Vindication, “Maps”, and the Athletic Vagabond

I suppose it could be said that serendipity has been the theme for the last couple of days.  I rather enjoy it when findings and properly conducted science validate those things I believe in my gut to be true; and now, if I were a bit more smug, I’d pump my fist and proclaim vindication!, but that’s just not my way.

First off, although we in the Paleo community had long-ago brushed off T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study as, at best, a work of poorly conducted science – and, at worst, intentional data manipulation for the sake profit – we were treated late in the week to an epic dismantling of Campbell’s study (links here) by Denise Minger, of the Raw Foods SOS blog.  Denise has produced an erudite body of work that ought to keep all the Campbell apologists out there busy for a while.  My hope going forward is that solid, smack-down call-outs of the likes that Denise has provided to the “esteemed scientist” Dr. Campbell, will give other like-minded researchers pause before knowingly propagating such poorly-performed (or purposefully “massaged”), pseudo-science.  Be forewarned, researchers: the Paleo-Primal patrol is ever-vigilant, and demonstrates little in the way of mercy when abject fraud is detected.  Finding one’s self, for instance, on the wrong end of a verbal beat-down from Paleo hit-man, Richard Nicoley could be a sever jolt to one’s self-esteem.  Not to mention the fact that it’ll totally blow your cover.  Ah how I love the transparency of the internet!  If free-will is the interaction of DNA and epigenetics, then knowledge truly is unimpeded freedom’s intersection with that free-will.

Next up I was treated to the following study by way of one of my favorite collegiate-level Strength & Conditioning blogs, Zack Dechant’s Sports Performance Training :

The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvements in College Athletes.

See Zack’s take on the study, here.

For my part, I’d just like to point-out that I’ve been singing in the autoregulatory choir for quite a while (to wit: here, here, and here are just a few examples) .  There, that’s my attempt at being smug  🙂

In my mind, the overriding reason behind the success of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance (APRE) stems from the fact that it is simply impossible for any trainee (highly-trained athlete, or otherwise) to adequately account for the total net impact on the body and CNS, at the onset of any particular training session, of all outside stressors.  Nor can adequate (or inadequate, as the case may be) recuperation be effectively accounted for.  Maybe a simpler way of saying this is that one’s readiness at the onset of a particular training session is a direct result of a commingling of disparate “forces”, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Total stressors (physical, mental, CNS-related, etc.)
  • Proper dose/response timing (am I in the super-compensation “crest”, “trough”, or somewhere in between?)
  • Total recuperation (related to the two prior bullets, but let’s include here diet/nutrient absorption, adequate sleep, hydration, electrolyte balance, etc.)

Hell, something as simple as training at one’s particular “peak” time of day vs training when one can “get it in” can make a profound difference.

And it is precisely via the utilization of Autoregulation, by the way, that I can claim – and emphatically so — that an endurance athlete can be trained for much-needed strength without compromising that athlete’s endurance-related training.  Give me a willing endurance athlete and access to an Efficient Exercise – like facility and, by utilizing Autoregulation techniques, I guarantee I can improve that athlete’s performance in his/her chosen endeavor.  Simple as that.

Linear Periodization, in the old-school “command and control” mindset (hat tip to Art DeVany), dismisses the above-mentioned day-to-day (hell, minute-by-minute) variances as something that the athlete will just have to “tough-out”, with the implication being that (1) the athlete cannot be trusted to push himself adequately, and, given the option, will surely slough-off, and (2) that the body is no more than a mechanical machine, impervious to these “petty” perturbations.  Any weakness (i.e., inability to make pre-ordained weights/reps/numbers) can only be attributed, then, to weakness in the trainee’s mind, spirit, or both.  In my mind, this goes beyond simple-minded, and into the realm of being destructive.

Let me give Linear Periodization apologists their due, though.  APRE’s efficacy lay in direct proportion to the trainee’s ability to push him/herself, both mentally and physically.  And, too, there is a certain amount of art involved with this method that lay beyond the grasp of a trainee of a relatively young training age (unless they have access to a knowledgeable coach).  APRE in the toolbox of a non-dedicated trainee is just as useless as any other tool that might be employed.  The key here being, for the S&C coach, is trust.  Trust in the athlete’s – or, for the personal trainer, his client’s – desire for greatness.

More serendipity?  Yep, it’s been flung at me from all sides the past few days.  Within an hour or so of having devoured the APRE study, Skyler Tanner posted the following TED clip on his Facebook wall; Barry Schwartz opines on wisdom:

What the hell does this have to do with Physical Culture, you might ask – and legitimately so.  Well, in my mind, it’s extremely relevant.  One particular part of Barry’s talk that really resonated with me was his reference to the Chicago school system’s reliance upon teaching “scripts”, thereby stymieing the emergence of any creative genius within the system’s teaching force.   While this highly top-down controlled scripting of lesson plans may well, as Mr Schwartz notes, serve as a kind of insurance against disaster (read, “lawsuit”), it also, just as effectively guarantees against the achievement of greatness.  By “working with a net” we resign ourselves to mediocrity.  Linear Periodization, in my humble opinion, is analogous here to a scripted lesson plan, with the difference being that in lieu of “lawsuit”, one might substitute the notion of the athlete/trainee becoming “appreciably weaker”.  In employing Linear Periodization, the S&C coach and/or personal trainer can shield themselves from negative scrutiny, much in the same way that dietitians save themselves negative scrutiny in pushing the food pyramid scam, in that a particular “theory” has been top-down reviewed and deemed “safe” by some governing organization.  Hamstrung by “scripts”, then, mediocrity rules the day.

