Return-On-Investment; Time vs Goals

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.

William Shakespeare

Continuing with the Health vs Performance curve theme from last time out, we see that the weekly time investment requirement, relative to increased performance, increases exponentially.  I know, I know — big shocker, right?  But somehow, this basic tenant becomes…I don’t know…watered down? — or, at least, severely downplayed by some camps. And it’s precisely on this point at which I break ranks with traditional HIT proponents.  And I’m no HIT-hater, either; far from it.  I personally use HIT-like methodologies to drastically reduce the amount of time I spend in the gym (per-session, and cumulative over the course of a week), and I employ similar methodologies with my clients.  So there you have it: I’m running out of islands to be banished from.  Tossed from Paleo island for my wanton consumption of raw dairy, and now this: unceremoniously shunned from HIT Inn 😉

Consider how I view this from 30-thousand feet, though.  My thoughts are that resistance training, relative to one’s defined goals (of course), have to be considered on a sliding, n=1 scale.  Ask me if I can maximize a trainee’s overall health in one hour (or considerably less) a week on an Efficient Exercise prescription and I’ll answer in an unabashed affirmative.  Hell, I can even coax some pretty damn impressive performance/body composition results with that 1-hour investment.  What I cannot do within that same time constraint, however, is maximize a trainee’s performance potential — unless that trainee’s performance is defined in terms of  sport-specific technique, or is primarily an endurance-driven event.  Of course, these same trainees will, by necessity, be putting in hours outside of the gym — in the batting cage, for instance, or in the saddle, or on the track.  Strength training for these athletes constitutes a performance edge, a means of sound injury prevention, and little more.  But in reality, when we speak of required “gym time” vs ROI (return on investment), that talk centers (when not focused primarily on power-driven athletics) around body recomposition; fat-burning and, everyone’s favorite topic, hypertrophy.

…and here’s where the HIT-camp hate mail comes pouring in 😉

But if my time in the trenches has shown me nothing else, it has shown me that if a trainee is looking for maximum hypertrophy, that trainee better be willing to devote a serious amount of time to the pursuit — even if predominantly HIT-like protocols are utilized.  And yes, I’m well-versed on what the available science says.  And I know all about Mentzer, Viator and Jones.  Unfortunately, science is ill-equipped to adequately account for the myriad of moving parts that constitute the whole of hypertrophy.  As for Messrs Mentzer, Viator and Jones, I’ll just say that it is my opinion that, just as gravity bends the time-space continuum, so does marketing tend to bend truth.

“But I’m absolutely destroyed after a true, HIT throw-down”, you say?  Yeah, no doubt — so am I.  And that’s where smartly-programmed, higher repetition work comes into play.  And movement splits.  And speed-strength work…and strength-speed…and concentric-only focus…and, well, the list goes on. It’s about Conjugate for the masses, my friends.  Smart and varied programming.  Hypertrophy (and athletic performance as well) is not a simple, linear correlation between short bouts of pin-pointed effort and fiber-type recruitment.  Ahh, if it were only that easy!  There are many, many moving parts involved in this process, each effected/maximized by different rep schemes, intensity, volumes, etc.  Hypertrophy involves an intricately orchestrated — though not fully understood — dance between muscle fibers and satellite cells, growth factors, hormones and the immune system.  Add to this the fact that this process is affected on the individual level by such things as genetic predisposition and epigenetic factors such as diet, sleep, stress levels, and — to fully complete the circle — training practices.  And these are the determinants we know of.  How many others are left to be discovered?

Chasing maximum results? You'll be seeing plenty of this: the Great White Buffalo in the sky. Visions, my friend -- *visions* 🙂

Kurt Harris uses the “doorman” analogy (and brilliantly so, I might add) to illustrate the flux, as opposed to on-off switch, nature of fat metabolism; a similar analogy could be used when discussing hypertrophy.   One could consider HIT my overall training “insulin”.  But, just as is the case with metabolism, while insulin may in fact be the Godfather hormone, there’s more — much more — to the overall nutrient partitioning/utilization story.

Ultimately though, the question should not be whether HIT and/or single-set-to-failure “works” — it most certainly does — our own Project Transformation proved as much.  The question asked, though, should be whether these protocols work vis-a-vis one’s goals and time investment tolerance.  Looking to maximize health in a safe and super-effective way?  I can think of no better pair of methodologies.  Looking to push beyond point A in the above graph?  Be prepared to saddle-up some fresh horses, my friend.

And this: a note on that magical point B — the point at which both performance and health (and one could extrapolate, longevity) are, in a perfect balancing act, maximized.  My good friend Robb Wolf  has equated this point to the triple-point of water ; perfect analogy, I think.


