And Now Let’s Hack Keith’s DEXA Scan…

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

– William James 

So I’ve decided to follow the look under the hood with a purview of how the ol’ chassis is holding up, and what better method to do so with than the gold standard body composition test, the DEXA scan.

The big selling point of this technology, of course, lay in it’s ability to accurately and non-invasively measure bone density, and as more and more folks succumb to the horrors of a SAD/non-Paleo-diet-induced osteoporosis, this provides the grain-chomping, brittle-boned (1) a vivid snapshot of their deteriorating scaffolding, and (2) a means by which to be shock-sold the Bisphosphonate class of wonder-drugs (Boniva, Flosamax, etc.).  It’s a beautiful, beautiful, 3-way partnership; feed ’em crap, show ’em the in-your-face results of eating said crap, then sell them a drug that enables them (in one respect, at least) to continue eating that crap.  Win-win…and — cha-ching! — WIN again!  😉

Mostly seen as a side benefit of this technology — yet what those of us in the Physical Culture community would be most interested in — is the DEXA’s ability to accurately measure ALL the constituents of one’s body composition: fat, lean tissue and bone mass.  In other words, it’s the most accurate, all-encompassing picture of one’s body composition that can be had.

Now, as I have the great privilege of living in *the* epicenter of Physical Culture, Austin, Texas, I have ready access to the University of Texas run Fitness Institute of Texas, where Executive Director, Phil Stanforth, and Operations Director, Julie Drake, oversee a grade-A organization of fitness/performance-smart professionals.  In fact, we at Efficient Exercise are now in partnership with the fine folks at FIT, offering DEXA services to our clients at a much-reduced rate.  Not only do clients receive a full report of their scan results (the most of which, of my report, I’ve included below), but also a comprehensive explanation of the results from one of the astute FIT staff.

Note: for those of you making the trip to Austin this spring for what’s quickly shaping-up to be the Burning Man of the Paleo/Primal set, PFX12, we will have have a limited number of slots available to obtain your own DEXA Scan report and comprehensive explanation from the professionals at FIT.  We’ll update PFX12 website as the specifics of this service become available.  Check the PFX12 site for more details as they become available.

So without further ado, here we go.  Ain’t no Photoshoppin’ and/or airbrushin’ this stuff, folks!  And just a side note: airbrushed or not, LL does look mighty (surprisingly even?) hot, here 😉  I dunno, maybe it’s the Marilyn thing…

…I digress…

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.  So below is a visual image of the raw data, produced from approximately 7-minutes worth of actual scan time.  Note the bit of scoliosis in the mid/low back.  Now, I haven’t thought of this one iota since my days of playing college ball, when the team chiropractor pointing out this condition to me.  I remember at the time asking if it was a problem, and his reply being “based on your performance, apparently not.”   My kinda doc.  The question in my mind now is, I wonder how much extra performance *could* be squeezed-out of being perfectly aligned.  I also wonder if this is a genetic thing, or something resultant of my daredevil (read:bone-headed), no-stranger-to-the-ER, youth.

And now, the pertinent portions of the full report.  I realize these are a little tough to read; gotta work within the limitations of the blogging platform, though.

Note the 17.2 % BF in the hips.  What the hell?  Lotta junk in the trunk appearantly, y’all 😉

What would be interesting — and what I’d kill to have — are comparison data from my competitive days, where I was in the peak of my performance/fitness ability (health, of course, being another matter entirely), and played at between 220 and 225.  Aside from the extra amount of muscle I carried in my neck at that time (heh…think prototypical Neanderthal), I wonder what the rest of my composition would have looked like.  If I had to guess, I’d say that my BF% was a little higher, but not by much.

So this is quite interesting.  A 10.6% BF level without purposefully trying to be lean.  If anyone has seen me eat, they know that I do so with reckless abandon.  The key, of course, is the consumption of a Paleo diet — though I do enjoy the occasional corn tortilla, corn chips and salsa, and the much more frequent beer.  I also swill plenty of raw, unpasteurized dairy (usually reserved for post workout).  These are the n=1 tweaks that I’ve found work for me, though these few indiscretions usually have me exiled,  by Paleo dogmatists, to the nutritional equivalent of Lesbos; that’s the topic of another post though, I suppose.  At any rate, if I were a bodybuilder, a 10.6%, off-season BF would be pretty damn good — not far to go to get to stage condition — and a hell of a lot healthier than bloating up only to drop right back down again.

