Progress? Progress!

A client asked me recently how she would know that she’s making adequate “progress”, with the context, of course, being fitness-related, and more specifically, strength biased.  And I wish I had a ready answer for her; the truth of the matter though, is that “progress” is a tough thing to define, and even tougher to measure — it’s a little like herding cats.  Sure we can say, for instance, that one’s squat has increased 30 lbs over a certain time frame — but what if in gaining that increased squat poundage, we had to sacrifice a tenth of a second off of a 40 time; 20 seconds off of a 5 k?  The fact of the matter is that “progress” can only be measured relative to — and, in fact can only be defined by — our stated goals.  As Dan John is fond of saying, the “goal is to keep the goal, the goal…”  Now, this might sound a bit flippant at first blush, but I can tell you from first-hand experience just how difficult this is in practice.  Dan also likes to base weight room progress on the movements: a deadlift max, maximum number of dead-hang pull-ups and the standing triple jump; you’d be hard-pressed to argue for better weightroom yardsticks and yet, what about the more nebulous indicators —   blood work, say?  Bodyfat levels…overall exuberance for life?  Ever been around a bodybuilder in the final week (or hell, final month) of contest prep?  Exuberance is not exactly a word that comes to mind.  What if we’re looking to be strong, yes — but not at the expense of chipping away at our overall health (this happens to be my goal, by the way)?  In that case, I think Art DeVany’s “metabolic headroom” is a great place to start.  In other words, what’s the separation between your metabolic “idle” and metabolic “redline”?  I’ll have to come up with a working definition here that doesn’t leave my intended audience with their eyes rolling back in their heads.  Any help and/or thoughts on getting this point across to those not geeked-out on diet and fitness is greatly appreciated.

The week’s training — a mixed bag…and I like it like that!

It’s not often that I rumble through three training sessions in a row, but that’s just the way things shook-out this week.  So in true power-law, random-loving fashion, I rolled right on along with life as it hit me.

Tuesday: a quick-hitter supper-set with these two –

barbell muscle-ups (from the high hang): 115 x 8; 135 x 6; 145 x 5, 5, 5

Efficient Exercise exclusive hip press: 400 x 12; 500 x 6; 545 x 4, 4, 4


Best in the business; the Pendulum Hip Press


I like this pairing for a quick, total body workout.  If I had a bit more time, I would have tossed weighted pull-ups into the mix, and I’ll add those in next time I do this little number.  Also, I’ve got some good 4-6 rep range numbers to work with now so as to employ Autoregulation principles to the exercise loading next time out.

Wednesday: making the most out of ready access to Nautilus equipment –

Nautilus pec dec: 110 x 11 (41×1 tempo), then immediately to

weighted dips: 70#  x 6, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2 rest-pause extended set

and to round things out…

Nautilus pull-over: 230 x 9+ (not quite 10), 50×0 tempo

The extended rest-pause set: think of this as a hybrid between a DeVany-esq Hierarchical set, and the standby classic rest-pause method.  The pec dec serves as a good pre-exhaust movement, here; big rep drop-off between the first and second “set” of dips.  Without the pre-exhaust, we’re looking at an initial rep range of 10 to 12 or so, and an increased loading prior to the initiation of each and every “set” until we reach (about) the 2-rep threshold.  From this point, we’ll bust-out doubles until failure.

Thursday: holy friggin’ HIT, Batman!  Check-out the clip below –

If you weren’t keeping score, here’s what Skyler put me through:

Romanian Deadlift: 5 rest-pause style dynamic/hyper reps (about 5 seconds rest between reps; max effort each rep)
Dip: 5 rest-pause style dynamic/hyper reps (again about 5 seconds rest between reps; max effort each rep)
Pull Down: 5 negative-only reps
Military Press: 5 negative-only reps
Squat: 5 rest-pause style dynamic/hyper reps (same drill, about 5 seconds rest between reps; max effort each rep)
Hey, what is that, a friggin’ mouthpiece shoved in your pie-hole?  Yeah it is, I’m a teeth-gnasher on the “long”, grind-it-out lifts.  I’ve actually bitten clean through a few of these bad boys.  I’d like to keep my teeth around for rippin’ through grass-fed animal protein, thanks, so I’ll keep sportin’ the old mouth vinyl.
So this CZT equipment is, well…it just has to be tested to be appreciated; the intensity that can be generated here is simply phenomenal.  If you’re in the Austin area and you want to take this equipment for a spin, give Skyler or myself a holler; we’d be happy to take you through a round.  Anthony Johnson, of the 21-Convention, did just that when he came through “the ATX” recently.  I gave Anthony a dose of hierarchical rest-pause on the Pendulum Hip Press on one day, then a few days later he followed my own CZT workout with one of his own.  Again, the master of ceremonies here is none other than Dr. HIT-dose himself, Skyler Tanner; check it out:
And checkout Anthony’s notes on his Efficient Exercise and CZT experience, here.

