Say, That’s a Nice Lookin’ Tail…

All are lunatics, but he who can analyse his delusions is called a philosopher – Ambrose Bierce 

First, a little prospective…

My Efficient Exercise clientele, widely speaking, consists of folks situated smack-dab in the bullseye for being the most susceptible to “diseases of affluence” — those maladies exacerbated (and, arguably, initially brought-on) by poor dietary choices and lack of proper and sufficient activity.  By poor diet, I’m referring, of course, to a non-Paleo/Primal way of eating — a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, grains, and poor-quality fats.  In the larger Ancestral Health community, we may quibble on some of the finer dietary points within this context (potatoes?!), but broadly speaking (and especially in terms of where “the rubber meets the road”, i.e., in dealing with the general, “not geeked on diet and fitness” public), we offer a united front.  Can there be much argument, for example, that implementing Robb Wolf’s Quick Start Guide is not a great way for John and Jane Q. Public to begin taking charge of their health and wellbeing?

Ahhh, but then we get to the other side of the healthy lifestyle coin — the “activity” side — and here, in my opinion, things begin to degenerate rapidly.  Let’s see if we can put things back into prospective.

First and foremost, ours is a genome that, to steal a riff from from Dr. John Ivy, is hardwired for daily activity.  Now before I kickoff a shitstorm royale here from the HIT crowd, I said daily “activity”, not a daily WOD beat-down, or Bulgarian-style, multiple-times-per-day Oly thrashing.  That some mutants (myself included) can survive frequent sightings of the great-white-buffalo-in-the-sky does not at all imply that it’s necessarily a healthy thing to do.   I’ve pontificated on this before and, more recently, Skyler Tanner has written a superb post examining the relationship between “exercise” and “activity”, and the wide, wide spectrum of “movement” wherein these terms settle.  And let’s hold onto that notion of high-end performance beginning where health begins to degenerate; let that be our guide-star in this discussion.

It's not a workout until the herd appears, brother...

And we are speaking of a full spectrum of movement/activity here, from chasing the great white buffalo, to “play”.  Part of the problem, though, in discussing this subject is (1) there are so many moving (pardon the pun) parts to consider, (2) this is a highly, highly n=1 subjective subject, i.e., due to my strength and work capacity, my “play” may be another’s gut-busting “exercise”, and (3) the language used in discussing this subject is vague at best, and at it’s worst, imprecise; the term “workout” can mean many things to many different people.  Case in point: in discussing my attendance of a recent MovNat workshop here in the epicenter of Physical Culture, the ATX  — an awesome experience, by the way, with Clifton Harski (@cliftonharski) and Brian Tabor paving the way for a most excellent, and challenging, day of fun and frolic — with a client of mine (and emphasizing the “fun and frolic” part), she shook her head and replied “fun?  Sounds like a hard-ass workout to me!”.  Of course, I considered the experience more a day chock-full of rough-and-tumble play, but that’s exactly my point.  Think of strength and work capacity together, as being a workhorse.  The bigger and stronger the horse, the more “stuff” you can pile on it’s back.  A 500 pound load is nothing to a Clydesdale, but might cripple some poor, exhausted, slat-ribbed thing.

Toein' the line, MovNat style

Of fractals and power laws

Art DeVany, of course, has made many constituent, bedrock, contributions to the Paleo/Primal/EvoFit movement — none so more important, though, and in my opinion, as the application of fractals and power law within the totality of life experience.  And more germane to this discussion, fractals and power law as applied to the full spectrum of human activity.  If you haven’t yet read Art’s Essay on Evolutionary Fitness, by all means do so — it’s a gem.

The Long Tail, as in use by the book of Chris ...

Basic power law curve

Now, if we consider, in the context of optimum human activity, the ideas of fractals (repeating patterns), power law distribution (intensity vs frequency distribution), we can see how this dovetails nicely into the work of (the above mentioned) John Ivy,  Frank Booth, and Boyd Eaton (nifty little paper, here).  Add the notion of n=1 individualization, and this generic power law distribution curve then becomes personalized; my long-tail is (to whatever extent) different from your long-tail, as my strength and work capacity are pretty damn high.  The extreme right of my long-tail includes roughly 7 hours per day of training clients (on my feet moving, scampering, climbing, squatting, loading/unloading weights, demonstrating lifts, etc.) and at least some fixie riding and/or walking; this is what I consider a “day off”.  Workout days, of course, ramp-up exponentially from there.

