Of Goals, and the Most Efficient Route

Zack Dechant, of the fantastic Strength & Conditioning-themed blog, Sports Performance Training, knocked another one outta the park a while back with this aptly titled post, More is Better? It’s a keen observation of the coaching community’s tendency to fall back on tradition – on what “worked” last year, or last decade – versus doing the heavy lifting of running those traditional concepts through the critical analysis grinder.

Of course, it’s not just over-burdened S&C coaches who are guilty of this practice.  Even if the only person we train is ourselves, it’s easy to fall-back into sleepwalker mode.  If you’re still rockin’ the 80’s clown-pant gym-wear look, blasting through 4 x 15’s in the DB kickbacks “for killer tris” and eating 6, perfectly timed meals and 2 bags of rice cakes a day (no fat!), then it might be time to put your own “truths” under the spotlight of some serious, critical analysis.  Is the path that I’m currently following the most efficient route to achieving my goals? We should all be asking ourselves this routinely, placing not only group-think but, (and probably most importantly so) what we consider to be our own “knowledge” under the greatest of suspicion.

The following is a snippet from Zack’s post that is think is especially pertinent, here; make sure, though, to check out the entirety of Zack’s post, as it is a true gem.

“…one reason Charlie Francis, famed sprint coach, loved the Olympic lifts was due to the high amounts of motor unit activation.  Instead of spending an hour or more in the weight room after a sprint training session with exercise after exercise, Charlie felt they could hit the majority of the motor units within the body with a few Olympic movements and get out quick.  This way the majority of their time was devoted to adapting to their speed sessions, with the weight room serving as an accessory to the ultimate goal of being faster.  He didn’t want to impede results by fatiguing athletes even more in the weight room.  Often times, they might only perform one or two exercises depending on how their track session went.  But in the end it he still utilized minimal volume that could produce the results he was after.

Hypothetically, if an athlete can achieve the same goal necessary with a 50% reduced workload then it is a far more efficient route to take.  Not doing so takes much more energy.  We don’t want this when that energy could’ve been used for the adaptation process…”

Of course we shouldn’t all flock like crows to everything new and flashy, either, nor should we become stunned into inaction via contraction of the “analysis paralysis” virus.  Keeping up with the latest in applicable research is certainly to be encouraged; however, we never want to fall into the “data mining trap”, or of “being blinded by science” and automatically assuming that, just because certain results were produced in a lab environment, that they should (by virtue of being born of “learned” minds) trump solid empirical evidence shaded to the contrary.   Training is an art, yet the best artists in this medium are adept at knowing both how to integrate relevant and useful science, and what ought to be left to the wayside; useful fodder for debate, perhaps, yet next to useless in real-world application.

And Speaking of Goals and Efficient Routes –

Great article by Bryan Krahn and Christian Thibaudeau, Thibaudeau on Ramping, over at, the site that causes me mad (mad, I tell you!!) surges of cognitive dissonance, T-Nation.

Is your goal strength, hypertrophy, metabolic conditioning, generalized health and well-being, a combination/ratio of all of the above?  Whatever your goal, make sure your plan of attack is the most efficient route to get you there.

Yeah, it happens to me too… –

You head into the gym with a plan, and then have to alter that plan on the fly.  Hey, it’s all good – chalk it up to the God’s of randomness nudging you to change things up just a bit.  You didn’t want to fall into a rut anyway, did you?  Thought not.

For whatever reason, everyone and their mama decided to descend upon the YMCA weight room Tuesday evening, so I had to bust-out a little creative juggling; this is what I ended up with:

clean-grip barbell power snatch (from the floor): 7 sets of 2, approximately 10 secs between sets.  Speed emphasis.  135 lbs


front squat (full range of motion, i.e., ass-to-grass): 135 x 5; 165 x 5; 185 x 3; 195 x 2, 2, 2.  Very little recovery between sets; maybe 1 minute or so, if that.

…followed by a nod Mike Mentzer, and his brand of HIT:

machine flye: 165 lbs x approx. 10 reps, (4,0,4,0 tempo) to positive failure + 10-count continued push; followed immediately by:

weighted dips, single-set-to-failure: 45 x 6 (4,0,4,0 tempo) + rest-pause x 3, 3, 2, 2 (3, 0, x,0 tempo).

Why “to failure” in the upper-body movement, and not for the legs?  Inroad is both systemic and localized.  That said, I won’t totally inroad my lower body unless I’m quite sure that I won’t be biking or running (sprinting) for the next few days (at least).  Quite simply, this is a best-fit compromise between maintaining lower body strength without digging such in inroad hole that I can’t perform well in the other lower body-intensive activities that I enjoy.

