The Great Divide, and Physical Culture as Alchemy

…Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.  

To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.

Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.

Oh, I’ll accomodate them, I’ll rummage around for something to feed them, for a ‘vegetarian plate’, if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine…

— chef/author Anthony Bourdain, most recently of  The Travel Chanel’s No Reservations

Bourdain is, of course, being incendiary here, as those who have something to promote (books, in this case, and a new television series) are often wont to do.   In my mind, the only thing left to debate in the great diet wars is not what is the healthiest diet for human beings — I  have yet to see a solid health-based argument against the Paleo approach — but the minutia of the Paleo diet itself.  Questions over saturated fat consumption, consumption of raw dairy, to supplement or not to supplement with fish oil — things of that nature.  Animal welfare — that other sentient beings should be (unwillingly!) at our carnivorous beck-and-call is, in my mind, another debate altogether.  And one that, unfortunately, diverts attention from an issue we all find despicable — that being the inhumane treatment of animals.
I think that both the Paleo and vegetarian/vegan camps can agree that CAFOs and their ilk are an abomination.  Very well; we can rage against the machine in our own distinct ways — I choose to “rage” by way of my (albeit very limited 🙂  ) wallet, and by spreading the good word about sustainable and, yes, reverential animal husbandry.  Others chose to “rage” by abstaining from animal products altogether which, in my mind, is fine as well.  To sacrifice one’s own health in protest of abomination, or for a greater good, is nothing new in the course of human events.  If the vegetarians/vegan and Paleo camps could agree on this one concept, it would go a long way toward bridging the divide between these two powerful entities, and better align them against the one common-cause issue near and dear to both — the abolishment of CAFOs.
And yes, once that’s done, we can all get back to arguing over the validity of China Study  🙂
As far as our right to dominate over other sentient beings, my feelings are this: I make no apologies for having (this time around — if you believe in that kind of thing) incarnated in a species that occupies the top of the food chain.  I make no apologies as well, as to how evolution has crafted my dietary needs, and that crafting’s ultimate outcome.  That I will one day become worm nourishment in no way riles my angst against the worm — it is, quite simply, the nature of things; (star) dust to (star) dust, you know.  Now, do I feel that I am obligated to treat each and every sentient being with the utmost respect, as one of God’s creatures?  Absolutely.  That the Comanche relied upon the American bison for their very livelihood and which elicited their reverence for the animal in no way prevented them from dropping the beast as need be — it was simply understood as — again – the nature (or right order) of things.  Reverence ought not divorce one from the natural order, but quite the opposite; the natural order ought to be enhanced by one’s reverence.  Seen in this way, reverence for — and reliance upon — are not mutually exclusive properties but are, in fact, mutually enhancing properties.


From Alchemists, ancient and modern,

…serves as a useful reminder to modern scientists that even the most cherished theories need to be treated with constant scepticism. This is because, as the alchemists found out, it can be all too easy to see in your results what you want to see, rather than what is actually there

Emphasis mine.

Or, as Nietzsche might have said, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies”.

N=1 Physical Culture is defined as a lifelong journey, a journey in which, to be truly enjoyed, one must continually question one’s own assumptions — every step of the way.  The shifting sands of “unknowing” ought to be embraced, not feared.  Do today with what you know today to be “true”; remain open though, to the notion that tomorrow may present to you truths that run counter to yesterday’s — and that’s okay!  The unencumbered mind is the most nimble of minds.  Treat convictions like cards in a poker hand; with no emotional attachment, enable yourself to “discard” as the current hand requires.


In-utero epigenetic signalling — just one piece of a the highly complex, multiple-moving-parts family problems collectively known as metabolic syndrome.  This article, from British Columbia’s Globe and Mail, does a nice job of describing this aspect’s contribution to the world obesity epidemic.  Again, none of the contributing factors to this epidemic should be considered in isolation, but rather as part-and-parcel of a much grander weave of contributing factors.


Here are a few sample workouts from last week.  More and more I’ve taken to multiple “micro workouts” scattered throughout the day, as time permits.  These seem to work well for me, and fit nicely into my schedule.  Quite a change from 30 years ago, when 2-hours a day, 6-days a week was my norm.  Those days seem almost quaint, now.  I don’t miss those marathon training sessions so much as I miss the ability, time-wise, to engage in such long sessions. Ah, to have that kind of available time on my hands once again!  🙂

Monday, 2/21/11 –

A Joe Defranco-inspired shoulder routine:

(A1) seated plate front raise: 35/20; 45/15, 15

(A2) seated db lateral raise: 20/15, 15, 15

(A3) seated db Cuban press: 15/15, 15, 15

(A4) red Jump-Stretch band pull-aparts: 15 each round

(B1) High Box step ups: 135/20; 185/16, 16 (alternate legs)


Tuesday, 2/22/11 –

(A1) hip press (h2): 400/12, 500/6, 600/3 (hierarchical)

(B1) explosive trap bar vertical jumps: 115/10, 10, 10

…..then, later in the day

XCCentric incline press: (+0)/21 rest-pause, then (+30)/6+ rest-pause

….and then a little later in the same day

Hip press (h2): 500/21, breathing presses

Wednesday, 2/23/11-

(A1) nautilus pec dec: 110/13, 8, 9

(A2) nautilus reverse flye: 110/15, 12, 10

(A3) weighted dips: 70/7, 6, 5

(B1) nautilus pull-over: 255/10, 2, 2, 7-singles (rest-pause)

Thursday, 2/24/11 –

(A1) T bar swings: 150/25, 25, 25

(A2) EZ curls: 105/12, 12, 8 + 4 rest-pause

(A3) EZ French curl: 105/10, 10, 10


In health –


Resistance Training for Quality of Life…Resistance Training for Survival!

