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

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In an Evolutionary Sense, Why Hypertrophy?

No passion so effectively robs the mind of all of its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.

Edmund Burke

The question of “why should there be a hypertrophy response at all” has puzzled me for some time.  On the surface, inflated muscle mass does seem to be a grossly inefficient answer (in metabolic terms) as to how best to endure repeated-effort bouts of high intensity work.  A massive, power-sucking brain we can surely justify — a huge return on metabolic investment, in an evolutionary sense.  Hypertrophy, though, in my mind, is a bit harder to justify.  Why not more of a hedge, for example, toward improved CNS efficiency?  Or a different type/mix of fiber?  Or an overall shift toward a more power-leaning motor unit makeup.  Of course the various “how to’s” of hypertrophy are, in and of themselves, quite enough to keep the forums and blogosphere rife with speculation, hate-mongering and discontent.  All well and good with the lively, on-going debate on that front; we ought, though, to be asking the deeper questions of just why hypertrophy should be in the first place.  Once we know this, we can better hone-in on how to produce it

Evolution for me is a roadmap that helps answer all questions (save for origin), as to what is most efficient at propagating genes from one generation to the next.  Note that “efficient” does not necessarily imply “optimum”.  Keep in mind that in an evolutionary sense, optimum is not required — what is required is that an organism be more efficient than the competition at passing genes from one generation to the next.  Evolution truly adheres to the wise dictum of not letting perfection stand in the way of the good.  Good enough to git’er done better than the competition is good enough.  Optimum phenotyipical expression is another question entirely.  This is where thinkering, manipulation, and critical thought come into play.  Having a firm grasp on where one is, and where one wishes to be, on the health-performance continuum is critical.

My good friend Ken O’Neill has suggested that hypertrophy can be considered in the same light as the neuroplasticity phenomenon associated with the brain.  In other words (and this plays right into our species’ niche as being extremely adaptive, nimble, and opportunistic), the evolutionary beauty of this response might not lay in it’s uber efficiency, per se, but in it’s extreme adaptability.   A leopard retains its leopard-ness, more-or-less, no matter the environment; humans, on the other hand, morph accordingly.   We are nimble enough to both craft a spear, and powerful enough to then hurl the thing…with enough fine motor control, by the way, to land the spear on target.  Our muscle fiber make-up and CNS “wiring” scream of compromise.

Does this get us any closer to uncovering the “secrets” to hypertrophy?  Probably not.  But if we realize that muscle is both metabolic currency, and that it’s metabolically expensive as all hell to gain and maintain, we begin to see just how much absolute work is required to elicit a hypertrophic response; we begin to see the difference between training for “health” and forcing the body into an all-hands-on-deck, survival response.  We also begin to see why we have such wide-ranging genetic predispositions for certain phenotypical expressions of “fitness” or “performance”.  You can take the lanky kid outta the savanna, but you can only somewhat take the savanna outta the kid, so to speak.

If hypertrophy is our species’ evolutionary answer to surviving an extreme (and hopefully short-term, from the body’s point of view) environmental onslaught, it stands to reason that the onslaught better be pretty damn severe for the body to invest in such a risky metabolic fix.  That this “fix” can also be utilized as a ready fuel source should the onslaught subside is just pure evolutionary genius.

Time, tools, techniques, and tenacity; preach it, brother...

This also implies (in my mind, at least) that an optimized hypertrophy response requires a stimulus from all sections of the force-velocity curve; something Scott Abel has termed “surfing” the force-velocity curve.  In essence, we need to perform work throughout the force-velocity spectrum, from the upper-left absolute strength zone on down to the lower-right land of RFD; it all matters and it’s all essential.

cowabunga, dude...

