“I’d rather live with a good question than a bad answer.” – Aryeh Frimer

I like to revisit certain performance markers every now and again throughout the ebb and flow of the training season; markers that, over the years, I have been able to correlate, at least within myself, to a well-rounded athleticism.   These are not, mind you, performance maxes or PRs.   In other words, these markers are not the result of a performance driven by a particular dedicated and pin-pointed focus, but rather a performance indicator that, in a well-rounded athletic sense, things are as they should be; that no excessive imbalance exists between speed, strength and sprint repeat endurance.  In fact, I use such touchstones as an indication that any dedicated focus that I might be engaged in has not resulted in the degradation of another, “competing” factor.   For instance, pushing a max squat number at the expense of (in my case, at least), sprinting and/or repeat speed or performance.  Conversely, I know that a nice, snappy, 7 rep 2xBW deadlift, while I’m in the throes of sprinting/saddle-time season, is a good indication that I’m still good-to-go in the weight room.

15 under 15 and in 15

…or, as they were affectionately known back in the day, simply “15’s”

Hard as it is to believe now days, collegiate football players of the early 1980’s actually went back home during the summers and (the Brian Bosworth‘s and SMU‘s of college football notwithstanding) worked legitimate — and in my case, heavy-ass, manual labor — jobs over the summer break.  The coaching staffs at that time sent players home with the parting message that said jocks better (insert filthy string of pejoratives) return “in shape and ready to play”, lest they face some unspecified, but decidedly heinous, form of public castration.  In our case, said punishment would surely be performed in front of a full assembly of cheering Strutters.

Nothing like a little incentive.

And still, few paid the threat any mind.  Oh to be 20 and bullet proof once more 🙂

At any rate, every August, upon returning to camp in preparation for the upcoming season, linebackers, strong safeties*, and tight ends were expected to be able to reel-off 15 100-yrd sprints, all in less than 15 seconds each, with a 45 second recovery before the start of the next sprint.  Nothing superhuman here of course, but pulling this off does reveal a decent, base level of repeat sprint endurance.  Something to work with, something from which to build upon.  And I still use it as a yardstick test today.  Other, more accurate measures of sprint repeat endurance could surely be argued for, but this simple (on paper anyway!) test is at once a great workout in-and-of-itself, and pretty decent measure of fitness.

I’d just like to report that I passed this test with flying colors this past Sunday, just as I did every August during my career.  Yeah, I was one of those  guys, even back then.  One of those middling talent guys who had to “train” their way onto the playing field.

In health,


*note – that strong safties were considered “small, fast, linebackers” is, in itself, telling of a bygone era; defenses designed for a single purpose — to stop the option.

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 Guacamole, Ham and Cheese Omelet, and Givin’ Up a Little Strength to Get a Little Endurance

First up, the guacamole, ham and cheese omelet.  Nothing special here, except for the use of duck eggs — if you can get your hands on these things, by all means do so!  Big, beautiful yokes — and so tasty!  The photos below are pre and post fold; free-range ham steak strips, your favorite guacamole recipe, and Trader Joe’s raw milk cheese.

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I’ve been spending A LOT of time in the fixie saddle lately, and one thing’s for sure as a result — my front squat strength has taken a hit.  This is both a cumulative result (due to the total “saddle time” miles put in), and an acute issue — riding long, hard and fast prior to a front squat workout  doesn’t bode well for pushing big numbers — relative to my winter, low mileage, front squat numbers, that is.   The thing is, you can’t constantly dose the body with endurance demands AND expect it to maintain huge strength numbers.  And, hey, I’m cool with that; it’s an accepted compensation, and I don’t obsess over it.  The flip-side of this is that back when we rolled into the early spring, my front squat numbers were great, yet I couldn’t sprint (bike) around the block without my quads falling into lactate paralysis.  The take-home point here is that my “strength with which to endure” is still way high relative to the demands of cycling — which makes me a much more proficient cyclist — it’s just not “high” with respect to wintertime lifting highs.  The other point to consider here is that I’m an athletic generalist — if I were a competitive Oly lifter of course, this wouldn’t at all do, and all that fixie riding would have to come to an abrupt end.  In the end, we all have to choose our loves, and our poisons.

