Psychology, Intensity, and Phenotypical Expression

Kevin Koskella, of the blog and companion podcast Healthy Mind, Fit Body and I recently met in Austin, Texas (the epicenter of Physical Culture) over an awesome cup of joe at my “office”, the fantastic (and thankfully, just down the street from my studio) Thunderbird Coffee.  It’s funny — I’m really a rather reserved, quiet, keep-my-opinions-to-myself kind of person — until, that is, the talk turns to Physical Culture.  At that point, and as I am sure Kevin can now tell you, I can’t be made to shut-up  🙂  At any rate, I really enjoyed our coffee and (one sided?  Heh, sorry, Kevin) conversation, in part because Kevin is a cool and highly intelligent guy, but too because he is really — as I am — heavy into the psychological aspects of training.  Now, in this, the follow-up podcast interview we taped a week or so later, we only touched on the mental side of things (again, I could ramble for hours on this), but just let me reaffirm my opinions here: your psychological leanings, drive, focus and ability to bring intensity into the training theater are everything.  There’s a time to be intelligent, questioning and logical, and a time to let it fly.  When chalked hands finally grasp the bar, my friends, it’s time to go all-out friggin’ primitive.  Make no mistake here: not only are all the commonly assumed training stressors vitally important (load, rep range, tempo, TUL, etc.), but also, too, is the psychological  aspect — do we attack the day’s training with a life-or-death intensity, or with lackluster effort?  Believe me, the body can sense the difference, and will respond accordingly.  Remember, training, to be especially effective, has to be brief, brutal and basic.  And if in fact we are true to those dictates, then training can only be intermittent and fractal in nature, lest we become a frazzled train wreck of disparate CNS, muscular and support structure pieces/parts.  Think this is merely rah-rah psycho-babble?  Think again: the environmental/epigenetic components impart very real, concrete physiological changes (see this piece, for instance) to an organism; this is the stuff of optimized, phenotypical expression.

Quick change of subject here: step back for just a moment and think of all the people you know who agree, in principle at least, that brief, brutal and basic workouts are the way to go, and that a Paleo diet not only makes sense logically, but that the empirical evidence and end results (look, feel and perform) are nothing less than stunning — and yet, these same folks seem mesmerized into believing that they cannot personally make such a change, or that their own physiology is somehow wired different so as to thrive (not just survive, but thrive) on a standard American and/or vegetarian diet.  I can’t tell you how many people I speak to swear up and down that whole wheat does their body good, and that long, arduous and slow is the true way to fitness nirvana.  Yes, my friend, and the heroin addict feels the same for their beloved black tar.  The holiday season is near, and you’ll run across this version of diet-and-health-related cognitive dissonance at an increased frequency.  “I am fat, out-of-shape, and desperately want to turn that around; I will not, however, give up my fresh-from-the refrigerator Snickers bar”.  Well, I’m not sure what to say, here.  Continue on with the tie-off-and-tap-a-vein roller coaster, my friend.  When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Let’s just hope that metabolic derangement is not the impetus that finally opens the student’s eyes.

Check out this motivational montage from a most unlikely source: Will Smith.  Hat tip to Messus TTP for the find  🙂

No doubt: whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are, sir, absolutely right.

And so that’s the mental side of the game.  And again, let’s not forget, though, the epigenetic factor.  So the question then becomes one of what is a “real” input?  Anything that elicits a change at the cellular level must in fact be considered “real”.  So do your perceptions, attitudes, drives and desires matter in a real sense?  You bet they do.

Two workouts over the past week

Monday, 11/1; a superset of the following:

front squats: 135 x 5; 185 x 5; 225 x 3; 245 x 2; 255 x 2
kneeling DB clean and press: 45 # x 15 for each round

Pogos prior to squats, ballistic push-ups prior to the DB clean and presses, both for a solid CNS prime.

Friday, 11/5; a little Crossfit feel, here — three rounds of the following circuit, completed in 27 minutes.

Pendulum hip press: 400 x 15 (full range of motion)
btn push-press: 185 x 7
RDL: 255 x 7
weighted chins: 70 x 5
Bulgarian split squats: 45# x 10 each leg (below parallel)

Brief, brutal, basic…and intermittent, my friends; this is the way to roll.

In health,

An Evolutionary Fitness Refresher, and the Importance of the Central Nervous System

I’ve been engaged in much less written production this past week in lieu of much more knowledge absorption.  I think this is the natural way of things, especially for an epistemocrat like myself.  New ideas are encountered and vetted according to merits, with established ideas being retained (and possibly bolstered), refined or, as the case may be, jettisoned completely.  In the words of Plato, “complacent ignorance is the most lethal sickness of the soul”.  I do whatever I can to avoid that sickness above all others and, as any wise man (or woman) will tell you, one cannot effectively learn when their gums is a flappin’…or, in this case, when their fingers is a keyboard tappin’.