To the extent that we endeavor to make one a more healthy individual (fitness and performance, remember are altogether separate pursuits), we will need to bump this curve up and to the right.  Just how much?  I don’t know exactly, but this is something I’m attempting to quantify.  Although I’m a huge fan of John Ivy’s work in principle, I’m less sold on his concept of figuring one’s “minimum daily allowance” of activity.  You’ll have to checkout his book to see what I mean.

But back to the practicalities of boosting one’s health: in everyday speak, this is simply known as increasing the subject’s strength and work capacity (subject for a later post).  The problem with saying this, though, is that folks automatically relate the terms “strength” and “work capacity” to the high-end performance realm.  What I am speaking of here, though, is that minimum amount of daily (long-tail) activity required to keep an individual healthy, nothing more.  Which, by the way, is not that damn much daily activity.  This, in fact, is the basis of my proposed AHS12 presentation, and and area where, I believe (along with the erudite Ken O’Neill), the Paleo/Primal movement (writ large) has trended off the skids.  For all we attribute to healthy eating, we turn a blind eye to the necessity of honoring the requirements of that long-tail, daily activity level. Let’s make no mistake here, our genome is predicated on daily activity — we are first and foremost obligatory movers, then opportunistic eaters.  Discounted by many in this movement are the positive epigenetic triggers established by this minimum daily, or long-tail zone, activity.  In essence, the community as a whole tends toward too little long-tail activity (classic HIT), or too much (mainsite CrossFit).  We quibble over the make-up of a stone-age vs modern tuber, and totally discount (or grossly under-estimate) the average daily activity level of the stone-age hunter-gatherer.  Hunted-gatherer is a more accurate definition; these poor bastards had to be ever-vigilant and constantly on the move.

Note: Dr. John Ivy’s recognition of “Minimum daily activity levels” as normalizing efficient metabolic pathways (or “circuits”, in his explanation) just might be the brigde between the Calories-in/Calories-out dogmatists and 1st Law of Thermodynamics apologists.  Stay tuned.

Is HIT “Paleo”?  Is CrossFit “Primal”?

My blog, so obviously, my opinions here; take ’em for what they’re worth.  My contention is though, that the traditional (dogmatic?) HIT schema of a single day of blast and 7 (ish) days of full-on sloth fails to meet the minimum daily long-tail activity level, and so falls short of being an optimum total regimen choice.  Of course, at the opposite end of the intensity frequency spectrum (but no doubt equals on the dogmatism scale) lay mainsite CrossFit where, if a little bit of high intensity work is good, a lot more is fo’ sho’ a hellova lot mo’ better.  This scenario sets us up for over-reaching at best, overtraining at worst, and the sacrifice of long-term health for short-term performance gain.  The answer, in my opinion, lay somewhere between these two extremes.  Take a 30k-foot view of my personal exercise proclivities trended over the year and you’ll see that I skew much more toward the mainsite CrossFit end of the spectrum, though I’d like to think that (1) my workout-to-workout programming is a bit more intelligent, and (2) my day-to-day intensity and volume are more sanely regulated, and wind-up graphing pretty damn close to the power law distribution.  And remember, too, that my n=1 given is that of a good deal of strength and a pretty high work capacity — my long-tail activities reflect as much.  I’ll turn 47 this week, and I’m still healthy, fit and somewhat muscular so I think I’m on to something.

In health,



38 responses to “Say, That’s a Nice Lookin’ Tail…

  1. Being brought up under HIT, it’s important to make distinctions as far as defining who lives under that umbrella:

    1. Classic HIT is a 3 day per week full body routine as per Jones’s “Nautilus Bulletins.” If you look back at the golden era of bodybuilding, he was basically reminding the hyper-volume steroid era that hugely impressive physiques we built this way (Jon Grimek, for instance). Of note, Ell Darden continues to preach this (throwing in a “not to failure” workout for day 2 of 3…somewhat of a feeder workout) as does Casey Butt.

