The Quick-and-Dirty on Calorie Intake, and an Evening Iron Session

Calorie intake as it relates to phenotypical expression; to cop a phrase from Robb Wolf: “Holy Cats!”  I really have nothing but the deepest of sympathies for people who do not happen to make Paleo/Primal, Physical Culture their geek-out hobby – I can only imagine what it’s like to stumble into this arena trying to find a sane voice.  Who to believe?

Bottom line, folks:  calories do matter – they’re just not the end-all, not the full story.  Taube’s axiom of “a calorie is not a calorie” is true, to be sure; it should not, however, be considered as license to unmitigated gluttony, free of consequences (especially fat gain).  Calories ought to be considered as the co-stars of a jam-packed, star-studded stage, wherein insulin could be considered the production’s glamorous diva.  Ok, that’s about enough of that analogy…

Skyler Tanner has posted a nice observation on gross calorie intake vis-à-vis its effect on body composition, with some poignant takes on how his own body reacted to a few weeks worth of decreased caloric intake as a result of his recent vagabonding expedition around central America.  Now, I don’t bring this up to throw Skyler under the H8R bus (don’t be hatin’!) – being the naturally lean guy he is, who’s free to engage in extended leisure travel – no, the reason I bring this up is that it’s a perfect example of the fact that as people drop weight, at a certain point, calories will have to be restricted to reach ultra-low body fat levels.  Now, we can prompt this calorie restriction in a number of different ways, the easiest being to severely restrict all carbs (to the point of going zero carb in some cases) and increase the fat intake.  This approach offers a nice one-two punch, in that fat tends to satiate one’s appetite quickly, and we get a lower insulin response to boot.  Now, at what point calorie restriction  is required to spur further weight drop is dependent upon a multitude of factors, not the least of which are sex, hormone/biochemical milieu, activity level…and on and on it goes.  Sometimes one might even need to increase calorie intake for a short period (to re-vamp the metabolism), then return to a decreased level.  One thing is for certain, though: drill down just a bit, and the weight loss/weight gain game becomes a highly n=1 affair.  For more on that, check out this story, from my friends at Efficient Exercise, in Austin, Texas.

Another reason I bring up the calorie issue is that I have received quite a few questions as of late specifically asking about lean mass gain.  Skyler has stated that he intends to engage in a little n=1, weight-gain experimentation of his own.  And he’s in a perfect position right now to do so, having dropped down to a single-digit body fat percentage.  And again I ask: how friggin’ fair is that?  The guy returns from an extended vacation to find his bodyfat chillin’ in the single-digits?  Ok, so how about we drop the hate-fest for the lucky guy, and set about monitoring his upcoming weight-gain technique and following his progress?  Can he pull-off some sizable lean gains without tacking-on too much in the way fat gain and/or water retention?  I’ll bet the (organic) farm that he can.  Skyler is an experienced trainer and, bottom line, he knows what in the hell he’s doing.  I think we’ll all learn a thing or two from his experiment.

And along those lines, here’s a way-cool web-based BMI, Waist/Height Ratio, BMR, %BF, Surface Area, and Willoughby Ideal Weight and Waist calculator that Skyler alerted me to.  My own numbers (6’-0”, 205lbs, 33” waist) equate to a pretty good return, especially if I focus on the “Willoughby Ideal”, and ignore the “establishment’s” BMI recommendations.

Tuesday Evening’s Workout –

reverse lunge + (btn jerk): 95 x 10 (10); 165 x 6 (6); 175 x 5 (3).  I then put 195 on the bar and hit 3 more sets of 2 in the btn jerks.  On each set, I completed the lunge reps on each leg, then, after a quick breather, moved into the btn jerk reps.

Notice I only did three sets of lunges.  This is in deference to the amount of biking and sprinting (coupled with the hip-dominant Oly-derivatives) I do during the spring, summer and fall; I don’t want to tumble into the dreaded overtraining hole, so *usually* I’ll opt to drop the 2nd “to failure” set if I’m following a classic APRE leg scheme.

Following the lunge/btn jerk combo, I played around with some single leg good mornings into a high box step-up – just some explosive, bw stuff.  My legs were pretty well dusted from the lunges and jerks, though, so I kept things quick & explosive and didn’t add any additional loading.  I did a total of maybe 20 reps each leg, at bw.  I really love this movement, though I haven’t done them in quite a while.  Check out coach Jimmy Radcliffe explaining and demonstrating the movement progression here (via Jason Glass Performance Lab):

I’ve been doing a lot of high-rep, feet elevated, push-ups lately, so I decided to throw the body a curveball and hit it with something I do rarely – machine flyes.  This particular pec-deck is of the “straight arm” variety (versus the variety which places the arm/elbow at a 90-degree position).   Anyway, it offers a nice change-up every now and again.  Consistency of movement, especially within the same rep range and intensity, is just another of the many factors that can lead to overtraining, and just the kind of easy-to-fall-into rut that I avoid like the plague.