Thursday evening explosives –

A basic explosive superset on tap for this session.  Emphasis was on speed and perfect form.

whip snatch to overhead squat: bar x 10; 95 x 3, 3; 115 x 2; 125 x 2; 135 x 2, 2, 2; 140 x 1, 1

straight bar muscle-ups (reg.-grip, pull-up variety): bodyweight x 2 for each of the 10 rounds

Exploring the Concept and Flawed Application of the Caloric Measure

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, check our logic and assumptions on a topic, and make sure our basic understanding still holds water.  Kinda like checking for that weak link in your strength chain.  A sanity check every now and then can save us from wandering lemming-like over the cliff of smug confidence.  And what could be more at the root, in reference to our understanding of diet, than checking our assumptions about the basic unit of nutritional measure, the calorie.

Well, not much of a surprise in this instance; the calorie – the unit measurement standard of nutritional science — is still a lousy standard for measuring human fueling requirements; a little like trying to accurately measure in inches with a metric ruler.

So here’s one major problem (among many) with mainstream nutritional science; in fact, I believe this problem to be, ultimately, the “shifting sands” that has bedeviled mainstream nutritional science’s foundation from the get-go: the concept of the calorie as being an accurate measure of the human body’s energy metabolism.  The problem is, of course, that the body does not “burn” fuel in the same way as does, say, an internal combustion engine.  And that single misstep – that simpleton way of thinking about human metabolism — drives the entire “all calories are treated equally in the body” mindset.  It’s an “error carried forward” that mucks-up the entire science.

The problem, of course, is that the body is not a simple, thermodynamic entity, but is more akin to a highly, highly complicated biochemical reactor; a calorie-equivalent amount of fat and carbohydrate will undergo radically different processes within the body, and result in two totally different metabolic outcomes.

Sanity check?  Yeah, we’re still on the right track.  It’s not the amount of fuel so much as the content that matters.

Carl Lanore, of Superhuman Radio, recently interviewed Dr. Peter Rouse (who wrote a guest post with respect to the “calorie standard flaw” on Carl’s blog, here).  Nothing new to those of us who’ve busted free of the “all calories are created equal” mindset, but an interesting interview and blog post nonetheless.

Thursday Night’s Beat the Storm Workout –

…another from the “it ain’t gotta be complicated to be effective” files…

Living in eastern North Carolina has hardened me to the scare tactics of Doppler RADAR, as a check of the region’s conditions on The Weather Channel for any given summer evening will reveal shifting splotches of greens, yellows, oranges and reds – enough to keep any (sane) rider from venturing out.  Not me, I saddle-up and hit the road anyway.  Last night, though, was different, as Doppler RADAR revealed the leading edge of a cold front marching west-to-east across the region.  Severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings began rolling in from counties to the west.  So what to do?  Drive to the gym?  Yeah, right.  What, and miss out on such great incentive?  I did what any true fixie man would do – I saddled-up and hit some serious sprints toward the gym.  And that hard tailwind had me feeling like superhuman – until I remembered that I’d have to fight the same wind on the return trip.  Oh well…

My idea here was to blast through these 4 sets as fast as humanly possible, then saddle back up and make the mad dash for home, hopefully beating the storm.  Autoregulation at the 6-rep range.  Only enough rest between exercises to allow for shifting stations.

deadlift (over/under grip): 225 x 10; 315 x 6; 365 x 6, 5

weighted dips: 45 x 10; 70 x 6; 90 x 6, 7

Nothing at all pretty here, but damn if it wasn’t metabolically taxing.  This was completed, door-to-door, in just under 40 minutes.  2.5 miles of fixed-speed intermittent sprinting, the blistering super-set, and a 2.5 mile sprint (with urgency!) back home.  The headwinds from the approaching storm had to be topping 40 mph, and that sprint home – especially on the heels of that dips/DL superset — was punishing.  The reward?  Watching the storm rage while frying up some post-workout NY strips 🙂

Activity, and the Biochemical/Hormonal Milieu

Just a little something to chew on here, folks; another from the “this I believe, but cannot prove” files.  As always, I’m open to fresh takes and opposing views.  Questions, comments, complaints?  The floor is yours, so by all means let me hear what you think!

Ok, so here’s an interesting bit: now, once again we must keep in mind that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, however, this study (and this supporting NYT article) seem to support the idea of engaging in low-intensity “play” (or such activities as walking, for example) in addition to intermittent, high-intensity workouts as being a positive lifestyle approach.  My (albeit, purely empirical) observations of myself and of others totally align with this notion, and I structure my own lifestyle according to this underpinning.

The ideal, I believe, is not the alternating between two extremes (either red-line/balls-to-the-wall, or complete engine shutdown), but a fractal, long-tail distribution mix of (including, but certainly not limited to) intensity and volume.  We require a good bit of low-idle time, some active “putter about” time as well, to compliment our sporadic bouts of high intensity effort.   What exactly is the proper distribution for you – in other words, what should your “fat-tail” look like?  That’s a question only intelligent n=1 investigation and observation can answer.  However, I would suggest that this is another instance where learning to listen to your body becomes an extremely valuable commodity indeed.

