15. Combine the Antifrailty Technique with Exercise

Chapter 15: How to Combine Antifrailty with your Exercise Routines

Excessive Exercise is Ruining Your Physique

Unsustainable workout habits played a large role in my stress. Overly ambitious running and heavy lifting were tightening my straightjacket. I was reaping short term benefits such as muscle gain and fat loss. But the long-term costs of accumulating soft tissue injury were significant. For instance, even though I had developed some strength in my default bench press, if I altered the position of my shoulders slightly, or turned my elbows or wrists a little, the same bench pressing motion was painful and incredibly frail. When you put a great deal of tension into an invariant configuration, the other potential configurations become very limited. It is the same with running. Aside from my habitual running pattern, my body was highly immobile.

If you signed a contract to play a superhero in an upcoming blockbuster movie, you would engage in arduous weight lifting, and lots of strenuous cardiovascular exercise. A few months of this would tighten existing knots in your muscles, but make you look like you were in great shape. A few years of it would produce copious dormant muscle, contorting and shackling the spine. In kinesiology this is referred to as “muscular pattern overload.” It would make you stronger in the short term, but much weaker in the long term. This is how I exercised in my twenties; sprinting, and grueling weights with no stretching, massage, or recognition of bracing. Combined with chronic panicked breathing, zero postural awareness, and lots of sitting it wrecked my foundation.

The Cost of Lifting Heavy Weights

Lifting heavy weights was my defense mechanism for dealing with the male status hierarchy. I thought that more muscle would help to free me from hierarchical worries, but instead it became my prison figuratively and literally. It distorted my posture by pulling my shoulders forward and upward, and my chin away from my chest. I am not alone. Postural neglect, excessive bracing, and inattention to areas of hyperfatigued muscle accelerates age-related postural decline in the vast majority of people that lift weights. In fact, heavy weight lifters experience significant reductions in all planes of spinal movement.

As a teenager I read books on lifting weights that proclaimed that 8 to 12 repetitions done to complete muscle failure is the best scientifically established way to achieve muscle growth. This is true but without regular antifrailty, 8 to 12 repetitions is a recipe for dormant muscle. It took me years to realize that overzealous lifting came with hidden costs. They creep up on you. Lifting heavy weights at low reps caused strain and cramping all over my body. In my late twenties I would wake up every morning in agonizing tension. After rising it would take at least ten minutes for standing circulation in my chest and neck to reestablish and the crushing pain to abate. Most people wouldn’t even have described me as muscular, and yet my chest, shoulders, neck, and back were completely locked up. I had trigger points, scar tissue, and chronic inflammation all along my shoulder girdle (shoulder blade, upper arm bone, and collar bone). The tension of weightlifting crept up my spine, through my cervical vertebrae, and into the attachments between my neck and skull. At this point, it impinges on one’s soul. This happened to me because I, like most people that lift weights focused on the superficial muscles I saw in the mirror, and completely avoided the intricate layers of internal core muscles. In avoiding them we magnify their frailty.

Underused Muscles Need Exercise and Overused Muscles Need Antifrailty

When loading to certain muscles is completely missing, and these muscles sit adjacent to muscles that are unnaturally overloaded you have injury and pain waiting to happen. Even people that don’t exercise underuse certain muscles, and overuse others. Underused muscles are usually long and weak, and overused muscles are short and tight. Underused muscles need to be exercised and toned. Overused muscles need to be stretched, massaged, and most importantly contracted all the way through the dormant sections of their range of motion. For dormant muscles much of this range is unavailable, but can be made accessible through the regular antifrailty.

Bend down and feel your calf, it’s likely that you have a lot of soft muscle surrounding a lump of hard muscle. The soft muscle is underused and the hard muscle is overused. You want the softest lumps to become harder, and the hardest lumps to become softer. To do so, increase the tone in the soft portions through exercise, and decrease the tone of the hard lumps using antifrailty. This will develop the calf’s ability to contract through its full range. To do this, work on pulling the toes up toward the knee (dorsiflexion) by contracting the muscles in the front of the calf, hold this contraction and breathe. Then work on pointing the toes away from the body (plantar flexion) using the muscles in the back of the calf. Every day spend one minute flexing the toes back toward the shin, then pointing the toes. During each of these offset the feet to the left then the right. Roll the ankles. Search for the positions that feel stiff and achy. If you can find them then know that holding them calmly is accomplishing bona fide antifrailty.