    2. Later during his Med-X years, Jones states that, if you are very strong, 2 days of hard weight training is all you could need before the debilitating effects on the joints and connective tissue begin to manifest. 2 days a week…why is this familiar?

    3. Mentzer took the twice per week idea regarding recovery and ran it to bedrock, ending with the super-consolidation routine. As previously stated, I did a variation of this when I first got “serious” with training and gained ~16lbs in 4 months, all lean. I was eating more, not playing basketball, allowing for very adequate recovery…which is to say it might not have been ideal but was very, very sufficient to manifest those newbie gains. And it continues to work for the odd fellow, like this guy:

    Mentzer focuses on strength before size. This works for many but there are certainly many factors that limit this approach for at least some of the population.
    Strength can increase WITHOUT any increase in muscle mass due to various Mechanical and Volitional factors including:

    Inter and intra muscular coordination
    Motor learning
    Motor unit/fiber recruitment efficiency
    Golgi tendon inhibition
    Fatigue resistance
    Postural changes
    Connective tissue changes
    Improvements in cadence and turnarounds
    Pain tolerance
    Perception of difficulty

    I would say that these only come into being when you are very experienced, very advanced. If most people only ever want to be intermediate in terms of strength, including athletes (ala practical periodization) why worry about these factors?

    So without delving into a thesis statement, it comes down to what you want to achieve, hence why I referenced your health/performance curve. Though bodybuilding isn’t inherently “performance” oriented, the last stages of contest dieting with a decent amount of cardio to help get you paper thin would move deep into the last stage of your curve.

    Also of note that not any of the HIT guys are saying that no activity should be performed. McGuff is an ER doctor, frequently schlepping huge fatties around and carrying the weight of insurance premiums on his shoulder. He is doing just as much “activity” as you or I between his exercise bouts.

    I really just lay around on the couch though, so what do I know? 😉

    • “…carrying the weight of insurance premiums on his shoulders..” Heh, our good friend is actually doing more than you and I combined, then 😉

      I should have mentioned that I don’t mean to pigeonhole any methodology because, of course, there are always shades of in between. I have run into those HIT jedi folks who do absolutely nada between workouts. Others (myself included) do something just about every day of the week, with 2 ball-busters/buffalo sightings thrown in the mix. I guess the question I’m trying to answer is this: can health be correlated to day-to-day (long-tail) work capacity? Stated another way, I posses a relatively high work capacity — will my health “suffer” if I don’t express that work capacity on a daily basis. My fitness will surely suffer (different topic, for sure) — but what of health?

      • Good questions. One statement McGuff has stated repeatedly is that people become Ferraris…don’t restrict them to the school zone. I’ve had plenty of clients who were otherwise inactive prior to starting with us start moving and doing more away from the studio. Not because they felt they needed more exercise but because they suddenly had the energy to do these things for enjoyment.

        It seems like strength precedes all, referenced back to my longevity post. The active phenotype is not something you force, it’s an effect of having sufficient strength.

  2. Happy birthday old man, I turn 46 this week (well, Sunday). I’m a big Dr Doug fan myself–but that’s mostly because I’m a lazy bastard. My dad’s in his 70s and works out every single day, coffee then a long run, or race-walk, depending on his injury situation, and some weights and/or tennis on top of that. Seems like classic overtraining to me but it’s his thing.

  3. Great article, as always. One thing it reminds me of and something I keep coming back to in my head is my own reasons for moving away form HIT training and embracing a far more high frequency power lifting routine that I practice now.

    I think really it comes down largely to what you actually get out of a gym experience. The reason HIT training is probably perfect for the majority of the population is because most people want their fitness, to quote McGuff, to “take a backseat to the rest of their lives, not be in the drivers spot”.

    That’s all well and good if your someone who kind of considers their body as this transportation device that just gets your mind from point A to point B, and want the maximum amount of health in the least amount of time.

    One thing that’s missing though is that some people don’t just want that. For me, for example, I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely enjoy my workouts, and if you wrote a program for me of 2 work outs a week, even if you guaranteed me better results in terms of muscle gain, it wouldn’t be worth it. That’s 5 days I don’t get to spend having fun and doing something I love.

