Active Recovery? Conjugate for the Masses?

Many of those in what I would call the HIT-purist camp, most notably Dr. Doug McGuff (Body by Science), recommend a full recovery between workouts; that is to say, they don’t favor the performance of “active recovery” as it tends to alter/delay super-compensation following the inroad made during preceding workout.   And, to a certain extent (and for certain n=1 cases), I do see their point.  However, when I have attempted an extended period (i.e., more than one day) of out-and-out non-active, full recovery following even an off-the-charts inroading session, I always come out of that “activity hibernation” feeling a bit sluggish, both on the subsequent (after the first day post-workout) days off but, too, when I do get back in the gym, in the saddle or on the track.  In other words, if I take longer than a single day’s post-workout “activity hibernation”, I lose a certain amount of edge.  I wonder if this is more psychological and/or hormonal driven rather than a physiological reality.  Of course, there’s also the theory of endorphin and/or adrenalin addiction, but that to me seems a little far-fetched to me.  I don’t know any other way to describe this feeling other than a slight CNS sluggishness.  One day of post-workout idleness and I’m fine; longer than that and I lose a good bit of “pop”.  I’ve seen this in others, too, and so I know I’m not necessarily an “outlier” here.  Could it be that my definition of “CNS sluggishness” is actually what a “normal” or “non-jacked” CNS is supposed to feel like?  Quite possibly.  That said, though, I still like the idea of “active recovery” and relatively more frequent (albeit “Conjugated”) workout sessions.

Now maybe it’s due to my close and long association with sports performance, but I do tend to see things more along the lines of a track and field coach when it comes to this issue.  Of course, too, we need to recognize that the per-workout inroads here are not taken to the same magnitude as say, a true HIT beat-down.  In other words, a comparison of late-in-the-workout sprint times (or distance) to the “fresh” times would indicate that the drop-off is not all that severe.  Just another variable to be mindful of; again one size does not fit all.

A couple of things that ought to be defined here, first, though: one person’s “active recovery” may in fact be another person’s full-blown workout.  Metabolic conditioning and recuperative status obviously have much to say by way of influence here.  No big surprise, either – again, we’re talking, as always, n=1 protocol administration.  But we also need to consider that the type of recuperative activity in relation to the overriding modality of previous workout has a tremendous bearing on overall recuperation.  Huh?  Let me explain.

The chart above is the 30,000-foot view of my own, personal, overall training prospective.  HIT/HIIT methodologies tempered with Autoregulation and/or drop-offs (where appropriate), and with particular “strengths” (or aptitudes) cycled in and out of individual training sessions in a conjugate-like manner.  Very rare is a workout session of mine that extends beyond 45-minutes, and an all-out single-set-to-failure type workout might take as little as 15 minutes.   Where I guess you could say that I split from the HIT-purist camp is that I believe it is possible to train more frequently (and more completely) — and without overtraining, by the way — by cycling methodologies in a West Side-esque, Conjugate System manner.  Will this overall view still hold true for me tomorrow?  As far as I can tell, and from this vantage point, yes; however, and as always, I remain ready to shift sails according to prevailing winds and any newly-defined port-of-call.  Would I prescribe this prospective to everyone?  Not on your life; it does work for me, though, vis-à-vis my current location with respect to where my goals intersect with my place along the anabolic continuum.  Again, n=1 rules the day, and the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of trainee’s would see their greatest improvements by following a unique-to-the-trainee-tweaked, BBS-like protocol.  Simple, straight-forward, relatively easy to program and track and, most importantly, highly-effective with a minimum of time investment.

By the way, for a concise breakdown of West Side’s Conjugate system, and a bit of West Side “myth-busting” as well, check-out this Dave Tate post on the Ironbrutality site.  Myth #3 will give you the quick-and-dirty overview of the Conjugate method.  Actually, I’d add to that list myth #6 – that the Conjugate system works, but only for strength and power athletes.  With specific tweaks, any athlete – or bodybuilder, in my opinion — can incorporate this methodology into their overall training plan.  Again, the vast majority of trainees need not go there – but for those who do, the Conjugate system is a winner.

Tuesday evening workout –

A good bit of saddle time tonight prior to hitting the iron on Tuesday; probably the last of each prior to packin’ up the ol’ dog-and-pony show and headin’ down ATX way.