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A. A normal range of ankle motion of thirty degrees. Many people remain within such a limited range for years, contributing to the development of dormant ankle musculature. B. An extended range of ankle motion exercise that will contribute to healthy ankle joint mechanics.

At first start without any weight, even body weight. Just hold the contractions off the ground as long as you can. Then experiment with partial body weight. Then use full body weight calf raises where you try to reach full height during the rise, and complete dorsiflexion during the lowering phase. Hold these and breathe. Doing this with the ankle and knee in a variety of positions will allow you to target and tone the underused aspects of your calves. Try new positions like turning the feet out (lateral rotation) or in (medial rotation), and placing weight on the inside of the foot (pronation), or the outside of the foot (supination).

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A. Holding the lowered phase of a body weight squat to strengthen complete ankle dorsiflexion (ankle bent). B. Holding the full height of a calf raise to strengthen complete plantar flexion (ankle straightened).

Have you ever heard of “cankles?” It is a pejorative term referring to the combination of “calf” and “ankle” describing an ankle that seems to be continuous with the calf. They are the ugly consequence of chronic exertion and overuse in the ankle area. In other words, a cankle is just an ankle whose muscles are stuck in partial contraction within a very limited range of motion. Cankles are bulky and ugly because of unnecessary muscle hypertrophy, swelling, edema and inflammation. The cankles phenomenon isn’t limited to the ankles. Persistent contractions make the whole body look worse for the same reasons. Most people who don’t like their physiques, are simply unhappy with the unhealthy appearance of dormant muscle. You want your major muscles to be toned and firm without any of the underlying musculature being hard and hypertonic. It’s a balancing act.

Performing calf raises in the gym with heavy weights turned certain sections of my calves into very hard segments of muscle. These were useful for calf raises, but otherwise made walking painful. In my late twenties my ankles, calves, and knees would start to hurt after just 20 minutes of walking. It happened like clockwork. Percussive massage and antifrailty have made it so that I can walk for two hours without pain. They also turned my cankles into lean, trim ankles and put a new spring in my step. There are very tangible benefits to replacing our high intensity, low variety, repetitious exercises with exercises that use the body more diversely.

Dormant Muscle Exposes You to Injury

Tight and shortened muscles dominate movement at the joint disrupting healthy joint mechanics. Some researchers call this “joint compression” (not to be confused with the massage technique). It causes major physical limitations for both athletes and the general population: force leaks, torque loss, and gaps in strength. Shortened and dormant muscle are responsible for why advanced weight lifters fail at basic, entry-level plyometric workout exercises like box jumping. Anything that requires both speed and strength, most of them find painful. The abrupt forces cause cramped, hypertonic muscles to rip.

I sprained my shoulder wrestling a friend. This was ironic because I lifted heavy weights in hopes to appear physically powerful. But when it came down to actually grappling with someone, the uneven tone led to great disparities between the muscles that could be loaded, and those that couldn’t. There were muscles all along my scapula that couldn’t stand much load at all and trying to squeeze out of a stranglehold headlock sprained them badly. I learned that it is far preferable to have regular strength throughout the body and little frailty than to have excessive strength in certain areas and extreme frailty in others.

Dormant muscle and their attachments are highly susceptible to tearing. Sprains (tearing of a ligament) and strains (tearing of a muscle or tendon) are the most common types of soft tissue sports injury. They are often caused by activities that require muscles to stretch and contract suddenly at the same time. A lack of conditioning, flexibility, and warm up can contribute, but usually a strain was a previously existing site of dormancy just waiting to be injured.

Never stretch or use antifrailty during the first 72 hours after an injury, you want to give the tears in the muscle a chance to heal first. This means that any time you strain, or even tweak something, just go home. Don’t risk aggravating it by continuing to exercise. Soft massage is usually beneficial directly following a minor injury. Three days later, it is important to begin proactively compressing and stretching the muscles to stop the formation of scar tissue. In fact, untreated scar tissue is taken by many medical professionals to be the major cause of re-injury. After a week, I recommend rehabilitating light to moderate strains using antifrailty.