So, my friend, what is it you seek?  Is it really truth?  Or is it, rather, to notch yet another win for your particular argument?

“…Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments…”

– Jonathan Haidt 

Great Edge article here on what is essentially the essence of epistemic humility.  Keep this in mind as you pursue your own n=1 path, and as you filter outside information.  And as you disseminate/express your own, formed opinions.


And, in light of my “raising hell on HIT island” (and Paleo island, for that matter), consider this — pissing-off your friends now and again is a good thing 🙂


Looking for an excellent compare/contrast to Doug McGuff’s fabulous work, Body By Science?  Then check out Doug Miller’s hot-off-the-press work, Biology for Bodybuilders.  The book is concise in areas where Dr. McGuff drills deep (the science of metabolism, for example), and offers a smartly penned, “counterpoint” opinion on the chase for hypertrophy.  Which “ideology” you eventually gravitate toward will depend on many things, but in my opinion, the most limiting (in a real-world sense) will, again, be your tolerance vis-a-vis time investment.  In other words, are you willing to sacrifice an exponentionally increasing amount of time  in hot pursuit of ever-dwindling performance percentile increases?  This is the grand question every trainee must answer for him/herself.

…and now I’ve used the term vis-a-vis twice in a single post.  It is most definitely time to move on 🙂


Workouts?  You bet, here are a few:

First up, check out this workout that I put fellow Efficient Exercise trainer Skyler Tanner through last Thursday — just following the taping of EETV.  Simple in design, excruciating in execution; the epitome of brief, brutal and basic.  Still think I’m not a fan of HIT?  🙂

And yes, Skyler did report visions of the Great White Buffalo in the sky following that bit of fun.  Now on to my own, self-inflicted routines…

5/1/11, Sunday

Sprints and such; bar work, rope climbs and tire flips.  Broad jumps into a sand pit.  Hurdle hops.

5/3/11, Tuesday

(A1) dips: 45/10; 90/5, 5, 4 +4 negatives

(A2) chins: bw/10; 45/7, 7, 6+

(B1) bi curl (Oly bar): 135/7, 7, 5 +2

(B2) EZ tri extension: 85/12; 105/10, 8+3

5/4/11, Wednesday

(A1) safety bar squats: +90/10, +180/10, +230/8, +270/4

(A2) Russian leg curls: bw/10, 10, 10, 10

(B1) hip press (H2): 500/25, 25

5/6/11, Friday

(A1) CZT/ARX overhead press: HR x 5, 5
(A2) DB front raise: 25/12, 12

(B1) T-bar row: 190/4 sets of 12

5/9/11, Monday

(A1) safety bar squat: +140/15
(A2) farmers walks: 2 parking lot loops @ bar +90 each hand

5/10/11, Tuesday

A little Autoreg, with vanity work for good measure
(A1) bi curl (Oly bar): 105/12, 105/6, 135/9, 140/7

(A2) EZ tri extension: 65/12, 105/6, 135/5+, 5

(A3) RLC: bw/7 x 4 sets

5/11/11, Wednesday

Another Autoreg example
(A1) XC 45-deg incline press: (midline +0)/12, +50/6, +50 (rear)/9
…go +70/6

(A2) T-bar row: 110/12, 200/6, 245/6, 5

5/13/11, Friday

(A1) dynamic trap bar DL: 245 + black bands, 7 sets of 3

3-hours later…
(B1) incline bench press: 135/20, 20 (rest-pause), 20 (rest-pause)

(B2) blast strap flyes: bw/20, 21 (rest-pause), 17 (rest-pause)

(B3) blast strap rows: bw/25, 25

5/14/11, Saturday

Sprints, jumps, tire flips, bar work and such.  60-yard shuttle sprints and pro-agility sprints to mix things up.  Broad jumps into a sand pit.  Hurdle hops.

5/15/11, Sunday

More of the same — sprints, jumps, tire flips, bar work and what-not.


And then a few final things:

First up, some musings from the boys at Efficient Exercise.   As I said in my Facebook post, we could talk about this stuff for days, folks. And come to think of it, these clips are proving exactly that point 😉

And hey, if you happen to be in the ATX next weekend, make sure to drop by our Efficient Exercise 10th Anniversary and grand-opening open house to be held at out brand-spankin’-new Rosedale location at 45th and Burnet (1403 west 45th street).  My cuz-in-law TJ will be puttin’ the hurt on enough brisket, sausage and chicken to feed Sherman’s Paleo army, so come on by and grab a plate — you carnivore you — and talk a little Physical Culture shop.  And while you’re there, you can hop a ride on our ARX equipment, and test these bad boys out for yourself.   Maybe you can hang on longer than Chad Ocho Cinco?

