High Intensity Training, Pushing Beyond the Mind’s “Pull the Plug!” Signal, & Running and Hip Strength

A couple of things to ponder over the long weekend –

One topic that is central to any discussion of High Intensity Training is the understanding of what, exactly, constitutes “muscular failure”.  The point of muscular failure is, in fact, one of the key tenants (or gauges, or yardstick measures) of HIT-like protocols.  The thing is, though, what is commonly interpreted as “muscular failure” is most times simply the mind demanding that the trainee “pull the plug” on the activity.  This obviously adds another dimension to the HIT equation, as muscular failure cannot be thought of as a “hard” variable in the way that the number of sets, reps, load and total time-under-tension are considered.  “failure”, then, becomes a nebulous thing that’s not easy to corner.  Just how “nebulous”?  Well, check this out.  The point is, though, that it’s obvious – not only when we look trainee to trainee, but within the same trainee at different times – that this “shutdown switch” is affected by a myriad of outside – and inside — influences.

But back to the original question – are some trainees simply naturally “wired” (“cocktailed”?) in such a way so as to allow them to demand more of their bodies than others?  And if so, how does this affect the efficacy of HIT-type training in general?  It would seem obvious that, given two trainees with identical physiologies and epigenetic stimulus, the one “wired to go full-throttle” would progress much faster, and to a greater extent, than the trainee who cannot mute the brain’s “shut ‘er down” pleas.

The ability of some individuals to consistently push themselves far beyond that of what “mere mortals” can accomplish is, in my view, one huge reason why some experience phenomenal results from HIT and /or BBS-like protocols, and others do not.  Hang around a bunch of athletes, military-types, or even regular Joe trainees long enough and you’ll see the empirical truth to the claim (my claim, anyway), that most emphatically yes, there is definitely something – chemical, hormonal, learned…wiring? (and, more than likely, a combination of all) – something that allows some trainees to push their bodies to the point of self-destruction, while others are literally forced to “cool their jets” well before the body is in any real danger.  Now, add this “danger mute switch” ability on top of a set of superior genetic and epigenetic factors favorable to a given sport, and you’ve got yourself the makings for a Lance Armstrong level of athletic freakiness.

What exactly constitutes this factor, though, and what can be done – if anything – to enhance it?  Note that what I am not talking about here is the Golgi tendon reflex, which we know can be both trained around and, to some extent, blunted.  No, what I’m referring to is totally “in the head” – or in the central nervous system, as it were.  Granted, the Golgi reflex may very well play into this loop, but for today’s purposes I’m interested more in what lies further up the CNS stream.

Amphetamines, of course, can be used to blunt the brain’s fatigue signal, and even the more benign versions (Modafinil, for example) can be employed for sports-enhancement purposes; I’ll leave those discussions to more sport-oriented venues, though.  My aim here is to figure out what the regular guy can do to push the fatigue envelope.

Well, as you might imagine, the recommendations are…not so different than what your (Paleo) grandma would’ve told you: eat right, recover properly, and get plenty of sleep every night.  We shouldn’t be surprised, though, as these recommendations form the holly trinity of physical culture and continued wellness.

From this study (and this, a companion article), it would seem that dopamine is a big player in the cns “fatigue mute switch” feedback loop.  And here’s another article to back-up that theory.

I do seem to remember a study completed a few years back (though I can’t seem to locate it now) that seemed to indicate that some special forces recruits (in this case, Navy SEALs) were naturally “wired” so as to have a blunted dopamine reuptake response.  To be more precise, these guys had normal baseline levels of circulating dopamine, however, this baseline level was relatively unaffected by a severe stress stimulus, whereas a “normal responder’s” response would be a precipitous drop in freely available, non-bound dopamine levels.  I may not have the specifics exactly correct – it’s been a while since I read the study and, as I’ve said, I can’t seem to locate it at the moment (if anyone knows of this study, please clue me in!) – but if this is true, it my help shed some light on the “impervious to stress” types out there.

I do think, though, that there is plenty of room for the average Joe to improve upon his own “imperviousness to pain” via good, old fashioned, and conditioned mental toughness.  Like any other aspect of training, someone else’s enhanced natural ability should not dissuade or discourage us from chasing our own n=1 dreams.  As always, the name of the game is to make the most you can with what you’ve got.

A Couple of Interesting Things for the Runners Out There –

Here’s a study that sheds some light on the importance of runners developing and maintaining adequate hip Strength.  Now, I don’t think any of this comes as a surprise to this blog’s readership, however, it does give me the opportunity to once again implore my more endurance-leaning brethren to give strength training its fair and deserved due.  I know you endurance types loath being cooped-up in the gym with us knuckle-draggers, but as I’ve mentioned before, there are other options.  Gimme a mere hour a week at such a place as Austin’s Efficient Exercise, and we can boost your strength – and therefore, your performance – measurably…and get rid of those niggling knee (foot and ankle, too!) injuries that have you hobbled, in pain and off the road.

