Activity, and the Biochemical/Hormonal Milieu

Just a little something to chew on here, folks; another from the “this I believe, but cannot prove” files.  As always, I’m open to fresh takes and opposing views.  Questions, comments, complaints?  The floor is yours, so by all means let me hear what you think!

Ok, so here’s an interesting bit: now, once again we must keep in mind that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, however, this study (and this supporting NYT article) seem to support the idea of engaging in low-intensity “play” (or such activities as walking, for example) in addition to intermittent, high-intensity workouts as being a positive lifestyle approach.  My (albeit, purely empirical) observations of myself and of others totally align with this notion, and I structure my own lifestyle according to this underpinning.

The ideal, I believe, is not the alternating between two extremes (either red-line/balls-to-the-wall, or complete engine shutdown), but a fractal, long-tail distribution mix of (including, but certainly not limited to) intensity and volume.  We require a good bit of low-idle time, some active “putter about” time as well, to compliment our sporadic bouts of high intensity effort.   What exactly is the proper distribution for you – in other words, what should your “fat-tail” look like?  That’s a question only intelligent n=1 investigation and observation can answer.  However, I would suggest that this is another instance where learning to listen to your body becomes an extremely valuable commodity indeed.

Dr.  Robert Lustig tells of how the obese kids that he treats in his practice — once he manages to normalize their biochemical/hormonal milieu, as a result of proper dietary intervention — “spontaneously” become much more active.  They haven’t yet lost any appreciable weight, yet they suddenly turn from indolent to active.  The moral of the story here is that these kids aren’t obese because they are inactive, they are inactive due the biochemical/hormonal milieu that, in turn, drives their obesity.  And this is not just some fancy, verbal slight-of-hand either.  These kids are, in fact, malnourished; obese, yes – but in fact, starving for adequate nutrition.  Their biochemical/hormonal milieu is FUBAR to the point that their bodies receive the same “signal” as that of a starving man; “we’re in metabolic shutdown here, buddy – park that ass and conserve energy until the storm passes.”

So how does this relate to approximating, via n=1 experimentation, the trainee’s ratio of workout volume and intensity, and with the amount, duration and volume of low-intensity activity?  Well, it’s my belief that not only is this biochemical/hormonal “urge to activity” milieu driven in a positive way by proper nutrition, but that it’s also positively effected by present conditioning level and recuperative abilities and present-case standings (i.e., is the trainee, at this point-in-time, supercompensated, at baseline, or still wallowing around somewhere down in the ol’ “in-road” hole?).  It is also my belief that these two broad categories (present conditioning level and present recuperative standing) form a positive-feedback loop.  In other words, the better one’s conditioning and the better one’s recuperative ability/current standing, the more one is “urged” – in a biochemical and hormonal sense — to activity.  This is the “itch” that healthy, fit people have to “get out and do something”.   Could it also be that these people are simply adrenalin and/or endorphin junkies?  I have no doubt that this is part of the mix as well; if I’ve learned anything in 30+ years of navigating the Physical Culture scene it’s that very little to do with human physiology or psychology can be answered in a simple yes or no.  But then again, I suppose that all of life is this way.

Shifting gears a bit: so I’m packin’-up to leave town (here I come, Austin and Hunt, Texas!) and I’ll be away the better part of next week and rolling right on into the week following.   That said, my plan is to hit two, tough-ass, full-body workouts before I hit the road on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, a Wednesday workout prior to traveling won’t be a viable option (due to work and travel itinerary), so my plan is to hit the first of these two workouts on Sunday, with the follow-up workout to fall on Tuesday.  I’m looking to create some serious in-road with these two workouts – enough, possibly, to blunt any serious “intensity itch” for a week or so.