Dr.  Robert Lustig tells of how the obese kids that he treats in his practice — once he manages to normalize their biochemical/hormonal milieu, as a result of proper dietary intervention — “spontaneously” become much more active.  They haven’t yet lost any appreciable weight, yet they suddenly turn from indolent to active.  The moral of the story here is that these kids aren’t obese because they are inactive, they are inactive due the biochemical/hormonal milieu that, in turn, drives their obesity.  And this is not just some fancy, verbal slight-of-hand either.  These kids are, in fact, malnourished; obese, yes – but in fact, starving for adequate nutrition.  Their biochemical/hormonal milieu is FUBAR to the point that their bodies receive the same “signal” as that of a starving man; “we’re in metabolic shutdown here, buddy – park that ass and conserve energy until the storm passes.”

So how does this relate to approximating, via n=1 experimentation, the trainee’s ratio of workout volume and intensity, and with the amount, duration and volume of low-intensity activity?  Well, it’s my belief that not only is this biochemical/hormonal “urge to activity” milieu driven in a positive way by proper nutrition, but that it’s also positively effected by present conditioning level and recuperative abilities and present-case standings (i.e., is the trainee, at this point-in-time, supercompensated, at baseline, or still wallowing around somewhere down in the ol’ “in-road” hole?).  It is also my belief that these two broad categories (present conditioning level and present recuperative standing) form a positive-feedback loop.  In other words, the better one’s conditioning and the better one’s recuperative ability/current standing, the more one is “urged” – in a biochemical and hormonal sense — to activity.  This is the “itch” that healthy, fit people have to “get out and do something”.   Could it also be that these people are simply adrenalin and/or endorphin junkies?  I have no doubt that this is part of the mix as well; if I’ve learned anything in 30+ years of navigating the Physical Culture scene it’s that very little to do with human physiology or psychology can be answered in a simple yes or no.  But then again, I suppose that all of life is this way.

Shifting gears a bit: so I’m packin’-up to leave town (here I come, Austin and Hunt, Texas!) and I’ll be away the better part of next week and rolling right on into the week following.   That said, my plan is to hit two, tough-ass, full-body workouts before I hit the road on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, a Wednesday workout prior to traveling won’t be a viable option (due to work and travel itinerary), so my plan is to hit the first of these two workouts on Sunday, with the follow-up workout to fall on Tuesday.  I’m looking to create some serious in-road with these two workouts – enough, possibly, to blunt any serious “intensity itch” for a week or so.

Here’s Sunday’s full-body blitz:

clean-grip power snatch: 95 x 5; 115 x 3; 135 x 7 singles

Then a superset of the following:

weighted dips: 45 x 6; 70 x 3(3); 80 x 3(3); 90 x 3(3) x 4 sets

clean-grip low pull (from the floor): 185 x 3; 205 x 3; 225 x 3; 250 x 3(3) x 4 sets

*the 3(3) annotation denotes a compound set.  In other words, I performed three reps, paused for approximately 5 seconds, then hit another 3 reps.  No hoo-doo magic implied, just a different flavor of the rest-pause method.

I put a premium on rep speed in the dips and low pulls.  And of course the power snatches were done explosively, though they were light enough to be not too terribly taxing.

Now I know from past experience that no matter the in-road hole that I dig for myself — and my aim is to dig a pretty deep one before I head out – that by Saturday I will be itchy as all hell to do something much more aggressive than, for example, a long, fast-paced walk.  This gets back to what I was discussing earlier – the biochemical/hormonal milieu being optimized via fitness level and health status providing an impetus to “perform”.  Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity for plenty of physical recreation, and that that will help keep me in check.  I’m notorious (Meesus TTP can testify!) for not handling “itchy” very well at all  🙂

The Five Elements — Matching “Wiring” to Modality

So, how are you “wired”?  Here’s another aspect to consider when mapping a training plan.  As one becomes more adept at “reading” one’s own body — and now we’re digging down to some serious n=1 activity — is determining one’s physio-psychological make-up.  Charles Poliquin uses the analogy of the Five Elements, or the five physical types described in Chinese medicine.  I think this is a fine analogy, so long as we resist the urge to “categorize completely and wholly”.  As is the case with astrology — stick with me here, I’ve not completely stumbled away from my gourd! — purity of type (sign, element, ect.) simply does not exist.  People can be “heavy” in one aspect or another — predominantly influenced by this element or that — to be sure, though, the human personality is more an alloy than a pure element; the n=1 challenge being to tease-out that predominant element in one’s own (or your client’s own) make-up.  I think it’s also important to note as well, the fact that no one is absent any “element”.  Diminished or understated, yes; each aspect, though, is present in every trainee — the matter of degree is what we’re searching for.

Of course, if you’re put off by all of this “touchy-feely” stuff, we can just agree that people are wired differently and respond to a given protocol rather uniquely.  Many times “non-responders” or “hardgainers” simply have not coupled their “elemental make-up” with the right modality.  Remember, few things in physical culture can be taken as absolutes — other than that there are no absolutes.  By cultivating a healthy n=1, pioneering attitude though, (embracing the “wood” aspect), one will eventually lock-on to a modality that fits.