When you feel a kink in your neck, lower back or anywhere else, it is almost never the case that it is a new development. It is almost always preexisting dormant muscle that has been agitated. In fact, rehabbing the kink or tweak is the bread and butter of antifrailty. Kinks are actually previously locked up muscles that have started to unlock. Immobilizing them until they stop hurting, which is what most people do, will cause them to relock. Worse yet, trying to move them while breathing shallowly will cause them to close up tighter. But diaphragmatic antifrailty will allow you to open and salvage the kinks.

Physical therapists often recommend that patients “breathe into” their injuries. If you sprain your wrist, they might advise that you concentrate on both deep breathing and the sensations coming from the wrist. In yoga and Pilates instructors recommend breathing deeply when stretching sore, injured, or tight muscles. “Breathing into” areas of tension teaches the brain areas responsible that they can interact with the muscles without recruiting the sympathetic fear system. As you rehab an injury with antifrailty I recommend taking out your breathing metronome. I even recommend paced breathing directly following an injury to reduce the unnecessary bracing that comes with something like a sprain. Immediately after an injury people naturally breathe very shallowly and this causes the surrounding muscles to tense up, often greatly exacerbating the extent of the tissue damage. Breathing with the diaphragm and concentrating on progressive relaxation at the injury site can vastly decrease recovery time and improve the prognosis. Just be aware of the fact that paced breathing will diminish the body’s protective “casting” and immobilizing of the injured area, and that accordingly you must be careful not to subject this area to any undue loads.

Next I sprained my shoulder in a fall from a skateboard. Of course it was the locked-up, bench press stabilizing muscles that were injured. Because of the shoulder injury I had to stop lifting weights completely. My upper body muscle mass atrophied very quickly. I lost almost all of my bulk within two months. However, and here is the kicker… the pain, the knots, and the scar tissue remained as if I had never stopped working out at all. What this proved to me is that lifting heavy weights has benefits that are easily lost, but comes with costs that persist. Without incessant weight lifting you lose the mass but still retain all of the molecular scarring. I felt compelled to get this tension out of my body, so I developed an alternate way to lift weights.

Weight Lifting and Posture

Most people lift heavy weights from a compact position. The more you do this the more ungainly your posture becomes and the more difficult it is to lift from an expansive posture. Lifting weights from a compromised position only gets worse as you fatigue. By exercising with bad postural alignment, you will actually degrade the structures that you are trying to improve. When your vertebrae are out of alignment and you strain under heavy weights you are reinforcing the misalignment and further undermining your posture. It is like trying to build a massive building on a poor foundation. It will be lopsided and unstable. For this reason, when your form breaks down, make that your last rep. With properly aligned posture any form of exercise you do will be more effective.

Most people that lift heavy weights to complete muscular failure brace and lock up their entire skeleton holding their spine, shoulder girdle, and hips in the same invariant position each time. Simply reducing the weight allows you to lift without bracing. With less weight you can alter and vary your posture with each rep, changing the distribution of weight loading, and stimulating growth in areas that are usually stiff. You should be able to maintain fully coordinated control throughout your range of motion before you move on to heavier loads.

Most exercisers perform narrow range repetitions where the muscle lengthens and contracts only a small amount each repetition. This is a surefire way to force muscles into partial contraction. For example, my friend does limited range of motion squats with very heavy weights and this has given him huge knots above his knees. These knots form a buffer for his end range squat, helping him to stop the squat half way down and reverse the motion. But the same knots that help him come back up in that single exercise, limit the general action of his quadriceps in almost all other activities. This is just like the above example involving my calves. Do you do anything similar to this? If you don’t want the knots, lower the weight and increase the range of motion. You may have guessed by now that I won’t be able to avoid making a related comparison with animals…

Strength Differences Between Humans and Apes

Although chimpanzees are generally lighter than humans (they range between 70 and 140 pounds), they are much stronger on average. The arms of a female chimp that has had its hair shaved look like the arms of a professional football player. In captivity chimps are aware of their strength advantage and are very dangerous because of it. They often physically bulldoze humans. In the wild, they don’t know that they are stronger and can be studied safely at closer quarters. The strongest chimps are thought by many scientists to be able to overpower the strongest humans. I’ve long wondered: “At only 140 pounds, how can they be stronger?” It is in part because they have low frailty due to the fact that they build their muscles incrementally from all angles.

