Pushing Physiological Limits vs Attaining (and Maintaining) Health

Pushing physiological limits, and the study thereof, is indeed an exciting aspect of exercise science.  And, as ABC’s Hungry Beast points out, “…few of us have any idea about what it takes to produce a world-beating result… “.  To that end, check  out this fascinating clip, wherein Kirk Docker deconstructs the machine that is Shane Perkins, Australia’s fastest track cyclist.

Fascinating, yes — but of what relevance does this have to the pursuit of attaining and maintaining optimum health?  Well, the same relevance, I think, that the NASA programs ultimately had on trickle-down technologies (think Teflon) used in everyday life.  What we can glean from studying these superhuman performances can indeed be used — if modified correctly — in the training of mere mortals looking for enhanced quality of life.

If we consider, once more, my health-performance curve, it’s not difficult to ascertain exactly where on the curve that Shane resides; decidedly (and unapologetically so), in the land of C.

And more power to him; he’s exciting as hell to watch and to study.  But to the extent that the general population — those who ought to be concerned with easily-achievable, overall health and well-being — continues to equate “health” with the exploits of the Shane Perkinses of the world, only exacerbates their reluctance to engage in any fitness program whatsoever.  Why do anything, when I sure as hell can’t do that?  Part of conquering the American (and increasingly so, world-wide) health crisis will be the wholesale paradigm shift away from equating “health” to superhuman athletic performance, and the athletes who produce those performances.


An Autoregulation example

I’ve fielded quite a few questions as of late regarding the real-life execution of Autoregulation, and I figured that filming an actual utilization episode might help to clear things up.  As I state in the clip, the Autoregulation template can only be considered just that — a basic recipe, and no more.  Watch an expert chef, like Meesus TTP, create an actual gourmet meal by using a recipe as little more than a rough guideline and you’ll know what I’m getting at.  Some things you can only learn from time in the kitchen — or time under the bar.  It has to be — pardon the cliche — a process.

The Autoregulation weight selection template for the 5 to 7 rep range is simple enough:

1. 50% of expected 6-rep max for 10 -12 reps

2. 75% of expected 6-rep max for 6 reps

3. expected 6-rep max for maximum repetitions

4. adjusted load (according to the performance of set #3, with a target of 6 reps), again, for maximum repetitions.

Of course, we have a preliminary warm-up (and/or “feel-out” sets) for most exercises prior to diving into the 50% set.  And most times (as in the example below), my entire workout is built around the Autoregulated exercise.  Sometimes, though, I’ll Autoreg two back-to-back exercises in the same workout.  The beauty of Autoregulation is that it can accommodate this kind of variance quite well; flexibility being the hallmark of this method.  Consider Autoregulation the adjustable wrench in my Physical Culture toolbox.  Come on out to the 21 convention next month in Orlando, and we’ll drill even deeper into this most useful concept.


The week’s workouts

Sunday, 6/12

Sprints, jumps, tire flips and rope climbs

Monday, 6/13

Hella fixie ride!  HEAT!

Tuesday, 6/14

(A1) trap bar DL (low grip): 155/12, 245/10, 335/6, 425/5, (3+2)

(A2) ARX overhead press: HR/3, 3, 3, 3

(B1) powermax360 shoulder circles x 30 seconds, reverse circles 2nd round x 30 seconds

(B2) seated DB clean & press: 45/10, 10

Wednesday, 6/15

Volume day; 10 sets  of  10

(A1) high bar back squats: 185, 10 sets of 10
(A2) chins: bw, 10 sets of 10

Thursday, 6/16 (see the clip of this workout above)

(A1) dips: bw/12; 45/10; 70/6; 90/6, 6 (autoregulated)

(A2) snatch-grip high pulls: 155/10; 175/7, 7, 7, 7

(B1) ARX dip negatives x 3

*each set of dips was preceded by approximately 7 to 10, CNS activating push-pulls on the Powermax 360.

Saturday, 6/17

Volume/Metcon: approximately 20 minutes of the following:

30 seconds on, 15 seconds recovery of 6 different powermax360 movements, followed by alternating hi-box step-ups with 135 lbs (about 30 total steps).  Wash, rinse, repeat…

Sunday, 6/19

Sprints: 10 x 100 yards (blast 40, cruise 60 format) + 5 x 120 at a straight 75% effort.  Tire flips, jumps, monkey bar hi-jinks and rope climb shenanigans.


Mark Sisson, author of “The Primal Blueprint”, to visit Efficient Exercise 

If you happen to be in the ATX on Friday, June 24th, at 7PM, c’mon out and join us as we welcome Mark Sisson to the “epicenter of Physical Culture”, and more specifically to Efficient Exercise’s 45th and Burnet Rosedale location, for an informal pot-luck dinner.

Mark, of course, maintains the ever-informative “Mark’s Daily Apple” blog, and is the author of  (among other works), The Primal Blueprint.