This then implies that if maximized hypertrophy is what you seek (as opposed to mere superior health), then you’d do well to (1) have  access to a large and varied tool box so as to enable working on various movement patterns from the totality of the force-velocity curve, (2) become a master craftsman (technician) so as to manipulate these tools properly, (3) be possessed of the tenacity — the wherewithal — to soldier through the requisite hard work; reading/writing about this is easy, implementation, however, is a never-ending series of gut-checks, and (4) you better have some expendable time on your hands.  We can effectively trim a lot of excess fat from workouts, but the fact of the matter is that an exorbitant amount time under the bar is a necessary evil.

Pushing the performance/hypertrophy envelope is a Faustian bargain, no doubt — which is why so few choose to pursue this path.  Many more are quite content with superior “health” and/or various degrees of performance leading up to the all-out assault on optimizing one’s phenotype — conquering Mt. “Swole”, as it were.  But isn’t this true in all areas of life?  In all areas of maximized performance?  Why is it that we think human performance should follow rules outside the dictates of of nature?  That there must be some inherent “magic” involved?  Sure, the totality of human performance has always been, and will always be, a mixed bag of inheritable traits, epigenetic factors, and human will — all in varying degrees no less.  We are the opportunistic species; placicity is our evolutionary endowment.  For each athlete who’s made it via brutally hard work, I can show you another who was just “born” phenomenal.  Same with the musician, and with the mathematician.  But there is no one formula, one recipe, for success.  We would not have survived as a species if it were otherwise; each step toward singularity is a step toward extinction.

~^~

So the 21 Convention is now in the rear-view window, and the Ancestral Health Symposium lay ahead.  It’s been a whirlwind last few weeks.  What a great time I had with Anthony Johnson and the rest of the 21 Convention crew.  Fantastic speakers, enthusiastic attendees and an awesome atmosphere.  The unveiling of the ARX Omni was a highlight of the event for me, and I was able to both discuss this tool’s place within the greater toolbox, and allow some of the attendees to give ‘er a test drive.

I also got to spend quite a bit of time with Richard Nikoley, of Free the Animal fame.  We hit it off like long lost pals.  And why not?  We’re both ex navy men, with a hell-bent Paleo leaning.  I can tell you that Richard is just as “take no prisoners” in person as he is in “blog life”.  What a cool cat.  I look forward to spending more time with him out in LA next weekend.  So what’s the TTP pitch going to be in LA?  Well, Skyler and I intend to champion Physical Culture’s rightful place — the “new” Physical Culture, that is; Physical Culture 2.0, if you will — in fixing the damn healthcare quagmire we find ourselves in now.  Since we hail from the epicenter of this integrative holistic medicine/fitness movement — Austin, Texas — it seems fitting.  Stay tuned 😉

In health,

Keith

The Great Divide, and Physical Culture as Alchemy

…Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.  

To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.

Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.

Oh, I’ll accomodate them, I’ll rummage around for something to feed them, for a ‘vegetarian plate’, if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine…

— chef/author Anthony Bourdain, most recently of  The Travel Chanel’s No Reservations