So one of the items I’ve been “absorbing” over the last week is a borrowed copy (thanks, Skyler!) of Art DeVany’s Evolutionary Fitness Seminar.  Hey, wait!  This material has been out for two-and-a-half years and I’m just getting around to it?  Well, quite frankly I hadn’t intended on ever watching it since I figure I’ve got this stuff already well integrated within my own n=1/m=1 life path; Skyler happened to have it on hand, though and, well, who doesn’t need a refresher (or reaffirmation) now and again?  Hubris not being my thing, I decided to give it a go — and I’m glad I did.  Art does a masterful job disseminating knowledge here — if you can look beyond his…er…decidedly modest personality  🙂  Hey, you earned the right to be as “modest” as you care to be, Art; you are no doubt a roll model for all of us young EvFit whipper-snappers out there  🙂

And speaking of “reaffirmation”, it’s always a good idea to re-read Art’s Essay on Evolutionary Fitness every now and again, if for no other reason than for the “oh yeah, that’s why I do (fill in the blank)” factor.  Just as Ron Paul is said to tote a tiny, bound copy of the Constitution around with him at all times, maybe those of us in the Paleo/EvFit camp out to keep a copy of both Art’s essay and Robb Wolf’s the Paleo Solution Quick Start Guide on our person.  Heh, you just never know when you might be called out to defend “the lifestyle”, right?

And speaking of Art DeVany and all things Evolutionary Fitness, check out this interesting post from Intrepid Insight in reference to Twitter and Power Law.   Dan John has often alluded to the observation (and I wholeheartedly agree with him) that out of a hundred or so workouts, roughly 70% or so may be classified as a run-of-the-mill,  “punch-the-clock” type of a workout — just getting the job done, nothing more, nothing special; some are especially good & you really feel like some progress was made and, conversely, a handful will totally suck — you wonder why you even showed up at all, or maybe you even cashed-out early, licked your wounds and limped home with a tucked tail.  A smattering  of workouts fall in between one of those categories, mostly grouped around — but just shy of, or a little better than — the clock punchers.  Ah, but there’s always that 1-in-100 workout that we live for, that workout in which you feel like you could lift the moon.  Maybe you set a new PR or maybe you were just “in the zone” and everything flowed effortlessly. These are the standout, “I’ve arrived” type of workouts that we relish; the type of workout we strive for but rarely hit.  What’s interesting is that this continuum winds up taking on a Power Law-like distribution. Isn’t it ironic, don’tchya think?


Accessing the Type II fibers vs stimulating/training the central nervous system –

So there must be a vibe in the air lately, as the topic of accessing and stimulating the Type II fibers has once again re-emerged into the forefront.  For the most part, I stay out of this fray, as I believe this to be a very complicated and highly n=1 dictated issue, and one that cannot be adequately addressed in sound-bite barbs.  In general, though, my take on the issue remains unchanged.  Can those Type II fibers be accessed, stimulated, and yes fatigued to the point of failure using slow-tempo movements?  Absolutely they can, no doubt in my mind — and that, for the vast majority of folks, is the end of the story; no need for this demographic to push the risk-reward envelope any further.  The health benefits of stimulating these fibers (including hypertrophy) are well-served by (among other possibilities) slow-tempo training.  But for the athlete, though, I think we need to seriously consider adequate central nervous system stimulation, and the all-important ability to produce instantaneous, maximal power.   And for that we have to have a ballistic element factored into the overall training plan.  Backing science?  I have none.  Zilch, nada.  I know what I’ve seen during my many years in the trenches though, and toward that end I’ll keep training those who require an explosive element accordingly.  Again, in my opinion this (along with most every other training question) is n=1 driven.

…and on the workout front –

So the prior week’s three-day-in-a-row blitz — which, by the way, was capped with a classic brief, brutal and basic CZT session — left me in recovery mode until Wednesday the 20th.  That’s a full 5 days off with very little in the way strenuous activity save for a bit of fixie riding/sprinting.  Curious thing here: while I most definitely did not feel up to hitting the weights during this period, I most certainly had the urge  — and had strong legs for — some serious up-tempo biking.  Why?  Well, I’m not quite sure; just another element to ponder along this wonderful n=1/m=1 journey.  At any rate, my workouts again this week were catch-as-catch-can affairs, squeezed into a fairly demanding work, social and home-life schedule (Meesus TTP and I are still trying to get fully settled within our new home); and too, I’ve had to program back-to-back lifting sessions here (which, of course, I’m not a big fan of).  But hey, life happens, right?  Roll on with the fractal nature of things!

Wednesday the 20th; upper body dominant HIT
Nautilus Pec Dec:  110 x 10 (50×1 tempo) to momentary failure.  Short recovery (30 secs?), then rest-pause singles to failure
Feet-elevated (45-degree) push-ups: 12, 8, 8
Nautilus Pull-Over: 235 x 9 (50×1 tempo) to momentary failure, then 255 x 2, 2 rest-pause (same tempo)
Rev-grip pull-ups: 50# deload x 5, 4 (50×0 tempo)
Nautilus lateral raise: 180 x 8 (50×1 tempo) to failure, then 190 rest-pause singles — 5 reps, again to failure
Xccentric jammer: +50lbs, 7 rest-pause singles

Thursday; Alactic work on the Efficient Exercise Pendulum Hip Press
400 x 7
three-minute break
500 x 4, 5 (three-minute break between sets)
three-minute break
600 x 2, 2, 2, 2 (three-minute break between sets)

Both of these workouts were short, sweet and to-the-point, with neither lasting any more than a half-hour.  And scorchers, too, the both of them.

Glutes, Hams, Crossfit…and Jim Radcliffe

In previous posts I’ve mentioned how I love the Glute/Ham Raise  (GHR) exercise, and especially so the exercise as it is performed on a specifically designed GHR bench (though the “poor man’s” version is a suitable compromise).  Another exercise — one that I’ve not commented on very much — is the glute bridge/hamstring curl performed using blast straps or, as a suitable compromise, on a physio ball.

