“Manthropology”, and Preaching the Health-Performance Continuum

“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.”Ludwig Wittgenstein

Heh; OK, so you thought I’d fallen off the edge of the earth, huh?  Well, not exactly; it’s just that I’ve just been dedicating most of my spare time toward prepping my presentations for this summer’s upcoming 21 Convention in Orlando, and the Ancestral Health Symposium in LA.  What little time I have had for leisure reading as of late has been directed toward (on the recommendation of my good friend Ken O’Neill, of Smart Fit) Peter McAllister‘s Manthropology, and a couple of 1985 editions of  The Coaching Association of Canada’s “Science Periodical On Research and Technology in Sport”; in particular, Strength Training Part I (Classification of Methods), and Part II (Structural Analysis of Motor Strength Qualities and its Application to Training).

For an overview of McAllister’s fine book — and a bit of fascinating follow-on audience Q&A with the author, checkout this fora.tv presentation.  If there were any lingering doubts in your mind as to whether the agricultural revolution has been a complete and utter disaster vis-a-vis mankind’s  robust nature (the male, specifically), this work should once-and-for-all nullify those doubts.  And if any doubts remained as to whether the human genome has suffered as a consequence of (1) a lack of “herd thinning”, and (2) a general and substantial decline in the required day-to-day “honing and hardening” of the genome, this should eliminate those doubts as well.

It has been my long-standing belief that we (trainees) can not only acclimate to — but indeed thrive under — a much greater work capacity than we (society in general; the S&C community in particular) currently give ourselves credit for.  This book goes a long way toward substantiating that notion.  Greek trireme rowers offer a perfect meme for this idea of a robust general citizenry’s work capacity.  A greater work capacity allows a trainee to spend more productive time actually training (general S&C, or sport-specific), simple as that.  Think of work capacity as GPP (general physical preparedness) writ large.

Although I certainly (and highly) respect the work of Art DeVany and Doug McGuff, I do have to respectively disagree with them on the point of hunter-gatherer’s average daily energy expenditure, and hence, modern man’s toleration for (relatively) high-frequency bouts of intense exercise.

A quick interlude is in order here.  I take the point of view that looking to modern hunter-gatherer societies is not a particularly good example of our true genetic potential vis-a-vis inherent work capacity.  Modern HG’s simply do not face the same predatory fears that our more distant relatives faced on a day-to-day basis.  I picture bands of stone age HGs constantly pursuing migrating game while at the same time themselves being pursued by predators.  No time to lounge and eat figs between infrequent hunts for these HGs.  Man as the Hunted-Gatherer is the scenario that makes much more sense to me.  That means bursts of high power output, yes — but those bursts were interspersed within a constant, and continual movement/migration, rather than idleness. 

Art, Doug and myself do, however, agree on the ridiculously small amount of intense exercise required to maintain a person’s general health.  What I’m speaking of here is pushing the performance envelope while ensuring that health remains optimum — in other words, the other side of the health-performance curve.

“Heath” of course, is a multifaceted, ever-evolving concept; one thing we can agree on, though, is that the definition of health as being the mere absence of disease is, well…lame.  We’re smarter than that, and demand more than the “vacuum definition”, pedestrian take.

I’ll flesh this idea out a bit more at the 21 Convention, but essentially “health” is a balance between, one the one hand, maintaining optimum internal parameters (blood profiles, inflammation markers, organ and joint robustness, etc.), and on the other, maximizing one’s ability to both produce, and absorb, force — in other words (and if we introduce a time element here, which we must as we live in the “real world”), the ability to generate and absorb power under various and unpredictable, “real life” scenarios.  The “various and unpredictable, ‘real life’ scenarios” part implies that there is a certain environmental and ontological context which must also be considered.  Ours is a world mostly free of predators and, in general, one that requires less “honing and hardening” in order to survive.  What is considered “healthy” or robust today, however (no matter how spot-on the internal markers might be) would simply not pass muster in Greek society 2,000 years ago.  And although those Greek trireme rowers were undoubtedly GPP standout, power-producing machines, one can only speculate as to the state of their internal bio-markers of health.  Health and performance is, as are most things in life, a delicate balance against a backdrop of the “unknown and unknowable”.

On the bright side, though, if one assumes a 100,000 year timeframe for most gene mutations to take hold (yeah, yeah, I know — I said most), there is hope.  Get your diet squared-away, folks, and bust your ass (intelligently!!) in the gym and in the great outdoors — do your part to put a squelch on this downward slide of man!  Become the phenotypical expression your genetic forefathers would be proud to claim!

And a quick aside: here’s a great post on the subject of overtraining (as opposed to under-recovery) — and yes, there is a big difference between the two.  And just how does one boost recovery ability?  Apart from the obvious (following sound nutritional practices, sleep patterns, and reducing chronic stressors), you’ve got to increase your GPP.  It’s the dirty little secret one one wants to talk about.  Plain and simple, enhanced performance does not come easy — if you want it, you have to work diligently (though, intelligently) for it.  How do I prevent slowdowns due to overuse injury (the tendonitis example in the linked post)?  I conjugate — constantly vary — my workouts.  My body knows no ruts.

As for those cica 1985 documents — wow!  The author is Dr. Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, University of Frankfurt — translated to English by none other than Charles Poliquin.  My initial thought upon reading these was, no wonder the Germans (east and west) were so friggin’ dominant in international competition.  These things read as if they were written in 2011.  Amazing…

~ ^ ~

Presenting the “health/performance continuum” concept to the lay public

The following clip is of me recently addressing a small group of professionals, none of whom (save for one) have anything at all to do with the fitness industry.  The topic is the general public’s misconception of the relatedness of athletic prowess to general health.

