11/28/09, A Little Something to Get the Blood Pumping

Not much to this intra-holiday, impromptu workout; just wanted to get out and move around a bit, shake out the “traveling” legs.  It happened to be rather cold out, so I lengthened the sprints up to 200 meters.  As the sprints took place on asphalt, I was forced to wear my Nike Frees.  Not exactly barefoot, but well and away better than typical running/cross-training shoes.  After some fixie intervals about town, I did the following:

  • 200 meter sprint/strides x 2
  • 20 bodyweight dips

5 rounds.  Approximately 20 seconds recovery between sprints, and between sprints and dip sets.  This kicked my ass, as it works an energy system that I’m unaccustomed to working.

Hello winter 🙂

More MetCon Musings

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln

GEDC8436_opt
The Scribblings of a madman

A little insight into how I develop some of my ideas; tease the few, substantial and practical take-away messages out of the bombardment of daily information.  Metaphorically, I think of it as panning for gold.  Anyway, I have a small “office” in my home where I do the majority of my reading and writing, and in that office is the whiteboard seen here.  Now I’d prefer to be surrounded by an old-school blackboard and chalk (for tactile reasons — and sentimentality as well, I suppose), and I’d prefer that every wall of the room be covered likewise.  Not a good decorating decision, (or so I’m told), so for the time being I’ll have to muddle through with my one little whiteboard.

What I’d sketched-up a few days ago is an encapsulation of my thoughts on the intersection of Power Production/Bodyweight Ratio, MetCon Modality, and Exercise Selection.  From that 3-way intersection, then, we can tease-out the comparison graph of Relative Power Production as it relates to Exercise Duration (in seconds, logarithmic scale).  You see here that an Olympic lift requires about 1 second to complete, and produces the most  power output/duration of any exercise.  Then on to the 100 meter sprint, a 2km row, and an 80km bike race (these are just examples within a wide-ranging spectrum, of course).  What you don’t see here (you would, if I had another board — hint, hint, Mrs. TTP 😉  are the relative percentage contributions from each of the bodies three (or four, if you really want to split hairs) energy systems to support each endeavor.  This template, if super-imposed upon the Relative Power Production/Duration graph, would depict an almost exclusively Phosphagen energy system contribution to the far left of the duration scale (the Oly lift end), phasing into a mostly glycolytic contribution at roughly the 100 meter sprint point, then ever-increasingly aerobic at about the 2km row point.  The 80 km bike ride would be almost 100% aerobic.  And remember, this overlay wouldn’t be depicted as a hard shift, but rather a gradual phasing, such as would be seen in a gradually darkening color wheel, for example.

What this sketch really depicts, though, is the fact that the exercise itself is only a means to an end, if our workout focus is is centered upon a MetCon modality. What should truly be the emphasis of any MetCon-oriented workout, is a directed attempt to push the work capacity limits of the targeted energy system.  Having to grapple with exercise technique as one fatigues ought to be the least of concerns, unless of course, maintaining proper technique under fatigue is an inherent (and adjusted for) part of the equation.  One example of this would be training a starting pitcher; another might be conditioning an American football quarterback for efficient 2-minute drill play.  For the vast majority of trainees, though, the desire is to increase broadly defined work capacity under particular energy systems.  It is my opinion, then, that (for instance) a session of appropriately weighted farmer’s walk repeats is a much more efficient exercise selection option for building work capacity of the glycolytic energy system that an equal amount of time spent on power clean repeats.  And as well, one can push themselves to the brink fatigue-wise with a farmer’s walk repeat session as not have to be concerned with the potential of technique-related injury.

In health,

Keith

The 5/3/1 Routine for Strength (and Power, Too!)

“Once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”

– Marlene Dietrich

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs...

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs...

TMuscle.com recently posted an interesting article by former big-time power lifter and current strength and conditioning coach (and Elite Fitness staff member) Jim Wendler, discussing Jim’s 5/3/1 routine for strength.  There’s a great amount of, no-nonsense, straight-forward information here.