    In a lot of ways I see HIT as a compromise for people who would otherwise never want to do any activity, and thus probably the best way to train the general population. But for iron heads, the game changes completely, which is why you see so much squabbling on the internet about different training philosophies. Much like diets, for most people it’s enough to get them to just follow the basic tenets of the Paleo diet. But among the hardcore gym crew, you have tons of disagreements that range from the minor to the major(like dirty carb refeeds ala Leangains).

    For some of us though, it’s worth it, and pretty damn fun too.

    • I hear ya, brother. Much of my “play” involves weightroom antics. Not a workout per se, but just experimenting with different ways to lift heavy stuff overhead — or propel my body in interesting and innovative ways 🙂

    • I hear you, I totally slacked off in my thirties and early forties, and to be honest, have been slacking off quite a bit the last few months. My father always kept up with running and pushups, time permitting. He was a world class quarter miler in college and never got out of the habit that I can recall. When it comes to self-discipline the apple fell pretty far from the tree 😉

  4. One thing missing in this discussion is Brad Schoenfeld’s The Mechanisms of Hypertrophy, an excellent synoptic overview and analysis of genetics/molecular biology in relation to metabolic systems and (drum roll) stimulation/benefits of specific types of training protocols. Steve Holman’s Eat, Train, Grow series in Iron Man Magazine and his x-reps training blog offer further insights.

    At first I was given pause to wonder why a distinction between HIT and CrossFit would be seriously entertained: both are incomplete, commercial theories of training, both falling far short of sensible approaches to long term, progressive training. Skyler mentions Mentzer’s method (in discussion of what worked for Mentzer, Yates, etc., virtually any training approach would work given the volume of performance enhancing drugs relied upon), and Mentzer by all accounts was blessed with considerable genetic endowment expressed as contractile hypertrophy. HIT seems to work best for those with such a genetic composition. Jerry Brainum recently shared on Facebook of a period of HIT training so successful in the 70s that Arnold nudged him to confess what steroids he was on; however, Jerry’s HIT experience broke the rules with sets of 15 reps, favoring his composition expressing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy; as such, the classic five sets of 12 with 15-30 second rests – a form of intensity – would likely have produced similar benefit.

    CrossFit – takes me back to the legacy of Muscle Beach, Santa Monica, 1930s-1950s, for all around athleticism. Of course, Santa Monica being Mecca to training at that time resulted in a community of coaches holding state, national, international and Olympic championship wins. Just seeing photos of Chuck Ahrens doing skull crushers on a rickety bench in the bull pen of 1956 with a 335 lb bar is awesome.

    For those of us in fitness educator roles, the choice between HIT and CrossFit is no choice at all. I would not in good conscience advocate either for the average person, out of shape, aiming at prevention, arresting, or reversal of acute to chronic degenerative conditions – the pandemic sweeping the civilized zoo as Sedentary Death Disease (Frank Booth’s term). Fitness diagnosis and therapeutic treatment in an evolutionary med/fitness context is not a short term deal. As with diet, there are no quick fixes. Clients and patients presenting condition is normal – and in genomic expression, that normal means abnormal. Their lives have not been molded by participation in survival since birth, hence muscular development, strength, bone development, metabolic expression are decidedly underdeveloped for the natural human. Our role is to educate and evolve them for the long haul, to a condition of exceptional fitness and well being, then teach them how to maintain it. HIT, CrossFit, and most training models do not incorporate such considerations – they’re either athletic training or, more often, cosmetic enhancement.

    CrossFit can be regarded as a class member of subset of HIIT, with EPOC emphasis. As such, there’s more than one to get to those highly valued outcomes. As far as challenge and variety is concerned, Scott Abel’s Youtube channel has hundreds of movements easily incorporated into a program – and a program is not a collection of exercises, rather a strategic aiming at outcomes. HIT has benefit for small spectrum contractile hypertrophy, hence is of minor benefit in the bigger scheme of things.