Atlantis pec-deck: 150 x 12; 210 x 7; 225 x 7+; 225 x 5+

The Sport-Specific Phenotypical Expression…

…or, the Advantageous Coupling of Select Epigenetics with a Favorable Genetic Predisposition

What happens when a kid of obvious genetic predisposition is placed in an environment richly advantageous to the expression of that genetic potential?  The right coaches, the right atmosphere, the right competitive environment — the perfect nurturing cradle just waiting for the arrival of that “perfect” genetic hand.

This is the perfect storm that leads to the creation of sporting legend.  The right kid finds his way into the right gym and falls under the tutelage of the right coach.  A young Lance Armstrong becomes enamored with the then budding sport of triathlon, is noticed by the right people, encouraged and sponsored at an early age; a young, gangly, athletic kid becomes a “work in progress” for storied Jamaican sprints coach Glen Mills — in each instance we know, of course, the rest of the story.

Genetics.  Epigenetics.  The hand you’re dealt, and how that hand plays out vis-a-vis the balance of the cards in the shoe, the strategy of the other players, the manipulations of the dealer.  The perfect hand at the right game doesn’t guarantee a win any more than does a gimp hand at the wrong game necessarily necessitate a fold, though, as such hard-to-pin things as will, desire and drive (which we now know are largely influenced by one’s genetics!) play such a substantial part in the final outcome.  When everything does come together “right”, though, the result is a beautiful thing to behold.

Now I’m not an endurance athlete myself — Hell, I consider 200 meters an endurance event — but I do appreciate the athleticism and training dedication required of these types of events.  I also appreciate the poetic synergy of obvious genetic predisposition within an advantageous epigenetic environment.  That said,  consider this kid, Lukas Verzbicas, as a perfect example of that synergy.  And check out an example of one of Lukas’ workouts.  A far cry and away from one of my own track sessions  🙂  And yet…

…and yet, what Lucas and I do have in common is the need for a base level of strength.  A differing base level of strength, to be sure, but even endurance athletes — if they wish to maximize their sporting potential — require a certain base level of strength.  Or, as it has been said, “…level of strength with which to endure”, a quote (or something similar) that I believe can be attributed to Charles Staley.

How would I suggest Lukas — or any endurance-leaning athlete, for that matter — obtain and maintain that required level of strength?  HIT/SS training is, in my estimation, the perfect fit.  In as little as an hour per week, the endurance athlete could build an impressive, and performance-enhancing level of strength.  A pretty damn good time investment-to-performance enhancement ratio — with the double pay-off being the enhanced metabolic conditioning that this manner of training provides; like an intense, off-the-track interval session.  I’m not sure what types of facilities Lukas has at his disposal in Orland Park, but if he were based in Austin, I’d suggest he slide by one of Efficient Exercise’s four locations and get hooked-up with the good folks there.  If you are an endurance athlete who happens to be lucky enough to live  in Austin, and you aim to boost your performance, by all means take advantage of the fact that the EE studios are available and convenient , and get on by.  Remember, all other things being equal, the stronger athlete will prevail.  It’s a maxim that’s just as true for power-burst endeavors as it is in endurance sports.

Yesterday’s (6/8/10) Workout –

Some dynamic and repetition method iron work at the gym yesterday.

feet-elevated push-ups: 40 lb vest x 12, 12, 12, 12 (1/0/x/2 tempo)
reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 lb vest x 6, 6, 6, 6 (rest-pause each rep within each set)
kneeling jump squat: 40 lb vest x 5, 5, 5, 5

4 rounds of that, then a superset of:

Pec deck: 195 x 10, 10, 9
Kneeling DB clean & press: 40 x 12, 12, 10

There are many, many permutations of the kneeling (or seated) DB clean & press.  In some, the motion is akin to what I would call more of a DB muscle-up than a “clean & press”.  In my version, the movement is initiated by hammer curling the DBs to shoulder height, then immediately transferring into a DB shoulder press, with the two distinct motions flowing as seamlessly together as possible, i.e., with as little pause at the transfer as possible.  Working the repetition method with this superset.  Every method that contributes to the goal has a part to play, some more so, some less; the trick is to continually assess one’s faults, then apply the correct tool and protocol to each perceived weakness.

In the push-ups, my feet were elevated such that I’m at an approximate 45-degree angle at the bottom-out position.  I push off of two platforms, such that my head and chest are allowed to sink below my hands without auguring into the mat.  Each rep was completed as explosively as possible, with just the slightest of a pause at the top between each rep.  No grind reps, each was quick and crisp.  Same with the pull-ups, which were performed on one set of gymnastics uneven bars.  These bars give quite a bit, and therefore absorb a good bit of power; I was surprised at just how tough 6 explosive rest-pause reps can be on these things — it’s akin to sprinting in sand.  Kneeling jump squats: I added an additional jump to the end of these, so that the final combination turned into a kneeling jump squat into a depth drop vertical jump.  How’s that for a mouthful?  It doesn’t roll real easy off the tongue, but it’s a helluva great explosive jump combo.

