Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation — the Preliminary Results

Okay, so it’s not the best picture, to be sure – I thought I could wash-out the glare, but alas… Anyway, here’s Madame Benoit’s rather erudite quote:

“I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with variation.”

Not to beat a dead horse, but again — it is my opinion that the parallels between the culinary arts and the pursuit of optimum Physical Culture are uncanny.  Substitute “program” or “methodology” for recipe, “trainee” or “coach” for cook and you’ll see what I mean.  No dogma here, just results.  This much I know to be true: on-going success in the n=1 pursuit of fine Physical Culture comes down to the ability to pick just the right ingredient, at just the right time.  It’s not at all rocket science really, but it does require a certain degree of devotion, dedication to the craft.  Just as in fine writing, though, one must know the rules inside and out before those same rules can be broken in order to produce an elegantly-honed piece.  We’ve all endured writing that is technically perfect…yet, colorless; lifeless, even.  Consider such writing as the equivalent of linear periodization in resistance training.  And then, every once in a while, we’re lucky enough to come across something breath-taking, like this:

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

That’s the last paragraph of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; and that, my friends, is a true work of art.  Cormac’s writing has a way of inducing epileptic fits among grammar Marms, and yet, what a vivid, sensual picture he paints.   McCarthy undoubtedly knows the rules of grammar just as well as any technician, and yet he’ll trample those same rules in an instant in order to produce a desired result — in this example, a last paragraph that is nothing less than brilliant.


And speaking of bending the rules to produce results, remember back in January of this year when I spoke of the launch of Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation?  In this “project”, we at Efficient Exercise offered some 20-odd “everyday Joes” (and Josephenes!) 10 weeks of free training and dietary counseling, with the intent being to show that anyone can achieve and maintain a fantastic level of health and well-being with a minimum investment of both time and dietary intervention — or, another way of putting it, with a minimum of “headache, heartache and hassle”! Training consisted of two, 30-minute, CZT/ARX -based workouts per week, with “dietary counseling” consisting of  little more than the equivalent of  “hey, follow more-or-less a Paleo diet, and here’s Robb Wolf’s and Dr. Kurt Harris’ web sites“.

I jest here about the diet…but only slightly.  Actually we did offer the dietary counseling/intervention services of Austin’s Merritt Wellness Center for those who had a rough, initial “shaking the carb Jones” transition, or for those who we thought might be struggling with proper nutrient absorption, or other such issues.  The main take-away here is that these people were largely left to their own devices, other than the 2x 30-minutes per week that they saw us for their workouts, and the virtual support network created by our Facebook page.  A health and wellness program that is anything but a fad, mostly self-directed and administered, and that is sustainable for a lifetime.  No involvement from the medical establishment, no insurance hassles, nor dealings with the poly-pharma industry.  No sales pitch or endorsement from a celebrity talking head.  Surely something that simple can’t work, right?

Well, let’s just see about that.

So, after 10 short weeks, how did it go?  Just take a gander, if you will, at these results:

No gloss-over here, no top-performer bias, just the plain, raw, non-manipulated data.  Everybody’s data.

Limitations?  Sure.  I wish we’d done preliminary and follow-up blood work.  I wish that we had access to a more accurate method of measuring body composition (we used the impedance method; access to a university’s water tank/scale would have been nice).  But hey, we’re a gym/fitness studio, not a university lab.  Our aim was to show a trend, not measure absolutes, and in that, I believe we succeeded.

But the key points remain: this is a simple, realistic and sustainable program with a huge return-on-investment — not just in the measurable health and well-being parameters, but in the intangible measures — happiness, self-esteem, productivity.  Our intent here was not to produce better athletes, but better everyday citizens.  Citizens who will not become yet another drain on our country’s limited healthcare resources.  Citizens who can continue, into an advanced age, to contribute to the nation’s GDP, rather than become yet another statistical drain upon that same measure.  And, yeah (and here comes my “woo-woo” side) — citizens who can contribute to the overall “good vibe” of their communities.  Healthy, fit people are happy, courteous, empathetic, loving and caring people.  It is no coincidence that Austin is, at the same time, the epicenter of Physical Culture, and a city renoun for it’s tremendously good vibe.