Have a look at the “suspended hamstring curl” demo here (and under the “lower body” tab), from the TRX site’s video library.  And yeah, if used wisely, and within an overall intelligently designed program, these straps (or hell, the home made version works just as well) are an awesome compliment.  I can’t think of any other “in the gym” exercise that works the glute/ham synchronicity the way this exercise, properly performed (Hips high, and keep ’em high!) does.  Check out Dr.  Yessis‘ thoughts on working the glute/ham complex; my thoughts are similar.  Now, I don’t know what the good Dr.’s glute/ham contraption looks like, but I do know I can at least approximate that motion using a cheap set of blast straps and stirrups.  Note:  this does not mean that I’ve given up on the GHR, RDL, SLDL, Good Mornings, and the whole host of other glute/ham exercises.  Far from it.  I’m just saying that the glute bridge/ham curl is a complete glute/ham exercise that one ought to consider keeping at the top of the ol’  toolbox.

Workouts?  Workouts!

A nice combo to get the week that began on 10/4/10 kicked-off right.  Let’s dub this one the Rosedale.

The following, in a giant-set format:

deep lunge position pec flye (approx. 45-degree elevation from bottom-out to top-of-range arm motion): 130 x 15; 140 x 14

floor press: 215 x 8, 7

bent-over row: 265 x 8, 7

CZT compound rep,  chest press/row: 3, 3

Just 2 rounds?  Yeah, just two.  A pre-exhaust scheme coupled with a CZT blast will put a definite hurtin’ on you in a hurry.  On to some lower-body work:

Trap bar low pulls (think fast!  Think power!): 320 x 8, 8

blast strap glute bridge/ham curl: 10, 10

Oh, and speaking of the need for athletes to hone the ability to generate immediate power — and ability to express that power, repeatedly, over a rather large span of time (soccer match, tennis match, football game, for example), see this article about the Oregon Ducks, and their brilliant S&C coach, Jim Radcliffe.  Coach “Rad” is definitely my kind of guy; ethical, a contagious enthusiasm for S&C work, and the love he feels for each and every one of his student-athletes permeates his being.  How could anyone not want to perform for this gentleman?  Truly a strength coach’s strength coach.  Have a look at this clip about coach Rad, and see what I mean (hat tip to the Iron Maven, Tracy Fober, for this find.  Tracy always has fantastic content at her site, A Philosophy of Strength and Health; be sure to drop by often — you’ll be glad you did).

And more on coach Rad, if you’re so inclined.  I could learn from and about this guy for days on end and not tire of it in the least.

Wednesday’s “What Can I Do in 25-Minutes” Workout –

25 minutes?  Yep; start to finish.  Rest between sets and/or exercises?  Let’s just call it “minimal”, and leave it at that 🙂

Tru squat: (wide stance, below parallel, 41×1 tempo) Rest-Pause x 2 reps at each weight 80, 115, 150 x 6 sets of 2; then immediately to:

Blast Strap Glute Raise/Ham Curl: x 7, 6

Nautilus Pec Dec: 110 x 8 ( 42×2 tempo), then immediately to:

weighted dips: Rest-Pause; 70 x 5, 2, 2, 1, 1

Nautilus pull-over: 230 x 9 (51×1 tempo), then immediately to:

reverse-grip pull-ups: bodyweight x 10, 6 @ 50×0 tempo

Nautilus shoulder lateral raise: 170 x 10 (40×0 tempo), then immediately to:

X-Ccentric jammer: (think “thruster”, with a nice, forward lean-in)+50 lbs x 7 resp-pause singles (40×0 tempo)

And what better way to round-out the week on Friday, than with some power snatch/OHS combos?

power snatch (+OHS): 115 x 3 (3), 3(3); 125 x 3(3); 135 x 3(3); 145 x 5(5), 3(3), 3(3)

The notation here means that I, for example, popped-off 3 power snatches, then immediately followed that with 3 overhead squats at the same weight.

Oh, and hey – Jamie Scott, over at the Primal Muse, shares what he likes — and dislikes — about Crossfit. And I’d say his observations are spot-on.  Nice write-up, Jamie.  Also of note: check-out Jamie’s six-part High Fat Diets for Cyclists series, beginning here — sensational work is an understatement.

And remember folks, athletic prowess begins where good health ends; toward that end, check-out the finest essay I have seen to date on the issue of performance enhancing drug use in sport.

The Litvinov Workout: Two Thumbs Up, or Dumb as Dirt?

Life coach extraordinaire Dan John loves the “Litvinov workout” (as do I).  Charles Poliquin, though, apparently thinks the whole Litvinov idea is ludicrous.  Two at-the-top-of-their-game, highly respected strength and conditioning coaches (and toss one crazy Physical Culturalist into the mix for shits-and-giggles) , two polar-opposite points of view on Litvinov-like protocols.  So damn, who to believe?

Andy Deas recently posted a fine article (But Mike Boyle Said the Squat was Dead?), in which he addresses the issue of unwavering acceptance of delivered-from-on-high, “guru” proclamations.  What we need to consider in this particular instance of John (and TTP) vs Poliquin, folks, is context.

