The Human as an Endurance Athlete?

Is it just me, or is there something missing in the whole “humans evolved as endurance athletes” story?  To wit, here’s an interesting story from the folks at NPR.  Interesting, no doubt – however, there’s an obvious (and, in my mind, at least) whole other half of the story that’s continually left unexplored.  And not only unexplored, but seemingly unacknowledged.

No doubt some humans are superbly suited for endurance endeavors; whippet-thin, slow-twitch dominant – all lungs, ligament, tendon and bone – and part of the problem here may be that the researchers themselves are, for the most part, (1) put together thusly, and (2) are themselves, endurance athletes.  Confirmation bias, anyone?  Seen through the prism of the endurance enthusiast, all of mankind is either a well trained, severely untrained, or badly trained, distance athlete.  And sprinters?  Simply a forced phenotypical expression (read ”ill-advised” and “ill-conceived”) that an underlying elegant and — quite natural! — endurance chassis must endure.

Now, I’m certainly not a trained professional in this line of study, but this “endurance” line of logic just doesn’t resonate with me.  Something, my logic tells me, is badly amiss.

Of course, I could be accused of the same manner of confirmation bias in my own insistence that there also had to be an evolutionary niche for the powerful, sprinting human, a niche that “endurance man” simply could not fill.

And, too, the idea of the “persistence hunt theory” – though no doubt part of the overall human evolution story – simply cannot be the whole, end-all of the story.  These “sprinting types” peppered about humanity had to have evolved from a set of specific evolutionary pressures that had little to do with endurance and persistence, and more to do with swift, powerful and lethal.

It seems to me that the energy expenditure to energy pay-off for persistence hunting (as defined in the “endurance” theory) has to be dreadfully low – even if we are to consider exceptional running mechanics.  I have no doubt that in some niches that this was necessary – surely, though we co-evolved in diverse settings that required a diverse set of evolutionary skills.

And possibly endurance evolved among humans, not for the purpose of persistence hunting, but for the purpose of scouting for the tribe?  Think overall calorie intake for the communal band as a whole – women and children included — not simply a few runners and one (relatively) small, and no doubt lean, animal.  A band of humans might more effectively and efficiently deploy scouts in numerous directions to locate promising hunting grounds and/or rich scavenging/gathering sources, allowing the tribe as a whole to find the best options within a large range. This method would, it seems to me, maximize caloric intake at a minimum of total communal expenditure, as the specialization within a group allows several to run for scouting/exploring purposes while the remainder can conserve energy for hunting (sprinting?) and gathering purposes once the most promising site has been found.

Again, this is not to say that I dismiss the “endurance theory” out of hand, but simply to state that I know there has to be a “rest of the story” left to be uncovered.  Simply put, I just don’t believe that the sprinting/power-inclined phenotype can be overlooked in an evolutionary sense, especially vis-à-vis the endurance path.  Of course, this opens up the debate about genetics in sport; a debate that either focuses on the “endurance gene” (what makes Kenyans and Ethiopians so dominant?) or on the “speed gene” (West Africans, Jamaica and the USA).  To be sure, it’s a debate that is heated, because it has anthropological, racial, cultural undertones.  It’s a debate for another time, though, and a bit beyond the scope of today’s post.

One thing that all runners benefit from though, is the superb spring/recoil characteristics of the foot structure.  For more on that most interesting story, check this out.

Ok, so in my humble opinion, not every human is naturally wired for efficient endurance endeavors, however, listening to Dr. Lieberman, though, would lead one to believe it so.  I think I’ve established here that I have to disagree with the good doctor’s stance – I do, however, think that Dr. Lieberman’s choice in footwear absolutely rocks!  🙂   Now if he’d just give my power/sprint-inclined phenotypical brothers some well-deserved love, already!