What’s refreshing about this piece is (1) the program’s simplicity and (2) Jim’s honesty.  I mean, really, getting big, strong and powerful is not rocket science, much as some of the hucksters out there would have you believe.  Intense effort, proper diet, adequate recovery — really, the rest is mere commentary, hair splitting, as it were; the stuff of interesting conversation, but really, nothing more than that.  Of course the further one progresses, or if an athlete needs to pin-point training, well, that’s a different story and a more nuanced approach is definitely called for.   But for the vast majority — myself included, at this stage in my life — the iron game can be simplified to this: short-duration, intermittent, hard-assed work; eat properly, get plenty of rest (nightly, and between workouts), repeat.  Now I’ve just let you in on the secret to muscle gain and fat loss — a secret that holds true for 99% of the population.  Now, if you want to compete athletically, we’ll need to talk a bit more.  Otherwise, you can use the Dalai Lama’s approach to religion — pick a pony (religion) saddle it up, and ride the thing — and apply that theory in the weight room.  As long as you’ve got some intense TUL (time under load) goin’ on, hell, you’re way ahead of the crowd.  Couple that with a good diet and sensible recovery and you’re light years ahead.

Anyway, back to Jim’s program.  What he’s served up here is a basic, nuts-and-bolts strength (or, if you work it right, power) template — a version of which I’ve used many times in the past — and, in fact, one that I’m currently following (interspersed with versions of my favorite — 25 for a Bigger Engine).  Jim has tweeked the lift percentages a bit here in this particular program (which forces a sensible weight selection), but the guts program remain founded in ages-old, proven methods.  Jim prescribes hitting the core lifts (always multi-joint, complex movements) hard and progressively over a three or four week period.  Take a deload week so as to give your body a chance to recoup.  If the three-week “ramp-up”, one week “idle” methodology seems all-pervasive within the strength and conditioning community, there’s a simple reason — it’s been proven empirically to work.  This is where the science “rubber” meets the real world “road”.  It may be physiological or psychological or some combination thereof, but it seems as though one can push hard for about 3 weeks before the wheels begin to come off.  Now, you can either be smart and anticipate this happening and program some “deload time” in your macrocycle planning, or you can keep pushing and suffer some form of injury-induced set-back; one way or the other, though, you will be taking that deload week.

One thing Jim really didn’t cover in the article was rep speed or tempo.  The nice thing about this program, or the 25 Reps program for that matter, is that you can really snap-off the early, lighter sets and emphasize the power aspect, then, in the final reps of the final set, use a slower, consistent tempo and go on to failure — even some negative failure or forced reps, if you like.  And a quick word about failure: pick your exercises wisely.  I’m good with going to failure on complex movements where momentum is not a key factor (and the skill/technique component is low).  Squats?  Yeah, go to failure.  Jump squats?  No.  Military press?  Sure, knock yourself out.  Push press or push jerk?  Nope, simply not effective.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some structure in your next strength block, you can do a hell of a lot worse than to follow Jim’s 5/3/1 program, as he has, in my opinion, put together a good, solid and sensible program here.  And a quick word about tweeking the prescribed (or any prescribed) program:  I agree with Jim that you can’t manipulate what he’s laid-out here, and then bitch about the 5/3/1 not working for you.  On the other hand, I don’t ever follow a prescribed program to the letter; I’ve to too many variables to juggle in my life and I have a narrowly defined and very clear set of goals I aim to achieve.  Couple that with the fact that I’ve been in the game for 30+ years, and so I have base knowledge to allow a sifting-through of a program for the gems that I want.  You gotta know the rules to know when to effectively break ’em, right?

Here’s a recent example of my utilization of Jim’s 5/3/1 routine.  This is week one, and the compound exercise of choice is reverse-grip pull-ups (or chin-ups, for you purists out there).  This picks up, of course, subsequent to a thorough warm-up.

Reverse Grip Pull-Ups

Set 1: 60# x 5 reps

Set 2: 67.5# x 5 reps

Set 3: 72.5# x 7 reps, failed midway through the 8th.