The other issue here is time.  I’ve only got so much time to devote to working out, and since my quads absorb the bulk of my riding punishment, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to batter them again (at the expense of under-working the rest of my body) in the gym.  This is where having access to an Efficient Exercise-like facility would be oh so nice.  In such a facility, the time cost involved with maintaining (and more likely, even bettering) my quad strength during the riding season would be minuscule.  But you gotta roll with the tools you have on hand, and not look back, right?  Right.  Hey, I’m just sayin’…or bitchin’, however you want to look at it  🙂

You’ll notice that I worked some power cleans into the Friday evening session   I haven’t done these in quite a long time — so long that my thumbs got hammered from the hook grip — and so I thought I’d begin feathering them back in by starting off very, very light and working out all the technical issues.  I  don’t have access to bumper plates, or even a good place to do the Oly derivatives, but I make do as best I can.  So if you’re keeping score at home, I need access to (1) an Efficient Exercise-like facility, (2) a nice lifting platform with bumper plates, and (3) a city with a rich fixie culture.  Sounds like I need to figure out a way to get down to Austin, huh?

Friday Evening’s Iron Session –

front squats: 135 x 5; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 215 x 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
followed by,
power cleans: 135 x 5 sets of 5

then a superset of,

explosive rack pulls: 225 x 3; 315 x 3, 3, 3, 3
weighted parallel-grip pull-ups: 45 x 5; 70 x 3, 3, 3, 3

Explosive rack pulls: I set the rack pins so that the bar sat right about knee level, took a clean grip (with straps), and ripped off 3 full and explosive triple extensions.  The difference between this and low pulls is that the elbows remain straight — in other words, the bar doesn’t travel any higher than “full shrug” level.

Saturday’s Gym Session –

This following a long hard stint in the saddle:

As a superset –
incline single-arm dumbbell press (on a Swiss ball): 75 x 10; 85 x 7, 7; 90 x 7
single-arm dumbbell row: 125 x 5; 130 x 5, 5, 5

Single-arm db presses on a Swiss ball allow for proper scapular movement.  Remember from this post that this is a big reason that I prefer push-up variations to pressing from a bench for the horizontal push motion.  I like to do these in a power rack, or near some piece of equipment that I can grab with my off hand.  At the top of the press I twist slightly to the off-side so as to bring the weighted-side scapula off the Swiss ball — imagine attempting to eek-out an extra inch or so in height out of the movement.  This also taxes the core quite nicely.

I’ll be huckin’ it around downtown Raleigh today (after brunch with my darling daughter at the Irregardless Cafe), so if you see a big guy on a black Biachi fixie, give me a shout.  Better yet, join in on the ride!

A Genetically Determined, Individualized Training Regimen?

It is astonishing what foolish things one can temporarily believe if one thinks too long alone.”

John Maynard Keynes

As a long time aficionado and admirer of the old Eastern Block training philosophy/regimens, and the single-minded purpose these nations threw behind their sporting programs, I find the prospect of DNA testing for the purpose of pin-pointing individualized training programs to be exquisitely interesting.  A few caveats, though, before we proceed: (1) I am not opining as a blind romantic here, as I am fully aware of the societal ills propagated against these “iron curtain” populations in general, and, specifically against the athletes representing the Eastern Block countries, and (2) with the prior having been said, I take the liberty of being able to sift-out the “good and the noble” of these programs, and concentrate on those aspects only.  That said, when a particularly well-suited genotype happens to be paired with the correct, dose/response limited stimulus, the result is an amazing phenotype expression.  The problem is, of course, that the trial-and-error approach is mostly fraught with error.  Some get lucky and stumble into their niche early; most, however, give up on the ride long before that personal sweet-spot is ever found.  Wouldn’t it have been a blessing to know in your youth whether you were particularly well-suited for either endurance or explosive activities?  Would it not have been a double-blessing, then, to have access to a coach who knew what to do with that knowledge?

Working with, and not in opposition to...

Working with, and not in opposition to...

