Dr. Jack Kruse
Keith Norris, of Efficient Exercise
Chris Kresser L. Ac
James Fitzgerald – OPT (Optimum Performance Training)
Mark Sisson, and
All are lunatics, but he who can analyse his delusions is called a philosopher – Ambrose Bierce
My Efficient Exercise clientele, widely speaking, consists of folks situated smack-dab in the bullseye for being the most susceptible to “diseases of affluence” — those maladies exacerbated (and, arguably, initially brought-on) by poor dietary choices and lack of proper and sufficient activity. By poor diet, I’m referring, of course, to a non-Paleo/Primal way of eating — a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, grains, and poor-quality fats. In the larger Ancestral Health community, we may quibble on some of the finer dietary points within this context (potatoes?!), but broadly speaking (and especially in terms of where “the rubber meets the road”, i.e., in dealing with the general, “not geeked on diet and fitness” public), we offer a united front. Can there be much argument, for example, that implementing Robb Wolf’s Quick Start Guide is not a great way for John and Jane Q. Public to begin taking charge of their health and wellbeing?
Ahhh, but then we get to the other side of the healthy lifestyle coin — the “activity” side — and here, in my opinion, things begin to degenerate rapidly. Let’s see if we can put things back into prospective.
First and foremost, ours is a genome that, to steal a riff from from Dr. John Ivy, is hardwired for daily activity. Now before I kickoff a shitstorm royale here from the HIT crowd, I said daily “activity”, not a daily WOD beat-down, or Bulgarian-style, multiple-times-per-day Oly thrashing. That some mutants (myself included) can survive frequent sightings of the great-white-buffalo-in-the-sky does not at all imply that it’s necessarily a healthy thing to do. I’ve pontificated on this before and, more recently, Skyler Tanner has written a superb post examining the relationship between “exercise” and “activity”, and the wide, wide spectrum of “movement” wherein these terms settle. And let’s hold onto that notion of high-end performance beginning where health begins to degenerate; let that be our guide-star in this discussion.
And we are speaking of a full spectrum of movement/activity here, from chasing the great white buffalo, to “play”. Part of the problem, though, in discussing this subject is (1) there are so many moving (pardon the pun) parts to consider, (2) this is a highly, highly n=1 subjective subject, i.e., due to my strength and work capacity, my “play” may be another’s gut-busting “exercise”, and (3) the language used in discussing this subject is vague at best, and at it’s worst, imprecise; the term “workout” can mean many things to many different people. Case in point: in discussing my attendance of a recent MovNat workshop here in the epicenter of Physical Culture, the ATX — an awesome experience, by the way, with Clifton Harski (@cliftonharski) and Brian Tabor paving the way for a most excellent, and challenging, day of fun and frolic — with a client of mine (and emphasizing the “fun and frolic” part), she shook her head and replied “fun? Sounds like a hard-ass workout to me!”. Of course, I considered the experience more a day chock-full of rough-and-tumble play, but that’s exactly my point. Think of strength and work capacity together, as being a workhorse. The bigger and stronger the horse, the more “stuff” you can pile on it’s back. A 500 pound load is nothing to a Clydesdale, but might cripple some poor, exhausted, slat-ribbed thing.
Art DeVany, of course, has made many constituent, bedrock, contributions to the Paleo/Primal/EvoFit movement — none so more important, though, and in my opinion, as the application of fractals and power law within the totality of life experience. And more germane to this discussion, fractals and power law as applied to the full spectrum of human activity. If you haven’t yet read Art’s Essay on Evolutionary Fitness, by all means do so — it’s a gem.
Now, if we consider, in the context of optimum human activity, the ideas of fractals (repeating patterns), power law distribution (intensity vs frequency distribution), we can see how this dovetails nicely into the work of (the above mentioned) John Ivy, Frank Booth, and Boyd Eaton (nifty little paper, here). Add the notion of n=1 individualization, and this generic power law distribution curve then becomes personalized; my long-tail is (to whatever extent) different from your long-tail, as my strength and work capacity are pretty damn high. The extreme right of my long-tail includes roughly 7 hours per day of training clients (on my feet moving, scampering, climbing, squatting, loading/unloading weights, demonstrating lifts, etc.) and at least some fixie riding and/or walking; this is what I consider a “day off”. Workout days, of course, ramp-up exponentially from there.
To the extent that we endeavor to make one a more healthy individual (fitness and performance, remember are altogether separate pursuits), we will need to bump this curve up and to the right. Just how much? I don’t know exactly, but this is something I’m attempting to quantify. Although I’m a huge fan of John Ivy’s work in principle, I’m less sold on his concept of figuring one’s “minimum daily allowance” of activity. You’ll have to checkout his book to see what I mean.