Consider the diverse client base of each of these fine coaches.  Poliquin works mainly with Olympic level athletes — think bobsledders, skiers and the like — as opposed to Dan John, who works primarilly with the high school athlete, the Highland Games crowd; CrossFit enthusiasts.  Two very different trainee bases, two very different sets of overall needs, goals, skill-sets, metabolic conditioning requirements and, well, you get the picture.  And, not surprisingly, two drastically different takes on the same exercise protocol.

Again, this points to my assertion that programming has to be an n=1 affair; at the very least (and, as in the case with S&C coaches who must work in a group setting) programming has to match the n=1 requirements of the particular sport.  Dan John deals with athletes who face a very high degree of unknowns/variables in their sport; in comparison, Poliquin’s athletes face much less in the way of the unknown/variable factor.  Think of the demands placed on a football player, versus those placed, for example, on a bobsledder, and you can easily see why each coach feels the way he does (and passionately so!) about the Litvinov workout.

Bottom line?  If a Litvinov-like workout suits your athletic needs or fitness goals, then by all means utilize it.  At its essence, the Litvinov is simply a hardcore bout of GPP (general physical preparedness), no more, no less.  There is no particular magic with a front squat/400 meter pairing (other than the fact that it’s brutal!); I’ve paired tire flips and sprints for an effective, challenging, and downright fun-as-hell workout.  And make no mistake about it, I still hold Charles Poliquin’s opinion with the highest degree of respect.  In this particular instance, though, I have to respectfully disagree with Charles’ across-the-board disapproval of “the Litvinov”.

As an example of the n=1 approach to programming, consider how S&C coach Joe DeFranco utilizes a Litvinov-like approach (focusing primarily on the alactic anaerobic energy system) in the training of Houston Texans linebacker, Brian Cushing, here.  I’m curious as to what Charles would have to say about this particular method of training; seems pretty spot-on to me.

Delivering and receiving information via electronic formats such as blogs, bulletin boards and the like is fantastic for the immediate spread of information — the drawback, of course, is that the medium discourages the full development of well-rounded ideas; pros and cons of an idea or stance cannot be fully parsed-out.  It’s up to the reader, then, to do that parsing himself, to ask the critical “but…” and “what if…” questions.  Neglect the very important step of asking “in what context is this statement being made?” at your own peril.

Now I’m quite sure that Charles would disapprove of the following workout as well, but it suits my needs just fine; not only that, but it is concise and, well, quite a bit of fun.  A little Friday afternoon frolic to kick-off this past weekend:

power snatch: 115 x 5; 135 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

in a super-set with

ab wheel roll-outs (on toes, slight knee touch at full extension): bw x 8 for each of 7 rounds

Then on to a superset of the following –

btn push-press: 165 x 7; 185 x 6; 195 x 4

semi-supinated pull-ups: bw+45 lbs x 6, 6, 6

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.

Conjugated HIT, Dynamic and Volume Work

So here’s the thing: it’s not that there is any single workout methodology that is the “best” (or “worst”, for that matter), but that there are aspects of many various methodologies that, when combined in an intelligent, systematic way according to each individual’s n=1 goals and needs, provides for the most advantageous workout stimulus; “advantageous”, of course, being defined by the individual.  That is to say, while one person may be concerned primarily with achieving optimum health, another may have athletic aspirations; and we know, of course, that athletic prowess does not necessarily confer an optimum health profile.  As has been said before, optimum performance often begins where superior health ends. There’s a give-and-take with everything, folks — chasing athletic supremacy is no different.  Where do I fit on this continuum of optimum health to athletic performance?  Well, for the most part, I try to straddle  that razor’s edge between the two; admittedly, though, there are periods where I’ll make a decide push toward improved athleticism at the expense of overall health.  Now, though, is not one of those periods.  There’s just too much going on in my life at the moment — moving cross-country, new job, new house…hell, a whole new existence! — exciting to be sure, but also hella stressful.  I mean, damn, we just recently stumbled across the box that contained our silverware (ah, it’s the small pleasures in life!).  Being that all stress is cumulative, I guess you could say that I’ve temporarily dialed-down a tad bit — not so much on the intensity (I still go at it when I do workout) — but on the overall frequency and volume.

Wednesday’s HIT Parade

Super-Slow Leg Press: (hierarchical rep scheme, 3010 tempo) 12, 6, 6 – then immediately to:

Super-slow ham curl: 180 lbs x 12, approx. 30 secs  rest, 190 x 8 –  4010 tempo

Nautilus Pec Dec: 110 x 8 ( 4020 tempo), then immediately to:

Super-Slow chest press/crunch: 170 x 8 ( 4020 tempo)

Nautilus pull-over: 220 x 9 (4020 tempo), then immediately to:

Reverse grip pull-ups: bodyweight x 8, 6 (40×0 tempo)

Nautilus shoulder lateral raise: 170 x 10 (4020 tempo), then immediately to:

X-Ccentric upright press: (no counter weight, no added weight) x 7 rest-pause singles (40×0 tempo)

Couple of things to note here: although I am utilizing equipment made by the entity “Super Slow” (which, by the way, is great equipment), I’m not, as can seen in my tempo references, utilizing the super-slow tempo/TUL technique.  The hierarchical repetition scheme (hat tip to Art DeVany) is this: choose a weight that will leave you feeling a good burn (but not yet to failure) after 12 reps, take a slight pause to add weight, then hit 6 more reps; pause again, add weight and hit 3 more.  I called the loading a little shy, here, so I was able to eek out six reps on the final blast.

