And Now Let’s Hack Keith’s DEXA Scan…

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

– William James 

So I’ve decided to follow the look under the hood with a purview of how the ol’ chassis is holding up, and what better method to do so with than the gold standard body composition test, the DEXA scan.

The big selling point of this technology, of course, lay in it’s ability to accurately and non-invasively measure bone density, and as more and more folks succumb to the horrors of a SAD/non-Paleo-diet-induced osteoporosis, this provides the grain-chomping, brittle-boned (1) a vivid snapshot of their deteriorating scaffolding, and (2) a means by which to be shock-sold the Bisphosphonate class of wonder-drugs (Boniva, Flosamax, etc.).  It’s a beautiful, beautiful, 3-way partnership; feed ’em crap, show ’em the in-your-face results of eating said crap, then sell them a drug that enables them (in one respect, at least) to continue eating that crap.  Win-win…and — cha-ching! — WIN again!  😉

Mostly seen as a side benefit of this technology — yet what those of us in the Physical Culture community would be most interested in — is the DEXA’s ability to accurately measure ALL the constituents of one’s body composition: fat, lean tissue and bone mass.  In other words, it’s the most accurate, all-encompassing picture of one’s body composition that can be had.

Now, as I have the great privilege of living in *the* epicenter of Physical Culture, Austin, Texas, I have ready access to the University of Texas run Fitness Institute of Texas, where Executive Director, Phil Stanforth, and Operations Director, Julie Drake, oversee a grade-A organization of fitness/performance-smart professionals.  In fact, we at Efficient Exercise are now in partnership with the fine folks at FIT, offering DEXA services to our clients at a much-reduced rate.  Not only do clients receive a full report of their scan results (the most of which, of my report, I’ve included below), but also a comprehensive explanation of the results from one of the astute FIT staff.

Note: for those of you making the trip to Austin this spring for what’s quickly shaping-up to be the Burning Man of the Paleo/Primal set, PFX12, we will have have a limited number of slots available to obtain your own DEXA Scan report and comprehensive explanation from the professionals at FIT.  We’ll update PFX12 website as the specifics of this service become available.  Check the PFX12 site for more details as they become available.

So without further ado, here we go.  Ain’t no Photoshoppin’ and/or airbrushin’ this stuff, folks!  And just a side note: airbrushed or not, LL does look mighty (surprisingly even?) hot, here 😉  I dunno, maybe it’s the Marilyn thing…

…I digress…

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.  So below is a visual image of the raw data, produced from approximately 7-minutes worth of actual scan time.  Note the bit of scoliosis in the mid/low back.  Now, I haven’t thought of this one iota since my days of playing college ball, when the team chiropractor pointing out this condition to me.  I remember at the time asking if it was a problem, and his reply being “based on your performance, apparently not.”   My kinda doc.  The question in my mind now is, I wonder how much extra performance *could* be squeezed-out of being perfectly aligned.  I also wonder if this is a genetic thing, or something resultant of my daredevil (read:bone-headed), no-stranger-to-the-ER, youth.

And now, the pertinent portions of the full report.  I realize these are a little tough to read; gotta work within the limitations of the blogging platform, though.

Note the 17.2 % BF in the hips.  What the hell?  Lotta junk in the trunk appearantly, y’all 😉

What would be interesting — and what I’d kill to have — are comparison data from my competitive days, where I was in the peak of my performance/fitness ability (health, of course, being another matter entirely), and played at between 220 and 225.  Aside from the extra amount of muscle I carried in my neck at that time (heh…think prototypical Neanderthal), I wonder what the rest of my composition would have looked like.  If I had to guess, I’d say that my BF% was a little higher, but not by much.

So this is quite interesting.  A 10.6% BF level without purposefully trying to be lean.  If anyone has seen me eat, they know that I do so with reckless abandon.  The key, of course, is the consumption of a Paleo diet — though I do enjoy the occasional corn tortilla, corn chips and salsa, and the much more frequent beer.  I also swill plenty of raw, unpasteurized dairy (usually reserved for post workout).  These are the n=1 tweaks that I’ve found work for me, though these few indiscretions usually have me exiled,  by Paleo dogmatists, to the nutritional equivalent of Lesbos; that’s the topic of another post though, I suppose.  At any rate, if I were a bodybuilder, a 10.6%, off-season BF would be pretty damn good — not far to go to get to stage condition — and a hell of a lot healthier than bloating up only to drop right back down again.

Oh, and one thing that I did not include from the report is that, at a BMI of 30.6, the World Health Organization considered me “obese”.   I suppose it’s time to whittle-down into the single-digit BF so as to rectify that!