So I’m trying to whittle this particular off-the-cuff presentation topic down to a solid, professional, 10 to 15 minute deck-plate spiel.  And remember, this is addressing the lay public here, and my main objective is to get them to reconsider the definition of “healthy”, and the requirements for maintaining health (by way of commitment — as measured, especially so in time expenditure), and their notions of “health” as it relates to athletic prowess.

Suggestions/critique towards that end would be greatly appreciated.  It’s hard for me, sometimes, to think back to a time when I, too, considered extreme athleticism to be analogous to health.  I had to actually travel the path to figure this out on my own; surely this misconception can be nipped in the bud — especially so, in young, aspiring athletes.  But, too, in those who consider the super human exploits of these athletes, and then think to themselves, “well, I can never do that, ergo, I can never be healthy — so why the hell even attempt?”

Changing this paradigm will be one small step toward changing what is now a world-wide health care crisis.  Something I plan on discussing in LA this August.

~ ^ ~

Workouts?  Oh hell yeah!  Here are a few…

Creative uses for the EZ curl bar; Creds (aka, the single-arm snatch)

Tuesday, 6/21

(A1) Powermax 360 flye/reverse flye x 30 seconds

(A2) XC flat press: (+0)/12; (+20)/6; (+40)/5, 5

(B1) ARX flat press: 5 negatives

3 hours later:
Pendulum leg press: (400/15; 500/8; 600/4), (400/25; 500/15, 600/5)

Wednesday, 6/22

This gives me the idea for an Efficient Exercise version of a fixie “poker run“:
I hucked it from Efficient Exercise’s Rosedale location, to the downtown studio, then performed –

(A1) Nautilus pullover: 255/12, 11, 8, 9
(A2) EZ bi curl: 8 sets of 8 @ 85 lbs, 2 sets per round.

Hucked it on back to Rosedale!

For the EE fixie “poker run” workout,  I’ll ride from the Rosedale studio, to the downtown studio, over to the Westlake studio, then back to Rosedale, with selected lifts at each stop.  I’m thinking start and finish with trap bar DLs at Rosedale…yikes!  Or some combo of DLs, farmer’s walks and Prowler work?  Oh yeah 🙂

Friday, 6/24

(A1) speed trap bar DLs: 255 (grey bands) /3; 255 (grey + purple)/3, 3

(A2) Powermax 360 front/reverse circles (front delt/rear delt pre- exhaust): 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off, 30 seconds on

(A3) ARX overhead press: hyper-rep x 3, 3, 3

Saturday, 6/25

(A1) Creds (single-arm power snatch, each arm): 45/7; 60/5; 80/4; 90/2; 95 for 6 singles, each arm.

(B1) Powermax 360 “Tabatas”: 8, 30-second bursts, 15-second recoveries between each burst.

Sunday, 6/26

(A1) 6 x 200m sprints (3 minute recovery between reps)

(A2) 5 x 50m dual leg hop sprints

(A3) parallel and monkey bar work

Tuesday, 6/28

(A1) T-bar row (regular grip): 140/10; 210/6; 255/9; 265/5

(A2) leverage incline press (explosive): +20/3, +30/3, +35/3, +40/3, +45/3, 3, 2+

(A3) Russian leg curl: BW/5 rounds of 10

Wednesday, 6/29

(A1) Bradford press: 65/12; 115/7; 145/6, 5

(A2) clean grip low pull: 225/7; 275/7, 7, 7

(B1) ARX neg overhead press (regular grip): 3 negatives

(B2) strict shrug: 275/10

Saturday, 7/2 and Monday, 7/4

Sprints, tire flips, bar and climbing rope work.

Tuesday, 7/5

Oly bar creds (single-arm power snatch): 65/5, 85/5, 90/3, 95/3, 100/3, 105/1, 1, 1

Two hours later: light “speed cleans”
165/10, 10, 10, 10

Wednesday, 7/6

(A1) bodyweight dips x 12
(A2) Nautilus pec dec: 95/10 + 5 partials

5 rounds of A1, A1, A2…

Thursday, 7/6

(A1) RDL (wide stance): 225/10; 275/6; 295/8; 315/8
(A2) step-ups: 135/12; 155/12; 175/12; 185/10
(B1) ARX leg press: HR/3, 2

Saturday and Sunday, 7/9 and 7/10

Sprints, hurdle hops, hop sprints … and more fixie riding than I could shake a stick at!  😉

In health,


32 responses to ““Manthropology”, and Preaching the Health-Performance Continuum

  1. We’re too readily inclined, particularly within Paleo thinking, to ascribe modern mankind’s fall from genomic grace to the rise of agriculture. Agriculture is a key event within and making possible the arising of city-states in the nuclear middle east. Hence, the transition from transient to settled, doubtlessly facilitated by already specialization of social roles (certainly evidenced in Native American nations) of warriors, craftsmen, etc., also contributed to downgrading activity resulting in down regulation of genomic expression of the sort McAllister reports. National Geographic magazine several issues ago reported on the construction of a huge stone structure associated with religion in modern Turkey dating about 8,000 years ago. That temple, however, is considerably newer than other structures extant in Turkey (Catal Huyuk is around 9,000 years old – mighty close to the agrarian fall). Marjita Gimbutus did a series of books on gods and goddesses of ancient europe, and goddess culture going back at least 30,000 years ago, & extending from the Pyrannees to Lake Baikal, to Anatolia – a huge geography. Her resources numbered in the thousands of anthropological and archaelogical reports. It should remembered that Professor Gimbutus’ work covers our ancestory more proximal to our genome than hunter/gatherers of an additional 70,000 years – ones forging a culture during the last great glacial age. The cover illustration of Nora Gadgaudas’ Primal Mind – Primal Body is from a well known Pyrannees cite, one Joseph Campbell discussed at length in books and videos.
    Our view of hunter/gatherer activity levels is in danger of becoming a cliche or stereotype without more robust scholarly research. Even in the roughly 25 years of Paleo literature, originating with S. Boyd Eaton and Mel Konner, Loren Cordain joining them, does not support the view that Paleos engaged in short amounts of intense effort then laid around – a depiction of carnivores, not omnivore hominids.