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.
H. L. Mencken

A slight bit of a departure here for me today, as this post is not about striving for that n=1-defined pinnacle of expressed Physical Culture.  No, this is simply about grasping hold of, and maintaining, a decent (deckplate level?) quality of life — this is about simple, day-in-and-day-out, vibrant health.  So here’s the thing: we all know that the current American system of heathcare delivery cannot be sustained.  We, as a nation, cannot continue to live as if cheap medicine and a ready flow of inexpensive pharmaceuticals will scrub clean our individual and collective lifestyles’ dirty laundry.    Governments can’t (or won’t), or are otherwise too hamstrung by special interests to institute any meaningful change for the better, making them increasingly ever irrelevant as a positive force for change in our lives — not only in the healthcare arena, but in an ever-increasing number of policy issues. But before you get the idea that I’m on some kind of back-to-the-stone-age, Libertarian/Luddite rant, let me say this: the advances of western medicine (including the contributions of the pharmaceutical industry, of which I was once a part), over that last half-century have been nothing short of phenomenal — and, too, they’ve been an absolute Godsend for humanity (apart, of course, from the economics of the delivery of said care).  The problem, as I see it, is this: that explosion in advanced medical technique and know-how has been potentiated by an ever-growing, critical mass of of increasingly sick individuals.  Simply put, this exposition in technology is the result of your basic supply and demand theory, and it’s quite the Faustian bargain.  Want to push the limits of your skills as a mechanic or bodywork man?  Try keeping that demolition derby entry on the racetrack.  There’s a reason why the old “Maytag repairman” ads were so popular — there was an underpinning of truthfulness present; a well built machine, properly cared for, needs very little intervention:

Not to beat a half-decent metaphor to friggin’ death, but try to operate that well-built machine as if it were a cement mixer and, well…you get the idea.

And while our government(s) may be hamstrung in promoting lifestyle interventions that will result, ultimately, in less collective reliance upon the medical establishment (tell me again why HSA money cannot be used for personal training and/or gym memberships?), we, as individuals, are certainly still free (and even more empowered now than ever before) to pursue our own, intelligently-driven, n=1 path.  As I’ve said previously, no system can be created that will not ultimately implode under the weight of a diseased citizenry.  And, ultimately, healthcare has to come down to n=1 lifestyle decisions; we can afford nothing less personally, or collectively.  I am encouraged, though, by the fresh, entrepreneurial spirit being brought to the healthcare debate, and I feel that this new philosophical approach to that ever-vexing (and divisive) “insurance/coverage” problem, coupled with even a wee bit of personal responsibility cost-averaged over the nation’s populace, will ultimately constitute “the answer”.

So, both collectively, and in an n=1 sense, we have to begin to re-integrate the intelligence that is carried within each of us when it come to regaining/maintaining health.  Some of us know intuitively of the body’s ability to heal and right-orient itself — others need a little more help in coming to that realization.  I am encouraged with the direction (though maybe not the pace) of progress on this front when I see/hear this kind of disclosure and talk in mainstream media health programming.  That proper, intense exercise (as opposed to mere physical activity) is being promoted by distinguished sectors of the healthcare mainstream as the palliative that those of us immersed in the Physical Culture scene have long known it to be, is — well…refreshing, to say the least.  And that people are now beginning to question the medical community, instead of regarding them as “all-knowing” is refreshing as well.  Medical professionals are educated, yes — but not infallible.  Question “authority”, folks — relentlessly.

Changing subjects just a bit, I ran across an excellent epigenetics primer clip this week.  This particular clip happens to focus on some of the possible epigenetic “whys” behind sexual preference, but in reality, the focus could have just as easily been on the overall body composition of twins, each having been trained in a dissimilar manner.  Genes are, of course, the hand that cocks the hammer of phenotypical pistol; the finger that pulls the trigger, though, is epigenetics.  You have more control of your phenotypical expression than you realize.  The tricky part is living as if you do.

Workouts?  Yeah, I blew through a couple over the course of the week; here’s the run-down:

Tuesday, 12/14 –

(A1) high-catch power cleans: 135 x 7; 155 x 5; 175 x 5; 185 x 3; 195 x 2; 205 x 1, 1, 1

(B1) low pulls from the floor: 235 x 5; 255 x 5, 5, 5, 5


Wednesday, 12/15 –

(A1) Nautilus pec dec: 110 x 12, 7, 7 (5010 tempo)

(A2) Xccentric flat press: (0 counter, no added weight) x 15, 7, 7 (5010 tempo)


Thursday 12/16 –

(A1) single-arm snatch (Oly bar): 95 x 5; 105 x 5 sets of 2 (each arm)

(A2) *roll-under pull ups: bodyweight x 5 each of the six rounds


*semi-supinated grip pull-up to the top position, then tuck and roll so that you’re in a suspended, semi-fetal position with the back parallel to the ground (body maintained as close as possible to the bar).  Lower slowly from this position to full arm extension…kinda like a negative bent-over row…then “un-roll” back into a normal pull-up start position.