If you happen to have a copy of Body by Science handy, check out chapter 8; as I’ve said before, this chapter alone is worth the book’s cover price.  Let me just say that, aside from the great information laid out in this chapter, what you find here is something rather unique in the world of physical culture, and something that both Dr. McGuff and John Little should be commended for — they’re telling you, straight up, the hard, naked truth that, no matter how hard one trains a particular modality, if you’re not blessed with the genetic make-up that leans toward that modality, you will hit an early — and particularly low — ceiling.   This does not mean that you will show no outward improvement, or that your health and well-being won’t be positively affected — it most certainly will — but as a physical specimen, you’ll always be that square peg banging around the proverbial round hole.  And that’s a bummer, I know; but it is the truth, though — contrary to what the supplement companies and “workout gurus” will tell you (just before they ask for your credit card number).  Does this mean that if you’re a genetically inclined endurance guy that you can’t show marked improvement in the weightroom?  Hell no, you can produce good gains and significantly alter your physique (and health) for the better.  Is competitive powerlifting, sprinting, or football in your future?  Afraid not.  On the flip side, check this out: I absolutely love mountain and fixed-speed biking.  Now, would I ever be competitive in races at these endeavors?  Are you kidding me? If properly trained (and with proper technical skills, i.e. 10k hours of practice) I might do well at track (velodrome) sprint events, but that’s about it.  The key, of course, is to find your niche and be happy with it. inherant genetic inclinations inherent genetic inclinations. And rockin' the Vibrams while doing so.

So back to chapter 8 of Body by Science.  What Dr. McGuff has laid out here is what are the currently known genetic factors holding sway over potential athletic prowess in certain modalities.  I say “current” because I am quite sure that many, many others will eventually be discovered. If you don’t have a copy of Body by Science, the genes (or, to cast the net a little wider, “determining factors”) we’re talking about here are: (1) Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor (CNTF), (2) Interleukin-15, (3) Alpha-Actinin-3, (4) Myosin Light Chain Kinase, and (5) Angiotensin Converting Enzyme. These genes, coupled with the more broad-stroke determining factors (determined by, guess what — more genes) such as one’s somatotype, muscle length, insertion and overall formation, size and shape, skeletal formation, fat distribution, muscle fiber density, and the prevalence (or not) of myostatin, make up the deck from which you’ll be dealt your athletic prowess hand.

So, armed with chapter 8 of Body by Science and a slew of genetic testing results, you ought to be able to provide your newborn with just the right environment and, a little later, the perfect training protocol; kick back for 18 years until the big contract is signed and the Benjamins come rolling in as if off of a 24-7 printing press, right?

Well, not exactly.  But there are a couple of companies out there who will be more than willing to help you part with your money if you’re so inclined.

Warrior Roots is one such outfit.  Atlas Sports Genetics is another.  To be fair, though, these companies are on the cutting edge of an industry that will, in time, most assuredly come into maturity and provide real, substantial benefit for athletes and coaches alike.  As it stands now, though, these companies can tell you no more, in my opinion (and probably no faster), about you or your offspring’s potential athleticism and power/endurance leanings, than a 1960’s era East German Olympic coach.  But the thing, really, is this: Just knowing that these factors are responsible for your “athletic hand” is enough.  Careful record keeping and a keen eye are more than enough to help direct you toward the proper training protocol(s) for your genetics.   I’ll explain what I mean in a follow-up post.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting article from Scientific American on the subject of genes and potential sporting talent.

In health,


Q & A; Paleo for the Endurance Athlete?

“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”


The following is a paraphrased question from a TTP reader, Clay, regarding endurance athletes and adherence to a Paleo-like diet in general, and the TTP fitness lifestyle in particular:

Hey Keith,
I really like your blog and have been following it and a few other Paleo type blogs (De Vany etc.) for a couple of months now. I am pretty new to the whole Paleo style of eating and have had my ups and downs with it, but I have decided to give it a real try. I’m 49yrs and unfortunately I just tore a meniscus in my knee : (

I see you are a fixie rider and have mentioned mountain biking a few times in your blog as well as Dirt Rag magazine, I’m pretty much a cycling geek and wanted to ask about your thoughts on eating paleo and the whole cycling thing in general and mountain biking in particular. It seems most people eating this way are into heavy strength training and sprinting and Art De Vany seems to really believe that any cardio over an hour is unhealthy. So it seems to me that fixie riding and/or single speed mountain biking would really fit the fractal type of thing, De Vany talks about. Seeing as hills are random and with one gear you know you are going from super easy to super hard and everything in between. The problem for me besides my injured knee (I’m using all the gears I can find right now),  is I like to get out in the woods on my bike and ride several hours, two hours at the very least. Also the last few years when it’s warm, I have commuted on my bike a few times a week (40 miles round trip) Do you think this is really unhealthy and or injurious? Any ideas for incorporating cycling into a paleo life style? (I know the easy answer is fixie sprints and an hour ride once in a while, but I would actually like to ride a little more then that ha ha). Maybe it’s just a trade off?

