Of Bruce Lee, and the Drive for Perfect Phenotypical Expression

Super Human Radio‘s Carl Lanore devoted a show recently  to the training and philosophy of Bruce Lee.  What can Bruce Lee teach us about striving for phenotypical expression excellence?  Everything, my friend; everything.  Maybe not by way of training specifics (unless, of course, you happen to be a martial artist), but certainly by way of overriding philosophy.  Absorb what is useful from any source, discard what is not from even the most revered of sources.  Emphasis mine.  I can ascribe wholeheartedly to the Bruce Lee theory of attaining the pinnacle of Physical Culture without ever necessarily feeling the need to duplicate a Bruce Lee workout.  Different goals necessitate different methods; the psychology of intensity, though, remains the same.

As an interesting aside, I noticed that in the stack of mail that Meesus TTP brought in Saturday, was my (new) copy of Lee’s The Art of Expressing the Human Body. I say “new” because I had an old and tattered copy of this book that I’d long since given to a friend who was just embarking on this wonderful journey that is Physical Culture.  I can’t wait to re-read the material with the wisdom that I’ve gained over those (10+…wow time flies!!) years since I’d last read it.  And by the way, the book is compiled and edited by none other than John Little, who teamed with Doug McGuff on the two mighty-fine pieces of work Body by Science and The Body by Science Question and Answer Book (information, here).  Tight-knit and intimate group within this wonderful world of Physical Culture.

Below, Lee’s daughter talks about her daddy’s book.

And be sure to check out this wonderful piece, the Warm Marble.  It’s one of those “keep in your back pocket” works (like The Iron, by Henry Rollins) that are good to pull out every now and again to remind yourself of just why it is that we stick to this satisfying — though, at times, arduous — path of Physical Culture.

A need to document reps?  Hell, a need to even count reps?

Let’s face it, for those of us who are are pure Physical Culturalists (as opposed to specialists, i.e., competitive Oly lifters, for example), programming schemes in general, and repetition counts in particular, are little more than a psychological crutch and/or a convenient to convey the fact that, yes, effective weight training is seriously hard work.  What if all we ever did in the gym was to match a given weight to a given movement (or vice-versa) and bust friggin’ ass with it?  Here’s the deal: I’ve got training logs dating back to when the gym-rat clown pants were considered the pinnacle of cool (yikes!), but what the hell do those notes really matter to me now?  Yeah, it’s kinda cool to look back at some of that stuff , in a nostalgic sense; my physical body, though, could give a damn.  I mean, if you ascribe to the 7-year total turnover theory (as I do), then I’m not even the same physical body now as I was then, so of what relevance are those numbers to me now?  What if it was just me…and a weight…and the challenge of pressing (for example) that damn weight overhead, any way possible,  and as many times as I could, within a certain time limit.  What’s the time limit?  I don’t know, pick something that fits with your schedule — 1 minute, 15 minutes…24 hours, whatever.  Just you, a load and a movement; wherewithal and, most importantly, intensity.  Did our ancestors worry about rep counts, tempos, smart programming or energy systems?  Of course not.  They simply had to face-down a life challenge…or die trying…simple as that.

Now I’m certainly not advocating the abolition of smart programming and rational exercise selection in favor of a full-on, out-of-the-hopper approach; what I am saying, though, is that we can swing too far to the other side — the mechanical and all-too predictable side of the continuum — if we’re not careful.  We run the risk of putting “the program” ahead of what really matters, which is how much intensity we bring to the table.

Here’s how this plays out, at least for me, in the real world: a couple of times a week I’ll have a loaded bar that needs to be broken down between clients.  Let’s just make this real easy and say that I’ve got a 135 lb loaded Oly bar nestled nicely in the power rack, and 30-minutes before my next client.  Now I pick a movement I haven’t done in a while; power snatch, say, or RFESS — or hell, even bicep curls, if I want to channel my inner Arnold.  Now, how many reps can I squeeze-in in that half-hour?  Not that I’ll ever write this stuff down, or factor it into my subsequent “normal” workout considerations (I let Autoregulation take care of accounting for that).   This is more play than anything else, and it keeps my body, as well as my mind, fresh.  And just because these “opportunities” aren’t documented, much less tracked, in no way means that my body doesn’t revel in the challenge and respond accordingly.  Like rings within a tree trunk, the body I occupy today is marked with the results of these impromptu sessions; documentation written in flesh and blood.