Moving on to Tuesday Evening‘s Iron Session –

I began this session with squat cleans – “greasin’ the groove” with 25 perfect rep singles at 135 lbs, with an approximate 7-second recovery between reps.  I returned the weight to the floor (i.e., no drop) after each repetition, took my hands off the bar, stood up straight, took a breath, re-gripped and hit the next rep.  Each rep was with perfect form, and as fast as I could make it.   The first 12 or so will make you feel like a well tuned machine; the second half of the set will make you feel as though you’re quickly coming apart at the seams.  This is a good, explosive lead-in to the meat of the evening’s workout.  Next up was a superset of the following:

reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 x 10; 60 x 6; 80 x 6, 5

barbell muscle-ups: 135 x 5; 145 x 4, 4, 4

A black-sky storm was rolling in, so I left the gym immediately following that superset.  Not that I would have done much else anyway, though; I was pretty well zorched after the chin/muscle-up pairing.  And lemme tell ya, there’s nothing like close proximity lightning strikes to put a little *umph* in your fixie get-along.  Holy sprint-wasted legs by the time I got home.  And by the way, I did beat the rain – again!  Still battin’ a thousand for this summer. I know this rain-dodge cockiness is going to do nothing but get me drenched here before long  🙂

…Which Leads Us to Wednesday’s Bout with the Iron…

Same idea as with Tuesday’s “greasin’ the groove” power cleans, only today’s lead-in exercise of choice was the whip snatch to overhead squat; 115 lbs x 15 singles, 7-seconds between reps.  Again, I went to the floor between each rep, then re-gripped & pulled easy to the power position, then hit it.  The ol’ PC was feeling it for sure by the end of this.  From here, I hit a superset of barbell lunges and btn jerks:

reverse barbell lunge: 115 x 10 (10); 135 x 6 (6); 185 x 5 (5), 5 (5)    Left leg(Right leg)

btn jerk: 115 x 5; 135 x 5; 185 x 2, 2;

Then, following the superset, I continued on with the btn jerk, 200 x 5 rest-pause singles.

Shaky, post beat-down hands make for a lousy picture, but here’s a shot of my lunge/btn jerk set-up –

The problem that I have to deal with here of course is the lack of bumper plates and a lifting platform.  But, I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with; that’s all any of us can hope to do.

Anyhow, put a fork in me after this workout – I was damn well done.  A well deserved and much appreciated off day is on tap for tomorrow; some light riding, maybe some barefooted strides, depending on the weather.

The Quick-and-Dirty on Calorie Intake, and an Evening Iron Session

Calorie intake as it relates to phenotypical expression; to cop a phrase from Robb Wolf: “Holy Cats!”  I really have nothing but the deepest of sympathies for people who do not happen to make Paleo/Primal, Physical Culture their geek-out hobby – I can only imagine what it’s like to stumble into this arena trying to find a sane voice.  Who to believe?

Bottom line, folks:  calories do matter – they’re just not the end-all, not the full story.  Taube’s axiom of “a calorie is not a calorie” is true, to be sure; it should not, however, be considered as license to unmitigated gluttony, free of consequences (especially fat gain).  Calories ought to be considered as the co-stars of a jam-packed, star-studded stage, wherein insulin could be considered the production’s glamorous diva.  Ok, that’s about enough of that analogy…

Skyler Tanner has posted a nice observation on gross calorie intake vis-à-vis its effect on body composition, with some poignant takes on how his own body reacted to a few weeks worth of decreased caloric intake as a result of his recent vagabonding expedition around central America.  Now, I don’t bring this up to throw Skyler under the H8R bus (don’t be hatin’!) – being the naturally lean guy he is, who’s free to engage in extended leisure travel – no, the reason I bring this up is that it’s a perfect example of the fact that as people drop weight, at a certain point, calories will have to be restricted to reach ultra-low body fat levels.  Now, we can prompt this calorie restriction in a number of different ways, the easiest being to severely restrict all carbs (to the point of going zero carb in some cases) and increase the fat intake.  This approach offers a nice one-two punch, in that fat tends to satiate one’s appetite quickly, and we get a lower insulin response to boot.  Now, at what point calorie restriction  is required to spur further weight drop is dependent upon a multitude of factors, not the least of which are sex, hormone/biochemical milieu, activity level…and on and on it goes.  Sometimes one might even need to increase calorie intake for a short period (to re-vamp the metabolism), then return to a decreased level.  One thing is for certain, though: drill down just a bit, and the weight loss/weight gain game becomes a highly n=1 affair.  For more on that, check out this story, from my friends at Efficient Exercise, in Austin, Texas.