    Several popular publications advocate ‘two brief, intense workouts done to failure weekly.” Anyone (such as myself) that’s been around the Iron Game for decades recognizes that statement not as a scientific one but as the mantra of one commercial theory of exercise – immediately raising suspicion of a failure of empirical method due to theory-driven (not data driven) polemics. The physiology paper you refer to as well as Brad Schoenfeld’s recent The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Application to Resistance Training along with Joseph Signroli’s Bending the Aging Curve all reveal conditioning to involve multiple metabolic pathways associated with divergent training demands. Paleo will easily implode as a fad if subjected to out-dated and/or commercially biased theory driven rhetoric.

    At the expense of generalization, perhaps among athletes the closest in expression of Paleo skills would be those who do decathalon. Another = highland games, with roots in prehistory.

    I fully agree with your intuition that the standards of modernity and its diseases of civilization support massive under expression of innate, natural capacities and potentialities. It may be the case that our standards of health and medical sciences adversely direct our understanding, such that Paleo orientation will grow more mature and wise by incorporation of Physical Culture and exercise physiology. In the early 1980s, five times Olympic team physician and UCLA professor of sports medicine Dr Karlis Ullis noted that over trained athletes blood panels resembled those of aging people: we now understand the roles of inflammation and hormonal over stressing, as well as how to modulate those with rest, calibrated variable training incorporating contractile and sarcoplasmic hypertrophies, use of selected supplements (e.g,, beta-alanine, citrulline malate), and voluntary control of brain/mind stress (thousands of research papers demonstrate modulation of cortisol is one of the easiest things a person can learn).

    Your talks will be good – get them videoed so we can all benefit!

  2. Well said. I recently wrote a bit about trends within the physical culture, more from the viewpoint of the psychological need to follow a trend, and how the fringe trends, which are often based on mock-science, attract folks for their sort of anti-authoritarian views:


    Oh, and I’m coming to Austin soon to teach some workshops and do some research at Starks center. ‘Twould be fun to meet a fellow physical culturist

  3. Awesome Keith! Thank you.

    Putting on my “toastmasters” hat for a moment….and please take this constructively..

    When presenting watch your “umms”


    • Right-on, Marc; thanks for the call-out. Ugh! And to think I slam other people for the same, uhmmm, offence! 🙂 Drives me nuts to hear myself uhmmm-ing so much!

  4. Whether “two brief, intense workouts done to failure weekly” can be written off as unscientific depends on whether it is being recommended as an unalterable part of a program, or as a starting point from which to make changes based on individual goals and response to exercise.

    Depending on an individuals overall health, nutrition, sleep, other stresses, etc., twice weekly workouts may be optimal, merely effective, or in some cases lead to overtraining.

    • ” ‘two brief, intense workouts done to failure weekly’ can be written off as unscientific…’ ”

      I can already tell you twice weekly is very scientific based upon the research:

      Rhea’s meta analysis is quite clear regarding frequency, though the multiple set component is up for debate, especially as “bang for the buck” is factored in (Otto et al’s critique comes to mind i.e. you’re not getting 3 times the effect for 3 sets vs. 1 set). Then we get into potential, rep targets, near failure activation, mTOR, etc. etc. What are your goals and how long do you want to last in this game?

      Greeks had to be in decent shape: the world was a god-awful place filled with violence we could not imagine. Let alone the ability to watch (and enjoy!) murder on a regular basis, citizens must also be aware of their own Emperor Nero would go out at night and murder them because he could. Drew might get mad at Obama for whatever reason but they’re paltry compared to murder. 😉

  5. Skylar: The abstract’s methodology uses strength as the baseline. The problem with abstracts lies in what is, frankly, a summary often glib with respect to the meaning of what’s been studied, moreso a rush to tentative, even specious, conclusions. I’d like to get a full text pdf to review methodological assumptions and data analysis before saying more!
    Nero was Roman, not Greek.
    If strength expressed as increase in 1 ROM is the method of measurement, then they’re looking at contractile hypertrophy. Thanks to you having loaned me material and an anonymous donor having given even more, I have now 2.5 weeks of Brian Johnston’s jrep/zone training under my belt. Results thus far? more than a quarter inch increase in upper arm, obvious rounding, fuller muscles, and some strength gains. With five sessions weekly. And at my age!!!
    Schoenfeld’s Mechanisms of Hypertrophy offers a great model for considering both hypertrophies and considerable underlying metabolic processes stimulated OR not by singular training regimes as a prelude to a general systems paradigm of training. I’m unconvinced that any extant singular model meets the test his model introduces.

    • Ken,

      Thanks for the Nero reminder; I was speaking off the top of my head, incorrectly!

      Glad to hear the Jrep method is providing value. It is certainly a “tool in the box” for certain dumbbell exercises that have terrible strength curves (lateral raises come to mind).

      I’ll dig around for the full text; it’s a meta-analysis and there are certainly aspects that aren’t useful but he later authored a text regarding hypertrophy and a similar conclusion was reached. I’ll fire them to you on Facebook.