My intent tonight was to lead-off with some power clean work, however the rack was in use when I got in, so I had to alter things a bit.  Hey, I’ve got no problem with waiting on a guy to finish heavy pulls and squats in the rack – it’s the bicep curl crowd in that same rack that drives me nuts.  Anyway, I kicked things off with a kneeling jump squat, pull-up superset:

kneeling DB jumps*: 20lbs x 5, 5, 5

regular-grip pull-ups: bw x 10, 10, 10

no rest between sets, here.  Then, the following superset:

flat bench, single-arm DB press: 75 x 8; 85 x 8; 90 x 7

single-arm DB row: 120 x 6; 125 x 6; 130 x 6

again, blowin’ and goin’ here, with very little rest between arms or between sets, then a rapid-fire reps few sets of power cleans:

135 x 5; 165 x 5

Reps were fast as possible here, with rest between sets just long enough to add additional weight.  I followed that with a rest-pause set of 7 singles at 185.

*As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to use DBs for this exercise, but it really doesn’t make much difference; you can use a barbell as well, as in this demonstration, and in my experience you’ll be able to handle a significantly greater overall weight if you do so.  I think you can better transfer power to a barbell than to a pair of DBs, but that’s just speculation on my part.  The key is to really engage the hips in the movement.  If you’ve got sleepy hips in the Oly movements, this exercise will help fix that.  Also, if you use DBs for this movement, be sure to explosively shrug the weight up (as you would in a normal Oly/Oly derivative lift), as opposed to “arcing” the DBs outward and forward so as to provide upward momentum.

And speaking of effective and efficient power transfer through the torso (or “core”), check out this SpeedEndurance.com podcast interview with Dr. Stuart McGill.  Dr. McGill is known as “the back doctor”, but as you’ll hear in the interview, the good doctor also knows a good deal about performance enhancement, especially when it comes to power transfer through a rock-solid torso.

Also something interesting I ran across this week was a podcast interview with Dr. Joel Wallach, author of the book, Immortality.  The topic of the discussion centers around the depletion of minerals from the soil, and the effects of that condition on human physiology.  It’s a very interesting interview, especially for those concerned about the quality of their food.  I know I don’t need to point-out to folks who read this blog, but a food’s being labeled “organic” in no way ensures that that food was raised in a healthy-soil environment.  The interview can be found here, and it’s show #695 (Doctor of Ashes).  Good stuff.

So things are likely to get a bit silent around here for the next few days, as I complete my relocation to “the ATX”, and integrate into Efficient Exercise team.   Check-out the sidebar for Twitter updates from the road, as Meesus TTP and I meander on down Austin way.  So adios for now, and I’ll see y’all on the flip-side.  Be good, work hard, and of course, stay paleo  🙂

Of Routines, Ruts, and Habitual Eating

In case you missed it, TTP reader Mike asked the following in response to my “Quick and Dirty on Calorie Intake” post:

…My problem is I think I hit bottom on the lean out and was wondering if calorie restriction is in order?

I was curious about your comment “to eat more in order to go down in weight.” Sorry to bore you but I would like to lean out more but what in your opinion would I be giving up to get it, strength, stamina etc., on the calorie restricted approach? Unfortunately I can’t swing a long trip abroad to lean out.

I’m pretty pleased with where I am and don’t want to get greedy on leaning out but I liked your take on the calorie restriction issue so I thought I would ask for your opinion. Thanks for your thoughts.

This is the blah blah blah part . . .
I have been unweighed unmeasured gluten-free paleo, low carb (sub 50 per day), 1oz nuts a day, no dairy (except heavy cream in decaf coffee) keeping a food journal for 6 months. My cheats are protein style double doubles (1 x per week), chicken nachos (1x every 2 weeks). (I’m trying to be honest with what goes in my mouth per Skyler’s related blog post).


I have dropped about 40 pounds in the past six months on the strict paleo, did the water tank body fat measurement and came out at 16% in April. The BF % scale at home would seem to indicate this is going down still and my weight is staying the same at around 220 for the past month, which is good (muscle?). Activity level is strength biased xfit 3 times a week, longer outdoor activities (biking stairs etc) at least once per week, sleep good but could be better…

And what follows is my rather abbreviated answer:

Here’s the thing with calorie restriction, Mike: your metabolism will slow (thereby reducing the effectiveness of said cal. restriction), and your workouts will begin to suck. Not right off, of course, but pretty damn quick thereafter. Short bursts of slight — and in some cases large — over-eating interspersed with a few days of under-eating & IF seem to help most people punch beyond sticking points. I do this quite naturally, and in a random manner — I very rarely think “gee, I haven’t hit an IF in a while”, rather, it just comes about organically. Same with the “eat like a starved hyena” days. Until you really learn to listen to your body, though, a 5-day restricted/2-day re-fuel might be appropriate. Personally, though, I’m not good with schedules like that, preferring the more organic, fractal method.