But back to the practicalities of boosting one’s health: in everyday speak, this is simply known as increasing the subject’s strength and work capacity (subject for a later post). The problem with saying this, though, is that folks automatically relate the terms “strength” and “work capacity” to the high-end performance realm. What I am speaking of here, though, is that minimum amount of daily (long-tail) activity required to keep an individual healthy, nothing more. Which, by the way, is not that damn much daily activity. This, in fact, is the basis of my proposed AHS12 presentation, and and area where, I believe (along with the erudite Ken O’Neill), the Paleo/Primal movement (writ large) has trended off the skids. For all we attribute to healthy eating, we turn a blind eye to the necessity of honoring the requirements of that long-tail, daily activity level. Let’s make no mistake here, our genome is predicated on daily activity — we are first and foremost obligatory movers, then opportunistic eaters. Discounted by many in this movement are the positive epigenetic triggers established by this minimum daily, or long-tail zone, activity. In essence, the community as a whole tends toward too little long-tail activity (classic HIT), or too much (mainsite CrossFit). We quibble over the make-up of a stone-age vs modern tuber, and totally discount (or grossly under-estimate) the average daily activity level of the stone-age hunter-gatherer. Hunted-gatherer is a more accurate definition; these poor bastards had to be ever-vigilant and constantly on the move.
Note: Dr. John Ivy’s recognition of “Minimum daily activity levels” as normalizing efficient metabolic pathways (or “circuits”, in his explanation) just might be the brigde between the Calories-in/Calories-out dogmatists and 1st Law of Thermodynamics apologists. Stay tuned.
My blog, so obviously, my opinions here; take ’em for what they’re worth. My contention is though, that the traditional (dogmatic?) HIT schema of a single day of blast and 7 (ish) days of full-on sloth fails to meet the minimum daily long-tail activity level, and so falls short of being an optimum total regimen choice. Of course, at the opposite end of the intensity frequency spectrum (but no doubt equals on the dogmatism scale) lay mainsite CrossFit where, if a little bit of high intensity work is good, a lot more is fo’ sho’ a hellova lot mo’ better. This scenario sets us up for over-reaching at best, overtraining at worst, and the sacrifice of long-term health for short-term performance gain. The answer, in my opinion, lay somewhere between these two extremes. Take a 30k-foot view of my personal exercise proclivities trended over the year and you’ll see that I skew much more toward the mainsite CrossFit end of the spectrum, though I’d like to think that (1) my workout-to-workout programming is a bit more intelligent, and (2) my day-to-day intensity and volume are more sanely regulated, and wind-up graphing pretty damn close to the power law distribution. And remember, too, that my n=1 given is that of a good deal of strength and a pretty high work capacity — my long-tail activities reflect as much. I’ll turn 47 this week, and I’m still healthy, fit and somewhat muscular so I think I’m on to something.
Deal with the Devil if the Devil has a constituency – and don’t complain about the heat –
Not complaining, just sayin’, you know; 106-degrees F at the time I performed this little sprint routine, on the way to the day’s high of 111. No telling how friggin’ hot it was out on the artificial turf; let’s just say it was blazingly so. But hey, like CJ says — deal with the Devil and his constituency, and roll the hell on… 🙂
Here we go –
– knee to chest jumps for max height, as little a pause as possible between jumps. x 7 reps
– 10 second, max effort sprint for distance (drop-off technique)
– tennis ball goalpost “dunks”, x 7
– dual leg hops x 30 yds (90 feet), fast as possible and covering the distance in as few hops as possible (again, utilizing the drop-off technique, here).
– “drum major” (stiff-leg) sprint x 40 yards.
Wash, rinse, repeat for 6 rounds. Sweat a ton, get a bit queasy, lounge like a lizard the rest of the day.
A few notes on this one:
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.
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?
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…”
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…
Sprints and such; bar work, rope climbs and tire flips. Broad jumps into a sand pit. Hurdle hops.
(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
(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
(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
(A1) safety bar squat: +140/15
(A2) farmers walks: 2 parking lot loops @ bar +90 each hand
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
Another Autoreg example
(A1) XC 45-deg incline press: (midline +0)/12, +50/6, +50 (rear)/9
(A2) T-bar row: 110/12, 200/6, 245/6, 5
(A1) dynamic trap bar DL: 245 + black bands, 7 sets of 3
(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
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.
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’…
The Red Wheelbarrow, William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
So I’m hit with the “what do I eat prior to working out” question frequently in my training practice, and I think my clients are a bit taken back by the complexity required in answering such a question. So much, though depends upon what the diet is like to begin with; what’s the initial-conditions hormonal/enzymatic environment? That I can fast for an extended period of time prior to a workout, suffer no blood sugar drop during the workout, and workout with the added benefit of not being encumbered by a bloated/heavy stomach payload is all predicated upon my having followed a Paleo diet for quite some time now. I am, to put it succinctly, a fat-burner and not at the mercy of ingested carbohydrates as an immediate go-to fuel. Do not attempt the fasted workout if you’re still a sugar burner — you will crash and burn, especially when face-to-face with one of my patented HIIT throw-downs. No judgements here, just the facts of the matter. If you’re still a sugar-burner, please do eat a little something prior to seeing me. I’m not so egotistical as to consider that far-away look in your eyes as being the result of your absolute gaga-ness over my programming mastery — it is, however, signalling me that I need to prepare to scrape you off the studio floor here in just a few minutes 😉
Why raw dairy? Why any dairy, for that matter?
