On the Fly Paleo Chow, No Dip Session is the Same, and Other Weekend Tidbits

No Dip Session is the Same…

…Or, for that matter, is any selected movement within an exercise session ever the same; there are just way too many variables at play — and that, in and of itself, is a good thing, serving to keep the trainee from becoming both mentally and physically stagnant.  It does, however, mean that tracking progress in a particular movement — once beyond the beginner stage — can be a nebulous (and to some, a daunting) thing.  What does it mean, for example, that my dip is “improving”?  Raw strength?  Power?  Strength Endurance?  Yielding strength?  If I “improve” in my Gironda-style dip, will that improvement necessarily carry over to the more conventional version?  And, if it does, does that necessarily portend anything meaningful?  Well, a lot depends on what you consider to be a “conventional” dip.  I happen to be strongest in the more upright version of the movement, where I can fully engage the triceps throughout the full range of motion.  Others choose to lean-in, engaging the pecs to a greater degree, and would therefore — theoretically, anyway — see more of a benefit carry over from the pec-dominant, Gironda version.  A lot depends as well on what the dip movement as seen as a proxy for.  Athletic enhancement?  Aesthetics?  As a means to an end in its own right?  You can see how this can become very convoluted in a flash.

Much, of course, depends upon one’s training goals.  At either extreme end of the spectrum, we have the pure bodybuilder, and at the other, the pure athlete.  One’s concerns revolve solely around physical appearance, the others’ primarily around performance (as defined by the sport).  One’s idea of “improvement”, therefore, can only be understood in light of that individual’s ultimate goal.  I tend much more toward the athletic side of the spectrum, though I have no defined “event” or “season” to shoot for, and my performance markers are haphazard at best (“engaging” with the environment is tough to quantify); in other words, I’m not aiming to peak for a world-record 100 meter, or a particular Oly lift — and hey, let’s face it — on top of it all, I still want to look good nekkid as well  🙂

Friday Night Iron Works –

Kind of unusual for me to delve into a night session — but hey, that’s just the way it came about, so I rolled with it.

I love to tinker with different variations of Istvan Javorek’s barbell and dumbbell complexes.  Mostly this tinkering has to do increasing the intensity (via heavier loading), and busting-up the complex as a whole into many, “mini complexes” with very short rest periods between.  This gives more of an interval feel to the enterprise, and fits my goals a little better that performing the Javorek complexes “as prescribed”.  For instance, I kicked-off Friday night’s session with Javorek’s “Whoop Ass” dumbbell complex.  Now, Javorek uses a lighter weight and rotates through the three exercise for 6 continual rounds, then ends with a few finisher exercises.  Good stuff to be sure, however, I work this energy system a plenty (for my particular needs) with all the biking that I do, SO,  I chose heavier DBs (40’s), and did “broken” rounds consisting of:

  • the first 3 lunge exercises as depicted in the clip, followed by
  • DB squat thrusters x 6
  • DB muscle-ups from the floor x 6

I hit each of 6 rounds as hard and as fast as possible, but rested between each round so as to turn the workout into more of an interval experience.  Tough as all hell, I have to say.

Following that I did this complex:

cable flye (swiss ball, 5/0/x/0 tempo): 70 x 5 sets of 5
reverse cable flye (bent-over position, 5/0/x/0 tempo): 30 x 5 sets of 5
weighted dips (ratchet sets, 1/0/x/0 tempo): 45 x 1, 3; 70 x 1, 3; 80 x 1, 3; 85 x 1, 3; then 7 rest-pause singles @ 90 lbs

5 total rounds of these three, with round 5 of the dips being the extended rest-pause set.  The cable work could be thought of as “pre-exhaust” sets when paired with the weighted dips.  Ratchet sets: the first single allows the body to adjust to the weight and movement, then I can fully engage the 3-rep set.  These were done in an explosive fashion — come down fast, then immediately blast back up.  I cut the sets when I sensed that I was losing speed on the concentric portion of the movement (a drop in power production).  At that point, I moved on to the rest-pause set.  I hit these explosively as well.

