My “180 Degrees From the Norm”, Efficient Exercise Training Session

As I’ve alluded to in posts over the past few days, I recently had the pleasure, while on a a quick jaunt out west to my old stomping grounds and a long overdue visit with friends, family (and especially!) Meesus TTP, of working out at one of the four Austin, Texas area Efficient Exercise locations .

Efficient Exercise president Mark Alexander was gracious enough to offer up the use of one of his studios for the morning, and EE trainer Skyler Tanner stepped-up to donate his most excellent “task master” services.  What a great team these guys make.  As Doug McGuff (Body by Science) commented on a recent post:

“..there is no-one better qualified to dish out a HIT beat-down than Skyler. Efficient Exercise is a beautiful facility…a perfect mix of Scandinavian minimalism and dungeon…”

I have to agree on both points.

But enough man-gushing, huh?  Let’s get down to it.

Below, and in bold, I’ve unabashedly plagiarized Skyler’s email to me detailing the HIT/SS paces he put me through on that morning.  I’ve made a few inconsequential edits for the sake of flow, context and clarity, but the bulk of this is Skyler’s own words.  I’d asked him to do this because, quite frankly, everything just kinda melded into a single, ball-bustin’ event subsequent to the RDL hyper-rep treatment that kicked-off the workout.  This is why it is, in my opinion, so very, very important to have a skilled and knowledgeable coach/trainer in your corner during this process.  One simply cannot — or at least I can’t — maintain a laser-like focus on the doing, while at the same time effectively controlling all the input variables (tracking time, counting tempo, fine-tuning resistance, etc.), and observing for proper form, alignment, execution, and rep speed — not to mention the tracking of current performance so as to construct follow-on workouts.  Pulling-off one of these training sessions really is a team effort.  And the expert controlling of these input variables — and all the while adding valuable coaching/prompting cues — are absolutely critical to maximizing one’s time — and, subsequently, the results obtained — in the gym.

My comments — the things I remembered after the fact, notes to self for the next outing, etc. — are italicized.

Video clips of this workout are posted at the Efficient Exercise Youtube pageBelow is a compilation of the session in its entirety…

…and here’s a clip capturing Skyler’s expertise in coaching me through the leg press portion of the workout.

This level of professional coaching and guidance is priceless, allowing the trainee (me, in this instance) to focus totally on the “doing”, and thereby leaving the manipulation of the many input variables, in Skyler’s control.

A couple of notes before we dissect this workout:
(1) my last previous workout to this was on the Thursday prior to this Saturday morning.
(2) I began this workout at approximately 19 hours fasted; post-workout re-feed occurred at approximately hour 22.  And damn, was it ever good! (and appreciated!).  Artz Rib House!
(3) I hit this workout after having worked all day, traveling 5+ hours, and getting only about 5  or so hours of sleep the night prior; not whinin’, just sayin’.  My point here is not to glorify cortisol-inducing stupidity or my refined Protestant work ethic, but to further highlight the efficacy of this type of workout (HIT/SS, specifically) within the grand spectrum of training modalities.  Had this option (a short, sweet, and to the point modality) not been available , I would not have worked out at all.  Something to keep in mind, especially those chronically pressed for time.  Hey, wait…doesn’t that describe all of us?

Anyway, here we go with the breakdown of my HIT adventure:

Here’s what we did:
1. Romanian Deadlift (hyper repetitions on CZT-V): This was done for 5 repetitions. The first 2 reps were warm ups, with you pulling 50% and 75% of perceived max, respectively. The final 3 reps I instructed you to “break the machine” and pull like the dickens.

Holy ass-kickin’, Batman; hyper reps on the CZT are the bomb!  This, without a doubt, had to be the most intense few reps that I’ve pulled (and resisted!) in I don’t know how long.  In fact, intense doesn’t even begin to define it.  Plenty of “mental jedi” tricks going on here right off the bat.  For starters (and on a positive note), I “knew” that safety wasn’t an issue.  In other words, I could mute the internal “safety marm” that chides me to watch-out for a miss, dropped weights, technique malfunction, etc.  On the negative side, it was hard as all hell to override the the internal “overload police” — that voice that screams TOO MUCH LOAD, WE’RE THROTTLING DOWN TO SAVE YOUR DUMB ASS! which, of course, gets safety marm in a thither all over again.  Forget about effectively keeping track of tempo, rep count — hell, forget about anything other than pulling (on the concentric) and resisting the drop (on the eccentric).  Zen practitioners speak of “being in the moment”; hell, I defy anyone to *not* be in the moment while engaged in a hyper-rep on the CZT.  This is where having access to a good trainer/coach is invaluable.

Notes for the next time out:
(1) I think that a more thorough warm-up would’ve primed me better — both physically and mentally — for the rigors of this beast.