Oh, and one thing that I did not include from the report is that, at a BMI of 30.6, the World Health Organization considered me “obese”.   I suppose it’s time to whittle-down into the single-digit BF so as to rectify that!

~

So what, exactly is “healthy”?  And can “healthy” (as opposed to “performance”) even really be adequately defined?  None of us in this community is particularly satisfied (nor should we be) with the trite “absence of disease” definition, but damn if we don’t keep getting lead back to that point.  Health, of course, is a condition that is in continual flux, a condition defined not only by internal functioning and parameter measures, but also how those parameters react to epigenetic, cultural and societal influence.   Health is a distinct function apart from measures of “fitness” and/”performance”, and yet it is intimately tied to these measures as well.  A simple thought experiment:  how many victims of the 9/11 tragedy sported “perfect” blood labs and DEXA screens, yet perished due to a fitness base incapable of rising to the occasion? An extreme example, yes — and yet…well, it’s at least food for thought.

And with this thought in mind, checkout the fantastic post, Norm and normal: the social construction of health, by Dr. Ricky Fishman.  Good, thought-provoking stuff.

In health (and performance!),

Keith

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Bowflex Killer?

“Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.”  – Bertrand Russell 

Yeah, the “Bowflex Killer” — that’s what Anthony Johnson, architect and founder of the 21 Convention, has dubbed the ARX Fit Omni.

The Omni is the “home” version of the industrial units we use as part of our overall training package at Efficient Exercise.  We don’t claim this technology to be the only way (though it certainly can be, for those who are time-crunched), but rather a unique addition to an overall and inclusive exercise methodology.

I won’t drone on, as that’s what this clip is for.  So here’s your’s truly dishin’ on the goods at this year’s 21 Convention in Orlando, Florida.  Enjoy!

Adaptive Resistance eXercise — it’s not the only way, but it sure is one hellova way.

In health,

Keith

Return-On-Investment; Time vs Goals

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.

William Shakespeare

Continuing with the Health vs Performance curve theme from last time out, we see that the weekly time investment requirement, relative to increased performance, increases exponentially.  I know, I know — big shocker, right?  But somehow, this basic tenant becomes…I don’t know…watered down? — or, at least, severely downplayed by some camps. And it’s precisely on this point at which I break ranks with traditional HIT proponents.  And I’m no HIT-hater, either; far from it.  I personally use HIT-like methodologies to drastically reduce the amount of time I spend in the gym (per-session, and cumulative over the course of a week), and I employ similar methodologies with my clients.  So there you have it: I’m running out of islands to be banished from.  Tossed from Paleo island for my wanton consumption of raw dairy, and now this: unceremoniously shunned from HIT Inn 😉

Consider how I view this from 30-thousand feet, though.  My thoughts are that resistance training, relative to one’s defined goals (of course), have to be considered on a sliding, n=1 scale.  Ask me if I can maximize a trainee’s overall health in one hour (or considerably less) a week on an Efficient Exercise prescription and I’ll answer in an unabashed affirmative.  Hell, I can even coax some pretty damn impressive performance/body composition results with that 1-hour investment.  What I cannot do within that same time constraint, however, is maximize a trainee’s performance potential — unless that trainee’s performance is defined in terms of  sport-specific technique, or is primarily an endurance-driven event.  Of course, these same trainees will, by necessity, be putting in hours outside of the gym — in the batting cage, for instance, or in the saddle, or on the track.  Strength training for these athletes constitutes a performance edge, a means of sound injury prevention, and little more.  But in reality, when we speak of required “gym time” vs ROI (return on investment), that talk centers (when not focused primarily on power-driven athletics) around body recomposition; fat-burning and, everyone’s favorite topic, hypertrophy.

