Diversity, Species Survival, and Your (N=1) “Base Camp”

I write this as I’m taking a break from putting the finishing touches on my upcoming 21 Convention presentation and, concurrently, reading Rebecca Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle (heh, who says old-schoolers can’t multitask, huh?).  The Watchman’s Rattle is just a fantastic read; really tough to put down.  Just as Peter McAllister’s Manthropology reaffirmed my contention that any serious foray into pushed-limits Physical Culture must be made from a well-established, rock-solid base of GPP (General Physical Preparedness), and that we as a species are capable of acclimating to and/or developing — and even thriving under — a tremendous work capacity, so does Ms. Costa’s work remind me that any step toward singularity is a step toward extinction.  This is true whether we’re speaking of an eco-system, a species as a whole, or an individual within a species.  Also, being that (1) nature is a hell of a lot smarter than we are, and (2) we are an uber-successful species precisely because of our collective differences, opportunistic abilities, and individual variability, it stands to reason that, for a training program and diet regimen to be successful, it must (1) be n=1 compensated/continually adjusted, and (2) that no individual training program will be successful across a broad spectrum of trainees, nor will a single program/methodology/modality be the single “silver bullet”, be-all, end-all for an individual trainee.  No, not even P90X 😉

Whew…now that was a mouthful!

That said, when we consider the absolute necessity for diversity within a species as an indicator of that species’ potential for success, is it any wonder, then, that we have so many paths to obtaining optimum health and longevity — not to mention performance prowess?

For example, check-out Carl Lanore’s interview (#771) of Brooks Kubic regarding old-time strongman Joe Rollino, who lived to be a vibrant 104 years old and who died, not of disease, but by being run-over by a friggin’ minivan.  Joe was also a devout vegetarian his entire life.  Runs counter to our Paleo sensibilities, huh?  I don’t mention this as a slam to the Paleo lifestyle (which, of course, I adhere to myself, and evangelize about to anyone who will listen), or to kick-up any Vegetarian vs Paleo shit-storm, but more as a call to, above all else, know thyself.


…and Know Your “Basecamp”

Elemental to establishing one’s self firm-footedly within the Physical Culture scene — not to mention staying in the game for the long run — is knowing just who you are as a unique, total package (physical, mental, spiritual) genotypical and phenotypical expression.  This goes way beyond somatyping, though that is as good a place as any to begin this ongoing journey of self-discovery.

I’ve written about Charles Poliquin’s take on this in a previous post, but the idea needs to be driven home, as it is absolutely essential to on-going success in the Physical Culture game.  The key is to find, then operate, for the most part out of, that “basecamp”.  This is not to say that you should never venture away from that — on the contrary!  You should make frequent forays/”scouting missions” out from camp so as to (1) extend and push yourself and, (2) make yourself stronger via diversification.

Using myself as a quick example, I know that I’m mostly mesomorph in build, and that I thrive under a higher-than-normal intensity/volume/frequency mix.  I also flourish under much variety, and will get vary stale with a lack thereof.  As an athlete, I was neither the fastest of the fast, nor strongest of the strong, but I could perform repeat bursts of near-max intensity forever with very little drop-off in speed and/or strength and power.  What absolutely crushes me, though are powerlifting-like, raw, grind-it-out workouts in the 1-3 rep range.  Move me back down into the middle (power zone) speed-strength and strength-speed portion of the speed/strength continuum, though, and I’m right back in my element — and a happy camper!   This is not to say, though, that I avoid at all costs doing raw strength work — on the contrary, I do — I just know my limitations, and know that I can’t handle too much of it.  On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, I can better handle high volume work — classic GVT or Gironda-like protocols, much better, though still not as good as intense bouts of power-oriented work.  Each individual, though, has to find his own basecamp, and set-up operations accordingly.

More on this at the 21 Convention.

One more thing, though, as it relates to the on-going practice of self-discovery.  It seems to me that many people attack this problem with too much left-brain empasis.  In other words, from a Quant-centered, science-obsessive, numbers-driven prospective.  This has much to do with the Western tendency to poo-poo the creative, intuitive process.  But know this: you cannot be broken down into a simple (or even highly complex) mathematical schema of any sort, and if you’re waiting for science to hand you the best workout and/or diet protocol for your particular situation, you’re going to be waiting for one hellova long time.  From the recent and most excellent Big Think post, You Are Not an Equation:

…Faced with the undeniable global and personal anxieties that characterize our age, we should be deeply skeptical of premature solutions based on science that cannot yet deliver what its sales representatives promise. 