But hey, enough of me yammering on about this, let’s consider a couple of actual participant testimonials:


So, can the nation’s health care crisis be tamed, one citizen at a time?  You bet it can.  One hour per week.  Some rudimentary dietary changes.  A huge return on a very small investment.  Vibrant health is within everyone’s grasp, even the most time-crunched of individuals.


Okay, and now for a few workouts from last week:

Tuesday, 3/29/11

(A1) blast strap flyes: 15, 15, 15

(A2) blast strap tri extensions: 10, 10, 10

(A3) CZT/ARX chest press: HR/3, 3, 3

I’m a big fan of pairing blast strap work with the CZT/ARX.  This little sequence here produced a total upper-body beat-down in a very short period of time.

(B1) OHS: 95/10, 12, 15 (box at 2 holes showing).  Shoulders were friggin’ shot to hell at this point, so this movement, as it was programmed in this sequence, was done more of an upper-body finisher, with the added benefit of providing a good lower-body dynamic stretch.


Wednesday, 3/30/11

(A1) Nautilus lateral raise: 150/10, 10, 9

(A2) XC seated military: (0 offset)/10, 7+, 7+


Thursday, 3/31/11

Ahh, goin’ a little old-school here, with a nice pulls progression!

(A1) power cleans (high catch): 135/10, 165/5, 185/3, 205/2

(B1) high pulls: (to at least belly-button height — higher, if possible), 225/5, 245/3, 275/3

(C1) BOR: 275/6, 295/3

(D1) straight leg DL: 295/6, 315/7

(E1) deadlift: 365/3, 415/2, 435/2


Friday, 4/1/11

(A1) high bar Oly squat: 135/15; 225/12, 12, 12, 12

(A2) XC bi curl: (+20)/12; (+30)/12; (+40)/12, 12, 12

The properly performed high-bar Oly squat is a thing of technical beauty.  Here, Russian world Oly lift champion (many times over) Anatoli Piserenko demonstrates a bit of “performance art” perfection.  Wow…

So it’s been a ‘coon’s age since I’ve done high-bar Oly squats myself; a radically different move, of course, from the power-oriented variety.  I performed these barefooted, which adds a tad bit to the level of difficulty in the movement.  What added to the difficulty level even moreso, however, was the fact that I performed these following a good deal of fixie huckin’.  Any form of squatting, though, following a spell of hard saddle time, is always an adventure  🙂  Seriously though — if you’re looking to push top-end weight in this movement, kids, wear your Oly shoes!  Do as I say, not as I do! 😉

In health,


21 responses to “Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation — the Preliminary Results

  1. Awesome results. Not over the moon (aka get ripped in 90 days) but steady, respectable, and consistant. I am confused about the exercises by the way: you say 2x per week, but then there is something every day? would be great to learn more about the big picture programming for those guys.

  2. I’ve been a long time follower of your site, as well as Robb’s, Sisson’s, Kurt’s, Devany’s and the likes. I just never comment or post. Your work is easily becoming my favorite to read. I’m sure I can speak for everybody when I say “we can’t wait for the next post.” Always inspiring. Keep up the great work!

    • Actually, the most impressive visual transformation came from the 21 year-old kid who put on 10.8 lbs of lean mass. This kid was tall and very lean to begin with; the prototypical hardgainer. How did he put on so much lean mass, so fast? He friggin’ busted his ass at each and every workout, and was fastidious about following a Paleo diet. Intensity, desire and dedication can go a long way toward making up for a genetic short hand. He’ll never be mistaken for a D1 linebacker, but there’s little doubt now that folks will question that he knows his way around the iron 🙂

  3. Keith,

    Bryan’s transformation was truly one of the more impressive. As a typical hardgainer if you will, Bryan gained nearly 12 lbs of muscle and still lost fat. Take a look at this kid’s back as proof in the pudding!

    • He’s a “manimal” in the gym, too — leaves nothing on the table.

      Manimal? Thanks to Kris for that term! 🙂

  4. Keith, congratulations on your launch’s results- I’ve sort of followed the evolution of your blog and couldn’t be happier for you

    • I wanted to email you this but I think you’ve taken it down since you’ve become so popular. This is the news I got today:

      How serious is this? (Chiro & Radiologist Eval.)

      Postby gbsamsa » Tue Apr 05, 2011 5:01 pm
      Hey Everyone

      1st) Sorry if this thread was misplaced, I tried finding the appropriate heading.

      2) How serious is this? And what therapy regimen would you implement?