…and here’s where the HIT-camp hate mail comes pouring in 😉

But if my time in the trenches has shown me nothing else, it has shown me that if a trainee is looking for maximum hypertrophy, that trainee better be willing to devote a serious amount of time to the pursuit — even if predominantly HIT-like protocols are utilized.  And yes, I’m well-versed on what the available science says.  And I know all about Mentzer, Viator and Jones.  Unfortunately, science is ill-equipped to adequately account for the myriad of moving parts that constitute the whole of hypertrophy.  As for Messrs Mentzer, Viator and Jones, I’ll just say that it is my opinion that, just as gravity bends the time-space continuum, so does marketing tend to bend truth.

“But I’m absolutely destroyed after a true, HIT throw-down”, you say?  Yeah, no doubt — so am I.  And that’s where smartly-programmed, higher repetition work comes into play.  And movement splits.  And speed-strength work…and strength-speed…and concentric-only focus…and, well, the list goes on. It’s about Conjugate for the masses, my friends.  Smart and varied programming.  Hypertrophy (and athletic performance as well) is not a simple, linear correlation between short bouts of pin-pointed effort and fiber-type recruitment.  Ahh, if it were only that easy!  There are many, many moving parts involved in this process, each effected/maximized by different rep schemes, intensity, volumes, etc.  Hypertrophy involves an intricately orchestrated — though not fully understood — dance between muscle fibers and satellite cells, growth factors, hormones and the immune system.  Add to this the fact that this process is affected on the individual level by such things as genetic predisposition and epigenetic factors such as diet, sleep, stress levels, and — to fully complete the circle — training practices.  And these are the determinants we know of.  How many others are left to be discovered?

Chasing maximum results? You'll be seeing plenty of this: the Great White Buffalo in the sky. Visions, my friend -- *visions* 🙂

Kurt Harris uses the “doorman” analogy (and brilliantly so, I might add) to illustrate the flux, as opposed to on-off switch, nature of fat metabolism; a similar analogy could be used when discussing hypertrophy.   One could consider HIT my overall training “insulin”.  But, just as is the case with metabolism, while insulin may in fact be the Godfather hormone, there’s more — much more — to the overall nutrient partitioning/utilization story.

Ultimately though, the question should not be whether HIT and/or single-set-to-failure “works” — it most certainly does — our own Project Transformation proved as much.  The question asked, though, should be whether these protocols work vis-a-vis one’s goals and time investment tolerance.  Looking to maximize health in a safe and super-effective way?  I can think of no better pair of methodologies.  Looking to push beyond point A in the above graph?  Be prepared to saddle-up some fresh horses, my friend.

And this: a note on that magical point B — the point at which both performance and health (and one could extrapolate, longevity) are, in a perfect balancing act, maximized.  My good friend Robb Wolf  has equated this point to the triple-point of water ; perfect analogy, I think.

~

So, my friend, what is it you seek?  Is it really truth?  Or is it, rather, to notch yet another win for your particular argument?

“…Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments…”

– Jonathan Haidt 

Great Edge article here on what is essentially the essence of epistemic humility.  Keep this in mind as you pursue your own n=1 path, and as you filter outside information.  And as you disseminate/express your own, formed opinions.

~

And, in light of my “raising hell on HIT island” (and Paleo island, for that matter), consider this — pissing-off your friends now and again is a good thing 🙂

~

Looking for an excellent compare/contrast to Doug McGuff’s fabulous work, Body By Science?  Then check out Doug Miller’s hot-off-the-press work, Biology for Bodybuilders.  The book is concise in areas where Dr. McGuff drills deep (the science of metabolism, for example), and offers a smartly penned, “counterpoint” opinion on the chase for hypertrophy.  Which “ideology” you eventually gravitate toward will depend on many things, but in my opinion, the most limiting (in a real-world sense) will, again, be your tolerance vis-a-vis time investment.  In other words, are you willing to sacrifice an exponentionally increasing amount of time  in hot pursuit of ever-dwindling performance percentile increases?  This is the grand question every trainee must answer for him/herself.