The event will be hosted by Austin’s own Primal Living Meet-Up Group, so this is a great opportunity not only to meet one of the guiding stars of the Primal Living movement — Mark Sisson — but to also chat-up the local members of this fascinating group of health-minded individuals.

So bring your favorite Primal/Paleo dish, and come join us for some stimulating conversation and warm camaraderie.   Austin’s own Snap Kitchen will be providing some Primal/Paleo-friendly goodies as well, so don’t miss out!

And hey, all of our peeps over at Crossfit Austin, I want you guys to know that y’all are more than welcome as well.  C’mon out and help spread that good, Austin, Physical Culture vibe!

In health,


10 responses to “Pushing Physiological Limits vs Attaining (and Maintaining) Health

  1. Great workouts but this is still too much for me. Will bookmark because I will try this when I get the body and strength needed for this.

  2. Keith,

    I’ve just been to Meesus TTp’s website – With food like that on the table I’m surprised that you ever find the will power to walk out of the dining room and go to the Gym 🙂

  3. Keith,
    Great example….”chef of the gym”
    Thanks for the vid. very good once again.

    Don’t have access to your stand up “push machine” or the “arx machine”

    Would fast push up (for cns) be a good substitution? And would a static hold (maybe 20 secs or so) in dip postion simulate the “negative” on the arx machine?

    Thanks Keith.
    Wish I could join what sounds like an awesome primal meet up.

    • Marc,
      Yes, ballistic push-ups are a good substitute for the 360 push-pulls. As far as negative dips, I’d just load-up on the last set and do 3 -5 super-heavy negative dips, full range of motion.

  4. Keith,
    Awesome post, really hammered home the concepts you have been touching on recently. I particularly enjoyed the auto-regulation video as it was excellent!
    Two questions came to mind while watching – one on topic and one a little off topic:
    1) Auto-regulation for non-“weight, sets, reps, etc.” type movements: For example I do a lot of gymnastics strength work and it seems like you would almost need to be more of a “chef” to auto-regulate these type of stimulus. I feel like this is what I do already, if I can’t hit a position for a certain amount of time/ROM/reps I either shorten the time/ROM/reps or I change the position to a less difficult one. This sounds like the same idea?

    2) CNS Fatigue: I know what it feels like but I never thought about the mechanism which causes it. Is it just that the muscles are fatigued and you are receiving that feedback through your CNS? Or do the actual neurons get “tired” and less able to propagate action potentials, etc? Or is it at the interface of CNS/muscle, that connection becomes “fatigued”? I figured you would be the person to ask for a quick sentence or a reference 🙂

    Again awesome post!

    • Nick, you’re spot-on with point #1. An analogy would be with the way that I Autoregulate sprints, for example, here.

      Point #2: whoa! Way too much to go into here 🙂 Suffice to say that there are multiple routes, and multiple feed-forward loops designed to prevent your dumb ass (and my dumb ass) from blowin’ themselves up — unless, of course, we are faced with a no-shit life-or-death situation; re: the little ol’ lady who lifts a bottomed-out truck off of a shade-tree mechanic. Of course athletes will red-line in an effort to re-create that adrenalin explosion to the ultimate detriment of their adrenals. So yeah, a whole tomb could be written on this subject alone.

  5. Too often what purports to be science is, in effect, culturally induced autobiography. Are psychological limits to training truly based in the psyches of individuals or induced by means of conditioning within a culture? For what’s normative/normal to one culture may have nothing whatsoever to do with standards of another.
    Let’s take firewalking as an example. For Americans the notion of walking a bed of hot coals is a big deal, a major challenge. Some programs promoting that effort first subject candidates to psychological tests.
    In 1956 my mentor was mythologist Joseph Campbell’s mentor in Japan. On an occasion, Sensei took Joe out to a yamabushi rite, one in which a long bed of hot coals was laid out for fire walking, with taiko drums beating, conch shells trumpetting, folks chanting – all the stuff adding up to play instead of fear for those entrained. Joe rolled up his wool pant legs, took his socks off, a former NCAA sprinter from the mid 1920s, walked that pathway following his bliss, living his joy – a lifelong athlete as well as world class mythologist. His pants were permanently damaged by embers. He walked the walk.
    So what’s this about pain thresholds? In the 1840s, Scottish physician Esdale performed over 1,000 surgeries in India, using one anesthetic: hypnosis. It worked. Back in Britian, doing a demonstration before the Royal Academy, he did a full amputation from the knee using hypnosis: the Academy judged his performance as a fraud, claiming he’d bribed then gotten some poor SOD drunk before sawing off half his leg: the problem was one of paradigm paralysis among his ‘peers’ – they could not manage data outside their box of limits.
    I’ll take the radical position our specialized, non-integrative sciences are rather clueless regarding health as much as psychological limits. Psychological limits go well beyond training to include what psychologists treat as maladies – ADD, ADHD, depression, etc. Do they have a fix, a cure? Not other than a few very profound methods marginalized by mainstream orthodoxy which has no cures at all, merely maintenance of condition programs.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s