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 –

Keith

The Ancestral Health Symposium, 2011

“To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.” – Benjamin Franklin

Excellent!  Always a man ahead of his time; cool Ben, the original proponent of intermittent fasting 😉

The Ancestral Health Symposium, 2011

In a word, just a fabulous, fabulous, 2-day event.  I won’t go into a complete re-tread of of AHS 2011 events here; soon enough, you’ll be able to partake of the entire 2-day extravaganza — at least virtually, via slides and Vimeo — here.  And I really implore you to do so, as all the presentations were top-notch.  But more to the point, so much good coverage (this piece, for one example) has already been written on the event, anything else would simply be rehash.  One suggestion, though: for a really cool perspective of the gathering, how about some Twitter hashtag coverage of AHS11?

Above, the pre-game warm-up:  Meesus TTP and I (and Skyler Tanner — blue shirt, over my left shoulder) take in Doug McGuff’s Body By Science presentation, just prior to the Tanner/Norris dog-and-pony show — the unveiling of Physical Culture 2.0, Efficient Exercise style.  Photo by my good friend (and excellent photographer) A. Jolly.

Plenty of great blogosphere coverage of AHS11, yes.  Unfortunately, what you won’t be privy to were all the stimulating, impromptu, cross-disciplinary conversations among presenters, and between presenters and the myriad (600+?) of attendees.  Oh, that and the stunning UCLA campus, and the oh-so-perfect 72-degree, no humidity weather.  Not that I’m weather-jealous or anything… Anyway, what a rich environment for the blending of knowledge and ideas.  It has taken me a full week to decompress, process and synthesize all that I took in during that whirlwind two days.  Wow, is just about all that I can say at the moment.  My pea-little brain is still in overload.  Or maybe it was the 105-degree Texas heat I returned to (again, I’m not LA weather-jealous); sprints, bar work and tire flips being my welcome home to Tejas workout.  Crazy?  Yeah, no doubt — but a Physical Culture 2.0 fit kind of crazy — and that makes being crazy, well…kinda okay 🙂

And speaking of crazy

A *serious* meeting of the minds 😉

Okay, so it wasn’t all furrowed-brow and free of levity 😉  The symposium was, in fact, a seriously fun, extremely social event as well.  As the above picture was being taken by Meesus TTP, John Welbourn (of CrossFit Football) — who was leaned against a table just to my right — was uttering “awk-waaaard”; just too friggin’ funny.  Immediately following this shot, I had the opportunity to chat a while (Chico sockmonkey in-hand) with John about his training experience with Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell crew out in Cleveland, Ohio.  Some fascinating, first-person insight into Louie’s methods (lift heavy some days, lift fast other days.  Bust ass all days; that about sums it up).  The juxtaposition of this picture and that training-related chat I had with John rather epitomized the entire conference for me; fun, frolic and seriousness — all combined into a two-day “Woodstock” of primal-living event.  Kudos to the original epistemocrat, Brent Pottinger, and the ever-hospitable Aaron Blaisdell, and their team of dedicated volunteers for pulling-off such a fantastic event.  I’m already looking forward to AHS 2012.

Physical Culture (PC), 2.0

The philosopher Ken Wilber – who I’ve been devouring ever since being introduced to his work via my AHS 2011 co-presenter, Skyler Tanner – speaks of evolution as a process of transcendence and inclusion; exactly the process by which PC (Physical Culture) 2.0 will “evolve” from the current, sorry state of affairs (think bloated, cartoonish, professional bodybuilders) into the defining, all-encompassing meme of the Ancestral Fitness movement; the “yang” component to the Paleo diet “yin”.  This healthy, lasting process is not so much anarchistic revolution as it is building upon (“transcending” in every sense of the word) that which has come before; even that which we might be quick to label “malicious” at best — for example, the doings of the AMA and Big Pharma, the Prodigal Son-like travels of Physical Culture 1.0. Take beyond/carry forward that which is good and helpful; simply leave behind what is not, with no emotional attachment. This is the way of true progress.

My good friend and tribal elder, Ken O’Neill, has written a wonderful piece related to the emerging Physical Culture 2.0.  It seems to me that this movement is being born even as we ping ideas and methodologies back and forth; as if we are actually midwifing (if that is actually a valid term) the movement into being rather than “inventing” anything per se.  Fiction writers often speak of “chanelling” a work into being rather that actually “creating” anything.  I can certainly attest to that notion, having written a work of fiction myself (The Blood of Samuel), and I have to say that this particular “emergence” process feels much the same as bringing a work of fiction from the “ether” and into the mortal world.  Call it being a conduit between realms, if you will — and if you’re down with that kind of thing.  But one thing is for sure: this movement is underway, and it simply won’t be, cannot be, stopped.

Framework vs Fundamentalism

One theme that I was happy to see emerge from the Ancestral Health Symposium was that of basing N=1 experimentation upon an evolutionary framework, as opposed to sheepishly following some lock-step, dogmatic, one-size-fits-all prescription.  Remember, as viewed through the evolutionary lens, “optimum” can only be hinted at; more digging, more critical thinking, more thinkering (hat tip to Brett Pottinger for the term) is required to tease-out the optimum from the merely satisfactory.  That our species can survive to breeding age and successfully reproduce on a completely bankrupt diet is a testament to our supreme adaptability, and speaks nothing to what is optimum for our genotype.  And, too, any step toward singularity is a step toward extinction, be that in a species or in an entity.  My hope is that the healthy debate of ideas remains a integral part of the AHS organization.