Another reason I bring up the calorie issue is that I have received quite a few questions as of late specifically asking about lean mass gain.  Skyler has stated that he intends to engage in a little n=1, weight-gain experimentation of his own.  And he’s in a perfect position right now to do so, having dropped down to a single-digit body fat percentage.  And again I ask: how friggin’ fair is that?  The guy returns from an extended vacation to find his bodyfat chillin’ in the single-digits?  Ok, so how about we drop the hate-fest for the lucky guy, and set about monitoring his upcoming weight-gain technique and following his progress?  Can he pull-off some sizable lean gains without tacking-on too much in the way fat gain and/or water retention?  I’ll bet the (organic) farm that he can.  Skyler is an experienced trainer and, bottom line, he knows what in the hell he’s doing.  I think we’ll all learn a thing or two from his experiment.

And along those lines, here’s a way-cool web-based BMI, Waist/Height Ratio, BMR, %BF, Surface Area, and Willoughby Ideal Weight and Waist calculator that Skyler alerted me to.  My own numbers (6’-0”, 205lbs, 33” waist) equate to a pretty good return, especially if I focus on the “Willoughby Ideal”, and ignore the “establishment’s” BMI recommendations.

Tuesday Evening’s Workout –

reverse lunge + (btn jerk): 95 x 10 (10); 165 x 6 (6); 175 x 5 (3).  I then put 195 on the bar and hit 3 more sets of 2 in the btn jerks.  On each set, I completed the lunge reps on each leg, then, after a quick breather, moved into the btn jerk reps.

Notice I only did three sets of lunges.  This is in deference to the amount of biking and sprinting (coupled with the hip-dominant Oly-derivatives) I do during the spring, summer and fall; I don’t want to tumble into the dreaded overtraining hole, so *usually* I’ll opt to drop the 2nd “to failure” set if I’m following a classic APRE leg scheme.

Following the lunge/btn jerk combo, I played around with some single leg good mornings into a high box step-up – just some explosive, bw stuff.  My legs were pretty well dusted from the lunges and jerks, though, so I kept things quick & explosive and didn’t add any additional loading.  I did a total of maybe 20 reps each leg, at bw.  I really love this movement, though I haven’t done them in quite a while.  Check out coach Jimmy Radcliffe explaining and demonstrating the movement progression here (via Jason Glass Performance Lab):

I’ve been doing a lot of high-rep, feet elevated, push-ups lately, so I decided to throw the body a curveball and hit it with something I do rarely – machine flyes.  This particular pec-deck is of the “straight arm” variety (versus the variety which places the arm/elbow at a 90-degree position).   Anyway, it offers a nice change-up every now and again.  Consistency of movement, especially within the same rep range and intensity, is just another of the many factors that can lead to overtraining, and just the kind of easy-to-fall-into rut that I avoid like the plague.

Atlantis pec-deck: 150 x 12; 210 x 7; 225 x 7+; 225 x 5+

Pork Chops, Beet Greens, a Nice Iron Session, and “The China Study”, Debunked

So here are the greens from the beets that I made on Wednesday night, making an appearance alongside Thursday night’s totally awesome, locally/pasture-raised cut of smoked pork.  Damn fine eats, I gotta say.  The greens were sautéed with onions in a liberal amount of coconut oil, then splashed with a bit of coconut vinegar, salt and pepper.  I made two same-size chops (the other is going with me to work this morning).  Actually, all I had to do with these was heat them up in a coconut-oiled pan, as they’d been smoked previously by my supplier.  How cool is that?

Thursday night iron games –

I reeled-off a good bit of hard riding before I hit the gym which skewed my deadlift numbers substantially.  I’m shifting to a sumo stance for a while, for no other reason than to do something that I suck at.  I never have felt comfortable, or been able to pull well from a sumo stance.  That doesn’t mean that it’s not a super exercise, though – the weakness is all mine.  We’ll see about fixing that over the next few weeks.