(2) My grip faltered on the 4th rep, and failed on the least.  You’re only as strong as your weak link, and in this case, that was my grip.  I think I had a bit more in the ol’ PC; straps might be an option next time out.  That, and working on building up my wuss grip between now and then.  Seriously, though — when the brain senses a failure in any one component (in this case, my grip) it sends out an all-inclusive, “shut ‘er down” signal.

(3) My default neurological impulse in this movement pattern is to “rip and explode”, so a prolonged “pull and resist” was totally outside my wheelhouse.  The thing is, if I improve here, I’l have built much more umph! to pack behind that “rip and explode”.  This is the “all connectedness” of differing training modalities.

Ok, so we’re 2-minutes in (if that), and I’m already zorched.

2. Nautilus Nitro Leg Press: 440lbs, with the goal to fatigue you before a 2:00 TUL. The goal cadence was ~10/10, though I wasn’t worried about being perfect. You controlled the turn arounds and crept out of the hole. At about 1:15 I added 45 more pounds because you looked like you could go forever. You fatigued around 1:45

I think that all the biking I do contributes greatly to my strength-endurance in quad dominant movements.  I’m in serious mental, pinpoint focus, now, on just completing the next rep, the next second, and  I’m totally under Skyler’s direction, now, trying best I can to react to his cues.  There’s very little anticipation at this point — I’m purely in reaction mode.  Again, I have to fight  the default neurological urge to “grip and rip”.  And there’s a kind of feed-back mechanism here that messes with the mind.  In a free-weight, explosive movement, the feedback is that escape velocity (for lack of a better term) has been achieved, and now it’s time to transition to the catch or receive phase of the movement.  Not so here.  This is a totally different physiological stimulus.  Right about now my body is screaming *WTF is this??*

3. 1 minute chinup: You performed a chinup with a 30 second positive and 30 second negative.

Funny thing here; these were performed on individual straps hanging from the rafters (think gymnastic rings), the height positioning of which required me to vert maybe 18″ (if that) to grab the handles.  As I stood beneath the handles, ready to jump — having just waddled from the leg press — my mind said “are you friggin’ crazy?  you’re not jumpin’ anywhere, bud!”.  It was one of the strangest feelings of neurological immobilization that I’ve ever had.  I had to have Skyler spot me as I attempted to the bridge the mighty 18″ gap.  Whoa.  Yeah, at this point I’m toast from the navel on down. Thank God my mighty vert — along with my pleading for a spot — was  edited out 🙂

The instability of the “rings” added another level of difficulty here.  Think chinups aren’t also a great core movement?  Try these on for size and let me know.

4. Nautilus Nitro Bicep (Super Rep): I over-estimated your strength, so you ended up performing what I call a “Super Rep.” This is where you perform a 1rm and attempt to hold the point of full contraction. The negative takes care of itself.

Damn right, after the chinup torture, my bi’s were like a pair of wet socks.  I think the instability of the rings forces greater bicep involvement in the chinup/pull-up movement.  Or maybe it’s just me?

5. Negative-only chinups: This was performed on the CZT-V. I used the first repetition’s strength number to assess when to end the set. When you inroaded your strength levels to 90% of the start, I cut the set. You made 4 reps.

I’m absolutely in love with this CZT machine; the same unit was used for the RDL pulls and resists.

6. 1 minute Dip: You actually performed 1 minute on the positive and 30 seconds on the negative.

I’m naturally strong in this, the triceps-dominant variation, of the movement.  Big tris, small chest; a natural “triceps pusher”.

7. Superslow triceps extension: I picked a heavy enough weight to fatigue you in under 2 minutes at roughly a 10/10 cadence. You fatigued at ~1:40

Yep, the ol’ tris were pretty hammered at this point.  “Welcome to the club o’ fatigue”, the biceps are sayin’.

8. Negative-only dips: This was performed on the CZT-V. I used the first repetition’s strength number to assess when to end the set. When you inroaded your strength levels to 90% of the start, I cut the set. You made 4 reps.

Have I said that I love this piece of equipment?  Yeah?  Well, it can’t be said enough.  One can totally lay it on the line with this machine, with no fear of “losing” the weight or otherwise making a weightroom, crash-and-burn “scene”.  And believe me, I’ve been *that* scene-maker.  Hey, if you’ve never failed, or been forced to bail-out in a totally ungraceful way, you’re just not pushing the envelope, right?  That failure defines a boundary that is now your new goal to conquer.  This is how we improve.  Anyway, the CZT not only lets the trainee push to the absolute end of his rope, but allows for a precise measurement of the “fail” point — all without weight-room calamity.  Not only that, but the desired level of inroading can be precisely dosed.  Nothing short of genius, I think.