Now, I’m still good with what I’d originally put out to Mike, however, there are a couple of things that I’d like to add to that.  First off, a 40-lb fat depletion in a 6-month span is rockin’ (though not at all unexpected), and it sounds as if Mike hasn’t actually stalled in his fat loss, but simply slowed a bit.  I don’t know exactly where Mike is on the ol’ look, feel and perform scale (maybe he can elaborate), but if “feel” and “perform” are spot-on, and what we’re wanting to come around is the “look” aspect, it may just be what we need is a tad bit more patience.  I’m not sure what another 6-ish percent bodyfat equates to (weight-wise) in Mike’s case, but it might be helpful to relate that amount of fat to where he was 6 months ago.  A little perspective sometimes works wonders.

And now for a bit of psychology…

I’ve always maintained that training, diet – well, all of Physical Culture, in fact – is largely mental in nature.  The best trainers, the best S&C coaches, and the most successful practitioners are not only technically proficient, but masterful motivators and – to but it bluntly – skilled shrinks…artful manipulators of the human psyche!  Wild animals left to their own devices exhibit perfect phenotypical expressions representative of their particular species.  They eat when hungry and of what is correct for their nature, move when necessary, and otherwise mindlessly attend to their survival.  Not so we humans, who are encumbered by ego, self-reflection and that ever-present self-chatter.  Our mind is constantly wanting, grasping, and left unbridled, this gets us in a world of self-made trouble.  One tiny aspect of this, as it relates to Mike’s case, may be the ol’ bug-a-boo of habitual eating.

In a way, food journals can be your best friend; or, too, they can be your worst enemy.  On the positive side, a journal allows for the exposure of what one actually consumes in a day, and in what ratios and, in some cases, this can be enlightening (i.e., the “damn!  I had no idea I ate that much [fill in the blank]! scenario).  In some cases, though, I have seen keeping a journal completely backfire.  The outward manifestations might have varied, but the causation usually boiled-down to one thing: compulsion.

Take for instance Mike’s “1oz of nuts per day”.  Now, 1oz of nuts is not going to make or break anyone’s fat loss attempts, however, it may be indicative of the larger issue of habitual eating.  That particular calorie intake may simply be a feel-good psychological crutch – something akin to, say, those who only smoke when they drink.  Situational is the key word here.  This is why I am so big on people learning to really listen to their bodies — an entity, by the way, that is in continual flux.   The body doesn’t ever “always” need 3 eggs and 2 strips of bacon for breakfast – some mornings it may want/need/require half a fatted hog, and other mornings (or days, even), it may not need anything at all.  This folds directly into the downside of routine, the downside of schedule.  Much better, I think, to learn to listen past the mind’s dictates, and for the body’s actual requests.  Where does the mind come in handy?  In the deciphering addiction as opposed to need.  The topic of another subject entirely, and beyond today’s scope.

Skyler Tanner discusses, in this recent post, the suppressive action of unusual foods upon the overall appetite, and this is certainly true.  The other aspect of this, though, is the fact that one is forced out of a set routine – a perfect, dietary, one-two punch, if you will.  In this circumstance, one may not be at the point of being able to fully listen to the body, but at least that ability to “mentally dictate” has been somewhat blunted by the unusual circumstance.  This, in fact, is the “magic” behind bootcamp-like transformations, and is a big reason behind why sporting teams hold training camps away from home base.  The real trick, then, is to learn the art of non-routine even as you navigate the work-a-day (and highly scheduled, routine oriented) world that we all must live in.

Much more on this at another time.  Now on to the physical side of things…

Friday night’s gym session –

This explosive-movement-heavy session followed a good bit of fixie riding, so my legs were good and warm (if not a wee bit zorched) by the time I hit the gym.  As it was, I dove right into this explosive superset:

kneeling DB jumps: 20lbs x 5, 25lbs x 5 sets of 3

straight bar muscle-ups: bw x 2, each round

Following that I rolled right into this superset:

military front press: 95 x 10; 135 x 6; 150 x 6, 6

snatch grip high-pull: 95 x 10; 135 x 6; 150 x 6, 6

Here’s a Joe DeFranco clip of a barbell kneeling jump demonstration.

I prefer to use DBs for this exercise, but it really doesn’t make much difference.  The key is to really engage the hips in the movement.  If you’ve got sleepy hips in the Oly movements, this exercise will help fix that.  Also, if you use DBs for this movement, be sure to explosively shrug the weight up (as you would in a normal Oly/Oly derivative lift), as opposed to “arcing” the DBs outward and forward so as to provide upward momentum.