Apes amass upper body strength gradually from a young age tree climbing and knuckle-walking on all fours. Using their muscles vigorously is an intrinsic part of getting around. They incorporate their entire physique into each smooth, integrated movement rather than wrenching isolated muscles with dumbbells or barbells. Since apes don’t strain under heavy weights, their muscles are relatively unencumbered by trigger points and muscle shortening. Most wild animals have relatively little dormant muscle and few sites of frailty. This accounts for their strength advantage. The lesson for us is that if we want to become truly strong we have to build strength incrementally like an ape. Human adults are not able to start over from childhood in the trees. But we can start by infusing light weight exercises with antifrailty.

Practice Antifrailty During Exercise

Just as antifrailty can be combined with yoga, it can also be combined with weight training and other forms of exercise. Most exercisers completely avoid their trigger points and areas of frailty. You want to work them out, tailoring the exercise to target these sites. Perform resistance exercises very slowly at a very low resistance setting in an attempt to search for and contract into dormant muscle. Alter your joint configurations until you find a combination that aches or cracks, then hold this pattern and continue to perform repetitions. If when you feel the pinch, you don’t let it disturb your breathing pattern, the muscle will surrender and cooperate.

I want to encourage you to go to your local gym, sit on practically every machine on the floor, use the lowest weight setting, and do between 20 and 100 repetitions trying to work through the subtle aching. While you are at it, search for cracking. Every machine in the weight room is a tool that you can use to employ antifrailty from a different angle.


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Examples of different joint configurations for spinal antifrailty during light weight benchpress.

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Examples of different joint configurations for spinal antifrailty during light weight lateral pulldowns.

I am asking you to vary the position of your spine as you work out, but only at low intensity and low resistance. At high intensity you want to keep your spine straight. This is common knowledge. Many athletes refer to any bend (flexion or extension) in any portion of the spine as a fault or an error (Starrett, 2013). In fact, you commit a fault any time your spine changes shape during any weight bearing movement. When you lift something off the ground, perform a squat, or a push up your spine should stay neutral the entire time. Again, I believe that we should constantly be flexing and extending as many portions of the back as possible, but never combined with heavy load or speed.

The objective here is to gradually increase the load, over the course of months, as your posture improves and your frailty diminishes. Slowly building up to heavier weights and intensities will help you build a broad, stable base to place even more muscle on top of. This is in line with the often forgotten personal trainer’s maxim “straighten the body before strengthening it.” It is also in line with the concept of functional exercise whereby you build strength that is transferable to real-world situations.

The common wisdom in personal training, which has been reinforced by empirical studies, is that muscle normally atrophies at half the rate it took to develop. Meaning that your gains from 6 months of squats will completely disappear a year after you stop squatting. To me, the take away message is clear. If you gain a lot of muscle from intense training over the course of three months you cannot expect to keep it. So don’t plan to work out this way. But if you gain muscle steadily over 3 years it will resist atrophy for six years. Instead of stressing the body, plateauing early, and struggling to maintain, envision your workout goal as a slow and steady climb. This is consistent with a popular weight training routine known as “pyramid training” where you start with very light weights and progress steadily toward heavier weights. You will find that starting lower than body weight, then using body weight, and then progressing through very light weights will condition the postural muscles with exercise volume as opposed to intensity. This will scaffold a highly balanced system that you can later apply toward heavier weights to achieve surprising results. The same goes for running, swimming, and anything else; don’t base your exercise duration or intensity on arbitrary factors, just progress a little more than your body is currently used to, each week.

Starting with low intensity and focusing on antifrailty has another benefit. Recall from Chapter 5 that dormant muscles cannot recover adequately after a workout. They are resistant to growth and strengthening because muscles afflicted with trigger points never rest and thus can never fully heal (Simons, Travell, & Simons 1999). Thus dormant muscles are equivalent to untapped reservoirs that are full of potential for growth. Antifrailty allows you to tap into them. Muscles that are supple and tension-free are very responsive to exercise.