In health,



Psychology, Intensity, and Phenotypical Expression

Kevin Koskella, of the blog and companion podcast Healthy Mind, Fit Body and I recently met in Austin, Texas (the epicenter of Physical Culture) over an awesome cup of joe at my “office”, the fantastic (and thankfully, just down the street from my studio) Thunderbird Coffee.  It’s funny — I’m really a rather reserved, quiet, keep-my-opinions-to-myself kind of person — until, that is, the talk turns to Physical Culture.  At that point, and as I am sure Kevin can now tell you, I can’t be made to shut-up  🙂  At any rate, I really enjoyed our coffee and (one sided?  Heh, sorry, Kevin) conversation, in part because Kevin is a cool and highly intelligent guy, but too because he is really — as I am — heavy into the psychological aspects of training.  Now, in this, the follow-up podcast interview we taped a week or so later, we only touched on the mental side of things (again, I could ramble for hours on this), but just let me reaffirm my opinions here: your psychological leanings, drive, focus and ability to bring intensity into the training theater are everything.  There’s a time to be intelligent, questioning and logical, and a time to let it fly.  When chalked hands finally grasp the bar, my friends, it’s time to go all-out friggin’ primitive.  Make no mistake here: not only are all the commonly assumed training stressors vitally important (load, rep range, tempo, TUL, etc.), but also, too, is the psychological  aspect — do we attack the day’s training with a life-or-death intensity, or with lackluster effort?  Believe me, the body can sense the difference, and will respond accordingly.  Remember, training, to be especially effective, has to be brief, brutal and basic.  And if in fact we are true to those dictates, then training can only be intermittent and fractal in nature, lest we become a frazzled train wreck of disparate CNS, muscular and support structure pieces/parts.  Think this is merely rah-rah psycho-babble?  Think again: the environmental/epigenetic components impart very real, concrete physiological changes (see this piece, for instance) to an organism; this is the stuff of optimized, phenotypical expression.

Quick change of subject here: step back for just a moment and think of all the people you know who agree, in principle at least, that brief, brutal and basic workouts are the way to go, and that a Paleo diet not only makes sense logically, but that the empirical evidence and end results (look, feel and perform) are nothing less than stunning — and yet, these same folks seem mesmerized into believing that they cannot personally make such a change, or that their own physiology is somehow wired different so as to thrive (not just survive, but thrive) on a standard American and/or vegetarian diet.  I can’t tell you how many people I speak to swear up and down that whole wheat does their body good, and that long, arduous and slow is the true way to fitness nirvana.  Yes, my friend, and the heroin addict feels the same for their beloved black tar.  The holiday season is near, and you’ll run across this version of diet-and-health-related cognitive dissonance at an increased frequency.  “I am fat, out-of-shape, and desperately want to turn that around; I will not, however, give up my fresh-from-the refrigerator Snickers bar”.  Well, I’m not sure what to say, here.  Continue on with the tie-off-and-tap-a-vein roller coaster, my friend.  When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Let’s just hope that metabolic derangement is not the impetus that finally opens the student’s eyes.

Check out this motivational montage from a most unlikely source: Will Smith.  Hat tip to Messus TTP for the find  🙂

No doubt: whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are, sir, absolutely right.

And so that’s the mental side of the game.  And again, let’s not forget, though, the epigenetic factor.  So the question then becomes one of what is a “real” input?  Anything that elicits a change at the cellular level must in fact be considered “real”.  So do your perceptions, attitudes, drives and desires matter in a real sense?  You bet they do.

Two workouts over the past week

Monday, 11/1; a superset of the following:

front squats: 135 x 5; 185 x 5; 225 x 3; 245 x 2; 255 x 2
kneeling DB clean and press: 45 # x 15 for each round

Pogos prior to squats, ballistic push-ups prior to the DB clean and presses, both for a solid CNS prime.

Friday, 11/5; a little Crossfit feel, here — three rounds of the following circuit, completed in 27 minutes.

Pendulum hip press: 400 x 15 (full range of motion)
btn push-press: 185 x 7
RDL: 255 x 7
weighted chins: 70 x 5
Bulgarian split squats: 45# x 10 each leg (below parallel)

Brief, brutal, basic…and intermittent, my friends; this is the way to roll.

In health,

The Second Half of the Pre-Trip Workout Plan and, Some Excellent Travel Reading

So, in a supreme act of creative schedule juggling (*pats self on back*), I was actually able to push this workout out until Wednesday.  That’s a good thing on two counts, the first being that I would be better-off, following my last full-body beat-down, to take two days off free of intense weight training.  The second being off course that that I can push my recovery time out further into my travel period.