A good buddy of mine, Bryan Barksdale, a pillar and founding member of the uber-fast-growing Austin Primal/Paleo/Ancestral Fitness community, asked me at a recent community Meet-Up, if I could quantify — and thereby justify/legitimize — my rather copious consumption of dairy; dairy not being, of course, “Paleo” by standard convention. Good question. And my answer, devoid, as it was, of any scientific underpinnings whatsoever (like many of my answers to questions pertaining to Physical Culture in general, and diet and training specifically) I’m sure sounded a bit New-Agey…”woo-woo”, as it were. Hey, blame it on that evening’s super moon having hyper-sensitized my personal conviction for placing self-knowledge on at least an equal footing as that of scientific knowledge and in seeking “full truth” by way of emotional, spiritual — as well as Scientific — directions 🙂
Ok, so super moon or not, what’s my take on the whole (pardon the pun) dairy issue? Well, again, it boils down to an n=1 assessment, evaluation and a resultant determination, of enhanced well-being. More to the point, I relayed to Bryan how the inclusion of raw dairy (specifically here, locally produced, raw & unpasteurized heavy cream and whole milk) seems to significantly improve my workout recovery. This means that I can train harder, and more often. Also, I can just “feel” an enhanced well-being with raw dairy included in my diet. Again, I know this sounds “woo-woo”, and in a “show me the science” day and age, not a very, er….shall we say, “ringing endorsement”. Such as it is, though, those are my thoughts on the matter. So it comes down to this: do I wait for hard science to justify what it is that I “know” to be true — at least for myself — already? Do I need science to do this for me? And will science ever do this for me? In my mind, this is akin to waiting for science to acknowledge the legitimacy of my training methods before employing those methods. And again, I stress that I am absolutely not a scientific Luddite — it’s just that science — and exercise science specifically — is way behind the n=1 curve here, and is currently playing catch-up to many, many years of trail-and-error, n=1 experimentation. I choose not to turn a blind eye to that solid, empirical knowledge, simply because it was not lab/university produced. In fact, one of the major downfalls to exercise science is that fact that the test subjects, by and large, aren’t drawn from the black-iron-and-chalk-dust dungeons — the very place where so much quality n=1 empirical “science” has been honed/refined over the years. Know this: I am, if nothing else, an equal opportunity whore when it comes to matters of ascertaining what works — show me the proven results, that’s what ultimately matters to me. Whether that comes from the lab/university environment or from the black-iron lab, to me, matters not.
On the workout front –
Negative-only work with Skyler Tanner, with an emphasis on the XCCentric leverage equipment; check it out:
Thursday, 3/17/11 –
(A1) neg only flat press, XC bench: +140/7, 6, 6 (60×0 tempo)
(A2) blast strap flyes, feet elevated: BW/12, 12, 12
(A3) inverted L pull-ups: BW/10, 10, 6
Friday, 3/18/11 –
(A1) seated DB lateral raise: 25/15, 15, 15
(A2) front raise: 45lb plate/12, 12, 12
(A3) band pull-a parts: red/12, 12, 10
(B1) cable tri extension, lunge position: 125/15, 140/15
(B2) XC dual handle bi curl: (+20)/12, 12
Sunday, 3/20/11 –
Field sprints! And other bodyweight, playground fun.
To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.
Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.
Oh, I’ll accomodate them, I’ll rummage around for something to feed them, for a ‘vegetarian plate’, if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine…
From Alchemists, ancient and modern, –
…serves as a useful reminder to modern scientists that even the most cherished theories need to be treated with constant scepticism. This is because, as the alchemists found out, it can be all too easy to see in your results what you want to see, rather than what is actually there…
Or, as Nietzsche might have said, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies”.
N=1 Physical Culture is defined as a lifelong journey, a journey in which, to be truly enjoyed, one must continually question one’s own assumptions — every step of the way. The shifting sands of “unknowing” ought to be embraced, not feared. Do today with what you know today to be “true”; remain open though, to the notion that tomorrow may present to you truths that run counter to yesterday’s — and that’s okay! The unencumbered mind is the most nimble of minds. Treat convictions like cards in a poker hand; with no emotional attachment, enable yourself to “discard” as the current hand requires.
In-utero epigenetic signalling — just one piece of a the highly complex, multiple-moving-parts family problems collectively known as metabolic syndrome. This article, from British Columbia’s Globe and Mail, does a nice job of describing this aspect’s contribution to the world obesity epidemic. Again, none of the contributing factors to this epidemic should be considered in isolation, but rather as part-and-parcel of a much grander weave of contributing factors.