And speaking of knees, hips, feet and ankles (and lower backs, too!), check out these couple of clips from our friends at Vibram Five Fingers and a discussion of heel vs forefoot strike.  I absolutely love my Vibrams!   Apparently, I don’t have the fit problems that Richard has, and it’s actually very hard for me to tell that I even have them on.  But hey, that’s what n=1 experimentation, and the reportage of that experimentation is all about.  We all benefit from this vast collection of knowledge.

Below, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman waxes poetic on heel strike vs forefoot strike:

and part 2 –

Good stuff!

Thursday Night’s Workout –

The name of the game in this superset was speed-of-movement in each exercise.  If an on-looker were to witness the bar (in the high pull) or my body (in the dip), it would seem as if each would “float” to the top-end of the movement after the initial umph from the bottom-out position; in other words, the movements should appear effortless to the casual observer.  Those in “the know”, know better, though.  J

high pulls from the floor: 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 175 x 5, 5, 5, 5

dips: 45 lbs x 3, each of 6 rounds

Followed that up with some repetition method work (done in superset) –

feet-elevated (approx. 24 inches) push-ups: bodyweight x 55, 45 (rest-pause last 10 reps), 40 (rest-pause last 10 reps)

GHR: bodyweight x 25, 25, (no 3rd set)

A Friday Night Push/Pull Session –

I came into the gym tonight with the idea to do close-grip floor presses in a superset with bent-over rows; sets of 3, strength-speed emphasis.  Once I had everything set up, though, I thought, “what the hell, why not go ahead and add in some snatch-grip shrugs as well?”.  I mean, I had to reposition the bar from the floor press pins to the floor between sets anyway – might as well do something with it while it’s in my hands, right?  Right.  Here we go (all with a fat bar) –

Close-grip floor press: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 3; 205 x 3

Snatch-grip shrug: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

Clean-grip BOR: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

Snatch-grip shrug: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

So 5 rounds of that, with 2 sets of shrugs within each round.  Then I tacked-on an additional set of close-grip floor presses @ 215 lbs x 5 rest-pause singles.

Enjoy the extra-long holiday weekend, everyone.  Have fun, be safe, and stay Paleo!

12 responses to “High Intensity Training, Pushing Beyond the Mind’s “Pull the Plug!” Signal, & Running and Hip Strength

      • It’s fascinating (scary) how stress drives expression of Neuropeptide Y. Soldiers exposed to chronic survival stressors, in time, develop metronomic heart beats and display higher levels of NPY, and these two phenotypic changes help them survive. But human beings can only deal with patchy, non-chronic stress if they want to be healthy. People sitting in office buildings bombarded by chronic stressors in modern living suffer the same consequences; and, since NPY is also associated with abdominal fat depositing …

        http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n7/abs/nm1611.html

        … chronic stress in modern lifestyles_reduces_healthy multifractal variation in heart beats, increasing risk for heart attack and failure, while simultaneously driving abdominal fat build up.

        It’s a disastrous combination.

        Enter diseases of civilization.

        Best,

        Brent

        • It’s all so very interesting, and, in an evolutionary sense, so “perfect”. The question now: if one has a “naturally” high NPY level — which would bode well for him/her in the gym — what can be done outside of the gym to minimize the negative effects (metronomic HR, heart disease, etc). My go-to answer is, of course, a Paleo diet, infrequent/fractal bouts of exercise…you know the drill. But what else? Meditation? Yoga?

          • I think yoga, meditation, or even just quiet rumination helps. After all, I think there’s a very real precedent for spirituality in man. It’s one of our hallmarks. I’m not religious, myself, but I am given to momentary bouts of transcendental nature appreciation when I’m on a hike, savoring the cool evening breeze, or taking in a sunset/rise. It can be quite overwhelming, very humbling, and extremely calming.

            Paleo man lived in nature, while we’re just tourists.

            We’re still hardwired for wilderness living, I think, so most of us are out of our natural element – almost 24/7. It’s only in the last couple hundred years that urban eclipsed rural living (I think), so it’s important we get out there to “get away” from it all on a regular basis. Our damned big brains have us thinking we can rationalize everything away, but it just doesn’t work that way with the stresses of modern life. The body reacts to all stress indiscriminately, and it’ll destroy us if we can’t just let go from time to time and give in to our instincts.

  1. Keith, what about walking?

    Is landing on the forefoot or heel natural for people without modern footware?

    Personal note: I started running when I was 17, going from no running at all, to 5 miles every morning, with precisely no build up time (oh the things you can do when you’re 17).

    I ran in flat footed tennis court shoes as I had no idea these weren’t “runners”. It didn’t seen to cause me any particular problems, but I definitely wore out the heels.

    I can see where running landing on your forefoot is much better. And I’m REALLY curious about walking.

    Of course, I am SO used to walking heel-to-toe. Except when “stalking” (game, enemies — not so much of the latter! 😉 ).

    Then it feels right, and is quieter, to walk toe-to-heel.

  2. high intensity training is not for the weak. I’ve been doing it for a while now so I’ve learned to really know when enough is enough.

    When I first started though it was HELL! But hey you never get tired of going to the gym because you’re hardly ever there when on a hit training program. Actually when it’s time to finally go back to the gym you’re more pumped to lift than ever!

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