And now on to a couple of “documented” workouts –

Monday, 11/29 (Rosedale studio)

(A1) trap bar deadlift/bent over row/deadlift combo: 265 x 10/5/10; 315 x 10/3/10 x 3 sets

(A2) floor press: 135 x 10; 185 x 6; 225 x 6, 6

Wednesday, 12/1 (Westlake studio)

(A1) CZT seated overhead press (neutral grip): hyper-rep x 5

(A2) manual resistance front raise: hyper-rep x 3

(B1) negative-only CZT pull-down (neutral grip): hyper-rep x 5

(B2) blast-strap scarecrows: 3 ugly reps

(C1) rear foot elevated (and suspended) split squats: bw x 10, each leg

(C2) CZT leg press: hyper-rep x 3

The above is an example of integrating the ever-versatile CZT equipment into various pre-exhaust methodologies. Video clips of Skyler kickin’ my ass on this one coming soon.

The Austin-area “exercise sommelier” strikes again, here ; a wonderful pairing of Mentzer-inspired HIT, with some good ol’, local Paleo grub  🙂


In health,


Psychology, Intensity, and Phenotypical Expression

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

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

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

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

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

Two workouts over the past week

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health,

Intensity: the Real Key to Strength and Conditioning Success

“Basic, brutal, and brief…”

And if I may, to that I’d add intermittent to that as well.  Ok, so I’ve racked my brain and consulted my thesaurus to no avail — anyone know a synonym for “intermittent” that starts with a “b”?

Anyway, the “basic, brutal and brief” statement is just a snippet of the wisdom that long-time Strength & Conditioning coach Mark Asanovich delivers during this recent interview with Dave Durrell, of High Intensity Nation.  Another bit of in-the-trenches wisdom that Mark disseminates is that we as trainers and trainees should remember, first and foremost,  this: that all training boils down to “…physiology, physics and motor learning…”; and to that, I would add “psychology” or, more specifically, the ability to bring intensity to the training protocol.  Because, let’s face it: there’s not a training program that can ever be written that will produce results without the trainee bringing intensity to the table and, conversely, even the most mismatched trainee/protocol combo will work — at least for a while — if the intensity applied to that protocol is of top-notch quality.

Want results?  You gotta lay it on the line, brother — each and every workout.  Now, match super intensity with smart programming and, well…you’ve got the makings of the perfect Physical Culture one-two punch.

…and add a well-adhered-to Paleo diet to the mix, and we’ve got ourselves a perfect combination  🙂

The Single Set vs Multiple Set Debate: Context Matters

THE big questions in the world of strength and conditioning:  the efficacy of utilizing explosive movements in the pursuit of athletic betterment, calories vs “content” vis-à-vis weight gain/weight loss, the single vs multiple set debate…; now if it weren’t for pressing issues like these, exactly what, pray tell, would we Physical Culturalists have to argue about?  I mean, a good 40% of the world’s internet traffic would just up and die  🙂

The problem (such as it is) with these debates is that most times the debate itself is force-framed into yes/no, black/white, right/wrong ideological camps, with each side having hunkered into a “no quarter asked, no quarter given” mentality.  This, quite simply, is no way to tackle any issue that so heavily turns on context and scope, and that is so mightily effected by a multitude of variables that simply cannot be effectively accounted for, much less controlled.

For instance, this recent post in Exercise Biology, along with the referenced studies (here and here) would seem to suggest that multiple sets to failure (in this case, three at 70% 1RM) are more conducive to hypertrophy than a single set (again at 70% of 1RM) taken to failure.  Ok, fair enough – but let’s dig a little deeper and see if we can uncover more to this story.