    McGuff’s persentation at AHS begins with the disclaimer that medical school is not academic education, instead is like having a firehose put down your throat then turned on full blass with facts. Many other physicians have noted the same experience. Cofounder of the Paleo movement, Melvin Konner, PhD, MD wrote a book on the subject: as a prominent Harvard anthropologist, he entered medical school in mid life, and with the skills of an anthroplogist writes about it as an initiatory experience. Konner has the dual benefit of an MD’s training and a PhD’s training; Doug McGuff’s book evidences the shortcomings of medical training vis-a-vis research graduate education. First, as with most HIT literature, legitimacy as a work in science is ruled out by virtue of confirmation bias rendering research a highly selective, non-academic exercise pursuant to polemic writing. Medical education – indeed, the medical model, including how physicians think of physiology – focuses attention to pathologies. We now the origins of roughly 35 major diseases lie in the absence of activity resulting in signalling to DNA to sequence healthy proteins. Exercise physiology, now including genetics and molecular biology, focuses on peak performance or optimal genomic expression. Booth tells us for the majority of our ancestral past – our genes are that intelligence – humans were equivalent to today’s lifelong athletes. In my opinion, the shortcoming of McGuff’s work (other than confirmation bias) is the discussion and review of the state of the art in exercise physiology – at least a decade’s worth of robust material would have shaped a research orientation.

    McGuff has stated something to the effect that mimicry of ancestral effort for contemporaries is no credible basis for eschewing modern exercise equipment. I couldn’t agree more. Some of the neo-Paleo training methods expressing a ‘back to nature’ orientation reek of Puritanism. We’re in the midst of a national health care disaster, one calling for medicine to move forward from models based on communicable, infectious disorders (it’s conquered most of them) to consideration of genomic fitness as the basis of lifelong health preventing degenerative conditions. Resistance training plays a big role in that – bodyweight, machines, tubes and bands, kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, you name it.

    For a cogent, very thorough read, Spurway and Wackerhage’s Genetics and Molecular Biology of Muscle Adaptation is the best bet in town. Lon Kilgore’s new Fitness should also be consulted – along with his earlier Anatomy Without a Scalpel.

  5. Maybe someone can help with this matter: Art de Vany’s brilliant DVD set (a workshop) includes some discussion of power laws. So does the document Keith refers us to. I was disappointed to find his book covers them in passing, since I’d hoped for more in-depth than the DVDs. Hoped for it since other than Art, no one else brings that notion to bear on training. What’s more, his discussion does not seem to have catalyzed discussion elsewhere, particularly in peer review publication. Especially in the realm of training discussion. Any references, leads, recommendations will be richly appreciated.

  6. Hey Keith:
    “maybe” uh… let’s formulate some hypotheses (plural) since we don’t have a well-formed paradigm AND do have many voices in a yet to be choir. Let’s as coaches/fitness educators do a few things research departments can’t do – first, no kowtow to ‘generally accepted standards”, second, no worry about university human subject regulations as long as we honor the sanctity of life by (1) never asking someone to do something we haven’t mastered and understood and (2) assessing and honoring their presenting current condition, thirdly – based on (2) conferring on best strategy with respect to current condition. In other words, let’s walk in Bill Pearl’s footprints.

  7. I love this blogpost. It mirrors my own personal journey. I’ve tried it all and jumped into every training “modality” almost as if brain washed. I’ve spent time as a high volume muscle-mag reading guy (and stayed skinny while growing fat – not a contradiction in terms), a Crossfit MetCon-o-phile (and couldn’t ever get appreciably stronger), to a purist HIT Jedi. After finding “the one and only way” three times already (lol) it makes me realize I’ll never know for sure I’ve settled on the correct answer. Right now, I’m using a routine i put together based on Martin Berkhan’s Reverse Pyramid training with an emphasis on barbell strength and enjoying matching myself against the strength standards he presented in his recent F*ckarounditis blogpost. The problem with discounting ANY one of these approaches is the n=1 factor. Its tough to say Crossfit, HIT, or High Volume are “wrong” when for MANY individuals, that approach was “right!” One can argue the person may have had a better/quicker result from some other approach, but as long as they’re happy and healthy that scientific truth won’t really matter much to that person.

    In my opinion, Crossfit is a “sport” that some find fulfilling, and good for them. I think HIT represents a MUCH more feasible “starting point” for EVERYONE and then one can add/tweak/change as appropriate. But I think you’d find way more people who are responsive to high volume than who are tolerant to extremely high volumes.