On the Workout Front…

I’ve been a bit jammed for time as of late, so what I thought I’d do, in lieu of posting a round-up of all of my between post workouts, is to select a choice few to dissect.   The following is a metcon workout that I completed on Saturday, the 13th.  The clips are in two parts, because I’m an IT-idgit, and couldn’t get Windows Movie Maker to cooperate with me and my Android clips.  Shouldn’t this all be compatible?  Meh…

Part I

…and continuing on with the 4th exercise in the circuit…

Notice that none of the 4 exercises in this circuit are particularly technique-heavy, and are therefore suitable for under-fatigue utilization.  And by this, the 5th round of this doozie, I’ve got some serious fatigue goin’ on; though I’m still pushing the front squats with adequate umph, the explosion in my prowler pushes has pretty much dwindled to nada.  Of course the real ball-busters in this circuit are the front squats and prowler pushes; the dips and curls can almost be thought of as “active recovery”.  And this is how I like to program a weight-centric metcon workout — variations of intensity within the circuit itself, and little to no rest between each round.  Think American football, two-minute drill here.  This type of workout — repeat, short-duration busts of high power output — lands square in the middle of my natural ability wheelhouse; my basecamp, as it were.

And Finally…

Check out this excellent and informative KQED/Sydnie Kohara interview – Sustainable Meat and the Art of Butchery

Charcuterie is near and dear to my heart; a luxury afforded to those of us lucky enough to be alive in this day and age, and another example of enjoying that life under the framework of a stone age existence, but with the benefits extended to modernity.

About the show, from KQED’s Forum website:

In recent years, more chefs and consumers are demanding local, sustainable meats, driving some to raise and butcher their own livestock. We get into the gristle with three butchers and talk all about meat, from what consumers should be asking at the counter to how to cook a whole pig in the back yard.

Grock on.

In health,

Keith

The Hypertrophy Response — Stimulus or Fuel Dependent?

“We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
– Archilochus

A spot-on observation of human nature, I think.  Even so, within those of us who think more highly of ourselves, that it should be otherwise.  So much so a true observation, in fact, that I use this quote as my email signature, so that I see it daily.

The following is related to a question I fielded recently from a client, and it’s not unlike the multitude of diet-vs-hypertrophy-related questions I field on a regular basis.  The answer to this particular question, of course — like just about every every question related to Physical Culture — is analigous to attempting to tame the ol’ State Fair favorite, the Zipper.

There are just so many moving variables to this question that it’s impossible to give a pat answer here without really taking the time to stop and dismantle each of these whirly-gig cars.  I think this “problem of complexity” is a big reason why the majority of folks fall for fads and easy-outs (in diet and in training) — getting to the right answers takes due diligence and, in most cases, it means letting go of previously-taken-to-be-iron-clad-correct “knowledge” — not exactly a feel-good position for many.

And, too (and as always), we need to know the goals of the individual asking the question.  And, in this case, we need to define what we even mean by “hypertrophy” — because one person’s “lean mass gain” is another’s “bulk”.  Just as an example, look at the difference in Brad Pitt’s physique between his appearance in Fight Club…


and then in Troy…

No doubt Brad is bulkier in Troy — but what of the difference in lean mass between the two appearances?   Hard to say.  And truth be told, few care.  Even if that bulk were 95% intramuscular fat, most (guys, at least) would be more than happy with that.

Now I’m certainly not here to say that intra-muscular fat deposition (bulk) is necessarily a bad thing — I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to defining lean mass hypertrophy vs. all-encompassing bulk.

But back to my client’s actual question; what he wants to know is this:

what, if any, body recomposition changes occur over time if one engages in sound hypertrophy-focused training BUT were to limit the diet to maintenance-level calories? Let’s also assume we are talking about someone who is more toward the ectomorph side of the body-type continuum.

Oy vey!  Where to begin with this one, huh?  Well, first off let’s assume “maintenance calories” to mean “eating to satiation”, because, in  reality, anything else would simply give credence to the now debunked (at least within normal parameters, i.e., between starvation and wanton gluttony) calories-in/calories-out theory.  So, what we’re talking about here is simply eating a decent, Paleo-ish diet, to satiation, and absolutely not obsessing about such things as, oh… maintaining a positive nitrogen balance, or some other such lunacy — i.e., living a real, non-OCD life outside of the gym.  Now, that said, what I’ve observed during my 30+ years in the iron game is this: given proper stimulus (and favorable genetic/hormonal underpinning), hypertrophy “happens” even in an environment of less-than-adequate nutritional support.

The kicker, of course, being proper stimulus.  To put it another way, busting ass in the gym trumps anything that one does, or does not, shove down the ol’ pie-hole.  I would even go further to say that busting ass trumps the use of fine pharmaceuticals, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Taubes gives a great example in Why We Get Fat (though geared toward fat gain — the same applies here) of a teen going through a growth spurt.  Assuming decent nutritional support (i.e., no starvation), growth is a function of the hormonal environment within the body, not a function of forced intake of excess calories.  In other words, a growing teen eats like he has a friggin’ hollow leg, and/or is (by his parent’s definition), a “lazy”, never-gonna-get-a-job-and-get-out-of-the-frackin’-house bum, *because* he is growing, not so as to *induce* said growth.  Hypertrophy is much the same, though on a lesser (caloric requirement wise) scale.  Think of it this way: stimulus drives the hypertrophy train, nutrition simply supports, to a very limited degree, the effort.  And hey, I’m all for adequate support, but let’s just not forget what the real driver is here.