Bourdain is, of course, being incendiary here, as those who have something to promote (books, in this case, and a new television series) are often wont to do.   In my mind, the only thing left to debate in the great diet wars is not what is the healthiest diet for human beings — I  have yet to see a solid health-based argument against the Paleo approach — but the minutia of the Paleo diet itself.  Questions over saturated fat consumption, consumption of raw dairy, to supplement or not to supplement with fish oil — things of that nature.  Animal welfare — that other sentient beings should be (unwillingly!) at our carnivorous beck-and-call is, in my mind, another debate altogether.  And one that, unfortunately, diverts attention from an issue we all find despicable — that being the inhumane treatment of animals.
I think that both the Paleo and vegetarian/vegan camps can agree that CAFOs and their ilk are an abomination.  Very well; we can rage against the machine in our own distinct ways — I choose to “rage” by way of my (albeit very limited 🙂  ) wallet, and by spreading the good word about sustainable and, yes, reverential animal husbandry.  Others chose to “rage” by abstaining from animal products altogether which, in my mind, is fine as well.  To sacrifice one’s own health in protest of abomination, or for a greater good, is nothing new in the course of human events.  If the vegetarians/vegan and Paleo camps could agree on this one concept, it would go a long way toward bridging the divide between these two powerful entities, and better align them against the one common-cause issue near and dear to both — the abolishment of CAFOs.
And yes, once that’s done, we can all get back to arguing over the validity of China Study  🙂
As far as our right to dominate over other sentient beings, my feelings are this: I make no apologies for having (this time around — if you believe in that kind of thing) incarnated in a species that occupies the top of the food chain.  I make no apologies as well, as to how evolution has crafted my dietary needs, and that crafting’s ultimate outcome.  That I will one day become worm nourishment in no way riles my angst against the worm — it is, quite simply, the nature of things; (star) dust to (star) dust, you know.  Now, do I feel that I am obligated to treat each and every sentient being with the utmost respect, as one of God’s creatures?  Absolutely.  That the Comanche relied upon the American bison for their very livelihood and which elicited their reverence for the animal in no way prevented them from dropping the beast as need be — it was simply understood as — again – the nature (or right order) of things.  Reverence ought not divorce one from the natural order, but quite the opposite; the natural order ought to be enhanced by one’s reverence.  Seen in this way, reverence for — and reliance upon — are not mutually exclusive properties but are, in fact, mutually enhancing properties.

~

From Alchemists, ancient and modern,

…serves as a useful reminder to modern scientists that even the most cherished theories need to be treated with constant scepticism. This is because, as the alchemists found out, it can be all too easy to see in your results what you want to see, rather than what is actually there

Emphasis mine.

Or, as Nietzsche might have said, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies”.

N=1 Physical Culture is defined as a lifelong journey, a journey in which, to be truly enjoyed, one must continually question one’s own assumptions — every step of the way.  The shifting sands of “unknowing” ought to be embraced, not feared.  Do today with what you know today to be “true”; remain open though, to the notion that tomorrow may present to you truths that run counter to yesterday’s — and that’s okay!  The unencumbered mind is the most nimble of minds.  Treat convictions like cards in a poker hand; with no emotional attachment, enable yourself to “discard” as the current hand requires.

~

In-utero epigenetic signalling — just one piece of a the highly complex, multiple-moving-parts family problems collectively known as metabolic syndrome.  This article, from British Columbia’s Globe and Mail, does a nice job of describing this aspect’s contribution to the world obesity epidemic.  Again, none of the contributing factors to this epidemic should be considered in isolation, but rather as part-and-parcel of a much grander weave of contributing factors.

~

Here are a few sample workouts from last week.  More and more I’ve taken to multiple “micro workouts” scattered throughout the day, as time permits.  These seem to work well for me, and fit nicely into my schedule.  Quite a change from 30 years ago, when 2-hours a day, 6-days a week was my norm.  Those days seem almost quaint, now.  I don’t miss those marathon training sessions so much as I miss the ability, time-wise, to engage in such long sessions. Ah, to have that kind of available time on my hands once again!  🙂

Monday, 2/21/11 –

A Joe Defranco-inspired shoulder routine:

(A1) seated plate front raise: 35/20; 45/15, 15

(A2) seated db lateral raise: 20/15, 15, 15

(A3) seated db Cuban press: 15/15, 15, 15

(A4) red Jump-Stretch band pull-aparts: 15 each round

(B1) High Box step ups: 135/20; 185/16, 16 (alternate legs)

 

Tuesday, 2/22/11 –

(A1) hip press (h2): 400/12, 500/6, 600/3 (hierarchical)

(B1) explosive trap bar vertical jumps: 115/10, 10, 10

…..then, later in the day

XCCentric incline press: (+0)/21 rest-pause, then (+30)/6+ rest-pause

….and then a little later in the same day

Hip press (h2): 500/21, breathing presses

Wednesday, 2/23/11-

(A1) nautilus pec dec: 110/13, 8, 9

(A2) nautilus reverse flye: 110/15, 12, 10

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

(B1) nautilus pull-over: 255/10, 2, 2, 7-singles (rest-pause)

Thursday, 2/24/11 –

(A1) T bar swings: 150/25, 25, 25

(A2) EZ curls: 105/12, 12, 8 + 4 rest-pause

(A3) EZ French curl: 105/10, 10, 10

 

In health –

Keith

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.

