Progress? Progress!

A client asked me recently how she would know that she’s making adequate “progress”, with the context, of course, being fitness-related, and more specifically, strength biased.  And I wish I had a ready answer for her; the truth of the matter though, is that “progress” is a tough thing to define, and even tougher to measure — it’s a little like herding cats.  Sure we can say, for instance, that one’s squat has increased 30 lbs over a certain time frame — but what if in gaining that increased squat poundage, we had to sacrifice a tenth of a second off of a 40 time; 20 seconds off of a 5 k?  The fact of the matter is that “progress” can only be measured relative to — and, in fact can only be defined by — our stated goals.  As Dan John is fond of saying, the “goal is to keep the goal, the goal…”  Now, this might sound a bit flippant at first blush, but I can tell you from first-hand experience just how difficult this is in practice.  Dan also likes to base weight room progress on the movements: a deadlift max, maximum number of dead-hang pull-ups and the standing triple jump; you’d be hard-pressed to argue for better weightroom yardsticks and yet, what about the more nebulous indicators —   blood work, say?  Bodyfat levels…overall exuberance for life?  Ever been around a bodybuilder in the final week (or hell, final month) of contest prep?  Exuberance is not exactly a word that comes to mind.  What if we’re looking to be strong, yes — but not at the expense of chipping away at our overall health (this happens to be my goal, by the way)?  In that case, I think Art DeVany’s “metabolic headroom” is a great place to start.  In other words, what’s the separation between your metabolic “idle” and metabolic “redline”?  I’ll have to come up with a working definition here that doesn’t leave my intended audience with their eyes rolling back in their heads.  Any help and/or thoughts on getting this point across to those not geeked-out on diet and fitness is greatly appreciated.

The week’s training — a mixed bag…and I like it like that!

It’s not often that I rumble through three training sessions in a row, but that’s just the way things shook-out this week.  So in true power-law, random-loving fashion, I rolled right on along with life as it hit me.

Tuesday: a quick-hitter supper-set with these two –

barbell muscle-ups (from the high hang): 115 x 8; 135 x 6; 145 x 5, 5, 5

Efficient Exercise exclusive hip press: 400 x 12; 500 x 6; 545 x 4, 4, 4


Best in the business; the Pendulum Hip Press


I like this pairing for a quick, total body workout.  If I had a bit more time, I would have tossed weighted pull-ups into the mix, and I’ll add those in next time I do this little number.  Also, I’ve got some good 4-6 rep range numbers to work with now so as to employ Autoregulation principles to the exercise loading next time out.

Wednesday: making the most out of ready access to Nautilus equipment –

Nautilus pec dec: 110 x 11 (41×1 tempo), then immediately to

weighted dips: 70#  x 6, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2 rest-pause extended set

and to round things out…

Nautilus pull-over: 230 x 9+ (not quite 10), 50×0 tempo

The extended rest-pause set: think of this as a hybrid between a DeVany-esq Hierarchical set, and the standby classic rest-pause method.  The pec dec serves as a good pre-exhaust movement, here; big rep drop-off between the first and second “set” of dips.  Without the pre-exhaust, we’re looking at an initial rep range of 10 to 12 or so, and an increased loading prior to the initiation of each and every “set” until we reach (about) the 2-rep threshold.  From this point, we’ll bust-out doubles until failure.

Thursday: holy friggin’ HIT, Batman!  Check-out the clip below –

If you weren’t keeping score, here’s what Skyler put me through:

Romanian Deadlift: 5 rest-pause style dynamic/hyper reps (about 5 seconds rest between reps; max effort each rep)
Dip: 5 rest-pause style dynamic/hyper reps (again about 5 seconds rest between reps; max effort each rep)
Pull Down: 5 negative-only reps
Military Press: 5 negative-only reps
Squat: 5 rest-pause style dynamic/hyper reps (same drill, about 5 seconds rest between reps; max effort each rep)
Hey, what is that, a friggin’ mouthpiece shoved in your pie-hole?  Yeah it is, I’m a teeth-gnasher on the “long”, grind-it-out lifts.  I’ve actually bitten clean through a few of these bad boys.  I’d like to keep my teeth around for rippin’ through grass-fed animal protein, thanks, so I’ll keep sportin’ the old mouth vinyl.
So this CZT equipment is, well…it just has to be tested to be appreciated; the intensity that can be generated here is simply phenomenal.  If you’re in the Austin area and you want to take this equipment for a spin, give Skyler or myself a holler; we’d be happy to take you through a round.  Anthony Johnson, of the 21-Convention, did just that when he came through “the ATX” recently.  I gave Anthony a dose of hierarchical rest-pause on the Pendulum Hip Press on one day, then a few days later he followed my own CZT workout with one of his own.  Again, the master of ceremonies here is none other than Dr. HIT-dose himself, Skyler Tanner; check it out:
And checkout Anthony’s notes on his Efficient Exercise and CZT experience, here.