What You Don’t Know About the Pushup, by Zach Dechant, assistant strength and conditioning coach at TCU (and whose excellent blog can be found here), is a fantastic article, and explains much of why, for horizontal pressing movements, I much prefer the push-up to any back-down, barbell or dumbbell pressing motion.  Every now and again (on max effort/strength days), I will utilize a barbell or DB press from the floor — but that’s more so because I don’t have access to the proper toys (chains, proper bands, etc) and knowledgeable spotters that would enable me to do heavy work in a push-up movement.   I’m a huge believer in the “free scapula” notion that Zack speaks of in his article.  Plus, the push-up just feels like a more athletic (natural?) movement to me, better suiting my ultimate goals.  Just as I appreciate the dedication required of an endurance athlete, though, I appreciate what it takes to hoist an especially big bench — it’s just not my game, nor my personal aim.

6/2/10, Some TUL-Intensive Horizontal Pushing and Pulling, and a Severe Case of Carb Lust? WTF?

Went out for a little “hair of the dog” fixie huck last night.  Nothing major, though; simply an attempt at working some of the soreness out of my legs resulting from Monday’s Tour De Raleigh.  The TDR ride was only supposed to be a 24-ish mile gig; dumb-ass that I am, though, I turned that into something more along the lines of 35 to 40 miles due to my knack for getting completely and utterly lost.  What, ask directions?  Are you kidding me?  Oh well, what’s an extra and unexpected hard hour or so in the saddle, right?  Anyway, like I said, nothing major last night — just a quick trip out for coffee, then back to mi casa.  Couple of short sprints to juice the legs and stoke the metabolism; a dose of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to rev the spirit and intellect.

Carb Lust…WTF??

So after 3 pretty damn tough hours in the saddle on Monday,  I finally wheeled into Cup-A-Joe’s for a badly needed shot of caffeine, and to introduce my lovely daughter — who’s moving to the Raleigh area — to the awesome Cup-A-Joe’s vibe.  Anyway, I rack the steed, hydrate a bit, attempt to stretch my lactic acid pumped legs, then hobble up to the counter to order-up — only to have the most delicious poundcake/brownie/whatever-the-hell platter of scrumptiousness looking me straight in the eye…wantonly, even.  Whoa!  I haven’t been hit by that kind of an intense carb lust since way back in the initial stages of my Paleo transformation.  And I’m talkin’ mouth-watering lust, here.  Funny thing, though: after about 5 minutes, and few sips of coffee, the craving passed; completely.  Now, I don’t know if the craving subsided because I was no longer face-to-face with the the instigating entity, or because of the coffee ingestion, or what.  In fact, my daughter arrived to meet me shortly after I’d settle-in with my cup o’joe and IndyWeek, and as we chit-chatted, she munched-away on a cookie the size of a cup saucer (I know, I know…and so does she) — never once, though, did I suffer a recurrence of the carb-noshing urge.  I can only guess that I was a good bit hypoglycemic (having just come off the bike) while at the counter, so it was just a perfect storm of momentary low blood sugar, and “offender appearance” timing.  Strange, though, to have felt that feeling again, and a good reminder of what new initiates the the whole Paleo gig have to suffer.  It’s all so easy for those of us who have crossed the bridge — sometimes it’s good to look back and try to recall what those dark days of transition were like.

Tuesday AM Training

Still working the TUL angle, here.  Next time in the gym I’ll hit a more explosive modality.  Gotta keep it all in rotation.

A giant set of the following:

Atlantis pec-deck (seat @ 6): 120 x 5, 4.  No forced or negs.

ballistic push-ups: bodyweight x 6, 6

Atlantis semi-pronated grip press (seat @ 6): 5, 4+ 4 forced reps/negatives (6-count for 3, lost on 4th)

Atlantis seated row (semi-pronated grip, seat all the way down, 2 holes visible on pad): 120 x 6, 5+ 3 forced rep/negs (6 count)

Tempo on all reps was maintained (except on the ballistic push-ups, of course) at 10/x/10/x, with “x” signifying no pause at the top or bottom of the movement.  Forced reps and/or negatives followed concentric failure on the 10/x/10/x tempo reps.  Again, I realize that weights used on machines is meaningless to anyone but me, but I use this blog as a workout tracker and as an extension of my gym notebook.

I followed the above up a superset of:

GHR: 30 lb vest x 10, 10, 10

kneeling jump squat: 30 lb vest x 6, 6, 6; all for max height

Then, a round of Nautilus 4-way neck: front and each side 40 lbs x 10; rear 50 lbs x 10

So why limit the TUL work to upper body only?  Well, the short answer is that all that biking I do is, in and of itself, a good amount of TUL work for the quads, and a fair amount (since I ride a fixie) for the glutes and hams.  The GHR’s were thrown in as restorative work, and the kneeling jump squats were put in in an attempt to maintain a bit of explosiveness in my legs.  I find if I don’t keep up with a bit of explosive work in the midst of a heavy riding spate, my legs tend to lose “pop”, and though they maintain strength well, explosiveness is another story.

And finally, a little good news, and a little bad, on the HFCS front.  Look out rest of the world, the US has a care package for you, and it ain’t pretty.