Say, That’s a Nice Lookin’ Tail…

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

First, a little prospective…

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

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

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

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

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

Toein' the line, MovNat style

Of fractals and power laws

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

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

Basic power law curve

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health,

Keith

 

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Touchstones

“I’d rather live with a good question than a bad answer.” – Aryeh Frimer

I like to revisit certain performance markers every now and again throughout the ebb and flow of the training season; markers that, over the years, I have been able to correlate, at least within myself, to a well-rounded athleticism.   These are not, mind you, performance maxes or PRs.   In other words, these markers are not the result of a performance driven by a particular dedicated and pin-pointed focus, but rather a performance indicator that, in a well-rounded athletic sense, things are as they should be; that no excessive imbalance exists between speed, strength and sprint repeat endurance.  In fact, I use such touchstones as an indication that any dedicated focus that I might be engaged in has not resulted in the degradation of another, “competing” factor.   For instance, pushing a max squat number at the expense of (in my case, at least), sprinting and/or repeat speed or performance.  Conversely, I know that a nice, snappy, 7 rep 2xBW deadlift, while I’m in the throes of sprinting/saddle-time season, is a good indication that I’m still good-to-go in the weight room.

15 under 15 and in 15

…or, as they were affectionately known back in the day, simply “15’s”

Hard as it is to believe now days, collegiate football players of the early 1980’s actually went back home during the summers and (the Brian Bosworth‘s and SMU‘s of college football notwithstanding) worked legitimate — and in my case, heavy-ass, manual labor — jobs over the summer break.  The coaching staffs at that time sent players home with the parting message that said jocks better (insert filthy string of pejoratives) return “in shape and ready to play”, lest they face some unspecified, but decidedly heinous, form of public castration.  In our case, said punishment would surely be performed in front of a full assembly of cheering Strutters.

Nothing like a little incentive.

And still, few paid the threat any mind.  Oh to be 20 and bullet proof once more 🙂

At any rate, every August, upon returning to camp in preparation for the upcoming season, linebackers, strong safeties*, and tight ends were expected to be able to reel-off 15 100-yrd sprints, all in less than 15 seconds each, with a 45 second recovery before the start of the next sprint.  Nothing superhuman here of course, but pulling this off does reveal a decent, base level of repeat sprint endurance.  Something to work with, something from which to build upon.  And I still use it as a yardstick test today.  Other, more accurate measures of sprint repeat endurance could surely be argued for, but this simple (on paper anyway!) test is at once a great workout in-and-of-itself, and pretty decent measure of fitness.

I’d just like to report that I passed this test with flying colors this past Sunday, just as I did every August during my career.  Yeah, I was one of those  guys, even back then.  One of those middling talent guys who had to “train” their way onto the playing field.

In health,

Keith

*note – that strong safties were considered “small, fast, linebackers” is, in itself, telling of a bygone era; defenses designed for a single purpose — to stop the option.

The Four T’s — Tools, Techniques, Time and Tenacity

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

True for many aspects in life, but no more so than in the pursuit of a long and successful life in the game of Physical Culture 2.0.

And what exactly *is* Physical Culture 2.0?  Well, in essence, it’s the fully integrated pursuit of a healthy and vibrant existence, including (but certainly not limited to) looking to our evolutionary past to construct a scaffolding upon which to layer ever more effective and efficacious “technologies” (both modern and stone-age) so as to produce an exquisite phenotypical expression of one’s self onto the world.

And speaking of Physical Culture 2.0, here’s Skyler Tanner and yours truly speaking truth to power about this emerging paradigm shift from what is currently understood as Physical Culture (or PC 1.0, if you will) at the August 2011 Ancestral Health Symposium:

…and the presentation’s accompanying slide show.

Revolution vs Transcendence

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the emergence of Physical Culture 2.0 is a healthy, lasting process — less so an anarchistic revolution as it is a phenomenon of transcendence — the building upon (“transcending” in every sense of the word) that which has come before; even that which we might be quick to label “malicious” at best.  Carrying forward that which is good and helpful, and simply leaving behind (and with no emotional attachment) that which is not helpful.  No failures, only feedback.  Learning from previous mistakes; moving forward with no baggage — emotional or otherwise — to drag about.

And while team sports certainly have their role in PC 2.0, for the most part, this is an n=1-driven phenomena; self-mastery, self-betterment…self-knowledge.

