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


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


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


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.

3/27/10; Change-of-Direction Sprints, and Another Look at Walmart?

45 minutes worth of fixie sprints to start this one off today; 17-hours fasted.  I stopped off at the library for about an hour, and winded-up leaving with a copy of The 10,000 Year Explosion.  I’ve been wanting to read it for some time, now, as I keep seeing anti-Paleo arguments infused with vague references to the book.   From what I gather, these arguments are based on misinterpretations of the book’s points, but hey – I just want to see for myself.

Anyway, then it was back in the saddle for another 15 minutes or so, and out to the field where I mixed it up with some 3 cone and pro agility, change-of-direction sprints.  Why change-of-direction sprints?  Because the start/stop, turn & twist nature of these movements is altogether different than straight-line sprinting.  Again, just another tool in the toolbox.

10 x 25 yd sprint starts served as the bike-to-sprint transition; then 6 x pro agility (2 minute rest between runs), followed by 6 x 3 cone drill (2 minute rest between runs)

Pro Agility:

3 cone:

Then it was into the gym and in the power rack for the following:

btn barbell push-press: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 2; 200 x 1

jump squat (from 1/4 squat position):135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 3; 200 x 3

muscle-ups @ bodyweight: 3 each round

5 total rounds here, then picked it up and biked back home.  Good, good stuff.

Holding one’s own convictions in highest suspicion — this is the essence of epistemology.  It’s also the “freak flag” I most proudly wave.  In the spirit of that epistemocratic philosophy, I offer you the following: a second look at Walmart.  Yeah, that Walmart; the enterprise we all love to hate.

I have to admit that I am (was?) a total Walmart snob, opting to do the bulk of my food shopping at farmer’s markets, and upper-end chains such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and, in a pinch, Harris Teeter.  Over the past year or so  though, those times when I have slunk into a Walmart, I’ve noticed something odd — an abundance of fresh, good-looking fruits and veggies.  Plenty of organic choices and a clean, tidy appearance.  And damn if they don’t have the market cornered on good avocados.  Now, for the most part I’ve turned my nose up at these pleasant offerings (“trucked halfway across hell and back”, shitty employee labor practices, supplier manipulation, etc…).  Well, maybe it’s time to give the behemoth another look.  Can offerings of grass-fed beef be far behind?  Hey, I’m just sayin’…

So check out this recent NPR Talk of the Nation broadcast with guest Corby Kummer, senior editor for The Atlantic. His article, “The Great Grocery Smackdown: Will Wal-Mart, Not Whole Foods, Save The Small Farm And Make America Healthy?” appears in the March 2010 issue of the magazine.  It’s a good companion read to the interview.

Anyhow, listen to the broadcast.  Read the article.  Allow your assumptions to be challenged.  Epistemology is not about just flapping in the direction of the prevailing wind; it is, though, about having the strength to see your core convictions dragged out into the light of day and dusted-up a bit.   I won’t ever stop going to farmers markets, simply for the purity of that social exchange.  But if Walmart is serious about doing good and playing nice with the local farmer, I’ll give them another look, as I will any outlet that does the same.  I’m certainly not loaded with dollars, but those that I do have, I will “vote” with.

Oh yeah, and see if you can resist screaming “just go Paleo!” when, during the Talk of the Nation broadcast, the conversation turns to celiac disease, and the availability/cost of gluten-free products.  UGH!!

3/10/10; Barefooted Sprints, and Strength-Speed Endurance Iron Work

After an extended warm-up this morning, I performed a round of 8 x 70 yard sprints at approximately 90% effort, approximately 1 minute rest between sprints.  It’s been a couple of months since I’ve done any significant sprinting, and that, coupled with the fact that I’ve been hitting the single-leg work pretty hard, prompted my taking the rather cautious “re-introduction” route today.  Also, I’ve been hitting fixie sprints pretty hard lately without mixing in much in the way of running/sprinting.  I know from past experience that biking and running/sprinting aren’t exactly synergistic endeavors — emphasis on one naturally degrades performance in the other, with biking being a quad-dominant affair, versus sprinting’s required PC-dominance.  We’ve also got a completely different set of neurological firing patterns to contend with in each of the two endeavors.  Now, since I’m not competing in either, this is no big deal; actually, I rather prefer being multi-dimensional at this point in my life vs being a “specific-endeavor” athlete.  If I were competing in one of these disciplines, though, I’d have to let the other discipline go (at least during the competitive season/phase).  This is the eternal juggle of, and between, overall health, functional physical ability (think Greg Glassman’s 10 attributes of physical fitness), and sporting specificity.  Much as we’d like — and much as we trick ourselves into believing — we can’t have it all/be a master of all.  An increase in sport specificity will necessitate a decrease in overall functionality.  It’s just the way of the world.  It’s also why multi-sport athletes are so uncommon these days, even at the high school level.  It’s just tough for a great all-round athlete to compete against even a good single/sport-specific athlete.