I’ve mentioned my good friend (and Physical Culturalist extraordinaire) Ken O’Neill numerous times in this blog, and now Ken has a blog of his own — Trans-Evolutionary Fitness.  Ken is an erudite elder in the Physical Culture game — more a contemporary of Art DeVany than a young whipper-snapper like me 😉 Just a tremendous resource to have here in central Texas, the epicenter of the new Physical Culture.

Anyway, be sure to check out Ken’s work — as well as the numerous articles he’s written for Iron Man magazine; I can assure you the content of his blog will be deep and thought-provoking.  Here’s an example snippet from his July 15th post:

…Physician Jonas Salk, developer of polio vaccine, held that we should be entering a new stage of evolution – one he called meta-biological evolution – and that the direction of evolution must become survival of the wisest.  Our genius untempered by wisdom has created myriad tools threatening survival of the species, indeed of the living planet. While evolution has created an embodied human mind of incomprehensible potential, we have barely scratched the surface regarding its nature, uses, and directions for development as the humans we might become…


Let’s look at some workouts from the past week, shall we?

Monday, 7/11

(A1) BTN split jerk (alternate lead foot): 95/6; 135/6; 155/6; 185/4;  205/4; 215/2, 2, 2

(A2) alternating grip pull-ups (trapeze bar): bw/12 each round

Tuesday, 7/12

(A1) Oly curl: 115/10
(A2) EZ tri extension: 105/10

6 rounds

Wednesday, 7/13

*Lots* of saddle time, then:

(A1) Med Ex back extension: 320/10, 10, 8 (6010)
(A^) Nautilus lateral raise: 149/12; 160/10; 180/7+, 5+ (60×0)
(A2) reverse hyper: 95/12, 12, 12

Then even more saddle time immediately following.  Holy smoked legs, Batman 🙂

Thursday, 7/14

(A1) Bent-over row, Oly bar: 135/12; 155/10; 275/6; 305/6, 6

(A2) XC incline press (10×2 tempo): +0/3; +20/3; +40/3; +50/3; +90/5 negatives (8 sec eccentric)

Friday, 7/15

(A1) front squat: 135/6; 185/6; 205/6; 225/4

(A2) landmine single-arm press: 60/10; 85/10; 95/10, 10 (each arm)

Sunday, 7/17

Tire flips, sprints and hops circuit –

(A1) tire flips x 10 (covers about 25 yards), then immediately sprint the long balance of the football field.

(A2) High hurdle hops x 7

(A3) dual-leg hop sprints with interspersed tire hops x 50 yards.

Four rounds of this.  Found that it takes a total of 42 tire flips to cover 100 yards, ergo, the last round consisted of 12 flips.  Thought I was going to heave a lung following 12 flips + a 100 yard sprint  🙂  Followed this with monkey bar and parallel bar work, all in the 100 + degree central Texas heat.  Sane?  I dunno, but it was fun!  Yee-haw!

See you all in Orlando!

In health,


The Genetic Profile Meets Greg Glassman’s 10 Attributes of Fitness

“There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face.”

Georg Lichtenberg

I can think of no better lead-in for this post than this abstract, from Human Heredity.  Its being an oldie-but-goody in no way diminishes the power in its message.  In layman’s terms, what went on here was that 5 sets of identical(monozygotic) twins were put on an identical, 10-week, isokinetic (i.e., force delivered over a consistent velocity) training protocol.  The end results?  Well, between sets of twins there was a wide range of response — however, the response within each twin pair was…you guessed it…identical.  And here’s another study which shows basically the same thing.  Now, we can obviously go way off the deep end in discussing this, with lots of resultant handwringing about “shitty genetic draws”.  Where the rubber meets the road, though, is this: one’s response to any particular training regimen is largely, though not entirely, genetically driven.  The magic, of course, is in finding that particular protocol that plays to your particular genetic hand.  The other part of the magic is more spiritual in nature, and is centered in embracing your particular genetic gifts.  Now, there’s a balance here as well, of course.  As Greg Glassman (the founder of CrossFit ) points out — and quite correctly, in my opinion — an athlete is made better by becoming more competent at those things they are not naturally inclined to excel at than they are by honing their natural gifts.  The one caveat I’d interject here, though, is that this is true in an already well conditioned athlete, who is, by the time he is well conditioned, well aware of his/her natural attributes and shortcomings.  But what if you’re still unaware of your genetic leanings?  What then?