~

So what, exactly is “healthy”?  And can “healthy” (as opposed to “performance”) even really be adequately defined?  None of us in this community is particularly satisfied (nor should we be) with the trite “absence of disease” definition, but damn if we don’t keep getting lead back to that point.  Health, of course, is a condition that is in continual flux, a condition defined not only by internal functioning and parameter measures, but also how those parameters react to epigenetic, cultural and societal influence.   Health is a distinct function apart from measures of “fitness” and/”performance”, and yet it is intimately tied to these measures as well.  A simple thought experiment:  how many victims of the 9/11 tragedy sported “perfect” blood labs and DEXA screens, yet perished due to a fitness base incapable of rising to the occasion? An extreme example, yes — and yet…well, it’s at least food for thought.

And with this thought in mind, checkout the fantastic post, Norm and normal: the social construction of health, by Dr. Ricky Fishman.  Good, thought-provoking stuff.

In health (and performance!),

Keith

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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,

Keith

Chasing Performance…at the Expense of Health

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”

– Richard Feynman

Below is the result of a little Sunday morning think-ering (hat tip to Brent Pottenger, of the Healthcare Epistemocrat for coining that clever word) — so what we have here is my sketched interpretation of the health/performance continuum:

First of all, I’d like to point out that the general shape of this health-performance curve/continuum is applicable across the human genome, however, it can still be “bent” on an  individual level, and “stretched” in an applicable, n=1 fashion.  The gist of the idea is, though, that health and performance track quite nicely up to a certain point (point A), at which time further increases in performance — let’s call it “sporting proficiency” at this level — do nothing to make an individual any healthier.  We might say that competitive athletics (or competitive bodybuilding) begins at or near point B — that point at which an individual is willing to forgo a certain degree  of overall health in the pursuit of bettered sporting performance.  Point C inhabits the land where the real juggle begins, and where the bulk of Strength and Conditioning work is practiced.   At this point, the athlete’s health is just another parameter (among a myriad of parameters) that must be tweaked and dialed so as to keep said athlete’s performance red-lined.  Just as in a finely tuned Ferrari though, if a single component wears and fails (as it inevitably will), the whole entity flies apart at the seams.   Performances here tend to swing between moments of absolute and stunning beauty, or gruesome spectacles of crash-and-burn grodiness.  The significance of this area is that health most definitely takes a backseat to performance — it can be no other way.  I won’t deny that the living here is exhilarating (even as it is thoroughly exhausting), but for most — whether by bad luck or genetic weak-link — the ride just doesn’t last long.  The consequences, however, can last a lifetime.

The other major point of significance here is that while 95% of Strength & Conditioning brain-power and know-how is directed unabashedly toward that heady land of peak performance in the C-zone, the vast majority of American citizenry is floundering helplessly somewhere beneath the “point zero” bottom left on this graph.  My contention is that is takes very little in the way of proper training and dietary intervention to move the general populace into that zone between “point zero” and point A.  In fact, we at Efficient Exercise proved this could be done via our recent Project Transformation.  And know this: moving the populace into that “pay-off aisle” will result in the end the of American healthcare crisis as we know it today.  Yeah, Washington, it is that friggin’ easy.

Of course “easy” and “financially beneficial” mean different things to different folks.  I’ll just leave that part of the discussion for another day, though.

Now I’m a little biased here, but I do believe that this health-performance curve ought to be taught at an elementary level, right along with the idea of personal responsibility, basic civics, and the Pledge of Allegiance.  Eat right.  Engage in a little properly programmed exercise each week.  Be a boon to society instead of a drag.  Wanna take a walk on the sporting wild side?  Sure, go for it — just know that there are going to be some trade-offs where your health is concerned, so tread carefully.  What could be more basic, or more easily taught to an elementary-aged kid?  Of course the devil is in the details.  Give this idea to government, and the next thing you know we’re back to dealing with food pyramids, jogging, and Pepsi sponsorships.

But back to the here-and-now: on an individual level, every trainee ought to begin goal setting (or reassessment) by identifying where they want to fall on this graph.  Me?  I push the B-point envelope for the most part, sometimes taking the plunge, for brief periods, into C-land.  I’m a little older (and debatably wiser?) now, so camp-out, I don’t, in the land of C.  Been there, done that, and got a few traumatized body parts as mementos of the fun 🙂  Brief forays, though?  Yeah, I just can’t help my stupid self sometimes.  And so it goes…

In follow-on posts I’ll discuss how I see time investment and protocol selection fitting into this overall picture.  As you might guess, teasing-out increases in upper-end performance requires an inordinate time investment relative to that required to bring one from 0 to 80% of potential peak.  Wanna push the performance envelope?  The first thing you have to ask yourself is this: are you willing to devote the exponential increase in time and effort required to eek-out those final few percentile points?  The next question is, are you willing to play fast and loose with your health?  I’m not here to judge, and I certainly appreciate the focus, dedication, and balls-out intensity of the competitive athlete.  I just think that potential C-land dwellers ought to go in with eyes wide open.

In health,

Keith

Peak Performance, and Extremely Low Body Fat levels

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Plato

credit: Sgt. Gooch

I know, I know – this is a problem everyone would love to have to deal with, I’m sure 🙂  For the serious, weight-conscious (or weight-class) athlete, though, too-low a body fat level can become a serious detriment to performance.

