The Anabolic Continuum, “Confounding Variables”, and Physical Culture as Art

The idea that strength and conditioning programming — and, in fact, any pursuit related to the optimal expression of one’s phenotype — is a purely unique-to-the-trainee, n=1 experiment is the underlying theory behind my own day-to-day practice of Physical Culture.  In fact, the TTP blog itself is an on-going ode to the notion that training is more art than science; or, another way of looking at it is that training is one of the main Physical Culture “arts”, and science is but a single color on the pallet used in the creation of that art.

Enter John Barban, Brad Pilon, and the “Phi Life” experience –

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and add the Phi Life podcast to your bookmark listing; I don’t think you’re likely to find a more truthful, intellectually-based series of discussions on all things related to the intersection of science and Physical Culture.  Plain and simple: these guys know their stuff, and they articulate it well.

Now, why am I so adamant in my (repeated) assertions that training must be an n=1 endeavor?  That it cannot be otherwise?  That training is more so art than science?  Well, check-out the following pair of Phi Life shows, as Brad and John deliver the goods on exactly why this is so.

I am certainly not anti-science, but the problem, at this stage of the game anyway, is that the science of sports physiology (writ large) is only in its infancy.  It’s as if we’ve only just recently identified the pieces of the puzzle, but have no “box top” to reference so as to even begin to figure how the pieces fit.  And on top of that, we continually find new pieces added to the pile.

The following two shows fit nicely together, and each runs approximately a half-hour.  I’ve taken the liberty of lifting the show explanations from the Phi Life site itself, and I hope that Brad and John are cool with that.

Hypertrophy happens; strength happens.  Athletes become faster and more powerful.  Fat is shed; anaerobic and aerobic conditioning improves by leaps and bounds.   From years of experience, we have a pretty good idea of what strings need to be pulled, how often and when, to elicit certain responses.  We have gut notions of why a certain technique, protocol, scheme, etc. will work on one guy, but will fail if used with the guy standing right next to him.  But really, we don’t have a firm grasp of what’s going on inside the “black box”, and those hints that science has eeked out for us really don’t tell us much more than what we already knew – that X protocol will work sometimes, and with certain populations, and that even if it does work, the efficacy won’t last for long.  It’s a moving target, and the gun is poorly sighted.  Do we really know much more now about sports physiology than the East Germans knew in the early ‘80s?  If in fact we do, it can’t be by much.

Check out the shows:

The Anabolic Continuum

Research on muscle building report a wide range of responders. There are those who gain virtually no muscle or strength, and there are those who have very impressive gains. If the weight training program was the same then the people doing the training must be different.

The response you will get from a weight training program is dependent upon your anabolic sensitivity. A number of factors go into assessing your anabolic sensitivity including age, training status, type of training, genetic predisposition, somatotype.

All of these factors collectively come together as a way of explaining where you land on the Anabolic Continuum.

In today’s lesson we’ll discuss what a confounding variable is, and explain that one of the biggest confounding variables in muscle building research is the anabolic sensitivity of each subject. Until researchers start categorizing where their subjects are on the Anabolic Continuum they will continue to have inconclusive results.

Anabolic Slowdown

The effectiveness of your weight training workouts might be dependent upon where you are in the anabolic continuum. This may be why different people get different results on the same workout program.

Where you are in the anabolic continuum may also be you best indicator of which exercise program to choose.

In today’s podcast we’ll discuss the concept of Anabolic Slow Down and Anabolic Resistance, and your “Training Age” vs your “Biological Age”.

We believe this is the biggest confounding variable in resistance training research and the reason why results are not consistent.

Two fabulous shows, and a hell of an education in exchange for an hour’s worth of your time.

The workout rundown for Friday, Saturday and Sunday –

Friday evening

As my days in NC are becoming numbered, my workouts are having to become ever more pin-pointed; quite simply, time is a big issue right now.  Buying a new home, readying for a cross-country move, wrapping up projects with my former employer, saying good-bye to friends – and though my kids are adults and on their own, making their own lives and their own unique way in the world, it’s still tough to leave them behind.  All this adds up to additional stress as well.  I think I manage it well, but still…  So Autoregulation will be the overriding theme for my last few NC workouts prior to next weekend’s “mother of all road trips”.

