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What is a Systems Approach? Use It to Train Others and Yourself

When I was in graduate school I discovered in my readings, the differences between open-loop systems and closed-loop systems approach. I fell in love with the Open-loop systems descriptions in business and how it contrasted with the closed-loop. In this blog, I will explain what these systems are and how you likely operate in both but you need to invite the open-loop systems into your practice and perhaps your own training. I will then explain how my program — MedFit Osteoporosis Fitness Specialist (MOFS)– uses a systems approach and how you can utilize it.

A closed-loop system is as you might think — closed to the influence and energy of outside sources. While this seems efficient, in the long run- it is not. A closed-loop system is similar to the thermostat in your living space. The temperature goes down, it is detected by a thermometer. This is sent to an “integration center” which processes the information and sends a signal to an “effector” which would be a heater or air conditioner to “turn on” or not. In training, this might be where you train someone and they begin to get stronger with weights. Say you have them doing a bench press between 8 and 15 repetitions. Once they can do 15 reps easily, you “raise the weight” and they no longer can do. Job done… or is it?

In an open-loop system, there is “new energy” coming in and adaptations must take place. So when a tree is growing there is a normal system, where leaves go through photosynthesis, they make glucose and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water they provide energy to the plant and everything is “honkey-dory”…or is it?

Actually, the leaves that were getting a high amount of light send a signal to the integrating center, and the leaves that were getting very low light also send a signal to the integrating center. The tree adjusts its growing pattern to maximize the light pattern. It was capable of adaptation. It was capable of pulling in new positive energy and adjusting the system to accommodate it, thus survive.

Our bones must constantly have new incoming stimulus to grow or even “stick around” especially in older age. The natural process of the bones is to “lose mineral density” but by introducing new stimulus and the proper nutrients, you can maintain or even grow bone mass.

To develop a system, you must include all 3 aspects of the homeostasis cycle. You must do an assessment to understand the current state of the client. This is a receptor or detector. If you don’t have a good assessment system that is understood by the integration center, then the system is broken. If you do not understand the scientific background, then you as a trainer, are not a good integration center. Finally the effector. In the case of this analogy, the effector is exercise. Exercise will change the stimulus to the bone, thus it “effects” the result.

The MOFS system has a comprehensive assessment system using the ABCDEFF. It assesses someone’s agility, balance, coordination, dexterity, endurance, force, and flexibility. Throw in someone’s bone density (T-score) and if they have broken a bone, as well as a nutritional and medical intake and you have a really good picture of your client’s status. From there, a solid education on bone physiology and how exercise influences bone physiology sets up the integration center. Finally, the exercise programs are highly adaptive to not only the location (gym, home, or park) but the level (1-4). Thus, great adaptability exists to allow new energy to flow into the system.

Now Available! Osteoporosis Fitness Specialist online course on MedFit Classroom. Find out more…


Dr. Mark P. Kelly has been involved with the health and fitness field for more than 30 years. He has been a research scientist for universities and many infomercial projects. He has spoken nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics and currently speaks on the use of exercise for clinical purposes and exercise’s impact on the brain. Mark is a teacher in colleges and universities in Orange County, CA., where Principle-Centered Health- Corporate Wellness & Safety operates.

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