A Little Dash of Volume; Stress and Gluten Tolerance

Here are a couple of workouts in which I injected a little more volume than what I normally roll with.  This is all done in an effort to prevent overtraining, while yet maintaining a relatively high training frequency which I both enjoy, and which my recovery ability can handle.  And just to reiterate a point I’ve made before, I rarely train lower-body volume work in the gym, since I do so much biking and sprinting — which is, essentially, volume work taken to an extreme.  My own n=1 experimentation has shown that lower-body volume work in the gym on top of biking and sprinting is counter-productive — too much of a good thing.  That being the case, I’ll stick to hitting the ol’ wheels with dynamic, power and strength work while in the gym.

Friday (Efficient Exercise, Rosedale)

First up, a box squat/cable flye superset –

box squat, top of quads just below parallel (*safety bar): bar + 160 x 7; +180 x 8; +200 x 6, 6, 6

*I have no idea how much this bar weighs.  It’s a locally-fabricated, heavy-duty, beastly thing is all I can say 🙂

cable flye (from a deep lunge position hold): 95 x 15; 110 x 15; 125 x 15, 13, 12

Then, an ab wheel roll-out/btn push-press superset –

ab wheel roll-out (on toes, minimal knee touch, full extension): bodyweight x 8, 8, 10

btn push-press: 135 x 10, 9, 9

Monday (Efficient Exercise, Rosedale)

This following a bit of fixie sprinting about the Rosedale section of Austin (and a much-needed pitstop by Thunderbird coffee)

clean-grip power snatch (from the floor): 115 x 5; 135 x 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4

then a “volume” superset of bi’s and tri’s

barbell curls: 115 x 12, 12, 12

close grip bench: 185 x 10, 8, 9

Stress,and the ability to tolerate gluten

Recently, a  client of mine reported that, for a couple of days following her first session with me, she felt particularly “wiped out”.  This client is normally on an every 7th-day session frequency, and I utilize a to-failure HIT-like protocol with her.  After inquiring a bit as to what she meant by “wiped-out”, it occurred to me that she was, more than likely, gluten intolerant; in addition to the normal indications of a particularly challenging workout (lingering muscular fatigue, a little less “pop”, possibly some muscular soreness), she told of some near flu-like symptoms.  I asked if she thought she might have actually had a touch of the flu, and she said she didn’t think so, that the “symptoms” weren’t that extreme.  I asked if she was gluten intolerant, and she indicated that she didn’t think so.

Now I align myself with the Robb Wolf camp in my belief that everyone is in fact, to some degree, gluten intolerant.  In some people (and I believe, in my client’s case) that low-level intolerance — which has persisted undetected since childhood — has essentially become that person’s norm, or baseline feeling of what it is to be relatively “healthy”.  This is somewhat analogous to people who have to live with some manifestation chronic, low-grade pain.  However, when an unusual stressor enters the picture — in this case, a particularly rigorous workout (but it could be any stress; emotional, physical, psychological…), those “intolerance” symptoms manifest — or, more accurately, are brought to the forefront.

I asked this client to consider trying a gluten-free diet for a while (which is particularly easy to do in Austin, even when dining out), knowing that “gluten-free” is essentially “Paleo-lite” — 90% of a Paleo diet, without the wack (by mainstream standards) PR.  She did just that, and subsequent to a following workout reported none of the same “wiped-out” symptoms.

I wonder how many more people out there would be more accepting of (or able to handle) extreme-intensity workouts, if only their diets could first support such endeavors?

Also, check out High Intensity Training and the Career-Oriented Trainee, over at the Efficient Exercise blog.  Career success and fitness/health need not be mutually-exclusive pursuits.