      • Sky, I’ll have to report you to the Dept. Of History at Texas State. Or maybe you traveled the same “history for jocks” path that I tread? 😉

  6. Modern fitness industry concerns about recruitment, retention and motivation are a good starting point for comparative inquiry concerning ancestral well being and physical conditioning. Traditional cultures wouldn’t be concerned with modern issues. Those ancient cultures had somethings we don’t: a guiding mythic image of the natural human, and rites of passage or initiations making men out of boys and women out of girls. The cave pictures from the Pyrannees and myths from around the world point to that crucial point where one left childhood to become an adult man or woman, facing and overcoming fears of childhood, facing and mastering the mysteries to the child’s mind of the fullness of becoming a matured adult. Leadership in those social orders required gaining even greater personal power – not force.

    Somehow we’ve got to figure out what the contemporary expression of undertaking a heroic, autonomous journey to self-mastery is composed of – what it’s mythemes amount to.

    I’m throwing this out not as a statement, but as a question.

  7. For what it is worth, I have a personal story that sort of relates to the whole idea of under performing relative to our limits. I’m a bit rare in that I actually started doing HIT fairly early in my training, I started training when I was 21 and half a year in switched to BBS style workouts. I became pretty dogmatic about it, obsessing about proper recovery and never going into the gym too soon o often. Recently though I’ve kind of expanded my interests and become more open minded as well as more willing to experiment. Now I’m working out heavy 5 times a week, 3 of those work out’s being body part specific. So like last week I did 2 full body work-outs and 3 back specific workouts. Now based on how I used to think I should be utterly thrashed, my muscles should have shrunk, my strength gone down etc etc. But you know what? I feel great, I feel more rested and recovered the day after a workout now than I did 5 days after a workout when I was doing the HIT-to-failure method. That left me feeling constantly over trained and weak.

    I think I really underestimated my own work capacity and recovery ability, and continue to not only get stronger but push the limits of just how much volume, intensity, and density I can cram in without even being a little sore the very next day. I think some(and not all of course) of the HIT method guys have adopted “over training” almost like religious dogma and need to recognize that there are other programs that work, there are volume approaches that work, and even though I have awful genetics and don’t abuse steroids, I can handle a workload that is almost 10 times what I did under BBS and am *still* making gains in my work capacity.

    In this sense I think HIT may be a bad *first* program to try, and I’ve noticed even a lot of it’s advocates only switched to it after building a physique using other methods. I think it might be because it’s really hard to build up your work capacity with single set to failure, once weekly workouts. No matter how hard you make a single set, I don’t think it can do the job in terms of conditioning that a GVT routine or doing a Soviet style six sets of two at 85% of 1RM can. Maybe I’m missing something but this is the conclusion I’ve gathered just from my own experience.

    Not to mention that by not doing any warm ups at all, you do your CNS a huge disservice in terms of neural recovery and neural preparation and activation before a big lift. It may be heretical to say this but it seems like rather than combating over training, going to complete failure with no CNS activation is exactly how you accomplish over training.

  8. Thanks to Keith, I’ve spent the last few days carefully reading Body By Science – carefully meaning not a casual read but rather treating the book as a scientific work, reviewing endnotes and citations, exercising analytical tools of research and scholarship.

    Chapter II’s treatment of metabolism is wonderful for many reasons, and could be vastly improved with an orientation to teaching a whole system’s orientation to metabolism to a lay population rather than dispersing pages of facts in a manner not stressing operations – with examples. One book is recommended several times so I ordered a copy through Abebooks.

    Chapter III & IV are where the attempt at science turns to polemics, abandoning scientific accounting if favor of a theory driven pursuit to prove a point at all costs. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions well establishes that for a new paradigm to succeed, thereby replacing a previously dominant paradigm, the new paradigm must be overarching in a manner incorporating anomolies heretofore swept aside. McGuff & Little prefer jury rigging very selected articles bolstering their point, an exercise guaranteed to work only by instituting unscientific tunnel vision to the current state of knowledge in exercise physiology. In fact, more comprehensive review of the works of some of their sources reveals considerable disagreement with their minimalist orientation to successful training. McGuff & Little remind one of the work of the Flat Earth Society which continues maintaining the Earth is flat as revealed in the Bible, not a globe in space: such positions can only be maintained by a highly selective cherry picking of a handful of articles giving some comforting legitimacy to one’s theory at the expense of ignoring inconvenient truths.

    McGuff and Little attempt to establish authority due to their combined 35 years of training. Now in my 53rd year of training, unlike the two youngsters I lived through periods of experimentation with training from the late 1950s onward. In that Geist, inventor Arthur Jones’ early 70s writings were a breath of fresh air as he revealed what in time Ellington Darden named HIT. Nevertheless, Jones was hardly original – despite deceptive claims to the contrary. A decade prioir to his writings the world was aflame first with isometric training, then the breakthrough development of the then small footprint power rack for isometronic training developed for the World Champion Olympic lifters of Bob Hoffman’s York Barbell Club. Isometronic was the name invented by publisher of Iron Man Magazine Peary Rader. Such training involved short (six inches) range of movement, low reps, and an isometric hold turned eccentric. A given movement was broken into three zones – starting point, sticking point, and lockout, and each zone worked once weekly. Mondays might be starting point days for press, squat, pull, bench press, then Wednesday sticking or mid point, and Fridays lock outs. Saturday morning was Olympic lifting practice day. Some of us adopted the method with higher reps for bodybuilding and astonishing results were forthcoming. By the late 60s rack training was pretty much over due to revelations that a new supplement had helped the progress of some: dianobol, the first widely used oral steroid, the “breakfast of champions” of the 60s. Unfortunately, movement away from racks to steroids rapidly occurred. If interested in learning more about rack training, Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength website includes videos of Tommy Suggs teaching younger folks the method. Nautilus rotary cam became a full ROM power rack like device.