I kicked tonight’s session off with some whip-snatch + overhead squats, 3 sets of 5 at 95 lbs.  Rapid-fire reps, about 15-secs between sets.  That got the blood pumping nicely, and I’ve found that it’s is a great cycling-to-weight-room transition movement.  Now I can dive right into the meat of the workout, a superset of deadlifts and weighted dips – and pray that I’ve got enough legs left at the end of it all to get me back home  🙂

deadlifts (conventional, over-under grip): 185 x 10; 285 x 6; 375 x 5; 375 x 4

weighted dips: 45 x 10; 75 x 6; 95 x 6; 95 x 7 (+ 3 additional rest-pause reps)

then one set of Hierarchical (hat tip to Art DeVany) barbell curls: 95 x 15, 105 x 4, 110 x 3.  The rest between “sets” was just long enough to slap on the additional weight and get rolling again.  It would be interesting to see what the TUL was here.  I pushed the first two “sets” right to the brink of failure (i.e., the last good, fully-completed rep), then pushed the last set to full-on negative failure – in other words, the last two concentric reps were “cheat” reps, coupled with exaggerated (6-second) negatives.  The addition of bands or chains here would provide a better strength curve – I’ll keep this in mind for future set-ups.

Saturday –

I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s just something brutally effective about a hard lift set, followed immediately by a sprint.  We did versions of this theme back in my college days, but Dan John is the only person I know who has actually written anything about what he calls (and what I’ve now come to call), the Litvinov workout.  Here’s what I did Saturday:

– 20 fast-as-possible (yet with good form) front squats with an 11’ by 4” diameter slosh pipe, then, immediately following that

– a 40 second sprint for distance…

…then, recover just long enough to get your lungs, spleen and pancreas back in their proper locations, and hit it again.  I did 4 of these on Saturday and they took all of about 15 minutes to complete.  Only 15 minutes?  Dude, that’s a warm-up!  WTF, didn’t you do anything else?  Yeah, right.  Give ‘em a shot, and get back to me on that point.

Sunday –

A pair of supersets on the menu today.  First up, a heavy pairing with the intent being to move the weight as fast as humanly possible on every rep.

behind-the-neck push-press: 115 x 3; 145 x 3; 175 x 3; 195 x 3; 205 x 1, 210 (missed lock-out); 205 x 1

weighted regular-grip pull-ups: 35 x 3; 50 x 3; 60 x 3; 70 x 3; 75 x 3; 85 x 2, 2

followed that up with an elevated feet push-ups and GHR superset; shifting gears into the repetition method this time, though:

elevated feet push-ups: bw x 45, 30, 15 (4, 2, 2, 2)

GHR: 20, 20, 10 (3, 3, 2, 2)

this was done in three sets, with rest-pause utilized in the last few reps of the last set.

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The Value of Machines — a Pre-Exhaust Example, and a Couple of Days of Training

Dave Durrell, of High Intensity Nation, recently posted on a very effective, isolation + compound movement shoulder training technique, utilizing a good ol’ weightlifting standby — the pre-exhaust method.  This is a fine example, in my opinion, of employing the right tool for the job.

Let’s take a step back and consider the various ways in which a body can be “strong”.  On its face, this seems an odd notion – you’re either strong or you’re not, right?  Well, not exactly.  We’ve all seen examples of someone who’s quick as a cat – super explosive, say — yet who’s lacking in absolute strength (the classic Allyson Felix scenario).  Conversely, there’s the super-strong powerlifter for whom you’ll have to break out a sundial to clock their 40 time.  Power, then (what we’re really ultimately looking at) is a combination of different finely trained strength attributes appropriated and expressed over a given duration; the fine-tuned execution of which is a type of kinesthetic “genius” in its own right.  Of course, the predominant strength attributes required of a 2 second duration snatch are undoubtedly different than those required of a 3-and-a-half second deadlift, a 100 meter sprint, a wrestling match, or the full duration of a football game.  The best athletes in each of these endeavors, though, will undoubtedly excel at not only the predominant required strength capability, but in all strength capabilities.  This is what Louie Simmons is getting at when he trains his athletes to be proficient in all “strengths” (I wrote a little about this most recently, here).  A proficiency in all strength attributes is, in fact, what separates the “contenders” from the mere “competitors”.

