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,


Another Take on the Body By Science Methodology

“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.  Listen to this music.”


I’ve posted previously (here, here, here and here – all complete with plenty of fantastic TTP reader input and comments), my thoughts on Dr. Doug McGuff’s Body By Science methodology.  Today I’d like to offer another take on Dr. McGuff’s methodology, this by way of TTP reader Jerry Borrero (aka, the IronDisciple), who blogs on Paleo/Primal nutrition, Girevoy Sport, and all things Physical Culture-related.  Check out Jerry’s work over at  What follows here, in italics, are Jerry’s thoughts, with my spotty comments set apart via normal font.   Enjoy; and thanks, Jerry, for the thoughtful input.

The premise of the whole book is counter intuitive, at least to my mind.  I’ve always thought if I ever felt frustrated with my lack of progress it was because I needed to do MORE work, not less.  And from reading material from Ross Enamait and some personal experimentation, I’ve been of the opinion that we need LESS rest than the muscle mags prescribe, not more.  I personally do SOME form of vigorous exercise almost everyday of the week, with maybe one day completely off at any one time.  The knee jerk reaction after reading the well laid out argument made in the book is to toss my current workout regimen out the window because I’m apparently overtraining myself.

After the panic subsided here are some observations:

It seems that the authors are stating that all qualities of the muscle can be adequately addressed using their HIT protocol.  Max strength, Explosive Strength, etc.  Am I understanding that correctly?  The book seems to imply that there is no need for periodization although it never comes out and states this directly.

The authors refer to building all the different types of muscle fibers sequentially, but never goes into the different forms of hypertrophy (sarcoplasmic vs. myofibrillar).  Based on the fact that the stimulus is high intensity/short duration it would seem to favor myofibrillar, and maybe that’s why the subject is never broached, but whenever I think of a program aimed primarily at hypertrophy, I automatically think of sarcoplasmic.

The authors also advocate using primarily Nautilus machines for the full “Big Five” workout, but I’ve always understood that since machines only allow for one plane of motion that the stabilizer muscles don’t get developed.  Is this not accurate?  This is never really mentioned in the book.  Also, what is your take on the abbreviated and simplified program.  Is this really enough to target the body in its entirety?

I’ve taken a look at your workouts and noticed that you haven’t entirely subscribed to the prescribed BBS workout.  You’re still performing multiple workouts during the week, and utilizing a variety of different exercises.  I’m assuming the increased frequency is due to not going to absolute failure on your sets and from experimentation into what works for you and what doesn’t.

Just a quick interjection, here.  Although I agree with Dr. McGuff on the debilitating, cumulative effect of certain exercise protocols, I go about mitigating that damage a bit differently.  I do prefer to workout more frequently (3 to 5 bouts per week – usually) – each workout, though, is auto-regulated (a little more about auto-regulation here and here), so I rarely find myself in an overtrained hole to have to scamper out of.  From previous discussions with Dr. McGuff, though, I realize that his concerns lay not only with the frequency of exercise, but with the type of exercise selected.  Olympic lifts and their derivatives, plyometics, ballistic/explosive movements and the like are discouraged under the BBS methodology.  My take is that each trainee’s goals must be evaluated vis-a-vis his abilities and current condition, and a proper fitness program must be must then be individualized for that particular trainee.  For some trainees, a BBS-like protocol would work wonderfully – for others, though (myself included, I suspect), it’s just not an adequate, year-round stimulus.  I emphasis year-round here, because there may be periods within my training cycle where a BBS-like protocol would be just what the doctor ordered.  Constant re-evaluation of one’s circumstance is key, here.  If BBS is a viable option (and for many, it will be), then by all means utilize it.  My workouts are constantly morphing, and are the direct result of 30+ years of on-going, n=1 experimentation in relation to my goals, and in consideration of my current strengths weaknesses.  This, in my mind, is as it should be.  A “workout protocol”, like the organism that protocol is directed toward, should be a thing of continual re-invention (i.e., intelligent n=1).  BBS methodologies, then,ought to be seen as another useful tool to be used toward that end.

While the idea of a scientific approach to exercise that allows all my exercise to be done in a quick 10 minute burst once a week intrigues me, part of me wants to plug my ears and scream until the idea passes.  I’ve grown to enjoy snatches, clean and jerks, sprints, planche progressions, etc. and I’d be sad to realize these are all obsolete/unnecessary. That all being said, once my upcoming Girevoy Sport competition is finished (my first!) I plan to “empty my cup” and toss out all my concerns and give the BBS approach a try.  I’ll stay on the program for as long as I benefit from it with tweaks along the way if necessary.

Thanks for taking the time to commit these thoughts to the written word, Jerry.  There’s another aspect of this debate, though, that rarely gets much air time –  what I’m alluding to here is the mental aspect (benefits, boost, what have you) of frequent, strenuous exercise.  And for more on that…

The Exercise – Anxiety Correlation

photo credit: Hljod.Huskona

This study (PubMed link, here) begins to quantify what I’ve felt intuitively for years: there’s something about proper exercise (including proper intensity and duration) that makes one impervious to stress – whether that stress is mental or physical.  And this is another reason I prefer more frequent bouts of exercise – still high in intensity, and short in duration – but more frequent than what is called for under a BBS-like methodology.

If I go more than a couple days with no strenuous physical activity, I begin to get antsy (and a bit hard to be around, or so I’m told).  I wonder if this is the brain’s way of saying, “hey, bud – get off your ass and do your part to keep our defenses tuned-up”.  It’s an interesting concept, and one that I hope will be explored in the near future, in further depth.

In health,