Saturday –
I reeled-off approximately 25 miles of tough, tough mountain biking, and was totally zorched by the end of the day.  The temperatures were between 95 and 100 degrees here in NC, and I lost A LOT of fluids.  If I could ever get my crap together, and remember to take along some coconut water, it would make for a nice n=1 recovery study.  Mt theory is that coconut water, combined with a Paleo diet approach, may just be the the one-two punch endurance-leaning athletes are looking for.  If you lean toward endurance activities and have tried coconut water as a replenishment means, please chime in and let me know how it worked for you, how it sat on your stomach and, in general, what you think about its efficacy.

Sunday –
Saturday’s “recreational” ride is a great segue into a quick discussion on the importance of auto-regulation in the weight room.  In the initial stages of a trainee’s weight room career, step-by-step adherence to a linear progression type program (a 5×5 scheme, for example) gets the job done nicely.  And the truth of the matter is, the vast number of trainee’s need not ever progress beyond pushing the limits of this type of modality, OR beyond a HIT/SS/Body by Science type of program.  Unless one is a competitive athlete or, like me, is one whose life hobby involves training akin to a competitive athlete, the benefit to risk ratio is just not there.  The basics of auto-regulation, though — regardless of one’s training experience or training “age” — ought to be known, and the principles practiced.  As in all things, practice might not make for “perfect”, but it at least moves one toward that end.

The weighted dip executed in Friday night’s workout, for example, simply cannot be considered outside of the context in which it was undertaken.   Look at all of the variables that might conspire to alter the rep/loading scheme here at the selected target modality, which, in this case, happened to be the strength-speed aspect of power production.  Auto-regulation is, in essence then, the ability to push one’s self sufficiently to make gains, with an eye towards — but not at all fixated on — external loading parameters and rep schemes.  85 and 90 lbs for me, in this movement and under the strength-speed modality, is not a particularly heavy loading.  However, given the context of, not only this individual workout’s exercise selection and the exercise order as a whole, BUT the way the training week as a whole shook out as well.  This, then, was the most productive loading for that particular moment in time.  This is a huge act of mental jujitsu, however, that many a trainee simply cannot grasp.  How does one quantify improvement, if not by incremental loading and/or rep increases?  You just have to trust yourself, brother — it boils down to that.  Because the fact of the matter is this: when one fixates on external loading, rep numbers, etc. at the expense of becoming adept in the art of auto-regulation, a total crash-and-burn (both mental and physical) is inevitable.

Having become adept at auto-regulation early on has kept me fully engaged in the physical culture game for 30+ years, and it will keep me engaged for the next 30…40…50 years…and beyond.

So, given that I was totally pummeled by Saturday’s mountain biking excursion, then, let’s look at how Sunday’s BTN jerk/Muscle-up combo shook out:

btn jerk: 115 x 3; 135 x 3; 155 x 3; 175 x 3; 185 x 2; 195 x 1

straight bar muscle-ups: bw x 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2

The jerks felt surprisingly light, given the blistering mountain bike outing yesterday.  I’d planned on a short go of it — just a little bit of work to loosen things up.  Just when you think you’ve got this exercise physiology thing figured out, you get pitched a (nice, in this instance) curve like this…

Anyway, once again I rolled with it, and ended up completing a pretty tough gym session.

From the btn jerk/muscle-up combo, I moved on to Bradford presses: 115 lbs for 6, 6, 6, 5 (front-to-back = 1 rep.).  Then, a little repetition work for the bi’s and tri’s, in superset fashion:

cable bicep curl: 60 lbs x 10, 10, 10
cambered bar triceps push-down: 75 x 12, 12, 12

I then finished-off with a round of Nautilus 4-way neck work; 45 lbs x 10 front and side-to-side, 55 lbs x 10 to the rear.

The cable curls were done in an upright position, a cable in each hand, with the pulley of each set at the lowest (ground) level.  The resultant curl motion was then at an approximate 45 degree angle from the bottom-out, arms extended position to fists just under the chin.  No real magic to this particular angle; just one of a million I could have chosen.

Some Good Paleo Grub ~

Cuban Picadillo

Nothing at all wrong with this recipe as it is; just as with Javorek’s work, though, I took the basic idea and molded it to fit my own needs.  In this case, I had some leftovers on hand, a hankering for bacon, and a want not to go out to the store.  Hey, I’m not big on being a slave to the post workout re-feed window, but I do know that post workout hunger will kick-in after about an hour or so.  The solution?  Take the basic recipe, add some creative substitutions, and roll with whatcha got at home.