Now, I do concede a certain credence, if you will, to the other side of the argument (of which, this Dr. Lonnie Lowery/Rob “Fortress” Fortney-penned T-Nation article is the best I’ve come across in a long while) — that is to say, that properly administered overeating will establish a more favorable anabolic environment within the body, and therefore promote (better?  Faster?) hypertrophy gains.  What we’re talking about here, though, is a matter of degree — and, again, the difference between bulk and lean-mass hypertrophy must be vetted.  And, too, we’re speaking again of multiple variables.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across and individual who’s gone headlong into a “mass gain” phase, who didn’t also jack his/her gym intensity into the stratusphere concurrent with devouring everything they could get their hands on.  Did they put on mass/bulk?  You bet they did.  But what really drove the train here, the newly-heightened input stimulus or surplus calories?  I’ll put my money on the stimulus side of things, every time.

Another “eat your way big” argument that has some merit (in my observation, at least), is the “improved lever” argument.  That is to say, increased bulk provides for better about-the-joint lever advantages, which allows one to push heavier weights, which promotes additional hypertrophy.  I also believe there’s some merit to the point-of-origin energy supply argument.  All fine and well.  Until, that is, Johnny Bulk-Up decides that he’s now ready to diet-down to reach his original goal of being lean and muscular.  Rut-Ro…

As the Dalia Lama says, many paths lead to the same destination  🙂

And I won’t even begin to delve into the fool’s errand of even attempting to second-guess the body’s caloric requirements with any measure of accuracy.  Weigh and measure? Meh.  Let us, instead, focus on the things that are, at least somewhat, within our control.  Things like consuming a proper Paleo diet, a diet of a favorable macro-nutrient disposition dependent upon our own (smartly conducted) n=1 determination.  Things like busting ass in the gym in an intelligently programmed way (which includes being mindful of spinning into the overtraining pit).  Things like eating when you’re truly hungry, getting adequate ZZzzzzz’s, ditching chronic stress where possible — and not stressing about the chronic stresses that you can’t avoid.

Whew!

So does proper diet matter in the hunt for hypertrophy?  Sure it does.  It just pales in comparison, though, to those gut-wrenching gym sessions.  Look at it this way: if eating one’s way big had merit, Arnold’s physique would be the norm.  My take is that time spent obsessing over caloric intake would be much better spent learning meditative/awareness practices that allow one to push past the mind’s “shutdown” threshold.  Become a student of focus, intensity and self awareness, and let the body mind it’s own caloric needs.  It does so brilliantly, thank you very much — and much better than you (your mind, ego) could ever hope to, so long as you provide it access to the proper raw staples.

So there you have it.  Is your goal to attain (in accordance with your genetic limitations) 70s Big status, or the raw, lean and muscular look?  The truth of the matter is, my friend, that you can’t have it both ways.

~

A muse for Physical Culture?

My good friend, and uber-talented artist, Jeanne Hospod, has an interesting project going on here:

Let’s just say she’s doin’ the best she can with the block-head muse she has to work with 🙂  Seriously, though, Jeanne is an exceptional Austin-area artist — and a kind, kind soul to boot.  Check out her work; you’ll be glad you did.  Very cool stuff indeed.  And the process is simply amazing.  I had no idea of the complexity…

~

Want to begin your PhD in Physical Culture?  Start with this lecture from my good friend Ken O’Neill.  Brilliant insights from an erudite champion of Physical Culture.  Pull up a chair, put on a pot of Joe, and dive deep into the very essence of the “new” Physical Culture movement.  Well done, Ken.

~

Workouts for the last couple of weeks.  Now you may have noticed that my blogging has been a bit sporadic since my move here to Austin.  And it’s for good reason — I’m busy as all hell!  Seriously, though, many of the “quick hit” topics I generally now cover over at the Efficient Exercise Facebook page.  Topics I choose to flesh-out a bit more will find their way here.  And so it goes.  Anyway, so friend us up over at our Facebook page, where Skyler, Mark Alexander and I go “around the horn” with many current health, fitness, and all-encompassing topics related to our favorite subject — Physical Culture.

Sunday, 4/3/11

OK, so a couple of short clips are worth a thousand words 🙂  A little 21st century technology paired with a smattering of old school favorites add up to a total upper-body thrashing.  Sweet!

Tuesday, 4/5/11

(A1) CZT/ARX Leg press: 3, 3, 3, 3

(A2) trap bar DL: (black bands, speed emphasis) – 155/5, 245/5, 5; 295/3

Wednesday, 4/6/11

(A1) Nautilus pec dec: 110/12, 12 (working the later reps…partials, rest-pause, etc.)

(A2) XC incline press: (-90, mid 25)/7, 6 rest-pause

(A3) Nautilus pull-over: stack/13, 12+(3, 2 rest pause)

Thursday, 4/7/11

(A1) power snatch (close grip): 115/5, 5, 5, 135/4

(A2) hanging L-raise: 15, 15, 15, 15

(B1) hip press: (setting @ H2), 200lbs+ 1 grey and 1 black band, 8 sets of 3

Saturday, 4/9/11

(A1) trap bar DL (low grip): 265/7, 355/7, 405/5, 5

(A2) chins: 45/7, 55/5, 5, 4+

(A3) dips: 45/7, 70/5, 6, 7

Here’s a look at how the final round went down…

…dude!  What happened to your hair??  Yeah, so I went all Duke Nukem.  Summers are friggin’ hot here in the ATX, gimme a break.  And I’m down with the minimalist upkeep.  Metro-sexual man I am not 🙂  Gimme chalk on my hands, a fixed-speed bike, and a doo I don’t have to f&%# with, thank you very much!