Here’s Sunday’s full-body blitz:

clean-grip power snatch: 95 x 5; 115 x 3; 135 x 7 singles

Then a superset of the following:

weighted dips: 45 x 6; 70 x 3(3); 80 x 3(3); 90 x 3(3) x 4 sets

clean-grip low pull (from the floor): 185 x 3; 205 x 3; 225 x 3; 250 x 3(3) x 4 sets

*the 3(3) annotation denotes a compound set.  In other words, I performed three reps, paused for approximately 5 seconds, then hit another 3 reps.  No hoo-doo magic implied, just a different flavor of the rest-pause method.

I put a premium on rep speed in the dips and low pulls.  And of course the power snatches were done explosively, though they were light enough to be not too terribly taxing.

Now I know from past experience that no matter the in-road hole that I dig for myself — and my aim is to dig a pretty deep one before I head out – that by Saturday I will be itchy as all hell to do something much more aggressive than, for example, a long, fast-paced walk.  This gets back to what I was discussing earlier – the biochemical/hormonal milieu being optimized via fitness level and health status providing an impetus to “perform”.  Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity for plenty of physical recreation, and that that will help keep me in check.  I’m notorious (Meesus TTP can testify!) for not handling “itchy” very well at all  🙂

The Five Elements — Matching “Wiring” to Modality

So, how are you “wired”?  Here’s another aspect to consider when mapping a training plan.  As one becomes more adept at “reading” one’s own body — and now we’re digging down to some serious n=1 activity — is determining one’s physio-psychological make-up.  Charles Poliquin uses the analogy of the Five Elements, or the five physical types described in Chinese medicine.  I think this is a fine analogy, so long as we resist the urge to “categorize completely and wholly”.  As is the case with astrology — stick with me here, I’ve not completely stumbled away from my gourd! — purity of type (sign, element, ect.) simply does not exist.  People can be “heavy” in one aspect or another — predominantly influenced by this element or that — to be sure, though, the human personality is more an alloy than a pure element; the n=1 challenge being to tease-out that predominant element in one’s own (or your client’s own) make-up.  I think it’s also important to note as well, the fact that no one is absent any “element”.  Diminished or understated, yes; each aspect, though, is present in every trainee — the matter of degree is what we’re searching for.

Of course, if you’re put off by all of this “touchy-feely” stuff, we can just agree that people are wired differently and respond to a given protocol rather uniquely.  Many times “non-responders” or “hardgainers” simply have not coupled their “elemental make-up” with the right modality.  Remember, few things in physical culture can be taken as absolutes — other than that there are no absolutes.  By cultivating a healthy n=1, pioneering attitude though, (embracing the “wood” aspect), one will eventually lock-on to a modality that fits.

Tuesday’s training –
An evening session this go-around.  One advantage for working out in the evening is that my CNS is fully “awake”; no matter how much I warm up in the morning, my CNS is just not ready to fully blow-and-go.  Of course, working out first thing in the AM has multiple advantages in its own right — the biggest being that “life” is less likely to bump a workout.  There’s a give and take to everything in life, and each person’s “optimum workout window” is no different.

About a 20-minute fixie ride to warm-up — “warm-up” being the understatement of the day; damn, it’s friggin’ hot out lately.

Superset fashion with these two –
clean-grip low pulls: 225 x 3, 3; 245 x 3; 255 x 3; 265 x 3, 3, 3, 3
weighted dips: 45 x4; 80 x 3; 90 x 3; 95 x 3; 100 x 3, 3, 3, 3

Followed by another superset here –
barbell muscle-up: 135 x 4, 4, 4
straight bar muscle-up (the pull-up variety): bodyweight x 3, 2, 2

…and then, some Nautilus 4-way Neck work: front and each side – 50 lbs 10 each; rear – 60 lbs x 10

Finished-up with a nice fixie sprint home to some damn fine leftovers — grass-fed eye of chuck being the main player.  Meal porn to follow.

4/8/10; Grabbing a Couple of Workouts on the Fly and, Gettin’ Schooled

I found myself with a bit of spare time yesterday after work, so what better option than to saddle up the ol’ fixie and head for a spin?  I stopped off by the library and returned The 10,000 Year Explosion (a good read, but not quite the ground-breaker I was expecting).