So, I fried up a few strips of bacon in coconut oil, added a leftover link of beef sausage to the mix, subbed El Pato Mexican style hot tomato sauce for the regular variety, and added in some Gaucho Ranch Chimichurri sauce to the concoction.   I also subbed the dry white wine for an equal amount of coconut vinegar.  Unfortunately, I wolfed this down before I remember to that  a picture of the final product.  It’s easy to make, and definitely a keeper in the rotation, so next time around I’ll (hopefully) remember to take a shot of the final product.

Sunday Brunch

A trip to the farmers market Saturday netted (among other things) some fabulous, massively yoked duck eggs, free-range ham steaks, and North Carolina ruby sweet potatoes.  Nothing like fresh, locally raised food!   Yum-O!

A Saturday Sprint Session, and the Dose/Response/Drop-off Relationship

“…Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece,
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin’ in the street.
Bruce Spingsteen.  Though I’m kinda partial to my buddy Charlie Robison’s version.

Saturday’s workout commenced during hour 18 of an IF (intermittent fast), and consisted of a good deal of fixie interval sprints followed by a barefooted sprint session on artificial turf.  That my posterior chain was still pretty well zorched as a result of Friday’s deadlift/RDL hybrid may lead you to ask why the hell, then, follow that up with a sprint-intensive workout? And on logical terms I have to agree that this seems a poor choice at best.  However, this is where the real world meets the dose – response ratio, and where proper application of drop-offs can save even an illogical right-brainer from overdoing things.

I’ve got a big week ahead full of packing and moving that I know will preclude me from getting to the gym for a while.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are maybe’s – after that it’s a no-go for at least a week to 10 days.  Not only that, but this looks to be my last opportunity to workout at the ECU sporting complex.  I hate to leave this fine “playground” behind, but onward I must go.  New opportunities and new “playgrounds” I’ll find (or make) to be sure.  No regrets, no looking back.  Anyway, so add a pinch of “sentimentality” to the “real world” aspect of absolutely needing to sprint today; 17 years worth of “playground fun” will be sorely missed, no doubt.  Fond, fond memories.

Well, ok then – so let’s first take a quick look at the dose – response curve as I see it and as I operate by; my training “north star”, if you will.  If you follow no other “map” in your physical culture journey, please follow this one.  Tweak it as need be to fit your n=1 requirements, and be true to it.

My apologies for the crappy photo.  The “good” camera has already been packed away, so this was taken with my phone.  Anyway, what you see depicted here on the x-axis is “time” and on the y-axis we have “fitness level”, or “ability”, if you prefer.  The shaded area in the (x, -y) quadrant is “total induced fatigue, or stress”, with the shaded area in the (x, y) quadrant being “super-compensation”.  This is no more than a visual way of depicting the phenomena of working out, recovering for a few days, and at the end of that few days, being able to to workout again, but this time at a higher degree of fitness.

Ahh, but if only it were that easy.

Try to wrap your mind around all the things that can contribute to your overall “fatigue” level and you’ll end up in the funny farm in no time.  Work stress, sleep deprivation, money worries – you get the idea.  And I’m not even considering yet how the effect of Monday’s MetCon workout coupled with Wednesday’s heavy deadlift day and Thursday’s “moving the tanning bed down 2 flights of stairs and through a maze of packed boxes” will effect Friday’s planned bout of push-pressing.  Unless you happen to be a professional athlete though, or are just plain lucky enough to better control your outside “fatigue inducers” and are not hampered by any other obligations that can interfere with your workout schedule, then this is the “real life” that you’re bound to grapple with.  So what to do?

Enter Auto-Regulation, and the Drop-off method of gauging induced fatigue.

Let’s take Saturday’s barefooted sprint workout as an example.  Remember that my posterior chain is a bit fatigued already; overall, though, I feel pretty damn good and ready to rock & roll (Paleo does a body good, real good).  Now I’ve got a determination to make: I know I’m fatigued a bit, and so relative to my “prime (i.e., fully recovered, non-fatigued)” sprint condition, I’m sitting somewhere below baseline, in the (x, -y) quadrant, so to speak.  I want a nice sprint workout, yet I don’t want to trash myself either.  I need a way to somewhat gauge how much stress I’m putting on  my system, so that I can pull the plug on the session before I end up digging myself into a recovery hole that I won’t be able to climb out of.   The answer?  Well, under this particular set of circumstances, I chose a “sprint for time” session: a 6 second sprint, followed by a measure of the distance covered in each sprint, and once unable to match my best distance for the day, I pull the plug.  Each sprint duration was held at a constant 6 seconds throughout, with a standing start.  The distance covered in each sprint hovered around the 50 yard mark, though this wasn’t important in and of itself – what was important was the distance covered relative to the day’s other sprints.  I marked my best distance with a cone, nudging it further and further out as each successive sprint covered a tad bit more ground.  Here’s what it looked liked in practice:

  1. set mark
  2. beat mark, reset cone
  3. beat mark, reset cone
  4. beat mark, reset cone
  5. beat mark, reset cone
  6. beat mark, reset cone
  7. beat mark, reset cone
  8. equaled mark
  9. beat mark, reset cone
  10. equaled mark
  11. equaled mark
  12. miss, end session

Now if I had wanted to induce more fatigue, all I would have to do is continue on until I missed my day’s PR by a certain percentage – anywhere up to about a 10% drop-off is what I shoot for when I use this method, depending upon the modality employed.  As this was a pure speed workout (long rest intervals between individual sprints) as opposed to a more MetCon-leaning session (short rest between sprints), I opted for a “1 miss and done” drop-off.  If I were doing something more along the lines of MetCon work, I might opt for a drop-off of say 5% (or roughly 2.5 yards off of the best run of the day), in which case I would continue, 6-sec. sprint after 6-sec. sprint, until I missed my best mark by 2.5 yards.

Is this an exact science?  No, it’s only to be used as an indicator – but it’s a hell of a lot better than a shot-in-the-dark SWAG at how much fatigue should be induced, or how much is actually received, in a given workout.

Armed with this information, then, I can begin, over time, to correlate a dose – recovery factor for myself.  Everyone has different recovery abilities, though, so my “recovery factor” will differ from someone else’s.  In general terms, I can usually count on a recovery factor of about 1.2 days / % of induced fatigue on a like movement and modality.  In other words, if I were to have completed the above MetCon sprint session example (6 sec. sprints for distance, 5% drop-off), I’d wait at least 6 days (1.2 days x 5%), before tackling this same type workout again.  Sometime between 6 – 8 days, then ought to put me in the (x, y) quadrant, super-compensated sweet-spot – time to hit the same movement and modality again.

Again, this is not a precise science, as in real life there are just too many fatigue-inducing variables to have to juggle.  And to complicate matters, I’m forever altering my workout methods, movements and modalities.  Just as an example, what if I were to throw in an extremely tough, heavy dip and pull-up day right in the middle of my 6-day “recovery”?  Or get hit with a stressful marathon work tsunami?  Either will certainly induce a systemic fatigue that undoubtedly will affect my recovery from the preceding sprint session, so maybe I’ll bump my next planned sprint session out an extra day, just to be safe.  And when I do step barefooted back out onto the turf, I’ll again employ the auto-regulation/drop-off method to keep close tabs on my induced fatigue.

Doug McGuff employs a similar recovery methodology in his Body By Science protocol.  And since Doug is able to more accurately define the amount of induced fatigue dosed in a period of time (due to the nature of his overall workout protocol), he is therefore better able to more accurately predict a trainee’s “recovery factor” – as would I have been able to had I removed the heavy dip and pull-up workout from my example above.

This is yet another angle on the give-and-take, yin-yang nature of physical culture.  Another tool for the toolbox, another aspect to consider, discuss and refine.

In health,

Deconstructing the Rep

“Well I’d drive down Sunset Boulevard

My hair blowin’ in the wind

I’d stop at fancy places

And they’d finally let me in…”

Charlie Robison, Sunset Boulevard

nice tripple extension /  photo: jontunn

nice tripple extension / photo: jontunn

In previous posts, I’ve touched on the importance of rep speed (here and here are just a couple of examples) and auto-regulation (here) as they pertain, or should pertain, to one’s overall training plan. And now, in one of the better articles that TMuscle has run, Christian Thibaudeau dishes on his version of rep speed manipulation, auto-regulation and “activation ramp” (or what I refer to as simply CNS priming).  It’s good stuff, and if you’re serious about getting the most out of your time in the gym, I’d highly recommend finding a way to incorporate these ideas into each and every training session.  Check out Thib’s article, here, then c’mon back for a few of my additional thoughts on the subject.

