Physical Culture

Physical Culture encompasses all manner of efforts, systems, practices with the aim of improving physical health, capability, and work capacity using a variety of measures.  My definition is quite vague and all encompassing, but this is by design.  When I speak of physical culture, I’m willing to include everything from Yoga to Olympic Weightlifting to Bodybuilding in my definition.

I currently subscribe to a High Intensity Training theory of fitness using concepts pioneered by Arthur Jones and popularized by Mike Mentzer among others.  I utilize just one work set per muscle group and only work out once every 5 days or so.  For whatever reason, this approach to fitness is controversial, but the core concept behind it are universal and absolutely should be applied regardless of your fitness modality.


All physical training is a form of hormesis.  You introduce a stressor to the system and the body adapts and becomes resistant to that stressor.  If a person squats x-weight on Friday, if the intensity is sufficient to warrant a response from the body, it will respond by optimizing motor unit recruitment and increasing muscle cross-section (you get stronger and bigger) in order to better accommodate the weight the next time you squat.  The next week you will need to increase the weight used if you hope to elicit the same or similar response.

But note the curve in the graphic above…similar to the GAS model for handling stress, there is a point where the system mobilizes and fights back and there is a point where the system is overcome and fails.  Note that as the dose increases the effect is more and more inhibitory.  This applies perfectly to exercise and fitness.  Regardless if you subscribe to HIT philosophy or not, you must consider exercise to be a dose of a poison and balance the dose and the time you allow yourself to recover.  In layman’s terms, you need to be fully recovered between workouts so that every time you return to a given exercise, you’re stronger.  If you’re not stronger, that’s feedback that should lead to a change in your program (either more rest, a new exercise, or better habits outside the gym).  Do not just slog through, going back to the same weight/exercise week after week without making progress.  You’re essentially spinning your wheels if not hurting yourself.

In general, people should recover more than they do.


3 thoughts on “Physical Culture

  1. Pingback: Sleep: Do it. « Evo Lab

  2. Mike did not talk about recovery exactly this way however I think that studying other hormesis processes may help make things more scientific. The HIT community needs to “stand on shoulders” of Arthur, Mike et el and progress the science they started.

  3. Hey Stephen,

    Mike may not have referenced hormesis per se, but he did tie exercise to the General Adaption Syndrome ( in the book “High Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way.”

    John Little is listed as the author, but the book is written as if coming from Mike. I believe they collaborated on it.

    GAS and Hormesis share the underlying concept that up to a certain point, stress elicits a positive response, but past that point, the body begins to fail. And as we know, in exercise this manifests itself as lack of progress or regression.

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