Sunday, 4/10/11

Sprints!  And climbing ropes, parallel bars, a 40-rung, super-wide set of monkey bars, a scaling wall and a waist to chest-high retaining wall for jumps.  Big, big fun!

Tuesday, 4/12/11

2 rounds of the following:
(A1) hip press (H2 setting): 400/12, 500/6, 600/3 (hierarchical sets)
(A2) standing roll-outs: 15

Wednesday, 4/13/11

2 rounds of the following:
 (A1) Naut pec dec: 95/12, 105/6, 115/3 (hierarchical sets)
(A2) XC flat press: (+50) 4, 3+ ( 80X0 tempo; X=fast as possible)

Thursday, 4/14/11

(A1) front squats: 135/7, 185/5, 205/5, 225/3, 245/2, 2, 2, 2

(A2) Power cleans (high catch): 135/8, 155/6, 175/3, 3, 3

Friday, 4/15/11

(A1) BTN push-press: 135/7, 155/7, 175/5, 195/3, 3, 2, 2, 2

And by the way, a big shout-out to Kris, who sent me the most killer “Manimal” T’s — hit me with an email, brother — I’ve lost your addy!

In health,

Keith

Honoring Your Genetic Endowment

“Fear paralyzes; curiosity empowers.  Be more interested than afraid.”

– Patricia Alexander

Having spent 17+ years in the pharmaceutical industry leaves me somewhat reluctant to jump wholesale on the bash-the-pharmaceutical-bastards bandwagon.   Drug companies do provide lifesaving drugs for millions, and having been a part of that legacy is something that I can be (and am!) proud of.  There is a darkside, of course, and that darkside has everything to do with the Wall Street mentality of putting corporate profits before public good.  The sad fact of the matter is that from a purely profit-driven standpoint, it makes little sense for the industry to “cure” and even less sense to promote a holistic/natural-remedy approach; forget about promoting resistance training coupled with adequate physical activity.  I dunno, maybe it is poetic justice that the shareholders of these companies are being just as bamboozled by Big Pharma as the rest of  society.  Hell, it’s gotten to the point now where the industry will simply “invent” a new malady, then fund “non-biased” research into the treatment of said malady which inevitably leads to — shock of all shocks — not a cure for the malady in question, but a life-long treatment regimen.  High cholesterol, anyone?  Diabetes?

I wonder what ol’ Vince would think about the wholesale handing over control of your health to “the establishment”, to Big Pharma, to allowing government to run roughshod over your right to seek and obtain unadulterated, un-processed, un-fracked-with, un-“value-added” food. Oh…yeah…probably a little something along these lines   🙂

Heh, tell us how you really feel, Vince  🙂

More on the Physical Culturalists against the machine theme: so if you haven’t yet seen the clip below, be sure to check it out.  Walter Bortz tells it like it is (though not in quite as “direct” a manner as our friend above).  Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex — Here, Bortz highlights what I predict will become known as the Pharma-Medical Research University complex.  Not nearly as catchy, but hey…Of course, it’s your birthright to just opt-out of this ugly scene by taking seriously your own genetic endowment.  Not easy, mind you — but possibleEasy is the path that leads to Big Pharma.

Now if I could just figure out a way to opt out of the economy 😉  Capitalism 2.0 (or 3.0?), here I come  🙂

________

My good buddy (and practically my next door neighbor — in Texas terms), Ken O’Neil, recently had the enviable opportunity to meet and talk with another native Texan, the venerable Tommy Suggs.  Ken was kind enough to send me the following piece in reference to that visit.

A visit with Tommy Suggs

Recently re-discovering Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength website mandated some catching up: it’s loaded with videos now. They include interviews with Tommy Suggs and Dan John along with some Olympic lifting coaching by Suggs. Add to that quite a collection of articles by Suggs, Bill Starr, and others — quite a collection of otherwise impossible to find lifting wisdom all in one place.

Tommy Suggs? Back in the 1950s and 60s, Suggs and Terry Todd were both known to train at the legendary Texas Athletic Club — back when Mike Graham ran operations. Suggs and Todd both graduated from University of Texas, and both ended up working for and training with Bob “The Father of American Weightlifting” Hoffman and his York Barbell Club. From the 1930s well into the 1970s York was The Barbell Capitol of America, and it’s teams were close to being the whole American Olympic team. Hoffman frequently funded overseas competition by American teams from his own pocket. Aside from the weight equipment company, York maintains an impressive museum and archival collection from the Hoffman era.

Todd, then later Suggs, were recruited to work for Hoffman — having roles in production of monthly magazines. In those days all aspects of the iron game were sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which along with the US Olympic Committee upheld strict standards of amateurism — you couldn’t make money from sport, including being paid to train. So Hoffman employed his lifters and bodybuilders for about 20 hours a week, leaving ample time for training at world class level of achievement.