Quick interlude — it is not the Paleo premise (not mine anyway), that humans have ceased to evolve, or have not evolved over the last 10,000 years (since the onset of the agricultural revolution) — lactose tolerance, anyone? — but rather that we have not evolved sufficiently to handle the onslaught of post-agricultural revolution foodstuffs.  Or that the process of excessive fat accumulation is evolution’s attempt at handling this onslaught.  Nothing says that every evolutionary leap is necessarily a “positive” one — non-perfect fixes and dead-ends do crop-up.  There is a continuing interplay, of course, between the evolutionary process and the continually changing environment.

Anyway, I dropped-off the 10k-Year Explosion and picked-up a copy of Lone Survivor.  What a great read so far — content-wise — though I’d hoped for a more compelling writing style.  That said, though, think that life is kicking you around a bit, or that your workouts are beastly?  Heh.  Give this book a read, and imagine being the lone survivor of a SEAL team decimated in Afghanistan.

I stopped-off by the field on the way home and, having my Vibrams on-hand (always the good Boy Scout), swapped footwear and ran 6 x 150 yard sprints.  I followed that up with 50 continuous skip lunges before sliding back into my biking shoes and riding back home.

Dinner consisted of a small portion of flat iron steak and a tossed green salad with olive oil, and coconut vinegar (Tropical Tradition brand — great stuff!).  And a beer or two 🙂   with the evening’s entertainment being the always engaging Andy Deas and Robb Wolf show — otherwise known as The Paleolithic Solution — of which, the latest episode (no. 22) just may be the finest to date.  And no, really, not just because Andy Deas gives a shout-out to Theory to Practice  🙂  Seriously, though, these guys do a hell of a job breaking down and commenting on the nutritional aspects of the Paleo lifestyle.   Now if they’d only get busy and shoot some Paleo rap vids for the Nerdcore for Life folks.  If my man Funky49 can rep Fermilab, then I think Andy and Robb ought to step up to the plate for the “pseudo-science” of Paleo  🙂

After a quick turn-around, I was back at in the gym bright and early this morning, and armed with a simple agenda — an explosive pull of some sort, coupled with some elevated-feet ring flyes.  Here’s how it ended-up:

ballistic push-ups: with 30lb vest x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3
elevated feet ring flyes: bw x 10, 10, 30lb vest x 7, 7, 6
Russian lunge (ballistic, for max height): 30lb vest x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3 (each leg, alternating)
clean-grip low pull (bar above belly button): 135 x 7; 185 x 5; 225 x 3, 3, 3 (emphasis on execution speed)

5 total rounds, with the 1st round being a bridge from the warm-up.  Very little rest between exercises.  ballistic push-ups and lunges were performed as CNS “primers”.  40 total minutes, from the time I walked into the gym, ’til the time I hit the showers.

Post workout meal?  Two soft-boiled, free-range eggs (hella-orange yokes!) and about two tablespoons raw butter; approximately 1 hour post-shower.

Oh and hey, looking for an absolutely knock-down-drag-out dissertation on human metabolism and energy production?  Look now further than this 3-video series brought to you by the folks at CrossFit.  Here’s an explanation of the series, straight from the CrossFit Journal site:

On March 12, 2010, Coach Greg Glassman and a small crew visited Dr. Scott Connelly in the Los Angeles offices of Progenex. The intent was to tap into Dr. Connelly’s vast knowledge of metabolism, particularly as it relates to long-term fitness and health.

The result was over 90 minutes of education about the relationships among glucose, insulin, ATP, protein, body weight and health. This is a dense, fast-moving presentation worthy of multiple viewings. Topics include:

* Why a calorie is not just a calorie.
* How insulin resistance was evolutionarily beneficial.
* How “dieting” can make you fatter.
* What happens when you hit the calcium wall.