Plyometrics and Performance

“…But there is no certain way that exists permanently.  There is no way for us.  Moment after moment, we have to find our own way.  Some idea of perfection, or some perfect way which is set up by someone else, is not the true way for us…”

The above is from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, and more succinctly sums-up the Paleo/Primal, n=1 experience than any other thought that I’ve as yet come across.  Whether it’s the personalized protein/fat/carbohydrate ratio that has one looking, feeling and performing at optimal levels, to the intricacies within each and every individual’s goal-driven training philosophy, we all, essentially, have to find our own, unique way.  Information from others can serve as a good compass, however the hard work of boots-on-the-ground navigation – the actual map interpretation and dead reckoning — comes down to us, the individual.  If we’re lucky, somewhere along the way we’ll have knowledgeable hands-on instruction; some of us, though, will have to tease out the bits, pieces and hints that the universe physical culture sees fit to avail to us.  This is the tough road, the school of hard knocks.   I’ve had a little of the former, but a whole lot, though, of the latter – and I’ve got the battle scars and bruises to prove it.

As a correlate to the above, let’s, for a moment, consider the following sports physiology-related study (Effect of Plyometric vs. Dynamic Weight Training on the Energy Cost of Running), and that study’s application to the real world; a little Theory to Practice, if you will.   Now, my friends over at SpeedEndurance.com posted a nice summation of this particular study recently; however, I’d like to consider the findings through a slightly different prism – that of your “Average Joe” trainee.

Now, as studies go, this is a fine and rather interesting piece of work, with the lone drawback being (as was pointed out by Jimson, of SpeedEndurance), the lack of a weight trained + plyo trained group.  Why this group was not included, I have no idea – it would seem a logical progression.  At any rate, to the Average Joe, this study would seem to indicate that one could forgo basic strength training (or at least “dynamic” weight training) and jump (pardon the pun) directly into a plyometrics-based scheme; at the very least, this study might be cause, in some, of a good deal of “paralysis by analysis”.   Empirical experience, a smattering of book knowledge and a good dose of common sense, though, will help us convert this study into useful, real-world training applications.

Now, to be sure, there are plenty on unknowns surrounding the performance of this study, and it may be these “unknowns” are fleshed-out in the full paper (anyone have access to this?).  For example, a precise accounting of the exercise protocols (sets, reps, rest, exercise selection, etc.), diet, other stressors would be great to know, because, as Rummy so eloquently put it:

All that aside, though, what we’re actually seeing here in this study is the development of two different aspects of strength.  The truth of the matter is though, that it’s not a question of “one aspect of strength being better than the other”, but a question of synergy.   It’s not that the Average Joe – or even the highly trained athlete – should concentrate on one aspect of strength at the expense of another, but that no aspect of strength should be left untrained.  And there is a proper time and place for the training of each strength aspect.  The biggest mistake I see, though (and I see it being made continually), is an over-eagerness in trainees to “graduate away” from the building of a solid strength base into the more esoteric aspects of strength training – for example, plyometrics – well before they are ready.

And it’s not so much an injury issue that concerns me – hell kids perform plyometrics every day (or they used to, that is — back in the day when they were allowed unguarded access to a decent playground) without the benefit of a trained sold base of strength or and S&C coach hovering about.  No, this is simply a question of bang-for-the-training-buck.  Knowing to what extent each modality of strength plays in your defined goals –along with when and to what extent to attack those modalities – are the keys to actually reaching your goals.  First and foremost, though, let’s build a super strength base from which to launch into these other strength aspects.  You’ll acquire much more in the way of “look, feel and perform” results by going about things in this, the proper manner.  Patience, grasshopper; one solid step at a time.

