35 Years Worth of Power Cleans, Sprints, Dips and Chins

Intelligence requires that you don’t defend an assumption ~ David Bohm

Women and Children First (album)

Yeesh, I probably still have the cassette somewhere, too...

The setting: a recent Friday, early evening, alone and between clients at Austin’s Efficient Exercise Rosedale studio.  Shuffled tracks from Van Halen’s late 70’s/early 80’s stuff (Van Halen II, Fair Warning, Women and Children First, Diver Down…) blasting from the stereo.  I’m 8 sets into a power clean — Russian leg curl combo workout, and my thumbs are now completely raw and hook-grip-numb.  My posterior chain is just about spent, and my quads — as a result of  an ever-lower catch depth — are fading fast.  Rep after rep; set after set.  To most, this would be the epitome of prolonged drudgery and yet to me, this is just some good damn quality time spent alone.  Hardcore iron meditation; in lieu of Gregorian chants, I’ve got the incessant wailing of David Lee Roth‘s voice over an Eddie Van Halen guitar.

It occurs to me that, save for my Addidas Adipure-shod feet, this could just as easily be my 17 year-old self “slaving away” at the Power House Gym, San Antonio, Texas, circa 1982.

What’s kept this love of Physical Culture alive for me for so long, I’m not really sure I can pinpoint.  I don’t think it’s any one thing though, but rather a patchwork of things.  I think most of us who have remained true to whatever manifestation of Physical Culture we define as our base (HIT, HIIT, Oly or Power lifting, bodybuilding, etc.) can relate to Henry Rollins‘s notion of the iron never lying.  When all else in the world my be completely and insanely bat-shit, an evening’s worth of 225 lb power clean repeats remains comfort food for my physical being.

In fact, the very things that defined my exercise base 35 years ago — cleans, dips, chins and sprints — still define my base today.   Sure, I utilize a myriadof different training modalities and exercises now, and my workouts run seamlessly, day-to-day, into my play and back again.  I’ve refined and compressed my training now, with the two-hour marathon sessions being few and far between.  I have access to, and frequently utilize, proprietary ARX Fit equipment — one of the most advanced exercise technologies to come along since the heady Nautilus days; an equipment technology that I know has, in fact, allowed me perform my base-of-preference movements at ever-higher levels — and yet there’s just something about a solid, well-executed, old-school clean, a gut-wrenching dip, the clanging of iron between your knees when grinding-out chins, or that earth-skimming feeling of an all-out sprint.

I’m sure nostalgia plays a big part in this, just as I’m sure I remember myself as being a better athlete than any of my coaches would attest to.  Maybe these are the little lies we tell ourselves to make it through this life, I dunno.   What I do know is that this type of lifting — and these particular movements — are not only good for my body, but good for my mental state of being as well.  In their essence, these are primal moves; the base of the Physical Culture pyramid — heave, press, pull…and haul friggin’ ass.  Follow-up one of these sessions with some wanton carnivory and, well, we’ve got two of the four Ancestral Wellness rails covered.  Eventually, we’ll get around to addressing community and spiritual life using the same Ancestral template.  Ancestral Wellness 3.0 and 4.0?  It’s just a matter of time before these issues will force themselves to the forefront, just as the first two phases have done.


A little something to contemplate.  Is Physical Culture an art, in the same way that music is an art?

I would argue that it is.  Check out this clip from Big Think, and let me know what you think.

There is a huge difference between training from a template, and training intuitively according to your n=1 circumstance.  A template can never adjust for your particular set of givens; time, tools, techniques and temperament are unique for each individual, and must be navigated accordingly.  To move toward Physical Culture mastery, you must break free of adhering to some one else’s notion of what ought to be done, and cut your own path.  You can always learn from what others do under their particular set of circumstances, but blindly copying is a mistake.

In health, fitness and Ancestral Wellness –


16 responses to “35 Years Worth of Power Cleans, Sprints, Dips and Chins

  1. Thanks to that link to the Henry Rollins piece. I’m a big fan.

    Art or science? Definitely a little of both. Everybody is different and every body is different. What works for me may bore you or be too much or too little workload (probably way too little for you, Keith.)

    I tend to train from a very flexible template. I know approximately what I’m going to do, but I may do more or less depending on how I feel, how much sleep I’ve been getting, etc. Yesterday, for example, I felt very strong when I got to the gym, but about halfway through my workout I was wiped, having problems focusing. What to do? Push through it? Call it good and go home? I went and sat in the sauna for 10 minutes and felt re-energized and finished strong.

    Love your posts Keith. Always something to think about.

    • Yep, art *and* science…just like the culinary arts. Watch a master chef at work — something I get the chance to do quite often, as Meesus TTP is just that — and the analogy will be quite apparent. Why did she add so-and-so spice? Even though it’s not on the “recipe”, and although she’s never before added that particular spice to this dish? It just felt right *this* time, with these sides, and under this particular circumstance.

      And Henry Rollins is one of my favs. A big fan (and here I go dating myself again) from way back in the Black Flag days. Yeesh, how time flyes 😉

  2. 35 years ago I was across town in Olympic Gym doing my Jones/Mentzer-inspired thing to the same Van Halen tunes.