Tuesday’s training –
An evening session this go-around.  One advantage for working out in the evening is that my CNS is fully “awake”; no matter how much I warm up in the morning, my CNS is just not ready to fully blow-and-go.  Of course, working out first thing in the AM has multiple advantages in its own right — the biggest being that “life” is less likely to bump a workout.  There’s a give and take to everything in life, and each person’s “optimum workout window” is no different.

About a 20-minute fixie ride to warm-up — “warm-up” being the understatement of the day; damn, it’s friggin’ hot out lately.

Superset fashion with these two –
clean-grip low pulls: 225 x 3, 3; 245 x 3; 255 x 3; 265 x 3, 3, 3, 3
weighted dips: 45 x4; 80 x 3; 90 x 3; 95 x 3; 100 x 3, 3, 3, 3

Followed by another superset here –
barbell muscle-up: 135 x 4, 4, 4
straight bar muscle-up (the pull-up variety): bodyweight x 3, 2, 2

…and then, some Nautilus 4-way Neck work: front and each side – 50 lbs 10 each; rear – 60 lbs x 10

Finished-up with a nice fixie sprint home to some damn fine leftovers — grass-fed eye of chuck being the main player.  Meal porn to follow.

The Past Weekend’s Workout Happenings

Saturday, 5/15/10
So the local farmers’ market is located about a hard 15-minute fixie burst from my house.  Soon after rolling out of bed on Saturday, splashing some water on my face and, after savoring a few cups of joe, I saddled-up and headed out for some provisions.  15-minutes later and without a hitch, I’m picking up 3 lbs of beef sausage and a couple of pounds of ground beef (all locally raised, grass-fed).  Life is great!  I saddle back up and hit the road, and 10 minutes into the return blitz I’m met with the pop/pffffft! and squiggly rear-end that all riders dread.  Damn.  Ok, time for some quick roadside (the parking lot of the Rocky Mount Telegram, to be precise) triage/tire swap — made a tad more urgent, now, due to the 5 lbs of frozen steer in my backpack.  No blood, no foul, as they say (that’ll come later), and in a few minutes I’m back on the road, rockin’ out a good, leg-burning pace.  The culprit, BTW?  A V-bent hunk of wire (clothes hanger wire?) that found its way into my sidewall.  What are the odds of that?  Oh well, shit happens.

OK, so I made it home, chucked the meat in the freezer, and headed back out with the intent of doing one of my favorite “endurance” workouts, the 15 x 15 in 15 — that’s 15 x 100 yrd sprints, each completed in 15 seconds or less, with all 15 sprints completed in a total time of 15 minutes.  In other words, 15 sec’s “on”, 45 sec’s rest x 15 rounds.  Sounds easy, huh?  Uhh, yeah…anyway, like a friggin’ dumb-ass, I decide not to don the ol’ Vibrams, opting instead to attack these au natural over the brick-hard ground.  Why, you ask, would I do such a stupid-ass thing?  I don’t know…the sparse grass felt good between my toes?  Who knows why I do some of the things I do.  Now sometimes this quirkiness pays big dividends in that I find a new wrinkle to add to my exercise tool box, and sometimes, well, it leads to something like this —

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On a brighter note, the placement of these blisters indicates a proper sprinting foot-strike.  Hey, when life hurls lemons your way, go fetch the tequila and lime  🙂

Yeah, so I cut the sprint session short at 10 rounds.  Oh well, what to do but saddle-up and head to the gym, right?  You bet.  After fixie-ing around a good bit more (Weather’s too nice to be inside just yet), that is.  Once I finally did make it to the gym, though, I did this nifty little superset:

btn push-press: 135 x 5; 155 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 2, 2
straight bar muscle-ups: x 3, each round

Then it was back on the bike for more riding.  I’d guess that by the time it was all said and done, I’d put in a good 2-and-a-half hours of combined saddle time.

Oh yeah, I began all of this madness in a 15+ hour fasted state, with the post-workout re-feed not occurring until after hour 20 (ish).  Any detrimental effects?  None.  If I were a sugar-burner, though, I’d have been a drooling, blithering, palsying spectacle — and that would have been even before I started my barefooted sprints.  Hmmm, maybe I can blame my non-Vibram wearing, abject stupidity on being in a fasted state?  Nice try, but I don’t think so.  About IF’ing: the bottom line is that IF can definitely help in eliminating those last few stubborn pounds, while at the same time contributing to improved, overall health.  However, IF does present an additional stress to the body.  As such, you need to first get your other dietary and lifestyle ducks in a row prior to dabbling with IF; to do otherwise is simply to add suction to the stressor/cortisol death-vortex.  There’s a place for radical and a place for reason — the key is realize the right time for each approach.  By the way, if you’ve got a membership to the Crossfit Journal, check out trainer E.C. Synkowski’s recent take on IF, here.

From the Crossfit Journal site:
HQ trainer and athlete E.C. Synkowski is no slouch in the gym and has had great success using intermittent fasting as an approach to insulin regulation and recovery. In this video interview by Patrick Cummings, E.C. takes us through the process of getting used to fasting and explains why she does it and how her body has responded over the last few years.