Everyone's Favorite Twins

Everyone's Favorite Twins

First, let’s have a look at the roll genetics plays in determining one’s strengths and weaknesses within this list (credit Greg Glassman, again) of overall fitness indicators:

  • cardio-respiratory endurance
  • flexibility
  • speed
  • power
  • agility
  • balance
  • strength
  • accuracy
  • stamina (i.e., repeatability or “prime” endurance)
  • coordination

I really, really like this list, as I think Greg’s got all the physical attribute bases nicely covered.  And two things immediately jump out.  Number one, an athlete who is accomplished across the board here would be considered a pretty damn good all-around athlete (think decathlete) in anyone’s book, and (2) very very few individuals would even come close to being accomplished at all of these endeavors simultaneously.  At best, we could hope to be “really good” at one or two, do ok at a couple, and just hope to “not totally suck” at what’s left.

I’ll give a quick two examples of (1) assessing strengths and weaknesses using Greg’s list as a template, and (2) targeting workouts according to those defined strengths and weaknesses (and I’ll add to this goals, as well) using a pair of athletes I’m intimately familiar with — myself and my son.

It’s all about me

My strong suit has always been, from as far back as I can remember, “prime” endurance, followed closely by speed and power.  My strength, agility, balance and flexibility have always been pretty good — probably better than average.  Coordination, and accuracy?  Uhh, not so much (ever seen me dance?  It’s not pretty).   Cardio endurance?  Uhhh, yeah; pretty much off the scale low.

Which brings up a good point.  Before we move on, it might behoove us to define the difference between “prime” endurance (or Greg’s stamina, if I understand his definition correctly) and cardio endurance.  I think everyone has a good feel for what cardio endurance looks like; the rail-thin miler, the marathoner, the riders in the Tour de France — all examples of the cardio-fit club.  So what about “prime” endurance?  Well, let’s use an example that’s near and dear to my heart, the 40-yard sprint.  And let’s go a step further and say that we’ve identified, say, the top 10% or so from a group of randomly selected athletes; not so difficult to identify the athletes with good speed at this distance, right?  just put a stopwatch to them.  But once we begin vetting and ranking this upper echelon, things get interesting in a hurry.

The breakdown of the “speed” athletes usually (and I do say usually — there’s always the freak/outlier lurking about) looks a little something like this:

  1. the ultra-fast in a single sprint; jaw-dropping, freaks-of-nature kind of speed.  Long recovery required between sprints, though, and a large drop-off (relatively speaking) between the fastest time and “prime”, or repeat times.  These athletes also tend to be one sneeze away from flying apart at the seams; the Ferraris of the athletic world.
  2. those with good (remember, this is relative — good within a sub-group of top performers) , but not the fastest top-end speed.  This sub-group’s strength lay though, in their ability to repeat at or very near (very little drop off) this speed time and time again.  This, by definition, then, is stamina, or (a term I prefer) “prime endurance”.  This happens to be the group in which I fall (or fell, back in my competitive days).  Actually, my genetics haven’t changed, and I’d consider this ability my strong suit still.  This carries over to the weight room as well, and defines how I structure my workouts, both on a macro and micro-cycle level.
  3. those with decent top-end speed, but lacking adequate prime endurance.  The athletes from group #2 who,  after the nth sprint with little between-sprint recovery, unceremoniously hack-up a lung.

Now, you can see that stamina is an objective measurement; it’s also highly event-specific.  So a starting baseball pitcher’s definition of stamina is different from a closer’s definition is different from the stamina required of an American football defensive back.  And some sports require very little (again, relatively) in the way of stamina at all (think power lifting, or Oly lifting).

Doug McGuff touches on this notion a bit in Body by Science.  If you have a copy, check out pg. 171 and the section on Myosin light chain Kinase.  For those who don’t have a copy (you’re missing out; get one!), Doug relays a story of Arthur Jones (of Nautilus fame) testing a man who exhibited phenominal strength — for one or two reps — followed by a preciptous drop-off from that peak strength.  That is to say, although the guy possessed great strength, he exhibited very little in the way of stamina.  Arthur Jones figured the guy was just dogging it, and sent him away.  In retrospect, Jones realized that he had unwittingly dismissed potentially the strongest power lifter he’d ever seen.  The lesson here being not to confuse and/or dismiss particular atletic attributes out of hand; for every attribute there is a correct and appropriate athletic application.

Moving on.  So now we have a kid (me) genetically-inclined toward endeavors requiring speed, power and a good bit of short burst stamina, and we place that kid in the epicenter of (American) football-leaning culture.  What we have here is the athletic equivalent of an alignment of the moon and stars, the perfect mix of genetics and expressive outlet on our hands; ability feeding off of an outlet in a nice, symbiotic relationship.  Other good outlets for my particular genetic profile might have been rugby, wrestling, possibly a combat sport; maybe with proper training, a track & field throwing event (esp., discus, hammer, javelin), though these are relatively low on the stamina requirement.  But what if you’d have placed this kid in a culture where distance swimming ruled?  Long distance skiing, running or biking?

