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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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!),

Keith

Back to the Future: the Return of the Clan?

“Every man is the builder of a temple called his body.” – Henry David Thoreau

As a frequent Forum, with Michael Krasny listener, I was pleasantly surprised by the exceptional Ancestral Wellness literacy expressed in this recent show (Are Humans Meant for Monogamy?) by guest Christopher Ryan, psychologist and co-author of “Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality“.   Ancestral Wellness acuity of this level is rarely encountered in the mainstream.  Even mentions of vegetarianism in this show come with the caveat of “know your biological underpinnings and, if you still opt for a vegetarian diet, do so with this knowledge and take the necessary precautions”.  In this way, Ryan compares monogamy with vegetarianism — no moral judgements, just sound precautions if you chose to operate outside of your genetic hard-wiring.   Know thyself, then adjust accordingly so as to support your goals and wishes.

Hmmmm; where have you heard that before?  😉

Now this idea is as easy to parody as Paleo itself; however, Ryan isn’t advocating wanton hedonism, but rather, a need to know your genomic hard-wiring, and the hows-and-whys behind that hard-wiring’s development over our species’ existence.

Social networks and the innate human search for “spiritual meaning” (note: as opposed to religion), in my mind, are the missing — or at least, as yet unexplored — “third and forth rails” of the Ancestral Wellness movement.  Knowing who we are, in terms of diet and exercise, in an evolutionary sense, forms the base upon which those of us within this movement craft a healthier, happier and fitter lifestyle.  What’s missing, of course, is the societal and spiritual element.  Living within the societal structures of our current, modern dictates is as much an anathema to our well-being as subsisting on a Standard American Diet, or negating the positive implications of movement/exercise in our lives.  Neglecting our hard-wired need for “meaning” is just as corrosive.

Christopher Ryan suggests that the current economic situation may in fact drive some forward-thinking people to begin to form nascent “clans” (my word, not his), with both shared responsibility and shared fruits-of-labor.  As necessity is the mother of invention — or in this case, re-discovery — this can only be viewed in a positive light vis-a-vis hunter-gatherer clans and their propensity toward egalitarianism.  It will be interesting to see how governments deal with this scenario.

Ten-thousand-plus years of severe social conditioning, of course, won’t be scrubbed away in a mere generation or two.  But as with all cutting-edge ideas, there will always be forward-thinking, early adopters.  It is, in my mind at least, inevitable that the first “new clans” will emerge from this already egalitarian/libertarian minded Ancestral Wellness “sub-culture”; a sub-culture, by the way, that I am proud to be a member and vehement promoter of.

And hell, let’s go ahead and throw shamanism into the mix of ideas that were squelched/repressed/shamed a result of leaving behind the egalitarian, hunter-gatherer lifestyle as well.  Few non-fiction books have rocked my world the way Graham Hancock’s awesome work, Supernatural, has.  Totally mind-expanding, to say the least, in the way that Peter McWilliams’ work, Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do, skewed my political views (much further) toward practical libertarianism, way back in the day.  Ditto for Peter McAllister’s Manthropology, in shaping my notions of the average Joe’s physical ability and work capacity.

Food, fitness, societal underpinnings and spirituality, taken together and as viewed form an evolutionary prospective, round-out the Ancestral Wellness model.

The return of the clan and the clan shaman are, in my estimation, are a much-anticipated inevitability.  Sign me up for both.

A Weekend Fun and Frolic — on the field, in the parking lot and in the gym

Saturday: speed work –
(1) sprints: 6-seconds, self-timed, all-out and with full-recovery between reps.  Autoregulated by distance, in that when I failed to attain max distance two times in a row, I pulled the plug.  I think I ended-up getting about 10 efforts in, though I wasn’t trying to keep count.  “Full recovery” equated to about two minutes between reps.

(2) dual-leg speed hop; 10 seconds for max distance.  Same autoregulation idea as above.  Again, roughly 10 attempts before reaching drop-off.

(3) dual-leg hop — tractor tire course.  8 tires dispersed randomly, but spaced so that I could hop in, out and between each tire so as to complete the course.  Done fast as possible, but with no “double hops” or misses.  6 rounds, full recovery between rounds.

What’s the difference between speed and speed repeat (or speed endurance) work?  Check out this article from Elite Fitness: What speed training really means.  I can explain it no better than this.  Nice work, Jon.

Sunday: sprint repeat (endurance) work –
Prowler pushes, farmers walks, all manner of sandbag clean & press, snatch variations and other such manifestations of tourture — just a friggin’ free-for-all throwdown with Skyler Tanner and PFX12’s mastermind Kevin Cottrell.  Not a damn bit of it was quantifiable, although I was close to hurling at one point, so I guess that would qualify the session as “pretty intense”  Chalk another one up for the axis-side of the old power-law curve 😉

And let me just say this: you can’t take these two friggin’ animals anywhere — just look at what the hell they did to my prowler during this workout…

Check out that right rear skid.  What you can’t see is that the left rear skid is bent, too.  Does this mean that the Paleo/HIIT crowd is tougher on equipment than those West Side powerlifting behemoths?  Hmmmmm……  🙂

…meanwhile, the ol’ prowler is in ICU.  Damn, just after I got my bike off of the same such life support.  Meh…

In the news…

This is either a boon for health, longevity, and the quality of life — or a major score for the pharmaceutical industry.  Check out this story, from Big Think — The Man Who Was “Cured” of HIV.    Now this certainly can work out to be the essence of Ancestral Wellness — combining the best of modern technology, with an underpinning of smart & solid Physical Culture.  Without that solid underpinning, however, what science is creating is a class of customers beholden to the pharmaceutical industry not just for 75 years, but for 150 years.  Cha-ching!

Eat the rich, my friends…or rather, let the rich eat themselves.

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

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 Mainstream is Causing Me Serious WTF, Tourette’s-Like Fits…

C’mon, Tourette’s-like fits?  Yes; indeed.  And I’m still pissed.  So much so that I’m gettin’ ready to go all Richard Nikoley on some serious mainstream ignorance.  Okay, so my man Richard is the undisputed king of the verbal beat-down, and this post won’t come near to his standards, but you get the point.

And the point is this: I just don’t understand the reluctance, on the part of mainstream healthcare practitioners, to at least consider the benefits of a Paleo diet.  I guess it’s too much to ask that all healthcare practitioners be as open-minded as, for example, Kurt Harris and Doug McGuff, but seriously… I mean, I fully understand and appreciate the day-to-day time demands placed on these folks, and I realize the seriousness of even the perception of incompetence or malpractice on a doctor’s livelihood.  That said, though, doctors are (or, in a perfect world, should be) in the business of healing, not in the business of, well…business — or dancing unquestionably to the AMA‘s ossified, dictate-fiddles.  I realize, too, that I come at this more from an idealistic point-of-view — I don’t have, amongst a host of other problems to deal with, the repayment of student loans, and insurance and business-related worries to contend with; and yet…

And yet, I want to scream at the top of my lungs to these people to get off the fuckin’ stick, and do some independent study already! People are suffering — dying, even — and the nation is slowly drowning in a quagmire of healthcare-related costs, in large part because you, the “healthcare practitioners” of this great nation, consistently give the wrong friggin’ advice on the very basics of health maintenance.  Wrong on diet, and wrong on exercise prescription.  I mean, damn, this isn’t rocket science, folks.

What is it precisely that’s got me so spun-up?  Well, two things in particular.

First up, check-out the correspondence that Meesus TTP had this week with a mutual friend of ours, a friend who has a young daughter who has recently been diagnosed with — yeah, you guessed it — diabetes.  What follows is a snippet of our friend’s (let’s call her “concerned mom”) most recent chat with Meesus TTP.  I’ve truncated, edited (denoted by parentheses) and/or dropped names due to privacy concerns, but the string of the narrative I’ve left intact.  And that thread is really what it important here, because it is repeated God-only-knows how many times each and every day.  Now tell me if this doesn’t just piss you the hell off.

Michelle,
About (April), she has been on the Paleo diet for about two weeks. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on January 6th. She is heading to (mainstream healthcare hell) tomorrow to spend a few days, which a nurse called to confirm today. To make this short…I got an earful about the dangers of the Paleo diet. Sugars are not bad, (April) cannot thrive on a low carb diet, and she STILL has diabetes even if this diet “artificially” lowers (April’s) glucose by an average of 100 points. I was told to feed her a “normal” diet, so they can figure out how much insulin she needs in order to eat like her friends.

Emphasis mine.  UGH!!!! Anyway, continuing on…

(April’s) comment to this was,”But I don’t want to feel like that again, and I have no pimples now.”

Before she was the one scared of the hospital, but now we both are. Why can she not be on the Paleo diet and simply take less insulin (which she still needs)? Another issue is how (April) spikes in the hundreds about an hour into dance. They better not tell us to quit dancing…

I am nervous. People are rude, and we are trying to keep our girl healthy.

(Concerned mom)

Meesus TTP responded, in essence, by telling “concerned mom” that she was obviously dealing with what was essentially a pack of clueless, Alpha-male-dominated baboons, and for God’s sake to get (April) to another, more open-minded (at the very least) facility.  We reinforced the need for her to absorb — and pronto — whatever she possibly could from Robb Wolf’s and Sarah Fragoso’s web-sites.  We’ve also put “concerned mom” in touch with Steve Cooksey, of Diabetes Warrior fame.  If you’re not familiar with Steve’s story, be sure to check him out.  He told the mainstream, in essence, to pack sand up their friggin’ poop-chutes, and in the process, saved his own life.  Too bad that it really has come to this, but alas, it has.  If you want to be healthy, you better take matters into your own hands.  To be sure, there are some fantastic practitioners out there; you’ll just have to do some vigilant, ass-busting research to find them.

What follows now is “concerned mom’s” response to Meesus TTP.  I include this interlude because of these numbers she refers to below — (April’s) blood glucose readings — which are, well…frighteningly off the charts.  Think the doctors have a clue?  Read on — that is, if you can overcome the urge to put your fist through your monitor.

Thank you, Michelle.

I hope we can work with the doctors. We need to enable (April) to dance without hitting 300 an hour in (it was off the charts the first time she spiked, which is when we found out she had a problem). But I still think going from 250 to 140ish throughout the day otherwise is an improvement worth noting.

And we all really love the food 🙂

Hugs.

The first time she spiked:
-Rice Crispies with goat milk for breakfast.
-Tuna with mayo on whole grain bread for lunch.
-An apple with green tea (lightly sweetened with honey) for snack at
about four pm. She hit over 500 at about six PM, an hour into tap.

This diet was before we gave Paleo a shot. I thought it was healthy.

(April) just called from (mainstream healthcare hell) to say they had her eat sugar, and her glucose is 344, but the nurse said,”That can’t be right.”

I’ll keep you posted.

No matter what, we’re keeping the Paleo diet. We just want to make sure we find out why (April) got to be like this to begin with.

Care to take a wild-assed guess as to who recommended this “healthy diet”?  Dammit, this pisses me off to no end!  Look, I take the ins-and-outs of my profession with the utmost seriousness.  I read every-frigging-thing I can get my hands on, and talk with anyone I can on items that are even remotely relevant to the subject of health, fitness and exercise science — whether or not, mind you, that I think at the onset of that read/conversation that I’m going to agree with the subject matter. Hell, I embrace my preconceived notions being pushed and tugged.  Simply put, that is what you do if you expect to be an honest representative within your field of expertise. Now I don’t expect anyone else to do anything more than what I do as a representative within my field of expertise — which is to say keep ahead of the learning curve.  Healthcare practitioners are, by and large though, dropping the proverbial ball, here, and the sad fact is that people are suffering unnecessarily — dying, even — as a result.  Those of you in the healthcare delivery system presumably entered this field to heal those in need — I say to you this: get off the fucking stick, and honor the profession you trained for, and agreed to do.  Be a help to humanity, versus being a damn obstacle to patient health.

______

Okay, so this next instance is laughable compared to the above, but it just highlights — once more — the mainstream’s utter friggin’  ignorance in all things health and fitness related.  No need to repeat what my Efficient Exercise brother-in-arms has already written, so go check out his piece, You Can’t Get Fit Lying on the Couch All Week, Apparently.

So yeah, sake your head, have a good laugh, and continue on in your own outside-of-the-box, primal pursuit.  And remember, we wouldn’t want people to think that they can get fit lying around on the couch all week  😉

______

Selected workouts from last week

Wednesday, 1/26/11

(A1) Nautilus pull-over: 255 x 12, 9, 9 (41×1 tempo)

(A2) Cuban press: oly bar x 15, 15, 15

(A3) Bradford press: 95 x 12, 12, 11

What’s up with the weak shoulders?  Well, 10+ years of being wielding my head and shoulders as a weapon in the course of being a defensive hit-man took a serious toll on (especially) my right shoulder; couple that with some ill-advised (and extremely ungraceful) mountain biking face-plants and a couple of recent fixie near misses and, well… welcome to shoulder prehab/rehab land.  I’m trying to swallow my own medicine here and not push through the pain of continued overhead work; attempting to bypass my natural inclination of letting surgery and surgery alone dictate my lay-off periods (Dan John knows what I’m talking about here — and so, I’m guessing, do many of you)  🙂  So yeah, now that I have this in “print” now, maybe I’ll actually follow through with a “cease and desist” on the overhead work until my shoulder quits yelling at me.  Or, I may just resort to cortisol/Novocaine cocktail and just keep on keeping on.  Juuuuust joking…   🙂

Thursday, 1/27/11 –

Two rounds of the following, with each round separated by approximately six hours, during which time I did a frac-ton of fixie riding.

(A1) breathing squats: 225 x 21

(A2) bicep curls (EZ bar): 105 x 21 (clusters x 3s)

(A3) “ski jump” shrugs: 305 x 21 (clusters x 3s)

“Breathing squats”?  Think extended rest-pause, without racking the weight.  Trap bar deadlifts/RDLs are good candidates for this technique as well.  Clusters?  Many, many ways to manipulate the “cluster” technique, but in this case I performed three regular tempo (3o1o) reps, then paused for approximately 10 seconds (weight still in-hand) before hitting the next “cluster” of 3.  Wash, rinse, repeat…

Friday, 1/28/11

(A1) Russian leg curl: bw x 10, 10, 10, 10

(A2) weighted dips: 45 x7; 90 x 5, 5, 4+

(A3) T-Bar swings: 100 x 30, 30, 30, 30

Honoring Your Genetic Endowment

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

– Patricia Alexander

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

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

Heh, tell us how you really feel, Vince  🙂

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

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

________

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

A visit with Tommy Suggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicely put!

______

On the workout front –

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

Wednesday, 1/19/11 –

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1/20/11 –

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

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

Friday, 1/21/11 –

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

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

PSs: 135 x 5, 5, 4, 5

Saturday, 1/21/11 –

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

______

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

In health,

Keith