    HIT never much took off with bodybuilders since most lost inroads using it. Today we understanding why: HIT training works only SOME of the metabolic processes, not all – and isn’t especially powerful for bringing about increases in size (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy) while great for contractile hypertrophy or increases in strength. Brain Johnston’s Jrep/Zone training works very well of size increase – in an ideal world, a combination of HIT & Jreps would seem to address major training issues yet keep workouts brief and doggedly intense.

    Athleticism or “paleo like” fitness for living, however, lay well outside combining those methods. The McGuff/Little treatment of plyometrics, proprioception, agility, flexibility further discredits their work both intellectually and in terms of coaching wisdom. Most sports oriented training moved on from HIT in the 80s, not because it didn’t work but because athletic conditioning – skill mastery – is far more complex than simplistic training ideas can successfully support.

    I’m especially disappointed by the minimalist orientation seeming to rest on a foundation of Fear Factor Undertraining. With all due respect, McGuff is an ER physician – which might explain the seeming preoccupation with Fear Factor Undertraining suggesting humans break easily.

    The 20th century radically altered the social image of physicians to high priests bearing infallible knowledge. We forget that medical education under the Rockefeller/Carnegie agenda originating a mere century ago became a highly narrowly focused system of training & education, in part to ensure monopolistic dominance of the pharmaceutical industries largely sponsoring it while shaping public and governmental policy at the same time. Among disciplines excluded from medical curricula was exercise physiology. The greatest deficit to Body By Science lies is its blatantly amateurish layman’s approach to exercise physiology, an area both authors demonstrate skills comparable to undergraduates in comprehending.

    What’s ironic is that from the time of the Latin Renaissance, science was first punished as The Scientific Heresy by the dominant theocratic society of the Dark Ages. In time, faith took a back seat to reason, analysis, empiricism, and scholarly research. Is Body By Science voluntarily deceiptful? Or are its authors so intoxicated with overbelief that willful sacrificing of science on the altar of Faith is their sole choice? Regardless of motivation, the work fails the test of science as a narrowly focused polemic extolling the virtues of minimalist, Fear Factor Undertraining, hence not well serving the public interest.

    For a synoptic overview of the current state of knowledge regarding metabolism and which forms of training do and do not stimulate differing subsystems, see Brad Schoenfeld’s The Mechanisms of Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training (J Strength & Conditioning Research, October 2010.

    • HIT training works only SOME of the metabolic processes, not all – and isn’t especially powerful for bringing about increases in size (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy) while great for contractile hypertrophy or increases in strength. Brain Johnston’s Jrep/Zone training works very well of size increase – in an ideal world, a combination of HIT & Jreps would seem to address major training issues yet keep workouts brief and doggedly intense.


      • Agreed – a combo of HIT and Jrep/Zone training hits enough significant bases while keeping training cycles within the comfort zone of briefness so important to modern stress-filled busy living.

        thanks to Keith’s advise on this blog, my copy of Doug Miller’s Biology for Bodybuilders arrived today. He’s very up to speed on state of the art exercise physiology and it’s practical theory to application success in his own career as a drug-free bodybuilder. The book is a breath of fresh air – reiterating Joe Signorile, Scott Abel, JC Santana, and Brad Schoenfeld’s insistance on ‘surfing the curve’ of varying hypertrophic zones. I might add, Steve Hollman’s popular series Eat, Train, Grow in Iron Man Magazine and his x-reps.com blog does much the same.

        Miller et al give us a modern masterpiece, a synoptic overview of what we need to know for an enabling compass for the wise. Contrast it with the shameful paradigm paralysis, dogma driven Body By Science and the comparison is far more than daunting – it’s enlightening and sobering at one and the same time. The fitness industry as a whole has regurgitated various popular training ideas for decades, and thereby enabled open warfare between differing ideas in a manner thwarting conflict resolution and chunking up to higher level understanding. I’m told McGuff would hold the way Keith and I train and succeed are anomolies. Medicinal types are quite content with blackboxing what their paradigms cannot and will not comprehend by use of dismissive, invalidating labels ranging from quack to anomoly to placebo, all of which the truth be told are symptoms of their impoverished ability to do scientific explanation – their theories fail due to outright intellectual constipation! Anomolies merely express need for more robust, more inclusive science – while diagnosing any ‘science’ using the term ‘anomoly’ in a degrading, dimissive manner as what Canadian anthropologst Charlie Laughlong calls ‘stupid science.’ Caveat lector.

        I regard Biology for Bodybuilders as a sort of warm up to a prolegomena. Watch me new blog for a prolegomena text apropos toward a noetic science/art of next physical culture.

        Here’s my suggestion for Orderly Chaos training: why are we stuck with the calendar week as the basic micro cycle of training? Did the skygod create a seven day training cycle, or have we unconsciously adopted a religious model of the calendar for training purposes? 50 years ago gyms were closed on Sundays since that was the skygod’s day! So was JC Penney stores for the same blue law reasons. All kidding aside, I’ve adopted half a lunation cycle – 14 days – as the microcycle. Since much of our genomic development since 50,000 years ago stems from the European glacial culture of the goddess driven by the lunation cycle (corresponding the the menstrual cycle well known that long ago), perhaps our genomic driven hormonal, recuperative, and activity cycles resonate better within that natural rhythm. And maybe I’m full of it. If we’re going to be Paleo, let’s drop the adaptation of the lunar cycle so dear to the Catholicism ruling the Dark Ages and revalorize genomic pagan cycles – one’s in which intiatory activities overcame fear in favor of self-mastery.