In my twenties every few years I would visit a nutritional supplement store. The clerks would always tell me, “look man, if you want to gain muscle, you have to take weight gainer.” For a long time I believed that they were right, and that I needed protein supplementation and hundreds of additional calories every day in order to put on muscle mass. This isn’t true. The real constraint that keeps you from putting on additional muscle is the muscle tension. Dormant muscle is responsible for performance plateaus and diminishing returns. Once you use antifrailty to rebuild this muscle back into your posture you will find that it doesn’t fluctuate with exercise or diet. Because it moves when you do, and its tone is reinforced by just standing around, it resists atrophy, and does not require overeating.

Practice Antifrailty Following Exercise

After almost all forms of conventional exercise dormant muscle becomes further strained. After a jog you go home and your lower back hurts a little, or your neck feels stiff, and this is compounded with interest over time.  It doesn’t have to be this way. Engaging these areas with antifrailty directly after exercise is the best way to mend the mechanical deficiencies. It provides fresh blood to the collateral and stabilizing muscles that were stiffened by the workout. I think that every minute of heavy weight training should be followed by a minute of antifrailty. After you do three sets of bench press, then do 3 minutes of antifrailty for the neck, shoulders, and upper back. As soon as you put the bar down, go right into a downward dog, shifting the shoulders, as you alternate between twisting, flexing and extending the neck. After cardio is the best time to perform yoga with antifrailty. The heightened circulation will allow you to contract more deeply into dormancy. Use the illustrations of antifrailty postures in the last chapter to find your favorite counterposes for your exercise routines.

How to Breathe When Lifting Light Weights

Why are some people strong and other people weak? Why do some people have big biceps and other people tiny biceps? Most scientists would say that it is determined by testosterone exposure and genetics, but I believe that these explanations are secondary to a more primary process. This process involves the ability to contract muscles without recruiting the distressed breathing response. Naturally athletic and muscular people had childhoods that were conducive to combining exercise with unimpeded breathing. In other words, adults with big biceps were kids that that learned to sustain hardy bicep contractions without shallowing their breath. But you don’t have to be a kid to learn this.

You want to breathe very deeply and fully while lifting weights. Most physical therapists and personal trainers recommend that when lifting weights, it is good to breathe out when the major muscles are shortening (the lifting action in a curl), and in during the lengthening (the lowering action of the curl). For a bench press this would involve breathing out during the lift away from the chest and in as the weight returns to the chest. This is not bad advice, as it keeps you from holding your breath, and it ensures that you are not breathing at even shorter time intervals. However, with lower weight it is beneficial to breathe at longer intervals.


Lifting heavy weights is stressful on the body and mind, and anything that is stressful will trigger shallow breathing. The physical exertion involved in lifting heavy weights makes it very difficult to concentrate on breathing diaphragmatically. Lifting definitely contributed to my breathing dysfunction. In fact, a high proportion of weight lifters breathe shallowly, and like race horses, are often high-strung. As you may have found with eating in Chapter 3, your exercise routines may be tightly intertwined with distressed breathing. You may find it difficult to exert yourself while breathing diaphragmatically. It is easy at the lowest levels of exertion though, so start there.

Also be aware of your other nonverbals. The stereotypical weight lifter’s body language is highly detrimental to muscle health. Gasping, hyperventilating, jerking, straining, breath holding, and bracing the entire body are the exact things you want to avoid. Most people raise their eyebrows, make a pained face, sneer, and squint during heavy exercise. For all the reasons described in previous chapters, make sure you are not doing these things. The only muscles that should be working are the ones responsible for the load. Rather than being a spaz at the gym, try being poised and easygoing.


