The Anabolic Continuum, “Confounding Variables”, and Physical Culture as Art

The idea that strength and conditioning programming — and, in fact, any pursuit related to the optimal expression of one’s phenotype — is a purely unique-to-the-trainee, n=1 experiment is the underlying theory behind my own day-to-day practice of Physical Culture.  In fact, the TTP blog itself is an on-going ode to the notion that training is more art than science; or, another way of looking at it is that training is one of the main Physical Culture “arts”, and science is but a single color on the pallet used in the creation of that art.

Enter John Barban, Brad Pilon, and the “Phi Life” experience –

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and add the Phi Life podcast to your bookmark listing; I don’t think you’re likely to find a more truthful, intellectually-based series of discussions on all things related to the intersection of science and Physical Culture.  Plain and simple: these guys know their stuff, and they articulate it well.

Now, why am I so adamant in my (repeated) assertions that training must be an n=1 endeavor?  That it cannot be otherwise?  That training is more so art than science?  Well, check-out the following pair of Phi Life shows, as Brad and John deliver the goods on exactly why this is so.

I am certainly not anti-science, but the problem, at this stage of the game anyway, is that the science of sports physiology (writ large) is only in its infancy.  It’s as if we’ve only just recently identified the pieces of the puzzle, but have no “box top” to reference so as to even begin to figure how the pieces fit.  And on top of that, we continually find new pieces added to the pile.

The following two shows fit nicely together, and each runs approximately a half-hour.  I’ve taken the liberty of lifting the show explanations from the Phi Life site itself, and I hope that Brad and John are cool with that.

Hypertrophy happens; strength happens.  Athletes become faster and more powerful.  Fat is shed; anaerobic and aerobic conditioning improves by leaps and bounds.   From years of experience, we have a pretty good idea of what strings need to be pulled, how often and when, to elicit certain responses.  We have gut notions of why a certain technique, protocol, scheme, etc. will work on one guy, but will fail if used with the guy standing right next to him.  But really, we don’t have a firm grasp of what’s going on inside the “black box”, and those hints that science has eeked out for us really don’t tell us much more than what we already knew – that X protocol will work sometimes, and with certain populations, and that even if it does work, the efficacy won’t last for long.  It’s a moving target, and the gun is poorly sighted.  Do we really know much more now about sports physiology than the East Germans knew in the early ‘80s?  If in fact we do, it can’t be by much.

Check out the shows:

The Anabolic Continuum

Research on muscle building report a wide range of responders. There are those who gain virtually no muscle or strength, and there are those who have very impressive gains. If the weight training program was the same then the people doing the training must be different.

The response you will get from a weight training program is dependent upon your anabolic sensitivity. A number of factors go into assessing your anabolic sensitivity including age, training status, type of training, genetic predisposition, somatotype.

All of these factors collectively come together as a way of explaining where you land on the Anabolic Continuum.

In today’s lesson we’ll discuss what a confounding variable is, and explain that one of the biggest confounding variables in muscle building research is the anabolic sensitivity of each subject. Until researchers start categorizing where their subjects are on the Anabolic Continuum they will continue to have inconclusive results.

Anabolic Slowdown

The effectiveness of your weight training workouts might be dependent upon where you are in the anabolic continuum. This may be why different people get different results on the same workout program.

Where you are in the anabolic continuum may also be you best indicator of which exercise program to choose.

In today’s podcast we’ll discuss the concept of Anabolic Slow Down and Anabolic Resistance, and your “Training Age” vs your “Biological Age”.

We believe this is the biggest confounding variable in resistance training research and the reason why results are not consistent.

Two fabulous shows, and a hell of an education in exchange for an hour’s worth of your time.

The workout rundown for Friday, Saturday and Sunday –

Friday evening

As my days in NC are becoming numbered, my workouts are having to become ever more pin-pointed; quite simply, time is a big issue right now.  Buying a new home, readying for a cross-country move, wrapping up projects with my former employer, saying good-bye to friends – and though my kids are adults and on their own, making their own lives and their own unique way in the world, it’s still tough to leave them behind.  All this adds up to additional stress as well.  I think I manage it well, but still…  So Autoregulation will be the overriding theme for my last few NC workouts prior to next weekend’s “mother of all road trips”.

I kicked tonight’s session off with some whip-snatch + overhead squats, 3 sets of 5 at 95 lbs.  Rapid-fire reps, about 15-secs between sets.  That got the blood pumping nicely, and I’ve found that it’s is a great cycling-to-weight-room transition movement.  Now I can dive right into the meat of the workout, a superset of deadlifts and weighted dips – and pray that I’ve got enough legs left at the end of it all to get me back home  🙂

deadlifts (conventional, over-under grip): 185 x 10; 285 x 6; 375 x 5; 375 x 4

weighted dips: 45 x 10; 75 x 6; 95 x 6; 95 x 7 (+ 3 additional rest-pause reps)

then one set of Hierarchical (hat tip to Art DeVany) barbell curls: 95 x 15, 105 x 4, 110 x 3.  The rest between “sets” was just long enough to slap on the additional weight and get rolling again.  It would be interesting to see what the TUL was here.  I pushed the first two “sets” right to the brink of failure (i.e., the last good, fully-completed rep), then pushed the last set to full-on negative failure – in other words, the last two concentric reps were “cheat” reps, coupled with exaggerated (6-second) negatives.  The addition of bands or chains here would provide a better strength curve – I’ll keep this in mind for future set-ups.

Saturday –

I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s just something brutally effective about a hard lift set, followed immediately by a sprint.  We did versions of this theme back in my college days, but Dan John is the only person I know who has actually written anything about what he calls (and what I’ve now come to call), the Litvinov workout.  Here’s what I did Saturday:

– 20 fast-as-possible (yet with good form) front squats with an 11’ by 4” diameter slosh pipe, then, immediately following that

– a 40 second sprint for distance…

…then, recover just long enough to get your lungs, spleen and pancreas back in their proper locations, and hit it again.  I did 4 of these on Saturday and they took all of about 15 minutes to complete.  Only 15 minutes?  Dude, that’s a warm-up!  WTF, didn’t you do anything else?  Yeah, right.  Give ‘em a shot, and get back to me on that point.

Sunday –

A pair of supersets on the menu today.  First up, a heavy pairing with the intent being to move the weight as fast as humanly possible on every rep.

behind-the-neck push-press: 115 x 3; 145 x 3; 175 x 3; 195 x 3; 205 x 1, 210 (missed lock-out); 205 x 1

weighted regular-grip pull-ups: 35 x 3; 50 x 3; 60 x 3; 70 x 3; 75 x 3; 85 x 2, 2

followed that up with an elevated feet push-ups and GHR superset; shifting gears into the repetition method this time, though:

elevated feet push-ups: bw x 45, 30, 15 (4, 2, 2, 2)

GHR: 20, 20, 10 (3, 3, 2, 2)

this was done in three sets, with rest-pause utilized in the last few reps of the last set.

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