But back to Dave’s post.  It’s been fashionable within the free-weight community these days – hell, actually ever since the emergence of Arthur Jones, and advent of Nautilus equipment upon the physical culture scene – to bash machine-based work.  The thing is, though, machines are just another tool.  And for pre-exhaust work, isolation purposes, repeated-effort method work and the like, they’re a damn good choice.  Again, it’s all a matter of determining what your immediate training needs are, and choosing the right tool from among your available options to satisfy your needs.  Whenever I’m asked the old “machines or free weights” question, my answer is always “yes”…and bodyweight exercises, and sprinting, and climbing, and gymnastics… Why would anyone choose to voluntarily limit their available options?

Late revision (6/25/10) – I just ran across this, via Seth Godin’s fine blog (hat tip to Mike Robertson).  In my mind,  Ism Schism pretty much sums-ups the whole machine/free weight debate.

Tuesday’s Training –

front squat: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 215 x 7 rest-pause singles

then,

hang cleans (light; workin’ the groove again): 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 165 x 6 – very fast, perfectly executed reps.  Fat bar.

then,

Jump squat + BTN jerk: 135 x 3; 155 x 3; 175 x 3, 3, 3

then a superset of-

db tricept extensions (lying flat): 45 x 12, 12, 12 (rest-pause last 5 reps of last set)

EZ bar bicep curl: bar +70 lbs x 12, 12, 12 (rest-pause last 3 reps of last set)

Wednesday’s Training –

clean grip pull jumps: 135 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 3; 225 x 3; 245 x 3, 3, 3

then, a superset of –

kneeling db clean and press: 40 x 15, 15, 15

ghr: bodyweight x 15, 15, 15

then,

Nautilus 4-way neck: 50 lbs front, side, side; 60 lbs to the rear

Took Thursday completely off – no lifting, riding or anything.  Felt kinda strange.

6/2/10, Some TUL-Intensive Horizontal Pushing and Pulling, and a Severe Case of Carb Lust? WTF?

Went out for a little “hair of the dog” fixie huck last night.  Nothing major, though; simply an attempt at working some of the soreness out of my legs resulting from Monday’s Tour De Raleigh.  The TDR ride was only supposed to be a 24-ish mile gig; dumb-ass that I am, though, I turned that into something more along the lines of 35 to 40 miles due to my knack for getting completely and utterly lost.  What, ask directions?  Are you kidding me?  Oh well, what’s an extra and unexpected hard hour or so in the saddle, right?  Anyway, like I said, nothing major last night — just a quick trip out for coffee, then back to mi casa.  Couple of short sprints to juice the legs and stoke the metabolism; a dose of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to rev the spirit and intellect.

Carb Lust…WTF??

So after 3 pretty damn tough hours in the saddle on Monday,  I finally wheeled into Cup-A-Joe’s for a badly needed shot of caffeine, and to introduce my lovely daughter — who’s moving to the Raleigh area — to the awesome Cup-A-Joe’s vibe.  Anyway, I rack the steed, hydrate a bit, attempt to stretch my lactic acid pumped legs, then hobble up to the counter to order-up — only to have the most delicious poundcake/brownie/whatever-the-hell platter of scrumptiousness looking me straight in the eye…wantonly, even.  Whoa!  I haven’t been hit by that kind of an intense carb lust since way back in the initial stages of my Paleo transformation.  And I’m talkin’ mouth-watering lust, here.  Funny thing, though: after about 5 minutes, and few sips of coffee, the craving passed; completely.  Now, I don’t know if the craving subsided because I was no longer face-to-face with the the instigating entity, or because of the coffee ingestion, or what.  In fact, my daughter arrived to meet me shortly after I’d settle-in with my cup o’joe and IndyWeek, and as we chit-chatted, she munched-away on a cookie the size of a cup saucer (I know, I know…and so does she) — never once, though, did I suffer a recurrence of the carb-noshing urge.  I can only guess that I was a good bit hypoglycemic (having just come off the bike) while at the counter, so it was just a perfect storm of momentary low blood sugar, and “offender appearance” timing.  Strange, though, to have felt that feeling again, and a good reminder of what new initiates the the whole Paleo gig have to suffer.  It’s all so easy for those of us who have crossed the bridge — sometimes it’s good to look back and try to recall what those dark days of transition were like.