Sumo deadlift (clean grip): 245 x 5; 275 x 5; 300 x 7


btn jerk : 115 x 3; 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 1; 195 x 1, 1, 1

then a superset of,

feet-elevated push-ups (24” box): bw x 50, 40, 31

parallel-grip pull-ups: be x 15, 16, 13

Just a quick thought on what I’m sure by now everyone has had a chance to look at.  If anyone can take T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study as anything even remotely resembling serious, quality, ethically-performed science after considering Denise Minger’s complete dismantling of the work…well, there’s just not much hope for them.  And I use the term “work” loosely, here.  Agenda-influenced farce is more like it.  But, hey, some folks still believe that the earth is 6,000 years-old, too.  So it goes.  Anyway, be sure to check out Denise’s exhaustive work.  All I can say is, wow , well friggin done, Denise.  And thanks to Richard, of Free the Animal, for giving Denise’s work the exposure it deserves.

The following paragraph, taken from Denise’s conclusion, really struck a cord with me (emphasis mine):

In rebuttals to previous criticism on “The China Study,” Campbell seems to use his curriculum vitae as reason his word should be trusted above that of his critics. His education and experience is no doubt impressive, but the “Trust me, I’m a scientist” argument is a profoundly weak one. It doesn’t require a PhD to be a critical thinker, nor does a laundry list of credentials prevent a person from falling victim to biased thinking. Ultimately, I believe Campbell was influenced by his own expectations about animal protein and disease, leading him to seek out specific correlations in the China Study data (and elsewhere) to confirm his predictions.

Question authority (or supposed authority, as the case may be).  That single attitude will serve you well.  “Show me the properly performed science!!” doesn’t exactly have the same ring, but our enthusiasm in requiring it should be no less emphatic.

Have a great weekend, folks.

The Value of Machines — a Pre-Exhaust Example, and a Couple of Days of Training

Dave Durrell, of High Intensity Nation, recently posted on a very effective, isolation + compound movement shoulder training technique, utilizing a good ol’ weightlifting standby — the pre-exhaust method.  This is a fine example, in my opinion, of employing the right tool for the job.

Let’s take a step back and consider the various ways in which a body can be “strong”.  On its face, this seems an odd notion – you’re either strong or you’re not, right?  Well, not exactly.  We’ve all seen examples of someone who’s quick as a cat – super explosive, say — yet who’s lacking in absolute strength (the classic Allyson Felix scenario).  Conversely, there’s the super-strong powerlifter for whom you’ll have to break out a sundial to clock their 40 time.  Power, then (what we’re really ultimately looking at) is a combination of different finely trained strength attributes appropriated and expressed over a given duration; the fine-tuned execution of which is a type of kinesthetic “genius” in its own right.  Of course, the predominant strength attributes required of a 2 second duration snatch are undoubtedly different than those required of a 3-and-a-half second deadlift, a 100 meter sprint, a wrestling match, or the full duration of a football game.  The best athletes in each of these endeavors, though, will undoubtedly excel at not only the predominant required strength capability, but in all strength capabilities.  This is what Louie Simmons is getting at when he trains his athletes to be proficient in all “strengths” (I wrote a little about this most recently, here).  A proficiency in all strength attributes is, in fact, what separates the “contenders” from the mere “competitors”.

But back to Dave’s post.  It’s been fashionable within the free-weight community these days – hell, actually ever since the emergence of Arthur Jones, and advent of Nautilus equipment upon the physical culture scene – to bash machine-based work.  The thing is, though, machines are just another tool.  And for pre-exhaust work, isolation purposes, repeated-effort method work and the like, they’re a damn good choice.  Again, it’s all a matter of determining what your immediate training needs are, and choosing the right tool from among your available options to satisfy your needs.  Whenever I’m asked the old “machines or free weights” question, my answer is always “yes”…and bodyweight exercises, and sprinting, and climbing, and gymnastics… Why would anyone choose to voluntarily limit their available options?

Late revision (6/25/10) – I just ran across this, via Seth Godin’s fine blog (hat tip to Mike Robertson).  In my mind,  Ism Schism pretty much sums-ups the whole machine/free weight debate.

Tuesday’s Training –

front squat: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 215 x 7 rest-pause singles


hang cleans (light; workin’ the groove again): 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 165 x 6 – very fast, perfectly executed reps.  Fat bar.