    Glad to see that you are doing your best to avoid that adrenal fatigue thing….hah!

    Glad to see some things can be a constant in life. Keep on rockin’!

  3. Physical Culture 2.0 is a new paradigm transcending the pale boundaries inherent in the dualism of ‘art’ v. ‘science’. What do you get when you synthesize both? First thing that goes is fanaticism along with tenaciously hanging on for dear life with commercial, hence reductionistic, theories. I thought of both Bill Pearl and Vince Gironda when I read the blog, as examples of embodying both/neither.

    Then this afternoon Frank Zane called, we talked for quite a spell. Nice for two elders to have a tete-a-tete on the matter. What we call Bodhibuilding deliberately of necessity includes both so it rocks. Frank’s the master of Body Sculpting, something we don’t hear much about in a world of bodybuilding based on drugs aimed at mega-expression of freakishness rather than aesthetics marking athleticism from the Greek and East Indian world of art.

    With PC 2.0, the baseline is Body By Play. Yep, play. My friend Chip Conrad’s highly recommended DVD series Brutal Recess extends the ironic metaphor – when we were in school, wasn’t recess our most favorite time, that time when we were allowed to play? Should have been the classroom standard as well – but with standardized tests, play is gone in the classroom and physical education banished.

    Here I am, half way through my 54th year of working out —- opps, Playing Hard. No half-assed play allowed, only whole-hearted play. 5-6 days a week, intuitive Orderly Chaos training, not bound to the Gregorian calendar’s imposed religious week (weak?), rather to the lunation cycle our circadian cycle seems tuned to. Nothing’s fixed, nothing’s necessary except Know Thyself. When coaching others, one question dominates: what are you feeling? Biofeedback is kinesthetic, not mentation or discourse – no talking heads. Breathe, key into deep relaxation, lift/move as a controlled accident, feeling the spontaneity of your muscular dance. Then keep up with emerging science to liberate yourself from old gossip.

    Here at the Bodhibuilding Dojo, music varies. Heavy metal came about in approaching middle age. Like it loud, with a beat. Muddy Waters w/ Rolling Stones, Mega Death, SRV, Robert Earl Keen this time of year, but might be JS Bach, Beethoven’s 9th, even Mozart. Watch out for Chinese opera day, Australian aboriginal Terra Incognito fusion band (rock with dij), and always a chance of Dylan, certainly Doug Sahm/Alvin Crow at Sons of Herman Hall or Hole in the Wall on the Drag, even Texas Tornadoes.

  4. A very interesting piece. I’m a bit older than you (just turned 54 last week), and have been training consistently since I was 16. I wrestled up through college as well, but lifting weights has always been my ‘go to’ activity and my first love. That said, if you were to reflect further on your own past, how much of a role do you think the ‘particularities’ of the implements used has played in your attraction to the activity (for lack of a better way of putting it)? That is, was there an aesthetics of the gym that was necessarily linked to barbells, dumbbells, etc? Something that, initially at least, couldn’t have been found with machines?

    • Yeah, I totally get where you’re going, Will, but as I had *very* limited exposure to machines in my early training days, it’s hard to say. I do think it would be hard to establish the same kind of camaraderie (which is a huge component of the nostalgia element) based around machine work — but again, I know not what I speak of. Doug McGuff loves the iron game as much as I do, and he cut his teeth primarily on early model Nautilus equipment. I wonder what would have happened had Doug and I found ourselves in each *other’s* early environment. A very interesting thought experiment to say the least! 🙂

    • Actually, I was influenced by “good” peer pressure. In the gym, I was surrounded by an eclectic mix of high-level athletes (primarily football players & track and field athletes), bodybuilders and powerlifters. Cross pollination was an inevitability as there were no hard dividing lines between these groups. And yeah, as the gym was my hang-out, I had an abundance of time not only to train — but probably more important — to observe and absorb.

  5. Hello Keith

    I studied auto-regulation and surfing the strength velocity curve again and implemented it into my workout today. It worked like a charm. For sometime now I was doing once a week SSTF, but felt that I could do with a bit more work, without depleting myself or rather obtain some more positives. From what i decipher, the strength velocity curve could have its implementation withing a workout or within a weeks worth of exercises. For example today was supersets of Chins and Dips, with Weighted Dips being bang in the middle of the curve, BW chins on the velocity side and I followed it with some heavy Trap Bar Deads purely for strength. Total time spent was 24 mins. I felt great after the workout and now about 12 hours after. I plan to start my sprint sessions again aligned more towards the velocity side apart from my SSTF workouts.

    Hope I am getting it right this time around.

    Thanks Keith

    • “From what i decipher, the strength velocity curve could have its implementation withing a workout or within a weeks worth of exercises.”

      Yes…and yes! And when you hit the ATX for this spring’s PFX12, we’ll give you the hands-on, crash course 😉

  6. Can’t wait to meet U all. I have a strong feeling that this is the year that I am gonna make my dream come true. Post the PFX12, I will sure have my facility up and running here. So much positives are happening that I feel great and am eagerly awaiting 2012.


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