The Four T’s

…or one person’s “play” is another person’s metcon…

I’ll speak more to the idea of Exercise vs Activity (or play) in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s just say that activity (or play) to ===> exercise is an n=1-specific continuum, and concentrate here on tools, techniques, time and tenacity; the immutable laws of Physical Culture.  As a correlate to the four T’s, consider the speed of light and its position as an immutable law of physics.  Just as David Duetsch would say that anything is possible so long as it does not violate the immutable laws of physics, so too is our ability to transform ourselves, in a phynotypical sense, so long as we properly manipulate these four tenants of Physical Culture (diet being the other side of the same coin, of course, and with it’s own set of “immutables”).  Now this isn’t so “woo-woo” as it might first appear.  Let’s, for the sake of argument, consider my last outdoor metcon outing, which went a little something like this:

100 meter sprint

6, rapid-succession, tennis ball goalpost “dunks”

30′ parallel bar “sprint”

60′ dual-leg hops

30′ monkey bar “sprint”

5 tractor tire flips + immediate 40 yd sprint

20 yard blocking sled (think heavy-ass Prowler) push

60 yd change-of-direction sprint

Wash, rinse, and repeat x3.  I won’t get into a full-on explanation of all the individual elements (I’ll post a video of this in the near future), or hella-bitch about the temperature being a nice one-ohh-whatever-the-fuc! outside during this particular shindig…

Ozzie says, "Texas heat blows, yo!"

…no, actually what I want to do is look at this workout through the tools, techniques, time and tenacity lens.

…enter “the study”…

From the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, consider the following:

A PRACTICAL MODEL OF LOW-VOLUME HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING INDUCES PERFORMANCE AND METABOLIC ADAPTATIONS THAT RESEMBLE ‘ALL-OUT’ SPRINT INTERVAL TRAINING

What’s the take-home message here?  Quite simply, this: that Sprint (or High Intensity) Interval Training — even at moderate intensities — can impart some pretty damn impressive physiological adaptations.  That’s smart and efficient training, folks; training, by the way, that requires little in the way of tools and, if performed moderately (or “scaled”, if you prefer), only a modicum of tenacity.

Additionally, I’ll tell you this about HIIT/SIT: this manner of training will, in short order, devour an enormous amount of calories, both during — and for many hours following —  said exercise bout.  And while the metabolism remains jacked for up to 24 hours following a SIT/HIIT bout, there is an even more important shift taking place in the musculature at the fiber-type level: a preferential shift to fast-twitch dominance and a preservation of this fiber type (Bending the Aging Curve, from the above-sited talk and slide presentation). In addition, there will be an up-regulation of anaerobic, ATP, and aerobic enzyme activity.  In other words, all energy systems will become more efficient at generating energy and burning calories.

Simply put, training in the anaerobic-glycolytic pathway via proper manipulations of SIT/HIIT methodologies up-regulates all energy pathways (yes, including aerobic oxidation), making them more efficient and, as a result, making you a better conditioned Physical Culturalist.  So high-intensity exercise elicits a high output from all metabolic energy systems — however, this does not work both ways. Training for endurance (aerobically, i.e., long and slow) will not lead to equal up-regulation of  ATP and CP or anaerobic glycolytic enzyme activity/pathways, simply because aerobic type training does not stress these systems.

Now, let’s shift environments (and available tools), and see if we can produce the same type of metabolic effect using old-school black iron.  Check out this workout from earlier in the week.  I also ran a few of my more advanced clients through this same, Martin Rooney inspired, black iron circuit, which can, of course, be scaled (or exercises can be swapped) so as to suit any ability level.  Remember the emphasis here is on metcon/energy system training, not strength, per se.  Since the “rules of the game” are such that I have a 30-minute time limit, and that I’ll need to rely on old-school tools to accomplish the task, I’ll have to select exercises that can be performed safely under some pretty severe fatigue.  Uhhh, so yeah — that means Oly lifts/derivatives are out 😉

So here’s what I ended up with:

power sumo DLs x 10

T-bar swings x 20

alternating lead-foot BTN jerks x 10 total

wash, rinse, repeat x3.

Tough?  Yeah, you bet your sweet ass it is.  But the cool thing is that anyone, in any condition, can perform this basic theme (scaling and/or subbing exercises where necessary) and — as the study sited above demonstrates — derive some fantastic benefits from it.  So my “play” might be somebody else’s beat-down, but that’s the beauty of this Physical Culture thing — it’s all about the n=1 experience.

In health,

Keith

The Ancestral Health Symposium, 2011

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

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

The Ancestral Health Symposium, 2011

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

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

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

And speaking of crazy

A *serious* meeting of the minds 😉

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

Physical Culture (PC), 2.0

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

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

Framework vs Fundamentalism

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

On the Workout Front…

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

Part I

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

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

And Finally…

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

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

About the show, from KQED’s Forum website:

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

Grock on.

In health,

Keith