Jump squat + BTN jerk: 135 x 3; 155 x 3; 175 x 3, 3, 3

then a superset of-

db tricept extensions (lying flat): 45 x 12, 12, 12 (rest-pause last 5 reps of last set)

EZ bar bicep curl: bar +70 lbs x 12, 12, 12 (rest-pause last 3 reps of last set)

Wednesday’s Training –

clean grip pull jumps: 135 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 3; 225 x 3; 245 x 3, 3, 3

then, a superset of –

kneeling db clean and press: 40 x 15, 15, 15

ghr: bodyweight x 15, 15, 15


Nautilus 4-way neck: 50 lbs front, side, side; 60 lbs to the rear

Took Thursday completely off – no lifting, riding or anything.  Felt kinda strange.

A Couple of Weekend Workouts, and Some Thoughts on the Conjugate Method

Lots and lots of fixie riding over the weekend, with a couple of iron sessions tossed in for good measure.  I have no idea how many miles in total I put on the ol’ fix over Friday, Saturday and Sunday; let’s just say it was a sh*t ton 🙂

Friday Night Iron Works –

Another “unusual” Friday night iron session; in fact, though, this may actually turn into a usual thing.  The nice long days allow me to get home from work, saddle up the fixie, hit the gym and get back before dark.  Gotta love summer.  An hour of saddle time, then this:

bent-over row + snatch grip low pull: 225 x 5, 4, 4, 4
feet-elevated ring flyes: bodyweight x 10, 10, 9, 8 (4/2/x/0 tempo)

The bor + snatch-grip low pull was performed like this: take a clean grip on the bar and perform a bent-over row with as little cheat as possible, return the bar to the floor under control, then immediately slide the grip out to an approximate snatch-grip width and perform an explosive low pull from the floor.  Make sure the bar travels higher than the belly button on each rep.  Each of these combos counts as a single rep.  The glutes and hams get a good deal of work here, as you tend to forget that the PC is in constant iso contraction during the performance of the BOR.  Then the PC is immediately called into action to perform the explosive low pull.  Give this pairing a shot, and see what you think.  In the ring flyes, I maintained an off-90 degree arm angle throughout — think “Vitruvian Man” at the bottom-out position; at the top of the motion, my hands met at a position just above my navel.

The big thing to remember her is to not let your hips drop and thus assume a “saddle back” position.  This is easier said than done in the last reps of the later rounds.  Positioning was such that my feet were higher than my chest in the bottom-out position.

I finished things of with some Nautilus 4-way neck machine: front, side, side >> 50 x 10 each, rear >> 60 x 10 (tempo 5/0/1/0).

The Conjugate Method?  Hey, Isn’t That for Power Lifters?

I speak to the “Conjugate Method” quite often in describing various aspects of my workouts, and, indeed Louie Simmons’ work with his Westside Barbell Club athletes has greatly influenced my understanding of exercise prescription .  Mention “Conjugate Method”, though, and even people steeped in physical culture knowledge will immediately think “power lifter”.  And yes, it’s true that Louie has molded his Conjugate Theory specifically for power lifting, but this in no way negates the efficacy of the theory — if properly tweeked and applied — to other fitness/sporting applications.  A few of the biggest misunderstandings, or wrong-minded assumptions, surrounding the Conjugate Method are (1) that it can only be incorporated by drugged power lifters, (2) that it is a “set” and largely non-mailable lifting “program”, and, as a correlate to #2, (3) that it can only be implemented with with barbells and dumbbells.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Conjugate Method (writ large) is a theory of strength acquisition developed by the most underrated (in my opinion) Strength and Conditioning coach in the United States — dare I say the world? — today; Louie Simmons.   The “Conjugate Method”, though, in common vernacular, refers to the specific protocols employed by strength athletes (and increasingly now, power and skill-oriented athletes) for developing strength and power.  I am reminded here of my south Texas youth, were “coke” was a blanket term referring to every soft drink available under the sun.  Same here with the term “Conjugate Method”.  I’ve come to refer more to “Conjugate Theory” when speaking outside of pure power lifting applications, but, in my mind, the two terms really are interchangeable.

Now power lifting is certainly not at all my game, but I utilize the Conjugate Theory every time I workout.  In fact, if someone were to ask me what my encompasses my overall physical culture philosophy — an idea, a theory, that unifies all that I do, from the weight room to the training table — my immediate answer would be Conjugate Theory.