Training?  Playing? Hell, I don’t know, the lines have been rather blurred the last few days.  Sunday (the 4th), I spent the day huckin’ it about all over Ocracoke island on the ol’ fixie.  Lots and lots of time in the saddle, a myriad of intensities durations, etc, and a long IF.  By the time I boarded the ferry for the 2-and-a-half hour ride back to the mainland, I was zorched.  Came home to find out that one of my neighbors tried to burn the damn place down with a BBQ gone astray.

Rut-ro!

Remember kids, alcohol should be consumed in inverse proportion to the fat content of the meat one intends on grilling  🙂  Planning on ribs and chicken thighs?  Best lay off the hard stuff, my friend.

Monday, I put in a little more saddle time (mostly to loosen a pair of tight legs), then hit some Vibram-shod, running sprints – and, yes – some plyometrics.  I didn’t track any numbers, times, distances, or what have you.  I’d estimate each sprint (of about 10 total) was approximately 150 yards or so, and there was a definite grade to the field so that I ran, alternately, uphill and downhill.  Also, the field was undulating as all hell, and this added an entirely different proprioception aspect to the endeavor.   In between each pair of sprints I did some “box jumps” up on, and down from, a waist-high table.  I also played around with some various forms of push-ups and pull-ups.  Just out enjoying another day in the sun, with no real rhyme or reason to my activities.

Tuesday evening saw more saddle time, and a pitstop by the gym for this:

single-leg, straight leg deadlift (barbell): 115 x 6, 6, 6, 6 (each leg)

then a superset of the following –

kneeling DB clean and press: 50 x 7; 60 x 6, 6, 6, 6

weighted, regular-grip pull-ups: 45 x 6, 55 x 5, 5, 5, 5

I went into the gym this evening with an open mind, and with no preconceived ideas of what to do, just falling into whatever “felt right”.  A few days of this every now and again always serves as a nice break, both mentally and physically.  Working out doesn’t always have to be “directed”.  Of course, it goes without saying not to dive willy-nilly into things you’re not physically prepared to handle.  Have fun, spread your wings, play – but be smart about it.

High Intensity Training, Pushing Beyond the Mind’s “Pull the Plug!” Signal, & Running and Hip Strength

A couple of things to ponder over the long weekend –

One topic that is central to any discussion of High Intensity Training is the understanding of what, exactly, constitutes “muscular failure”.  The point of muscular failure is, in fact, one of the key tenants (or gauges, or yardstick measures) of HIT-like protocols.  The thing is, though, what is commonly interpreted as “muscular failure” is most times simply the mind demanding that the trainee “pull the plug” on the activity.  This obviously adds another dimension to the HIT equation, as muscular failure cannot be thought of as a “hard” variable in the way that the number of sets, reps, load and total time-under-tension are considered.  “failure”, then, becomes a nebulous thing that’s not easy to corner.  Just how “nebulous”?  Well, check this out.  The point is, though, that it’s obvious – not only when we look trainee to trainee, but within the same trainee at different times – that this “shutdown switch” is affected by a myriad of outside – and inside — influences.

But back to the original question – are some trainees simply naturally “wired” (“cocktailed”?) in such a way so as to allow them to demand more of their bodies than others?  And if so, how does this affect the efficacy of HIT-type training in general?  It would seem obvious that, given two trainees with identical physiologies and epigenetic stimulus, the one “wired to go full-throttle” would progress much faster, and to a greater extent, than the trainee who cannot mute the brain’s “shut ‘er down” pleas.