So, here we go with round 2 of the pre-travel, full-body, free-weight blitz (Compare to round 1, here) –

I started off with one of my favorite explosive movements: DB snatch (aka, the Cred) + single-arm DB split jerks:

65 x 3(3); 75 x 3(3); 85 x 3(3); 90 x 2(2), then 95 x 7 singles each arm (alternating arms).  Notation: Right arm (Left arm)

then the following superset:

front box squat (12” box): 135 x 3(3); 165 x 3(3); 185 x 2(2); 190 x 2(2)

parallel grip/reverse grip pull-up: 45 x 3(3); 70 x 3(3); 80 x 3(3), 3(3)

Compound sets again here; in other words, 3 reps, 5 – 10 second rest, then (3 more reps).  In the case of the pull-ups, I performed parallel grip pull-ups, 5 – 10 set rest, then (3 reverse grip reps).

Finished-up with a round of Nautilus 4-way neck: 55 lbs x 12, front, side, side; 65 lbs x 12, back.

That weight room bout pretty much totally zorched me, and oughta set me up for at least a chillaxin’ plane ride to Austin tonight.

And speaking of traveling: I ordered from Amazon and, just in time for my trip, received Doug McGuff and John Little’s The Body By Science Question and Answer Book.  I’m looking forward to really digging into this offering, as I appreciate and value Dr. McGuff’s intelligence and insight, especially in matters of diet and in those areas shaded by the “big, wide umbrella” of what I like to term “Physical Culture”.  Dr. McGuff and I are, for the most part, in agreement when it comes to exercise theory and prescription, and we’re totally in agreement with respect to what constitutes the optimum human diet.  I think where we have differences of opinion lay in how best to optimize the performance of the “upper outliers”, i.e., the natural athletes.  Disagreements are good, though, if the discussion is civil, and undertaken in the spirit, not of “winning the argument”, but of teasing-out the truth.  I think Doug would agree with me that our discussions have always been framed in this light.  Basically, the question boils down to:

Does the athlete make the exercise, or does the exercise make the athlete?

In a closely related vein – and in case you happen to have missed it — Vicki B asked this question in my last post:


I was browsing the Conditioning Research site today and came across this interview:
The part that raised a flag with me was when he went into lifting explosively. It seems as though he is saying lifting weights fast and explosively, as you do in your training, has no benefit.


And my response –


What usually gets left out of the HIT/SS vs Explosive (Oly, Oly-derivatives, plos, etc.) training debates is a definition of just what training demographic we’re talking about. If we’re talking about the vast majority of everyday trainees, then I agree with Fred — there is no real need to train explosively; the risk/reward ratio for this demographic utilizing this manner of training simply isn’t there. The most bang-for-the-buck for this population is related to strength and hypertrophy gains that can be more than adequately achieved via HIT/SS protocols (for example). Now, if we’re talking about the small subset of trainees who are in fact athletes, however, then I have to respectfully disagree with Fred’s stance. Now, this of course leads into the age-old debate of “does explosive training make great athletes, or do great athletes make for impressive explosive training?” And my answer is yes…to both sides. To put it another way, it is my belief that good athletes are born, but better athletes can most certainly be made. So yes, it takes an innate athletic gift to pull this type of training off to begin with, but in a self-perpetuating, positive-feedback loop kind of a way, performing these lifts does make one a better athlete. Explosiveness, RFD, CNS efficiency — all of this can be trained for aside from actual sport participation. Deriving benefit from explosive lifting is kinda like hovering around the blackjack table — if ya wanna chance at winning, ya gotta ante up; the problem is, with this table you’re only admitted by legacy/birthright to even have the option of laying down an ante. At this table, though, the real odds-buster just getting the chance to play; if you’re at the point were you’re being dealt to, you’ll win more than you’ll lose. Does an athlete need to build a solid base of strength before engaging in explosive training? Oh hell yes absolutely! But once that is achieved, there’s no sense, in my mind, of pulling the plug there. Is there greater risk involved with this manner of training? To be sure, which is why every athlete’s needs to be weighed against the risk/reward ratio of the pending training method.

Let me just say, though, that this is a debate that could fill volumes, and that this is simply my personal opinion gleaned from what I’ve seen over the years.

One thing I’d add here is that the trainee will have a pretty good idea of what genetic hand has been dealt early on in the game.  Just as “natural athletes” are born, so too will basic strength and hypertrophy come fast and relatively easy to a certain subgroup.  This, by the way, is also the subgroup that can tolerate (and, in my opinion benefit from — if the risk/reward ratio is deemed appropriate) higher intensities dosed at more frequent intervals than ought to be delivered to the “average” trainee.  Know yourself, be honest about your abilities, direct your goals accordingly, and train smart/appropriately.  Everyone can benefit enormously from basic strength training; few need to dabble in the highly explosive, more skill-dependent movements.  Those for whom the risk/return ratio for explosive/skilled movements is justified, though, I believe can benefit greatly from this type of training.  The key, as always – from the beginning trainee to the most advanced — is constant evaluation and dedication to fixing the weak link.