Real World Implementation –

Above is a picture of my whiteboard workout “map”.  My use of the term “map” here is more in line with how a vagabond might consider the term – i.e., a vague, loosely-adhered-to directional guide – as opposed to, say, a Google Maps, step-by-step procedural on how best to get from point A to B.

What you see represented here is my workout base: elements of Windler’s 5/3/1 program, Conjugate methodology, and HIT/BBS (Body By Science)-like protocols that I’ve morphed into a system that works for me, given my goals, my unique set of particulars, and the equipment that I have at my disposal.  What you don’t see here is a listing of all of my ancillary work – the ballistics, the bike riding, the sprints, the additional repetition method work, the explosive Oly-derivatives and such – all of which I track in my workout journal.  The whole of this “program”, of course, falls under the dictates of Autoregulation.  If the above chart represents my athletic “vagabond’s map”, Autoregulation is my guiding, North Star; my Polaris, if you will.

The scribblings of a madman…it’s a scary place in there!

The core exercises depicted in the chart (in red) are the exercises I’ve chosen to work each one of the particular, corresponding, base human movement patterns, of which (for my purposes) there are five total.  Each base exercise is assigned a 3-week block.  By the end of a 3-week block (usually), it’s time to shift particulars within a movement pattern, as I’ve wrung all I can from the exercise.  Sometimes, though, I’ll ditch an exercise after 2 weeks, at other times, I’ll carry-on with a particular exercise for an addition couple of weeks.  Most times (but again, not always), I’ll also shift the ancillary work that has accompanied the base exercise across the 3-week block, as these, too, will have run their course.

While I acknowledge that all of this vagueness is probably maddening to those who desire a laid-out, top-to-bottom, cookie-cutter program, I assure you that I’m not intentionally attempting to veil my “methods” in some kind of mystic, hoo-doo shroud.  The fact of the matter, though, is that truly effective training is as much art as it is proper application of science.  There is a place for scientific research, to be sure; our society, however, has the tendency to diminish the importance of the intuitive.  “Art” cannot be readily defined, categorized – or more importantly taught in a formal educational setting (apprenticeship is most effective for this, but sadly out of vogue).  The inability to pin-down the intuitive drives profiteers snake-shit, of course, and so we immediately hear the cries of illegitimacy.  If you can’t measure it, stamp a label on it, quantify or certify the action, how can any top-down organization profit from it?

At any rate, there are no truly effective, Physical Culture “scripts”, only helpful signposts, and this chart simply keeps me in the right general coordinates of my choosing.  I give myself the latitude to take detours and prolonged side-trips whenever I feel it is necessary; these ad-libs, of course could never be built into a “script”.  But it is precisely because I subscribe to the theory of Autoregulation that I can continue to make progress in each of the core human movement patterns, even as I routinely take side-expeditions.

A couple of examples –

Friday, 7/9/10 workout

First, a superset of cgfp and bor (see the chart, listed under “Horizontal Upper Push”).  Note: my use of the term “week” is rather nebulous; this might refer to a 4-day span, or 14…it just depends.  Also, each movement pattern is tracked independent of the other patterns; in other words, when I swap-out a particular exercise, I don’t necessarily swap-out every other movement pattern’s exercises.  Each movement pattern operates as its own little, independent entity; I may be on the first week in one movement pattern, and in another, I may have drifted into to 5th week.  All is dependent upon my progress in a given exercise, and mt estimation at future progress.

close-grip barbell floor press: 165 x 3; 190 x 3; 210 x 5 + 5 rest-pause reps

barbell bent-over row: 255 x 5; 280 x 5; 300 x 4

then, an explosive movement, the Cred

65 x 3 (each side); 75 x 3; 85 x 2; 90 x 1; 95 x 1

…which I super-setted with straight-bar muscle-ups (the pull-up variety) x 2 each round.

The Saturday, 7/10/10 workout was a typical “off the chart” day.  A good deal of time spent biking (with plenty of interval sprints), and a long plyometrics session with waist-high box jumps, depth drops, drop/reaction broad jumps, etc.