Here are a few sample workouts from last week. More and more I’ve taken to multiple “micro workouts” scattered throughout the day, as time permits. These seem to work well for me, and fit nicely into my schedule. Quite a change from 30 years ago, when 2-hours a day, 6-days a week was my norm. Those days seem almost quaint, now. I don’t miss those marathon training sessions so much as I miss the ability, time-wise, to engage in such long sessions. Ah, to have that kind of available time on my hands once again! 🙂
Monday, 2/21/11 –
A Joe Defranco-inspired shoulder routine:
(A1) seated plate front raise: 35/20; 45/15, 15
(A2) seated db lateral raise: 20/15, 15, 15
(A3) seated db Cuban press: 15/15, 15, 15
(A4) red Jump-Stretch band pull-aparts: 15 each round
(B1) High Box step ups: 135/20; 185/16, 16 (alternate legs)
Tuesday, 2/22/11 –
(A1) hip press (h2): 400/12, 500/6, 600/3 (hierarchical)
(B1) explosive trap bar vertical jumps: 115/10, 10, 10
…..then, later in the day
XCCentric incline press: (+0)/21 rest-pause, then (+30)/6+ rest-pause
….and then a little later in the same day
Hip press (h2): 500/21, breathing presses
(A1) nautilus pec dec: 110/13, 8, 9
(A2) nautilus reverse flye: 110/15, 12, 10
(A3) weighted dips: 70/7, 6, 5
(B1) nautilus pull-over: 255/10, 2, 2, 7-singles (rest-pause)
Thursday, 2/24/11 –
(A1) T bar swings: 150/25, 25, 25
(A2) EZ curls: 105/12, 12, 8 + 4 rest-pause
(A3) EZ French curl: 105/10, 10, 10
In health –
“…Can’t we at least give one another the benefit of the doubt? I can be somewhat patient with people who think they have the truth, the problem is those who think they have the whole truth.
It seems to me that too quickly categorizing others as wrong or mistaken is consummate arrogance and is not honoring the mystic’s journey. The mystic always knows it can’t easily be talked about. It’s beyond words. It’s ineffable. It will always be mystery; and this experience of something that is always mystery and is always bigger than our ability to understand it, is, in fact, what makes one into a mystic. It allows us to use the old shibboleth, but with a new twist: “Those who really know don’t talk too easily. Those who talk too easily don’t really know…”
– Fr. Richard Rohr
Okay, so here’s a philosophical question for you; one with a strength and conditioning flavor: in any given situation, and with all other things being equal, is it better to perform the best exercise selection half-heartedly, or a lackluster selection with all-out intensity?
Things that make ya go hmmmmm….
As a coach/personal trainer, I run up against this dilemma on a daily basis. But here’s the thing — it’s not enough that I know that the trainee ought to concentrate on the bang-for-the-buck lifts — things like deadlifts, dips, pull-ups and sprints — it’s my job to sell them on that fact. But here’s the rub: if I can’t coax a full-on, Dorian Yates-like intensity from a client on a set of trap-bar deadlifts, am I better off opting for a better buy-in for a flashier move; single-leg RDLs, say? Some form or fashion of glute bridge? Yeah, I know the purists out there would scoff at the idea of compromise (God forbid!), but in most cases these “purists” don’t interact where the rubber meets the real-world road. My take? I’ll settle for a good dose of intensity in the lackluster vs “going through the motions” on the money moves; I’ll concede the battle and live to fight another day. The pursuit of optimum Physical Culture is a lifelong chase and, like smoke, it cannot ever be completely grasped, only approached; never be completely known, but only hinted at. My job is to keep my charges healthy, progressing, and above all, on the path. This is just another instance of not allowing the perfect to be the detriment of the good. The fact of the matter is that I do win this battle more times than not, and that’s something I can feel good about. Is the client progressing overall? Are their goals being met? Do I have them in the game, spirited, optimistic and enthusiastic in their pursuit of optimum Physical Culture? If I can answer yes to all of these, then what’s the harm in doing some vanity curls now and again in lieu of some hard -and-heavy chins? None that I can see.
And speaking of not allowing the perfect to be the detriment of the good, we have a recent episode of The People’s Pharmacy, Sugar Hazards, featuring Dr. Robbert Lustig. Now many Paleo camp purists out there will lambaste Dr. Lustig for his speaking of “healthy whole grains”, but for the most part, this is a good interview for mainstream consumption. Let’s face it, the vast majority will have to be won over to the Paleo/EvFit/Ancestral Fitness movement in a piecemeal fashion — a little here, a little there — and “a little here” is much better in my book than a deaf ear and a “not at all”.
Hmmm, does the following sound familiar or what?
“…To neurophysiologists, who research cognitive functions, the emotionally driven appear to suffer from cognitive deficits that mimic certain types of brain injuries. Not just partisan political junkies, but ardent sports fans, the devout, even hobbyists. Anyone with an intense emotional interest in a subject loses the ability to observe it objectively: You selectively perceive events. You ignore data and facts that disagree with your main philosophy. Even your memory works to fool you, as you selectively retain what you believe in, and subtly mask any memories that might conflict.