…and now I’ve used the term vis-a-vis twice in a single post.  It is most definitely time to move on 🙂

~

Workouts?  You bet, here are a few:

First up, check out this workout that I put fellow Efficient Exercise trainer Skyler Tanner through last Thursday — just following the taping of EETV.  Simple in design, excruciating in execution; the epitome of brief, brutal and basic.  Still think I’m not a fan of HIT?  🙂

And yes, Skyler did report visions of the Great White Buffalo in the sky following that bit of fun.  Now on to my own, self-inflicted routines…

5/1/11, Sunday

Sprints and such; bar work, rope climbs and tire flips.  Broad jumps into a sand pit.  Hurdle hops.

5/3/11, Tuesday

(A1) dips: 45/10; 90/5, 5, 4 +4 negatives

(A2) chins: bw/10; 45/7, 7, 6+

(B1) bi curl (Oly bar): 135/7, 7, 5 +2

(B2) EZ tri extension: 85/12; 105/10, 8+3

5/4/11, Wednesday

(A1) safety bar squats: +90/10, +180/10, +230/8, +270/4

(A2) Russian leg curls: bw/10, 10, 10, 10

(B1) hip press (H2): 500/25, 25

5/6/11, Friday

(A1) CZT/ARX overhead press: HR x 5, 5
(A2) DB front raise: 25/12, 12

(B1) T-bar row: 190/4 sets of 12

5/9/11, Monday

(A1) safety bar squat: +140/15
(A2) farmers walks: 2 parking lot loops @ bar +90 each hand

5/10/11, Tuesday

A little Autoreg, with vanity work for good measure
(A1) bi curl (Oly bar): 105/12, 105/6, 135/9, 140/7

(A2) EZ tri extension: 65/12, 105/6, 135/5+, 5

(A3) RLC: bw/7 x 4 sets

5/11/11, Wednesday

Another Autoreg example
(A1) XC 45-deg incline press: (midline +0)/12, +50/6, +50 (rear)/9
…go +70/6

(A2) T-bar row: 110/12, 200/6, 245/6, 5

5/13/11, Friday

(A1) dynamic trap bar DL: 245 + black bands, 7 sets of 3

3-hours later…
(B1) incline bench press: 135/20, 20 (rest-pause), 20 (rest-pause)

(B2) blast strap flyes: bw/20, 21 (rest-pause), 17 (rest-pause)

(B3) blast strap rows: bw/25, 25

5/14/11, Saturday

Sprints, jumps, tire flips, bar work and such.  60-yard shuttle sprints and pro-agility sprints to mix things up.  Broad jumps into a sand pit.  Hurdle hops.

5/15/11, Sunday

More of the same — sprints, jumps, tire flips, bar work and what-not.

~

And then a few final things:

First up, some musings from the boys at Efficient Exercise.   As I said in my Facebook post, we could talk about this stuff for days, folks. And come to think of it, these clips are proving exactly that point 😉

And hey, if you happen to be in the ATX next weekend, make sure to drop by our Efficient Exercise 10th Anniversary and grand-opening open house to be held at out brand-spankin’-new Rosedale location at 45th and Burnet (1403 west 45th street).  My cuz-in-law TJ will be puttin’ the hurt on enough brisket, sausage and chicken to feed Sherman’s Paleo army, so come on by and grab a plate — you carnivore you — and talk a little Physical Culture shop.  And while you’re there, you can hop a ride on our ARX equipment, and test these bad boys out for yourself.   Maybe you can hang on longer than Chad Ocho Cinco?

…well alrighty then 🙂  Can’t blame a man for tryin’…

In health,

Keith

Chasing Performance…at the Expense of Health

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”

– Richard Feynman

Below is the result of a little Sunday morning think-ering (hat tip to Brent Pottenger, of the Healthcare Epistemocrat for coining that clever word) — so what we have here is my sketched interpretation of the health/performance continuum:

First of all, I’d like to point out that the general shape of this health-performance curve/continuum is applicable across the human genome, however, it can still be “bent” on an  individual level, and “stretched” in an applicable, n=1 fashion.  The gist of the idea is, though, that health and performance track quite nicely up to a certain point (point A), at which time further increases in performance — let’s call it “sporting proficiency” at this level — do nothing to make an individual any healthier.  We might say that competitive athletics (or competitive bodybuilding) begins at or near point B — that point at which an individual is willing to forgo a certain degree  of overall health in the pursuit of bettered sporting performance.  Point C inhabits the land where the real juggle begins, and where the bulk of Strength and Conditioning work is practiced.   At this point, the athlete’s health is just another parameter (among a myriad of parameters) that must be tweaked and dialed so as to keep said athlete’s performance red-lined.  Just as in a finely tuned Ferrari though, if a single component wears and fails (as it inevitably will), the whole entity flies apart at the seams.   Performances here tend to swing between moments of absolute and stunning beauty, or gruesome spectacles of crash-and-burn grodiness.  The significance of this area is that health most definitely takes a backseat to performance — it can be no other way.  I won’t deny that the living here is exhilarating (even as it is thoroughly exhausting), but for most — whether by bad luck or genetic weak-link — the ride just doesn’t last long.  The consequences, however, can last a lifetime.

The other major point of significance here is that while 95% of Strength & Conditioning brain-power and know-how is directed unabashedly toward that heady land of peak performance in the C-zone, the vast majority of American citizenry is floundering helplessly somewhere beneath the “point zero” bottom left on this graph.  My contention is that is takes very little in the way of proper training and dietary intervention to move the general populace into that zone between “point zero” and point A.  In fact, we at Efficient Exercise proved this could be done via our recent Project Transformation.  And know this: moving the populace into that “pay-off aisle” will result in the end the of American healthcare crisis as we know it today.  Yeah, Washington, it is that friggin’ easy.

Of course “easy” and “financially beneficial” mean different things to different folks.  I’ll just leave that part of the discussion for another day, though.

Now I’m a little biased here, but I do believe that this health-performance curve ought to be taught at an elementary level, right along with the idea of personal responsibility, basic civics, and the Pledge of Allegiance.  Eat right.  Engage in a little properly programmed exercise each week.  Be a boon to society instead of a drag.  Wanna take a walk on the sporting wild side?  Sure, go for it — just know that there are going to be some trade-offs where your health is concerned, so tread carefully.  What could be more basic, or more easily taught to an elementary-aged kid?  Of course the devil is in the details.  Give this idea to government, and the next thing you know we’re back to dealing with food pyramids, jogging, and Pepsi sponsorships.

But back to the here-and-now: on an individual level, every trainee ought to begin goal setting (or reassessment) by identifying where they want to fall on this graph.  Me?  I push the B-point envelope for the most part, sometimes taking the plunge, for brief periods, into C-land.  I’m a little older (and debatably wiser?) now, so camp-out, I don’t, in the land of C.  Been there, done that, and got a few traumatized body parts as mementos of the fun 🙂  Brief forays, though?  Yeah, I just can’t help my stupid self sometimes.  And so it goes…

In follow-on posts I’ll discuss how I see time investment and protocol selection fitting into this overall picture.  As you might guess, teasing-out increases in upper-end performance requires an inordinate time investment relative to that required to bring one from 0 to 80% of potential peak.  Wanna push the performance envelope?  The first thing you have to ask yourself is this: are you willing to devote the exponential increase in time and effort required to eek-out those final few percentile points?  The next question is, are you willing to play fast and loose with your health?  I’m not here to judge, and I certainly appreciate the focus, dedication, and balls-out intensity of the competitive athlete.  I just think that potential C-land dwellers ought to go in with eyes wide open.

In health,

Keith

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,

Keith

Insulin Response

“Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

Abba Eban

1624759463_d66c22bfdf_opt
photo cred: DeathByBokeh

Inundate yourself with Paleo-minded information long enough, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that insulin is the consummate “bad guy” hormone.  That’s a little too simplistic a way to look at insulin, though — even for those of us who, though not trained specifically in the medical sciences, choose to enhance our lives through proper diet, exercise and well-rounded knowledge.  Insulin is, of course, critical for life and optimal health, and it’s not the hormone per se that is inherently evil, but the gross tilting of that hormone level beyond anything that the human body has evolved to handle that defines the problem.