In fact, it’s not too hard to see how Conjugate Theory is just a step or two removed from Power Law.  And it may be that the proportion by which Conjugate Theory is removed from pure Power Law is the ratio by which the resultant athletic prowess is removed from optimum health.  This is the play of the directed and systemized variance of the Conjugate Theory vs the pure fractal nature of Power Law.  More on that, though, at another time.

Conjugate Method/Theory in a nutshell?  Well, in Louie’s own words:
“When lifters repeatedly use the same simple method of training to raise their strength level, they will eventually stall. Like the scholar who must utilize many sources of information to achieve a higher level of knowledge, the lifter must incorporate new and more difficult exercises to raise their standards.”

Our aim, then, is to avoid that dastardly point of diminished return on effort.  And that, my friends, equates to longevity.

Now Louie was specifically referring to strength athletes in the above quote, but the same can be (and should be) said for any pursuit.  The trick is to deconstruct the sport (or skill, or goal) into it’s constituent parts, then apply Conjugate Theory to the methods used in the development of those constituent parts.

Piece of cake, right?  Well, truly, it is!

We can look to Louie’s work with power lifters as an exceptional, empirical model, though we’ll have to tweek those methods utilized to fit our own, n=1 needs.  So what can a Paleo, all-round athlete (which is what I consider myself) learn from guys who specialize in conquering the three “big lifts” (bench, squat, and deadlift)?  In a phase, contained, directed, and systemized variety.

The first principle of the Conjugate Method, as applied to the training of a strength athlete, emphasizes the ability of that athlete to handle maximum loads, frequently, while still providing for ample recovery — in other words, side-stepping the ol’ C.N.S. (Central Nervous System) overtraining bugaboo.  So far, so good; I’m totally on board with the getting strong part.  But specialization isn’t my game, and I want to be good at very diverse endeavors — sprinting and cycling, as well — and, too, I wanna look good nekkid; lean and muscular, yes — but well proportioned.   Not to fear; with a few simple tweeks to the power lifting model of Conjugate Theory application, I can create a “Conjugate Method” for the all-around athlete and, more specifically, for this, n=1 all-around athlete.

So just how does the Conjugate Method go about allowing for a high frequency of maximal effort work while at the same time avoiding the overtraining issue?  It does so by employing a systemized method of rotating special exercises that are close in nature to the movement patterns of the big three power lifts, but that are not exactly the big three lifts themselves. In other words, the aim is to increase strength relative to the classic lifts (squat, bench and deadlift), while avoiding burning-out on the competition lifts themselves.  This is akin to training a 100 meter sprinter while never actually running that exact distance in practice; competition being the only time that exact distance is covered.

Sound crazy?  Not so fast.

Ever notice how, at a certain point in skills acquisition training, strength development, body composition refinement (or whatever the target goal), that a certain level of accomplishment, a point of diminished returns per unit of input effort is reached?  This is just as true a phenomena as — and, in fact is the yang aspect of — the 10,000 hour principle.  In a Linear Progression mindset, the answer would be to “endeavor to persevere” and push on through.  This, though, will only lead to overtraining, injury, mental fatigue/disgust and, eventual abandonment of the program and/or goal.  While I think this is more applicable in high-demand CNS endeavors (lifting, sprinting for example) than in low demand endeavors (hitting a baseball, archery), I do believe that low demand effort training should be ceased for the day when output quality diminishes.  This is simple another facet of the same idea; if you’re thinking now in terms of “auto-regulation” and “drop-off method” you’re on the right track.  This is the idea behind frequently rotating the highest CNS demand/maximum effort exercises.  How frequently?  Well, that’s largely an n=1 consideration.  For instance, I rarely do the same maximum effort exercise (for a particular movement pattern) twice in a row.  In other words, if I choose to do a behind-the-neck push-press for my max effort, vertical push movement pattern, the next time I hit a max effort in this particular movement pattern, I’ll make sure to choose a different exercise (or a different modality) — a strict front military press, or maybe a palms-in db press.  Or, maybe I will do the btn push-press — but this time with bands.  Get the idea?  Be patient, it’s a lot to take in.  It’s the workout equivalent to a “calorie is not a calorie”, in that it takes a bit for the mind to wrap around an idea contrary to what we’ve been brought up to believe.