Whoa…Fabulous stuff!  Thanks CrossFit.  And hey, what are you waiting for?  Get your subscription to the CrossFit Journal.  You’ll be so glad you did.

1/14/10, Strength-Endurance Emphasis

Today’s was another workout that might better be described more in terms of power-endurance.  Now these small distinctions – although they make for some great armchair discussion (and I’m all for that, too) – amount to nil in the real world.  Going in, I made an educated guess (according to how I felt, how the lead-in priming sets felt, my last similar outing, what my last few workouts entailed, etc…) as to the proper loading for each of these movements, then I loaded-up the bar and pushed that particular weight as fast and as hard, and with as minimum rest between sets as possible.  Was it a perfect bull’s-eye hit?  No.  But the end result is that this was a kick-ass workout that ended-up being skewed a little more toward the power end of the modality spectrum than I’d originally aimed for.  All my body knows is that it better damn well adapt before it gets flogged with the next onslaught.  This is the true nature of the game.  The proper mix of intelligence, planning, single-minded focus and the willingness to bust ass.

Both of these movements were performed under the 21-rep, rest-pause scheme, with every concentric performed as fast as possible.  The snatch-grip low pulls were performed in the rack, with the bar set just a fraction below knee level; bar above navel every rep.

  1. behind-the-neck push press: 135 x 5; 155 x 3; 175 x 2; 195 x 21, rest-pause method, mostly in groups of 2s.  11:20 time to completion.  Compare at 190/14:15 last outing.  I interjected approximately 4 sets of 2, straight bar muscle-ups as “cns prompts” at points during the set where I felt my rep “snap” beginning to faulter.
  2. snatch-grip low pull, out of the rack: 135 x 5; 185 x 3; 225 x 21, rest-pause method, 3s across the board.  7 minutes flat.  Straps on all reps.  Full & fast triple extension on every rep.

The next couple of weeks are likely to be hit-or-miss on the workout (as well as the blogging) front, as much of my limited free time will be swallowed-up in the home sale/moving/transitioning process.  I plan on riding this 21-rep-method pony on through the other side of the transition, at which point I’ll re-assess and change up as indicated by that re-assessment.  So, a little bit of randomness and plenty of unknown is headed my way.

Bring it on.

12/5/09, Speed-Strength Emphasis

Had to go into work today to catch up on a few projects.  Have no fear, you won’t soon run out of H1N1 vaccine  – Big Pharma is looking out for you  😉   Pouring down rain and otherwise nasty-ass weather made spending a Saturday pinned behind a desk playing keyboard jockey a little more tolerable – that, and the fantastic workout before hand.

Curiosity #1: apparently, whoever had control of the gym’s music selection this morning had chosen the ’80’s/retro station; ahhh *smiles broadly*.  By the middle of my workout I was having some uber-serious “back in the day” flashbacks (thankfully, none of them involved a rat tail, or mullet).  Which brings up another curiosity: my workout on this fine morning, with all the great ’80’s tunes blasting away in my ears, would have been mostly indistinguishable from any workout I’d undertaken some 25 years ago.  I don’t credit myself, but the fine Strength and Conditioning staff (shout out to coach Kline) at Texas State (then Southwest Texas State) in the early and mid 80’s for having the foresight, at that time, to know what methods would make a better athlete.  Just blind, luck of the draw on my part.  Wow, has it really been that long ago?