Then Sunday, 7/11/10, I performed the following:

overhead squats – (done more so as a warm-up, and as a way to loosen-up some rather tight legs): bar x 10; 95 x 6; 115 x 5; 135 x 5

then, a superset of the following; note that the target exercise her is the rev-grip pull-ups.  I consider the barbell muscle-ups as (1) ancillary work, and (2) as a set-up for the pull-ups.

reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 x 8; 65 x 5; 80 x 6, 5

barbell muscle-ups: 95 x8; 105 x 5; 135 x 5, 5

then some Nautilus 4-way neck work – front, side, side: 50 x 15 (rest-pause); back: 60 x 15 (rest-pause)

From this, I can see that 80 lbs is a good 5/6 RM reverse-grip pull-up gauge for the next time I perform the movement.  Now, I have absolutely no clue as to what particulars will surround my next go-round with this exercise – an 80 lb 5/6 RM may be way too high, or way too low an estimate from which to gauge my loading for that particular day.  And that’s exactly when Autoregulation works its magic.  As long as my loading is in the ball park initially, I can adjust, following the first set, and rock on.

So feel free to ask any directed questions you might have.  I’ll do my damnedest to answer them, with the caveat being that any answer I give my have that “hoo-doo” feel to it, as the art of Physical Culture always plays a tremendous part in my workout compositions.  Theory to Practice truly is an n=1 expression.  In order to be great, you must learn to be the captain of your own, n=1 ship.  Or, if you’re lucky, you can apprentice with such a captain and, in time, learn your own, unique version of the art.   The process is ever-evolving, even for me.  After 30+ years of practicing the Physical Culture art, I still learn something new – about myself, and about the craft — every day.  This area of study never grows stale, stagnates, or runs out of “secrets” to reveal.  It is always the student, the practitioner who looses interest, stagnates, or who begins to accept mediocrity.  My challenge to each of you is to rise above that simpleton mentality.  Aspire to greatness, each and every day.  It is truly your birthright to do so.

12 responses to “Vindication, “Maps”, and the Athletic Vagabond

    • Not what I was after. Damn sensitive touch pad!

      Anyway, and important distinction here is that one could be an advanced sport athlete and an intermediate strength athlete. So APRE would be the way to go for the skill/playing field training but (relatively) linear progression on key lifts could still be performed. No doubt that after a season such progression could be ideal initially, since raw strength is lost during long seasons and linear progression can be used to get back up to a previous best in relatively short order.

      As the wisdom goes, “it depends.”

  1. I was joking with a friend the other day, “I can’t sell you ‘Eat fermented foods’. All I can do is share my ideas. And tell you to buy FAGE if you do go the yogurt route.” I think Robb Wolf has joked about not being able to monetize the paleo concept: it’s an idea that anyone can latch onto and make his/her own for free. That’s the beauty.

  2. “If free will is the intersection of DNA and epigenetics, then knowledge truly is unimpeded freedom’s intersection with that free will”.

    Keith, that is a truly genius insight. You were definitely on a hot streak with this post.

    Doug McGuff

  3. Keith, thanks for this great post. I’m a regular reader of your blog, have been a CrossFitter for a few years now, and have completely embraced the paleo/HIT model. I’ve been trying to incorporate some of the basic premises of your workouts every few days in order to change it up, and find myself responding quite well to it.

    Thanks for writing out how you’ve come to do what you do in the gym, as it was exactly what I’m looking for. You’re absolutely right, we all have different goals and bodies, and finding our way around the iron is a journey that requires our own independent thoughts on occasion. Great post, appreciate the thought you put into it.

  4. “If you can’t measure it, stamp a label on it, quantify or certify the action, how can any top-down organization profit from it?”

    I think this question lays bare one of the biggest problems with American society at present: we think all human culture is reducible to actions that can be branded, controlled, and sold for profit by corporations. Money does not purchase the kind of intelligence that creates “art,” and if I read this post right, it never will. At most it can get some time with the raw materials from which greatness is made, but even then you are never guaranteed a spark. I think a lot of the problems we face as a society would be easier to deal with if we were more open to the weakness (also a strength) that inheres in approaching complex situations knowing (as Rumsfeld says) that there are “unknown unknowns” that we can learn only from experience in the moment: no one can warn us ahead of time; no plan can “map” the territory nobody has ever really seen (in its totality: we get glimpses all the time). Thanks for a really thought-provoking piece, Keith.

  5. Hey Keith,

    This was an awesome post! A couple of thoughts and a question or two…

    I totally agree that an “out of the box” prescription can, in no way, account for total net stress impact. I see this as one of the drawbacks to following the Crossfit WOD to the letter. While I draw on elements of CF, I find the WOD lacks the precision I desire.

    The analogy with the Chicago School District and linear progression is most astute! However, the real gem was the mediocrity vs. greatness insight. Good stuff!

    What five base movement patterns do you identify? I’m guessing push, pull, squat, lunge, and….?

    In what framework within your base patterns do you integrate your ancillary movements? In what way do you seek to compliment the base movements?

    How to you integrate your Metcon/explosive movements within this construct?

    Okay, that’s my fair share of questions!

    Thanks for a wonderful post. This is where you separate yourself from the rest of the bloggers out there.

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