Using the breath metronome at the gym has another empowering benefit. By the second week of paced breathing you will be at peace with rather than apprehensive of the muscular and athletic people that are lifting weights next to you. You will realize that you were previously stifling your breath to appease the other gym members in psychoneurotic ways. In my twenties I felt like every person in the gym thought they were cooler than me. I was so intimidated that I bought myself a cheap home gym so that I could avoid them. Paced breathing at the athletic facility changed this completely. By using a breath metronome to calm your thoughts you will completely escape “gymtimidation.” While you’re at it, try incorporating other subroutines discussed in this book such as resting face, looking above the eyeline, and the tenets of proper posture. You will stop worrying about other people watching you, and you will become the most composed gym-goer at your facility within a few months.

Don’t hold your breath during short athletic performances. My preferred strategy is to take a deep slow breath before the feat, and breathe out during the feat. As you perform that high jump, kick, sommersault, golf swing, or basketball dunk you want to be breathing, and to nurture the execution you want to be breathing out. Straining and breathing shallowly tells the body “hopefully this is the last time we will every have to do this.” Employing the diaphragm tells the body “this is something that we are going to be doing regularly now, so you better get used to it.”

Anything that is practiced repeatedly is debraced overtime especially if you are breathing diaphragmatically. A gymnast will have a gorgeous standing backflip if they have done it hundreds of times while breathing calmly. The best backflips come from people that don’t have to activate the sympathetic system to pull it off. My cartwheel is still tense, but the more I practice it while exhaling smoothly, the more I learn which aspects of the motion are overbraced. In movement patterns from layups, to backhands, to football tosses, to jumping jacks, to burpees, don’t aim for breathless intensity, aim for braceless efficiency. The person who is new to jumping rope will grab the handles too tightly, brace their spine inordinately, look awkward, and develop an injury if they jump for too long. The person that has spent over ten cumulative hours jumping rope has none of these problems. Give your exercise activities plenty of time to stabilize under diaphragmatic conditions and they will become graceful child’s play.

Focus on Dissipating the Tension

During an exercise session, tension steadily accumulates in the muscles. Some muscles are resetting to a harmfully high level, resulting in an elevation in passive contraction. Right after you complete an exercise, you want to relax the muscles as much as possible. To relax them, continue to breathe diaphragmatically in order to dissipate the tension that you created during the exercise. If you are going to exercise until you feel the burn, then focus on the burn fully subsiding after the set. Lie down if it helps and actively coax the tension to dissipate.


I used to have bad elbow pain from lifting heavy weights. It was tennis elbow, a degenerative condition also known as epicondylitis. Conditions like it have a poor prognosis and no modern medical treatments besides rest, pain relievers, and surgery. Many of these types of surgeries have been shown to be no better than a placebo mock surgery. Most medical doctors refer to such examples of acute tension as disease because they become chronic in so many people. This “disease” is easily remedied. I used to finish resistance exercises in an extremely tense state. Then I would I would spend the rest of the day, and go to bed, in that state. I wondered why my elbows hurt so much in the morning, and I naively attributed it to aging. Now, whether resistance training, swimming, running or anything else, I stop completely every few minutes. I take a full 30 seconds to bestow the tightness the mental attention it needs to subside. When I get home, I squeeze, percuss, and compress any muscles that hurt. I thought that I was going to have tennis elbow for the rest of my life. After less than 10 total minutes of tension awareness, and 10 minutes of compression and percussion as outlined in Chapter 6, the elbow problem has disappeared and never resurfaced. This has worked for me for dozens of similar issues in the last few years. That is how powerful these simple solutions are.

Rest Once the First Muscle Group Reaches Fatigue

When people lift heavy weights, some of their large muscle groups are prepared to deal with the weight, but other muscles are far too weak. The muscles that are not up to the task are usually those used to stabilize the weight. When most people lift heavy weights, the stabilizing muscles (such as the scapular muscles during benchpress) don’t move or rest between repetitions. Some muscles don’t even rest in between sets. As you might have guessed, much dormant muscle is stabilizing muscle. As you perform each repetition, you want there to be moments where each muscle is given a microbreak.

Because stabilizing muscle stays still at full exertion during the exercise they learn to do so all the time. This drives the muscle into deep fatigue, freezing it in place. This is highly damaging. It stops the muscle from being able to grow, and it is the reason why some weight lifters appear so encumbered when they move. Stabilizing muscles keep parts of the body steady so that the primary muscles can do their job. But in a different exercise a stabilizing muscle may need to be used as a primary muscle. If it is rigid then performing that exercise correctly is impossible. Stabilizing muscles are also integral to posture. They literally hold you together. So ask yourself if the intensity of your exercise routine is undermining the postural corrections that you have been making.