  9. Keith, a few comments on your video. Nicely done overall.
    1. It might be helpful to couch your health in fitness terms. Can you walk up the stairs/a mile/survive a fall/tie your shoes easily. Then move to internal fitness, how your heart/lungs/blood vessels/fat look.
    2. I have been a swim coach for a long time and you need to be careful with the swimming example. Most swimmers taper for big meets so they are actually in a period of decline from their best condition, and are extremely well rested/healthy at the big meet. In the period of intense training most of them are indeed trying to fit as much intense practice as possible in the week, but modern coaches are definitely varying energy systems. Because the sport is skill based, significant training can be done at slower intensities for technique improvement (but not all!)
    3. I ran a pool for 7 years and many water aerobics students can be given a whole body strength practice using the water dumbbells that is nearly as difficult for them as your free weights are for you. My lifting buddy Ron used to run some of those. I think in your response to questions like this you need to specify the intensity/weight bearing characterisics of your ideal workout. Something like water aerobics can be a proxy for that especially for certain populations.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. With regards to workout volume and frequency-if two brief,intense workouts per week are not enough, this would indicate that a reduced intensity of effort may key in making better gains-some of the time anyway. I can personally handle three intense, full body workouts per week for 6-8 weeks, and then things start to really go bad fast (constant soreness, decreased libido, waking up very early in the morning). I recently tried only two intense full body workouts per week (roughly 20-30 minutes in duration) and, after about 5 weeks or so, started to get the intense, long lasting soreness again and the early waking (although the libido was fine). The only way to combat this as far as I know is to reduce volume even more with the same frequency, reduce frequency (which is what I am trying right now) or reduce intensity of effort and maintain frequency and volume (or increase it). I’ve read some interesting articles and books that recommend reducing intensity-to allow an increased frequency and volume-assuming that the increase is better for long term progress. Now I’m not talking about easy “pumping” stuff, just not going to failure, maybe several reps shy. Stuart McRobert argued that if training hard (just shy of failure) was good enough, why go harder? Steve Weydan, a former HIT guy has some interesting articles on Dave Drapers site about his experience with HIT, meeting Arthur Jones and Casey Viator, and how HIT traininig is just too hard for most to handle over the long haul. He then goes on to praise Pavel’s methods of high frequency, low volume and scaled intensity. There is an interesting article on Clarence Bass’s site entitled HIT Advocate Stops Training to Failure-and Gains! The big question in my mind is that of frequency-is more better for strength and growth? If so, intensity MUST be periodized. HIT advocates hate periodization, saying it’s better to rest than not go all out-that applying less effort is not worth the workout at all. I’m not convinced-either way. Yet.

  11. @Ken O’Neil-I think your characterization of Doug McGuff is a bit off. He would not consider people who train like keith (and you I guess) and succeed an anomaly-I think he would consider you guys physically gifted. Whether you agree with McGuff or not, I really think you have him and his motivation all wrong.

    I normally don’t pay heed to guys like Keith and their muscle building advice due to their lack of knowledge about selection bias. More than a few times I’ve listened to well muscled and obviously muscularly gifted men say they could turn any man into a powerhouse with the right training and eating program. If average Joe only did things right, just like them! Well, this is such a load of bull, but these guys usually don’t even know they have blinders on. I don’t, by the way, put Keith in this category as I’m quite convinced he is much more knowledgeable than most well muscled and gifted trainee/trainers (plus he doesn’t seem to have a financial interest in his training philosophy). Keith seems quite intelligent and aware to me. I am absolutely certain, however, that I would not get nearly the results he does by training like he does-he is in fact a gifted man in that respect.

    In the end, I’m not convinced that all this talk of increased volume and frequency, myofibril vs. sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and who has the better “scientific” program means much to the average Joe out there who really doesn’t give a rip about looking like you or Keith or being a bodybuilder. I am personally not “in love” with orthodox Body by Science but have found many aspects of the system to be very helpful. Saying that McGuff and Body by Science doesn’t serve the public interest well is just silly! What is the public interest exactly? Bodybuilding? I don’t think so. Body by Science is a fine system for the average person out there who is otherwise physically active.

  12. it seems to me that ‘selection bias’ is an overused notion among many that write HIT-oriented blogs. How do we know that genetics has played the dominant role, and not the training regimen? I’m 53 and find that I still need 2-3 hard sessions per week. I’m quite sure I know what it means to train very very hard. Yet, I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as genetically ‘gifted’. I simply respond well to such a training regimen, as do many others.


  13. Anyone who thinks selection bias is an overused notion either doesn’t understand it or is dismissing it because they don’t want to believe the implications. While it is normal to look to people who appear to be successful in a particular field or endeavor and attempt to model your own approach after theirs, if you don’t consider unique circumstances or traits that might have contributed to their success you’re missing a huge part of the puzzle. The general principles might be the same, but they might have applied them in a way that will not work for someone under different circumstances or who lack certain traits.

    The Biology of Bodybuilding was garbage. I’d write a detailed critique but I threw mine in the trash it was so bad. The biology it contained was basic, and there was a lot of nonsense about training that did not follow from the science.

    Also, the whole myofibrillar vs sarcoplasmic hypertrophy thing is bullshit. You can do thinks that will have a transient effect on sarcoplasmic volume, but in the long run the two will either increase or decrease proportionally. Most of the silly crap people believe about training for strength versus size, or for different “types” of strength is based on theories made up to fit observations without and understanding of how individuals vary in response to exercise due to genetic factors.

    • Drew: You missed the point of the book you threw away rather than reading for comprehension.

      It’s high time we move beyond ‘due to genetic factors’ when a constellation of factors within volitional control better explain outcomes while offering choices for programmatic design. Some divide the world into ‘genetically gifted’ and ‘hard gainers’, never considering the wider band of normality: outside of the majority of the population being within normality, both genetically gifted and hard gainers would be at least one standard deviation. Us of genetics to dismiss training protocol failures among the normal class boils down to trainer incompetency.