Lots of pop on the reps of the first two sets — more along the lines of classic power reps.  The reps of the last set, especially as I made my way toward failure, were ground-out — classic, heavy, “strength” reps.  I took about 2 minutes rest between sets.  Then:

Bodyweight dips, 5 sets of 15 reps.  About 1 minute rest between sets with the last few reps of the last two sets done in rest-pause fashion.

Bodyweight GHR, 5 sets of 10.  1 minute between sets.  A lot tougher than it sounds.

Now, my next time in the gym, I may hit a 5/3/1 routine with front squats as the primary exercise, or I my opt for a 25 FBE routine; it all depends on how I feel and what kind of time I have.  But for this particular primary exercise, though (the reverse grip pull-up), I’ll follow the 5/3/1 schedule (3 weeks ramping, 1 deload week) on through.

This was a fantastic workout.  Nothing fancy — but then again, it doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.

In health,

Keith

Of Changing Seasons and Natural Ebb and Flow

“There is no great genius without a tincture of madness.”

– Seneca

Texas "Stonehenge", near Hunt
Texas “Stonehenge”, near Hunt

I’ve been under the hyper-crunch of an impending project deadline, and working so damn much lately, that this year’s summer solstice nearly passed me by, completely unnoticed.  That’s not like me, as I’m apt to wax Pagan come solstice and equinox time.  One thing I have noticed though — and this happens every year — that more and more of my workouts are occurring outdoors.  Sprints (both of the running and biking variety), bodyweight exercises, and outdoor kettlebell routines (for example) are showing up at a greater frequency in my workout journal.  And it just makes sense, huh?  Warmer and longer-lasting days bring that out in all of us.  This is, of course, a good and very Paleo occurrence.  Relatively few and far between now are the very heavy, strength-oriented loadings that tend to dominate my dead-of-winter (and mostly indoor) weight routines.  The speed-strength end of the weight spectrum dominates what indoor sessions I do perform time of year — sessions that might occur as few as once/week.  As an example of this, consider the last indoor session I managed to squeeze in prior to one of my (all to frequently now) long and drawn-out work days:

  1. Low Pulls x 4
  2. Bradford Press x 6
  3. Bodyweight, ballistic Pull-ups x 6

I performed 5 rounds of this complex, with an emphasis on single-event power production.  I emphasize single event here because I’ve found that some folks confuse overall workout completion speed with single rep. speed with an eye toward power production.  Two different animals here, with the latter leaning more toward that of an Oly lift format, and the former being indicative of a Crossfit-style workout.  Another way to think of this is that if I were performing this workout in a Crossfit-style manner, I’d do so with an eye toward maximizing a longer-duration power output — attempting to finish the workout in, say, 10 minutes or so.  Of course, this would necessitate dropping the poundages used and radically reducing the between rep. and between exercise rest periods.  Same workout components with a totally different set of performance guidelines and expected results.  And neither of these modalities is any “better” than the other; about the only thing that can be said is one might be better when considered in light of what your goals happen to be.

Anyway, if you’re north of the equator, get out and enjoy the summer weather while you can.  And get in some extra outdoor time for me while you’re at it, as I may end up resembling a pink-eyed lab rat by September with the way my work is going.  Such is life.  Oh well, this too shall pass, right?  Just more opportunity to adapt and overcome.  By the way, there’s just something about sprinting in the dead of night that accentuates the activity’s “primalness”.

In Health,

Keith

Hiatus

Folks,

I wish I were writing with another installment of the week’s workouts.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Last night my beautiful, 23 year old step-daughter, Brittani, lost her life in an auto accident.  She was a ministry student, due to graduate from Emmanuel College next weekend.  She had just recently returned to the US from a long stint of missionary work in South Africa.  Her loss is devastating to Michelle and me.  Needless to say, my mind and heart are elsewhere, and will be for some time.  I will be back, though, because we always drift back to what ultimately sustains us.

What ever your spiritual or philosophical leaning, please send out a healing vibe to Michelle; she desperately needs it.