Another little something to contemplate over the next few days-

I speak quite often of the notion that one need not be a slave to, or resigned to, the dictates of a particular genetic hand.  To be sure, everyone comes into this world saddled with certain limitations, both genetic and, we now know, epigenetic.  However, to a large extent, DNA need not be one’s destiny.  This, to me, is a fascinating revelation, and lends credence to the much parodied, self-help guru notion of mind-over-matter.  Seen in this light, old coots like Jack LaLanne and Paul Chek just might not be as “crazy” as some of their peers within the Physical Culture community paint them to be.

You are, to a very large degree, what you believe yourself to be.  Confidence, self-talk, and what you allow to enter your “temple” – whether sensory or nutritionally –matters greatly.   And we now know it matters greatly to your progeny as well.


See y’all when I get back from Texas.

The Yin-Yang of Genetics and Epigenetics, the Dieting Yo-Yo Woe, Oprah Style…Again, and, Oh Yeah, a Workout

Ahh, the intersection of genetics and epigenetics; and, hey, let’s go ahead and add a little quantum mechanics and spirituality in for good measure.

This recent SI article covers the genetics/epigenetics terrain well, and it’s well-written, too; always an added plus in my book.  Look, the bottom line is this, folks — you are not at the mercy of, or a slave to, your genetic hand.  The flip-side of this is, of course, that you can’t rest on your laurels, either.  I’m in full agreement with the notion that, as children, we are “programmed” to act fully in compliance with our given blueprint in as much as that coincides with both our culture and socio-economic climate.  East Africans run, from an early age; Jamaicans sprint.  Couple a favorable early environment with the right genetic hand (including the proper “drive” genetics), and the resultant phenotype comes away with a hands-down advantage over his lesser “advantaged” competitor.

I’ve mentioned this before, but this Nike commercial really resonates with me.  When I was a kid, I was nothing if not a perpetual motion machine.  My poor mom; I don’t think there’s any way for me to make up for what I put her through.

Sheesh; thanks again, mom.

OK, but what if your blueprint and/or environment wasn’t so advantageous?  Can you right the ship?

Hell yeah you can.  When we get down to brass-tacks, we’re all comprised of nothing but pure energy.  Every cell in our body is completely turned over at least every seven years.  To steal a rif from today’s post in  Seth Godin’s blog (in reference to this story), “All you need to know is that it’s possible.”

All that’s required is a spark.  Remember, there is no try, there is only do.  Will you trip at times?  Out and out fail?  Yeah, you will.  But with that spark, you’ll immediately self-recognize the instigating barrier, and navigate it successfully the next time out.

[Edit, 5/14/10 – here’s an interesting PBS News Hour interview with the author of the above cited SI article, David Epstein.]

Moving on…

Today’s early AM workout was preceded by yesterday evening’s hour-and-a-half worth of mixed intensity saddle time; an hour-and-a-half that was broken, about midway through, by a long red-eye break at my favorite Rocky Mount caffeine purveyor, Via Cappaccino.  This is one of the best restorative forms of exercise that I can think of.  The fixie riding, that is — not necessarily the coffee quaffing.

I’m still nursing a tweaky lower back from Monday’s biking near-miss, so I had to account for that in cobbling together today’s iron session.  That said, here’s what went down:

As a superset:
Atlantis machine incline press: 180 x 10; 230 x 3; 275 x 2; 280 x (miss – stall-out at 3/4); 275 x 1
snatch grip high pull from a high hang: 135 x 7; 165 x 4; 185 x 3, 3, 3

*Each set of incline presses was receded by a set of 5 explosive, feet-elevated push-ups.

Bradford press: 3 sets of 10 (back to front, 1 cycle, equals 1 rep) @ 95 lbs

Zercher squats: 3 sets of 8 @ 135 lbs

Note: the Bradford press demonstrated in the provided link is a combination of full front and btn presses, whereas I, in order to more fully isolate/target the shoulders (and reduce triceps contribution), only press the bar high enough, in both the front and btn portion of the movement, to just clear my head.

Very little rest between any set of the above two exercises; I was still blowing pretty hard at the start of each subsequent movement.  Zercher squats were done today more as a low back rehab than anything else.  Zerchers, by the way, are a fantastic max effort exercise for the lower body, and teach excellent squat positioning and form.  Today, the higher rep, super-strict form was just what the doctor ordered for working the lower back just enough.  As well, I noticed that my legs were a bit gassed from all the saddle time I’ve put in as of late.  About the Atlantis incline choice — I’m not usually a machine kinda guy, but every now and again I will make an exception.  Today was one of those days.  This particular machine fits my body nicely, and so all I really lose out on here is stabilization work.  I’ll take that hit every now and again for the sake of adding variety to my workouts.

The Oprah Yo-Yo thang…again

Ugh!  What’s to say, other than this is really, really distressing.  C’mon girl, I know you’re much more intelligent than to remain stuck on this merry-go-round.  Seek real help; the information is out there for the taking.  We’ve been down this path before; remember?   Apparently, Oprah hosted Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food and God, who, from what I can gather from the link sited above, offers some valid points for consideration.  Now, I’m all about the psychological feel-good side to getting yourself together, however, one still has to live and function in the real-world, and that necessitates making real-world consumption decisions.  Long story short — the carb jones is still going to hand you your ass in the long run; the analogy here being that you either quit smoking altogether, or you’ll eventually return to your old, habitual levels.  There is no in between.