Studies have shown that we are actually biased in our visual perception – literally, how we see the world – because of our belief systems…”
– Barry Ritholtz, from his recent Washington Post article, “Why politics and investing don’t mix”
I treat the pursuit of optimum Physical Culture the same way that Meesus TTP treats her pursuit of the culinary arts; as just that — an open-ended art — an art which has an underpinning in basic, solid science, yes — but an ever-shifting art nonetheless. I don’t wish to alienate either camp, but walk and talk effortlessly between each side of the divide. And there does exist just such a divide — a divide that needs to be bridged for the better of each discipline. Check out what John Brockman has to say on the subject, from the recent Wired article, Matchmaking with science and art:
What is it that gets you interested in a person or their work?
“…I am interested in people who can take the materials of the culture in the arts, literature and science and put them together in their own way. We live in a mass-produced culture where many people, even many established cultural arbiters, limit themselves to secondhand ideas. Show me people who create their own reality, who don’t accept an ersatz, appropriated reality. Show me the empiricists (and not just in the sciences) who are out there doing it, rather than talking about and analysing the people who are doing it…”
Yes, exactly. Show me the Physical Culturalists with this mindset; follow these people closely, for here is where the future of Physical Culture is headed.
Okay, reader’s letters time. The first one here is rather long, but I decided to include the whole thing because it demonstrates a thorough self-evaluation; the type of self-evaluation required for accurate n=1 investigation. My comments/answers will be interspersed here in blue.
First and foremost thank you for taking the time to respond to my email. I’ve been following your blog and Facebook posts since last July and find them both to be very enlightening, well written, informative, and very much in line with my own beliefs and objectives to fitness and health. I found you via a reference on freetheanimal which I faithfully follow, as well.
I apologize in advance for the length of this email, but I want to provide you with enough information to hopefully leave you with a relatively good understand of my approach and the challenges that I face and would like to overcome.
Here’s just a short summary to begin with details subsequently in the email. I acknowledging that there are genetic limitations and age factors to consider, I’m just not convinced that I am incapable of making some further progress.
My Story (summary)
I just turned 58. While, my age may be somewhat of a factor I don’t consider it the reason I have difficulty putting on lean mass. I couldn’t do it at 25 either, but by my estimation that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep trying.
I’m 5’9″ and presently around 146 pounds. Extremely small frame and bone structure; most women probably have thicker wrists than I do. At my present weight I’m still around 13% body fat; most all of it around my lower mid section (navel area). By my calculations I would still need to drop another 7-9 lbs to get to single digit body fat. While I could easily do that, I just can’t bring myself to let my weight get that low. Therefore, I eat…and eat.
Don’t misunderstand. I can gain weight by eating processed foods and sugar and watch it turn to belly fat. I just can’t seem to put on lean muscle.
I’ve done resistance training on and off since I was in my mid to late 20’s. My approach up until about 2 years ago was always the standard multiple set approach 3 to 4 times a week. I’d plateau after about 3 months end up either hurting myself trying to lift more weight than I could handle, or else just get frustrated at the lack of progress and quit. This would typically go 1-2 years on; 3-4 years off cycles and repeat.
About 2 years ago a little voice inside my head told me to get fit once and for all and find an approach that works for me; since the convention wisdom approach certainly does not. I went on a quest of such a program. I stumbled upon Body By Science and began Doug McGuff’s and John LIttle’s program/recommendations which I’m still following today. I’ve had more success with this approach than anything else I’ve tried, but I’m far from where I’d like to be. They also have some sort of technical issue that will not allow me to post questions to their blog which precludes me from seeking advice via that venue.
My diet is very Paleo’ish. I began eating that way coincidentally just before reading BBS — not as a result of BBS. Interesting, I discovered both Paleo and BBS about the same time and through different avenues.
My health is good. I’m on no medications presently and most all my health issues went away almost immediately following the Paleo approach. My weight dropped considerably at the same time. I was around 178 lbs when I started Paleo.
As stated above I am very strict regarding the Paleo approach to food. I’m reluctant to say Paleo diet, because that implies food restriction, which I do not do.
I’m not dogmatic about what is considered Paleo. For instance, I do eat potatoes, salt, dairy, but abstain from grains (wheat, rice, oats, bread, pasta, etc.), sugar, vegetable oils and such. I do not drink milk, but consume a considerable amount of cream, butter and cheese. I easily go through a pint of cream a week in my coffee and frequently with berries as a dessert.
Meats and eggs are my staples. I rotate through an assortment of vegetables, maybe not with every meal, but several through out the week. I go out of my way to add good fats to my diet (read: animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.).
I travel a lot and eat out most meals through the week. I’ve found that by being selective on a menu I can usually find something that works. The downside is you don’t always know what you’re getting when eating out. On weekends I typically cook for myself.