Paleo 101, Workin’ the Groove, and Settling In

Since Monday was a holiday (here in the US, at least), I figured it would be a great time to ease into the Austin fixie scene, get a feel for traffic patterns and, well, just the overall vibe and such.  And what I found was this: Austin is definitely a bike-friendly town; courteous drivers, plentiful bike lanes, fabulous rolling hills, too many ultra-cool coffee shops to count…wow, fixie paradise!  I went into the Efficient Exercise Rosedale studio and did a little bit of prep work for my Tuesday clients, then saddled-up and hit a series of sprints over to our downtown ATX studio to do some prep work for those clients (see my route, here).  Five miles of hard intermittent sprinting each way was a nice, bodily reintroduction to the biking experience.   How’s that for mixing business with pleasure, huh?  Yeah, to say the least, I’m lovin’ this new gig  🙂

So today following my client sessions I decided to ease back into the weightlifting scene by hitting some power cleans and close-grip high pulls.  Nothing real radical or too strenuous, just climbing back onto the on-ramp, so to speak.

power cleans: 135 x 10; 165 x 7; 185 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2

close-grip high pulls: 185 x 5, 5, 5, 5

Now, the Efficient Exercise downtown facility is chock-full of Nautilus MedEx equipment (along with a ton of other really cool play toys!), and so following my client sessions tomorrow (I train clients at the downtown facility on Wednesdays), I plan on hitting a Mentzer-inspired HIT session.   Again, more so to ease into things here.  As I’ll have to take substantial training time off in order to move into my new house in about a week (way excited about this!  Moving that is — not the missed workouts part  🙂  ), I’ll have to repeat this phase-in process once more.  And I don’t look at this as a setback, either — rather, I take the long view, and see this as a necessity to remain in the game for the long-haul.  It’s a great time to focus on technique flaws, form alterations (and abominations!)…small things that tend to get glossed-over when the training focus is on “hard, heavy and fast”.  Everything under the sun has its season. 

Oh, and I heard this yesterday on NPR’s “The Human Edge” series; a little bit of Paleo 101, if you will.  If you’re looking for a tidy intro, of sorts, for friends and family who want to now the most basis of all questions that we get asked in relation to our diet selections — why the overt avoidance of neolithic foods?  — this piece is a nice, concise referenceIt’s an easy answer, of course — but sometimes, though, it’s good for people to hear that same answer from multiple sources.

Thought I fell off the Edge of the Earth, huh?

Well, I suppose I have fallen off the edge of the “wired” earth 🙂  Slowly but surely, though, I am making my way back into some sense of wired-world normalcy.  And hey, have I mentioned that I love my new gig with Efficient Exercise of Austin?  Yeah, it’s true; I’m like a kid in a candy store…er, more like a Neanderthal at a cave bear kill!  I get to train/partner with a spectrum of interesting clients (each with unique goals) for a living and I have access to so many fitness toys it’s simply mind-boggling.  How cool is that?  Very, very cool in my book!

So my day-to-day routine is totally out of the window for the time being, which is both a good and, in some respects, a very challenging thing to deal with.  One the good side of the ledger, my body has been exposed to a myriad of new movements and schemes which, in turn, forces a whole new level of adaptation.  This new “workout landscape” produces an exhilarating feeling and a CNS that is now hyper-wired as a result of trying to keep up with each new stimulus being thrown its way.  Also, my caffeine consumption has dropped dramatically; that will soon change, however, as Austin is replete with some of the coolest coffee shops anywhere, like the fantastic Thunderbird Coffee, which is only about a mile’s hard fixie sprint from my Rosedale studio.  Oh, and have I mentioned that I’m now in fixie paradise?  Yeah, it’s true, I’m lovin’ my new surroundings.

For the next couple of weeks, Meesus TTP and I will be living in limbo, as the closing on our new casa won’t take place until on or around the 15th of this month.  Then, another round of adjustment will unfold, and another new groove will be laid down.  Hang with me folks; eventually I’ll return to my old blogging ways.

I’ll leave you today with the following little food-for-thought morsel (hat-tip to TTP reader Dan for bringing this to my attention): the US Army’s lowering of physical fitness standards.  This is sad commentary indeed on the state of the nation’s well-being.  And this isn’t a problem particular to only the US — all “developed” nations face the same crisis of dwindling physical readiness.  Couple poor physical readiness with the push toward “low-fat” offerings in the chow halls and, well…let’s just say this is a bad double-whammy for the guardians of freedom.  How can a nation continue to adequately defend itself when its fighting forces are of dwindling strength and dwindling vigor?