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Conjugate Harmonious Physical Work

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

In previous installments of this blog I have talked about the use of strength work for ends beyond physical. As it were working on achieving specific positive changes in emotional and mental states. Some of that discussion centered around how certain types of strength work, though other methods of physical work are workable too. The literature -obviously- focuses on the physical effects of physical work.

One of the main points to be made in discussing ‘after effects’ is that the achievement of the desired effect may well be at odds with, or at best be indifferent in terms of the primary physical objective in the training. [I have discussed this issue separately elsewhere.]

This forms a potential stumbling block for the ‘rational’ formulation of harmonious physical work. A formulation keeping in line with this way of thinking needs to account for both long term physical adaptations as well as equally taking into account long term adaptations mentally and emotionally. Call it harmonious conjugate training, if you will.

There is however workarounds to minimize trade-offs that present themselves quite easily:

The first option is to dedicate the majority of a workout to the main physical aim – which could be a particular strength quality – while using the latter part of the workout to make it conform more closely with the after effects sought after. To use common bodybuilding vernacular, simply employ “a finisher”. The finisher can be a single exercise, a super-set, a giant set or a number of sets. Typically rest-periods are compressed. If the finisher has a restorative focus then the movements will be so light as to not tax the trainee metabolically. Of course, if the aim of main work and finisher has very different flavors then the options outlined below will better choices. This finisher will often be high rep work of a lower relative intensity [which is to say nothing of the perceived intensity.]

The second option is to employ different workouts for slightly different purposes; some mainly focusing on the after effects and the larger context, while others will be focused much more specifically on a physical aim. That is to say nothing of the lengths of the workouts. After all you can get an energizing effect of a very modest workout of 10-15 minutes. Mini-workouts are the entree’s of physical work and have a strong motivational quality.

A third option – and the altogether most radical option – is to largely ignore what training physiology considers good training to be and focus on achieving the most potent after effects. As the joke goes: ‘if you work hard enough you can replace depression with exhaustion’. I know that a fair number of people intuitively has used this approach at times of crisis (self medication with physical work). One problem is that methods chosen often aren’t the best exercises for the most potent after effects. Aside from this there most definitely are times when getting proper counsel is a wise choice.

With that caveat out of the way, forming the habit of doing and enjoying physical work is very important for long term success. For this reason rational and sparring use of the third option is often the wisest course of action at time to build initial traction. It can also be used successfully after coming back from a lay off.

[This blog was first published on]

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