The ability of some individuals to consistently push themselves far beyond that of what “mere mortals” can accomplish is, in my view, one huge reason why some experience phenomenal results from HIT and /or BBS-like protocols, and others do not.  Hang around a bunch of athletes, military-types, or even regular Joe trainees long enough and you’ll see the empirical truth to the claim (my claim, anyway), that most emphatically yes, there is definitely something – chemical, hormonal, learned…wiring? (and, more than likely, a combination of all) – something that allows some trainees to push their bodies to the point of self-destruction, while others are literally forced to “cool their jets” well before the body is in any real danger.  Now, add this “danger mute switch” ability on top of a set of superior genetic and epigenetic factors favorable to a given sport, and you’ve got yourself the makings for a Lance Armstrong level of athletic freakiness.

What exactly constitutes this factor, though, and what can be done – if anything – to enhance it?  Note that what I am not talking about here is the Golgi tendon reflex, which we know can be both trained around and, to some extent, blunted.  No, what I’m referring to is totally “in the head” – or in the central nervous system, as it were.  Granted, the Golgi reflex may very well play into this loop, but for today’s purposes I’m interested more in what lies further up the CNS stream.

Amphetamines, of course, can be used to blunt the brain’s fatigue signal, and even the more benign versions (Modafinil, for example) can be employed for sports-enhancement purposes; I’ll leave those discussions to more sport-oriented venues, though.  My aim here is to figure out what the regular guy can do to push the fatigue envelope.

Well, as you might imagine, the recommendations are…not so different than what your (Paleo) grandma would’ve told you: eat right, recover properly, and get plenty of sleep every night.  We shouldn’t be surprised, though, as these recommendations form the holly trinity of physical culture and continued wellness.

From this study (and this, a companion article), it would seem that dopamine is a big player in the cns “fatigue mute switch” feedback loop.  And here’s another article to back-up that theory.

I do seem to remember a study completed a few years back (though I can’t seem to locate it now) that seemed to indicate that some special forces recruits (in this case, Navy SEALs) were naturally “wired” so as to have a blunted dopamine reuptake response.  To be more precise, these guys had normal baseline levels of circulating dopamine, however, this baseline level was relatively unaffected by a severe stress stimulus, whereas a “normal responder’s” response would be a precipitous drop in freely available, non-bound dopamine levels.  I may not have the specifics exactly correct – it’s been a while since I read the study and, as I’ve said, I can’t seem to locate it at the moment (if anyone knows of this study, please clue me in!) – but if this is true, it my help shed some light on the “impervious to stress” types out there.

I do think, though, that there is plenty of room for the average Joe to improve upon his own “imperviousness to pain” via good, old fashioned, and conditioned mental toughness.  Like any other aspect of training, someone else’s enhanced natural ability should not dissuade or discourage us from chasing our own n=1 dreams.  As always, the name of the game is to make the most you can with what you’ve got.

A Couple of Interesting Things for the Runners Out There –

Here’s a study that sheds some light on the importance of runners developing and maintaining adequate hip Strength.  Now, I don’t think any of this comes as a surprise to this blog’s readership, however, it does give me the opportunity to once again implore my more endurance-leaning brethren to give strength training its fair and deserved due.  I know you endurance types loath being cooped-up in the gym with us knuckle-draggers, but as I’ve mentioned before, there are other options.  Gimme a mere hour a week at such a place as Austin’s Efficient Exercise, and we can boost your strength – and therefore, your performance – measurably…and get rid of those niggling knee (foot and ankle, too!) injuries that have you hobbled, in pain and off the road.

And speaking of knees, hips, feet and ankles (and lower backs, too!), check out these couple of clips from our friends at Vibram Five Fingers and a discussion of heel vs forefoot strike.  I absolutely love my Vibrams!   Apparently, I don’t have the fit problems that Richard has, and it’s actually very hard for me to tell that I even have them on.  But hey, that’s what n=1 experimentation, and the reportage of that experimentation is all about.  We all benefit from this vast collection of knowledge.

Below, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman waxes poetic on heel strike vs forefoot strike:

and part 2 –

Good stuff!