I eat well and I eat a lot. Here’s an example: Wednesday for breakfast I had approximately 1/2 dozen eggs, 5 slices of bacon, 2 sausage and coffee for breakfast. Lunch was Fajitas (minus the tortillas’) with sour cream and guacamole. Dinner: Caesar Salad (no croutons) , A 20 oz bone-in rib eye, baked potato with butter and sour cream.
A couple dozen eggs and 2-3 steaks a week are the norm for me. I try to go organic when the choice is available. I work in some fish, but I’m not a huge sea food lover. Salads when I can’t find anything else on the menu that works, but it has to have meat. I supplement with cod liver oil to try and balance my Omega 3 a bit.
I am sensitive to most all other supplements, though. For reasons, I have never understood, vitamin and mineral supplements put me in a complete brain fog. With the exception of CLA and chromium I’ve never found anything I can tolerate. The high potency CLO has a similar effect, as well. I can take the regular Carlson CLO, but not the high potency and never more than one teaspoon per day. Strange, but true. Oh, I just bought a container of whey to try. I seem to tolerate it well. I cannot do creatine, either
I experimented for 3 weeks over the recent holidays with Intermittent Fasting and my weight started dropping like a rock. I dropped about 6 lbs with that approach over 3 weeks. Essentially, I would go 14-16 hours without eating then re-feed for 8. The easiest approach for me was to just skip breakfast and start my re-feed around noon each day. No problems with this approach and I certainly leaned out quickly, but I didn’t feel comfortable letting my weight get that low. I went off this approach the past week and put 3 lbs back on. I was 146 this morning on the scale. No visible muscle loss with that approach that I ascertain, though.
This, by the way, is essentially what I do each day as well, though the bulk of my eating is done during an approximate 6-hour window, beginning (again, usually) approximately 1-2 hours post workout. Ergo, my workouts are nearly always performed in a well-fasted (approximately 15-hours) state. This has more to do with my work schedule/client load more so than any active/on-going attempt to loose weight (which I’m not trying to do). This method does keep me fairly ripped, though, year round.
Essentially, high fat and real foods is my approach. I’ll detail my health improvements later.
Fitness and Exercise
As previously mentioned, I’ve done resistance training off and on for years. No cardio to speak of. I hate running and look awful in biker shorts 🙂
On occasion, I’ve tried sprinting. While I’m not opposed, I’m not crazy about putting up with the elements preferring my workouts to be indoors. . I’ve read on your blog that this is in your regimen and I’m certainly more than willing to add to mine, if it makes sense to do so.
Sprinting is a fantastic metabolic boost, not to mention a hell of a lower body workout (see my comments on the Metabolic/T-bar swing below). It also serves to keep one coordinated, streamlined and graceful, i.e. moving naturally, with the fluidity of a cat. My only lament is that I can’t sprint more often than what I do.
I have had memberships in the past to some good fitness centers (at least from the equipment perspective), but opted several years back to purchase a Bowflex machine and do my resistance training at home. I am still using it. It seems to suffice and by working out at home I can moan, groan and grunt through my BBS thing without getting strange looks.
It does have its limitations. I’ve maxed out the amount of resistance I can use for leg presses. I typically pre-exhaust my legs, or perform a Max Pyramid style requiring less weight (another BBS approach from John Little).
We’ll soon have a home version of our CZT equipment (that will sell under the name of ARX Fit; “ARX” for Accommodating Resistance EXercise) on the market and, in fact, we’ll be putting up some video clips soon of the equipment in action. The ARX Fit website will be rolling out soon. Our target demographic here is the Bowflex crowd — Bowflex being, in my opinion a decent piece of home equipment, however, I feel that the CZT home version will be both much more versatile, and one will never run into the problem of “outgrowing” the equipment. So keep an eye out for that. As soon as we’re live with the website, I’ll post about it here at TTP. I’ll also get those clips up over at the Efficient Exercise YouTube channel as soon as they’re ready.
I presently have access to a reasonably good facility where I’m currently working during the week should we decide I need to go back to free weights, or better equipment. Or, I’m not opposed to joining a facility to use when I am at home, but would prefer not.
I am going to assume you are familiar with BBS. I seem to recall some mention of it on your blog. I’m currently working out once per week with that approach and have for the past 18-24 months. I believe I do a reasonably well controlled HIT lifts. I’ve rotated through some split routines, Max Pyramids, Big 3 and Big 5 since beginning BBS. I’m currently back to Big 5. (Bench Press, Lat pulls, Military Press, Rows, and Leg Press on a once per week schedule.