Tuesday AM Training

Still working the TUL angle, here.  Next time in the gym I’ll hit a more explosive modality.  Gotta keep it all in rotation.

A giant set of the following:

Atlantis pec-deck (seat @ 6): 120 x 5, 4.  No forced or negs.

ballistic push-ups: bodyweight x 6, 6

Atlantis semi-pronated grip press (seat @ 6): 5, 4+ 4 forced reps/negatives (6-count for 3, lost on 4th)

Atlantis seated row (semi-pronated grip, seat all the way down, 2 holes visible on pad): 120 x 6, 5+ 3 forced rep/negs (6 count)

Tempo on all reps was maintained (except on the ballistic push-ups, of course) at 10/x/10/x, with “x” signifying no pause at the top or bottom of the movement.  Forced reps and/or negatives followed concentric failure on the 10/x/10/x tempo reps.  Again, I realize that weights used on machines is meaningless to anyone but me, but I use this blog as a workout tracker and as an extension of my gym notebook.

I followed the above up a superset of:

GHR: 30 lb vest x 10, 10, 10

kneeling jump squat: 30 lb vest x 6, 6, 6; all for max height

Then, a round of Nautilus 4-way neck: front and each side 40 lbs x 10; rear 50 lbs x 10

So why limit the TUL work to upper body only?  Well, the short answer is that all that biking I do is, in and of itself, a good amount of TUL work for the quads, and a fair amount (since I ride a fixie) for the glutes and hams.  The GHR’s were thrown in as restorative work, and the kneeling jump squats were put in in an attempt to maintain a bit of explosiveness in my legs.  I find if I don’t keep up with a bit of explosive work in the midst of a heavy riding spate, my legs tend to lose “pop”, and though they maintain strength well, explosiveness is another story.

And finally, a little good news, and a little bad, on the HFCS front.  Look out rest of the world, the US has a care package for you, and it ain’t pretty.

Iron Metcon, 5/18/10

Performed this combo with as little rest as possible between each movement, and with each rep in the scheme performed in rapid-fire fashion.  I really pushed the envelope to, but not over, the edge of form degeneration.  This is a fine line to manage.

snatch x3 + btn push-press + OHS x 5 combo: 95 x 1, 115 x 1, 125 x 1, 1, 1

weighted reverse grip pull-ups: 45 x 7, 7, 7, 7, 6+ (stall-out)

The combo and pull-ups were done in alternating fashion, with very little rest between movements.  Keep the body in motion as much as possible, while minimizing down time.  This is another from the “easy on paper, killer in practice” files; it’ll have you blowin’ like a freight train by the final set of pull-ups.

Snatches were done in a touch-and-go from the floor, while maintaining a grip on the bar throughout, and as rapid fire as possible.  Speed of rep execution is premium, here  Following the 3rd rep, lower the bar to the high-squat rack position and immediately hit a btn jerk, and then immediately drop into a below parallel OHS.  Shoot back up and repeat the jerk/OHS movement for a total of 5 reps, fast, fast, FAST.  Be careful, though, to maintain proper form, and DO NOT sacrifice form or speed for load.

Then a superset of:

GHR: 3 sets of 15, at bodyweight

ab wheel roll-outs: 3 sets of 7 at bodyweight

Again, I kept the reps snappy and minimized the down time between exercises to a bare minimum.

Lower back is still a tad loosey-goosey from the recent fixie near-miss, so I didn’t push the roll-outs to hard.

On the epigenetic front –
More food for thought, and a great article, here, supporting the notion that you are not totally at the mercy of your genes.