    As far as daily activity, I’ve found Mark Sisson’s prescription of sprinting once a week, lifting heavy things a few times a week, and just being GENERALLY active every day is pretty dang perfect. I recently purchased a bike and try to get out and ride every day I can, and I have to concentrate on NOT turning it into a high intensity workout. But this general, low-to-moderate activity is just fantastic. I find myself thirsty for it and with a general spring in my step, versus when i’d go from high intensity to the couch directly.

        • There’s a definite error in the artificial distinction between intensity and volume, one which seems to presuppose volume training is not all out intense. I suggest re-visiting the film Pumping Iron for an enlightening experience surely dispelling that assumption. Arnold, Louie, everyone is training with high volume intensity – there’s not mistaking it.

          The fallacy between single versus multiple sets or volume is simple: each of them is training differing metabolic zones, and certainly different hypertophy zones. HIT works well for contractile hypertrophy – just consider Viator and Mentzer, both strong as ox kids (I’m told Mentzer hit 500 lbs on the squat at 15). My training partner after high school thrived on such training, with a 700 lb Olympic squat and 425 lb American record power clean & rather strict press in July 1972 (the photo’s on my FB photos page). Those bodybuilders doing intense sarcoplasmic training ain’t no slouches – they’re training in a different spectrum. Added to this is Steve Hollman’s observation that Mentzer rarely was able to reproduce results such as his own with those who trained – and that leaves to question those who thrived due to a high population of contractile fiber or high concentrations of synthetic testosterone.

          I’ve done experiments with HIT from the days when Jones first published. At best I gained strength, but not at the rate or degree when I power lifted in the 60s with programs from Pat Casey. Johnston’s Jreps and Laura’s Matrix Principles have done more for hypertrophy for me, no doubt that I do better with sarcoplasmic training – or that I didn’t surf that portion of the curve through most of my training in preference to more of a power approach.

  8. It really is sometimes the case that different paths can all lead to the same destination. I do think though that it is nice to have something somewhat objective to bridge the gap between dogma and n=1, and Berkhans recent article does a good job of that.

    There’s always disagreements on what “strong” means, but I think establishing basic standards, even if they are somewhat arbitrary, is essential. It helps to say, look, whatever the nuances and philosophies may be, if you are on a program that isn’t making you stronger, or after a year has you still too weak to do a chin up or move your own bodyweight through an effective ROM, you’re fucking around, and if it’s CrossFit or Heavy Duty that got you there or failed to get you there, then you have a serious starting ground for experimentation.

    I will say though, another problem between trying to make generalizations is most people are simply not willing to go through “pain periods”. ironmonastery mentioned how more people respond better to intensity than to volume, but I think it’s skewed because volume or high frequency training require a mental toughness that the casual gym goer simply doesn’t have. Intensity pays off rather immediately, while getting used to volume/frequency programs usually involves a period where you feel like shit, you get weaker, and everything hurts. This happens to EVERYONE though, and those who are suited for it emerge on the other side stronger and better able to handle the work outs. But if everyone quit during the “pain period”, then no one would be left because hardly anyone immediately “takes” to two a days, or 10×10.

    Like my own experiences, I went from once a week training, to three times a week, to now training every single day, which involves squats/bench press 7 times a week with additional bodypart split hypertrophy thrown in. I fully believe this training suites me better than anything, but when I first start it you better believe I felt overtrained and beat down, but now I feel fresher and stronger, even with daily max outs John Broz style.

    Patience and self experimentation is a dying art, with great rewards though.

    • “…because volume or high frequency training require a mental toughness that the casual gym goer simply doesn’t have….” Exactly. At a certain point, if you wanna play the iron game in a serious way, you have to come at it with some aggression and fortitude. There’s just now way around it.