Technical Difficulties

Just a quick note to let everyone know that this week’s edition of “Workouts for the Week of…” will be delayed a bit.  Meesus TTP sprained her ankle yesterday afternoon while tending to her herb garden — she stepped off our deck and right into a hole that one of our dogs had conveniently dug for her — anyway, needless to say, our routine has been a bit jostled.  Hopefully all will be back to normal soon.

In health,

Keith

A Calorie is not a Calorie, and Other Dietary Heresy

“A hypocaloric diet, whatever the proposed type, is an inadapted treatment to chronic disease, like obesity. All diets are inefficient on the long term. The weight loss is generally small, about 1-2 kg a year. The results are the same, independently of the type of diet, and the patient’s compliance is clearly the main key to succeed. About 80% of patients regain weight the first month following the diet, and only 1% can keep the obtained weight a year later. Nearly half of the patients involved in a diet program give up before the end. Finally, because of risks of macro and micro nutriments deficiency, certain diets are to be avoided and hypocaloric diet shouldn’t be proposed.”

~ from, Hypocaloric Diets: Which Ones to Advise/Avoid? Di Vetta V, Clarisse M, Giusti V.

Readers of this blog are, of course, not the least bit surprised by the above quote, as it is common knowledge within the larger Paleo community; conventional dieting fails miserably, and those currently engaged in conventional dieting are, for the most part, well — miserable. The 10,000-dollar question remains, however; why do these diets fail? Now, in my real-world, day-to-day comings and goings, I’m not much concerned with whether I’m hypercaloric or hypocaloric. I know that, by whatever mechanism is at work in my Paleo way of life, over the long-haul I’ll maintain single-digit body fat levels coupled with a stellar blood profile; my health will be excellent and my vitality vibrant. And all of this will come free of any feeling of depravity, gnawing hunger, rampant cravings or lethargy. I’ll have no need for a calculator or scale, nor will I ever be concerned with meal timing. I am a curious sort, though, and so I wonder: Am I, over the long haul, actually either ingesting fewer calories or burning more calories than in my pre-Paleo days? Is it a combination of the two? Or, does the total calorie content really not play that significant a role?

I know I’m not going to raise the eyebrows of any long-time TP readers by stating that, in my opinion total calorie ingestion plays a minor, short term role in weight control (body fat and lean tissue) when compared to the hormonal/enzymatic environment elicited by the ingestion of those calories. In other words, it’s the type of calorie ingested that trumps the amount of overall calorie ingestion.

Now, it’s obvious to the most casual of observers that caloric restriction below the basic metabolic rate (BMR) and total calorie expenditure will result in weight loss. But are all hypocaloric diets created equal? Again, TTP readers know the answer, but, for purposes of comparison, let’s take a look at this study:

Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women. The A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial

Now, let’s have a gander at the recent Harvard study (Diets That Reduce Calories Lead to Weight Loss, Regardless of Carbohydrate, Protein or Fat Content) that I wrote about here.

Just what, exactly, is going on here? We seem to be getting mixed signals. If a calorie is truly a calorie, then what is going on with this Atkins group?  Thanks to Chris, at Conditioning Research, for finding this apropo cartoon, from this very smart and witty collection.

The problem with scientific studies, though, lay in (1) the minutia and, (2) in the interpretation.  And, as the above cartoon so very well illiterates, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Well, here’s the short version of my take on the issue

There is a dramatic shift to fat burning when insulin levels are low and/or not overly released with each caloric ingestion. Insulin immediately shuts down fat burning (the release of stored FFAs – free fatty acids) and begins the process of moving FFAs, and excess glucose in the blood stream into body fat. By comparison to a high carbohydrate meal, very little insulin is released by eating the TTP/Paleo way, and this slight rise in insulin will occur over a period of hours — not seconds or minutes as would be the case from eating the usual high carbohydrate, high glycemic-value, high total caloric load (all contributing factors) typical of the “normal”, western diet.

