meet new people
  • To be involved in a team activity/sport
  • To impress others with my achievements
  • To do what is perceived as cool, happening and popular right now (or to be an early adopter and do what others don’t even know is going to be cool yet, calling all hipsters!)

It should also be pointed out that all the motivators above are legitimate to one degree or another.

Of course an individual may have a number of different motivators from two or more of the above categories, all converging to drive that person to start a new exercise regime.


Why is it important to understand our own personal motivators and values?

It is most useful because we can begin to clarify what we are specifically looking for out of “exercise”, and what type of physical activities are going to be beneficial for us to engage in: ones that we are far more likely to stick to over the long term.

Without defining our values and even placing them in a hierarchical context, we are faced with a huge challenge. There are a multitude of potentially confusing choices, conflicting messages and possible approaches in the wide world of fitness and exercise. The lack of a clear understanding of the real reasons driving people to exercise, and therefore the outcomes that will satisfy their needs, often causes them to flit from one class or exercise regime to the next or even to give up on exercising altogether for a period of time.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with a just do it attitude, jumping in feet first and finding what works for you, what will keep you interested and continue to engage you over the long term. You may however have to go through several different options before you find one that fits and sticks, and provides that all important adherence factor.


Our approach

  1. Define what you want from exercise first before doing anything else.
  2. If your hierarchy of values includes any points from the Health Concerns or Aesthetic Concerns categories or the Sport Related point, (the one preceded with a *), then we strongly recommend that you engage in evidence-based resistance training (or HIT as we like to call it) as the cornerstone of your exercise regime. This is only going to require a time/frequency schedule of 15-30 minutes, 1-2x per week, for most people.
  3. This then leaves you with 5-6 other days a week to satisfy the rest of your exercise-related wants and needs – you know the other ones from the Sport Related category and all of the Psycho-Social concerns.


Listen to James Steele, Lecturer in Applied Sport Sciences at Southampton Solent University, explain how he likes to exercise.


Why does this approach work so well?

Evidence-based resistance training or the HIT approach, let’s refer to it as Alpha Exercise, will stimulate an optimization of an individual’s hypertrophy, strength, cardiovascular fitness and other related and downstream “pure” physiological benefits, and it will do so in a very time efficient manner.

During this type of exercise, we attempt to minimize the skills required: to get at the physiology in as pure a way as possible. Note that forms of “exercise” or physical activity with greater skill requirements make it more of a challenge to provide a sufficient stimulus for optimal physiological change. However, exercise that is first and foremost focused on stimulating positive physiological change will always require some degree of skill. For example even with Alpha Exercise an individual will have to learn a minimal set of skills such as:

  • Learning to perform the chosen exercise movements well to momentary muscular failure (whether on machines, with free weights or with bodyweight). This includes inter-muscular coordination and intra-muscular coordination, which itself includes both spatial recruitment and temporal recruitment.
  • Learning the psychological skill required to take the chosen exercises to momentary muscular failure.

Nearly every other form of exercise or physical activity, let’s call them Beta Activities, will require a greater (sometimes far greater) skill acquisition component than that of high intensity strength training, and at the same time provide a lesser degree of “pure” physiological stimulus for positive adaptation.


Your Alpha Exercise and Beta Activities

Most people perform a fitness regimen that blurs the lines and even they could not explain what benefit they are truly getting. Is it specifically intended as a stimulus for physiological change or is it something that primarily caters for skill refinement or other values/benefits? This of course, is fine if the individual enjoys what they are doing, they feel stronger and more capable and generally good about themselves.

I would suggest however that the ideal scenario is to un-blur those lines and perform Alpha Exercise to stimulate gross beneficial physiological change (hypertrophy, strength, cardiovascular fitness etc) and then to additionally choose a Beta Activity (physical activity, skill or sport) you want to get good at, one that fulfils all the other values that you care about.

In other words, you’ll know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the specific values that it fulfils – and that can only be a good thing. Perhaps your Beta Activity will be tennis, golf, a martial art, dancing, swimming, rock climbing, rugby- the list is almost limitless, do what you want, you don’t even have to limit yourself to one.

It is not that if performed in the absence of HIT these Beta Activities won’t have a positive physiological effect. In fact, all Beta Activities have the potential to stimulate physiological change, however that is usually not their purpose, their raison d’être, rather it is a side effect if anything – perhaps a happy consequence. And they are exceptionally unlikely to provide the same degree of physiological stimulus for positive change as HIT (particularly with such a small time investment, low frequency and high degree of safety).

These activities are performed because you enjoy them, you are inherently good at them or you relish the challenge of them. HIT will support your ability to perform these Beta Activities well – giving you a physiology best able to perform in them.


How will HIT support my Beta Activities?

High Intensity Training:

• Increases strength, speed and power potential – by increasing your ability to produce muscular force.
• Improves the general strength and flexibility components of agility
• Enhances protection from injury.
• Provides a cardiovascular conditioning base.

Then, by frequent practice of your Beta Activity and its particular skills you will increase/improve activity specific power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and reaction times to the best of your inherent genetic potential.


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