Curiosity #3?  I hadn’t heard this Missing Persons tune in the longest.  Little did I know back then what this song would portend:  widespread obesity and a nation-wide (world-wide?) epidemic of metabolic syndrome.  Couldn’t find anything but more recent, bad quality, live clips.  We’ll just opt for audio, here:

Anyway, on with the day’s festivities.  Following a solid, sprint-intensive warm-up:

  • cns prime: sprint-starts, 20 meter/20 meter/40 meter/20 meter
  • clean grip low pull from floor: 135 x 5, 5; 225 x 5; 315 x 3, 3, 3
  • BTN split-jerk: 135 x 4, 4; 165 x 4; 185 x 2, 2, 1
  • cns prime: regular grip muscle-up x 3
  • weighted, regular grip pull ups: 45 x 5, 5; 70 x 3: 80 x 3, 3, 2

So, 6 total rounds of that, auto-regulated.  Trended weight upward to hit the 3-5 rep range in the latter sets.  Went a tad too heavy in the split jerks.  Alternate lead foot in the jerks, i.e., at 135 went 2 left lead, 2 right lead, for a total of 4.  185 single was w/left lead.  Note the difference between a strength-speed emphasis push-press and a speed-strength emphasis jerk.  Ripped the low pulls off the floor, no slow grind.  Same method with the pull-ups.  Then:

Jump squats for max height (from an approx. 110 degree knee angle) x 7 at 135 lbs x 2  sets.

For nostalgia’s sake, I weighed myself following the workout; something I rarely do anymore, as I feel it doesn’t account for much of anything at all.  Anyway, 209 lbs at 6′ tall.  Back in the “Walkin’ in LA” days, I was 215-ish.  I’d say I’m a hell of a lot more lean now, and probably more muscular.  My neck is a good bit smaller these days – I’ve found that nothing builds a neck like consistently using the head as a lethal weapon.

And with that, I’m off to watch the 2nd half of the Texas – Nebraska game.  Sleeping in tomorrow; my only chance for another very long stretch.

11/20/09, Speed-Endurance Emphasis

6PM, after work.  Last meal, lunch @ 11:30AM.  “Felt” primed for low pulls vs. originally planned deadlifts.  Turned the w/o into a speed-endurance workout.

Worked Russian lunges into the warm-up.  Felt springy and fast, ==> opted for low pulls vs. straight DLs.

  • 150 meter sprint/stride combo (continuous motion ==>25 meter sprint start/25 meter stride/50 meter sprint/50 meter stride)
  • Low pull from the floor, clean grip (pinky on smooth band).  All explosive, all reps = bar at least above navel @ full triple extension:  135 x 5; 185 x 5; 225 x 3; 255 x 3, 275 x 3, 3, 3
  • Ballistic dips @ bw x 3 (hands well clean of bar on each), low catch.
  • weighted dips: bw x 5; 45 x 5; 70 x 4; 80 x 4; 90 x 3, 3, 3

7 total rounds.  Pulled the plug as soon as speed of execution diminished.  Auto reg.  Target rep range = 3, adjust weight as necessary.

11/12/09, Strength-Speed Emphasis

Last meal @ 6:30 PM (egg, spinach, cheese, bacon omelet).  7+ hours sleep.  Up at 6 AM, gym 10 – 11AM (fasted + coffee).  Odd work schedule today.

warm-up: 15 minutes sprint work-ups, bounds, ballistic stretching, burpees, push-ups, pull-ups.

Front Squats: Explode with heels out of the hole with enough speed to end on tip-toes in one fluid motion (full triple extension).  135 x 5, 5  185 x 3, 195 x 3, 205 x 2, 210 x 2, (2, 1, 2, 2).  Last set in rest-pause fashion.

Reverse grip Pull-ups: 45 x 5, 75 x 3, 80 x 3, 85 x 3, 3, 2, 2, 2 (fast as possible concentric, 4 count eccentric)

Clean-Grip low pull from high hang: 135 x 5, 5, 225 x 5 (rest-pause), 245 x 5 (rest-pause).  Feet completely clear of the floor on each rep, land rear of toe-off point.

Front Squat superset with Rev grip pull-ups, then supperset pull-ups with low pulls (i.e., 2 separate, superset pairings with 1 common exercise).  Load selected so as to allow for max concentric speed for indicated rep range.  CNS prime prior to each set; drop squat “stuck landings” x 3 or Russian lunge for height  x 3, rev grip ballistic p/u x 3.