…well alrighty then 🙂  Can’t blame a man for tryin’…

In health,


19 responses to “Return-On-Investment; Time vs Goals

  1. I’m just a guy who took an interest in my own health and I have to say that both this and the previous post are awesome.

    I discovered the hit and the paleo world and found many interesting ideas, but also some wrong things and a bit of cult-like mentality (jones, objectivism ecc).

    Then I found you.

  2. What I’ve been thinking about when I think about muscle hypertrophy…

    1) There are several variables interacting, with various interedependencies.

    2) These might be:
    -factors affecting rate of muscle contractile protein synthesis and also deposition (co-ordinated gene expression that promotes hypertrophy),
    -the antithesis of the above (e.g. myostatin expression, etc.),

    -availability of testosterone

    -muscle cell *responsiveness*(or resistance) to testosterone (number of receptors, effectiveness of second messengers)

    -available room within a muscle fibre for additional contractile protein strands… one of the professors here at University of Surrey, Joe Millward, had an theory that the very rapid “catch-up growth” he witness in re-fed children, whom had been victims of starvation, might have been because the connective tissue “bags” around the muscle fibres (fascia) had been stretched by previous longitudinal bone growth, and that the rapid growth he witnessed was because there was no spatial constraint on the deposition of contractile proteins… bear in mind, kids don’t have the confounding influence of high testosterone levels either…

    Perhaps supranormal muscle hypertrophy may in part be the result of removal of such possible barriers to growth?

  3. Great follow up post Keith, I love the way you think about stuff.

    You need to get a whiteboard and a video camera and do a Greg Glassman 🙂 I would be entertained.

    Did you see his recent video lecture on the CFJ? Whether or not you agree with what he says I think he’s an excellent (and… confidant) speaker.

    • Yeah, I like GG’s stuff, and (politics and drama notwithstanding) really like the overall XFit *concept*. The only thing I take issue with is some of the programming. I feel that there are some movements that just don’t need to be done in a fatigued state, and I think that a little more attention needs to be paid to the overall WOD exercise pairings.

  4. Hi Keith,
    Thanks for the shout-out for Biology for Bodybuilders. We are big fans of your blog. Our book definitely does present an alternative to Dr. McGuff “vis-a-vis” hypertrophy. Now that three times, if you include the comments 😉

  5. Keith,

    Another great post and use of the grease board. Your drawing is based on your own n=1 experience, but if we refer back to Skyler’s recent post on his experience over the past 6 years we can see that it may not mirror the experience of your diagram.

    For the vast majority who are less gifted, the performance curve begins to flat-line shortly after point “A” on your diagram. You are part of a population subset who experiences continued upslope after point A. I will give you this….unless you try to push beyond that point you will never know. However, once you do push beyond and notice that performance flatlines or falls off, you shouldn’t take 5-10 years to figure it out. Unfortunately, many continue to push further hoping that improvement is “out there”.

    • Totally agree, Doug. Yes, attempt to push past point A (if it is your desire to do so), but remember that, just like the prodigal son, you can always return “home” to point A 🙂

  6. Doug,
    Your point is spot on. That is EXACTLY what makes the difference. The very fact that very very VERY few, “push beyond that point”
    I commented on that years ago to Keith, that “that” is where the fundamental difference lies in all the theories and modalities.
    A good system (like yours) and good trainer can continually take you right to that point and beyond. Most of the people I know need that…

    Keith, liked what you put Skyler through a lot! Good vid and nice to see Skyler pushing it.


  7. Keith’s point is a good application of the old “20/80” rule to health and physical culture. You know, 20% of total effort will net you 80% of possible results. That would be the curve thru point B, with point A being the 20% effort mark.

    Of course, concerning the health curve, he’s extended it to include a “120/80” corollary: if you put in effort at 120% of optimum, you decrease your results to 80%! We could name this the “Norris Corollary” of the 20/80 rule.

    Athletes make this tradeoff for increased performance, which is fine, as long as they’re doing it with their eyes open. Me, just an average guy with a job, I’ll stick right at point A, thankyouverymuch. (Doing BBS-style workouts for about 20 months now.)

  8. Great Article,

    Very exhaustive in the effort to really explore the subject from as many angles as can be known at the moment, and presentation in the honest attempt to be unbiased and objective. The world of exercise and fitness tends to get clogged with a lot of “absolute ideas” nice to hear some which are honest in not knowing all but learning

  9. Some interesting points here and I agree to the fact that one must constantly endeavor to push oneself. I personally have observed that working out at least 4 times in a week makes a lot of difference whereas anything less is just a waste of time. Another thing is that having a trainer helps you push you beyond your boundaries.

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