Ancestral Fitness: Framework vs Re-enactment

One idea that I have been very pleased to see begin trickling out of the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness/Ancestral Fitness community as of late is the notion of  Paleo (writ large) as being a framework of ideas and technologies vs being some sort of paleolithic re-enactment movement.  In other words, there’s a profound difference between melding the best practices of our paleolithic ancestors with that of modern science, and that of simply becoming caveman re-enactment aficionados on par with the Civil War enthusiast who gathers on the weekend to time-bend back to AntietamRobb Wolf has mentioned this, along with Andrew, of Evolvify.  Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with the “time-benders” per se — hey, to each his own — but I do think it’s wrong-minded to assume that blind, attempted  mimicry of past practices will somehow lead to positive/enhanced outcomes in the here-and-now.

I tend to think of my own Ancestral Fitness journey as being an n=1 best-scenario composite of fueling and forging my mind and body according to primal dictates, but enhanced by the luxury of additional knowledge afforded me by the  study of modern science, and the study of n=1 results reported by other like-minded individuals.  A Luddite I most certainly am not; a skeptic, critical thinker, an epistemocrat most definitely, but not a Luddite.  My HIIT training certainly does not consist of hunting cave bear, nor does my post-workout chow-down consist of the BBQ’d carcass, nor do I feel that I need to re-enact that moment of paleolithic plunder in order to better my health in this modern environment.  For better or worse, the bulk of my daily existence is spent on city streets, my hunting is done in farmers markets, and my physicality is challenged in gyms, and on pavement and manicured “tundra”.   I’m not out in the sun as much as I’d like, so I augment with D3; my omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is lacking, so I supplement with a good bit of fish and/or krill oil.  I work too much and sleep way to little, and for that the ancient hunter-gatherer would be laughing his hairy ass off, casting a wtf shrug my way.   Back off, cave brah; I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that’s the essence of the game.

Late edit, 11/25/10 – I just came across the following Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in a recent  Mark Sisson newsletter; apropos, my friends, to our discussion here:

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

On the workout front –

The theme for last week was “very, very little available time”, and my workouts reflected as much:

Not sure how to classify this one; had a few minutes between clients, with the former of those clients having just used a 350-pound loaded trap bar within his routine.  What to do?  Break the bar down at a leisurely pace and set-up for the next trainee?  Maybe grab a quick cup of joe as well?  How about instead let’s see how many 350-pound trap bar pulls I can reel-off in a couple of minutes?  Yeah, that was the “workout” — if you wanna call it that — for 11/9; 4 sets of 15 at 350 pounds with the trap bar.  I think it took roughly 3-minutes to complete, but left me temporarily wobbly and blowing like a freight train.  A nice little jolt of “fight-or-flight” that kept me humming for the rest of the day.  Random?  Yeah.  Fractal?  You bet.  But hey, when opportunity knocks…

So I jump on many opportunities like this throughout the week that I don’t think to report here in TTP.  An Oly bar loaded with 225 looks like a quick burst of power cleans for example, maybe some btn jerks.  The results of doing something like this are, of course, something that I can’t really quantify — other than to say that I feel really “good…alive” after having done a bout of one of these intense micro bursts.  And maybe it does have something to do with the pulsate nature of the fight-or-flight response being a natural phenomena?  Who knows.  If you have a home gym, or otherwise “happen by” training opportunities throughout the day, give it a shot yourself and see what you think.  But never “force” yourself into one of these intense micro bursts, rather, let it come about organically.  Listen to your body.

The following day, 11/10 — my birthday, by the way (46 if you’re wondering) — and the luxury of 20-minutes worth of  precious, unbroken, available time.

med ex back extension: 310 x 15 reps (5010 tempo) — single set to positive failure

super-slow ham curl: 200 x 10 (5010 tempo) — single set to positive failure

true squat (0 lbs offset, full ROM): 45 x 8, 90 x 5, 135 x 6, 180 x 6 (30×0 tempo) — final set to positive failure

Nautilus pull-over: 240 x 11, 255 x 2, 2 (51×0 tempo) — single set to positive failure + 2 rest-pause sets

Thursday, 11/11 — An hour-and-a-half of fixie saddle time bliss.  The ATX is fixie heaven, y’all 🙂

Friday, 11/12

cable lunge flye: 125 x 15; 155 x 12, 10, 10

floor press: 135 x 7; 185 x 5, 4, 2  All sets with orange Jump-Stretch bands (triple-wrap)

snatch-grip rack pull (knee level): 315 x 5; 385 x 3, 3 (rest-pause).  All sets with orange Jump-Stretch bands (triple-wrap)

Get healthy or get fit?  Let’s define the terms a little better so that we’re all on the same page.  Skyler Tanner does just that over at our Efficient Exercise blog.