I followed that up with a little explosive work on Thursday, with a superset of behind -the-neck split jerks and blast strap reverse flyes.

btn split jerk: 135 x 5; 175 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 3; 225 x 5 resp-pause singles

blast strap reverse flyes: bodyweight x 8, 10, 7, 8 (4010 tempo)

Friday turned out to be a rather extended day in the fixie saddle — approximately 20 miles with a good deal of sprint intervals tossed into the mix.  If you have errands to run, you might as well turn it into a workout, right?  The ol’ legs protested mightily at the onset (heavy split jerks will take more of a toll than one realizes) but wound-up rebounding and responding nicely.

One of the day’s pit stops was at Thomas Repographics of Austin, to pick up these, my new business cards:

I guess this means I’m official now, huh?  🙂

Then it was a stop by Texas Coffee Traders to pick up some fine, roasted gold for my home brewing pleasure.  So many fabulous coffees to choose from!  I settled on a pound of the organic Peru (thanks for you help and expertise, Jessica!), saddled-up, and hucked it on back to the Efficient Exercise Rosedale studio.

Damn the old-school crunch…

So a client of mine who sprinkles-in some “bootcamp” fitness classes into her training mix reported to me that she “tweaked something in her upper back/trap/neck area” while performing hands-clasped-behind-the-head crunches.  Yeah, I know, big surprise, right?  This particular client is an endurance type athlete (sprint tri’s, etc.) who — and wisely so — strength trains for bettered performance and injury prevention.  She’s had lower back issues in the past, and so the vast majority of my exercise selections for her have some element of core strengthening involvement.  We’ve begun to incorporate perfect form deadlifts into her routines (trap, straight bar, etc.) which she is (and rightfully so, as I believe she’s never really been taught proper form) leery of.  Folks, the “core” is primarily a power transfer medium, designed — much like an earthquake resistant structure — to be stiff, flex but not break.  A rock-solid core, which includes a bomb-proof lower back, can’t be built with the old-school crunch.  I’ve linked to this interview with Dr. Stuart McGill before, but I believe it deserves another mention.

And for a bit more on this subject, see this post, from the Efficient Exercise blog.

Also, check-out an interesting read from my Efficient Exercise partner, Skyler Tanner, on the gut-wrenching realization that, sometimes, your publicly-stated n=1 experiments don’t necessarily align with your fitness goals.  In Skyler’s case, mass gain runs completely counter to his immediate (ultimate?) fitness goal of being a better rock climber.  An increased strength and/or power-to-bodyweight ratio is what he really needs, not mass — unless of course that increased mass translates into an increased strength/power-to-bw ratio.  Skyler discusses why a mass gain (in him, at least), likely wouldn’t translate, in the near-term, into an improved strength/power ratio.  Nice call, Skyler.  And yes, there are no failures, only feedback.

A couple of Workouts, and Gut Health

Look at the contrast between these (my latest) two workouts; this is what I consider to be “Conjugate for the masses”.  I do think it’s possible to blend power emphasis work with HIT/strength work and the more MetCon-ish/HIIT sessions as well — all within the same overall plan.  Add a dash of some bodybuilding-like volume work and, well, we’ve got all the bases just about covered.  For most folks, I’d place a premium (and therefore more emphasis) on strength, work which can be effectively and efficiently accomplished using various HIT methods.  Work on these other physical aspects (or “strengths” as Louie Simmons tends to term them) can be feathered-in, though, quite nicely and, in my experience at least, without undo fear of overtraining.

Monday’s workout:  a short and sweet superset here, followed by a little CZT work –

*Gunthor-style clean and jerks: 115 x 10; 135 x 7, 7, 7, 7, 7

rev grip pull-ups: bodyweight x 7; 45# x 7, 6, 6, 5, 5

No rest between sets or between exercises in the above superset.  Then it was on to:

CZT horizontal  chest press: 3 hyper-reps (a max negative followed immediately by a max positive effort; 3 reps in rest-pause fashion)

CZT horozontal leg press: 3 hyper- reps

*Werner Gunthor; Swiss shot puttin’ bad ass from back in the day.  Possessed with the work ethic of a single-minded madman, and with a penchant for hellish training regimens.  Cast from the same mold as  Soviet Hammer-man Sergey Litvinov.  These two exemplify the term “power personified”.   Now, for what I call “Gunthor clean & presses”, check out the man himself demonstrating them at the 1:05 mark in this impressive clip.  The clean and jerk is a great movement, no doubt — however, I like Gunthor’s method a bit better, due to the incorporation of a reactive catch/pressing motion.  The Olys are great, but sometimes a derivative works better for athletic applications apart from the sport of Oly lifting itself.  And yeah, the audio is in French (note to self: I should have paid a little more attention in school) — but damn, do you really need much of a narrative, here?  Look out!  Heavy duty explosive work ahead:

I followed that beauty up with a HIT beat-down on Wednesday at the Efficient Exercise downtown studio.  Bouncing between the various Efficient Exercise studios allows me to pretty much do it all, in a weightlifting sense.  The fact that I now live about 1 mile from Lehman high school (nice outdoor track!), and work in central Austin (with an abundance of parks) allows me to get my sprint on whenever I want…and the fact that I’m now in Austin means that, yes, I am smack-dab in the middle of fixie heaven 🙂  Needless to say, I’m never at a loss for a workout outlet.  Here’s Wednesday’s dates with a HIT session:

Tru squat: (weight – 100, counter weight – 115, wide stance, 3rd pin, 4010 tempo) 15, approx. 15 secs rest, 15 – then immediately to:

Super-slow leg curl: 160 lbs x 10, approx. 15 secs  rest, 12 –  4040 tempo

Nautilus Pec Dec: 110 x 10 ( 4040 tempo), then immediately to:

Nautilus chest press/crunch: 170 x 8 ( 4040 tempo)

Nautilus pull-over: 215 x 9 (4020 tempo), then immediately to:

X-Ccentric pull-downs: (20# midline add), 9 reps @ 5010 tempo

Nautilus shoulder lateral raise: 170 x 9 (2040 tempo), then immediately to:

X-Ccentric upright press: (no counter weight, no added weight) x 7 resp-pause singles (40×0 tempo)

Notice that a pre-exhaust methodology prevailed here.  And yeah, so I preceded and followed that little jewel with a 5-mile, hard fixie jaunt.  Needless to say, I slept well Wednesday night  🙂   …and I’m still feeling it a bit today.

A couple of items to check out:

Gut health, from NPR’s Fresh Air, with Terry Gross.  We in the Paleo community are hip to the idea of maintaining an active an healthy gut flora, and the benefits of a Paleo diet toward that end.  The mainstream is just starting to come around to the healthy gut flora concept, though they’re still years away (or so it seems) from connecting the dots between a Paleo diet and a rockin’, healthy gut.  Can body fat levels be altered simply by altering gut flora?  You bet; check it out.

…and Skyler Tanner waxes poetic on the notion of “easy” results.  Workouts that are short in duration?  You bet; short on intensity, though?  Not on your life.

Thought I fell off the Edge of the Earth, huh?

Well, I suppose I have fallen off the edge of the “wired” earth 🙂  Slowly but surely, though, I am making my way back into some sense of wired-world normalcy.  And hey, have I mentioned that I love my new gig with Efficient Exercise of Austin?  Yeah, it’s true; I’m like a kid in a candy store…er, more like a Neanderthal at a cave bear kill!  I get to train/partner with a spectrum of interesting clients (each with unique goals) for a living and I have access to so many fitness toys it’s simply mind-boggling.  How cool is that?  Very, very cool in my book!

So my day-to-day routine is totally out of the window for the time being, which is both a good and, in some respects, a very challenging thing to deal with.  One the good side of the ledger, my body has been exposed to a myriad of new movements and schemes which, in turn, forces a whole new level of adaptation.  This new “workout landscape” produces an exhilarating feeling and a CNS that is now hyper-wired as a result of trying to keep up with each new stimulus being thrown its way.  Also, my caffeine consumption has dropped dramatically; that will soon change, however, as Austin is replete with some of the coolest coffee shops anywhere, like the fantastic Thunderbird Coffee, which is only about a mile’s hard fixie sprint from my Rosedale studio.  Oh, and have I mentioned that I’m now in fixie paradise?  Yeah, it’s true, I’m lovin’ my new surroundings.

For the next couple of weeks, Meesus TTP and I will be living in limbo, as the closing on our new casa won’t take place until on or around the 15th of this month.  Then, another round of adjustment will unfold, and another new groove will be laid down.  Hang with me folks; eventually I’ll return to my old blogging ways.

I’ll leave you today with the following little food-for-thought morsel (hat-tip to TTP reader Dan for bringing this to my attention): the US Army’s lowering of physical fitness standards.  This is sad commentary indeed on the state of the nation’s well-being.  And this isn’t a problem particular to only the US — all “developed” nations face the same crisis of dwindling physical readiness.  Couple poor physical readiness with the push toward “low-fat” offerings in the chow halls and, well…let’s just say this is a bad double-whammy for the guardians of freedom.  How can a nation continue to adequately defend itself when its fighting forces are of dwindling strength and dwindling vigor?

Active Recovery? Conjugate for the Masses?

Many of those in what I would call the HIT-purist camp, most notably Dr. Doug McGuff (Body by Science), recommend a full recovery between workouts; that is to say, they don’t favor the performance of “active recovery” as it tends to alter/delay super-compensation following the inroad made during preceding workout.   And, to a certain extent (and for certain n=1 cases), I do see their point.  However, when I have attempted an extended period (i.e., more than one day) of out-and-out non-active, full recovery following even an off-the-charts inroading session, I always come out of that “activity hibernation” feeling a bit sluggish, both on the subsequent (after the first day post-workout) days off but, too, when I do get back in the gym, in the saddle or on the track.  In other words, if I take longer than a single day’s post-workout “activity hibernation”, I lose a certain amount of edge.  I wonder if this is more psychological and/or hormonal driven rather than a physiological reality.  Of course, there’s also the theory of endorphin and/or adrenalin addiction, but that to me seems a little far-fetched to me.  I don’t know any other way to describe this feeling other than a slight CNS sluggishness.  One day of post-workout idleness and I’m fine; longer than that and I lose a good bit of “pop”.  I’ve seen this in others, too, and so I know I’m not necessarily an “outlier” here.  Could it be that my definition of “CNS sluggishness” is actually what a “normal” or “non-jacked” CNS is supposed to feel like?  Quite possibly.  That said, though, I still like the idea of “active recovery” and relatively more frequent (albeit “Conjugated”) workout sessions.