I’m very familiar with the BBS methodology and, for the most part, I think that it’s spot-on. As is with any methodology, though, the body will eventually acclimate and cease to progress. Remember that strength and hypertrophy are metabolically costly, and the body’s imperative is purely survival — that’s it — not “lookin’ good nekkid”, or hoisting supra-natural poundages in arbitrary lifts, nor dropping to sub-7% bodyfat levels. The body is simply a carrier for your DNA (I’ll leave spiritual issues aside for the moment) and so will only begrudgingly (and in the most metabolically effective way possible) respond to changes in outside stimulus. The key here is to maintain high intensity in a constantly varied set of exercises, modalities and methodologies. In other words, the over-arching “system” for your workouts should be conjugate in nature. Can the BBS protocol be tweaked so as to become a more conjugate system? Absolutely; but then again, any protocol can thus be tweaked.
After somewhat of a stalemate a few months back I discovered what I thought had been high intensity, was not truly all my best. After working through a little more pain and discomfort I found that I could really push myself more than I had in the past. This is my present approach. I’ve seen my numbers go up considerably over the past few months as it relates to the amount of weight I can move with steady increases almost every week.
I don’t know if you can relate to Bowflex numbers, or not, but here are my current stats. I’m certain they are much higher numbers than if I were to switch to free weights for the same, or equivalent movement. Here they are never-the-less as of this past week’s workout.
Seated Bench – 230 1X6
Lat pull (palms up shoulder width grip) – 260 1X8
Rows – 290 1X8
Over head military- 160 1X6
Leg Press – 410 (pre-exhausted after holding weight for 1-2 mins in mid position)) 1X6
The numbers above probably represent on average a 5 lbs improvement in strength per week over the past 3 months in each movement. Again, this is once per week routine, one set per movement, and reasonably slow and controlled (more so on the negative side). I don’t track time under load (TULs) any longer. I figure it is what it is. I do go to failure on all movements, though. I don’t move from set to set quite as quickly as BBS recommends, since I have to setup the machine for each. Also, a bit of a rest between each allows me to move more weight, perhaps a bit of a cardio trade-off I’ve been willing to forego.
Intensity trumps all other considerations. TUL is a concern in that you want a particular set to terminate before the slow-twitch fibers have a chance to rejuvenate and join back in with the “all hands (fibers) on deck” lifting party. Again, the body is wired for survival, and will not call upon those fast-twitch fibers until absolutely necessary.
A general observation on my part is that my weakest muscles seem to respond the best. For instance, if I go back 30 years ago I had very weak triceps and hated to triceps work. Consequently, I worked triceps infrequently over the years. Now they are perhaps my most developed area. Same with deltoids which I never worked at all until recently, but I’m seeing some good results there, as well. Contrarily, my forearms are reasonably strong, but embarrassingly poorly developed. Not sure if this makes sense, or not, but a source of confusion to be based upon how I respond to resistance training.
Note that hypertrophy has many genetic factors, the three biggest players being the fiber make-up of the particular muscle, the size of the muscle belly, and the lever make-up at the joint in question. The longer the muscle, relative to the associated tendon length, the more material is present to “mold”. Tendon attachment and the resultant lever advantage about a particular joint (s) has much to say about how much load can ultimately be placed upon a particular muscle. Those who’ve “won the parent lottery” have a higher-than-normal concentration of fast-twitch fibers in a given muscle, a long muscle belly and advantageous lever systems throughout the body. These are the “mechanical” factors to consider — let’s not forget that the hormonal milieu has much to say about this expression as well. The good news is that, while you may not be able to do much to alter the scaffolding you’ve been dealt, you can most certainly positively influence the hormonal profile under which “construction” takes place.
I am most likely a Celiac although that’s a self diagnosis. What I found by eliminating grains from my diet many life long health issues disappeared — almost immediately. I didn’t know what a Celiac was until I got into the Paleo world and started reading. My problems started with a complete intestinal blockage when I was 12 years old and emergency surgery to clean out a blocked intestine. Doctors then just sent me home and essentially said, “Duh, we don’t know and good luck.”. I had gastro problems the rest of my life. Coincidentally, my growth also stopped very shortly thereafter. I am essentially the same height and weight as I was then. Up until that time I was always the tallest kid in school; even played center on the Jr. High basketball team. By high school I was considered short. There’s a correlation to my present size and weight, but not necessarily a causation that I can prove.
Health and Paleo Successes
GERD is no longer a problem and other gastro problems which I won’t describe are gone. I was also in chronic pain with tendonitis in both elbows, knees, and, most severely both Achilles’ tendons. I’d had that affliction since 14 yrs. That is now completely gone. Allergies – gone. Even my eye sight has improved. I could go one, but I’m sure you get the point. The Paleo diet has been a life saver for me and I would never consider any other approach to eating.
In two words — lean muscle. I can’t really gain weight on Paleo, but due to the health benefits described above I wouldn’t consider going off it. Having said that, I’m tired of people asking me if “I’m ill” and the “Oh, you’re so skinny” remarks. Truthfully, I’ve never felt better in my life, but people just see thin.
I recognize the genetic and age limitation, but I really feel 10-15 lbs of lean weight over the next 12-18 months should be attainable with the right approach. I’m not looking, or expecting, a body builder physique.