Sunday, 5/16/10
It’s gonna rain, it’s not gonna rain, it’s gonna rain, it’s not gonna rain…
So the plan today was to saddle-up the mountain bike and hit the trails, but the rain situation scared me off.  I don’t do fickle.  And yeah, I’m a fair-weather mountain bike kinda guy; I steer free of the rain and muck if I can avoid it.  Anyway, on to plan B —

More fixie riding — about an hour-and-a half worth today (and I can tell my legs are getting zorched) — broken-up by a 45-minute iron session, that went a little something like this:

Cuban press (very strict form): 3 sets of 10, fat Oly Bar.  Note: no need to press the bar to full lock-out from the intermediate position (as in the demo clip); in fact, this motion allows for unneeded rest between the “meat” reps.

whip snatch to overhead squat: 115 x 5 sets of 5.  Each rep as fast as possible without sacrificing form.  Very little rest between sets.  115 pounds feels like a 300 pound slosh tube by the 5th set.

Then this superset —

clean grip high pull, from the floor: 185 x 3, each round
weighted dips: 45 x 7; 70 x 3; 90 x 3; 100 x 3; 105 x 3

Note: I used standard 35 lb plates for the high pull set-up so as to force a lower starting position in the pull from the floor.  Just another way to change things up.

The take home message
Ok, so shit happens, and your workouts plans will get mucked-up at times.  Don’t let that be an excuse to wuss-out, hit the couch and nurse a cold one.  Think on the fly, and pull out another trick from the bag.  Maybe even try something totally off the wall.  Do you think your body really cares, in the grand scheme of things, that you substituted X workout for Y?

And a public service announcement about this weekend’s heavy volume —
I do a heavy volume “something” like this every now and then, but only when I feel like it — never do I force it.  It’s a random, chaotic thing, and when I feel it, I go with it.  Keep a pace like this for long, though, and an injury of some sort will see to it that you take it easy for a while.

One Wayward Parrot, and the Morning’s Heavy Iron Session

Some of you may have already met my new coffee shop bud, Gus, as I posted his mug shot on Twitter and on my Facebook wall; I just wanted to give him a little additional press, here.  Gus is quite the character, and not a half bad conversationalist, though he is a tad opinionated.  You just never know what you might see out on a fixie huck.  And no, that’s not my frappuccino, nor is it Gus’ — Gus’ owner is the guilty party.  Gus and I know better.

Meet Gus, the Coffee Shop Greeter

Sometimes You Just Gotta Go Heavy

No better way to kick-off a weekend than with a heavy Friday morning iron session.  This bout took approximately 45 minutes to complete.

single-arm DB floor press (each arm): 85 x 4; 95 x 3; 100 x 3; 110 x 2; 115 x 2

barbell bent-over row + RDL/shrug combo: 225 x 3(3); 245 x 3(3); 265 x 3(3); 275 x 2(2); 280 x 2(2)

Superset format in the above pairing.  Very little rest between sets.  Followed that up with this repetition method superset:

ab wheel roll-outs: bw x 10, 10, 10

dips: bw x 20, 20, 20 (rest-pause needed to complete last two sets)

The BOR + RDL/shrug combo was done thusly: 3 (or 2) reps of regular bent-over rows, followed immediately, and in one fluid motion, by a bar to just-below-the-knee RDL (butt way back…big glute/ham activation) with an immediate transition to an explosive triple extension low pull with a full, end-of-movement shrug.  Reset immediately into the bar-below-the-knee RDL bottom position; repeat for the required reps.

If you find your way out the the Outer Banks of North Carolina this weekend, drop by and say hey to Meesus TTP and me.

This Ain’t Your Father’s Workout…

…Unless, of course, your father happens to be Dan John, Louie Simmons…or, heh… Keith Norris

Actually, this little gem went down yesterday morning (4/27/10).  A very busy day — complete with a dash out to the RDU airport to pick up Meesus TTP, among other things — prevented me from posting this in a more timely manner.

Anyway, here’s the workout:

wide stance box squat (just below parallel): 135 x 5; 185 x 5; 205 x 3, 3; 225 x 3, 3, 3 — explode off the box

weighted dips (all sets w/ black band, doubled): 45 x 7 sets of 4 (in a superset with box squats); then 45 x 5 sets of 3 (in a superset with DB snatches)

dual DB power snatch: 40 x 5; 50 x 4; 65 x 3, 3, 3

I finished-up with two sets of bodyweight GHR’s x 15 reps; “free-fall” negatives, catch/rebound with the body parallel to the ground, and explode back up.  Remember that in the GHR, we want to lessen the contribution of the lower back, and accentuate the contributions of the glutes/hams.  It’s essential, then to maintain a relatively rounded back and ensure to drive the torso all the way through until the thighs are perpendicular to the ground.

A few notes: The dual DB power snatch example video I’ve linked to shows an exaggerated kick/foot-stomp the likes of which I am not a fan, nor do I employ.  The foot stomp is supposed to be an Oly lift technique reminder (the “catch” foot positioning being wider than the “pull” positioning, therefore you should hear/feel your feet re-plant) that has somehow slipped into the personal training “lexicon”, so that now in gyms across the nation you’ll see people doing this exercise with feather-light weights, and stomping away as if they’re at a Riverdance audition.  Just don’t do it; if you can still jump like Tinkerbell in this movement, for Crissakes, grab heavier dumbbells.