Today Terry Todd, along with wife Jan, are faculty members of UT Austin’s Department of Kinesiology, co-creators of the Todd-McLean Physical Culture archives (over 300,000 items making it the largest such collection in the world) and Terry is Executive Director of the Stark Center.

Suggs was at York for 6 years, during which time he recruited Bill Starr. Starr’s a living legend as probably the first NFL strength coach: his last position was with Johns Hopkins. His book Built to Survive remains the classic work in strength coaching for football. His monthly articles in Iron Man Magazine are just cause for collecting that periodical.

Suggs went on to other professional callings after leaving York, including a stint running a gym in the Houston area as well as a term as strength coach for the Oilers. At 74, he’s retired now, spending time between San Antonio, West Texas and Arkansas. We met up in New Braunfels, Texas, then made a trip to his Central Texas location.

If you watch Tommy’s coaching videos on Rip’s website, what you’ll see is how many of us used to learn to train from mutual coaching. Tommy calls that Factor-X, the energy or element in a robust gym that makes it a community. We didn’t have videos in the 50s and 60s, nor did we have coaches. Books showed only the start and finish of a lift, NOT how to move the weight. York was where the masters met and got better at mastery — and coaching each other. That develops an eye for all the subtleties in making an explosive, in the zone lift that gets three green lights from the judges. What you’ll see Tommy doing is something many of us learned back then. And it’s a lot more precise and powerful than videos because a lot of custom fitting is involved: lifting is being refined for that particular lifter’s unique body.

Factor-X? It exists. Any gym with Factor-X is the best place to train: you feel it the minute you walk in the door. Joe Gold’s original Gold’s in Santa Monica felt that way; so did his World Gym in Venice, as did Bill Pearl’s and Vince Gironda’s. Mike Graham’s Old Texas Barbell Company in Lockhart, Texas has that mystique. Big box chain and franchise gyms don’t — they’re too squeaky clean and have next to no coaching know-how.

Tommy’s opened a new chapter in strength coaching. Every summer he’s out in the Dakotas, running training camps for Native American youth. When he found that teen agers there — like everywhere — are too ‘cool’ to train, he offered it to the younger kids. Summer after summer they came back in growing numbers. When they turned teen, they started asking for special permission to keep on training. Those are kids who won’t have type II diabetes or obesity challenges.

We talked training rhythm. Tommy was one of a handful of pioneers training on the first York power racks. Those racks were real small footprint size in comparison to today’s monster cages. Upright vertical columns were spaced around 8 inches apart, while they were made of heavy duty channel iron or pipe. Strength gains were phenomenal on them.

In the early 1970s, Arthur Jones’ Nautilus machines were heralded as a break through due to their rotary cam design replacing pulleys in earlier machines. Each cam was said to be unique, each based on the strength curve of the individual exercise. Cams were to provide what Jones called omni-directional resistance, meaning the cam kept resistance optimal throughout the range of movement by changing relative resistance in accord with stronger and weaker positions. As we gained experience with Nautilus in the 70s, many of us discovered the fatal flaw in Jones’ design: one size doesn’t fit all. The cams were statistical means — averages, if you will — artificial: they didn’t take varying bone lengths, constellations of bone lengths, length of muscle bellies and insertion points into consideration, much less variations due to height.

The rack harkened back a decade earlier. It, too, aimed at increasing intensity for developing strength and hypertrophy. Like the cam, rack training is based on recognition of relative stronger and weaker power zones within an exercise. With the rack, you’re always going to be working with your unique power zones — not some statistical average.

Rack training divided a lift into three zones: the stronger start of a lift, the difficult mid- or sticking point, and the lockout or completion. In those days we worked out on Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays, with Saturday for lift practice. Taking the press as an example, on Mondays we’d work starting point, Wednesdays sticking point, Fridays just short of lockout. We’d set up pins to rest the bar on for our starting point, then another set of  pins six inches higher: press from low to high for 5-8 reps, last rep being an isometric hold at the top for as long as you can, then resist back to the start. It only took one or two sets of those spread over 6-8 exercises. We spend more time in the gym loading, unloading and setting up the bar than lifting.

Rack training fell out of favor due to confusion, maybe annoyance, and certainly due to drugs. Dr. John Zeigler introduced the rack as well as working with CIBA to develop Dianobol, the first oral anabolic steroid. Some lifters made remarkable progress using both. 50 years ago most everyone thought steroids were a new food supplement! When word got out that some people’s progress included steroids, some ditched the rack in favor of drugs.

What a treat it was visiting Tommy’s garage gym in Central Texas. For the first time ever I got the hands on experience of the York home model power rack. Now I know how to build one! And old fashion York globe style dumbbells. Fifty pound plates all over the place from famous manufacturers long out of business. A mix between a home gym and antique collection!

Tommy showed me how he squats these days: foot up on a tall box between 3-4 feet tall from the ground, he simply stands up. Pretty difficult movement, but all the more amazing when he told me he’d had both knees replaced. I found I bore certain assumptions about knee replacement surgeries based on people I’ve known that had them: loss of mobility, loss of flexibility, a ‘can’t do list’, and complaining.

There’s a new breed of aging people: one’s who ignored the expert warning of coaches about getting muscle bound if you lift weights. Ones who kept on lifting throughout life. Their hair may be gray — for many of us, what’s left of hair — their size somewhat shifted, but that gait remains steady, exuding power, carrying broad shoulders, wide backs and a vice like grip through life.