In health,


An Evolutionary Fitness Refresher, and the Importance of the Central Nervous System

I’ve been engaged in much less written production this past week in lieu of much more knowledge absorption.  I think this is the natural way of things, especially for an epistemocrat like myself.  New ideas are encountered and vetted according to merits, with established ideas being retained (and possibly bolstered), refined or, as the case may be, jettisoned completely.  In the words of Plato, “complacent ignorance is the most lethal sickness of the soul”.  I do whatever I can to avoid that sickness above all others and, as any wise man (or woman) will tell you, one cannot effectively learn when their gums is a flappin’…or, in this case, when their fingers is a keyboard tappin’.

So one of the items I’ve been “absorbing” over the last week is a borrowed copy (thanks, Skyler!) of Art DeVany’s Evolutionary Fitness Seminar.  Hey, wait!  This material has been out for two-and-a-half years and I’m just getting around to it?  Well, quite frankly I hadn’t intended on ever watching it since I figure I’ve got this stuff already well integrated within my own n=1/m=1 life path; Skyler happened to have it on hand, though and, well, who doesn’t need a refresher (or reaffirmation) now and again?  Hubris not being my thing, I decided to give it a go — and I’m glad I did.  Art does a masterful job disseminating knowledge here — if you can look beyond his…er…decidedly modest personality  🙂  Hey, you earned the right to be as “modest” as you care to be, Art; you are no doubt a roll model for all of us young EvFit whipper-snappers out there  🙂

And speaking of “reaffirmation”, it’s always a good idea to re-read Art’s Essay on Evolutionary Fitness every now and again, if for no other reason than for the “oh yeah, that’s why I do (fill in the blank)” factor.  Just as Ron Paul is said to tote a tiny, bound copy of the Constitution around with him at all times, maybe those of us in the Paleo/EvFit camp out to keep a copy of both Art’s essay and Robb Wolf’s the Paleo Solution Quick Start Guide on our person.  Heh, you just never know when you might be called out to defend “the lifestyle”, right?

And speaking of Art DeVany and all things Evolutionary Fitness, check out this interesting post from Intrepid Insight in reference to Twitter and Power Law.   Dan John has often alluded to the observation (and I wholeheartedly agree with him) that out of a hundred or so workouts, roughly 70% or so may be classified as a run-of-the-mill,  “punch-the-clock” type of a workout — just getting the job done, nothing more, nothing special; some are especially good & you really feel like some progress was made and, conversely, a handful will totally suck — you wonder why you even showed up at all, or maybe you even cashed-out early, licked your wounds and limped home with a tucked tail.  A smattering  of workouts fall in between one of those categories, mostly grouped around — but just shy of, or a little better than — the clock punchers.  Ah, but there’s always that 1-in-100 workout that we live for, that workout in which you feel like you could lift the moon.  Maybe you set a new PR or maybe you were just “in the zone” and everything flowed effortlessly. These are the standout, “I’ve arrived” type of workouts that we relish; the type of workout we strive for but rarely hit.  What’s interesting is that this continuum winds up taking on a Power Law-like distribution. Isn’t it ironic, don’tchya think?


Accessing the Type II fibers vs stimulating/training the central nervous system –

So there must be a vibe in the air lately, as the topic of accessing and stimulating the Type II fibers has once again re-emerged into the forefront.  For the most part, I stay out of this fray, as I believe this to be a very complicated and highly n=1 dictated issue, and one that cannot be adequately addressed in sound-bite barbs.  In general, though, my take on the issue remains unchanged.  Can those Type II fibers be accessed, stimulated, and yes fatigued to the point of failure using slow-tempo movements?  Absolutely they can, no doubt in my mind — and that, for the vast majority of folks, is the end of the story; no need for this demographic to push the risk-reward envelope any further.  The health benefits of stimulating these fibers (including hypertrophy) are well-served by (among other possibilities) slow-tempo training.  But for the athlete, though, I think we need to seriously consider adequate central nervous system stimulation, and the all-important ability to produce instantaneous, maximal power.   And for that we have to have a ballistic element factored into the overall training plan.  Backing science?  I have none.  Zilch, nada.  I know what I’ve seen during my many years in the trenches though, and toward that end I’ll keep training those who require an explosive element accordingly.  Again, in my opinion this (along with most every other training question) is n=1 driven.

…and on the workout front –

So the prior week’s three-day-in-a-row blitz — which, by the way, was capped with a classic brief, brutal and basic CZT session — left me in recovery mode until Wednesday the 20th.  That’s a full 5 days off with very little in the way strenuous activity save for a bit of fixie riding/sprinting.  Curious thing here: while I most definitely did not feel up to hitting the weights during this period, I most certainly had the urge  — and had strong legs for — some serious up-tempo biking.  Why?  Well, I’m not quite sure; just another element to ponder along this wonderful n=1/m=1 journey.  At any rate, my workouts again this week were catch-as-catch-can affairs, squeezed into a fairly demanding work, social and home-life schedule (Meesus TTP and I are still trying to get fully settled within our new home); and too, I’ve had to program back-to-back lifting sessions here (which, of course, I’m not a big fan of).  But hey, life happens, right?  Roll on with the fractal nature of things!

Wednesday the 20th; upper body dominant HIT
Nautilus Pec Dec:  110 x 10 (50×1 tempo) to momentary failure.  Short recovery (30 secs?), then rest-pause singles to failure
Feet-elevated (45-degree) push-ups: 12, 8, 8
Nautilus Pull-Over: 235 x 9 (50×1 tempo) to momentary failure, then 255 x 2, 2 rest-pause (same tempo)
Rev-grip pull-ups: 50# deload x 5, 4 (50×0 tempo)
Nautilus lateral raise: 180 x 8 (50×1 tempo) to failure, then 190 rest-pause singles — 5 reps, again to failure
Xccentric jammer: +50lbs, 7 rest-pause singles

Thursday; Alactic work on the Efficient Exercise Pendulum Hip Press
400 x 7
three-minute break
500 x 4, 5 (three-minute break between sets)
three-minute break
600 x 2, 2, 2, 2 (three-minute break between sets)

Both of these workouts were short, sweet and to-the-point, with neither lasting any more than a half-hour.  And scorchers, too, the both of them.

Mainstream Media’s Take on the Paleo Lifestyle

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

Helen Keller

U.S. News and World Report ran this story today in the on-line version of the magazine.  Not sure if this story is to go to press in the print version or not; I’d like to see the story in print, if for no other reason than to simply gauge John Q. Public’s reaction.

All in all, I guess you can chalk this up as a favorable review of the Paleo lifestyle; as favorable, at least, as we’re likely to find in any mainstream publication.  As excerpted from the article:

On its merits. History aside, the paleo diet has health merit. Except for the dairy and grain issues, it’s pretty close to the tenets of the traditional eating patterns like the Mediterranean and Asian diets and other dietary patterns that focus on plants, fish, lean protein, “good” fats, and whole grains. (Cordain says Stone Age eating is closest to a Japanese-style diet.) It also fits into the small but growing movement turning away from factory-farmed meat and toward eating animals fed what they’ve evolved to eat, like grass rather than grain.

Now, if we could just shake this damn energy balance notion once and for all.  Hell, even the mention that an “alternative” viewpoint (a.k.a., Taube’s, a calorie is not a calorie) would give me reason to cheer.  And then, of course, we’ve got the whole “proper exercise” issue to contend with.  Again, as excerpted from the article:

Ungar and Leonard don’t blame our modern diet-related health problems on any specific food group. Rather, they’re convinced that our major problems these days are the lack of that diversity in our diet—and a positive energy balance. In other words, unlike our Paleolithic forebears, we are taking in more calories than we burn off. “The difference is not simply in what we’re eating but in what we’re doing,” says Leonard.

The greater availability of cheap, high-calorie, high-fat foods is contributing to high rates of obesity, he says, but so is the fact that we aren’t moving anymore. “If you add even an extra 30 minutes to an hour of moderate exercise a day, it’s going to get you to a point where it will make a difference in your long-term energy balance,” he says. “Slow and steady is the mantra. You didn’t see people in farming and herding societies sprinting around. They moved at a low to moderate level of intensity over the course of an entire day.” (emphasis mine)

Uh-huh.  Well, Just a thought — I’d like to know what part of hunter-gatherer is consistent with farming and herding?  I guess that’s an idea, though, that’s lost on both Ungar and Leonard.

Progress in fits and starts, I suppose, is better than no progress at all.

In health,


*A late edit:  Here were my thoughts as posted on the US News and World Report article comment section —

Right Idea…mostly

A hearty thanks to Katherine Hobson for spelling out the basic tenants of the Paleo lifestyle. Between her article, and Richard’s (of Free the Animal) comment, readers new to the “Paleolithic lifestyle” will gain much valuable insight. I hope this sparks a curiosity that will culminate in the conversion of many new “Paleo disciples”. To be critical, though, I have to say that both Unger and Leonard have missed the boat when it comes to exercise prescription and energy balance.

Our paleo ancestors lived an explosive and sprint/power-dominant lifestyle that was anything but what is depicted here as the “slow and steady” farmer/herder lifestyle. This is exactly the point of the Paleo lifestyle – to consume what the body was engineered via eons of evolution to thrive upon, and to push the body physically in such a way as is best suited to encourage development of a powerful, explosive phenotype (i.e., infrequent bouts of short duration, high intensity exercise).

On the point of energy balance, one must remember (1) that the human body is anything but a closed energy system, therefore rendering the “energy balance theory of weight control” the fool’s chase that it is, and (2) the overriding contribution that insulin plays in the partitioning of ingested nutrients, and insulin’s response to the inordinate (and totally alien to our genome, I might add), ingestion of carbohydrates – especially simple carbohydrates, and those derived from grains. This, in effect (and to cop a phrase from Garry Taubes), renders one ingested calorie not necessarily equal to another ingested calorie.

A Day in the Life

Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.

~ Spanish Proverb

The best place to begin this post, I think, is with the Friday night meal.  What follows , then, is the run-down for a simple pot roast in a pressure-cooker.  It’s very easy to pull-off, fast and as low-carb as you want to make it.  Now, as starchy veggies hold-up best in these cooking situations, I (or should I say, “we” as this dish is mostly Meesus TTP’s doing) will call them into limited duty for the purposes of this recipe.  I won’t partake much of the veggie outcome — though I will have a bit — a sweet potato, in this case, some carrots and a few hunks of parsnip.  If you’re actively trying to loose weight, though — or trying to bust free of the carb Jones — I’d avoid the veggie portion of  this dish altogether (unless you just want to pressure-cook the meat, which is actually pretty damn fine on its own).  Otherwise, if you’re happy with your body-fat percentage, or if you’ve recently done some endurance work, don’t fret it.  In either case, a sweet potato here and there won’t doom your progress or damage your health.  What I’ll do when we have this dish is make some broccoli or cauliflower on the side.  That generally keeps me from over-indulging on the starchy stuff.

So what you see below is a 4-pound boneless rump roast that has been seasoned (fresh, cracked black pepper and brisket rub), browned in olive oil, and topped enough water to to submerge roughly a quarter to one-half of the roast.

Browned, seasoned, and ready to go

Browned, seasoned, and ready to go

Next up, we’ll secure the lid, jack-up the heat and, once we get the topper rockin’ (get up to pressure), set the timer for 45 minutes.  Remember, once at pressure, to lower the heat so that the rocker is just maintained at a steady “rock”.  Yeah, I’ve made the mistake of letting the thing go at full-bore for, like an hour.  Talk about an ugly result.  That ended up being an unplanned “intermittent  fast” night with lots of endurance-scrubbing thrown in for good measure.  Anyway, while the pressure-cooker’s doin’ its thing, get what ever veggies you want to add prepped and ready to go.

Here’s a look after the veggies were added, just before re-clamping the lid.  We’ve got parsnips, carrots and two small sweet potatoes in the mix.  We’ve also added a bit more water.

After the veggie add

After the veggie add

This gives you an idea of the size of the pressure-cooker.  It’s a 10-quart model.  Again, this is just prior to closing ‘er up and lettin’ ‘er rip for the second time.

10-Quart pressure coker, reday to rock

10-Quart pressure cooker, ready to rock

So, we’ll regain pressure and let ‘er go for an additional 5 to 8 minutes.  This last period will depend on the amount , type and size of the added veggies.  We went for about 7 minutes with what we’d added here.

I don’t know how well broccoli would hold-up in a pressure-cooker.  We haven’t tried that yet, preferring, instead, to steam it on the side.  If anyone has tried it — or cauliflower — in a pressure-cooker, let me know how it turned out.

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Here’s what we had at the end — a fantastic wintertime meal.  The sweet potato looks (and is) much bigger than when we started due to its swelling.  It tastes absolutely wonderful, especially when you’ve been away from the starchy stuff for some time.

Saturday morning, 4:30 A-friggin’-M. There’s just something very wrong about rolling out of bed this early on a weekend — with your mutt looking at you (as he’s stretched-out at the end of the bed) like you’re the absolute  craziest thing he’s ever seen — to go into work.  Oh well, as they say, quitcherbitchin’ and get on with it — so, I did.

Below is what I packed-up that morning to take in to work.  I had no idea how things would play out that day; sometimes I’ll have plenty of opportunities to eat, other days I’ll have to work straight through.  I always, though, go in prepared.  This is all leftovers from previous dinners, save for the eggs which I soft-boiled that morning.

Fast Food, TTP Style...

Fast Food, TTP Style...

I wound up eating the fruit with some walnuts I had stashed at work, at about 9 AM.  The rest went down at 1 PM.  I probably would not have eaten the second time around had I known I was going to have an opportunity to hit the gym that day — which I did, at 4 PM.

The Workout

This is what I cobbled together, on the fly, after taking inventory of what equipment was available:

  1. Power Cleans x 3, rest-pause method
  2. Weighted Russian Ballistic Lunge x 12 “jumps”
  3. 45 lb.plate toss with a “stiff” catch x 10

I did 4 rounds of this in roughly 45 minutes.  My focus was centered on the power cleans, and I went particularly heavy here as I don’t often have that opportunity to do so, due to my usual time constraints.  This was a “later in the day” workout, too, so my body was a bit warmer, just from doing the daily thing, and better adapted to be able to handle a heavy load than it would be right off the bat, first thing in the morning.  Also, I had the time to properly warm-up for the demands of such an exercise done at near-max (for that rep range) intensity.

The Russian Ballistic Lunge is demonstrated here, in a Jay Schroeder, EvoSport promo video clip, beginning at the 40-second mark.  I cradle a weight (dumbbell or plate) when I do these, and (in this version of the exercise) attempt to get max height on each jump.  In another version (demonstrated in the clip below), the emphasis is on obtaining max transition speed.

The Plate Toss is demonstrated here, in another Jay Schroeder, EvoSport promo video clip.   The Plate Toss demo begins at 24 seconds in,  with the speed lunge coming at 34 seconds in.  I attempt to stiffen my plate catch as much as possible, though (as opposed to what’s demonstrated in the clip), akin to the ballistic push-up catch.  This is a fantastic shoulder-girdle plyo exercise.
And in case you’re wondering, I’m in the “Jay Schroeder is a misunderstood genius” camp.  I do believe that his methods are the cutting-edge for athletic improvement. Remember, though — gains in athletic prowess, past a certain point, do not necessarily correspond to gains in overall health.

So, I completed my workout at approximately 4:45 — but I didn’t eat until 8PM that evening, and by then, well, I could’ve eaten the wooden asshole out of a hobby-horse.  And oh what a meal it was — well worth the wait.  Check it out:

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Now that’s a serious rib-eye.  Steamed cauliflower, avocado and tomato, and a smattering of fruit.  And a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon to round things out.

Just a snippet of things, from an ordinary day in the life.

In Health,


Costillas des res (Crosssection of Beef Ribs)

“Edible, adj.:  Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.”

~Ambrose Bierce

I don’t know that I’ve ever found this particular cut of ribs outside of those little mom & pop Mexican stores.  You know — those places that thrive in areas that are lucky enough to have a large enough Mexican immigrant population to support them.  If you have such a place near you, frequent it — you won’t be sorry.  The best butcher shop in my town is located in just such a place.  And language (and culture, for that matter) is no barrier when it comes to good food at fantastic prices.

Below is a shot of the ribs just before I put them on the grill.  The night before, I prepped the ribs by slathering them liberally with olive oil, then coating them with fresh cracked pepper and brisket rub.  I stored them in the refrigerator, in a plastic freezer bag, turning them over whenever I thought to.

Prepped and ready to go

Prepped and ready to go

You’ve got to cook the ribs over a very, very low heat.  It takes quite a while, but the end product is phenomenal.  Also, I like to smoke-in a little applewood flavor via use of pre-soaked wood chips.

On the grill

On the grill

Unfortunately, getting an all done, “plated” picture slipped my mind.  We did have avocado and steamed & buttered brocolli for sides.  Good stuff.

In Other News…

According to Mark Sisson, over at Mark’s Daily Apple, I suppose I am actually more “Primal” than I am “Paleo” since (among a few other details) I don’t eschew fat.  I’m actually a fat-lover, truth be told.  Ah well, I’ve never been one to easily label.  Much like my workout philosophy, I pick and choose across the spectrum to form my own, “TTP” guidelines.  I actually think I’m closer in diet and workout “beliefs” to Art DeVany’s Evolutionary Fitness — but that’s just splitting hairs, in my opinion.  To cop a line from Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

In Health,