So I love being pushed outside of my comfort zone, made to perform at tasks well outside of my wheelhouse, and this was definitely the ticket.  Would I recommend a HIT and/or Super-Slow protocol to others?  You bet.  For strength, power and speed athletes, this is a fantastic protocol to keep “in the rotation”.  For non and/or recreational athletes — or those “busy executive” types who want to stay in prime shape (and look good nekkid ) — I can’t see where you’d need any more than this.  I mean, damn — I’m not kidding when I say that this was a rugged 15 minutes!  I think that’s one of the other cool things about the Efficient Exercise system — scalability.  Someone with absolutely no training experience can come in off the street and be up and running in no time, while someone like me — with 30+ years of “skin” in the game — can be pushed to the point of buckling.  Am I sold on the system?  Damn right I am.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Austin area, be sure to look up the Efficient Exercise team.  I can’t say enough positive things about this organization, their training philosophy, superb studios, and personal attention.  I wish that I had ready access to such a facility — if I did, I’d most definitely utilize it.  That’s a hell of a lot of fitness bang for such an inconsequential amount of time investment.

Oh, and one other thing: Austin area endurance athletes looking for strength training?  The Efficient Exercise protocol is your ticket.  I know Austin is full of endurance-minded folks (hey, Lance, you listening?) who realize the absolute necessity of strength work for longevity in the sport (not to mention injury prevention) — so how does 15 minutes devoted to strength training, every 5 to 8 days or so sound?  Hey, don’t take my word blindly, check it out for yourself — I guarantee you’ll see and feel the difference, and you’ll perform much better.

More on the advantages of HIT/SS for the endurance athlete later.

6 responses to “My “180 Degrees From the Norm”, Efficient Exercise Training Session

  1. Hey Keith,

    Sounds like a great workout. I am curious to hear more about how you plan on mixing workouts like this in.



    • If I had continuous access to the EE facilities, I’d mix the HIT/SS protocol (and especially use of the CZT machine) in the rotation on a strength and/or strength-endurance day. During some stretches, I’d use this protocol exclusively on strength and strength-endurance days. For instance, during the summer I do a lot of riding and running, and during these times I’d default to this protocol for my weight training regimen, while sprinkling in (in my bastardized, Conjugate Method way), free-weight, power-oriented work. During the winter, as my biking and running naturally ebbs, my use of free-weights would peak, and my HIT/SS utilization would ebb. Unfortunately, though, I’m stuck in Rocky Mount, NC, and these fantastic facilities are in Austin…
      …all the more reason to rack-up even more frequent flier miles on Southwest Airlines 🙂

  2. Good point about the chins being a core movement; I always tell my clients that, the first time they perform negative-only chins, their abs and ribs will be VERY sore. They rarely believe me until the next day. 😉

    • Yeah, how the crunch ever became popular I’ll never know. Oh, wait, I do know — it’s easy!

  3. Keith,

    Based on your reading (especially of ze evil russians) at what age do you think “max” strength peaks? Max in this case would be in the neighborhood of a 3 to 5 RM, since it’s less dependent on a perfect storm of conditions to achieve the perfect 1rm.


    • Wow, big can of worms, there. If we’re speaking purely on physiological terms, and in a healthy specimen, I don’t see why one couldn’t continue to improve raw strength levels right on into the late 50’s, maybe even further. I mean, look at Louie Simmons, for one example. Even though he’s beat-up as all hell, and maintains a less than stellar diet, just consider his pushing-60 condition. Unreal. Now, what if he’d trained smart from the get-go, avoided injury, optimized natural hormonal profiles and maintained a stellar diet throughout his career? I think we typically see guys peak in their early to mid thirties in strength sports, however, I think that has a lot to do with the desire to get better (stronger, in this case) fading as a competitive athlete pushes 40. Continual improvement exacts a tremendous mental toll. Other life priorities begin to take center stage. I do think that one can hang on to, or better, raw strength for much longer than one can maintain, or better, power production. Using myself as an n=1 example, I believe that if I put a concerted effort into the project, I could better, at going-on 46, my best raw strength numbers from anytime in my life. What I doubt I could duplicate, even with the same concerted effort, are my max power output numbers. Now, my demonstrated power — say, in a power clean, for instance — might not be that far off, but that would have more to do with having become a better technical lifter, as opposed to my body’s actual ability to produce raw power. I think any demonstrated sporting decline is first potentiated (let’s put aside purely psychological reasons) as an overall decline in the efficiency of the nervous system. The thing is, even a fractional drop-off here will result in substantial power reductions. Raw strength, being not as dependent (relatively speaking) on an efficient nervous system, remains then, for the most part, unaffected. Of course, this is all purely conjecture on my part, and largely derived from what I’ve seen “in the field”.

      For what it’s worth, I believe that I have the ability, every day, to better myself in some way in each of my “big 4” priorities — physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. That said, I do believe there is such a thing as “willing into existence”, and so if one’s priority is to improve raw strength into the 50th year and beyond, I see no reason, physiologically, why that cannot be done.

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