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 –



And Now Let’s Hack Keith’s DEXA Scan…

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

– William James 

So I’ve decided to follow the look under the hood with a purview of how the ol’ chassis is holding up, and what better method to do so with than the gold standard body composition test, the DEXA scan.

The big selling point of this technology, of course, lay in it’s ability to accurately and non-invasively measure bone density, and as more and more folks succumb to the horrors of a SAD/non-Paleo-diet-induced osteoporosis, this provides the grain-chomping, brittle-boned (1) a vivid snapshot of their deteriorating scaffolding, and (2) a means by which to be shock-sold the Bisphosphonate class of wonder-drugs (Boniva, Flosamax, etc.).  It’s a beautiful, beautiful, 3-way partnership; feed ’em crap, show ’em the in-your-face results of eating said crap, then sell them a drug that enables them (in one respect, at least) to continue eating that crap.  Win-win…and — cha-ching! — WIN again!  😉

Mostly seen as a side benefit of this technology — yet what those of us in the Physical Culture community would be most interested in — is the DEXA’s ability to accurately measure ALL the constituents of one’s body composition: fat, lean tissue and bone mass.  In other words, it’s the most accurate, all-encompassing picture of one’s body composition that can be had.

Now, as I have the great privilege of living in *the* epicenter of Physical Culture, Austin, Texas, I have ready access to the University of Texas run Fitness Institute of Texas, where Executive Director, Phil Stanforth, and Operations Director, Julie Drake, oversee a grade-A organization of fitness/performance-smart professionals.  In fact, we at Efficient Exercise are now in partnership with the fine folks at FIT, offering DEXA services to our clients at a much-reduced rate.  Not only do clients receive a full report of their scan results (the most of which, of my report, I’ve included below), but also a comprehensive explanation of the results from one of the astute FIT staff.

Note: for those of you making the trip to Austin this spring for what’s quickly shaping-up to be the Burning Man of the Paleo/Primal set, PFX12, we will have have a limited number of slots available to obtain your own DEXA Scan report and comprehensive explanation from the professionals at FIT.  We’ll update PFX12 website as the specifics of this service become available.  Check the PFX12 site for more details as they become available.

So without further ado, here we go.  Ain’t no Photoshoppin’ and/or airbrushin’ this stuff, folks!  And just a side note: airbrushed or not, LL does look mighty (surprisingly even?) hot, here 😉  I dunno, maybe it’s the Marilyn thing…

…I digress…

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.  So below is a visual image of the raw data, produced from approximately 7-minutes worth of actual scan time.  Note the bit of scoliosis in the mid/low back.  Now, I haven’t thought of this one iota since my days of playing college ball, when the team chiropractor pointing out this condition to me.  I remember at the time asking if it was a problem, and his reply being “based on your performance, apparently not.”   My kinda doc.  The question in my mind now is, I wonder how much extra performance *could* be squeezed-out of being perfectly aligned.  I also wonder if this is a genetic thing, or something resultant of my daredevil (read:bone-headed), no-stranger-to-the-ER, youth.

And now, the pertinent portions of the full report.  I realize these are a little tough to read; gotta work within the limitations of the blogging platform, though.

Note the 17.2 % BF in the hips.  What the hell?  Lotta junk in the trunk appearantly, y’all 😉

What would be interesting — and what I’d kill to have — are comparison data from my competitive days, where I was in the peak of my performance/fitness ability (health, of course, being another matter entirely), and played at between 220 and 225.  Aside from the extra amount of muscle I carried in my neck at that time (heh…think prototypical Neanderthal), I wonder what the rest of my composition would have looked like.  If I had to guess, I’d say that my BF% was a little higher, but not by much.

So this is quite interesting.  A 10.6% BF level without purposefully trying to be lean.  If anyone has seen me eat, they know that I do so with reckless abandon.  The key, of course, is the consumption of a Paleo diet — though I do enjoy the occasional corn tortilla, corn chips and salsa, and the much more frequent beer.  I also swill plenty of raw, unpasteurized dairy (usually reserved for post workout).  These are the n=1 tweaks that I’ve found work for me, though these few indiscretions usually have me exiled,  by Paleo dogmatists, to the nutritional equivalent of Lesbos; that’s the topic of another post though, I suppose.  At any rate, if I were a bodybuilder, a 10.6%, off-season BF would be pretty damn good — not far to go to get to stage condition — and a hell of a lot healthier than bloating up only to drop right back down again.

Oh, and one thing that I did not include from the report is that, at a BMI of 30.6, the World Health Organization considered me “obese”.   I suppose it’s time to whittle-down into the single-digit BF so as to rectify that!


So what, exactly is “healthy”?  And can “healthy” (as opposed to “performance”) even really be adequately defined?  None of us in this community is particularly satisfied (nor should we be) with the trite “absence of disease” definition, but damn if we don’t keep getting lead back to that point.  Health, of course, is a condition that is in continual flux, a condition defined not only by internal functioning and parameter measures, but also how those parameters react to epigenetic, cultural and societal influence.   Health is a distinct function apart from measures of “fitness” and/”performance”, and yet it is intimately tied to these measures as well.  A simple thought experiment:  how many victims of the 9/11 tragedy sported “perfect” blood labs and DEXA screens, yet perished due to a fitness base incapable of rising to the occasion? An extreme example, yes — and yet…well, it’s at least food for thought.

And with this thought in mind, checkout the fantastic post, Norm and normal: the social construction of health, by Dr. Ricky Fishman.  Good, thought-provoking stuff.