Now I’m in no way a tunnel-visioned worshiper at the altar of single-set-to-failure, BBS/HIT-like exclusive training; I do remain somewhat agnostic on matters of one protocol vs the other, opting instead for the utilization of the right tool for the particular job at hand, given the peculiarities of each unique circumstance. It is my opinion, for instance, that one can get a fantastic workout, and realize great results, with little more than bodyweight, gravity and basic playground equipment.    Is this necessarily an optimum way to induce a growth stimulus?  Is it time efficient, safe, and all-encompassing?  Well, in a word, no – but if this is all you have to work with and you’re willing to invest the requite time, you can certainly expect to realize some pretty good results.  Not optimum results mind you, but some pretty good results nonetheless.  And some (myself included), freaks that we are, would even consider this type of activity recreation, a really cool way to spend a couple of hours on a pretty day.  Enjoyment of an activity, however, does not imply that it is necessarily the most efficient way workout, and we need to – if not act on this distinction – at least acknowledge it.   

But back to the post and referenced studies: first off, in my mind I believe that there is a huge difference between localized and systemic stimulus.  A HUGE difference.  In other words, in no way does a single-set-to-“failure” in a unilateral leg extension impart the same systemic stimulus – thereby signaling a much more pronounced and universal growth/protein synthesis signal — as does a bout of full-on BBS/HIT-like training.  The two simply cannot be logically compared.  So researchers, in my humble opinion, need to do a much better job of comparing apples to apples, as this particular study is akin to dropping an accomplished 100 meter sprinter in an 800 meter race, then proclaiming that the winner (who’ll assuredly not be the 100 meter man) has trained in a manner that is therefore superior to that of the 100 meter specialist.

Another way of looking at this is to say that sure, a single set of push-ups to failure is not as effective a training stimulus as multiple sets to failure.  So what is the limiting factor here, and why would multiple sets be required?  The short answer is intensity, coupled with the ability to impart a deep inroad (muscular fatigue), both locally and systemically.  As Louie Simmons is fond of saying, you’ll never invoke a response by simply tossing BBs at an elephant’s ass.  To carry this metaphor out just a bit further, you better pack that BB buckshot behind one hell of a powder load (i.e., ramping up intensity via multiple sets), or – and much more preferable, in my opinion – nail the poor bastard with a single bazooka round; an intense, deep-inroad, single-shot dose of growth-promoting stimulus.  That’ll no doubt get the elephant’s attention, and quick.

And then there is the matter of pinning down those pesky little variables, things like “intensity”, and “failure”.

Now it’s blatantly obvious, to those of even limited training experience, that the term “unilateral leg extension” is in no way synonymous with anyone’s definition of “intensity”.  Check this prior post, and the embedded video clips therein, for an example of a whole-body, BBS/HIT-like workout that is both brutally intense and a potent driver of systemic hormonal growth response.  Intense?  Are you friggin’ kidding me?  Failure?  Complete and utter.  The ability to perform another set in any of the exercises performed in this session?  Yeah, right.  Note: the one problem with attempting to capture just how much intensity a trainee (in this case, me) is pouring into any machine is that there is nothing to gauge that intensity against; no wobbling plate stacks, no flexing, heaving bars, nothing against which to gauge bar speed and power output.

Now, to put this level of intensity in prospective, the BBS/HIT/SS bout that I engaged in here took all of 15 minutes, start-to-finish, to complete.  Even with superior recuperative ability – which I possess, not by virtue of anything that I’ve done myself necessarily, but just by luck of the genetic draw – I doubt that I could progress, let alone pull-off, one of these workouts at a frequency interval of anything less than 5 days, as doing so would keep me permanently mired in recovery purgatory (otherwise known as overtraining hell).

So compare that workout’s level of intensity and systemic “dosing” to what I am able to accomplish using the tools I have access to – primarily, free weights: a “normal” iron session for me will take approximately 45 minutes to complete, and I hit, on average 4 such sessions per week.  And there’s a much different dynamic involved here as well; going to true and utter failure while using free weights in a compound movement is simply not a safe nor is it an advisable thing to do and, therefore, multiple sets are required to impart a sufficient inroad.

Intensity, volume and Time Under Load.  Goals.  Available tools.  Circumstance.   These are the variables that one must juggle so as to craft for himself an appropriate protocol.  One size does not fit all; the dogma is that there is no dogma.  Craft wisely, then proceed with confidence.