      Several places you offer opinion (garbage, bullshit) in a dismissive manner devoid of rational explanation. We hope you’re not relying on recourse to ad hominens. Otherwise, the bulk of your last paragraph is so sadly out of step with contemporary exercise physiology as to be embarrassing ridiculous: one certain outcome is that of disqualifying oneself from credibility.

    • Drew,

      With all due respect, I understand the concept of ‘selection bias’ in scientific analysis quite well. My point was generated by my reading of particular blogs (for what it’s worth, mainly the Main and comments sections of the Body by Science Blog), where the concept often seems to be deployed as a way to dismiss claimed success for training regimens. If you want to have a serious discussion about selection bias in this area, we can do that. I’m well aware that my claim that “I understand the concept” doesn’t prove anything. However, neither does your response (“anyone who thinks selection bias is an overused notion….”) advance an argument; it’s an emotion-laden assertion. As to “Thomas’s” points: they’re clearly ad hominem remarks that generate much more heat than light. What I don’t get is why both of you are so defensive on this point. If you want to have a genuine discussion, then let’s have it.

  14. One thing that strikes me as odd is that these debates cannot really lead anywhere. I mean yes exercise biology is a science, but it seems to me a science that is in shambles once you get outside the lab. If I have learned anything from Keith, and I believe this is the best lesson I’ve learned, is that exercise is unbelievably individualized. If you take a person who has an amazing physique and trains hard, twice a day, without steroids and has excellent health, are you in any position to claim that his technique is flawed because you have a few studies on over training to back you up?

    On the other hand, we know HIT works for some people, Drew and Doug have supervised guys who got 18 inch arms exercising maybe once every 4-10 days. Until the control methods for studying muscle growth becomes better, I would argue the science is moot point, and personal experience is all we can go on. While I”m not anti-science, there are so many factors that are never considered when researchers do studies evaluating effectiveness of exercise. For one, they don’t control for diet, either well or at all. They don’t take into account very many training methods either. Most scientists don’t know much of anything about the bodybuilding community, so as far as I’ve seen there aren’t very good studies pitting two or more routines against each other on a *long term* cycle, which similar rest and diet, and *history* taken into account. Nor are the routines properly designed. The majority of any good data that has been collected on effectiveness of exercise structure is anecdotal, coming from guys who have simply been in the shit long enough to get people results.

    And honestly, there may never be a study that good. And in all areas studies have certain flaws we can’t get rid of, but when it comes to exercise these flaws may be catastrophic. Some programs aren’t just effective for some and not others, they are effective relative to training age and cycle. Many people thrive on HIT because they come off very poor routines and start doing their first real exercise. Some people specifically turn to abbreviated training because they were over trained and made huge gains because of the new rest they got. All these factors make the whole endeavor seem pointless. Also, what if you designed a study to look at the effective of a routine like the kind Christian T invented, “I, Bodybuilder”, could you ever be sure it was the program as a whole that worked? This is a program that includes max training, power sets, and conditioning work all in the same week. What if they only work synergistically? The fact most clinical studies on human health are very poor in scope, they have to narrow down the variables to even get any usable results. A trainee should just have the patience to legitimately try out a wide enough variety of programs and honestly track progress until he finds what works best, and fine tune it from there.

    You can’t argue science when someone’s personal experience stares you back in the face, because response to exercise IS so personal.

    • Drew and Doug exclude fuller expression of the emerging science of exercise physiology. Sure, they both get amazing results some of the time – randomly, perhaps due to theory dominance rather than a fuller spectrum paradigm embracing the rich variety of training, humans, and with instead of a cookie cutter paradigm what I call ‘client-centered’ or ‘patient-centered’ orientation respecting and upholding biological individuality. Both Zane & I read and were influenced while in high school university of texas scientist Roger Williams’ biochemical individuality. Ignoring individuality forces humans into straight jackets of exercise theologies. Yuk.
      Christian T is a writer/coach who challenges imagination. One of my favorites. Carried further, since he’s bilingual, it’s worth pursuing his clues en francais to the realm of musculation.
      Another point to consider is adaptation. Today’s successes easily become tomorrow’s plateaus. Orderly Chaos implies always staying hungry, gaining an intuitive sense of what do do next round, where alter.

      Schoenfeld’s article offers today’s best case master template informing microcycles – microcycles that may be two weeks to a month in duration. We’re not stuck with the Augustine Roman weekly seven day calendars in a process oriented whole system orientation: our Sunday through Saturday paradigm merely reflects a cultural standard, not the rhymths of nature which doesn’t have a calendar. At best it has 28 day lunation cycles impacting our biology. Along with daily and ultradian cycles. None of our training protocols consider biological rhythms. Poloquin has given some consideration of them through chinese medicine.

      We need to demand that our science becomes enriched – otherwise it will cop out with genetics, anomolies, causal dress days or political correctness to evade and avoid big steps including differences empowering a synoptic science.

      • Adaptation is a great point to bring up, because it’s definitely something I’ve come against for the first time in my training. I have to say I feel like many of the modern day HIT writers treat people with kid gloves, refusing to accept that adaptation might require greater stimulus. I mean they pay lip service to extra-intensity techniques, but these techniques are sometimes terrible ways to bust through plateaus and fantastic ways to further exacerbate CNS fatigue(forced reps, negatives, drop sets, etc).

        One thing I love about Christian T’s writings are the very creative and powerful methods he has for pushing the body further and further without completely destroying yourself mentally. As well I think Keith is on the right track with how progressive you have to be in the pursuit of every diminishing returns if you aren’t content with simply being at the left end of the spectrum. I’m sure HIT guys accomplish amazing things under supervision or after years of training a monk-line mental toughness, but for me single to sets to failure done so infrequently was just a pathetic amount of work being put in, which caused me to greatly underestimate my own abilities.