The second principle of the Conjugate Method is the systematic training of all the constituents that comprise “strength”.  One might also consider these aspects of athleticism; they are (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Quickness
  2. Explosiveness
  3. Speed-Strength
  4. Strength-Speed
  5. Absolute Strength

Once again I’ll defer to Louie, who states:

“This is much like a five-speed transmission in a car. We all know what happens if you miss a gear, or take off in the wrong gear. Your car doesn’t run very efficiently, and neither will you. One must learn many methods to develop special strength, and when to use them. You must also know your sport’s goals. In some sports, speed is foremost and absolute strength is secondary. Both are more closely related than you think.”

I would also add endurance to this list, as kinda the odd-duck out.  Depending upon your chosen goal and/or the demands of your particular sport, some directed energy system training is certainly in order.  What everybody and every athlete requires, though — regardless of goal or the specifics of the sport — is strength.  Yes, even endurance athletes need that “strength with which to endure”, and the elderly need to be strong to remain stable, self-sufficient, and to prolong quality of life.  Strength is, shall we say, a basic element of life; the platform from which all else springs.

Is it possible, though, to train heavy continuously, without crossing over the dreaded Rubicon of overtraining?  In basic terms, how would one go about doing that?

Again, we’ll let Louie answer in his own words:

“…pick several special barbell exercises for a particular lift, for example, the deadlift. The good morning is very similar in motion to deadlifting. A conventional deadlifter will, no doubt, bend over. Therefore, bent over good mornings will increase the deadlift. But remember, when doing the good morning, in your brain, you must duplicate the action of your deadlift precisely. It is not so important to raise your good morning, as to raise your deadlift by performing the good morning. We do many types of good mornings, for example, with a Safety Squat bar suspended from chains. But remember to use the same body mechanics as you do in the deadlift.”

So the elevator pitch for the Conjugate Method, then, is simply this: choosing  similar/supplemental exercises to the lifts you wish to increase, and rotate theses exercises frequently so as not to perform the exact same motion/modality from workout to workout.   Now, that is admittedly painting a very complex theory with an exceptionally broad stroke — but it is, however, a place from which to begin the discussion.

Lots of talk about barbells and dumbbells here, what about machine-based protocols?  Is Conjugate Theory applicable to HIT and/or Super Slow type workouts as well?

100%, without a doubt, yes.  One simply needs to adopt the underlying theory to the chosen protocol and available tools (free weights,machines, bodyweight, etc.).  Simple as that.
Training the Five Aspects of Athleticism; Meet the Methods (broadly speaking) –

  1. Maximal Effort method – for instance, simply taking a maximal amount of weight and lifting it for no more than 3 reps while keeping the weight at or about 90% of your 1RM.
  2. Repeated Effort / Sub-Maximal Effort method – as an example, 8 to 15 reps, and, in some cases, into the twenties.  Time under load considerations.  Mainly influences hypertrophy, tendon health.
  3. Dynamic Effort method – speed of movement and power development is critical, here.  Low reps spread over numerous sets.

The above can also be considered in light of varying Time Under Load (TUL) applications within the HIT protocols, where intensity and TUL are inversely proportional (for the most part).

“…Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that’s where the fun is…”

Ah, yes; so this is where the real alchemy takes place.  Using varying aspects of the above-mentioned training methods, in a contained, directed, and systemized manner, to positively affect the five aspects of athleticism.   Barbells, dumbbells, machines and protocols are simply tools to choose from, with each tool being better suited for a particular application.  Is the goal power lifting?  Then of course the proper tools are barbells and dumbbells, and a power lifting specific Conjugate protocol.  Simply want to be strong, fit-as-a-fiddle, and melt away fat — but you also want to invest as little time in the effort as possible?  The equipment and protocols of such outfits as Efficient Exercise or Dr. Doug McGuff’s Ultimate Exercise are what you’re looking for.  These two examples are simply ends of a continuum; your task is to locate your particular n=1 home along that continuum.   Don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment.  You can be the master of your own body; first, though, you must learn your own body’s ways and particulars.  That’s the journey.