The box squat: this is primarily a hip/glute/ham exercise — not a quad exercise.   To perform this movement properly, think of sitting back (waaaaay back) in a rolling office chair so that by the time your butt hits the seat, your knees are splayed wide (attempting to “spread the floor” with your feet, which are “torqued” into the ground) and your shins are at a slight angle back.  This is counter-intuitive to most, and a different movement (and set-up) altogether from the high-bar, Oly squat (or front squat, for that matter…or a RFESS).  Now from this position, you want to explode off of the box.  How?  Think once more of sitting in that office chair.  Now, with your shins at that “backward” angle we talked about earlier, pull yourself so that you roll forward.  Feel your glutes and hams engage?  Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for.  This is really a “squat” in name only, and maybe it would be better if the movement went by another name entirely.  The problem is, we hear the word “squat” and all of a sudden, all we can think of is the movement we learned when we were first introduced to the iron game.  Not that the old school squat is bad, it’s just not what we’re working today; another tool for another time.  Anyway, it takes a good while to get the technique of this movement properly ironed-out.  It is, however, well worth the time investment.

Anyone been to the Earth Fare grocery chain?  It’s kind of like a spiffier Whole Foods, and without the tattooed employees.  I dunno, maybe I like things a little grittier, but I if I had to choose between the two, I’d opt for Whole Foods.  The Earth Fare crew does make a fantastic variety of paleo-friendly chicken salad, though; an awesome tarragon kale, and roasted sweet potato/bell pepper side dish as well.   Kudos to the kitchen staff for those eats!

4/13/10; In the Gym with a Strength-Speed Emphasis Plan and, Another On-the-Fly, Paleo Dinner

Cranked-out about an hour’s worth of mixed-intensity fixie riding yesterday evening (rode for a half-hour or so, hung-out at the coffee shop for a while, then hit another half-hour or so on the way home), just to keep the legs loose.  I’d put a tri-tip roast, celerity, and carrots into the crock pot prior to leaving for work that morning, so I had a nice Paleo meal waiting for me when I got home from the ride.

This morning’s workout was basic iron game fare — deadlifts and weighted dips.  Nothing fancy, here — simply basic movement patterns performed at a super-high intensity.

I lead-off each set of deads with box drop jumps (3 reps) as a CNS primer, and each set of weighted dips was preceded by a 3-rep primer of ballistic, bodyweight dips.   Here’s how it all shaped-up:

box drop jumps*: x 3 each round

Conventional deadlift (over/under grip): 225 x 5; 315 x 3; 365 x 3; 385 x 2, 2, 2

ballistic dips: x 3 each round

weighted dips: 45 x 5; 90 x 3; 100 x 3; 105 x 3, 3, 3

The deadlifts and dips were performed with an emphasis on speed of execution — there was nothing slow about any of the day’s movements, everything was geared toward targeting maximum power output.  I probably could have used a little more weight in the deadlifts without sacrificing any speed, however, since I’ve been sprinting and biking pretty hard lately, I decided to err on the side of being too light.

*Step off an 18″ box and, immediately upon landing, rebound over a 30″ box.  Emphasis on minimizing ground contact time.

On-the-Fly Paleo Chow:

Tonight’s dinner:

What do I call it?  Hell if I know.  Hot Italian beef sausage, stir fry beef, cubed lamb, fresh broccoli, olive oil, beef stock, cilantro…spices of various kinds…

I browned the meat and sausage, then threw in the rest of the ingredients and let that simmer for awhile.  Whatever you want to call it, it was pretty damn good.  And I’ve got plenty for leftovers.

Here’s an interesting commentary on Bart Hoebel’s (et al) recent HFCS study; a question/answer format that is rather illuminating.  As you can well imagine, much uproar over this study has come from HFCS-central, and its minions (another take, via the Huffington Post).  I won’t waste a whole lot of time on this; it’s needless, really.  Vet the evidence, and tell me if you’ll want to ever consume this crap again.  ‘Nuff said.

3/31/10; Another Workout From the Simple/Brutal Bag-O-Tricks

No rocket science here; simply the flip-side of what I did yesterday.  Today’s emphasis was on a lower-body “pull”, upper body “push” movement pattern, with the modality emphasis being on the strength-speed aspect of power production.  Simple workouts constructed of simple movements, done at an ultra-high intensity level.  Prop that work up with a healthy, Paleo lifestyle and you’ve essentially got the tiger by the tail, my friends.  It’s as easy as that.