Bench pressing 150 pounds may be great for your pectorals and triceps but may be brutal to your rotator cuff. In this case you lower the weight until the exercise is optimal for strengthening the rotator cuff. Many exercises are just right for some muscles but way too hard for others and you owe it to yourself to fall back to the level of the weakest link. Once the first muscle group has fatigued, it is important to stop what you are doing and wait for it to return to its baseline. As we learned in Chapter 5, this provides a break, allowing the muscles to escape partial contraction, rest, and regenerate so that they can resume proper function.

Avoid Overexertion

Large increases or changes in exercise activity can cause tendonitis, tendonosis, and delayed onset muscle soreness. This can be avoided through more gradual transitions in an exercise regimen. But most people don’t do this. They change their routine abruptly, and then are in pain for days. Or they exercise infrequently but overexert themselves when they do. Soreness, tendonitis are conducive to the creation of dormant muscle so avoid them by increasing your training gradually. Four days recovery is recommended for individual muscle groups after heavy training. However, if you find sore muscle the day after a workout, you should replicate the activity that made it sore to get the blood circulating and to facilitate remodeling. Just do so gently, for only a fraction of the time, so as not to impede the healing process.

Dormant muscles are the most susceptible to soreness. So it is likely that the muscles that are sore are the ones most in need of massage and antifrailty. Use any hints of soreness after a workout to help you locate your dormant muscle so you can treat it. If you wake up sore I recommend taking a baseball, knuckle or knuckle tool and percussing the entire body focusing on the areas that are tender. If you are going to work so hard that you are sore the next day, then you must rehab the sore spots. Working out until you’re sore and then letting the muscles stagnate until the soreness disappears is irresponsible. This tells us that our modus operandi should be: “exercise, antifrailty, massage, repeat.”

Take a rest after strenuous exercise. When you come home from the gym don’t go right to cooking dinner and cleaning up. If you want to reap the benefits of your workout, lie down in corpse pose for 5 to 10 minutes while paced breathing, and practice progressive muscle relaxation (see Unbracing Exercises # 1 and 2). Notice pockets of tension while you are lying down and attempt to let them go. Otherwise those fatigued areas will reach hyperfatigue and be worse for wear. Often the exercise activity is blamed as the cause of the pain, but in many cases the pain is produced by neglecting to stretch, massage, and relax after exercise. This also goes for days when you didn’t exercise but engaged in prolonged sitting, standing or walking. When you finally get home after a long day and you collapse feeling stiff and achy you’ve pushed your tissues too far without microbreaks or counterposes. Proper use of the techniques in the last two chapters can make the difference between a day that will make you stronger and a day that will make you weaker.


When my posture was at its worst, lifting weights was so uncomfortable that at a certain point, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was motivated, but the pain and frailty made it so that I would just hold the weight in my hand and look at. Like a broken-down plow horse, I couldn’t force myself to lift it. I took 2 years off to employ antifrailty, working on full range of motion, and flexibility with low resistance and low impact, and now I find exercise exhilarating.

I like the saying that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” But it is a half truth. If the pain is derived from straining it is weakness entering the body. If the pain derives from gently transforming dormant muscle into optimal muscle, it truly is weakness leaving the body.

Chapter 15: Bullet Points

  • Underused muscles need exercise and overused muscles need antifrailty.
  • Dormant muscle tears easily leading to injury.
  • Perform antifrailty while you lift light weights.
  • Perform antifrailty after lifting heavy weights.
  • Employing antifrailty with exercise releases muscles from deep strain, reduces fatigue, and restores strength and endurance.
  • Don’t put all your intensity into an invariant form, alter as many configurations as possible.
  • Progress from body weight and very low weight towards heavier weights.
  • Rest once the first muscle group reaches fatigue.
  • Focus on dissipating tension after a workout.
  • If you are sore you must rehab the sore areas the next day.
  • Always exercise using the tenets of optimal posture