Explosive Lifting and Epigenetics

Affecting my ultimate phenotypical expression, one day at a time, one moment at a time; this is how I envision my life choices.  Every action — and every non-action, too — carry consequences toward that end.  Are my actions at this moment positive, and life affirming?  If not, can something be done to change that, or at least mitigate the negative consequences?  Blaming a poor genetic “draw” is simply a cop-out; the genetic blueprint is certainly the beginning of the story, but hardly the end of the story.

Here’s a very cool epigenetic primer from the folks at the University of Utah’s Genetics Science Learning Center. Lots of information here,  packed into a tight, little under 5 minute bundle, and well worth the time.  Think of your genetic profile as merely the latticework upon which the sculptor will flesh-out his next work of art; the clay, the hands of the skilled artisan — these are analogous to the epigenetic factors over which you do have control.  Live each moment wisely; create your own masterpiece.  It’s well within your grasp.

Lean, strong and powerful; this is the artisan’s touch that I choose to put on my pre-determined latticework,such as it is.  And to that end, here’s yesterday’s early morning explosive iron session with some DB Creds and single-arm jerks:

DB creds + single-arm jerk: 70 x 5 each arm; 80 x 4 each arm; 90 x 3 each arm; 100 x 1 each arm; attempt 110 (rt arm), missed jerk, 100 x 1 lft. arm; 105 x 1, 1, 1 each arm (missed jerk on last set, lft. arm)

straight bar muscle-ups: bw x 3, each round

That’s a total of 8 rounds, or 24 total straight bar muscle-ups.  The cred + jerk sequence was a single-arm db snatch immediately followed by a single-arm split jerk.

3/20/10; A Little Bit of Everything Workout & Some Thoughts on Explosiveness vs. Elasticity

“Age is mind over matter — if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” – Mark Twain

A long bout of fixie intervals, some barefooted sprints, and a little bit of iron heavin’.  Spring broke in a beautiful way here in eastern NC, so I got out and about and made the most of it.

After about an hour-and-a-half of fixie intervals about town, I hit the Rocky Mount soccer fields where I shifted from clipless bike shoes to Vibrams, and proceeded to knock-out 7 x 120 yard sprints; this following a good bit of hip mobility work to act as a transition between the “biking motion” and the “sprinting motion”.  I’ve mentioned before how difficult a transition this is — especially the longer and more intense the former activity (in my case, almost always biking) vis-a-vis the later movement.  Two more non-complimentary endeavors you’re likely to find.  I love each, though, and so I’m okay with the fact that each, by bio-mechanical necessity, reduces the efficiency and proficiency of the other.  At this point in my “career” I’d rather be a generalist than a specialist anyway.

Following the sprints, I went into the gym and, following a Bergener warm-up* (explanation here), I lit into the following:

Whip snatch to OHS x 1 + heave snatch x 3 @ 115 lbs
straight bar muscle-ups x 3

Three rounds of that, then –

40 x 5; 50 x 4, 4, 4
Straight bar muscle-ups: x 3, 3, 3, 3

So, 7 total rounds of muscle-ups here.  The whip snatch, OHSs and heave snatches were mighty tough following the fixie ride and sprints.  *If you have access to the CrossFit Journal (if you don’t, you’re really missing out), make sure to check out coach Bergener working with Owen Franks of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team at Mike’s Gym in Bonsall, Calif.

Explosiveness and Elasticity

I’ll come back to this more and more over the coming days, because it’s been kicking around in my mind lately; mostly because I hear the terms used — and wrongly so — interchangeably, and too because I think it might help to clean up some confusion when it comes to sporting comparisons and exercise prescription.

Explosiveness and elasticity came up in a recent discussion I had with a friend of mine, concerning the recent NFL combine and the collegiate “pro days” currently ongoing here in the US (basically, these are “tryouts” for the  professional level of American-style football).  Then, in a way that only S & C geeks will truly understand, our discussion shifted to a fantasy sprint match between American-style footballer Chris Johnson, (he of the 4.2 second 40 yard dash fame) and Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, Usain Bolt.  We agreed that CJ would have a good chance of winning a hypothetical 40-yard dash square-off, and most assuredly would take any version of a three-cone drill.  We also agreed that Bolt would take the hypothetical, straight-up 100 meter sprint, hands-down.  That he agreed here was a no-brainer.  But, the why behind our predictions is where we differed in opinion.

Bolt’s 100 meter superiority doesn’t all have to do with his gi-normous stride length — although that is no doubt a huge advantage, especially among athletes of similar, superior sprint-specific gifts.  No, I’d also say that Bolt has the one-up on CJ in what is commonly known as elasticity — the property of the human body to store and release energy.

Ahh, but CJ has the one-up on Bolt in explosiveness.

Think “shot out of a cannon” — explosiveness — vs the repetitive, bouncing super-ball; elasticity.

Plenty of ground to cover, here; more on this idea to follow.

And, as a nice segue into what will be the most obvious question to stem from an explosive/elastic discussion — can these qualities be effectively trained?Here’s an interesting KQED Forum discussion on the “nature/nurture” debate; David Shenk (author of The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong).  Now, although I am convinced of the reality of significantly affecting your genetic hand (in both intellectual and physical realms), I happen to give a little more credence to the genetic side of the equation than does the author.  Still, though, and interesting talk, and certainly good food for thought.