In health (and performance!),


Takin’ a Peek Under the Hood; Hackin’ My Bloodwork

“Human beings have an inalienable right to invent themselves.” – Germaine Greer 

I recently decided, in an on-going effort to better quantify an n=1 sweet-zone within my health vs performance continuum, to have an in-depth blood panel examined by Austin’s premier Ancestral Wellness savvy practitioners, the Merritt Wellness Center, and specifically by their resident nutritionist and bloodwork guru, Holly L’Italien.  Holly’s grasp of bloodwork analysis from an Ancestral Wellness prospective is unsurpassed.  She’s an as-yet undiscovered rockstar in the larger Paleo community, and yet another reason why Austin can tout itself as *the* epicenter of Physical Culture.  As we’ll see in this ongoing series, she possesses a laser-sharp insight into the nature and inter-workings of what is an extremely complicated weave of genetic and epigenetic cause, effect and (at times, and at first glance, misleading) correlation.

So what, at a thirty-thousand-foot-view, did my bloodwork reveal?  Well, it begins to tell the story of someone who’s pushing the friggin’ hairy-edge of the health vs performance continuum, that’s what.  Big surprise, huh?  I’ll turn this over to the resident expert for a more in-depth analysis in just a moment, but what we can see aligning here are indications of elevated cortisol  beginning to jack with overall health-indicator parameters in some not-so healthy ways.  What might this elevated cortisol result from?  Well, for starters, how about a recently-turned 47 year-old who insists on training (and for the most part, living) as if he were still a bullet-proof, 20 year old collegiate football player.  Add to that already-volatile mix, an exhilarating (though friggin’ taxing)  24/7 professional life, and a personal life that has endured every major stressor you can imagine — marriage, divorce, a high-stress prior gig (in Big Pharma, for God’s sake!), the raising of teenagers (four of ‘em!!), a complete, utter and drastic career change, moving cross-country, the buying and selling of homesteads in a beyond-shitty market, the passing of a daughter… and hey, those are just the biggies.

So did I do like any normal human being would, and take my foot off of the gas pedal during all of this?  Yeah, right.  Is moderation in my vocabulary, even now?  Uhhhh, no.  Hell, if anything, I just mash the pedal even more when I’m stressed, in some kind of manic (obsessive?), feed-forward loop.  It’s my wolverine/honey badger nature to do just that.  Red-lining workouts and/or pushing physical limits has always been what makes me feel most “alive”.  So am I addicted to the adrenalin rush that being in the extreme produces?  Yeah, probably so.  And I have been ever since I was a kid, so I guess I can blame it on a genetic hard-wiring thing.  But the question now is this:  do I need to back off?  And if so, where?  And, maybe even more importantly, can I restructure things so as to satisfy my psyche, as well as my health?

So what follows is the give-and-take between Holly (italicized) and I; the hacking of Keith’s bloodwork.  Feel free to join in the fray.

First up, let’s look at the hard numbers as reported by the blood-draw lab.  The draw was completed following a 12-hour fast, and 24-hour exercise fast:

And now for some insightful analysis, here’s Holly:
In reviewing Keith’s bloodwork lab values, the two things that stand out are the BUN and Total Cholesterol (301 mg/dl) values.  In Keith’s case, the BUN (Blood Urea Nitogen, 25 mg/dl) and creatinine (1.25 mg/dl) are most likely elevated due to strenuous exercise.

Regarding cholesterol, the pattern that we are seeing here is indicative of Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH).  FH is a genetic lipid disorder that causes abnormal lipid values. There are five types of FH and they each require different management strategies. On Keith’s mother’s side there is a family history of heart disease, so this is something we will want to keep an eye on.

However, the ratio of HDL (66 mg/dl) to triglycerides (64 mg/dl) is good. Typically this means that if we took a look at the breakdown of Keith’s LDL (222 mg/dl) into the different sub-particles, we would likely find there are more of the good light fuffly kind, and few of the small dense kind that can signal a risk for heart disease. Keith’s c-reactive protein (.22 mg/L) looks great, which is another indicator that his relative risk for heart disease is low.

From a ‘wellness’ or functional perspective, functionally low protein (6.8 g/dl) and phosphorus (3.4 mg/dl) suggests low stomach acid affecting the ability to digest protein. Stomach acid will decrease in times of stress. Sodium (141 mmol/L) is elevated according to functional ranges. This, in conjunction with low LDH (69 IU/L) and an A1c (5.4), suggests there may be some adrenal fatigue wherein the adrenals are unable to keep up with changes in blood sugar.  Low calcium (8.7 mg/dl) is often an indicator of thyroid issues, and the low thyroxine (T4, 5.8 ug/dl) supports this.

His white blood cells are functionally low (4.7 x10E3/UL), which can also be indicative of chronic stress, or possibly a hidden infection.

So it’s important to see that all these things are inter-related: impaired adrenal function is often associated with impaired thyroid function. Both are affected by stress. Cholesterol can be elevated in the presence of a sluggish thyroid. Cholesterol can also elevate in adrenal stress in the body’s efforts to produce more cortisol to handle the stress. LDL cholesterol– the ‘bad’ cholesterol– is necessary for life and is the precursor to all the sex and stress hormones. And finally, stress and the resultant high cortisol can impact thyroid function.  So — in classic chicken-egg scenario drama — which happened first?

If we were just looking at the labs, we would have recommend following up with a more in depth thyroid panel which looks at the free (active) thyroid hormones T3 and T4. We would also want to see if there are thyroid antibodies present. We might also order a lipid phenotyping panel to see which of the five FH patterns Keith has. Finally, we might want to see a VAP panel to ascertain what Keith’s LDL is comprised of– more of the light fluffy, or a proliferation of the small dense?

However, it is said that the patient interview is 80% of the diagnosis. When we had a chance to sit down with Keith and learn a little bit about his lifestyle, we learned that he was working very long hours, and burning the candle at both ends. This is a significant cause of stress all by itself, made much worse because Keith often doesn’t eat anything until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. This is a huge stress on the body because the adrenal glands have been working hard all night producing cortisol to balance blood sugar during the sleeping hours. By forcing the adrenal glands to keep producing cortisol all day as well instead of eating is an additional burden that can only be sustain at the expense of other organ systems.

Keith says he is not hungry in the morning, which makes sense given the stress his body is under. In times of stress, your body goes into the ‘fight or flight’ mode, shutting down the ‘rest and digest’ systems. One of the results of this is low stomach acid, one of the symptoms of this is no appetite or even nausea in the morning. The functionally low protein and phosphorus on his blood test support a diagnosis of low stomach acid.

Given that stress and cortisol has such wide ranging impact, we elected not to pursue the thyroid and cholesterol panels at this time. Instead we’ll take a closer look at what is going on with Keith’s stress hormones with a salivary hormone test which require Keith to provide samples four times a day. This will show us not only the amount of stress hormones he is producing, but will also show us how his hormones are cycling (circadian rhythm).  Finally we’ve asked him to make some lifestyle changes to support adrenal health and take some of the stress of his system:

1) Eat breakfast!
2) Eat a little something every 2-3 hours before he gets hungry. Hunger is an indication that the blood sugar is already low and the adrenal glands are already forced into action to produce cortisol to bring the blood sugar up.

Then we will retest in about 3 months to see how dealing with this major stressor affects his labs. At that time we will also follow up with whatever tests necessary to feel confidant that Keith’s health is optimal.


So I’ve taken Holly’s advice and have begun eating a small, protein & fat-heavy breakfast in the morning.  I have to say that this small step does have me feeling better (in a “more energy” kind of way) during the day.  I am eating more often too, though maybe not at a frequency of every 2 – 3 hours — my client load and personal training schedule doesn’t normally allow for such — but I’d say that I’m now at about a 5x/day frequency, with maybe 2x prior to noon (remember, though, that I begin each day at approximately 4 AM), and 3x thereafter, with my last meal of the day (about 8 PM, most evenings) still being the largest.  Bedie-bye is usually not until about 10 PM.  I know a couple of more hours of sleep per night would go a long way toward keeping cortisol at bay but, realistically, that’s just not going to happen anytime soon.

This is a perfect example of n=1 manipulation of what many consider to be a Paleo/Primal lifestyle “given” — the daily 5 (ish)-hour, compressed, evening feeding window.  Of course it could certainly be argued that the 5-hour feeding window is the gold standard, and that I’m leaving behind a much healthier option to “cover” for my 90 mile-an-hour lifestyle and intense training regimen.   As an epistemocrat, I’ll weight these options, best I can, free of my own confirmation biases.

And I do have the salivary hormone test kit on hand, but haven’t yet drawn or submitted my samples.  Of course, these readings will now be skewed a bit from my original “blood-draw baseline”, since I have already implemented Holly’s two suggestions, and we’ll have to take that into consideration when the results are in.  So what’s keeping me from jumping right on this test?  Meh, I have to be caffeine free for the entire day.  If you know my proclivities toward a heavy daily joe intake, you can see right off where this is a bit of a problem 🙂 Seriously though, I intend to get on this test in the very near future.

So that’s it, folks — let’s begin hacking this kids bloodwork.  Your ideas and/or comments are encouraged!

…and as you can see, I’ve already begun taking it easy 🙂

In health,


Death by Soundbite; Rebirth via Deep Immersion

Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.


Soundbites: high fructose corn sugar for the intellect?

I see it as a disease of consequence affecting (infecting?) any and all genres of serious study; the consequence, of course, of living in a “soundbite culture”.   Lack of time (due to playing the winner-take-all game of capitalism — subject for another time) certainly does not help the situation of course, but there is undoubtedly a societal undercurrent that values “first to report” and chippy one-liners over-and-above serious, open-ended, discourse.  Compare and contrast CNN vs the Lehrer Report, for example.  And the truth of the matter is, most folks want, even if blessed with the time for more serious studyregurtitable, definitive answers — not “it depends”, or “from what we currently now know” open-endedness — even if that “answer” is completely devoid of dependable basis.  Our’s is a society that values winning (in this case an argument) over and above a common quest for truth.  (See Rebecca Costa’s fine book, The Watchman’s Rattle for an in-depth discussion of this idea).  Just look to the current state of our government’s ineptitude to see that decisiveness and pig-headed steadfastness (devoid, even, of any modicum of truthful underpinning) trumps intellectually driven indecisiveness or — God-forbid — self questioning.  For sure, some situations call for absolute decisiveness devoid the luxury of due-diligence.  Those particular situations are fight-or-flight survival reactions.  Big, big difference.  Being a sucessful, optimum-phenotype-chasing human of the 21st century, though, requires one to know the diffence, and act accordingly.  As Ken O’Neill has pointed out in this fine post (and as posited by Dr. Jonas Salk):

…meta-biological evolution marks a turning point in the human adventure, one in which the ante is survival of the wisest. In Salk’s vision, we become for the first time active agents in the future direction of our evolution by use of our under-developed embodied brain…

Unfortunately, very few subjects can be pretty-paper and-pretty-ribbons-of-blue (hat tip; Willie Nelson) wrapped like this; meaty subjects, of course, require intellectual rigor, nimble-mindedness, and the courage to juggle oftentimes opposing evidence without loosing one’s proverbial marbles, or worse yet, falling victim to paralysis by analysis.  I’ve explored this prior, for example is this post, where I wrote:

…Asking a badly articulated/constructed question is worse than asking no question at all; the problem is that the person to whom the question is directed will feel an obligation to offer-up an answer, ham-strung as it may be.  Construct a question that legitimates a sound-bite answer and you’ll get exactly that (Poli-Sci/Stats 101)…

So it’s not only that we, as a society are continually shoveled this crap, it’s that we actually clamor for it as well.  How many people will choose to “educate” themselves via  this route, as opposed ever to diving headlong into the work of Wolf, Cordain, Minger, Kresser… well, you get the idea.

And just like HFCS, even though we might not actually guzzle-down the stuff personally, we still feel the repercussions of the societal ingestion of this mind poison.  My health insurance premiums suck, and I find it difficult to have a fulfilling intellectual discussion with just any “average” Joe (much less a blinkered “intellectual).  Does this make me an “elitist”?  Please.  I’m a product of Texas public schooling and more than likely would never have gone straight to college out of high school were it not for athletic scholarship money.  My “silver platter”, as it were, was a rusty, cement-caked shovel.  I guess my point is, I don’t suffer willful ignorance (or willful self-delusion) very well.  I have no desire at all in winning any discussion; my only desire in entering into such rests solely in the search for an underlying truth of the subject at hand.  Even if I am considered the “subject matter expert” in the room, I see any discussion as an opportunity to find holes in my own notions.  Self-serving?  Yeah, I suppose it could be taken that way.  Not, though, if I endeavor to give back what I learn — paying it forward, so to speak.

Preconceived biases?  Sure looks that way

Does a diet high in fruits and vegetables put the kibosh on heart disease?  Even among those who are genetically pre-disposed to the malady?  Could very well be, according to this study (with further treatment and explanation/discussion in this episode of NPR’s most awesome Science Friday).  However (and in keeping with the “soundbite” theme from above), this study really generates more questions than it answers.  Now this isn’t a slam, per-se, on the study itself — in fact, all good science ought to give rise to even more intelligent, deeper-probing questioning — but the fact that these questions weren’t voiced is a bit off-putting to me.  For example, was it the inclusion of veggies and fruits that made the difference here, or the exclusion of other food stuffs?  We see where this is going.  I am, of course, biased toward a Paleo/Evo Fit lifestyle, and this makes me admittedly uber sensitive to outward biases toward “competing” dietary views (in this case, vegetarianism) in mainstream science.  Again, this study is interesting as all hell, and seemingly well put together.  Put this in the hands of the soundbite machine though and, well, standby…

Theory to Practice, personified

Immersion: complete attention; intense mental effort

engrossmentabsorptionconcentration attention – the faculty or power of mental concentration; “keeping track of all the details requires your complete attention”

centeringfocusfocusingfocussingfocal pointdirection – the concentration of attention or energy on something; “the focus of activity shifted to molecular biology”; “he had no direction in his life”

specialism – the concentration of your efforts on a particular field of study or occupation

study – a state of deep mental absorption; “she is in a deep study”

Something to ponder: what, exactly, would a deep immersion into an evolutionary-based practice of Physical Culture look like?  How would one apprentice another in navigation of the modern world from a primal, evolutionary fitness perspective?  How would one be coached in the transition from ancestral wellness theory, to actually putting that knowledge base to work in everyday, common practice?  These are just a few of the “how do we effectively teach this primal wellness stuff to the masses” questions that Meesus TTP (AKA, executive chef for the Austin-based Caveman Cuisine), and my Efficient Exercise peeps have been asking ourselves.    The answer?  Well, let’s offer a deep immersion experience in the acquisition and/or refinement of evolutionary-based life skills, right smack dab in the friggin’ epicenter of Physical Culture, Austin, Texas.

Is there really a calling for this kind of thing you ask?  Yeah, we sure as hell think there is — gauging, at least, from the feedback we get from our clientele.  Remember, we operate not in the intellectual ether, but down in the day-to-day, gritty trenches, where the rubber meets the road (or, as it were, where theory backs-up against everyday practice).  Our interaction is with an overwhelmed public, just doing their best at attempting to be healthy, just trying to make sense of all of the bewildering — and oftentimes, conflicting — health and fitness information.  And doing so in spite of societal norms and surroundings that are anything but healthy.  Our clientele is driven, no doubt — but even for them it’s an uphill battle.  Now consider those who don’t even know where to start on this wellness journey, and you begin to see the enormity of the problem we face in this society.

Think of it this way:  some big game hunters, due to whatever set of circumstances, are simply adept beyond common comprehension at tracking bighorn sheep.  Now maybe they grew up hunting these animals — steeped in the culture — and thus have the advantage of a long-term apprenticeship under masters of the art.  Or maybe they were just passionate and driven enough to, of their own accord, acquire the requisite skills over many, many years.  And undoubtedly, the element of innate talent for this particular art comes into play.  But no matter how they came to the point of mastering the technique, though, the guides who specialize in tracking and bagging this particular big game have both the passion for such, and a demonstrated level of skill in this arena.  The best few, then rise to the top, otherwise they’re forced to find another line of work.  So here’s the crux of the matter: if your aim to to hunt the big horn, you can either go it on your own, or invest in a quality guide.  The truly passionate will probably do a little (or a lot) of each, depending upon the circumstance.  C’est la vie.  My personal thought on the matter is best expressed in the words of Marilyn Vos Savant (and with a hat tip to Erwan and the gang at MovNat) – To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.

And this is exactly why we feel that deep immersion is the best way to learn the art of Physical Culture — or any culture, for that matter.  The military realizes as much, and thus trains its embedded personnel accordingly.  And to this end, Caveman Cuisine, in conjunction with Efficient Exercise, have put together and are now offering a unique Immersion in Physical Culture — an opportunity to learn, practice and implement an evolutionary-based fitness approach by way of a deep immersion process, from those who have successfully traveled this journey before, and in an atmosphere — Austin, Texas — that is the epicenter of Physical Culture.  And hey, you could pick worse places than the always-beautiful ATX to surmount the dreaded carbohydrate jones 😉

So, are you ready to plunge headfirst into “hunting the big game” of Physical Culture?  Want to hire a quality, passionate team to show you the way?  Contact me via the above link for more information.  Let the folks at Efficient Exercise and Caveman Cuisine act as your personal guide is this transformative, life-affirming process.

In health,


Of Sprinting, and Leptin Signaling Mimetics

My good friend Chris Highcock, of Conditioning Research, (and he by way of Andrew Badenoch, of Evolvify) clued me into the recent Journal of Applied Physiology article, Is sprint exercise a leptin signaling mimetic in human skeletal muscle?  

I won’t delve into the interesting details of this paper, as Chris has already done a wonderful job of that here, but I would like to add just a few of my own thoughts about these findings.

What’s more important, vis-a-vis, weight loss — diet or exercise?

I’ll get into this a bit more in a future post, but as a Physical Culture 2.0, new breed fitness educator, I am the interface between geeked-out science, empirical wisdom and a general public searching for accurate and articulate answers, to help them make sense of the never-ending, fire-hydrant-like gusher of (often times) conflicting diet and fitness “truths”.  Two big obstacles that I have to overcome in performing this function, though, are (1) that my answers are predicated upon a base understanding of a movement (Physical Culture 2.0), which itself requires the acceptance of there being no black-and-white answers — that in all instances, the notion of n=1 and “it depends” prevail, and (2) a general public which is too tired/stressed/overwhelmed with day-to-day life to undertake the due-diligence required for such an understanding; a general public who only has time for the ingestion of pat answers.  You see the conundrum here.  And I’ll get to why this matters in relation to this particular study in a moment, but for now let’s take a quick look at an extension of the above-mentioned study’s findings — the performance of fasted-state, High Intensity Interval Training.

Fasted HIIT (or, don’t let lack of scientific underpinnings spoil the empirical results)

Dan John has articulated as much in some of his prior writings, but let’s just say that you’ve followed a Paleo-like diet for 30 days (ala Robb Wolf, or Whole9), coupled that with adhering to a basic 5 x 5 weightlifting scheme and, lo-and-behold, at the end of that trial period you find yourself having dropped 30 lbs of fat and gained 5 lbs of muscle.  Now, did you lose that fat because you physically ingested fewer calories, or did that fat loss come as the result of a favorable hormonal cascade established by the diet and/or workout scheme itself?  Or what it some other combination thereof?  And hey, “everyone” knows that one cannot simultaneously lose fat and gain muscle, but your little experiment just proved the contrary.   And here’s the thing: do you really friggin’ care that you’re treading on shaky scientific ground?  Does lack of scientific confirmation negate your results?  Is the fact that you had to punch three new holes in your belt and that your shirts are now fitting tight across the shoulders (instead of across the gut) somehow now irrelevant?

I don’t bring this up so as to promote a Flat Earth Society mentality when it comes to matters of Physical Culture, but more so as to put some prospective on the weight afforded to the supporting science (or lack thereof, as the case may be) in this area of study.  In other words, empirical evidence means a hell of a lot to me.  Pondering the “whys” behind an empirically-proven methodology’s efficacy —  intellectually invigorating as it may be — ought not get in the way of actually utilizing that methodology in the real world.  I can always go back and tweak a methodology accordingly, depending upon the outcome of follow-on science.  That I cannot articulate precisely and unquestionably (as supported by science) what, at the cellular level, is precisely occurring as a consequence of HIIT training does not prevent me from utilizing this method of training or, more importantly, from reaping the benefits.  We’ve long known, in the strength and conditioning community, that performing HIIT in a fasted state just obliterates body fat even while precipitating lean muscle gain.  Of course, there was the ever-present chorus of “there’s just no relevant science to support that claim” who presumably sat this one out, waiting for scientific conformation one way or the other.  In the training of horses, though, as in the training of athletes, the proof is in the final product.  Can these methods be more finely tuned in light of prevailing science?  You bet.  Wait for the perfect answer, though, and you’ll never get under the bar or put spikes on the field.  In other words, get in the game, and don’t allow the perfect to get in the way of the good.

This sprint/leptin study is a good case-in-point to what I’m attempting to articulate in this post.  We know, empirically, that fasted HIIT works –

*note – I am extrapolating here, as this particular study only considered the performance of a single sprint on the resultant hormonal cascade.

– and now we see, presumably, one important (and no doubt interesting!) pathway in which this scenario plays out.  We also see that being fasted (at least carbohydrate fasted) is an important part of the overall equation, here (if weight loss is a mitigating factor), and so we can now tweak our methods accordingly, and rock on.

So what’s more important in weight management, diet or exercise? 

Asking a badly articulated/constructed question is worse than asking no question at all; the problem is that the person to whom the question is directed will feel an obligation to offer-up an answer, ham-strung as it may be.  Construct a question that legitimates a sound-bite answer and you’ll get exactly that (Poli-Sci/Stats 101).  You’ll also get an answer that only approximates the truth of the matter, if that.  Of what relevance is this to the sprint/leptin study?  Well, let’s consider how best to achieve a long-term fasted state to begin with, and still have the energy required to tackle a HIIT-like training session with adequate intensity.  The short answer here is that we’ll need to first establish an enzymatic and hormonal underpinning resultant of following a Paleo-like diet.   The blood-sugar roller-coaster resultant of a (for instance) Standard American Diet will throw a monkey wrench into the works from the get-go.  I see this play out all-too-frequently in real-world practice.  That far-far-away look in the middle of a HIIT throw-down?  Yeah, that’s blood-sugar crash, up close, ugly and personal, kiddos.  At the same time, though, we know that intense physical exercise potentates the expression of that same desirable enzymatic/hormonal underpinning.  So what we’re really talking about here, of course, is synergy.  Synergy is slippery, though, and not easily accounted for in a standardized-testing, sound-bite-answer world.  The masses want easily-digestible answers (especially if provided by Oz, Oprah, et al) and synergy simply doesn’t play in that house.  Sorry to disappoint, but there it is.  You can no more bust ass in the gym and on the field, eat crap and expect phenotypical perfection than you can eating as a Paleo purist while abstaining from (at least some modicum) of repeated, physical exertion.  And no, computer jockying does not count as “repeated physical exertion”.

Synergy, my friends; diet and exercise — it’s the one-two punch, and the only way I know, to attain phenotypical perfection.

Sunday’s MetCon circuit –

Being under a bit of a time crunch didn’t prevent me from sneaking this one in.  Short, sweet, and to the point.

– 10 second sprint

– 20 ft. rope climb

– 30 ft parallel bar hand-over walk

– 20 yd dual hops

– 5 muscle-ups

– 30 ft hand-over monkey bar traverse

– 7 tire flips (+ 5 extra on the last round)

wash, rinse, repeat x 3.

Trivia for the day – 26 tire flips = 51 yards (football field sideline to sideline) 🙂

In health,


The Benefit of Less-Extreme Views

True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are united

~ Alexander von Humboldt

George Church (Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School) argues, in this Big Think piece, that the age-old divide between science and religion is solvable. “We can bring them together,” he says, “but it requires less extreme views, or what would benefit from less extreme views.”

And it’s my belief that the same idea holds true for Physical Culture’s role in taming the beast that is the American healthcare crisis.

As it currently stands, there is no credible entity that acts as a non-dogmatic, “non-partisan”  clearing house, of sorts, in which the various tools and techniques of Physical Culture can be explored in relation to the seeker’s desired outcome (along the health-performance continuum) — especially for those who’s desire it is to use a Paleo-like diet, coupled with resistance exercise, as a tools for achieving superior overall health.  My hope is that this summer’s Ancestral Health Symposium (and the symposium’s parent organization, the Ancestral Health Society) will become just that entity.  I am at the same time thrilled — and humbled! — to be one of the presenters at the symposium, where I will discuss resistance training’s role in achieving optimum health, the difference between “superior health” and “superior performance”, and the emergence of the Physical Culturalist (i.e., the new breed of personal trainer) and his role as “swim coach” as opposed to the healthcare professional’s role as “lifeguard”.  Hat tip to Greg Glassman, of CrossFit, for that fine analogy.  As medicine’s role in this new paradigm must change, so must the Physical Culturalist’s.


Of Autoregulation and overtraining

TTP reader Jeff Erno asks the following (via Facebook), in reference to EETV, episode 6:

Really enjoyed the episode, thanks for recording. The auto regulation stuff sounds interesting. Is there somewhere I can go to read more about it? Also, my experience is with HIT the last 2+ years and if I only workout once per week I have steadily gained week over week. At twice a week I can have what can look like a stall or retrogression. Do you think it is possible that my situation is more common and most people don’t know it since they never tried backing off? Curious what your take is. Love the episodes, please keep then coming.

And here’s my answer — expanded a bit, from my original Facebook response:

I’ve written about Autoregulation a few times in Theory to Practice, Jeff — see, especially, this post — and actually the subject is in our EETV bucketlist of topics to cover in more detail.  As well (and as I alluded to in this post), I’ll be talking more about the tenants of Autoregulation and it’s practical applications at the Orlando 21 Convention this summer — so stay tuned for that! 😉

As for the second question: a regression/stall at 2x/week is certainly not unheard of *if you are engaged in the same “type” of workout (rep tempo, exercise selection, rep/TUL scheme, etc…), workout to workout*  This is one reason why I shift things up in a conjugate-like fashion, both in my own workouts and in those of my clients.  You simply have to give the body a reason to overcompensate, otherwise, homeostasis will rule the day.  I really don’t want to get into a flame war over what I consider to be the (substantial) drawbacks of single-set-to-failure routines for performance enhancement, but let’s just say that it’s my humble opinion that these routines just don’t give the body much (or enough) stimulus to have to fight against.  Why should the body continue to adapt when it is not up against novel angles, cadences, tempos, volumes, intensities, etc.?  Ask any strength and conditioning coach what happens to 40 times when all you have your athletes do for speed/conditioning work is to run repeat 40’s — they digress — and not insubstantially, either.  This is similar to the problem you’re running up against here.

I really wish you could have been in Wimberley, Texas this weekend, at the home of Ken O’Neill, where Dr. Frank Wyatt spoke to us of “the Body Chaotic”, pushing physiological threshold limits, the nature of physiological fatigue/failure, and what it takes to force the body to overcompensate.  I’ll just say this: the early stages of training are relatively easy going, as just about any stimulus will force the body to overcompensate.  The longer one stays in the game, however, the harder it becomes to push up to and beyond the fatigue threshold required to elicit an overcompensation response.  In laymen’s terms, it’s friggin’ hard work.  It’s painful, even.  It requires a mental toughness that most trainees are simply not prepared for, or willing to offer-up, in exchange for results.