Now maybe it’s due to my close and long association with sports performance, but I do tend to see things more along the lines of a track and field coach when it comes to this issue.  Of course, too, we need to recognize that the per-workout inroads here are not taken to the same magnitude as say, a true HIT beat-down.  In other words, a comparison of late-in-the-workout sprint times (or distance) to the “fresh” times would indicate that the drop-off is not all that severe.  Just another variable to be mindful of; again one size does not fit all.

A couple of things that ought to be defined here, first, though: one person’s “active recovery” may in fact be another person’s full-blown workout.  Metabolic conditioning and recuperative status obviously have much to say by way of influence here.  No big surprise, either – again, we’re talking, as always, n=1 protocol administration.  But we also need to consider that the type of recuperative activity in relation to the overriding modality of previous workout has a tremendous bearing on overall recuperation.  Huh?  Let me explain.

The chart above is the 30,000-foot view of my own, personal, overall training prospective.  HIT/HIIT methodologies tempered with Autoregulation and/or drop-offs (where appropriate), and with particular “strengths” (or aptitudes) cycled in and out of individual training sessions in a conjugate-like manner.  Very rare is a workout session of mine that extends beyond 45-minutes, and an all-out single-set-to-failure type workout might take as little as 15 minutes.   Where I guess you could say that I split from the HIT-purist camp is that I believe it is possible to train more frequently (and more completely) — and without overtraining, by the way — by cycling methodologies in a West Side-esque, Conjugate System manner.  Will this overall view still hold true for me tomorrow?  As far as I can tell, and from this vantage point, yes; however, and as always, I remain ready to shift sails according to prevailing winds and any newly-defined port-of-call.  Would I prescribe this prospective to everyone?  Not on your life; it does work for me, though, vis-à-vis my current location with respect to where my goals intersect with my place along the anabolic continuum.  Again, n=1 rules the day, and the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of trainee’s would see their greatest improvements by following a unique-to-the-trainee-tweaked, BBS-like protocol.  Simple, straight-forward, relatively easy to program and track and, most importantly, highly-effective with a minimum of time investment.

By the way, for a concise breakdown of West Side’s Conjugate system, and a bit of West Side “myth-busting” as well, check-out this Dave Tate post on the Ironbrutality site.  Myth #3 will give you the quick-and-dirty overview of the Conjugate method.  Actually, I’d add to that list myth #6 – that the Conjugate system works, but only for strength and power athletes.  With specific tweaks, any athlete – or bodybuilder, in my opinion — can incorporate this methodology into their overall training plan.  Again, the vast majority of trainees need not go there – but for those who do, the Conjugate system is a winner.

Tuesday evening workout –

A good bit of saddle time tonight prior to hitting the iron on Tuesday; probably the last of each prior to packin’ up the ol’ dog-and-pony show and headin’ down ATX way.

My intent tonight was to lead-off with some power clean work, however the rack was in use when I got in, so I had to alter things a bit.  Hey, I’ve got no problem with waiting on a guy to finish heavy pulls and squats in the rack – it’s the bicep curl crowd in that same rack that drives me nuts.  Anyway, I kicked things off with a kneeling jump squat, pull-up superset:

kneeling DB jumps*: 20lbs x 5, 5, 5

regular-grip pull-ups: bw x 10, 10, 10

no rest between sets, here.  Then, the following superset:

flat bench, single-arm DB press: 75 x 8; 85 x 8; 90 x 7

single-arm DB row: 120 x 6; 125 x 6; 130 x 6

again, blowin’ and goin’ here, with very little rest between arms or between sets, then a rapid-fire reps few sets of power cleans:

135 x 5; 165 x 5

Reps were fast as possible here, with rest between sets just long enough to add additional weight.  I followed that with a rest-pause set of 7 singles at 185.

*As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to use DBs for this exercise, but it really doesn’t make much difference; you can use a barbell as well, as in this demonstration, and in my experience you’ll be able to handle a significantly greater overall weight if you do so.  I think you can better transfer power to a barbell than to a pair of DBs, but that’s just speculation on my part.  The key is to really engage the hips in the movement.  If you’ve got sleepy hips in the Oly movements, this exercise will help fix that.  Also, if you use DBs for this movement, be sure to explosively shrug the weight up (as you would in a normal Oly/Oly derivative lift), as opposed to “arcing” the DBs outward and forward so as to provide upward momentum.

And speaking of effective and efficient power transfer through the torso (or “core”), check out this podcast interview with Dr. Stuart McGill.  Dr. McGill is known as “the back doctor”, but as you’ll hear in the interview, the good doctor also knows a good deal about performance enhancement, especially when it comes to power transfer through a rock-solid torso.

Also something interesting I ran across this week was a podcast interview with Dr. Joel Wallach, author of the book, Immortality.  The topic of the discussion centers around the depletion of minerals from the soil, and the effects of that condition on human physiology.  It’s a very interesting interview, especially for those concerned about the quality of their food.  I know I don’t need to point-out to folks who read this blog, but a food’s being labeled “organic” in no way ensures that that food was raised in a healthy-soil environment.  The interview can be found here, and it’s show #695 (Doctor of Ashes).  Good stuff.