In this clip (alternatively, you can jump to the Nov. 8th, 2009 WOD from the CrossFit home site), Robb Wolf discusses a case study in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and (though he doesn’t get into it here), the classic indicators of carbohydrate addiction.   If you’re a member of the CrossFit Journal (I highly recommend it, though I’m certainly no shill for CrossFit, nor do I fully endorse all of CrossFit’s ideologies), you can view a much larger portion of this video (over 7 minutes worth).

The take-away message here — and what we, as Paleo-minded, physical culturalists need to keep in mind — is that, within the body, insulin’s dictate (when excessively elevated) is to is promote/accelerate energy storage, maturation, reproduction and decline (death).  And from an evolutionary prospective, of course, this all makes perfect sense.  Quicker turnover equates to a more nimble and adaptive species.  In your grandma’s day, young girls matured in their later teens.  Nowadays, girls as young as 9 have reached reproductive maturity.  I’m not saying all of this can be laid at the feet of a hyper-insulin environment — there are plenty of other notable suspects lurking about in our diets — but I’d be willing to bet that an out-of-control insulin level has a big hand in this.

And just as Robb alluded to in the clip, the body can’t be fooled by artificial sweeteners.  The key is to successfully break the desire for the sweet taste (and thus eliminate the carb jonze), not placate that need by the use of artificial sweeteners — the equivalent of handing out methadone to heroin addicts.

Though we use the metaphor frequently, the body is not a simple furnace that serves solely to liberate energy from raw material.   There are complex storage and release components at work as well; hence the truth of a calorie not being a calorie.  The amount of energy contained in a calorie is, of course constant; what’s not constant is the hormonal impact that calorie source will have upon its host.  The first law of thermodynamics works fine for a closed system (the “furnace model”), but not for an open system, i.e., a living being.

In health,

Keith

Athleticism vs Skill, and the Correlation Between Athleticism and Health/Fitness

TTP reader Patrik brought up a very good point in a comment to my vertical jump post of a few days back.  For those who may not have seen the comment, I’ll include it below, along with my reply to Patrik’s comments (in red).  But first, you might be wondering why the differentiation between skill and athleticism is is at all important for your everyday TTP’er.  Isn’t this a concern for only the competitive athlete, coach and/or recruiter?  Well, the short answer is no; however, a little more explanation is required (which was pointed out to me by Patrik) to justify this answer.  Here was Patrik’s comment, separated by my replies:

Larry Bird and John Stockton would have ranked very low on your shoot-from-the-hip vertical jump test of athletic ability. As would have Joe Montana. Stories abound how un-athletic Montana looked, and how rookies often disrespected and questioned his athletic prowess, until they stepped on the field with him and watched him do his thing.

Which is where “horse sense” and recruiting for position comes into play. I think everyone would agree that a more athletic “John Sockton” would have been a better overall basketball player. Let’s not confuse athleticism with the skills particular to the game. Two different entities.

I suspect many white athletes, such as QBs in the NFL, would not do very well, (although I think Steve Young probably would), yet it is clear that QB is one of the most athletic positions in the game.

Gotta respectfully disagree with you here. I do think that QB is the most skilled position on the field, however, it’s been my experience that cornerbacks are by the large the best all around athletes on the field — and usually (there are always exceptions) have the best verts.

A vertical jump tests simply measures how well you can jump. That’s it. It may be correlated with athletic ability, but does not cause it. That is to say, I train my Mother every day for 3 months on jumping and she increases her vertical leap by 6 inches, yet she is still as unathletic/athletic as before.

…and a 40 yd. dash simply measures start & acceleration ability, and a caber toss simply measures the explosive ability of the posterior chain, and the pro agility simply measures the ability to re-direction at speed…and we can certainly train, specifically for each of these events and improve upon technical ability (thus the proliferation of combine “prep” camps), but one thing is certain — the best raw athletes are superior performers in all of these events — including the vert. Particular athletic (or position-specific) skill, desire, game intelligence et. al. is something else entirely.

It is very difficult to measure athletic ability. We fool ourselves by thinking we can do so facilely.

Again I respectfully disagree. Raw athletic ability is quite easily measured — as is athletic progress within an individual. Particular skills, heart, desire, intelligence, character, social intelligence, leadership — these are the “unknowns” and the “not easily identified”.