To kick things off this morning: lots of hip mobility done as a warm-up, together with a couple rounds of the Bergener warm-up, along with a couple of rounds of bodyweight dips (in the 12 to 15 rep range).  Then, the following –

rebound jump: x 6, all rounds
PC grip low-pull from floor (with jump):135 x 6; 225 x 5, 5; 245 x 3, 3, 3
ballistic dips: x 3, all rounds
weighted dips:45 x 6; 70 x 5; 80 x 3; 90 x 3; 100 x 3, 3

6 total rounds here, with the first being a transition from the warm-up to the money rounds.  Rebound jumps and ballistic dips served here as cns primers for the pull-jumps and weighted dips.  No grind sets, everything was snappy.

Here’s a clip of one of Charles Poliquin’s disciples performing snatch jumps.  Same idea today, but with a clean grip.

Rebound jumps were performed from a knee-high box.  Begin balanced on the edge of the box, heels over-hanging the edge, as if you were a high-diver at the edge of the platform, back to the pool.  Then with a little toe-bounce, propel yourself back off of the box, then, as soon as ground contact is made, “rebound” up to the top edge of the box.  Concentrate on minimizing ground contact time.  Think “hot ground”, and think of the lower body as a pogo-stick — a very tight-wound spring.

Ballistic dips were done at bodyweight with the movement initiation beginning in the “down” position.  With an explosive concentric, then, propel the body with enough velocity so that the hands may come free of the bars/handles.  Catch in the “down” position, reset, and initiate the next rep.  Reps are rapid-fire as much as practicable while still ensuring quality form/movement pattern.

So that’ll have to keep me satiated for the next 5 days.  I predict, though, that I’ll get snaky after 3.

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, everyone.  I’ll see y’all back on the other side.

3/28/10; Shuttle Runs & A Little Strength-Speed Work, and Periodization & the Competitive Athlete

Today we consider an interesting question from TTP reader, Vicki.  Vicki is a D1 collegiate womens hockey athlete, a rising senior who’s looking to better her game.

I’ve italicized Vicki’s questions/comments/concerns below.   

…My question is regarding periodized training for sports (I apologize, I know this is not in very close accordance to the primal lifestyle!).  I suppose I should first give you some quick background information on myself. I am a female NCAA D1 college hockey player, going into my senior year. I have been training for hockey for many years, since before I was a teenager...

This is something all competitive athletes must grapple with; check that — something that all contemplative, competitive athletes must grapple with.  Kudos to you for realizing that periodization is not necessarily a “paleo thing”.  It’s true that the more one specializes in physical endeavors, the more one diverges from optimum overall health (and evolutionary fitness).  I think, though, that the effects of this are compounded both by intensity and by years; in other words, short periods of specificity will only affect an acute blip in the overall health continuum.  You’re young, and the overall health impact of specialization is negligible.  Give it hell while you have the opportunity; you’ve got the rest of your life to generalize.  For you now, though, periodization is an essential “evil”.  You only have some much time,and so much energy — you’ve got to direct both of those toward escalating the physical attributes that will help you excel at your sport.  Unfortunately, that will come at the cost of degrading some other aspect of overall fitness; it’s simply the Yin-Yang, way of the world.  Just keep this in mind when your competitive life comes to an end, and a new chapter begins.  See to it then that the “new chapter” incorporates more of a wholistic health and fitness approach.

…I have had decent results the last few offseasons in implementing a mixture of powerlifting, weights, speed, agility, and quickness training. However, after following your blog for some time I believe I may be able to achieve even better results by using some of your methodology.  I have always been decently strong for my size. I am 5’1″, about 115lbs. I can bench press my weight about 5 times (I only know this because it is a part of our fitness testing), front squat 145×6, and hang clean 115X4. My weaknesses come with the modalities for jumping and sprinting. My vertical jump is quite weak. We actually test it 3 different ways. First you begin in the squat position and explode up. Second is a typical squat jump with the counter movement. And the third is the drop off jump. Hockey players typically see their numbers increase with each jump but my numbers are actually the opposite, with the static start being my best. I should also mention that putting on some muscle is important to me as well, but I’m aware that especially given my size it may compromise my speed…

What I see here are indications of a strength-skewed athlete, probably the result of a genetic leaning that was compounded by a history of exercise choices that leaned heavily toward the strength modalities.  In a broad/general sense, you’re the antithesis of an Allyson Felix-type athlete; overly strong relative to your RFD and elastic ability.

The vertical jump continuum you present here is telling.  Let’s quickly look at the components of a vert — strength, power (neurological efficiency, i.e. how efficiently that strength expressed per unit of time), and elasticity (the ability to store and release energy).  The jump from a full squat somewhat negates the neurological efficiency component and strongly dampens the elasticity component.  You’re forced to rely more so on raw strength as a motive force.

Aside: I’m speaking in shades, here — leanings, skews — very little in physiology, or in life for that matter, is black and white, all or nothing.

A counter movement allows for the introduction of neurological efficiency and a slight increase in the elastic component.  A rebound (drop-off) jump maximizes (for this modality) the elastic contribution, and therefore can be used to determine whether an athlete leans toward being explosive or elastic.

Your observations on the athletes’ jumps are correct — most athletes (outside the realm of powerlifting and/or strongman) perform better in the counter and rebound jumps as compared to the “static” jump.   This is to be expected, as most athletic endeavors are mostly explosive/elastic in nature; the participants engaged at your level of competition have already been somewhat vetted for a bias toward explosiveness and elasticity.