For starters, I couldn’t agree more with Thib’s idea that to go into a workout with a pre-determined set/rep scheme is just flat out wrong minded.  That’s not to say, though, that you shouldn’t have a framework from which to begin.  In other words, I go into a session knowing what modality and movements I plan on working; specific sets, reps and weights, though, I feel as I go along.  It’s not that I have no idea here — I do — it’s just that my overriding goal is to improve over the long haul rather that to hit some pre-determined, daily goal.  Remember, sets, reps, TUL — these are all constructs of the mind that the body could give a rat’s narrow ass about.  Thibs puts it this way:

You have to stop looking at the wrong variables. Numbers, sets, reps, and rest periods are only tools. The real question is, what is your physiology telling you?

These variables are all important signposts, yes — but the body’s only real concern is with what to do with the biological cue it’s been given.  And that “cue”, to be effective, has to fall within the narrow sweet-spot between adequate stimulus and overtraining.  In other words, I can go into the gym knowing that I want to work, say a deadlift and dip combination movement pattern in a 5 (sets) x 3 (reps) modality.  That’s my framework from which to begin.  I also have a ball park feel for the weights I’ll be handling — but I am in no way, shape or form married to matching or exceeding those weights.  Now, at the end of the workout, will my end numbers wind up looking like a linear progression from the last time I performed this workout?  9 times out of 10, no.  But if I’ve manipulated these variables with any amount of acumen, and if I’ve sufficiently squelched an ego that constantly yells for more of the tangible or “show” evidence of progress (especially weight on the bar), I can effectively hit that biological cue “sweet spot” every outing.  And what is it that makes this sweet spot a constantly moving target?  Quite simply, it’s all those variables (i.e., “stressors”) outside of the gym that one has very little control over.  Old school periodization then, and/or cookie-cutter programs will only be successful (and I use this term loosely here) insofar as one is able to adequately control these stressors.  And unless you’re an athlete who’s life revolves around training, recuperation and competition, I’d say you’re out of luck in attempting to nullify these variables.  Minimize?  Yes, quite possibly.  Sufficiently nullify so as to make a pre-written periodization schedule work?  Well, good luck with that.  I liken this to virus prevention — you can wash your hands all you want (analogous to stressor control), but if your immune system is not up to the challenge, the virus (lack of progress) will eventually hand you your ass.   I agree with Thibs when he says:

“…I choose to look at periodization for what it is: a general guideline of splitting your training into specific periods where you work on one goal…”

It’s not that periodization is wrong, it’s just that it’s a tool of limited use/value.

The Force Spectrum

Note: when I post my workouts on Twitter (which I do following every training session), what I am posting is the session’s framework.  The actual individual movement’s sets, reps, rep speed, weights used, recovery periods, etc. are not, because of time constraints for the most part, listed.  And although I keep track of this information, its usefulness to me in planing future workouts is limited.  Remember, each training session occurs in a space that is unique to that point in time, and that particular confluence of variables will not happen again.  My training session relative to a particular point in time, then, must be mailable enough to adjust to these unique variables (which can never be fully predicted), and still deliver the correct stimulus relative to that unique point in time.  This is where competence in auto-regulation and manipulating the force spectrum come into play.  Don’t worry — it’s not nearly as complicated as it seems.

First, remember our old friend, the power equation:

Power = (mass x acceleration) x distance/time

And power, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is the key not only to athleticism (obvious), but also (arguably, granted) to muscle hypertrophy.  What Thibs is describing in his 5 x 3 bench press example mirrors what I actually do in the gym.  What you’re aiming for is a perfect melding of power output in a particular movement, auto-regulated to a particular and unique set of point-in-time circumstances.  Now, how do we get the body primed for its greatest power output in a particular movement at a unique point-in-time?  (1) adequate warm-up, and (2) what Thibs calls “feel sets” and what I call “CNS priming” — differing terms for the same phenomena.

The secret to weight training is that there is no secret.  But like any art, it requires practice, diligence, intelligence, and a narrowly-defined goal.  Pick and rotate through a wide variety of basic, functional movements with these principles as a guide (from Thibs):

  • execute each rep with the aim to produce the maximum amount of power possible
  • become skillful in the art of auto-regulation
  • learn to properly manipulate the CNS to achieve the first bullet point

Strive to reach that point where, as Bruce Lee says, “…a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick…”

In health,