    • With Signorile’s curve, strength means a plurality of five rather different types of strength. For example, Santana or Abel’s compound sets of 1, usually 2-4, nonstop movements intentionally aimed at inducing EPOC are, to put it mildly, daunting.
      Keith’s point about mental toughness is on the money. Frank Zane & I played with that for 25 years until I named it Bodhibuilding. Bodhi is a Sanskrit buddhist word meaning ‘awake’ rooted in developing unwavering, immutable focused concentration – then apply it as innervation training or volitional control of mind-muscle movement. Intensity? Any training mandates intensity. If you can only summon intensity for one set, then one’s bodhibuilding is weak and underdeveloped.
      Lighter resistance, multiple sets, 15 second rests a la Gironda require extreme focus and intensity. And they have a physiological benefit as well, an anti-aging one: mitochondrial biogenesis. If training excludes that factor, fitness is also excluded.
      I don’t know who John Broz is. Please let us know more!
      What you describe sounds somewhat akin to Soviet Olympic lifting training. Those guys reached peaks of performance that were amazing…training off and on throughout the day. We’d say they over trained but they took home the gold, silver and bronze – can’t deny success in favor of dogma (like the Flat Earth Society).

      For my interests, too many training theories and not enough comprehension of the human genome and what Manthropology hints at as our dormant potential. It may be that we reference our training to our culturally induced normal waking trance which under-estimates and stymies our nature.

      • Hey ken, just to be an egoist for a second, mental toughness was *my* point;-)

        John Broz is an Olympic weight lifting coach who was heavily influenced by the Bulgarians. He trains his kids to do a daily squat max, every day, with a morning session and an evening session that can run as long as three hours.

        The great thing about daily max is it is an autoregulation device. CS Sloan and Matthew Perryman make the same point on their excellent blogs, you hardly ever reach your full max on any given day because you are always dealing with a degree of fatigue. But daily maxing allows you to autoregulate the rest of the work out, not to mention give you a sense of “comfortable maxing”, rather than all out adrenaline based max outs that you can only achieve on the perfect day.

        I’ve read that Broz builds his trainees up from daily training to 13 session a week. There’s a fantastic article about him on Tnation, here it is for your reading pleasure:

        He makes a great point that I’ve also heard bodybuilder Layne Norton make: work capacity training takes time, and in the beginning you will feel worse and even weaker, but you have to push through it rather than just give up and say that it’s not working.

        • My intention with placing “Intensity” at odds with “Volume” wasn’t meant to say that Volume training is at all easy or that Volume training doesn’t require intensity. Its just a handy name to capture the “few sets to failure” approach versus the approach MOST people think of when they think of bodybuilding, which is several sets per exercise with several exercises per muscle/movement. I think my Martin Berkhan inspired workout I currently follow would likely be considered too high volume by HIT purists, and too LOW volume by Volume bodybuilders. But I like it.

          We know that “Volume” works for a sub-set of people, and we know that “High Intensity” works for a sub-set of people, but I think using the Soviet or Bulgarian or Broz systems as proof of the efficacy of High Volume, at least as it applies to a large swath of the population, suffers from a bit of a “Survivorship bias” just like Crossfit. No one talks about the people who flamed out and folded up. And it COULD be due to a lack of mental toughness of the individual, but then again its kind of like Multilevel Marketing schemes. Those DO work for certain people, with certain qualities/attributes, but if you only have a 4% success rate, is it really a success rate?

          There’s likely no such thing as a universally applicable approach to resistance training, and each individual will need to approach their personal limits in terms of training by trial and error, I just think for MOST folk it would be easier to start with a very low volume, very high intensity workout, then step back and add volume as appropriate, rather than heading from the opposite direction?

          These are just my thoughts, I’m here to learn from YOU guys. 🙂

          • Newer-to-the-game trainees are able to pull-off more volume and frequency of training precisely because they cannot generate the per-session intensity required to make gains from infrequent bouts. From there, it depends upon the trainee’s fitness level, and how much time is devoted to GPP. In my opinion, GPP ought to be paramount early-on. I think many people who default to a classic HIT model do so because of a sub-par work capacity; they simply cannot tolerate anything else. Now they’re skunked, as they are unable to generate the proper per-session intensity AND they lack the work capacity to see them through higher frequency/volume modalities. A solid GPP base allows one to then branch out and test the waters of models that require more volume and/or frequency. Someone may then settle on HIT because it works for them vis-a-vis their life-scheme, and that’s cool. I think far too many “hard-gainers” sell themselves short, though, with the crux of their problem being a lacking GPP base to see themselves through higher volume and/or frequency models.

  9. Do we come down to the fact that as Dan John puts it, “everything works, for a few weeks.”? I am not sure this is the case either, but in a sense, does one modality of training work for one person more than another? Yes. N=1, right?