Lastly, I’m not looking for a free hand-out either. I know you are in the fitness industry and if consulting fees apply here let me know. If Austin were just a bit closer I’d drive down to your fitness for personal training advice.
Keith, I sincerely appreciate your assistance and look forward to hearing from you.
It sounds like you’ve got all the basics well covered, Jeff. One thing you didn’t mention though, is your overall stress level and your sleep patterns. Undue stress and/or lack of quality sleep can really put the kibosh on any meaningful strength or hypertrophy gains. The propensity toward “spare tire” or belly fat is a sure sign of a jacked cortisol level. It wouldn’t hurt to look into a good nighttime ZMA or Natural Calm supplement protocol. Personally, I use Now Foods ZMA (or an equivalent) nightly. Also, we haven’t looked at nutrient absorption and (especially so, since you’ve had a history of some pretty gnarly gastro-intestinal problems), so my suggestion here would be to look into some digestive enzymatic help via (for instance) Now Foods super enzymes. Check Robb Wolf’s site for more on this. Good nutrient intake is only part of the equation — a part that, it seems, you have well under control. Proper absorption, though, is another issue entirely. In addition to my “conjugate” suggestion above, you might want to play with a little more volume in your overall protocol — which you can get away with if you feather it in (as I do) within an overarching, conjugate methodology. Variety is the key to the prevention of overtraining — variety in exercise/movement pattern selection, rep speeds and loading. And one other sure-fire tip: if you can tolerate raw dairy, I’d suggest downing a good amount post-workout. Personally, I like to make a 50-50 mix of raw, whole milk and cream — about 12 oz total — and down this after my workout and about an hour or so before I have a “real” meal. I wait as long as I can post workout to ingest anything, though (so as to maximize the post-workout hormonal cascade), but many times life’s practicalities intervene; still gotta live under real-world constraints, so I don’t beat myself up with timing issues — just strive to do the best you can under the circumstances you’re dealt.
Feel free to hit me up with any follow-on questions. And by all means come on down to Austin (the epicenter of Physical Culture!) if you get a chance. I do deal with clients that I only see once per month or so; do give that option some thought.
I’m 47 yrs old and trying to get a feel for the direction I want to go relating to exercise. On the diet front, I’m completely sold on Paleo (at least 90% of the time). It makes sense logically, scientifically and there is general consensus among the “experts” (at least the ones I consider). So, I’ve been looking at Body By Science or at least HIT related approach, Starting Strength and Crossfit. There are some strong opinions out there and I’m hoping with all your real world experience and you analytical edge you can help me weigh it out.
I appreciate any insight. My wife also appreciates it, since I have promised her I will try like hell to get to look like the guy she married 17 yrs ago.
Thanks and keep up the great work!!
Art, so much of your final direction here will depend upon what you have readily available. All of these are fine systems, and all can be manipulated in a conjugate-like fashion. The path toward optimized Physical Culture has much in common with the path toward realized spirituality, in that the “system” is not nearly so as important as is the desire, intensity and ultimate follow-through with the chosen “system”. As the Dalai Lama says in regards to the “correct spiritual path/religion”: all lead to the same end; pick a spiritual pony and ride. My advice is to look at what you have ready access to and go, fully invested, in that direction. The reality is that once the initial newness wears off, the last thing you want is a ready-made excuse for not continuing on down the path. Is the nearest, most accessible place a CrossFit affiliate, an old-school black-iron gym (you should be so lucky!!), or…well, let’s just hope the closest outfit to you isn’t a Curves… 🙂
Dan John waxes poetic on the Metabolic (or T-Bar) Swing in this recent T-Nation article. I love the swing, and think of them as “indoor sprints”, as each provide for the same metabolic punch and posterior-chain hit. Swings are a winter/bad weather staple for me. Low-tech, for sure — but damn effective. Even better: T-Bar swings to a blaring AC/DC mix 🙂
…which leads nicely into the week’s workouts, of which I only have one “documentable” effort to relay. Throughout the week I hit many, uber-high-intensity “mini” sessions, none of which I documented, however. Lots of T-bars swings, weighted dips, pull-ups, lunges, you name it. Here, though, is one that I did document:
(A1) dynamic trap bar deadlift (grey bands): 265 x 3; 315 x 7 sets of 3
(A2) front press: 135 x 8; 155 x 6, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4
And finally, what do three Physical Culture geeks do when they get together — that is, besides thrash one another in the weight room? Well, they talk about Physical Culture (and weight room thrashings!) of course! To whit, checkout episode one of our new Efficient Exercise venture, EETV. Mark, Skyler and I had a lot of fun with this, and I’m sure we’ll make it a staple (though progressively more refined) offering. And yeah, this wasn’t a stretch; we really do talk like this normally. What was our pre-shoot prep? 5 minutes (if that) of kicking around possible topics. This is off-the-cuff and off the top of the head, folks; Physical Culture performance art, at it’s best 🙂