I’ve never seen you sprint, but I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount that you’re a “push” runner, relying on quadricep and calf strength over and above your (if I had to guess) weaker (and neurologically more inefficient) posterior chain.  Now, I’d imagine that the sprint-skate motion is a little more quad-centric than a dry-land, running sprint; bio-mechanic specifics aside, though, your jump relatives still indicate a “muscling through” on your movements.  That said, I’d be willing to bet that you’re “muscling-up” your power cleans as well.  Consider your power clean movement relative to one of your more explosive team mates (who has the best counter movement vert on your team?) — I’d imagine there’s a substantial difference between the speed of your power clean to that of the more explosive athlete’s clean.  Raw strength will only carry you so far.  Right now (again, this is without seeing you perform), I’d bet that your superior game skills are compensating for your natural (and trained for) athletic ability.  What to do now?  No problem — train for power, while maintaining your sport-specific skills.

Check this post out, if you haven’t already.

…So my question to you is how I could best periodize my off season training? The last few summers I have followed typical protocol where April-May is high reps and lower weight (i.e. 12-15×2) 2-3 times a week with 2 agility sessions per week plus conditioning. June-July is 8×3-4 with implementing some hang cleans and push press. Finally August is 4-6×4 with similar exercises. Maintained throughout are 2 speed, agility, quickness sessions per week. For the first month or so would lifting with a strengh-endurance or strength-strength emphasis be best to help with hypertrophy? 25 for a bigger engine? Rest pause? I have been paralyzed by over-analysis!

First off let me say that what I say here must be considered in light of what your S&C coach has mapped-out for you; there may be specific reasons why he (or she — times are changing — for the better!) has you on this particular routine.  That said, though, what you don’t need at this point is more strength, nor is additional hypertrophy going to be of any benefit.  S&C coaches will (correctly) skew toward these modalities in the early off-season — more “bang for the buck”, as (1) most explosive/elastic athletes can benefit from such a periodization block, and (2) collegiate S&C coaches are crushed by the sheer number of athletes they have to administer to and, therefore, just don’t have the time to personalize an individual’s off-season program.

You, however, are an outlier who would be better off focusing their off-seasons on becoming more explosive.  This is where “train what you suck at” comes into play.  Broadly speaking, what you want to do is direct your focus to speed-strength and strength-speed modalities — essentially, you want to train so as to affect an increase in your instantaneous power production; increase your power-to-bodyweight ratio.  Explosive movements, done in singles, doubles and triples.  No prolonged, “grinding” reps — keep every rep of every chosen exercise “snappy” as possible.  Find that sweet spot between load and rep speed so as to produce maximal power in each movement.  And direct your focus, first and foremost, toward posterior-chain movements — all manner and variation of pulling motions, i.e, cleans, snatches, creds and the like.  But remember, the actual exercise chosen is of lesser importance than the manner of execution — give your body, at every opportunity, an explosive stimulus.

And this weight room work can be nicely feathered into (and will act in synergy with) your ongoing sprint and agility efforts, which are highly, highly important for you now.  Don’t shortchange these sessions.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t push the Paleo diet on you.  As much as you can, lean towards a more paleo-like way of eating.  At the very least, remove the extraneous sugar and refined carbs from your diet.

Today’s workout
If you’re wondering where all this back-to-back work is coming from, I’m purposely front-loading a lot of workouts this week, as the Easter weekend will find me in the midst of a much-deserved mini-vaca to the Houston area.  Yeah for intermittent R & R!

The windy-as-all-hell conditions today make the two-mile fixie-jaunt to the gym seem like twenty.  And, of course, we all know that from the biker/runner’s prospective, it’s always a head-wind!

Began on the field with 20 yard shuttle runs (think old school “horses” or “suicides”), 30 seconds worth, each of 5 rounds.  I was able to just eek-out 7 trips each round.  Approximately 2 minutes rest between runs.  Same idea as yesterday, more change of direction work.

Then it was into the gym for the following superset:

cred (i.e., single-arm db) high-pulls, each arm: 100 x 3; 110 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

weighted dips: 45 x 7; 80 x 5; 90 x 4; 110 x 3; 115 x 3; 120 x 2

The cred-high pull is a unique exercise, and a personal favorite (as is the full-on cred).  I like the off-balance loading here, and I love the overloaded, between the knees, “catch” phase.  In a barbell high pull, the catch is effected by the hips “breaking” the bar.  Not so in the cred high-pull catch, where the weight is caught low, and the breaking force is supplied (if done properly) by the posterior chain — which then must immediately redirect to provide motive force to hoist the weight up once more.  Just don’t get crazy with the catch — this puts a hell of a force (and uneven at that) on the posterior chain.

Worked-out at 17-hours fasted, if you’re keeping track.  Re-feed 2-hours post workout (approximately 20 hours total fasted).  And DA-Yam! it was a good ribeye  🙂