Talk of training systems. Conclusion? They all work. Sticking to the same routine forever doesn’t work — due to no challenge, boredom, etc.

Nice work, Ken.  I’d also say that the anabolic continuum has much to do with the nature of what works for whom…and when.  Also, check-out master Tommy’s advice on rack work for the Olympic press here.  This kind of coaching is just friggin’ priceless.  And in my opinion, this is the press that ought to be considered in the NFL combine, as I think it is much more indicative of functional pressing strength than the flat bench is.

A few things about Ken; he’s undoubtedly the Godfather of Physical Culture knowledge, and in my opinion ought to be made PC’s honorary historian.  He knows (or knew before they passed) everybody who was/is somebody in the iron game, and has some wonderful, never-heard-before anecdotes, asides and commentary about these characters — and he possesses the most awesome Physical Culture man-cave that I have ever seen in my life!  Jealous?  Hell yeah I am!  An entire ground floor/basement, half the space of which is devoted to a fully-equipped gym (we’re talking power racks and black-iron here, buddy!) and the other half devoted to a full-fledged library of Physical Culture research.  More from Ken in the coming months, I can assure you!  And maybe I can cut a video tour of his most awesome lair of Physical Culture.

And speaking of Physical Culture…many folks have asked me to define just what the term Physical Culture entails, and I must confess to rather clumsy attempts at best to encapsulate just what this idea entails.  But how’s this, from the Stark Center website:

Physical Culture is a term used to describe the various activities people have employed over the centuries to strengthen their bodies, enhance their physiques, increase their endurance, enhance their health, fight against aging, and become better athletes.

Nicely put!

______

On the workout front –

Just a sampling of the workouts I performed over the last week or so:

Wednesday, 1/19/11 –

(A1) Xccentric flat press: +50 lbs x 13 rest-pause singles (80×0 tempo)

(A2) Xccentric flat press: assisted negatives, +90 lbs x 4, 8 second negative singles (rest-pause)

(A3) Nautilus pec dec: 95 x ~12 (40×0 tempo)

(B1) Xccentric dual bicep curl: (0 added weight), 3 sets of 15.  Think regular Oly bar curl here, but with a truly unique range of motion arc.

Thursday, 1/20/11 –

(A1) T-Bar swings: 125 x 25, 25, 25, 25

(A2) weighted pull-ups: 45 x 7, 7, 6, 6

Friday, 1/21/11 –

“Clustered” sets of power cleans and power snatches; approximately 15 seconds between sets and about 15 minutes between the clean round and the snatch round.

PCs: 135 x 10, 155 x 6, 175 x 3, 185 x 2

PSs: 135 x 5, 5, 4, 5

Saturday, 1/21/11 –

(A1) CZT-V neutral-grip deadlift: 5 hyper-reps
(A2) Nautilus Nitro leg press: 420 x 21 reps (to positive failure)
(B1) CZT-V Dips: 5 hyper-reps
(B2) Blast strap flyes: BW x 23 (to positive failure)
(C1) CVT-V Pull Down (fully pronated grip): 5 hyper-reps
(C2) Trap bar Bent over rows: 155 x 13 (to positive failure)

______

And finally: Rest in Peace, Jack LaLanne.  You demonstrated to us all what *is* possible; you defined what the consummate Physical Culturalist ought to be.  Thank you, sir, for your gift.  We at Efficient Exercise will do all that we can to carry the flame.

In health,

Keith

Onward, Ho! Clearing the n=1 Path (with Machete in hand)

Angelo Coppola, in his latest installment of the This Week in Paleo podcast (and, I might add,  an excellent Paleo resource; Angelo possesses a superb “on air” persona) recounted an illuminating  story that took me back (waaaaaay back) to my Poli Sci undergraduate days — the story of a drunk,  his lost wallet, and a streetlight.  Seems a city beat cop came upon drunk crawling hand over fist beneath the beam of a streetlamp.  The cop, of course, inquired into the details of the situation.  The following discussion ensued:

drunk: “I’m not hurt, dammit…I’ve lost my %^#@* wallet”.

cop: “what makes you think you’ve lost it here?”

drunk: “I don’t think I’ve lost the ^&%$#@ thing here”.  Then, pointing across to the pitch-dark side of the street, “I believe it’s over there somewhere”.

cop: “uh-huh…well, then why are you crawling around over here?”

drunk: (incredulous) “because here is where the light is”.

This, it seems to me, is a perfect analogy for the current state of exercise science.  It’s not that those involved in science are bad guys by any means — and that’s not at all what I want to imply here — the problem with conducting science in an atmosphere of funding, profit motive, grant acquisition, etc., is that it forces scientists, and their studies, to remain under the streetlamp, so to speak — there’s no incentive to go looking in the dark corners for long shots, for the difficult to prove and/or tease-out.  In fact, this seems true to me in much of science — not just in the exercise/diet fields.

And this is where the citizen scientist, and n=1 experimentation fits in.