It is very clear to me that the bodily chemical processes (especially the action of insulin) that entail the digestion of all foods work via certain, distinct pathways, and knowing these pathways gives us the tools to knowingly adjust our diets which, over time (and which is clearly demonstrated by empirical evidence), can cause us to correctly assume what is optimal for our individual body types, and to allow ultimate control of our body composition. My contention is that that function of determining how a fuel calorie (glucose and fatty acids) will be utilized — whether stored as fat, or burned as energy in the muscles,or in the act of bodily repair/replenish — is carried out primarily by the hormone insulin via interaction with the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL). It is interesting to note as well (though a bit of-topic for this discussion), that sex hormones also interact with LPL, which is why men and women gain/lose/carry body fat differently. It is insulin, though, that acts as the primary gatekeeper, the traffic cop, so to speak, in the ultimate partitioning of the end-products of food ingestion.

So what does all of this mean in practical terms? Well, it means that it’s your insulin levels that will determine what is to become of the calories you’ve ingested. A high insulin level (resulting from consumption of a high carbohydrate meal) will do two things, primarily (1) it will shunt the excess ingested calories to be stored as fat, and (2) it will shutdown the release of FFAs from the body’s fat deposits. The flip side of this is the maintenance of a low insulin environment via the elimination of simple carbohydrates and the limitation of complex carbohydrates. In other words, and from a purely biological or homeostatic perspective, lean people are not those who have the willpower to exercise more and/or eat less. They are simply people whose bodies are programmed to send the calories they consume to the muscles to be burned rather than to the fat tissue to be stored —the precise reason that Lance Armstrong and his ilk can get away with the massive amounts of carbohydrates they consume with no (outward) noticeable affect. A less active a person would tend to go the other way, shunting off calories to fat tissue, where they continue to accumulate to excess. This shunting of calories toward fat cells to be stored or toward the muscles to be burned is a phenomenon known as fuel partitioning. It is also why I think of the body more as a capacitor, rather than a simple thermodynamic machine; a capacitor whose charge/discharge properties are controlled primarily via insulin, the level of which is primarily controlled by the type and amount of carbohydrate ingestion.

So, is a calorie just a calorie? Well, no more than a bullet is just a bullet, I suppose. Would you rather be shot by the rubber variety, or a “cop killer”? Keep that metaphor in mind before you fork-up that next mouthful of pasta.

In Health,

Keith

Q & A; The Journey’s Initial Steps

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu

I’ve had quite a few questions like this roll in over the weeks, so I thought I’d try to answer, via a concise blog post, some of the more pressing questions I’ve fielded from those new to the TTP philosophy, or those having just recently decided to take the plunge. The following is a paraphrased email I received recently, and it is indicative, I think, of the questions most newcomers to this lifestyle have.

Hello, Keith

I really enjoy your blog, it’s full of a lot of good information. I have a couple questions for you. I want to go “primal” or “paleo”, but I don’t really know where to begin. First off, I need to lose approximately 120lbs. I have been doing a bit of walking and using my bodylastics bands for resistance training. If you were me, what would you do diet wise? I really don’t know what to eat (lots of conflicting information out there). And I just developed sleep apnea, so now I have a machine to help me breath. What’s next? A heart attack or a stroke? And I am only 41. I just need your help to learn how to eat. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s the truth (emphasis mine). I really just don’t even know where to start.

Thanks,

Bill

Bill,

For starters, let me just say that my hat’s off to you for deciding to take responsibility for your own health and well-being by actively seeking answers to your problem. I can certainly respect a proactive attitude, and the avoidance of our culture’s prevailing “victimization” mindset. I’m not sure how you came to know of the low-carb or Paleo-type lifestyles – whether by accident, or as the results of intelligent research – but I’m happy for you that you’ve found your way here. I hope that this blog can be a helpful and ongoing recourse for you.

To begin with, the “what to eat” portion of your question isn’t stupid at all; there’s an entire nation out there – and hell, I’d argue the majority of the civilized world – who are totally unaware of how to properly fuel themselves. Some, though, are “lucky” in the fact that, from all outward appearances, they are impervious to the effects of the horrid, modern-western diet. This is only an illusion, though, as there is untold damage occurring silently within. But unfortunately for you, Bill, it seems as if you are of a genetic make-up that is uber-sensitive to the negative hormonal cascade consequences of what is considered a “normal” western, high carbohydrate diet. It’s not that you necessarily eat any worse than the next guy (of course, by the same token, you may), however, your body’s response and reaction to that carbohydrate load is magnified. The good news is, you can absolutely and completely reverse that trend.

