Altered States, Strength Training, Gravity Resistance

by Kilo on July 10, 2010

zero gravity strength trainingThis is a guest post from Brad Johnson, looking at Gym Movement, biofeedback-based strength training, our motivations for lifting weights, and the lessons we take from the gym back out into the real world. Fantastic stuff.

(Note from the author: the reader is encouraged to read the following with skepticism, these ideas are by no means complete or wholly accurate. The integrity of science depending upon critical review, the reader is cordially invited to call BS.)

It has already been said – many times – that training produces changes outside of the weight room. The sentiment has, if you ask me, been beaten to death. Very little consideration, however, gets paid to the question of why?

Why should lifting heavy stuff off the ground or climbing mountains or running faster make us better people? Why does training make us feel more confident? Why do we become more composed under pressure, more risk-tolerant?

Really, the “builds character” or “puts hair on your chest” model seems outmoded and hardly applicable. These changes are more subtle, but no less noticeable than a thick mat of hair on our chests. To those of us who have had time to experiment with biofeedback, this sounds familiar. We’ve seen personal benefits that we can’t just attribute to more dead lifts and snatches. Our resistance to these basic challenges increases our resistance to more complex challenges.

Gross to fine.

Organisms, as adaptive systems, are defined by the challenges they face. For most athletes (and, for that matter, humans) our most basic challenge is gravity. (For swimmers, the challenge is water resistance). As a force, it is constantly present: we must, so long as we live on the earth, resist it.

Fundamentally, our muscular, skeletal and motor-neurological systems act as gravity-resistors. These large, energetically expensive features would not be necessary in a low-gravity or no-gravity situation. Improving these systems increases functionality while we’re on earth by reducing the percentage of max expenditure that daily activities require.

For example: If I can stand up with 400lb on my back, standing up with nothing on my back feels easier.

Weight training for non-linear progress

Weight-training, therefore, should strive to improve the gravity-resisting systems of the human body (duh). We do this with a specific, unstated goal: to reduce the perceived challenge of constant gravitation. This reduction has inherent benefits apart from “huge thighs” and “ripped abs.” Hopefully.

Constant progress will get us there faster.

Lately I’ve been thinking of progress as a constant, linear process impeded only by biological limiting factors. Gene activation rates, protein availability, glycogen storage limits, oxygen absorption and transport maximums, imperfect neurological interface with muscle fibers; all of these act as limiting factors on how much or how fast we can move. Biofeedback testing allows a more direct interface between conscious decision-making and non-verbal impressions of the muscular-skeletal and nervous systems. Identifying current body conditions allows us the progress minimally impeded by biological limiting factors. Biofeedback testing provides an instant, rough assessment.

Range of motion testing

This would also explain why ROM tests respond noticeably to food: material intake is another biological limiting factor.

Maximized progress results directly from the minimized impact of biological limiting factors. Ignoring negative feedback from your body ultimately results in injury or less-than-optimal development. Reacting to positive feedback allows faster progression.

Ok, fine, but what does this have to do with personality or life changes?

Getting there: psychology has linked physical movement with imagination and problem-solving ability. Studies have even shown that the accuracy of our perceptions depends upon physical fitness: physically fit subjects could more accurately identify the proximity of a harmful stimulus; physically weak subjects fled much earlier, thinking the stimulus was closer than it actually was.

Benefits of exercise

Our physical movement capabilities inform and define our sensations and mental output. Exercise has been linked to intelligence increase, mood elevation and improved problem-solving ability.

So has space travel.

Astronauts report personality and perspective changes in low-gravity or no-gravity environments. Low-gravity sensations are also associated with many positive perceptions on earth: drug users report a “high,” sometimes “weightless” or “floating” feeling; mood “elevates,” it doesn’t just get better; general quality of life improvements mark a “peak” or “high-point.” Long periods of weightless floating in isolation tanks also yield similar, gravity-free, positive sensations.

All of the above are marked by increased creativity, improved mental performance and imaginative flexibility.

I suggest that increased muscular strength produces similar sensations for the same reasons. As our perception of gravity as a limiting factor diminishes, quality of life improves.

We stand taller. We think with fewer limitations. We start to think of all problems as solvable.

People treat us differently because of this. Improvement breeds improvement. As our states improve, our situation improves. As our situation improves, our state improves.

Everything we do affects everything else we do.

And so on.

About the author:

Brad Johnson is a former long-distance track and cross-country runner, current kettlebell lifter. He has  been using biofeedback since March of this year, setting hundreds of PRs since then. He has contributed an article on barefoot running to Adam T GlassWalk the Road Less Traveled and will be looking to start a personal training business in the northern Virginia area within the next year.

Like what you see? Subscribe to the RSS feed and don’t miss a thing.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Piers July 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Brad, wow. What an awesome post. To be honest, I read it going “yeah yeah, this has all passed through my mind a lot already” up to the clinching point on reduced effect of gravity’s association with postive psychology. That is a Big Thought which has made my day.


Steve July 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm

This is, in my view, correct.

Consider the converse, straining when training. Instead of getting more confident the organism goes into self-protect mode – thus all the young guns in the gym training to failure and not improving from year to year.

Consider Roy Baumesiter’s research on will power and self-control – one very quickly depletes the ego, actually using up glucose in the blodd. My thought is that by training ‘against’ the body one has to employ all kinds of psychological resources and very soon you get into a downward spiral. Grip and rip keeps the spiral going upward – that includes emotional and psychological growth IMO.


Jeroen July 11, 2010 at 7:01 am

Very interesting. And sounds true. After all, one of the best parts of being fit and strong is the feeling of being ‘light footed’


JanPattersonRN July 11, 2010 at 10:32 am

This is very interesting. Clearly you’re still thinking it through, but you’re onto something.

I direct your attention to Anat Baniel’s work with Move Into Life []- I work with disabled children, where strength training as such isn’t always the issue- but as Jeroen says above, “one of the best parts of being fit and strong is the feeling of being ‘light footed’” or, for my patients, ‘free of the bed/wheelchair’.

Hope to hear from you your impressions of Anat’s work.


ddn July 11, 2010 at 11:44 am

Phenomenal post Brad.


Brad Johnson July 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Thanks everybody for commenting, I really appreciate feedback. Actually, if someone could give me some more negative feedback, that would be awesome.

Jan Patterson: I will definitely check out Anat and let you know (contact?). And yes, I am definitely still thinking this through; writing it out helps, having others read it helps even more.


Piers McCarney July 12, 2010 at 12:53 am

“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. ”

I think this is a key missing element in what you’ve spoken about. I think some thought in this area may add as well to what you have put down here.

Flow = immersion. Smooth movement = a lack of interrupting stimuli during movement (jerks, pinches, spasms, restrictions etc). I think flow theory can explain the uplifting potential of non-gravity resisting exercises. When my shoulder mobility and strength is feeling great, I feel powerful, smooth and (key) adaptable to the situation. Perhaps because I feel more focused on any challenges, without the distraction of physical restriction?
I think the constantly reinforced effect of increased ROM through GM creates a great opportunity to enjoy increased flow in both movement and (subsequently) mentality.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Brad.


Mike T Nelson July 12, 2010 at 11:52 am

Good stuff for sure Brad! Love it!

I actually took a whole class on aerospace physiology—very cool.

Astronauts will lose strength quite fast and even bone at a very fast rate. It is just the body responding to the environment. Rumor is that a trip to Mars is currently limited by the amount of bone loss that would occur.

My only thing to improve it would be to site the actual studies, just because I am a big geek.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: