The Battle of the (Mainstream) Heavyweight Diets

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

Bertrand Russell

The following video is of a lecture given in January 2008 by Christopher Gardner, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, and focuses on the largest and longest-ever comparison (as of that time) of a selection of  four popular diets studied under real-world conditions.  The diets in question were the Ornish, Zone, LEARN (i.e., the diet recommended by most academics and the USDA — the food pyramid we all know and love), and, last but not least, the Atkins diet.  The 311 participants, (all pre-menopausal, overweight women) were divided into 4 groups, with each group having been provided 8 weeks of  “in-depth” nutritional training using the representative flagship book for each diet.  Training was led by a dietitian who preached the magnificence and utter superiority of each group’s assigned diet.  All of this makes for an interesting study because of the real-worldliness of having these participants attempt to “follow the book” for themselves (subsequent to the 8 weeks of brainwashing, that is).

An additional interesting twist here is that Professor Gardner is (was?) a twenty-five year vegetarian, who, having come into the study with a heavy, pre-conceived bias, admits (and you have to give him kudos for this), that his long-standing notions of the efficacy of a vegetarian diet may have been completely unfounded.

Of course, we in the Paleo community would’ve loved to have seen the Paleo way represented in this study — but hey, the fact that Atkins was included is a monumental step in itself.  In fact, Dr Gardner does bring up the subject of the Paleo diet toward the end of the lecture — to the hoots of snorts and laughter from what I can only assume was a very learned and open-minded audience (really, no sarcasm intended).  Whatever; I’m in the pharmaceutical business — all those snorts and all that laughter sounds like job security to me.

Anyway, I do think this lecture is well worth the time investment.  You may not learn anything new about diet, per se, but you’ll certainly pick up quit a bit in the way of diet psychology.  Keep in mind as you watch just how well a Paleo diet would have fared in this trial.  Remember, you’d have had 8 weeks to teach someone the whys and hows of the Paleo way; 8 weeks to stage for, and transition through, the carb Jones; 8 weeks of social re-conditioning and n=1 individualization tinkering.  What book would I have “preached”?  Well, personally I’d have opted for Primal Body, Primal Mind, by Nora Gedgaudas.  For homework, I’d have assigned selections from Taubes’s GCBC.

A few interesting things to keep in mind as you watch:

Dr. Gardner’s chart presentation on the spread of obesity throughout he US is powerful.  We all know these facts, yes — seeing it presented in this fashion, though, brings this static information “alive” in a profound way.

Notice as well all the maddening, tunnel-visioned viewing of the study’s statistical results data through the old “calories in, calories out” prism.  It’ll make you want to jump through the screen and remove the good doctor’s blinders.  It reminds me of the story of the two fish, wherein one fish asks the other, “what’s this stuff water I keep hearing about?”

Interesting, too, is the behind the scenes view of what it required to land a study grant, and how painfully long the wait is between grant acquisition and the release of actual study findings.  And add to this all of the Political wrangling — both in academia and in the government realm — that must be traversed.  It’s mind numbing.   If it were not for the internet allowing the immediate connection of like-minded folks, all of whom are actively engaged in n=1 studies of “Paleo science”, Paleo would yet to even have a fair hearing in the world of nutritional science.

Kudos, then, to us — for actively advancing the Paleo science.

And a big round of thanks are in order to the Balanced Existence website for having re-excavated this find.   You can read their interesting commentary on the lecture, here.

Sit back and enjoy.

In health,


More MetCon Musings

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln

The Scribblings of a madman

A little insight into how I develop some of my ideas; tease the few, substantial and practical take-away messages out of the bombardment of daily information.  Metaphorically, I think of it as panning for gold.  Anyway, I have a small “office” in my home where I do the majority of my reading and writing, and in that office is the whiteboard seen here.  Now I’d prefer to be surrounded by an old-school blackboard and chalk (for tactile reasons — and sentimentality as well, I suppose), and I’d prefer that every wall of the room be covered likewise.  Not a good decorating decision, (or so I’m told), so for the time being I’ll have to muddle through with my one little whiteboard.

What I’d sketched-up a few days ago is an encapsulation of my thoughts on the intersection of Power Production/Bodyweight Ratio, MetCon Modality, and Exercise Selection.  From that 3-way intersection, then, we can tease-out the comparison graph of Relative Power Production as it relates to Exercise Duration (in seconds, logarithmic scale).  You see here that an Olympic lift requires about 1 second to complete, and produces the most  power output/duration of any exercise.  Then on to the 100 meter sprint, a 2km row, and an 80km bike race (these are just examples within a wide-ranging spectrum, of course).  What you don’t see here (you would, if I had another board — hint, hint, Mrs. TTP 😉  are the relative percentage contributions from each of the bodies three (or four, if you really want to split hairs) energy systems to support each endeavor.  This template, if super-imposed upon the Relative Power Production/Duration graph, would depict an almost exclusively Phosphagen energy system contribution to the far left of the duration scale (the Oly lift end), phasing into a mostly glycolytic contribution at roughly the 100 meter sprint point, then ever-increasingly aerobic at about the 2km row point.  The 80 km bike ride would be almost 100% aerobic.  And remember, this overlay wouldn’t be depicted as a hard shift, but rather a gradual phasing, such as would be seen in a gradually darkening color wheel, for example.

What this sketch really depicts, though, is the fact that the exercise itself is only a means to an end, if our workout focus is is centered upon a MetCon modality. What should truly be the emphasis of any MetCon-oriented workout, is a directed attempt to push the work capacity limits of the targeted energy system.  Having to grapple with exercise technique as one fatigues ought to be the least of concerns, unless of course, maintaining proper technique under fatigue is an inherent (and adjusted for) part of the equation.  One example of this would be training a starting pitcher; another might be conditioning an American football quarterback for efficient 2-minute drill play.  For the vast majority of trainees, though, the desire is to increase broadly defined work capacity under particular energy systems.  It is my opinion, then, that (for instance) a session of appropriately weighted farmer’s walk repeats is a much more efficient exercise selection option for building work capacity of the glycolytic energy system that an equal amount of time spent on power clean repeats.  And as well, one can push themselves to the brink fatigue-wise with a farmer’s walk repeat session as not have to be concerned with the potential of technique-related injury.

In health,


The Sensible Merging of MetCon, Power Generation and Exercise Selection

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

William Shakespeare

A while back, the site Straight to the Bar featured this clip of Scott Jackson bustin’ off some phenomenal, Parkour-inspired moves.  Seeing this clip again recently got me to thinking about a few of things.  First, I wonder if each individual is limited by some inherent power/bodyweight ratio?  Actually, I know a mechanical limit exists — structurally, our bones, ligaments, tendons and musculature can only handle so much stress — I’m referring here to practical limits.  And how would one go about figuring that limitation?  Would we even want, in a psychological sense, to know that limitation?  And second, this got me to thinking about the intersection of power generation and MetCon work; specifically, exercise selection.  And not just exercise selection alone, but exercise selection with an eye toward targeting an identified energy system.  Most sporting endeavors require a highly tuned and efficient combination of energy systems to “fuel” the participant through the event.  Identifying and training these systems properly is, or should be, the lone goal of MetCon work.  You might want to read this post first, if you haven’t already.  Then come back here and check out some of Scott’s unreal moves.  As you watch, ask yourself (1) what energy systems does Scott rely on mostly, and (2) how would you go about training him without diminishing, in any way, his form, technique and skill?  Just a few things to ponder while you watch:

Another thought that bubbled-up in my mind while watching this clip is just how “springy” Scott is.  What do I mean by that?  Well, there’s a subtle, but huge, difference between the body’s levers acting as a spring, as those same levers acting in the manner of a piston.  Good sprinters quickly transition from the “piston” action of the start, to the “spring” action of the stride; good jumpers come off the floor like a spring, jumpers who need work “piston” themselves up and airborne.  But more on that in a later post.

In health,


Priming the CNS “Pump” for Maximum Fast-Twitch Fiber Activation

“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular.”

Edward R. Murrow

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and the Murphy Strength and Conditioning Center, East Carolina University
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and the Murphy Strength and Conditioning Center, East Carolina University

Many, many trainees seem either unable to grasp, or unwilling to believe, that short-duration, high-intensity, simply-constructed workouts occurring at infrequent intervals can be so blisteringly effective at producing enhanced athleticism, muscularity and fat reduction.   The main problem, or intellectual leap that must be undertaken, here — I believe — is to first understand what constitutes a sufficient biological stimulus required to elicit a desired response.  Too much and/or too frequent a biological “cue” can, of course, be as detrimental to overall progress as too little and/or too infrequent a biological cue.  I’ve discussed before the concepts of  “drop-off” and “auto-regulation” as these concepts pertain to continued progress.  The second point is revolves around possessing the know-how to construct a workout that achieves a high-impact biological cue in an abbreviated period of time.  Maintaining a targeted, high degree of central nervous system (CNS) stimulation is key to achieving maximum “bang” for the workout time “buck”; priming the pump, so to speak, so as to wring the maximum amount of power possible from a given circumstance (i.e., modality, desired time under load, etc).

In this previous post, we deconstructed the rep, learning what it means, what it looks like, to perform an exercise repetition that is truly productive.  But let’s now break that down even further.  Is there something we can do prior to executing that perfect series of repetitions, that will lend even more productivity to the endeavor?  You bet there is — effective CNS stimulation.  Think of proper CNS stimulation as a ramp-up, heightened muscular awareness, fast-twitch activation, or a targeted, high-intensity CNS proprioception.  Ever see elite sprinters pop-off a few explosive knee-to-chest jumps just prior to settling into the blocks?  CNS stimulation, my friend.

So what does this look like in a practical sense?  Well, let’s deconstruct one of my recent, morning workouts and see just how I utilize this phenomenon in my own training.  This is my Twitter post following that morning’s weight session:

This AM’s w/o: RDL (Conc.) + SLDL (Eccentric) x 5, Floor press x 5, Snatch Grip High Pull (from hang) x 3; 4 rounds. Blog details soon.

First I’d like to point out that I post all of my workouts to Twitter, and that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to to see these posts, as they all appear to the right of my blog (the last 10 or so posts, at least).  The nature of Twitter, though, doesn’t allow for detailed elaboration; this is both good and bad, depending upon your point of view.  I rather appreciate it as a medium of brevity that is a perfect compliment to the longer “blog format”, but I digress.  Back to the subject at hand.

Let’s deconstruct that day’s workout, focusing on a single exercise within that morning’s circuit — the basic floor press.  First, though, let’s look at the overall timeline of this workout: 5:45 AM — coffeed-up and in the gym (following a 1 hour commute, by the way).  5:55 warm up completed; heart rate is up, beginning to sweat.  6:00 AM Bars loaded and staged; begin circuit with “feel/priming” sets.  6:10 — full-on blood, guts and fury.  6:30 — pulled the plug on the last movement, staggered to the showers, and prepped to face to workday.  45 minutes, top to bottom — yes, it can be done.  Easy?  No friggin way; and if it was, everyone would do it, right?

As far as a fabulous brief, high-intensity workout goes, I’ve got all the bases covered; but here’s the obstacle: I want to tax and fatigue every fast-twitch fiber I’ve got (for each particular movement) — and I’ve got a very short time window in which to accomplish that task.  That’s a tall order.  I’ve got an ace up my sleeve, though, that’ll help me do just that.  Now what little trick did I employ just prior to sliding under the bar for each set of floor presses?  Ballistic push ups.  Just 3 or so; not enough to tire me out, just enough to fully wake up and prime my CNS for the movement to come, and give those fast twitch fibers the signal that, hey guys, it’s time to wake up and get in the game.  Then I slid under the bar and proceeded to punch out my 5 (or so) reps, attempting maximum bar acceleration with each rep.  I increased weight on each set until I reached the point where, on the 5th rep of the 4th cycle, I hit a “grind it out rep”, and at that point, I pulled the plug on that exercise.  And, having done this for quite some time (30+ years, can you believe it?), I can pretty well approximate loading, reps schemes, and sets — even when exercises are paired within a circuit (like the floor press was in this example) with a good deal of accuracy.  Sometimes I’ll exceed expectations and other times I’ll fall short.  And the scary thing is that I usually know how just how I’ll perform in the workout about midway through the warm up, and it all depends upon how my CNS is responding to that warm-up.  Stuff of urban legend, I know — but hey, it’s true.   Just a tad sluggish?  Not today, bud; still, though, you’ve got to “endeavor to persevere”.  Feel like someone just tagged you with a set of crash paddles?  Here comes one for the record books, guaranteed.

And note that the preliminary ballistic movement need not be the exact same movement as the main course — an approximation is fine.  For example, in the workout above, my pre-RDL/SLDL ballistic movement  was an explosive knees-to-chest jump with a “stuck” landing in the full squat position.  I popped-off just 2 or 3 immediately prior to beginning the set.   The same ballistic movement precedes all of my pulling movements; deadlifts, low pulls, clean variations, you name it.

Give pre-set ballistic movements a shot, and let me know what you think.  If anyone out there is following a BBS style workout, I believe a pre-set ballistic movement will really get you primed for added resistance and TUT for each prescribed exercise.  Also, if used properly, I believe vibration plates can elicit similar CNS/fast twitch fiber-stimulating effects.  I think it would be fascinating to study the resulting effects of this: if Dr. McGuff could somehow incorporate vibration technology within the equipment he uses for his machine-based BBS workouts, then compare an “all things equal” pair of study groups — both BBS-trained, one “vibrated”, the other not.  I really believe there is “something to” vibration stimulation vis-a-vis enhanced CNS/fast twitch fiber activation, however, the hucksters have latched onto the “something for nothing” sales angle (loose weight with no effort) and turned the technology into a parody of itself.  Look beneath the hucksterism, though, and I think there’s a worthwhile technology there.

In health,


One Reader’s Progress, and a Question Answered

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

William Shakespeare

TTP reader Sterling reports on his progress, and the age old question of how to put on muscle mass is answered — well, kinda.  First, Sterling’s report — followed by his question:

…Here’s the deal:
I’m currently 38, 5’8, 144lbs, 9 or 10% bf.  4.5 years ago I was fat and out of shape…badly out of shape; I was 225 lbs.  2.5 years ago I was 210.  I’ve slowly lost weight through proper nutrition and working my butt off using mostly the program P90X, some interval work, and sprints.

So, now I’d like to slowly add 20 lbs of muscle.  I know that I’ve got to be an anabolic, calorie surplus state to do that.  How would you suggest doing that as smartly as possible without adding too much fat?  At present, I only have access to dumbbells and bodyweight exercises.   What I think I’m going to hear is start lifting heavier weight, progressively overloading the muscle through, barbell squats, bench press, etc and full body exercises.  You are a big, fit, healthy dude so I thought I’d pick your brain.

Thanks again.  By following you on Twitter, I know that you know what you are talking about and believe in a paleo-type lifestyle.  Having a very busy life with 4 kids and 1 on the way makes it challenging sometimes, but I’m willing to put in the work.

And my answer; a bit more in depth than what I initially sent Sterling, as I’ve included some additional thoughts and/or clarification:
First off, congratulations on your successful weight loss, Sterling; and you’re right, living a full-on Paleo lifestyle will call-out your weight management issues and struggles of the past for exactly what they were — acts of utter futility.  No doubt some can lose weight on calorie restriction, energy expenditure and sheer will power (the 2nd law of thermodynamics does apply), but underlying health issues are left unresolved and, unless the person can maintain a proper energy deficit, either by exercise or calorie restriction, the weight (fat) will re-accumulate over time.  The world is replete with diet FAILs.
A note is in order here: setting up the proper hormonal profile in the body is key; thus the essence of — and the misunderstanding, too (and, of course, the heated battles over) — the statement, “a calorie is not a calorie“.  Maintaining low insulin levels is an essential — though an absolutely painless consequence of — following the Paleo lifestyle.  For an in-depth coverage of this subject, see Taubes’s fine work, Good Calories, Bad Calories.  Also of note is a recent video-taped lecture given by Dr. Doug McGuff (author of the excellent book, Body by Science).  Dr. McGuff does a fabulous job here of breaking down the complexities behind the whys and hows of fat accumulation/loss in readily understood, layman’s terms.  If you have a copy of BBS, I’d suggest opening it up to the depictions on pages 23 and 28, and following along with Doug’s verbal explanations.  If you don’t have a copy of Body by Science — or Good Calories, Bad Calories, for that matter — you’re really missing out on some great, foundational information sources.  Do yourself a big favor and pick up copies of both.  You’ll be glad you did.
Ok, moving on now to Sterling’s question…

On to your question.  Once you’ve fully adjusted to Paleo eating habits (I’m not sure by your email if you’re fully adjusted yet), your appetite will take care of itself.  No need to worry about increasing this or that — when you’re hungry, eat to satiation within the Paleo spectrum, and give it no more thought.  Now in some people, those many years of societal conditioning (eat at such-and-such a time, eat this much, eat until stuffed, etc.) take a while to break, so there may be a period where you’ll have to consciously decrease your volume and/or meal frequency to prevent putting on fat while you’re attempting to gain lean mass.  This means no more, though, than constantly questioning yourself as to whether you’re really hungry — or is that “hunger” really an old conditioning response?

And an interjection: no need, either, to get all wrapped-up trying to control/influence/predict anabolic and catabolic periods.  for one thing, the body is amazingly intelligent at balancing this sort of thing within a healthy equilibrium.  The second point is, is that the body continually and efficiently shifts between anabolic and catabolic states no matter what you do (or think you do) to “positively” influence a prolonged anabolic state — assuming, of course, we’re talking about a drug (steroid, growth hormone, etc.) free environment.  The things that are in your control, though are:

  • proper nutritional intake (via a Paleo diet, no more volume than to satiate)
  • proper biological stimulus/cue (see below)
  • proper recovery/stress balance (both daily, and between training sessions)

As far as training to put on mass, you’re correct again — progressive overload is key.  But that’s a cop-out answer in my opinion, because it does not take into account someone’s circumstance.  I’ll assume for the sake of argument that you don’t have access to a gym, heavy free weights, adequate machines and the like.  No problem, though, as you can put on substantial lean mass using nothing but bodyweight exercises — you just have to be creative as to how you perform these exercises so as to make gravity work for (or in this case, I suppose, against) you — elevated foot push-ups, handstand presses and the like.  Do you have access to a playground near where you live?  Pull-up and/or dip bars?  These plus a cheap weight belt (like this), and a few plates equate to a myriad of mass-building exercise options.

These are just some ideas.  Of course, depending upon your situation, you may be able to build/collect an assortment of homemade devises.  Here’s one of my favorite sites for homemade gear ideas.  Remember, the body doesn’t care if it’s being pushed on a 10K-dollar machine or with a 10-dollar sandbag — the body’s only imperative is to adequately respond to a biological stimulus/cue.  And it will do so, quite nicely, in fact — so long as it receives proper nutrition.

I hope this helps you out — let me know if you have any other more specific questions.

Just a quick word about P90X (or any heavily marketed workout program for that matter): there is no magic here, no secret formula, soviet “science”, or any other such ingredient contained in this program.  The program is successful in so far as its practitioners “stick to the protocol”, so to speak, and the 120-ish dollar price tag (i.e., a form of loss aversion) and flashy marketing will better ensure one’s compliance to the system’s dictates and frequency.  Now, I have nothing against P90X, per se, and I think the workout itself is fine so long as it fits one’s end goals.  All that I am saying is that what really matters — what’s more important for the vast majority of folks out there — is not what program is followed, but that any program is followed.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I can build one hell of a power athlete, put on impressive hypertrophy and drop body fat of virtually any trainee into the single digits (men) or low teens (women) simply by placing them on a protocol consisting of no more than (1) adherence to a Paleo diet (and a very lenient, Paleo diet at that) and (2) four ass-busting training sessions a week entailing a rotating combination of deadlifts, farmer’s walks, push-presses, weighted pull-ups and sprints.  My point is that the body does not care about flash, marketing, what celebrity is currently doing “your” new-found regimen — this is the realm of the psyche and ego.  The body’s concern is with overcoming a perceived threat (stimulus/cue), plain and simple.  It performs this task by strengthening whatever system was taxed so as to better defend against that or similar future threats.  This boils down to no more than an on-going arms race (pardon the pun) — a metabolically expensive arms race, however, in both nutrient and in recovery costs.  That, my friends, is the “secret”, stripped of all marketing and hype.  For more on this line of thinking, see my post Simple vs Easy.

To read more about Sterling and his fabulous fat-to-fit transformation, check out the following links:

Also, you can follow Sterling on Twitter, here.
In health,

Gym Closed? No Worries, Here…

“Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

Today’s was a multi-element workout —  and a few exercise explanations are required —  so instead of my normal Twitter workout update, I’ll post today’s workout here.

First off, it was an absolutely beautiful day here in Eastern NC –sunny, low 80’s, light breeze and low humidity (a rarity in these parts) — made it an absolute pleasure to be outside.  No better time, then, to lug my 30-ish lb. homemade medicine ball up to the ECU throwing practice area (aka, the playground), via my trusty fixie.  Quite the warm-up.  Once there, I hit this little mash-up:

Conservatively, I’d say I hit 4 rounds of this, but it may have actually been 6 or even 7.  My mind tends to wonder when I’m working out, and since total rounds completed doesn’t really matter to me — I go by per-exercise rep drop off mostly, to let me know when I’m “done” — I tend to lose track — especially when I’m outside at the playground.

the extent of my artistic skills...

the extent of my artistic skills...

*For this exercise, the key point is to pretend that the ball is red-hot — get it out of the hands and as far away as possible on each return.  A lightening-fast change of direction is what we’re after.

As a side note, the fixie intervals on the way home (with a diversion through the ECU campus) without the medicine ball made me feel as if I were flying.  Until my legs died,  that is — pre-exhausted as they were, from the OHLs.  Good times 🙂

In health,


The Dynamic Warm-Up

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Jack London

Photo: Mr. T in DC

Photo: Mr. T in DC

I’ve received many questions as of late asking, in essence, what it is that I consider to be the proper method and duration for an adequate warm-up.  The truth of the matter is that — like the workout methodology itself — there is no one-size-fits-all, correct answer.  There are, however, a couple of basic, all-encompassing statements I can make about a proper warm-up, and those would be:

(1) make the warm-up ballistic and/or dynamic in nature, (2) make it intense enough, and of a long enough duration (but not longer), so that you’re primed (CNS and muscle/ligament structure) and ready for the actual meat of the workout, and (3) I’d much rather see someone go a little overboard on the warmup than to short-change the endeavor. Take it from someone who is (your choice) either (a) hard-headed or (b) just plain dim-witted enough to have made this mistake (and more than once, I hate to admit); just about every sporting injury I’ve suffered since my actual on-the-field days can be traced back to a poor warm-up prior to the injury. 

That said, when the warm-up is completed, your body ought to be primed to explode, and this includes the central nervous system.  Long, slow and passive stretching is no way to accomplish this task, as this type of stretching actually blunts the body’s speed/power response — the antithesis of what you want prior to hitting it hard and heavy in the gym or on the field or track.  Reserve static stretching, if you still wish to incorporate it, into the cool-down session.   I believe that yoga and yoga-like stretching is a fabulous workout in and of  itself, and can be a useful augmentation to a successful power-oriented, exercise program at certain distinct points within the overall marocycle (or even a stand-alone program in the right circumstance).   These types of movements are not, however, good lead-in’s to a dynamic, power-oriented session.  A skilled carpenter chooses the correct tool for each particular application, and methodology-matching for various training applications is no different.

I can tell you this: I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time warming up.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of extra time to spend dilly-dallying has much to do with this.  The other thing is that I don’t particularly like to spend much time warming-up; I’d rather get to “the good stuff” as soon as possible.   Another thing I can tell you is that I’m not one to “ease” into my warmup, even prior to my early morning workout sessions.  For example, most mornings the first thing I do at the gym is alternating 20 meter skips and sprints.  The only “ease in” I incorporate is that I begin at about a 3/4 effort for the first 2 or 3 efforts.  After that, it’s full throttle, game-on.  In fact, many have mentioned to me things along the line of “damn, man — don’tcha warm-up before your workout?”  Uhh, well, this is my warm-up…

Now, while I might not have the luxury of time, I do have the luxury of a 200 meter (roughly) indoor track at my facility, so the bulk of my warm-up, even prior to a weight session, is comprised of short sprints, skips, lunges, ballistic toe-touching and such.  Usually, I’ll throw in a few reps and varieties of power pull-ups as well.  Check out this video clip from Mike Young of EliteTrack, as he talks about a lot of the stuff that I like to incorporate into my own warm-up sessions.  These are the kinds of warmup exercise I do directly out of the chute, even on those before-the-ass-crack-of-dawn sessions.  Also, Mike has an informative companion article, here.  Then, if my session involves hitting the weights, I’ll perform a round or two of  the Bergener Warm-up.  From there, I might do a round or two of my actual workout for the day, building up to my working weight for that particular session’s exercises.  I can tell you that, as a rough gauge, my warm-ups, even on the coldest of days, rarely last longer than 15 minutes or so.  I am, however, in constant motion during that time.

Curious as to how a world class sprinter goes about warming-up prior to a working session?  Well, here are a couple of video clips of Asafa Powell and Powell’s (and the MVP club of Jamaica) coach, Steven Francis going through a pre-workout warmup routine.  Notice how none of the sprinters in these clips would necessarily be considered outlandishly flexible.  I think there is most deffinately a point of diminished returns when it comes to flexibility and speed and/or strength.  Also note that “flexibility”, per se, is not the point of the warmup routine — properly priming the CNS, musculature, ligaments and supporting structure, along with increasing the body’s core temperature (and an increased heartrate) is the focus and only goal of the pre-workout warmup.

…and part 2

And you certainly don’t have to have an indoor track available to perform an adequate warm-up.  Just be creative, with exercises such as the Russian Lunge Scissor Jump, for example, are great ways to warm-up.  The take home point here is that the pre-workout warmup ought to be ballistic manner, and challenging enough to prime your CNS and raise your core temperature; cool down, if you wish (I don’t, but that’s just my preference) with whatever passive stretching you feel you need.

In Health,


The Mainstream’s Bungled Take (Again!) on Exercise and Weight Control

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer”

Albert Camus

Lighthouse Staircase.  Buxton, NC

Lighthouse Staircase. Buxton, NC

I know, I know; this is an ongoing saga.  And “the Mainstream” is as easy a scapegoat to target as “the government”, but damn…

Anyway, I’m sure that by now everyone has read this Time Magazine article, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin (byline to John Cloud).  And I’m sure, as well, that you’ve already read every manner of critique (both good and bad) currently floating the web.  Allow me though, to throw in my 2 cents worth of critique; this after having taken a few days to let the article swish around a bit in my mind.  Letting it “breath” so to speak, and giving me a tequila-like hangover.

First off, kudos to the people at Time for at least broaching this subject (hold your hats, I’ll explain).  Secondly, shame on them for not telling folks the entire story — and worse yet, for obfuscating the truth.  No wonder most folks just throw up their hands in utter despair and run for the nearest carb fix when the subject of “diet and fitness” is raised.  No wonder why they’re such easy marks for the flashy, loud and ill-informed hucksters (particular government agencies and various PhD’d “authorities” included) out there.   And no wonder the nation as a whole gets fatter with each passing day.  I’m not done wrestling yet with the philosophical question of the difference in moral implication between promulgating a half-truth and an out-and-out lie, but I’d say both ought to register pretty damn high on the “shameful” meter.

So,where to begin with dissecting this?  In the words of Anne Lamott, dealing with this particular hot potato is a bit akin to putting an octopus to bed — lots of unwieldy tentacles to tame and cover.  Ok, so how about let’s just jump in and begin here: One problem in particular, and one that is perpetuated in the mainstream — and once more here in this article — is the compartmentalizing of “diet” and “fitness”, rather than taking into account the yin-yang nature, the direct inter-relatedness, of these two subjects.  Another is the blanket association in the mainstream between “thin” and “healthy”.  Ironic that this article came out as it did, on the heels of the completion of the Tour de France, and the re-emergence of Lance Armstrong into the public eye (in fact, check out Lance in some of the featured Time ads).  John Q. Public reads this Time article, then considers Lance’s ripped physique, and (quite rightly) calls bullshit on the notion that physical energy expenditure does not have a remarkable affect upon the body’s ultimate appearance.  This would then be a perfect opportunity to branch into a discussion of the body’s hormonal response to food intake, and proper application of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.  Or, in the words of Dr. Robert Lustig, MD, UCSF:

“You are not what you eat; you are what you do with what you eat.” (Hat tip to Brent Pottenger, of healthcare epistemocrat)

Ah, but therein lay the rub.  The mainstream consumer’s eyes gloss-over at this point, and Time looses said consumer to — I don’t know — name the most recent brain-dead reality show on the market.

Let’s face it, most people are not willing to do the mental work/investigation required to truly “get” this subject.  I mean, how many people to you know who have actually read Good Calories, Bad Calories?  Now, no doubt Taubes’ work is not an easy read — but c’mon, it’s not Joyce for Christ’s sake.  It’s just so much easier I suppose, as Richard Nikoley points out, here, to follow the herd.

And yet, this subject most certainly can be cut down to easily-digestible, “lay-person” bullet points.  How tough is this to understand?

  • Overall calorie intake and physical caloric expenditure do matter, however, the affect of /control of these factors is well beyond the average person’s ability.
  • The body’s hormonal response to a particular food (fat, carbohydrate and protein) is the hub about which all else diet and fitness related rotates.  This notion is  easily understood, and its application easily controlled, even by the average person.
  • Proper exercise is essential for the maintenance of good health.  Exercise increases appetite, however (how can it not, at least eventually?).  The answer to this is not “not to exercise“, but to (1) exercise properly (sporadic, short bursts of intense work) and (2) couple this with a proper, low carbohydrate, moderate fat, moderate protein diet.
  • The most effective thing the average person can do today, right now, to begin shedding fat and improving health is to eliminate all forms simple carbohydrates from the diet (especially sugar, HFCS and the like), and substitute these calories, when hungry, with good fats and proteins.  See bullet point #2.

Act II

Just when I thought all hope was lost, though, my friends over at NPR came through with a timely interview (Dispelling Myths About Exercise)  with Dr. Timothy Church, a physician, researcher and the current chair in health wisdom at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.  Whoa, “health wisdom”; to be sure the good doctor would now connect all those dots that the Time article had just flung about so haphazardly.  And NPR prides itself on addressing the “smartest listenership in the nation”; surely now we’ll hear truthful discussion of thermodynamics as it applies to the human body and the body’s hormonal response to food; why Lance is ripped even though he consumes vast quantities of carbohydrates and why 100 grams of HFCS will be treated by the body in a totally different manner than 100 grams of fat (or protein).

Uhh, not so much.

Although, to his benefit, the distinguished current holder of the chair in health wisdom does speak to the notion of exercise for its own sake (mobility, independence, cognitive function, etc.) he never couples this with the idea of building/maintaining muscle mass, and the benefits, both in fat loss and in overall health, of maintaining a high percentage of lean mass.  In fact, he goes out of his way to deny the importance of lean mass vis-a-vis reduced body fat levels.  He even implies that to lose weight, one will, by definition, lose muscle as well — unless (in his words) we were to engage in extreme bouts of weight-bearing exercise.  Not that lean body mass affects the ol’ thermodynamics equation one way or the other, right doc.?  Apparently, all other things being equal, two people of the same weight, but of vastly different lean mass percentages, will burn the same amount of calories at rest.  WTF???

This after he makes mention of weightloss (I hate that term) being all about “basic thermodynamics”.  All well and fine.  Now, how about let’s speak to what kind of things can be done to affect the input side of the equation.  What things can I do to set up a hormonal cascade that will shunt calories away from storage?  We in the Paleo community know; unfortunately, even the chair of health wisdom is still in the dark.  And if he’s still in the dark, what hope do we have for the masses coming around any time soon.  Note: the good doctor, with his vast credentials and “mainstream” views, would be a perfect fit for “Health and Fitness Czar” under a single-payer healthcare system.  Try sleeping well at night now.

It seems that the only idea that the “mainstream” grabbed hold of from Tuabes’ GCBC is the notion of exercise not being a necessary factor (and even a possible determent) in weightloss efforts.  Ironically, this is the one area where Taubes misses the boat, so to speak.  He doesn’t fully flesh this idea out in GCBC, and relate exercise to building/maintaining lean body mass, and the affect that lean body mass will ultimately have on body fat percentages.  He never differentiates between the long and slow (aerobic) version of exercise, and the preferred sporadic, high-intensity, short-duration version.  And unfortunately for the masses, the “mainstream” jumped all over the “exercise is not necessary for weightloss” idea.

And the notion, while “correct” in one sense, is not totally true.  It’s not a black-and-white issue, and requires a more in-depth, thorough discussion.  The kind of discussion that the “mainstream” won’t prompt (hardlines beget wild-eyed controversy, beget increased sales), and that the general public has no patience for.

For now it seems, the American weight control diet will consist on no exercise (it increases appetite!  And it’s no fun anyway) and smaller portions, i.e., half a big gulp — and limited super-sizing.

In health,


My Version of Endurance Work (and other fun stuff)

“Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.”

Samuel Butler

"WOD Wall", at the ECU throwing complex

"WOD Wall", at the ECU throwing complex

Tuesday marked one full week since I’ve been in the gym.  This is nothing that I planned, really, just something that has come about organically, kicked-off by a four-day stint of being out-of-town.  Not that I’ve been inactive, mind you — far from it.  I did some Tabata sprinting while down in San Antonio (oh to be back in dry heat!).  Actually, the mini VaCa began with a mad dash (in very humid heat, thank you) from the RDU parking garage to gate 20-whatever in an ass-hat attempt at catching a (very nearly) missed flight.  Dropped off Meesus TTP at curb-side check-in with all intentions of yours truly having to wrangle a later gig.  As luck would have it though, Meesus TTP not only made the flight herself, but managed to get the two-seat emergency exit isle (best seats in the house, in my opinion) and plead my case long enough for me to complete the RDU steeple chase in what had to be record time.  Good thing I was sporting my Nike Frees that morning.  A bloody Mary on an empty stomach, by the way, is not a half bad post workout recovery drink 🙂 And thank you, Southwest Airlines, for not kicking-off the Raleigh to Nashville, early AM party, without me.

Anyway, being that the rains seem to have at least temporarily abated here in eastern NC — and with the days being still quite long — I was inspired to continue my streak of outdoor (and, after-work) workouts.  Here were my two most recent :

Endurance for a Sprinter

Here’s an oldie but goodie drawn from my football days.  Accomplishing this was seen as baseline conditioning for linebackers and DBs by the SWTSU coaching staff.  Coming into camp without this base level of endurance would give reason to “ramp up” the camp’s difficulty; akin to pouring gasoline on an already blazing inferno.   The premise here is simple enough: with a running clock set at 15 minutes, complete 15 100 yard sprints in less than 15 seconds each, beginning each sprint at the top of each new minute.  So 15 seconds (or less) of sprinting, followed by 45 seconds (or more, depending on the sprint time) of rest, for 15 rounds.  Piece of cake, huh?  Yeah, try it some time.  On Monday I did, and found that the ol’ coaching staff would’ve, to say the least, frowned on my performance; my later sprints having dipped into the 16, 17, and even 18 second range.  I think that with some directed effort, though, I could once again master this little test.  I followed this up with 15 pull-up bar muscle-up singles, each done as explosively as possible, and with a good minute or so rest between each while I watched the ECU Pirate football team run through their evening drills.  Of course, since I hucked the fixie up to ECU to begin with, I then had to huck it back home again (if I wanted to eat); this time with a pair of rubbery legs.

A little of this, and a little of that…

Tuesday after work I headed back up to the ECU sporting complex.  I had no real plan in mind, figuring I’d put something together once I got there.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Weighted overhead lunge, 90 lbs x 1 “runway” (a “runway” being approximately 70 feet)
  • Weighted explosive lunge, 45 lbs x 2 runways (apprx. 30 sec’s rest between trips)
  • Reverse grip, pull-up bar muscle-ups x 2
  • Elevated feet ring flyes x 8
  • Weighted “Jacks”, 45 lbs x 10

4 full rounds

Yeah, so that was an ass-kicker sure enough.  The explosive lunges were done with a 45 lb plate held at chest level (but not against the chest),attempting to get as much distance as possible with each lunge.  For the weighted Jacks, I again used a 45 lb plate in an explosive “pull-through” motion (see the Craig Ballantyne clip below) leading into a vertical jump, attempting to attain max height with each jump.

You can do this move for distance (either forward or backward) as well, with the proper, overhead “catch” being a self-regulating factor.  This is a nice, explosive hamstring movement.  And it certainly didn’t make the follow-up lunges any easier 🙂

In health,


The Anatomy of an Impromptu Workout

“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Louis Brandeis

The View from College Hill

The View from College Hill

I started out on my trusted fixie Saturday, 14-hours into an intermittent fast, with the idea of doing a quick barefooted sprint session at the ECU athletic complex before coming home and setting in to watch Lance defend his 3rd-place position in the TdF.  As I approached Dowdy-Ficklen stadium however, I thought I might rather hit some stadium sprints instead.

As luck would have it, the stadium was in fact open; lots of action going on, with football recruits moving in and out of the training complex.  August is fast approaching, which means the kick-off of football season is a mere 5 weeks or so away.  Damn I miss that game.  But anyway, I digress…

I eased on through the gates, circled around through the concourse to the ramps, and had

Decisions, Decisions.  In the end, I took the easy way out.
Decisions, Decisions. In the end, I took the easy way out.

just begun my ascent when I spied a new stash of tractor tires and bumper plates staged for a little outdoor fun for the football recruits.  Change number two to the day’s plan came about when I decided that performing overhead lunges up the entire stadium ramp complex, with a 20kg bumper plate,seemed like a fabulous idea.

Now there are 20 ramp segments from the Dowdy-Ficklen concourse to the stadium’s upper deck, and I managed between 11 and 15 lunges per segment…so let’s see, that’s — I dunno, a whole hell of a lot of damn lunges.  Performed on a steep incline.  And with 20kgs straight-armed overhead.

Madness, right?  Well, I did rest approximately 20 seconds between ramp segments; does that count for anything?

Eventually, I stumbled out onto the upper deck, recomposed myself, then hit a few rounds of step sprints while holding the bumper plate in front of me in a position somewhat similar to say, performing curls with an EZ curl bar.  On each descent, I again straight-armed the plate overhead.

On the way back down the ramps (walking, not lunging), I did a combination of single-arm presses (as if I were “shot putting” the plate) and straight-arm overhead lockouts.

You're gonna do what?...Where?
You’re gonna do what?…Where?
A tad heavier, and more cumbersome, too, than the Travelocity nome.
A tad heavier, and more cumbersome, too, than the Travelocity gnome.
Again, the nome would've been more managable...
Again, the gnome would’ve been more manageable…

Now I’ve had sketchier fixie rides on the way home after a tough workout, but I think this one won the “endeavor to persevere with toasted legs” prize.  Not to mention that holding my head up with fried traps took a bit of doing.

So as many of you are undoubtedly aware, a tough workout in the middle of a fast will put the squelch on your appetite for a good while following.  I rode this wave for all it was worth (about 4 hours, post workout), and finally ate about 6 PM that evening — eggs, ham, raw milk and a smattering of fruit and berries — purposely holding the carbs to a minimum.  I grazed the rest of the evening on raw cheese, salami (a poor choice, I know — it was situational), pork roast and a little bit of sweet potato with raw butter.  And I made sure to down plenty of fish oil as well.

Hey, if Lance can dust it up with the youngsters in the TdF, I can give the football recruits at ECU a little something to talk about.  “Yo, you see that crazy  mo’ fo’ over at the stadium…?

In health,