In my email to you, I suggested this post as a beginning point in your quest for better health. Additionally, I’d suggest reading Gary Taubes’s book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. Check out the TTP Precepts post as well; I believe that this is as good an introduction to the lifestyle as you’re likely to see. Above all else, remember that this is a lifelong journey and you are just beginning. Don’t get discouraged with what might seem like in insurmountable amount of information. Endeavor to learn a little more each new day than you knew the day before. Vow to improve, day-in and day-out, on your diet and exercise routines. Stay positive, resolute. Do these things, and your health will steadily improve, and, as a consequence, your body will assuredly go through a most dramatic re-composition (loss of body fat, normalization of body weight). Tiny successes will build up one another, eventually culminating in the overall success of your weight loss goal having been met.

As you peruse the Good Eats section of the TTP blog, you’ll take note of the common, Paleolithic thread running through each meal – a good source of animal (or fish) protein and a small side portion of vegetable and/or fruit. Since you’re attempting to cut body fat, I’d only eat leafy and/or non-starchy vegetables (in limited amounts) and I’d treat fruit as a condiment, adding just enough to enhance the taste and pleasure of the overall meal. Add in some raw nuts (not peanuts) for variation, as a salad component, or as a snack. My friend, Ryon Day, has a good point: if it doesn’t go bad, don’t buy it. Think of yourself as a Paleolithic, pre agricultural revolution human being. Limit your food choices to the types of foods that would have been available to our ancestors at that time. Note that this is in no way a gimmick diet, as our bodies, genetically speaking, are virtually the same bodies as those of our Paleolithic ancestors. Realize the human body is miraculous in its ability to survive, at least to reproduction age, on even the most sub-par of diets. It is genetically predisposed, however, to thrive, even long into old age (and well past what we currently consider as “old age”), on a Paleo-like diet.

Now, workout-wise: first and foremost you’ve got to put to bed the idea of long, drawn-out work, ostensibly done to “burn calories”. This “theory” is, to be frank, utter nonsense. You want to perform high-intensity work of short duration, so as to promote a positive hormone cascade response. What can someone in your shoes do as a practical matter on the workout front? Begin with the basics; push-ups, body weight squats and lunges, intervals of fast-as-you-can walking with “strolling” done as a recovery. And it doesn’t matter if you can’t even do one regular push-up, either. Modify the exercise by doing them on your knees – in sets of singles, if that’s what it takes. As long as the session is intense for you, you’re headed in the right direction. Additionally, if you have access to a CrossFit affiliate, I’d highly recommend joining. I believe in the programming methodology, more so than any other “systematic program”, for the average Joe.

A 120-lb weight loss is a very achievable goal, Bill. Many folks have lost that and more on a Paleo-like diet – and sustained the weight loss. As an example and roll model for you, check out my friend Jimmy Moore, at Livin’ La Vida Low Carb.

So, readers, can you add anything here to help Bill out? Anything, from a beginner’s point of view, that I missed? Feel free to chime in and help Bill – and all the others out there who might be intimidated by the whole Paleo experience – begin their journey on the right foot.

In Health,

Keith

Follow Me on Twitter

I’ve decided to put Twitter to the test, and see if it’s a tool that I can utilize.  I have plenty of thoughts during the day that don’t ever get fully fleshed-out in a blog post.  Mostly, this is due to time constraints, but many times it’s because I lose track of the idea thread, and by the time I’ve flittered off to something else entirely.   I’ve got notebooks, index cards, and scraps of paper littered about with thoughts and ideas that never see the light of day.  My hope is that some of these thoughts will prompt further  discussion — ultimately something that I can then flesh-out in a post.  Another possibility is that I’ll finally have a repository of ideas in one central place rather than scattered all about.  Scrolling through them from time to time might prove interesting…or frightening 🙂

Keith Norris on Twitter, if you’re at all interested 🙂