In health,

Genetics, Epigenetics, and the Intersection of Athleticism and Musculature

“Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know.” – Bertrand Russell

Weight gain, musculature and athleticism — who (or, more appropriately, what) is driving the bus here, anyway?  As long as there have been athletes in training, and coaches training them — and tangible rewards for winning involved —  this has been the speculative “center of the universe” within the S&C community.  As a way of prefacing my thoughts on the matter, check-out these links.  They represent two sides of the nature/nurture “teeter-toter”, if you will.

First up, Chris (of Conditioning Research) recently highlighted an interesting study on the genetic differences between elite endurance athletes and elite sprinters, especially variations of the NRF2 gene.  This seemingly gives a nod to the notion of an athlete’s being “born” rather than made.

Then, in The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton (an absolutely fabulous book — most highly recommended reading), the author postulates that:

“…genes and DNA do not control our biology; that instead DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts…”

Now, keep these seemingly contrasting ideas in your mind for a moment as we look over the following two questions — representative of the many I get on this subject:

TTP reader Joe Madden asks:

“…I just had some questions abou gaining muscle. Right now, I weigh 119lbs and am trying out for college football as a cornerback in august. Seeing that you were in track and field and football in college and are living the paleo life, i was wondering what you would suggest in the case of someone who wants put on a good deal of muscle mass while staying lean and healthy. A lot of people have told me to eat more carbs,  and that health should take a back seat, but to be a cornerback I have to be fast and lean.

Next up is Julian.  Though rather long, I’ve included the whole of Julian’s question here, as it covers a lot of ground and aspects of the health/sporting-specificity/weight gain continuum that field frequently:

Let me first say that I am new to your website and that I am quite impressed. I think your knowledge of each of the subjects I’m interested in is amazing. I should start by letting you know that I am kind of new to all of this; paleo/crossfit/healthy lifestyle stuff, but I am very interested and I think your site is going to help me get to where I want to be in regards to all the above mentioned. Let me also apologize for the length of this question, I want to be as specific as possible since my issue is somewhat complex and unique. It is my hope that you would take the time out of your busy schedule to help me to determine if my plan and approach is going to be fruitful. Briefly here is my situation; I have a 14 year old son, who as freshman in high school is currently participating in wrestling and football. He currently weighs 112 lbs. and is 5’3” tall. It is our goal to get him into a strength training program during the offseason that would have his weight up to 140 lbs. by August 2010 (for football season), but also have him reduce down to 125 lbs. or so, starting in mid December( for wrestling season).

Just to provide a little background about my son he is naturally lean (9-12% bodyfat) and has some experience with weight training(Oly lifts), as he was at strength and conditioning facility for several months last year. He has always been active and has participated in Pop Warner since the age of 9.

I plan to accomplish the weight increase by allowing for lots of food and milk, mostly healthy food intake but not too strict. I don’t wish to put him on a full time Paleo eating plan as he has been raised on a standard American diet and I don’t want to have him too frustrated with the whole idea of offseason training on account of a new “strict diet”. I will supervise and coach him during a 5×5 linear strength program(Started Feb 2010) with the intent on obtaining a good base strength. The only lifts involved will be the squat, deadlift, OHP, bench press, and powercleans. I should also mention that his weight increase is intended to be lean muscle, and should not interfere with speed or agility and will put him in the 15% bodyfat range (I assume). He will be playing cornerback, running back, and wide receiver, so size is not intended to be excessive.

I plan to accomplish the weight loss in approximately two months time (starting in mid December 2010 and ending in early February 2011). My plan is to take him from an unweighed, un measured, eat everything you want diet, to a progressively strict, slightly reduced calorie, low carb paleo type diet. I suspect that the reduction in food intake won’t be too much of a problem as he already experienced a little of that this past season. However it may be difficult to reduce the complex carbohydrates and sugars in the beginning. He is however pretty disciplined and determined when he needs to be. And as a side note his current sugar intake is pretty minimal, we don’t have sodas in the house and cookies and such are pretty seldom as well. Lastly it should be noted that as soon as I try to football season starts I plan to cease the original strength training program and switch to more of a crossfit like program for only three days per week.

Now I guess I have two questions for you.
1)Is this plan of having two different weight classes for the two different sports going to be a healthy? (As you can see I project him to go from 140lbs in Dec 2010 to 125lbs in Feb 2011)
2)If the above plan is achieved. How do I go about managing his energy levels during tournaments? Specifically if I have him on a low carb diet, what is the best way to ensure that he gets refueled during the hour or so between matches?

I am currently at the beginning stages of a paleo/primal way of eating and living myself, so I am not confident yet in how to manage the energy, nutrition, and growth of a teenage boy. I am hoping to maximize his performance in both sports in a way that does not provide too much a change in lifestyle and does not leave him with limited energy levels. Thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy question.