Now I’m by all means not an advocate of training unintelligently or in a shotgun, willy-nilly manner.  I do believe, though that doggedness, intensity, and the ability to repeatedly push beyond the brain’s “shut ‘er down” response are crucial for achieving optimal gains (note: striving for optimal health is another issue — related, but certainly not the same).  I do believe, as well, that the body’s ability to recover (another topic discussed by Dr. Wyatt) can be “trained” as well via periodic forays into an overtrained state.  Chronic overtraining ought to be avoided, of course; acute bouts though are, in my opinion, necessary if one’s quest is enhanced performance.  Remember, performance enhancement (which includes the chase for hypertrophy) is an emergent phenomena — akin to the study cloud formation, weather patterns even — not a more easily described, step-by-step process, akin to the operations of a clock, say.

If at all possible, get your hands on Brad Schoenfel’d study “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training” (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol 24, #10; Oct 2010).  The chase for hypertrophy and/or realizing one’s ultimate genetic potential is not nearly as easy as simply tracking linear load/TUL progressions in a handful of exercises.


Workouts?  Oh yeah, you know it!  Here we go –

Tuesday, 5/31/11

(A1) Dips: bw/10; 45/10; 55/6; 90/4, 5; 45/11

(A2) ARX neutral-grip pull-down: HR/3, 3, 3

Thursday, 6/2/11

(A1) BTN push-press: 135/10; 155/6; 185/5, 7 (slight spot); 155/6

(A2) chins: bw/12; 45/7; 65/6, 6, bw/whoops!

(A3) RLC: bw/10, each of 4 rounds

then, 2 rounds of :
(B1) ARX negative only chin x 2

(B2) ARX negative only overhead press x 2

Saturday, 6/4

Sprints!  Bars!  Ropes!

Tuesday, 6/7
GVT volume work, 10 rounds

(A1) high bar squats: 165/10

(A2) seated DB clean & press: 40/10

Prior fixie riding made 10 rounds of squats a real bi-atch for sure!

Wednesday, 6/8

(A1) ARX close-grip bench: HR/3, 3, 3

(A2) dips: BW/15, 15, 15

(A3) T-Bar row: 125/10; 200/10; 245/8, 8 (Autoreg)

Friday, 6/10

(A1) Powermax 360 Tabata intervals (30 seconds on, 15 seconds off), 8 different movements.

(B1) long, fast, fixie ride

(C1) ARX RDL: HR x 3; 3 sets

Sunday, 6/12

Sprints and jumps

Amalgamation; The Workout as a Non-Dogmatic Experience

“In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. The great problems of the relations between one and another aspect of human activity have for this reason been discussed less and less in public…”

Richard Feynman

Specialization, though extremely important, inevitably leads, however (unless the specialist remains ever vigilant), to blinkered thought patterns.  We need erudite generalists to connect the dots, to see the inherent co-relations between what look to be, at ground level, completely disparate entities.  Only from the generalist’s 30-thousand foot view can the Venn-like associations be found. Check out the following, from big think: A Universal Cure for Cancer?



  1. To merge, to combine, to blend, to join.
  2. To make an alloy of a metal and mercury.

I’ve touched on the subject of the problems inherent to the dogmatic approach to Physical Culture many times in the past (most recently, here), but the sentiment bears repeating: no single method, protocol, or modality works for everyone, and no one can continue to make progress continually using the same method, protocol or modality.  Be prepared, my friend, for what has worked brilliantly over the last 6 weeks is, even as this is written, readying to dump your sorry ass without so much as a hastily jotted “Dear John”, or a dry kiss goodbye.  Once the body accommodates to a specific stressor — and it most assuredly will (and with some much faster than with others) — progress will abruptly cease.  This, of course, is the basis which underpins the Conjugate Method — a method many folks mistakenly assume is a powerlifting-only phenomena; wrong answer, my friend.  Yes, Louie Simmons has manipulated this idea and applied it specifically to the field of powerlifting, but the basic underpinnings can be tweaked so as to apply toward any training specificity, or to no specificity at all.  Case in point: I am a fitness generalist who employs the Conjugate Method; now, if I ever decided to specialize in any single event, or train toward a specific sporting goal, I’d simply tweak the parameters (specific exercises, modalities, etc.) of the Conjugate Method to better support those goals.  As Louie Simmons says, There are countless sports and sport-specific pursuits (including, I would add, sporting generalism)  but only three methods of strength training: absolute strength building, hypertrophy work (via the repetition method), and speed-strength training.  And remember this: sport specific technique training is an entirely different animal — even if your sport of choice happens to be Oly or powerlifting itself.

Still a bit fuzzy on what exactly the Conjugate Method is?  Below is an excerpt from a Dave Tate-written, IB Area 51 piece, Debunking the Myths, in which Dave gives a very truncated summary of the Conjugate Method as practiced by the athletes at Westside Barbell:

…The methods we use are explained in many books on training including “Super training” (Siff and Verkhoshansky), “Science and Practice of Strength Training” (Zatsiorsky) and many other textbooks and manuals from the former soviet union. The problem in the country is that people are reading the wrong information. For review, the major methods we use are:

1. The Maximal Effort Method: This method is defined as lifting maximal and supra maximal weights for one to three reps and is considered superior for the increase in both intramuscularly and intermuscular coordination. This is because the central nervous system will only adapt to the load placed upon them. It has also been proven that weights over 90% elicit the greatest gain in strength but will quickly lead to over training state within one to three weeks with the same movement. The is because of the great demand placed on the neuromuscular system with this type of training.

We devote two day of the week for this type of training. One for the Squat and one for the bench press. This schedual is followed all year long. The reason we do not have problems with overtraining with 90% plus weights is because the movement is switched every one to three weeks. The movements we choice are called “special exercises” and are designed for maximum strengh output both the squat and dead lift.

2. The Repetition Method: This method can be defined as lifting a non-maximal weight to failure; it is during this fatigue state when the muscles develop the maximal possible force. Because of this it is only the final lifts that are important because of the fatigue state. This type of training has a greater influence on muscle metabolism and hypertrophy when compare to the other methods.