So things are likely to get a bit silent around here for the next few days, as I complete my relocation to “the ATX”, and integrate into Efficient Exercise team.   Check-out the sidebar for Twitter updates from the road, as Meesus TTP and I meander on down Austin way.  So adios for now, and I’ll see y’all on the flip-side.  Be good, work hard, and of course, stay paleo  🙂

A Post-Ride Paleo Meal, a Workout, and a Couple of Thoughts

To diet is to suffer, right? Uh-huh, yeah...right...

So this is what I chowed-down on Sunday evening, following a rather long day spent in the fixie saddle.

What you see here is a 1 lb, applewood smoked ham steak, from my good friends at Greene County North Carolina’s Rainbow Meadow Farms.  You can’t really tell from the photo, but that good-tastin’ bad boy takes up the entire bottom of the plate.  At the 5 o’ clock position there is a little bit of Tropical Tradition’s Atchara (fermented papaya); tasty and highly recommended.  And that’s a stir fry of chopped broccoli, red and green cabbage, carrots, green peppers, radish and celery there on top, obscuring the real size of the ham stake.  I “fried” the steak – actually, I just seared each side, as it was already smoked – prior to tossing in the veggies so that I’d have olive oil and the ham drippings to stir fry with; damn it made those veggies taste fantastic!  And the contrast with the fermented papaya was out of this world.

I also spent quite a bit of time in the saddle on Friday and Saturday as well.  It will be interesting to see how I integrate, after my move to Austin, what I anticipate to be much more of biking and running (sprinting)-centered lifestyle, with my weight training.  Of course, I will have the tremendous advantage of having access to varied and state-of-the-art equipment at Efficient Exercise, so I’ll be able to intensify my workouts, and thereby shorten my actual gym time.

I also plan on finally piecing together a full garage gym.  Anyone in the Austin area looking to unload some bumper plates, Oly bars, and plyo boxes, be sure and look me up  🙂

Ok, so here’s what I did in the gym on Saturday evening, on the tail-end of that day’s extended fixie session:

DB snatch (aka, the Cred) + single-arm split jerk: (reps listed are per-arm) 65 x 3; 75 x 3; 85 x 2; 95 x 1; 100 x 1; 105 x 1, 1, 1.  Missed the left-side jerk on the 1st and 3rd attempt; 2nd attempt wasn’t pretty, but it was a “green lighter”.   Made all three attempts on the right side.  Hopefully once I get resettled I can get some clips of this movement to post.  It’s one of my favorite combination movements but, unfortunately a combination that’s rather difficult to explain; one of those things that’s much better shown than discussed.

following that, I shifted into Mentzer-esk mode with the following –

Atlantis pull-down machine: 350 lbs x ~10 reps (5,0,5,0 tempo) to positive failure, then 3 cheat concentrics + “extended” negatives.  By “extended” I mean that the first round was about 8 secs, roughly 6 or so for the second, and the third was an ugly 3 or 4 second negative.  Holy lat and bicep pummel, Batman.  Total TUL was approximately 135 seconds.

… moved right along then to the following pre-exhaust pairing:

Atlantis pec-deck: 180 lbs x ~ 10 reps (5,0,5,0 tempo) to positive failure + an approximate 8 second static “push”.  ~ 60 seconds TUL

then immediately to:

Atlantis machine flat press: 180 lbs (5,0,5,0 tempo) to positive failure, followed by 3 forced reps + extended negatives.  I lost count of reps, here – but really, though, that doesn’t matter so much, as I know what the total TUL was (approx. 75 seconds).

Again, it’s much, much better to perform this method of training with either a great partner (and one who’s not checkin’ out the babes on the stair-steppers), or a trainer who’s well versed in HIT applications…and who is also not checkin’ out the babes on the stair-steppers.  We do the best we can with the options we have, though.

Depth vs Spin –

I’ve long considered Seth Godin as one of amongst a very small group of individuals (including Rob Bell, and Clay Shirky for example) who totally “get” the new social construct, and Seth’s recent post, How long before you run out of talking points? is another in a long list of the guy’s outta-the-park hits.

Those of us who immerse ourselves in the world of Physical Culture are especially sensitive to all of the “spin” and surface-level (at best) understanding that’s unleashed upon the public on a daily (hourly?) basis.  Just listen to all the “leading authorities” on this subject or that; the total lack of knowledge/understanding displayed is shocking.  And unfortunately, this is the window through which the vast majority of the population “sees” Physical Culture.  Is there any wonder as to why our society in embroiled in the heathcare crisis that it is?  The real wonder is why we’re not actually worse off than what we are.  I guess I should concentrate more on “H8’n the game, not the playuh”, but things such as Shape Ups and the Cookie Diet just ain’t gonna cut the most direct path to to an exemplary expression of Physical Culture, folks.

“When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

As a correlate to “Depth vs Spin” idea – and certainly applicable to the realm of Physical Culture — is the notion of following one’s intuition and intelligence to gather knowledge, and what, for that matter, the true definition of “knowledge” is to begin with.

Seth Roberts recently posted this piece, “A World Suppressing the Uniqueness Inside Each of Us” in which he references this fabulous Valedictorian address purportedly given by Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School, on June 25, 2010.  Now whether this was truly a Valedictorian address or not, I can’t be sure of.  What I am sure of, though, is that the message is *spot-friggin’-on*.  And not only is this is the case in “education”, writ large, but the same can be said of diet, health, and fitness writ large — the totality of what I term “Physical Culture”.  Take an n=1 approach toward achieving your own ultimate phenotypical expression.  Keep both eyes on the path; the destination will take care of itself.