    We are fortunate to have the knowledge to experiment with our own abilities. The problem lies in that we have to take the tried and true to the masses of misinformed and figure out which works best for them (mentally, physically, etc.)

    Nice post as usual, Keith.

  10. Oh, quick little side note. I just returned from a gym session where I hit a new lifetime best on the bench press. Perfect timing to what I was just saying earlier, because I woke up today feeling a little like dog shit, and worst of all, my legs hurt like hell even though today was going to be a leg workout post max out.

    Well, I dragged myself anyway and hit a new, smooth PR, one that I have been chasing for weeks and have missed on days where I felt like nothing could stop me.

    Also, the leg workout went great despite it being exclusively sets of 20 reps. Now I actually feel stronger than when I woke up this morning. Truly, my body does lie to me, but I don’t let it.

    • You just never know what’s going to confront you in a training session. For one thing, we become dismally habituated to our training environment/zoo. Back 40-50 years ago we talked about getting stale. I feel staleness better captures the phenomenological or inner psychological sense we face. Here’s some anecdotes from my checkered history offered for what they’re worth and hoping for some insightful 3rd person insight.
      I’m an introvert, an INFP. As a speaker I do monologues or soliloquies. My wife says I repeat myself over and over – because I rehearse and refine for best expression, then do improvisational speaking. When I was in competition in the pre-steroid days in bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, and odd-lifting (before power lifting was standardized to just three lifts, excluding seated press behind neck, curl, upright row, bent press – other feets of manly strength), I always outlifted myself in public competition. A Leo on stage rises to the occasion as an alpha male.
      At one contest I didn’t compete in I got into a bench press contest with a bodybuilder/powerlifter. I was 165-170 at 19. Byron was bigger but same weight, and did what we regarded as sloppy collar to collar bench presses. I took the bate yet untrained on that one, knocking out 8 reps to his 6 with 315. Five years ago at 62 I was training in my home gym, strict bench press reps in my power rack never going over 235 for maybe six. One day I went to Hydge Park Gym, warming up with dumbbells up to 80s, then going on the bench, knocking out 8 reps closer grip with 275 – asked Dave Goodin, then owner, if the plates well hollow aluminum or something . Thanks to Skyler, I’ve been doing mostly Jreps/Zone training for five months now. To my amaazement, kncoked off a set of 8 reps with ass to grass squats yesterday with 255. That’s got me going to hit that many with 405 for my 70th birthday. Whose rules do we live by if not our undisclosed genome’s?

      Take home point if an elder has anything noteworthy to pass on: know thyself – and scrap what the experts offer. As Steve Jobs put it, expert opinion is worthless.

  11. Keith, I’ve been reading your excellent blog for a about a year now and have commented occasionally, in particular when I asked Doug for a view on some of Ken’s writing and unwittingly stirred up a minor storm.

    I think Dan John is really onto something when he talks about a lack of foundation in most people’s ‘training education’, ie the blessing and curse of the internet, we can all plunge in but don’t necessarily know where to start.

    From diving headlong into the paleo lifestyle and seeing significant weight and health benefits, I also then started to approach my strength training along the lines of HIT/Body by Science. Frustrated by any significant progress and inspired by Dan’s book ‘Never Give Up’, I added in some front squats, bought Rippetoe’s Starting Strength and went back to basics with the compound movements. Hey Presto – more regular sessions on Starting Strength have resulted in increased muscle mass, verifiable strength gains in my training log and a lot less DOMS.

    Keith, in re-reading some of your introductory material on the blog, I think your approach to training appears much closer to Dan’s than to Doug’s and, while I don’t think I could handle your workload, more than once a week is definitely working for me. I would be interested in your thoughts on Rippetoe and Jim Wendler’s work.

    Lastly, I loved the exchange following your most recent post on your bloodtests, but didn’t have anything constructive to add on that string.


    • I swipe a lot from Rippetoe and Wendler…as I do CrossFit and the HIT Jedis, and Track and Field, and…well, you get the idea. The key is to cobble together an n=1 program that works for you, given your genetic hand and within your life’s circumstance. Oh, and I’d add Bill Star into that Rippetoe/Wendler coupling — Bill has written some excellent stuff!

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