Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Damping And Inertia In The System: Sometimes They Are For You, Sometimes Against You.

Engineers tend to lump under the term "damping" any kind of energy dissipating effect in a system.  Thing of your car's "shock absorbers".  Those are actually dampers, and most engineers would refer to them as such.

What your dampers (shock absorbers) do is to calm down the oscillatory motions of the vehicle after it passes over a bump, for instance.  Without the suspension dampers, the vibrations caused by traversing a set of railroad tracks would still continue on even miles further down the road.  But the dampers resist relative velocity of the suspension and the frame or body of the car.

When I speak of damping in non-mechanical systems, such as the stock market industrial averages, or housing or gasoline prices, what I mean is anything that works to keep these things relatively constant and stable.

In some cases, the term "inertia" might be a better choice.  Inertia means resistance to acceleration of a variable.

When I first begin a bodybuilding contest prep diet, it is hard to get rolling at the beginning.  The first several weeks of progress photos look nearly identical.  The fat weight comes off slowly at first, if at all.  This can be viewed as inertia in the system ... a resistance to getting rolling.  

But gradually the process does get rolling and weekly progress begins to be visible.  Week after week, the pounds of fat come off and the muscles become more prominent in appearance.  At the beginning of the process, I felt that nothing I did was working.  The inertia in the system (i.e., the body's resistance to change) seemed so great that no useful progress could be made.  Inertia was against me!

But near the end of the process, when I am almost in contest shape, and things are succeeding, my fear completely reverses.  Even though I am very close to being in stage condition, I suddenly fear that the inertia of my body will drop to nothing, and that one morning I will wake up 20 or 25 pounds fatter, as if the last 20 weeks of progress had been obliterated overnight.  But in reality, the body still wants to change gradually.  One cheat meal or one diet misstep, or one missed cardio session will not suddenly undo 16 or 18 weeks of hard, steady, consistent work in the gym and with the diet.  Inertia is my friend!