What is a Reset? And Why Do We Do It? - Indianapolis Fitness And Sports Training
Physical Therapy

What is a Reset? And Why Do We Do It?

written by Mike Robertson

As promised, I’m going to be answering a question from one of our clients each week here on the blog.

Well, except for maybe next week, because I’m on vacation.

But I hope you’ll forgive me ūüôā

Our first question comes to us from THE Walter Norris:

“What is a reset? And why do we perform resets before our workouts?”

This is a fantastic, and incredibly loaded question, from Mr. Norris.

And I wouldn’t expect anything less ūüėČ

zebrasYou can find the answer by reading on of Team IFAST’s favorite books of all time, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Zapolsky.

This is quite simply the best book on stress and how it affects your body ever written.

Plus, even if you don’t know a thing about the body to start, you can pick it up and follow along. Zapolsky is that good with his writing.

Now you could read the entire book (which clocks in at around 418 pages) to understand the answer to this question, but I’ll do my best to give you the “big rocks” as to why this resets are kind of a big deal.

The Underlying Physiology and Biomechanics

Imagine you’re out hiking with your friends and you see a bear in the woods.

A slew of things happen inside your body once it sees the bear and realizes the danger it’s in:

  • Your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) kicks into overdrive, and starts to dominate the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) branch.
  • From a physiology perspective, your¬†heart rate elevates, your blood pressure goes up, and blood flow is directed to your muscles.
  • From a biomechanical perspective, you have a tendency to fall into an “extended” position: The front of your hips fall forward, the curve in your lower back increases, and your lower rib cage comes forward and out.

All of this does one simple thing: It primes you to move, quickly, to get away from that imminent threat.

Pretty cool, huh?

But here’s the thing,¬†and the premise behind the Zebras book:

Zebras face imminent danger every day in the wild. Lions are always looking for a tasty zebra to snack on, after all.

Yet zebras don’t get ulcers because once they get away from the threat, they go back to normal everyday life.

They look for food, take naps, and hang out with their zebra friends. And life is pretty hunky dory.

We humans, on the other hand, are constantly finding ways to turn on our threat response.

It may not be a bear in the woods, but a multitude of other things that we come across every day could be perceived as stressful:

  • When the kiddos are screaming at you first thing in the morning,
  • Commuting in rush hour traffic every morning and evening,
  • The bills that are piling up and just won’t go away,
  • The uncaring spouse in your relationship, etc.

A zebra only responds to the immediate and imminent stressful situation and then goes back to baseline.

We humans are living in a chronic, overstressed state each and every day!

Our ability to think about things, and by extension worry about them, causes us to live in a stressed out state for days, weeks and months at a time.

Now imagine what that does to your body:

Every day you’re walking around with a high resting heart rate, high blood pressure, and limited movements options, just waiting for that bear to jump out and get us.

But here’s the thing: A lot of times we’re walking around and don’t realize what’s going on inside our bodies.

They may not feel great, but you can’t necessarily feel that your heart rate is high or your blood pressure is up.

So what are some signs or symptoms that you may be chronically overstressed?

Here are a few I’ll typically discuss first with my clients and athletes.

  • They are constantly “stressed out.”
  • They are nervous and/or anxious.
  • They have trouble sleeping (this could be falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night).
  • They have chronic aches and pains.
  • They have very bad allergies.
  • They have issues with digestion.

Now some of these may seem unrelated to what I discussed above.


Digestion issues?

But this is where we have to think really big picture:

The body is a system of systems.

The nervous system, musculo-skeletal system, the cardiovascular system, the immune system, the digestive system, they all work together to help us function at a high level and stay alive.

And when you are constantly in a stressed out, sympathetic state? Your body addresses things via every system available!

So that’s a very long and drawn out intro, and I haven’t even answered your question!

But I think with that basic understanding, the rest of this will make more sense.

Let’s start with the basic question first.

What is a Reset?

If you look at your IFAST training program, you have 7 R’s throughout it:

  • R1 – Release
  • R2 – Reset
  • R3 – Readiness
  • R4 – Reactive
  • R5 – Resistance
  • R6 – Resiliency
  • R7 – Recovery

We use the R’s because they not only give you insight into what we’re trying to accomplish with that section of the workout, but these words also create an emotive response.

When you hear “readiness,” you think “warm-up.”

When you hear “resistance,” you think “lifting weights.”

A reset (for our purposes) is an exercise that either:

  1. Turns “on” specific muscles, or
  2. Turns “off” specific muscles

With the ultimate goal being to help you move more efficiently as a result.

Why Do We Reset?

As mentioned above, many of us have a tendency to get locked in sympathetic dominance.

Not only does this impact our recovery, but it also negatively impacts our ability to move.

Most specifically being in sympathetic dominant state negatively impacts our mobility.

Instead of having freedom of movement, we get locked into specific postures and positions which limit our motion.

The goal of a reset, then, is to restore our movement and mobility so that we have options.

(If you want to know the fancy term, it’s called movement variability.¬†But don’t¬†worry, I’m not going to quick you on this!)

We reset you at the beginning of the workout, so that you have options with regards to your movement.

Furthermore, this reset also positively impacts your brain with regards to motor learning, which makes those new exercises and movements “stick.”


So there you have it – the underlying biomechanics and physiology, what a reset is, and why we use them here at IFAST.

I’m sure if you asked Bill (or really, anyone smarter than me) they’d give you a better answer than that.

But hopefully this gives you a little bit of insight.

As always, if you have any questions about your training, just ask your coach at IFAST.

We love talking shop and explaining the science and “Why’s” behind our programming!

All the best


Mike Robertson

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