Saturday Iron Session –

Again, this session took place following an extended fixie huck:

behind-the-neck jerk: 135 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 2, 2, 2 (4/2/x/0 tempo)
reverse lunge + single arm shoulder press combo: 40 x 4, 50 x 4, 4, 4, 4 (i.e., 4 reps each “side”)

5 rounds of that, then:

front box squat (very low, 12-inch box): 135 x 3; 155 x 4, 3 (3/2/x/0 tempo), explode off the box.
reverse grip pull up: bodyweight x 15, 15, 15 (3/0/x/0 tempo)

Yeah, legs were toast following the bike riding and that first devilish combination of jerks and lunges, which made the front squats a tough go.  Another instance, and example of, the proper use of auto-regulation.  155 lbs isn’t a lot of weight for me in this movement (even off of a low box), but on this particular day, in this particular place in the exercise grouping and given the day’s particular circumstances, this was the most load I could handle.  Kick the ol’ ego to the curb.  The weight doesn’t matter; what matters is the proper stimulus.

Reverse lunge + db press combo –
Couldn’t find a good clip for this one, so I’ll see if I can explain it.  Snatch a db into the overhead position, and hold it there.  Now, kick back into the reverse lunge position with the same side leg as the arm in which the db is held.  As you’re stepping back, lower the db into the “catch” position on the shoulder; time the movement so that the db is “caught” exactly when you hit the bottom-out of the lunge.  This is a quick, fluid movement.  At this point, immediately reverse direction and explode into the upright position — the db should reach the lock-out position in timed unison with the top of the lunge.  Think “shot put” motion.   Immediately drop back into the next rep.

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!

3/10/10; Barefooted Sprints, and Strength-Speed Endurance Iron Work

After an extended warm-up this morning, I performed a round of 8 x 70 yard sprints at approximately 90% effort, approximately 1 minute rest between sprints.  It’s been a couple of months since I’ve done any significant sprinting, and that, coupled with the fact that I’ve been hitting the single-leg work pretty hard, prompted my taking the rather cautious “re-introduction” route today.  Also, I’ve been hitting fixie sprints pretty hard lately without mixing in much in the way of running/sprinting.  I know from past experience that biking and running/sprinting aren’t exactly synergistic endeavors — emphasis on one naturally degrades performance in the other, with biking being a quad-dominant affair, versus sprinting’s required PC-dominance.  We’ve also got a completely different set of neurological firing patterns to contend with in each of the two endeavors.  Now, since I’m not competing in either, this is no big deal; actually, I rather prefer being multi-dimensional at this point in my life vs being a “specific-endeavor” athlete.  If I were competing in one of these disciplines, though, I’d have to let the other discipline go (at least during the competitive season/phase).  This is the eternal juggle of, and between, overall health, functional physical ability (think Greg Glassman’s 10 attributes of physical fitness), and sporting specificity.  Much as we’d like — and much as we trick ourselves into believing — we can’t have it all/be a master of all.  An increase in sport specificity will necessitate a decrease in overall functionality.  It’s just the way of the world.  It’s also why multi-sport athletes are so uncommon these days, even at the high school level.  It’s just tough for a great all-round athlete to compete against even a good single/sport-specific athlete.

After the sprint session, I headed into the gym to toss a little iron, and did the following complex in superset fashion:

Jump Squats + BTN Jerk*: 135 x 5; 155 x 5, 5, 5

Straight Bar Muscle-Ups: 3, 3, 3, 3

Couldn’t ask for a better start to the day.

Head’s-up on a fantastic series of posts over at  A 3-part series covering the ins, outs and nuances of the relationship of strength and speed.  Some seriously good work by Jim Hiserman, author of the books Program Design Method for Sprints & Hurdle Training and Strength and Power for Maximum Speed.

Embedded in part 3 of the series are some good lifting demonstrations of some of the more common strength-speed oriented exercises. *In particular, watch the fine jump squat form exhibited by lilledritt (I’ve embedded it below as well, by way of  Immediately following the final jump squat, you’ll see a nicely-performed btn jerk.   I performed each of my btn jerks, however, immediately following each jump squat (jump squat, jerk; jump squat, jerk; etc…)

And then I ran across this today, from Voice of America News video.  Good stuff for the masses to see, to be sure.  Though I’m still not convinced that saturated fat from free range/grass-fed animals is bad in any way.