Thursday Night’s Workout –

The name of the game in this superset was speed-of-movement in each exercise.  If an on-looker were to witness the bar (in the high pull) or my body (in the dip), it would seem as if each would “float” to the top-end of the movement after the initial umph from the bottom-out position; in other words, the movements should appear effortless to the casual observer.  Those in “the know”, know better, though.  J

high pulls from the floor: 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 175 x 5, 5, 5, 5

dips: 45 lbs x 3, each of 6 rounds

Followed that up with some repetition method work (done in superset) –

feet-elevated (approx. 24 inches) push-ups: bodyweight x 55, 45 (rest-pause last 10 reps), 40 (rest-pause last 10 reps)

GHR: bodyweight x 25, 25, (no 3rd set)

A Friday Night Push/Pull Session –

I came into the gym tonight with the idea to do close-grip floor presses in a superset with bent-over rows; sets of 3, strength-speed emphasis.  Once I had everything set up, though, I thought, “what the hell, why not go ahead and add in some snatch-grip shrugs as well?”.  I mean, I had to reposition the bar from the floor press pins to the floor between sets anyway – might as well do something with it while it’s in my hands, right?  Right.  Here we go (all with a fat bar) –

Close-grip floor press: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 3; 205 x 3

Snatch-grip shrug: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

Clean-grip BOR: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

Snatch-grip shrug: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

So 5 rounds of that, with 2 sets of shrugs within each round.  Then I tacked-on an additional set of close-grip floor presses @ 215 lbs x 5 rest-pause singles.

Enjoy the extra-long holiday weekend, everyone.  Have fun, be safe, and stay Paleo!

3/23/10; Single-Leg Emphasis MetCon Circuit, and Of Being a Jack of Two Trades, but a Master of Neither (and it’s a good thing)

I certainly don’t mean this in a derogatory sense — far from it — this is simply the makings of a well-rounded athlete.

There is, of course, a wide range of phenotypical expression among athletes (and weekend warriors), along the explosive-elastic continuum.  Swedish sprinter/weightlifter Lena Berntsson is a fine example of a well-trained athlete who happens to fall somewhere in the “ripe” middle of this continuum — though probably leaning more toward the explosive side of things, as evidenced by her propensity for (and relative success in), the short sprints.

Lena’s in lane 4 of the finals, here — the 2nd race in this clip.

I’ve written a few prior posts (here’s one) on the vertical jump as a good measure of explosiveness and as an indicator of overall athleticism.  But let’s be realistic as to what we’re measuring for.  The vert is a good indicator of explosiveness, and, as such, is a good indicator of probable prowess in explosive-leaning sports.  Now, a 60 meter sprint and an Olympic lift may seem to be similar endeavors, but consider this: the winning 60 meter sprint time above was 7.4-ish seconds, whereas an Oly snatch, for example, requires a burst of approximately 1.5 seconds.  A good deal of elasticity is required to perform well in even a short sprint — but in an Olympic lift?  Elasticity need not apply.

We know that, to some extent, explosiveness can be trained.  But what of elasticity?  We’ll consider that in future posts.

Today’s workout was a single-leg gig with a MetCon feel.  This required approximately 30 minutes to nail, following the warm-ups.  Two rounds of this were performed as “primers”, and I have not included those here.  These are the “meat” rounds.

single-leg box squat: (each leg) 20lb dbs x 5; 30lb vest + 20lb dbs x 6, 6, 6

single-leg barbell deadlifts: (each leg) 115 x 5; 125 x 6, 6, 6

weighted dips: 45 x 6; 70 x 6; 80 x 6, 6, 6

weighted reverse-grip pull-ups: 45 x 5; 70 x 5; 80 x 4, 4, 3

4 total rounds here, with an additional round of dips and pull-ups.  My legs were too fried to attempt the “bonus” round.  Very slow negatives on the box squats, with the emphasis put on not collapsing onto the box at the near-parallel position.  Attempt these and you’ll know exactly what I mean by “attempt not to collapse”.