We use this method in a conjugant “coupling fashion” intermixed in with the other training days. Any supplemental or accessory movement using this method must be changed after three to six workouts using the exercise. This is to avoid the over training state as described above.

3. The Dynamic Effort Method: This method of training involves lifting non maximal weight with the greatest possible speed. This method of training is not used for the development of maximal strength but only to improve the rate of force development and explosive strength. Angel Sassov during his trip to the USA mentioned weights 50 to 70% are best for developing explosive power.

We devote two days a week to this type of training for the bench press and one for the box squat.

All these methods are coupled together “conjugated periodisation” This type of periodisation is different then the western method that is very over practiced in the United States today. As many of you remember the western method consists of a Hypertrophy Phase, Basic Strength Phase. Power Phase, Peak Phase and a Transitional Phase. These phases are all independent of each other meaning that you first complete the Hypertrophy Phase then move on to the Strength Phase and so on. This is the type of periodiastion we do not practice or believe in. We have found it better to maintain all the strength abilities throughout the year. This again is accomplished by the conjugated periodisation method. The other type of periodisation we pratice is cybernetic periodisation. This simply means you have to listen to your body and make adjustment when needed. With the western method if you are programmed to lift 90% for 2 sets of 3 and have a bad day or do not feel well ten you are screwed with no alternative but to miss the workout and try to catch back up the next week or to try the weight and hope for the best. With our style of training on the dynamic method days, bar speed or concentric tempo is what determines the load. If the bar slow down then you reduce the weight. We do use percents as a guide on this day, but he bar speed still is the determining factor. On the max effort days a bad day will only equate to a lower max effort. This really does not matter because it is the straining with maximal loads we are looking for not the actual weight lifted.


Now personally, I like to use Autoregulation in conjunction with cybernetic periodization, but that’s really getting down to the splitting of proverbial hairs.

So yes, I utilize all manner of machine, free-weight and bodyweight exercises.  I run sprints and bike sprint as well.  I train at times like a powerlifter, and other times like a track and field thrower and/or sprinter — and yeah, sometimes I even train like a damn (God forbid!!!) bodybuilder (but much to Meesus TTP’s relief, sans the 80s clown pants).   One thing I do not do, however, is combine exercises in a session as if “pulled from a hopper”.  CrossFit does plenty of great things for sure, and is, in my mind, a fantastic overall concept — save for the programming side of things.  Should a well rounded athlete be able to perform well at a series of exercises pulled at random from said hopper?  Most definitely, yes, I think.  That an athlete should train in such a fashion, though, in my mind is just, well…wrong minded.  There is a huge difference between training for an event and training with an event; couple the overall CrossFit concept with smart programming and now you’ve got a winner.


And now, on to the workout front…-

Monday, 1/31/11; as brief, brutal and basic as it gets:

Trap bar RDLs: 265 x 10; 355 x 7; 405 x 6; 455 x 4, 3, 3, 3

Lift something very heavy off of the ground — quickly; set it back down under control.  Wash, rinse, repeat…

So, can one get a bad-ass workout in 15 minute’s time?  You bet.  Would I do this all of the time?  Nope; but then again, I don’t follow any protocol or modality “all the time”.  Workouts are indeed like cuisine (see above); variety, within certain limitations (limited to Paleo choices, say) are key.  The anatomy of a 15-minute, quick-HITter workout can be seen in these following four examples:

Tuesday, 2/1/11

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

(A2) weighted dips: 90 x 5, 5, 5, 5

Wednesday, 2/2/11

(A1) Nautilus pec dec: 95 x 10, 10

(A2) Nautilus rear delt: 95 x 10, 10

*both at a 3010 tempo

(B1) Xccentric flat press: (+50): 5 rest-pause reps w/8-count negatives each rep

(C1) Nautilus pull-over: 255 x 10, 2, 2, 1 (one extended cluster set, 40×0 tempo)

(C2) reverse-grip pull-ups: BW x 5, 3, 3 (one extended cluster set, 40×0 tempo)

Thursday, 2/3/11

Dynamic box squats (high box, thighs parallel): 185 x 7 sets of 3  ~ Speed!

2-hour break, then 225 x 7 sets of 3 ~ again, speed, speed, SPEED!

Straight bar bicep curl: 95 x 12, 105 x 6, 115 x 5, 120 x 4 ~ performed as clustered sets, 15-seconds rest between “sets”.

Friday, 2/4/11

clean (from the floor): 135 x 10; 165 x 5, 185 x 5, then 185 x 8 sets of 2, with the 8 x 2 done as a cluster set; approx 30 seconds rest between “sets”.


So, what do Efficient Exercise trainers do when they’re just sittin’ around between clients, chillin’ out, recovering from one of those 15-minute “quick-HITter” workouts detailed above?  See the link below.  Yeah, we’re sick like this  🙂


Seriously though, this is one bad-ass, dynamic hamstring hit.


Discipline?  Really?  Meh, let’s call it love.  The positive physiological effects of reframing your reference.  Yeah, “love of” is most definitely a more effective way to approach any aspect of Physical Culture than is “discipline”.  Discipline might get you through the day, my friend, but love will carry you though a lifetime.



An lastly, I would love to see an analysis here of the elite sprinter’s heel bone, especially in relation to that of the distance runners’.  The problem with much of this research is that all manner of “running”, much like “resistance training”, is lumped together under one, catch-all phrase.  This, of course, is utterly absurd in the same way that classifying all of art under a single umbrella is patently useless.   Help!  Is there a generalist in the house? 😉

An interesting story, though, nonetheless:


In health,