Interestingly (and again, that serendipity thing has come into play), I ran across this short video clip, courtesy of Elite Track of Dan Pfaff discussing the differences between strength, power, and skill, and the fact that strength and power are not necessarily correlated with particular event skills.  I always advise young athletes (my own son, a high school baseball player, in particular), never to think that the weight room (in general) and/or strength and conditioning (in particular) can take the place of, or compensate fora lack of, skills training.  Done properly, though, an intelligent strength and conditioning program can certainly enhance acquired skills and, given two athletes with a similar skill level, can make the difference between time on the field and watching the action from the bench — the difference between the medal podium and the loneliest place of all — dreaded 4th.

Now, let’s make sense of all of this for the deckplate level, fitness/health enthusiast that most of us are (or aspire to be).  How does this in any way apply to us?

My premise — the TTP premise — has always been this: A high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fiber (in relation to slow-twitch fiber) within an individual is desirous due to the fact that it is precisely this fiber type that represents the metabolic “big engine” that will induce, under the correct dietary influence, a rapid and (more importantly), sustained fat loss.  It is also my premise that an individual is at his or her healthiest and fittest when they have achieved the highest peak, anaerobic power output they are capable of.  Taking this idea of the correlation between Peak Anaerobic Power (PAPw) and overall health a step further — and noting that it is precisely fast-twitch muscle fiber concentration, in conjunction with an efficient central nervous system (CNS) that is responsible for this power output — it should (and in my experience, does) follow that as an individual’s PAPw trends upward, that individual has both increased their bodily fast-to-slow muscle fiber concentration ratio and reduced their body fat concentration.  To what degree each of these variables has tracked is hard to say — but really, in the short term, does it matter as long as the long term goal is achieved?  What we really need, though, is a simple tool to allow us to more adequately quantify our progress.  Of course, the “mirror test” or “pinch test”  is probably most applicable in the early stages of one’s health/fitness quest, but what to do after that has played out?  This is where the vertical jump test comes into play, with the reasoning behind that being as follows:  a better vert. = an increased PAPw = either an increase in fast-twitch fiber concentration or a decrease in BF %, or both = a healthier, more fit person as compared to that same person at the time of previous testing.

I suppose if there is a leap of faith (pardon the pun) to be made here, it is that a more anaerobically powerful individual is necessarily a fitter/healthier individual.  And though I cannot “prove” this assertion scientifically, I can say that the results of all of my study, and all of my to-date empirical knowledge supports this hypothesis.  This powerful state, in my opinion, is the most natural, (and healthiest expression, i.e., phenotype) of the human genome.

Patrik, though, does make a salient point in his comment.  He rightly points out that the skills aspect of my preferred power testing method (the vertical jump) might be preferentially influenced while the athleticism component (correlated to fast-twitch fiber concentration and CNS efficiency and, therefore, the “health/fitness factor”) might very well remain stagnant — or even decrease — and, therefore skew the outcome (or, more importantly, our interpretation of the results).  He is absolutely correct, of course.  However, this is another reason (actually, the over-riding reason) that the vertical jump (or, CMJ) is the preferred, non-invasive (i.e., as compared to the muscle biopsy) method of testing for relative fast-twitch fiber concentration within an individual.  In a nutshell, the test is technically, rather easily mastered.  Hell, there’s just not that much to it, and any betterment in the vertical jump that can be attributed solely to skill improvement is scant compared to improvements attributed to actual improvements in raw athletic ability.

As an interesting aside to the issue of muscle biopsy testing, I’d like to mention the recently-made-available ACTN3 Sports Performance Test ™. Basically, this test is a measurement of the natural propensity of an individual to preferentially maintain and/or acquire fast-twitch muscle fiber.  Why is this important?  Well, this takes us back to the correlation between fast-twitch muscle fiber prominence in an individual and that individual’s ability to generate a high PAPw, and the correspondence between a high PAPw output and success in power dominated sporting events.  The old East German sporting machine would have certainly appreciated such a test.  It would be interesting to see a study comparing the vertical jumps of people who tested high on the ACTN3 scale vs those who tested low on the scale.  I’m not normally a betting man, but I’d be glad to place money on the outcome of such a study.

In Health,

Keith