Nature vs nurture/stimulus.  What can we affect to any significance and what do we have to accept as an unalterable “given”?  If there’s anything akin to a universal truth in the world of strength and conditioning, it’s this: the sport chooses the athlete, the athlete does not choose the sport.  Gifted (in an athletic sense) kids quite naturally gravitate towards “sporting play” whereas their not-so-inclined peers will drift into endeavors that favor their own particular gifts.  In a continuance of this theme, young athletes will quite naturally drift into endeavors that are best-matches for the athlete’s abilities.  So far, so good.  But we run into problems when we, as athletes and/or coaches, attempt to shoehorn near-fit athletes into into endeavors that may lay just outside their wheelhouse.  Many times this is due to cultural and/or financial biasing: I wonder how many potential world-class soccer players muddled through so-so careers as American football defensive backs.  How many potential NHL mega-stars are preparing to suit-up for spring football drills in the west Texas oil patch — the same kids who may never play a competitive down in their life past high school?  Square pegs, round holes.

My mantra for training kids is this: train athleticism, give as wide an exposure to various athletic outlets as possible, and let the pieces fall where they may.  It has been my observation that bone structure and ligament/tendon insertion reside on the unalterable side of the fence.  You just can’t do much about an athlete’s predisposed scaffolding.  To a lesser extent is the ability to gain, maintain and innervate muscle tissue (myostatin levels may be essentially fixed).  All else, though, I feel is truly alterable.  To what extent, though, I don’t know.  My gut feeling is that these remaining attributes are plastic, and can be significantly influenced.  In that we may not yet realize how to best go about affecting these changes is what makes this field so interesting to me.  Here’s an older post, covering similar ground.

So what to do with an athlete who “needs” to gain weight?  It has been my observation, in the 30+ years that I’ve been in and around athletics, that any attempt at forced weight gain will ultimately fail, and fail quite miserably.  Weight gain (and yes, even muscle gain) without an underlying increased athletic demand necessitating that gain, only makes for a less powerful, less “athletic”, athlete.  My advice in the two instances above is to train what is essentially required (explosive power, and explosive power endurance), and let weight gain “chase” the improvements made pushing the training envelope.  Athleticism will never chase weight gain; it may seem as thus to the casual observer, but I can assure you that this is an illusion.

To be sure, though, the weight-gain engine can be properly primed, here — it just cannot be forced.  It goes without saying that tough (yet sensible) training should be coupled with a slightly hyper-caloric, Paleo diet.  Don’t force-feed, but let the trainee eat to satiation.  I can’t over-emphasis the need, in this instance, to take in an abundance of good fats.  Also, at this stage in one’s training, I’d advice taking in a good amount of raw dairy from grass-fed animals — if it can be tolerated.  If you can’t get your hands on raw (unpasteurized) dairy from grass-fed animals (cows and/or goats), then don’t bother.  Pasteurization kills the enzymes within dairy that potentate weight gain (and render it a “dead” food, and grain-fed animals will have a badly skewed omega-6 to omega-3 profile.

On the flip-side of this, we have the question of weight loss.  Two things to consider, here: if the athlete gained good, productive weight to begin with, why in the world would we want to force a shedding of that weight?  I fully understand the need to make weight class, but I believe this amount of weight here (15 lbs) is excessive.  Either the athlete will have gained 15 lbs of useless weight to begin with (making for an inefficient athlete at that weight), or the athlete has been forced to shed useful muscle, making for a weaker athlete even at the new, lower weight. A couple of pounds here and there I ‘m good with, and to shed some water weight to make class is certainly advisable and well within reason.  My advice is to train the athlete to be his best, most powerful self — striving, as always, to hit the power-to-bodyweight sweet-spot — and then play and/or wrestle at whatever weight that happens to be.  The fact of the matter is, to pursue a course otherwise will ultimately end in futility.  Again, let weight chase athleticism. Make mico weight adjustments as need be — fine.  I truly believe that an athlete will perform better at the low end of a higher weight class, than he will be shedding too much weight to make the upper end of a lower class.  The strength loss that accompanies muscle loss is exponential in nature.  Just my observation/opinion.   If the diet is essentially Paleo in nature — and by that I mean, at a minimum, the elimination of sugar and refined carbohydrates — then there quite simply won’t be the need to diet-down much.  I’m well aware of the old wrestling ritual, but remember that this came about as the result of athletes fueling on the SAD.

As far as between match (or halftime) nutrition, nothing beats organic pemmican, made from grass-fed beef and tallow.  Paleo kits would work in a pinch, but in this case I’d opt for the higher fat content of the pemmican.   Note that these are options for a fully Paleo-converted athlete.  Attempting to refuel a sugar-burner with a high-fat, between-match snack will end in disaster.

The truth of the matter is that there really aren’t any half measures, here — one can’t be “a little bit Paleo” — the body simply doesn’t fuel that way on an enzymatic level.  Everything that I’ve stated above is predicated on the notion of the athlete being a fully-converted fat-burner; different (old school) strategies will be required for the handling of a sugar-burner.  The first step, then, is a commitment from the athlete to a full-on conversion.  It’s never too early, in my opinion, for potential athletes to learn that half-measures will only produce lackluster results — it simply cannot be otherwise.

Any other ideas?  This is a huge subject, covering lots of ground, and I’ve simply scratched the surface.  Let’s kick this one around a bit and see what the TTP community thinks.

In health,