Tim Ferriss recently posted about self-experimentation here; in fact, his new book, The 4-Hour Body (which is a fantastic romp, by the way), is entirely a chronicle of his various self-experimentations.   From the above linked blog post (and quoting the n=1 Jedi himself,  Seth Roberts):

“…I repeatedly found that simple environmental changes, such as avoiding breakfast and standing more, had big and surprising benefits. In each case, the change I’d made resembled a return to Stone Age life, when no one ate breakfast and everyone stood a lot. There are plenty of reasons to think that many common health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, are caused by differences between modern life and Stone Age life. Modern life and Stone Age life differ in many ways, of course; the fraction of differences that influence our health is probably low. If so, to find aspects of Stone Age life that matter, you have to do many tests. Self-experiments, fast and cheap, can do this; conventional experiments, slow and expensive, cannot. In addition, conventional research is slanted toward treatments that can make money for someone. Because conventional research is expensive, funding is needed. Drug companies will fund research about drugs, so lots of conventional research involves drugs. Elements of Stone Age life (such as no breakfast) are cheap and widely available. No company will fund research about their effectiveness…”

Emphasis mine.

Again, I’m hardly anti-science, but I also realize the limitations put on science practiced in an atmosphere of expected positive (i.e., proof of need vs non-need) outcomes.   This is also why I continually beat the drum of  effective training being as much art as it is science, and that effective training must be n=1 driven.  What works for one may work for another, but more than likely, various aspects of any effective protocol will have to be tweaked/personalized for optimum results.  Human physiology is the same across the board, yes — but how that physiology is expressed in the real world, and how the real world imprints upon that physiology, is highly, highly individualized.

Many will hate on the Conjugate System simply because it has little “lab science” backing its results.  Please.  If you want to wait for science to confirm what’s been proven (albeit empirically) in the iron lab, be my guest.  I’m a little too impatient for that though, and I’d rather test and tweak myself, using my own body and gathered empirical evidence as a lab of one.  It’s only my body, of course, that has to express itself under my own unique environmental conditions and given my own unique set of training tools, time and circumstance.   More on this idea, here.  My suggestion is this: know the limitations of the tool you’re using to assess any situation/question.  Is contemporary science a good tool to use in attempting to tackle questions of art, philosophy, religion?  Probably not; under the circumstance, it’s a blunt tool at best.  Science in questions of Physical Culture?  Well, science is a better tool here, of course, but it’s still rather limited.  Just as we eat with knives, forks and spoons, so too should we engage the questions of life with the proper tools.  Learn to use science, art and philosophy as tableware for the mind.

Quick aside – I’m fully immersed in both Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body and Art DeVany’s The New Evolution Diet.  Both are highly recommended, excellent works; both are as different from one another as, well, the personalities that produced them.  Tim’s work is a machine-gun blitz, and not meant to be read straight through, but rather skipped about, the subjects picked and chosen as mood and interests dictate.  Art’s work, I think, was best described by Doug McGuff in a recent Body by Science post as “elegant” — and I couldn’t agree more.   For anyone of a questioning, contemplative attitude, who truly desires to understand the “whys” behind this Evolutionary/Primal/Ancestral movement, this is that explanation.  Nicely done, Mr. DeVany; nicely done.  With each book (and as is always the case), use n=1 proper discretion; these works are meant to be signposts, not dictates.  Physical Culture is not a paint-by-numbers game, but rather you are being supplied the canvass, brush and paint to do with what you please.  Go forth and create your own n=1 Picasso.  Only you can know (or can hope to know) the landscape of your own life.

On the workout front:

Tuesday, 12/21 –

(A1) CZT leg press: 7 rest-pause hyper reps

(B1) RFESS: 45 lb DBs x 12, 10

(B2) Russian leg curl (i.e., poor man’s GHR): BW x 10, 8

The legs were friggin’ noodles following just 7 hyper reps on the CZT.  How can this be?  Quite simply, the strength curve is perfectly matched throughout the entire range of motion; there is simply no place during each entire concentric/or ecentric where the exercise “lets up”.  One is forced to go all at the “easiest” (most bio-mechanically advantageous position), as well as hardest  (bio-mechanically weakest) portion of the lift.  Truly exhausting work.  For the RFESS, I supported my “up” foot in a Blast Strap harness.  This affects an entirely other element of difficulty as far as strength, control and balance (and especially those elements under fatigue) go.

Wednesday, 12/22 –

A HIT dose for the upper body:

(A1) weighted dips: 105# x 22 total reps; 5, 3, 2, then single reps for a total of 22 rest-pause reps (30×0 tempo)

(B1) Blast Strap flyes: bodyweight x 13, 10, 8 (30 seconds between sets)

(C1) Nautilus pullover: 255 x 18 total rest-pause reps; 11, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1 (4010 tempo)

(D1) pull-ups: bodyweight x 5, 4, 4 (30 seconds between sets)

Thursday, 12/23 –

50-rep blocks of 45 lb kettlebell swings, scattered throughout the day.  6 separate instances, for 300 total reps.  Add this to the volume of fixie sprints I did throughout the day as well, and…wow!  Holy metabolic hit, Batman!  Seriously, though — I’ve found the simple kettlebell swing to be a great high-rep companion to the Oly derivatives.  Much the same way as higher rep flyes (for example) are a great companion movement to the floor press.

And a quick announcement:  If you live in the Austin, Texas area and want to take part in Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation, let me know.  You can contact me either at the TTP email address, or my work address (supplied at the end of the clip below).  This will be an interesting, informal “study” of sorts to follow, and for those chosen to participate, it’s totally free of charge.  What kind of body transformations can result from the micro-dosing of intelligently programmed training coupled with adherence to a sensible (i.e., Paleo) diet?  Is this an intervention that is practical, effective and sustainable for non-fitness geeks?   We at Efficient Exercise think that it is, and we’re doing our small part to show that the true fix to the current healthcare crisis is not to be found in government intervention or insurance reform, but rather by making small and lasting changes to personal behavior.   Check it out, below; we hope to have this “study” in motion by the 3rd week in January.  Updates will be posted at the Efficient Exercise blog, and at the Efficient Exercise Facebook page.  Give us some “like” love, and follow along 🙂  Better yet, jump in the swim, and kick-start your n=1, Project Transformation journey.