A chip off the old block?

Let’s look at another athlete, and a totally different set of inherent abilities; a kid who is truly his mother’s child.  In fact, the on-going family joke is, if he didn’t resemble me so much in the face we’d all have to wonder 😉  Tall, solid and lanky (in the south, we label this particular build “raw-boned”), with hand-eye coordination (and general, body coordination), accuracy, balance, and agility that are off the charts high.  The kind of kid that you only have to demonstrate a skill to once and he’s got it down pat; after a few attempts, he’ll school you on the finer points you might not have noticed in your 30-odd years of practicing the skill.  He’s a freak that way, an outlier.  Better than average ability the short sprints.  Now, drop this kid into a culture where baseball is religion, and you’ve got that genetic/expressive outlet, moon-and-stars thing all over again.  Is there a glaring kink in the kid’s armor?  There sure is (cue Alanis Morissette’s Isn’t it Ironic) — Strength…and stamina.

First, do no harm

So, in order to more effectively build a better (already conditioned) athlete, we need to remove the kinks in that athlete’s armor while at the same time not letting the inherint attributes slide.   This, in fact, is much easier said than done.  Most have probably already experienced this phenomenon.  Improved stamina leads to reduced strength; increased strength leads to a decrease in accuracy, and so it goes.  This is where the art of training comes into play, along with the realization that each athlete is as unique as, not only his individual genetic makeup, but as his phenotype at this particular moment in time. Constant assessment, both in the 10 physical attributes (or at least those that are relavent to the athlete’s particular situation), and in the athlete’s required skills base, are a must.  For what good is it to have improved a short stop’s 60 meter sprint time only to have boogered his bat speed so as to hose his batting average in the process?

More on assessment and targeted training in an upcoming post.

And by the way, what if neither Ottow nor Ewald trained properly for their genetic makeup?  I would love to have had a 3rd, here, with the exact same genetic makeup (is that even remotely possible, naturally?), who was trained according to his identified strengths, using the 10 attributes identified above.  What would that phenotype have resembled, as compared to the other two?

In health,


A Question of Genetics

“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.”

~ Horace

Ring Push-Ups at the Playground

Ring Push-Ups at the Playground

I took along an eclectic mix of reading to keep me occupied during my in-flight hours last weekend; a copy of Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis (it was actually Brittani’s copy), and my well-worn copy of Dr. Doug McGuff’s Body By Science, among other titles, magazines, newspapers, etc.  I’ve been contemplating as of late, the limitations our inherited genetics place on our realistically obtainable goals, and (maybe a less “depressing” notion), how to target training so as to best work with our genetics in order to realize our optimized phenotype.

I think we can all agree that, although we can no doubt alter our ultimate genetic expression (phenotype) for the positive, we do — all of us — face certain genetic limitations.  The frustrating proposition for most mature-minded trainees is not the fact that these limitations exist — hey, at a certain age, we’ve all had the “life ain’t fair rug pulled from beneath out feet” — but rather, the reality of not knowing the extent of, or manifestation of, these limitations.  By a certain “training age”, most intelligent trainees are well aware that not all athletes (or wannabe athletes) are created equal.  The unfortunate side-effect of this truth is that any training regimen you can name will have some positive responders, however, that same regimen will be packaged and marketed as a universal fit for every trainee.  Natural genetic variances, my friends, simply will not allow for this.  The key to fitness is not stumbling upon the “golden program”, as there is no such thing.  The key to long-term fitness success is (1) finding a handful of modalities that you respond well to, and (2) knowing how and when to cycle through those few modalities in order to maximize their impact.  Training is as simple — and as difficult — as that.

Dr. McGuff covers this territory in a well-written chapter 8 (The Genetic Factor) of Body by Science.  I encorage everyone to get a copy of Dr. McGuff’s work, even if you’re opposed to (or a non-responder) the SS/HIT methodology or premise, because the science outlined throughout the work is of universal value.  Absent in this book are the smoke and mirrors that accompany most training books; Doug (and I’d be remiss if I left out John Little) lay out the science and draw their conclusions.  You can use that science to agree, disagree or draw conclusions of your own.  In my opinion, chapter 8 of Body by Science is alone worth the price of admission.

I’ve got plenty more to say about the genetic factor, and how it relates to individualized training — much more than I care to shove in one post.  That said, I plan on revisiting this subject throughout the upcoming week.  So, if you’ve got a copy of BBS, read (or re-read) chapter 8, and let’s compare notes and ideas.

In health,