      A radiologists analysis of a Lumbar Spine Radiograph
      Two Views; Standing AP and later view of the lumbar spine

      Findings: There are 5 non-rib-bearing lumbar type vertebra. There is mild dextroscholiosis apex at L2-L3. Subtle retrolisthesis L2 on L3 and L3 on L4 are present. Lateral flexion-extension views of the lumbar spine are suggested as followup for evaluation of possible dynamic spinal instability as warranted clinically. No other subluxations or fractures of the remaining lumbar spine are seen. Lumbar disc spaces are preserved. There are no destructive osseous lesions. SI joints are unremarkable.

      1: Subtle retrolisthesis L2-L3 and L3-L4
      2: Mild dextroscoliosis

      AND my chiro had this to add:

      Elevation of Left Hip
      Mild Scoliosis convex Right
      Retrolisthesis (Posterior SLippage)
      Hypertonicy and Tendernis in Lumbar spine paraspinals

      I think I’m suffering from lower crossed syndrome as characterized by Junda, as I do have a noticeable lordosis. WHAT DO I DO? I can’t lift weight if I my spine isn’t healthy can I?

      And as a corollary, I am very familiar with a number of different modalities since I too am interested in physical culture as you aptly put it.

      If I can’t find neutral or my nervous system is disrupted how do I lift ;( ??

      • If I were you I’d plow head-long into the works of Dr. Stuart McGill. A bullet-proof core is tantamount to achieving optimum back health.

        • I own 2 of McGills books and haven’t found them helpful. I.e how to maintain lumbar stability? He never gets at it….

          I’ve learned more from mobilityWOD than anything else.

          Lord help me this is so defeating I used to be a competitive athlete…and now I cry instead. Thanks anyway Keith.

  5. Keith!

    Long time commenting brother, but I’ve been lurking ;-).

    Many conratulations on the impressive results of Project Transformation – I had no doubt they would be.

    Just a quicky – I know you’re somewhat of a barefoot enthusiast, so why the recommendation to use OLY lifting shoes? I’m starting to think that, while barefoot is my best option for deadlifts, zercher/goblet squats, and other lower body training that actually resembles natural motor patters, barefoot is best.

    However, I’m wondering whether things like loaded front/high-bar-backsquats, or squat cleans aren’t really suited to barefooting it. obviously oly shoes confer an advantage, but I’m wondering if they shouldn’t be the default?

    In the past I’ve been guilty of getting a little too serious with the “functional movements only” ideas. Since BBS has sort of injected some reality into that line of thinking, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t reevaluate my stance on the usefulness of oly shoes at the “expense” of any allegedly sacrificed mobility (though I do enough other mobility work to make me doubt there would be any loss).

    Ok enough rambling. Thanks in advance for any thoughts and congrats again.


    • My take on the issue is this: for movements where footwork is *not* dynamic/complex and of overall importance, my default is to go barefoot. I’m ok (most of the time) with leaving a little poundage on the table so as to opt for a more natural, flat-footed/heel-down, range of motion. Oly shoes definitely confer a leverage advantage to squats and pulls, and so on those (albeit rare) instances where I place a premium on load, I will wear Oly shoes.

      And hey, good to hear from you again, brother!

      • That’s sort of the line of thinking I’ve been working towards, but it’s great to hear your insights. Now I just have to work Oly shoes into the family budget with out the mrs. noticing ;-).

        I’ve appreciated having you as a real world example of how to realistically blend HIT training with more conventional, CrossFit-Football-esque training. I’m having great success doing the same now, and I’m loving it.


        • Yeah, that’s the real key to my training — take the best of what any methodology has to offer; no dogma, just results 🙂

          • Keith, first time posting on your site, I like your writing style and approach to ‘physical culture’.

            Quick query re the barefoot/shoe discussion above. My trainer wears Vibram 5-finger shoes, which he raves about. I presently just wear standard cross-trainers. My lifting work is probably between elementary and intermediate. Any thoughts on Vibrams?

            • My personal preference is to lift either straight-up barefooted or, in Olys, if the lift is absolutely footwork-dependent. I generally reserve Vibram wear for outdoor activities (sprints and such), or outdoor S&C work (farmers walks, for example). Of course, I’m free to make the rules in my dojo, and those rules allow for barefooted workouts. If you’re stuck in a globo gym, your options will be limited.

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