After the sprint session, I headed into the gym to toss a little iron, and did the following complex in superset fashion:

Jump Squats + BTN Jerk*: 135 x 5; 155 x 5, 5, 5

Straight Bar Muscle-Ups: 3, 3, 3, 3

Couldn’t ask for a better start to the day.

Head’s-up on a fantastic series of posts over at  A 3-part series covering the ins, outs and nuances of the relationship of strength and speed.  Some seriously good work by Jim Hiserman, author of the books Program Design Method for Sprints & Hurdle Training and Strength and Power for Maximum Speed.

Embedded in part 3 of the series are some good lifting demonstrations of some of the more common strength-speed oriented exercises. *In particular, watch the fine jump squat form exhibited by lilledritt (I’ve embedded it below as well, by way of  Immediately following the final jump squat, you’ll see a nicely-performed btn jerk.   I performed each of my btn jerks, however, immediately following each jump squat (jump squat, jerk; jump squat, jerk; etc…)

And then I ran across this today, from Voice of America News video.  Good stuff for the masses to see, to be sure.  Though I’m still not convinced that saturated fat from free range/grass-fed animals is bad in any way.

3/4/10 The Ins and Outs of an On-the-Fly Workout, and An Additional Thought on the Sous-Vide Method

Are you down with the Robb Wolf and Any Deas Paleolithic Solution Podcasts over at Robb Wolf’s blog?  If not, you really should be, as they’re a great source of Paleo diet information.  Robb is a trained biochemist who was somehow able to shed the prescribed university brainwashing, put two-and two together, and come to the conclusion that the human body was built to motor on a Paleo-like diet.  The Wolf/Deas collaborations — aside from being an enjoyable listen (good chemistry between these two) — are a series of Q & A discussions on all manner of dietary issues — all viewed, of course, through a Paleo-leaning prism.  And Robb’s blog offers a good place for intelligent, post-podcast discussion.  Head on over when you get a chance, listen-in, and join the fray — you’ll be glad you did.

In particular, check out the discussion associated with Episode 17, where I tossed-out the sous-vide/plastics leaching question that I initially brought up in this post.  Paleolithic Solution reader/listener Mathieu Lalonde responded:

“I’m a chemist and I was waiting for someone to bring up this issue. I was personally horrified when I first read about “Sous Vide”, which means “under vacuum” in French. Take food, place it into a plastic bag, place the bag under vacuum, seal it, then heat it. I cannot imagine a better way to leach plasticizers into food. Especially with fatty foods. I would love to see someone study this. The phthalates would be trivial to detect by mass spec. Many plasticizers, including phthalates, are endocrine disrupters. I don’t care how good “sous vide” food tastes, I’m not touching it until the plasticizer issue has been studied and/or resolved.”

I have to agree with Mathieu, here.  This just looks like too much of a plastics-leaching, perfect storm for me to feel comfortable with.  For now, just roll with the ol’ fashion crock pot, and reserve the right to change my opinion on the subject later.

On to today’s workout…

Here’s the combo that I created on the fly this morning:

Jump Squats (3/4 position):

165 x5; 215 x 5; 265 x 5; 305 x 5

BTN Push-Press:
165 x 5; 185 x 4, 5, 5

Step-Ups (reps per each leg):
165 x 5; 185 x 3, 3, 3

Regular-Grip Pull-Ups:
45 x 5; 55 x 5, 6, 6

So, 4 rounds of that combo.  I actually performed 2 additional rounds that were a “bridge” between the end of the warm-up and the meat of the workout (round 1).  Build-ups, feel sets.

So, how did I come up with this beast?  Pretty simple, really. First I identified the movement pattern I wanted to work — not the exercise per se,  but the movement pattern — then I identified the energy system I wanted to utilize while working that particular pattern.  At this point I begin to cobble-together particular exercises.   In this instance, I knew I wanted to work the single-leg step-up — in my gym, that puts me in the power rack.  I know from past exprience that I’ll use approximately 185 lbs for 3 reps each leg (and this rep range corresponds to my target energy system).  185 lbs also looks like a good btn push-press weight for me, so I’ll add that as well.  Now I’ve got a bar loaded-up in the power rack at a height that, for me, is at roughly the 3/4 squat position.  Hmmmmm, load-up the bar a little more, and I’ve got all the makings for some jump squats.  As a bonus, look at the great potentiation potential jump squats offers to the other two exercises.  Cha-ching!  The pull-ups?  They’re a natural push-pull companion to the push-press.

And last but not least, a very interesting read from the Global PolititianDid Lactose Tolerance Trigger the Indo-European Expansion? Highly, highly recommended reading.