I lift weights as well, but nothing on the level that you are at, it is mostly things I can do with dumb bells although I have gotten stronger then I have been in a long time. Anyway, sorry for the rambling, confused e-mail, but it seemed like too much stuff for the comments section.
Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Again-Great Blog!!

My short answer here, as many of you will undoubtedly expect, is that I consider endurance work much more a detriment to, rather than a positive influence upon, health and overall fitness. That said, though, I do feel like we all need to live our lives as we see most fulfilling – for both our spiritual and our psychological health — and if that happens to include some (or an abundance of) endurance activities, well — so be it. It’s hard for me to cast stones at someone for engaging in endurance work even as I’m enjoying my daily coffee, nightly beer (occasionally) and/or wine (most every night). What I would suggest, though, is an up-front and informed acknowledgment of, and an attempted mitigation of, those known negatives. In other words, tighten-up on the things you are willing to control. Training wise (if you’re an endurance athlete), this could be as simple as incorporating more sprint intervals in your overall workout plan, vice simply tallying-up extended road miles.

I have found that, though I rarely (actually, this is one of those instances where I really can say “never”) train for endurance activities, on those rare occasions when I do perform in the endurance realm, I always do surprisingly well – even against those who train exclusively for endurance – and even in spite of my more muscular, sprinter’s build. I’ll never win a triathlon, that’s for sure, but I can hold my own on extended mountain and road bike outings. This is due, I’m convinced, to the extensive conditioning base I’ve built via performing short duration, high-intensity sprint intervals. And, I don’t suffer unnecessarily, either – no “bonk” or “low blood sugar shakes” that I see exhibited in others — even as compared to those who’ve trained for endurance. People are amazed that I can “hang” on long, tough rides without continually sucking down energy drinks and other high carb crap during and post-ride. Old paradigms and habits die hard, though, (and in the athletic comunity, especially), and the “high carb is best” diet, along with the “slow and extended, rack-up the miles” training regimens prevail.

Actually, what I would suggest to Clay, or any endurance athlete for that matter, is in many ways what I would suggest to any athlete who still thinks that the high carb or extended workout regimen is the best of methodologies, and that is this: try the Paleo/TTP way for a year – what have you got to loose? Now, if you’re going out and continually smoking the competition handily with your current regimen, then just disregard my suggestion (as if I needed to tell you that 🙂  I’ll be willing to bet, though, that you’re either not performing to the level that you feel that you ought to, or that your health is in some way suffering. My own example of this was a chronic, unexplained elevated blood pressure and a bit of a “soft” look in my abdominal and lower back area — the last holdings-on of a thin, subcutaneous fat layer that never would seem to go away, no matter how stringent I was (and believe me, I am, if noting else, a man of discipline!). Also – and this may just be purely coincidental, but I’ll throw it out there anyway – I had a small but irksome wart on my index right finger that lingered for years and had withstood all manner of treatment (even nitrogen freezing), but fell off completely (never to return) after I’d been 3 months Paleo. After about 6 months of my new, “TTP” lifestyle, my blood pressure stabilized at a normal 120/80.  Lately, it’s trended even lower than that.  Of course, the abdominal and lower back fat vanished almost immediately after adopting the lifestyle.

Dr. Loren Cordain advises endurance athletes consume a Paleo-like diet, albeit with a higher percentage of (and amount, too, obviously) of tuber starches (sweet potatoes are a good choice).  My own suggestion is (1) cut down on both the overall training mileage and overall training time, and replace that with more sessions of high-intensity sprint intervals, and (2) simply increase the overall calorie intake (it really won’t require much) of protein and especially fat.  If I were actually a competitive athlete, I’d make “the switch” immediately following the competitive season so as to give the body time to convert (or remember how, actually) to be a fat burner prior to the start of the next season.

I really do think that it is just a matter of time before competitive athletes of all stripes buy into the Paleo way.  The competitive advantage gained by following this diet (and I say “diet” for lack of a better term) is just too hard to ignore.