12 responses to “Progress? Progress!

  1. Thanks for the insight, Keith. Personally I’ve been measuring my own progress recently with a big old weightroom yardstick, as you mentioned. Over the past few months I’ve had some great — and eye-opening — success with the Westside conjugate method, without so much as setting a single goal.

    But now I’m finding that I need to bring some organization and goals to the process in order to stay on track.

    Thanks, bro.

  2. What. The. Heck. Is. Going. On. Here? I was laughing out loud (sorry). Grunting like an ol gizzley bear. I’d love to try that thing. Looks pricey compared to mother nature and nuthin… Mechanical squishing.

    • I noted in a facebook post on the same subject that I sound the same way when I find the refrigerator empty of beer 🙂

  3. Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!!!! (In honor of the all black outfits).

    Having experienced the CZT myself, I found myself watching gritting my teeth and clamping my ass cheeks together. I need a mouthpiece just to watch. Well done EE.

  4. I`ve been through a lot of your posts regarding self-regulated exercise and I’d like to know if these concepts are viable for someone who has been exercising for a short time (a couple of years on and off, with only a few months of weight lifting).

    If so, what sort of framework (trying really hard not to say “program” here…) would you suggest for such a newbie? I already do quite a bit of walking and martial arts, so I’m more insterested in the strength training aspect of the matter.

    Thanks in advance!

    • One need be concerned with self-regulated schemes only after having initially established a firm strength footing. In the early-going of a lifting career, it is perfectly suitable to track load, reps, time-under-load, and other parameters/markers directly. In other words, until out-of-the-gate progress stalls, there’s really no additive value to Autoregulation. Once that initial forward progress comes to a halt, though — and it will — then it’s time for manipulation via Autoregulation.

      • Thanks for your quick reply. I’m yet a begginer, so I guess it’ll take quite some time for me to be able to really get something out of autoregulation. I’ll stick to standard programs for the time being.

        Your blog is a great source of Paleo ideas, so I’ll will be sticking around!

        • Thanks for the good words, my friend. And yes, no need to rush; this is a lifetime investment, a life-long journey.

  5. Hey Keith,

    As always, you’ve put together a post that causes me to give pause and think….

    Progress towards what? I guess that’s the question. I don’t sense most people in the gym give this much thought, other than perhaps, “lookin’ good naked!”

    So, here I am just a tick past the big 5-0, training as long as I can remember, playing or competing at a pretty high level in everything from football to martial arts to the “Tough Mudder” competition. Always excited to train, eager to learn, and happy as hell when I sit back exhausted after kicking my ass at something.

    So for me, I suppose I measure progress in a more subjective manner than say, how high a vertical jump I have, or how fast I can run 100 meters. For me, it’s really more of quality in my training, how I “feel,” my eagerness to “get after it” and the sense of satisfacton when I’m done.

    I guess I don’t see a final destination or point – it just keeps going, becoming refined as I learn more and then reaping the juice out of what I can bring to the table – that’s my progress.

    Cool topic.

  6. Nice Post, progress measurement is definitely not a one size fits all. However, I cannot escape the suspicion that a ‘geometric’ relationship between strength, speed, and power can be used to ascertain peoples overall fitness goals and provide a measuring stick.

    Overall health = a balanced relationship so a equilateral triangle, A bias in one or more areas would create obtuse or acute triangles and measurements could be adjusted to match prioritized areas.

    Add cleans and maybe a 5K time to Dan John’s list and prioritize according to your personal triangle and I think you have a pretty foolproof list. Sort of a human equivalent of the automotive 0-100-0, and skidpad test.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s