Remember, each of us has to engage our surroundings as best as we can, given our unique and particular circumstance.  Not everyone has ready access to a well-equipped gym, not everyone has unlimited access to a food co-op or farmers’ market.  Pre-existing injuries, work schedules, family obligations — the myriad of diverse variables that, once in collusion, define a life —  establish for us the palate and medium with which we must create our own, personalized version of paleolithic physical culture.  This is why stock programs never work, why “bootcamp” mentality (i.e., the tactics employed on, for example, The Biggest Looser) ultimately fail in the long run.  Sooner or later you’ll have to deal, one-on-one, with the real world, the day-to-day grind of normal existence.  This is where dieters and physical culturalists succeed or fail, this is where truth speaks to power.

Learn to find your own, unique way.  One can learn, regurgitate and profess mastery of all the theories of navigation, but being left for dead in the wilderness is the only true and meaningful test of that knowledge.

4/20/10; A Well Spent Half-Hour with the Iron and, Inspiration – Nike Style

Nothing at all fancy today, just a lot of work jam-packed into a mere 30-minute time frame.

Russian lunge jumps for height: 3 each leg, each round

single-leg high box (approx. 18″) step-ups: 135 x 5, 5; 155 x 4; 165 x 4; 4 (each leg)

ab wheel roll-outs: bodyweight x 10, each round

glute/ham raise (GHR): 40 x 5, 5; 45 x 5; 50 x 5, 5

5 rounds of this, subsequent to a good warm-up.  If you do the math, that’s 20 exercises completed in approximately 20 minutes, with the warm-up and equipment/station set-up requiring another 10 minutes or so.  So plenty of work, with very little rest.  Now, I wouldn’t try to squeeze an exceptionally heavy and/or neurologically demanding workout into a 30-minute bracket, but this kind of “speed-endurance” type work is well-suited for a short overall time investment.

Inspiration, thanks to Nike

Ross Enamait — whose methods I find top-notch, and absolutely kick-ass — posted this fantastic Nike “commercial” on his site recently; tell me you’re not jacked-up after watching it.

Ahhh, brings back that old pre-game, ’bout-to-bust-outta-my-friggin’-skin feeling!   I love it!  And, like Ross, my favorite line here has to be:

“Passion has a funny way of trumping logic.”

Ain’t it the truth!

4/15/10; MetCon for Sprinters and, Posturing for a New Round of NAIS Grand-Standing

…and a new round of attempted power-grabbing.

First off, thanks to Starbucks for softening the blow of tax day here in the US with an offer to fill your reusable travel mug with free coffee.  A day with good, free coffee can’t be all that bad, can it?  Good for the environment (the reusable mug, that is), and good for your caffeine jones.

Now, do you appreciate easy access to supplements, grass-fed/free-range protein, and all manner of locally-grown, organic produce?  Keep a close eye, then, on the FDA and the McCain bunch, because here come the scare tactics.  These types of problems simply don’t exist with locally-raised/pastured livestock, yet politicians and government entities fail to recognize this fact.  Anyway, standby for more of propaganda — these are the preliminary body-blows that serve to soften one up for the knock-out punch.  And, of course, what use is a politician without a boogie-man to protect us from?

I wrote about this issue previously, here.  But don’t for a minute think that this attempted power-grab (or, more specifically, Senate Bill S.510) is completely dead.  There’s far too much opportunity for profit and control to be had.  No need for me to elaborate any further on this, as Marti Oakley at the Proud Political Junky blog has already done the heavy lifting on this one.

*Late edit (4/16/10)*  Also see Diana Hsieh’s related post here, at her blog Modern Paleo.

Remember folks, he “…who controls the food supply, controls the people…”  If I’m not mistaken, that’s a piece of a longer, Henry Kissinger quote.  Regardless of who said it, though, the sentiment is spot-on.  Let your elected officials know that you want them to keep the hell out of your relationship with your local farmer and rancher; no room for a governmental menage a trois here.  Nor do you need a big-daddy figure to save you from the “evil” supplement supplier.  We’re all intelligent, big boys and girls, here — no hand-holding needed.  Thanks for the offer, though…

Now go on out and get your free Starbucks coffee…while caffeine is still off the FDA hit-list.

