Some history (feel free to skip the first para as it isn’t really relevant): As a kid, I don’t think I ever took exercise seriously. I don’t think I was too much of an outdoorsy person either. Not many sports, except swimming, but that was largely confined to summer vacations and company in the form of cousins. During my early teens, I put on weight and was forced to join the gym, if nothing else. I don’t remember taking that too seriously either. A bout of typhoid killed all the extra fat, and as I passed out of school, I actually was as “healthy” as I could get. And then during graduation, I decided to join the gym seriously.
So after the first day in the gym, muscles that I never knew existed made their presence felt. I suffered intense pain. These set of muscles were probably never flexed before, and the first week was unbearable. No wonder the instructor asked me to skip a day before repeating my sets; we had to let the muscles recover. But over time, the pain subsided. And I had to do increasingly larger number of sets, or use heavier weights to, um, “exercise”. I really don’t think anything helped me as much as the very first week – the muscles probably were more exercised in that first week than ever later.
I didn’t continue gym for very long – commitments, lack of time, boredom, lack of motivation – excuses galore! So the muscles returned back to their original state, possibly following exactly the same path as they took on their way up – they must have regressed the most in the later phases, than if I had skipped the gym for a day or two.
So, what’s the point I’m trying to make, and why now? I’ll answer the later part first: I restarted “basic exercises” many times between that time and now, the most recent being two weeks back. And the first few days are exactly the same – aching muscles. I wonder if this is indeed a case of marginal returns. Is it really true that the first “painful” days are the best stimulants for the muscles, and if so, why continue? Of course, my premise could be completely flawed: Pain may not necessarily equate to gain, and this stopping and starting is probably more damaging than anything else.
I will admit, that the “kick” one derives from the first few days of exercising after a prolonged break far surpassed the felling one derives from continual exercise. One actually feels bubbly and chirpy. Maybe some hormonal reaction / response to the exercise – but that’s a fact. In a sense, this is similar to alcohol – casual drinkers tend to get the “kick” faster than routine drinkers, who must also consumer ever-increasing quantities to get “high”.
So, is it habit? Is it moderation? “Stop-and-go”? If this is really a case of marginal returns, then how do we ensure optimality? What is your take?