Mike Young, blogging for Elite Track, recently posted on the topic of how performance can be negatively affected by extremely low body fat levels.  Now for your everyday Paleo/HIT practitioner, this phenomena is of little concern, as eating a simple, Paleo diet (to satiation) and following a sensible fitness program will naturally lead an individual to a 10-ish% (male) to 15-ish% (female) body fat level.  However, this does become an issue for trainees who, for whatever reason, decides to manipulate the body to carry extremely low fat levels.  Weight-class athletes and figure competitors/bodybuilders immediately come to mind here.  Increasingly, however, CrossFit Games competitors and other power-to-bodyweight-ratio (P2BWR) conscious athletes (especially gymnasts, track and field athletes – even team-sport athletes) will attempt to squeeze-out just a little higher P2BWR by stripping off a few additional pounds of fat.  More often than not, however, this attempt backfires.  Not that the stripping away of additional fat stores is all that complicated (more on this in an upcoming post), but that at a certain point, performance (more precisely, force output and endurance) will absolutely plummet.  Quoting, now, from Mike’s post:

“…I’ve noticed that people tend to perform better at slightly higher body fat percentages. Not “big” or “fat” by any means but slightly higher than rock bottom, paper thin-skin body fat values. In fact, other than some rare cases, most athletes don’t seem to perform their best when at their lowest body fat percentages. This seems to be especially true for activities placing a premium on strength or low end power. To throw out some observational estimated figures, I’d say that 7-10% body fat appears to be the sweet spot for performance and better for performance than 4-6% body fat (the lower limits of what is physiologically possible)…”

Now why this should be so leads to some rather interesting conjectures.  Of course, unless we can attached a realistic “fix” to the “why(s)”, we’ve done little to help the athlete.  Again, quoting Mike here:

“…Is this because peak performances usually occur during times when training volumes are lower…which when combined with unmodified caloric intake lends itself to increased body fat values? Or could it be that slightly higher body fat percentages facilitate more efficient neural transmissions? Perhaps it’s because achieving extremely low body fat percentages requires what is essentially a slight starvation that in turn affects performance. I’m not exactly sure but I’ve seen this phenomenon enough times in athletes I’ve worked with to question the usual paradigm that athletes should strive for the lowest possible body fat percentages…” (emphasis mine).

Viewing this through an evolutionary prospective seems to raise as many questions as does it provide possible answers.  I agree with Mike on his observed 7 – 10% “sweet spot’ for peak performance, and if we combine this with my conjecture that following a strict Paleo diet (and eating to satiation) will naturally lead one to a 10-ish% (male) to 15-ish% (female) bodyfat level, we could argue that an ancestral hunter would be “on his game” and at his most lethal at what would be considered a natural body fat level.   Here’s where it gets a little more interesting, though.  Let’s envision a time of ancestral scarcity, and of dwindling fat stores.  Those of you who’ve reached a low body fat percentage and who’ve done any amount of intermittent fasting (IF), can attest to the feeling of “heightened acuity” and increased urgency or energy levels, the seeming lack of need to sleep for extended periods – rather tough to describe, but if you’ve been there, you know what I mean.  Now maybe this is an evolutionary “boost before the decline”, a kind of “hail Mary” pass – the last ditch effort.  But what if the hunt is still not successful, what then?  The body has now hedged its bets, put all the chips on the table.

I don’t have a satisfactory answer for this yet, other than the realization of this scenario’s forcing the body into scavenge mode – the robbing of its own protein (muscle) stores, the forced consumption of poor quality (low energy density) food-stuffs, and the resultant insulin-induced energy storage spike.

We do know, though, that the body rebels against a perceived too-low fat level via reduced energy expenditure (via a slowed metabolic rate).  But I also believe that the myelin sheath within the nervous system begins to degrade at extremely low fat levels, and that this also results in hampered performance – not only physically, but mentally as well.  As Mike says, though:

“…Ultimately it doesn’t matter because repeated real-world performance improvements trump scientific explanation…”

True enough, at least for the athlete/practitioner, who’d be well advised to keep this phenomena in mind when juggling weight-class issues, maximal P2BWR, and ultimate performance.  There are instances where dropping that last bit of fat to hit a lower weight-class/body weight level may actually be more of a performance detriment than an aid.  As always, be fearless but wise in your n=1 experimentation.

A Quick Administrative Note:

Barring any unforeseen contractual meltdowns, it seems as though Meesus TTP and I have finally sold our house; doing our damnedest,by the way, to keep housing prices severely depressed.  Anyway, the result of this is that the next few weeks will be rather frantic around TTP-ville (packing, moving, relocating, etc.), and will probably result in a diminished blogging rate – at least in the short term.  On a positive note, this is where the Paleo/HIT combination shines brightest, and where other diet/lifestyle/exercise “plans” meet their Waterloo.  Just as Paleo/HIT sustained me during the dark period of B’s passing, so it will during this stressful period.

In health,
Keith