        CNS aside, there’s just something truly mentally off putting about failing to even add a single rep for an exercise that only lasts maybe 7-8 reps in the first place, after a full WEEK of recovery. I’ve added more reps after reading a Pavel T article and trying his methods at the gym the very next day.

  15. Being outside of contemporary exercise physiology is fine by me. Most of it is bullshit and I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the majority of people involved in it, since nearly all of them seem to be either idiots, frauds, or both.

    If you really believe Biology for Bodybuilders is a good book I have nothing else to say, because it would be a waste of time to do so. If that is what passes for exercise science the whole industry is fucked.

    • Drew:
      Making authoritarian remarks you either cannot or will not back up in and of itself confirms you have nothing to say whatsoever – other than mouthing of personal opinions devoid of substantive foundation. All you have said it that in your opinion the book is not good – you have failed to give a single reason other than your personal likes and dislikes. You discredit yourself in maintaining such a posture. Bottom line seems to be you don’t much like anything other than HIT, and the easiest way to deal with challenges to your emotional investment is blowing anything else off – not with reasons, merely with impunity and cavalier disregard for fact and evidence.

      If you’ve followed Keith’s thread – which I’d suggest you reread – his orientation is not to have a world stuck with anomolies or genetic excuses, rather one that accounts for a wider range of successful application of training.

      We all know HIT works some of the time for some of the population. We all also know any major variation in training conducted for about six weeks is likely to produce results. What we’re beginning to witness is emergence of far more inclusive, synoptic, and coherence explanations of how varied training systems get results, and with that how most training systems are incomplete. HIT is certainly incomplete with respect to all the bases that need be covered for optimizing results – Darden’s The New HIT incorporated a lot more options than heretofore witnessed.

      HIT theory formulated by Jones, Darden, Mentzer and others is decades old – first formulated when exercise physiology was in its nascent period. Exercise physiology has advanced and HIT has remained content to stick by its version of a geocentric universe despite a Copernican revolution occurring. Without a role in the contemporary discourse, HIT does itself no favors.

      My discontent with Body By Science is not discontent with HIT. Body By Science should be used as a textbook for graduate programs in research methods and analysis to teach students how to think analytically and master research by means of a bad example. Such a work suggests HIT is so hard pressed for general acceptance that any chicanery is acceptable in an ‘ends justify the means’ work. It can also be used in rhetoric programs and in communications departments studying polemics and marketing disguised as science.

      HIT will gain valorization it truly deserves as it enters the discourse of the contemporary Geist. That means some new faces with open to a paradigm shift in understanding how it works – rather than wholesale reliance on a ‘new tradition’ that’s not cut the mustard.

  16. To say selection bias is an overused notion is so very ignorant I don’t know where to begin. Try this-have Skyler Tanner do Keith Norris training and see if gains 70 lbs of muscle and a boat load of strength (sorry, Skyler, to use you as an example, but you guys do sit side by side from time to time). See if he gains ANY appreciable strength and mass beyond what he already has. The same goes for me. I personally work with an ex NFL running back-all he has to do is look at a weight and he grows. It’s ridiculous! In fact, he doesn’t even have to lift-he bikes and grows bigger.

    Having said that, I’ve said many times that the real benefit of HIT is in it’s efficiency. As long as one doesn’t bury themselves with too much volume and frequency, it simply gives more bang for the buck. And really, if we are talking about the average person and not the extremes, does the average guy or gal really even want to spend 3-4 days a week in the gym for an hour each time lifting weights? Will the average guy or gal maintain this over a long period of time? The results delivered from one or two workouts per week-maybe an hour of total workout time per week-will likely rival that of the 3 or 4 hour per week, higher volume and frequency training (I say rival-maybe not quite as good, maybe a little better, depending on the person. I do not mean that it gives superior results for everyone). Drew Baye feels that HIT training DOES delivers superior results comparatively speaking. I’m not as confident this applies generally (but I haven’t trained as many people as he has either), but I do know that I get reasonable results from very little time spent, and personally didn’t get better results with double or triple the volume and time spent in the gym. So, for the average Joe, if 80% of the results can be achieved with 20% of volume and frequency, is it worth doing the other 80%? For the athlete it probably is (this is where we cross the line from health to fitness) but I doubt average Joe blow even wants to go there.

  17. Outside the box. Both Drs Ron Laura & Kenneth Patton’s Matrix Principles (1991-96) and Brian Johnston’s Jreps/zone training are capable of packing on muscle far faster than most methods. Japanese Ka-atsu training should be added to the list. All used much lighter weight loads.

    We have several options in figuring out what’s going on. One is what Keith seems to be proposing – expand our model to include all facts; that’s how science progresses.

    Other options include denial, claiming they’re anomolies to blackbox them, throwing a fit with name calling of all sorts, claiming they’re phoney. More abuse of the genetic causality explanation. I’m sure they’re more. All amount to censorship of a growth of human knowledge.

  18. Denial? I don’t see it. Anomalies? Selection bias doesn’t refer to anomalies at all. Throwing fits? Debatable, although the Doug McGuff comments may qualify as well (however eloquent). Abuse of the genetic causality explanation? C’mon-genetics is at the bottom of the pyramid when it comes to weight training success. Everything else is built upon it.

    I’m open to anything constructive, however. If Jreps/zone training works, and can be done efficiently (I have no desire to spend loads of time in the gym anymore), I want to try it. Same with Japanese Ka-atsu (new to me). That’s constructive advice-I’ll look into it.

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