In health,

Keith

Intensity: the Real Key to Strength and Conditioning Success

“Basic, brutal, and brief…”

And if I may, to that I’d add intermittent to that as well.  Ok, so I’ve racked my brain and consulted my thesaurus to no avail — anyone know a synonym for “intermittent” that starts with a “b”?

Anyway, the “basic, brutal and brief” statement is just a snippet of the wisdom that long-time Strength & Conditioning coach Mark Asanovich delivers during this recent interview with Dave Durrell, of High Intensity Nation.  Another bit of in-the-trenches wisdom that Mark disseminates is that we as trainers and trainees should remember, first and foremost,  this: that all training boils down to “…physiology, physics and motor learning…”; and to that, I would add “psychology” or, more specifically, the ability to bring intensity to the training protocol.  Because, let’s face it: there’s not a training program that can ever be written that will produce results without the trainee bringing intensity to the table and, conversely, even the most mismatched trainee/protocol combo will work — at least for a while — if the intensity applied to that protocol is of top-notch quality.

Want results?  You gotta lay it on the line, brother — each and every workout.  Now, match super intensity with smart programming and, well…you’ve got the makings of the perfect Physical Culture one-two punch.

…and add a well-adhered-to Paleo diet to the mix, and we’ve got ourselves a perfect combination  🙂

Paleo Simplicity

Really, is it all that complicated?  Yeah, all of us in the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness community like to geek-out on the minutia of this stuff (and with the workout specifics as well), but when we get down to brass tacks — or (and especially so!) when dealing with the “mainstream”, or potential converts — it’s helpful to remember this: Paleo is, at its roots,  really, really easy.  To wit, check out Robb Wolf’s the Paleo Solution, Quick Start Guide.  In fact, the entire Paleo Solution book is a great Paleo introduction tool.  I won’t go into a full-fledged review just quite yet, as I prefer to fully digest a book (lots of margin scribbles, notes, underlining, etc.) before weighing-in.  I can tell you this much, though; Robb’s book would be a fantastic introduction to anyone contemplating testing the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness waters.  As opposed to, say, Taubes’ Good Calorie, Bad Calories; a read that I’m particularly fond of, by the way, but that can be, oh…how shall be say…a bit off-putting to the newly initiated?  Hell, even Toban Weibe’s most excellent summary of Taubes’ tome can be much for most initiates.  Not so Robb’s the Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.  Accessible?  You bet; I’d feel comfortable suggesting it to anyone — and certainly to anyone who is even the least bit skeptical over the whole “Caveman” thing.  Robb does an excellent job of both providing sound, science-backed information, and doing so in a way so as to not come-off as being some kind of a back-to-the-caves whack-job…or worse yet, a dietary dogmatic.  Bottom line?  Get Robb’s book; get it for yourself and for anyone you care enough about to coax into the Paleo fold.

On to a couple of workouts –

Let’s preface things a bit by noting that I spent the greater part of Sunday lifting, toting, and just all-around man-handling heavy things.  And not in a fun way, either — I’m talkin’  moving, folks.  As in, shuttling a shit-pot-ton of household…stuff, from one place to another.  How does one ever acquire so much?  Anyway, thanks to my good friend Robert Remmers for sacrificing his Sunday (and a good deal of sleep!) to help Michelle and I out.  Thanks, my man — we couldn’t have done it without you!

So I split this workout up into an AM/afternoon thing, as that’s just the way things happened to pan out on Monday, between training clients and handling other, more admin-related work.  It was a nice opportunity for me to test how I’d respond to back-to-back (and separated by only a few hours) explosive work, as it’s been a while since I’ve done something like this.  Again, I’m not personally a huge fan of the power clean, as I feel like I can (because of my build/bio-mechanics), get a bit more out of other lifts — however, I do like to keep light and technically flawless PCs in the mix — more so for the dynamics of the catch (as opposed to the pull).  So, power cleans and power snatches in the AM; trap bar jump-ups and feet elevated ring presses in the 2nd of the day’s bouts.

power cleans: 135 x 7, 7; 175 x 3, 3; 185 x 2, 2, 2, 2 (high, rock-solid catch, very little knee bend with an immediate return to the hang position and explosion into the following rep)

power snatch: 135 x 3, 3, 3, 3

…and a few hours later:

trap bar jump-ups: (jump squats with a trap bar): 135 x6, 6, 6, 6

in a superset with –

feet elevated ring presses: bodyweight + 60 lb vest x 8, 7, 7, 7

How much can one cram into 10 minutes?  Quite a bit, actually.  I sandwiched this quick-HITer (heh…) between Wednesday AM and early afternoon fixie sprint sessions:

tru-squat: (115 counter weight) – 115 x 12, 150 x 10 (42×0 tempo)

rdl (X-Ccentric machine): 90 x 12, 140 x 7 (42×0 tempo)

nautilus pec dec: 110 x 8, 7 (4020 tempo)

Amazing what a concentrated slam you can give to your body in such a short period of time.