On to the iron-game side of things –

Today’s workout consisted of 3 rounds of the following:

Russian lunge (jump for height): 30 lb vest x 3, each round (alternate legs)
single-leg box squat: 30 lb vest + 20 lb DBs x 6, each leg, each round (thigh parallel to ground, with butt on box)
GHR: 30 lb vest + 30 lb DB x 4 each round
Ab wheel roll-outs: 30 lb vest x 5, each round
reverse grip pull-ups: 90 x 3, each round

Volume was a little lower than usual as I intend to do some mixed-intensity fixie riding — and maybe some barefooted sprints — this evening; the weather here in eastern NC is gorgeous today, and I hate to miss an opportunity to get out and about.  I blew through this one at a rather fast pace, resting only long enough between exercises so as to enable crisp, explosive reps on the upcoming exercise.  Max power production on every rep was the primary goal, with overall speed of completion being a lesser concern.  Still, though, I allowed myself no lallygagging between exercises.

3/25/10; The 20-minute Workout, and When Will is an Illusion

Can you really get a decent workout in 20 minutes?  Hell, yeah — but you have to be willing to be pretty creative.  Of course, I much prefer the “luxury” of having a full hour or so to go from sluggish blood and tight limbs to grinding out that very last rep; however, we all know that life (and usually friggin’ working life) oftentimes intervenes.  This is why I try to workout first thing in the morning, prior to giving the day’s work-related events from mucking things up.  But sometimes even that’s not enough.

Today was another one of those days, as I had to go from a dead-start to hittin’ the shower in 30 minutes.  Add to this the fact that I spent about 45 minutes in the fixie saddle yesterday (spring fixie fever is kickin’ in!), so I woke up fairly tight in the hips and legs.

So following 10 minutes of abbreviated (though intense) hip/lower body mobility work, I hit 20 minutes worth of this:

elevated feet ring flyes: 30lb vest x 6, 6, 6, 6, 5, 5

GHR: 30 lb vest x 6, 30 lb vest + 15lb db x 4, 4, 4, 4, 3

I performed 1 primer round before I dove into the real McCoy rounds.

Elevated feet ring flyes are, in my opinion, the king of flat flye/pressing movements, turning a mundane movement into one in which the entire body must be fully engaged.

Recent Findings: Will Power and Fluctuating Blood Glucose

This study is illuminating to say the least, if viewed through a Paleo prism.  What’s the best way to control blood glucose levels?  Simple — become a fat metabolizer.   But to do that, you’ve got to break on through to the other side…

Now with that in mind, check out these two clips from Dr. Daniel Amen.  Part 1 here, and then Part 2.   Again, you’ll have to suffer a fair amount of “old skool” thought (eat many times a day to control blood glucose levels, eat carbs at night, blah, blah, blah…) — but again, look at these ideas from a Paleo point-of-view, and with an eye toward helping folks scale the carb jones wall.  Remember, it ain’t always easy for some during those initial Paleo weeks.

Controlling blood sugar?  Well hell yeah, that’s what we in the Paleo community have primed our bodies to do — and we do it on a daily basis, quite naturally, and without a moment’s thought.  And since we’re fat-burnin’, ketosis machines, we don’t have to fiddle with eating all the time to control those glucose levels.  Anyway, check out what the good doc has to say – and focus on what he says are the consequences of poor glucose control, not his ideas on how to control those levels.  Take what is useful, discard what is not.

Of course, it’s easy to Paleo-parody the above study, and Dr. Amens’ clips, too — but again, let’s step back for a moment and sift this material for the hidden gold nuggets – show this to a non-Paleo friend, colleague or loved one as a “bridge” into the full-on Paleo way.

SAD to Paleo is quite a drastic leap for most of the population.  I’ve written about the Paleo transition before (here, for instance), and the huge part that overcoming the initial carb jones is to ultimate Paleo success.  And what is carb jones, if not the body reacting to a low blood glucose level?  Maybe this can be of some help to newcomers to the Paleo way.

And remember kids, no matter what the hollow-eyed, carb-jonesin’ ghouls may tell you, Stevia is not the answer!  The body still responds the same to the taste of sweet — it matters not whether that sweet is sugar, HFCS, or an artificial sweetener like Stevia.  Leave the sugar methadone alone.