35 Years Worth of Power Cleans, Sprints, Dips and Chins

Intelligence requires that you don’t defend an assumption ~ David Bohm

Women and Children First (album)

Yeesh, I probably still have the cassette somewhere, too...

The setting: a recent Friday, early evening, alone and between clients at Austin’s Efficient Exercise Rosedale studio.  Shuffled tracks from Van Halen’s late 70’s/early 80’s stuff (Van Halen II, Fair Warning, Women and Children First, Diver Down…) blasting from the stereo.  I’m 8 sets into a power clean — Russian leg curl combo workout, and my thumbs are now completely raw and hook-grip-numb.  My posterior chain is just about spent, and my quads — as a result of  an ever-lower catch depth — are fading fast.  Rep after rep; set after set.  To most, this would be the epitome of prolonged drudgery and yet to me, this is just some good damn quality time spent alone.  Hardcore iron meditation; in lieu of Gregorian chants, I’ve got the incessant wailing of David Lee Roth‘s voice over an Eddie Van Halen guitar.

It occurs to me that, save for my Addidas Adipure-shod feet, this could just as easily be my 17 year-old self “slaving away” at the Power House Gym, San Antonio, Texas, circa 1982.

What’s kept this love of Physical Culture alive for me for so long, I’m not really sure I can pinpoint.  I don’t think it’s any one thing though, but rather a patchwork of things.  I think most of us who have remained true to whatever manifestation of Physical Culture we define as our base (HIT, HIIT, Oly or Power lifting, bodybuilding, etc.) can relate to Henry Rollins‘s notion of the iron never lying.  When all else in the world my be completely and insanely bat-shit, an evening’s worth of 225 lb power clean repeats remains comfort food for my physical being.

In fact, the very things that defined my exercise base 35 years ago — cleans, dips, chins and sprints — still define my base today.   Sure, I utilize a myriadof different training modalities and exercises now, and my workouts run seamlessly, day-to-day, into my play and back again.  I’ve refined and compressed my training now, with the two-hour marathon sessions being few and far between.  I have access to, and frequently utilize, proprietary ARX Fit equipment — one of the most advanced exercise technologies to come along since the heady Nautilus days; an equipment technology that I know has, in fact, allowed me perform my base-of-preference movements at ever-higher levels — and yet there’s just something about a solid, well-executed, old-school clean, a gut-wrenching dip, the clanging of iron between your knees when grinding-out chins, or that earth-skimming feeling of an all-out sprint.

I’m sure nostalgia plays a big part in this, just as I’m sure I remember myself as being a better athlete than any of my coaches would attest to.  Maybe these are the little lies we tell ourselves to make it through this life, I dunno.   What I do know is that this type of lifting — and these particular movements — are not only good for my body, but good for my mental state of being as well.  In their essence, these are primal moves; the base of the Physical Culture pyramid — heave, press, pull…and haul friggin’ ass.  Follow-up one of these sessions with some wanton carnivory and, well, we’ve got two of the four Ancestral Wellness rails covered.  Eventually, we’ll get around to addressing community and spiritual life using the same Ancestral template.  Ancestral Wellness 3.0 and 4.0?  It’s just a matter of time before these issues will force themselves to the forefront, just as the first two phases have done.

~

A little something to contemplate.  Is Physical Culture an art, in the same way that music is an art?

I would argue that it is.  Check out this clip from Big Think, and let me know what you think.

There is a huge difference between training from a template, and training intuitively according to your n=1 circumstance.  A template can never adjust for your particular set of givens; time, tools, techniques and temperament are unique for each individual, and must be navigated accordingly.  To move toward Physical Culture mastery, you must break free of adhering to some one else’s notion of what ought to be done, and cut your own path.  You can always learn from what others do under their particular set of circumstances, but blindly copying is a mistake.

In health, fitness and Ancestral Wellness –

Keith

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

The University of Texas’ Stark Center, Anchor for PFX12

“The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.” – Bertrand Russell

OK, so it’s been a while since I documented a run of workouts, so what better time to take a snapshot of things than Thanksgiving week?  Actually, this turned out to be a fairly typical workout week for me, with lots of varied modalities and overall session intensity variability tossed into the mix.

A snapshot of last week’s workouts –

Monday –
(A1) Powermax360 work: 30 seconds on, 15 off; 2 rounds
(A2) Eccentric Edge, leverage flat bench: 7 reps, max power output, no grind outs
4 total rounds.

Tuesday –
(first workout) – whip snatch + 3 overhead squats: 10 total sets, working up from 135 to 150 lbs
(second workout, 2 hours later) – thrusters x 3 reps: 5 total sets, working up from 135 to 185 lbs

Wednesday –
Lotsa fixie hucking 🙂

Thursday – Autoregulated lifts, with a decided power emphasis (i.e, reps were kept quick, with no grind-outs); 5 total rounds.
(A1) trap bar DLs: workup to 445 x2

(A2) Dips: workup to 95 x 5

(A3) free bar chins: workup to 95 x 3

Assessment: good day for dips, and so-so for chins.  As for DLs?  Meh…  In defense of a sub-par DL showing though, this was a friggin’ tough-ass combo.

Friday –
Sprint starts (30 yards)  and limited monkey & parallel bar work (really feelin’ Thursday’s DLs — not much spring in the legs)

Saturday –
Sprints (100 yards, 8 x <15 seconds, 45 seconds recoverery) and heavy sandbag work — clean & press, snatch, totes, etc.  (yikes!  *Still* feeling those DLs!).

Sunday –
A rare day completely off — unless you count my wrestle with IKEA furniture assembly 🙂

And now for your viewing pleasure…

How about an up-close-and-personal preview of the venue that will serve as the anchor to this spring’s highly anticipated PFX12 symposium?  Having been lucky enough to have been invited (as a personal guest of Ken “Transevolutionary Fitness” O’Neill) to the reception celebrating the official opening of the Stark Center’s Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture, I can tell you that this place is just amazing to a dyed-in-the-wool Physical Culturalist like myself.

Anyway, you can get a feel for the scope and breadth of the facility via the short documentary and blog post, here.  Oh, and as an added bonus, yours truly makes a cameo appearance at about mark 2:00.  So does this mean that, since I’ve now rubbed elbows at such an event with the likes of Arnold, Boyer Coe, Larry Scott, Bill Pearl, Ronnie Coleman and Mark Henry, that my acting career will now skyrocket? 🙂  Heh; I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you…

In other news, it looks like my man Anthony Johnson has this summer’s 21 Convention talks by Skyler and myself up and available now.  The theme of Skyler’s presentation (link here, via Anthony’s blog) centers on training expectations over a lifetime; in other words, taking a long-range of your training efforts, and purposefully directing those efforts so as to positively affect the entirety of your life.  As always, good stuff from my Efficient Exercise training brother-in-arms.

In my own presentation, I explore (among other various topics) the highly n=1 nature of health vs performance, and the often-times contradictory nature of chasing performance as a means of bolstering health.  I’ll warn you ahead of time: if you’re looking for sound-bite answers, quick-fixes, or a one-size-fits-all template, I’m not your guy, and this won’t be your jam.  The truth is, all I can define are general processes that are applicable to iron game pursuits.  Cooking from a book will never make one a chef any more than will painting by numbers make one an artist.  In the same way, training from a template will never make one a true Physical Culturalist.  One must learn hints from others, then forge their own n=1 path.

The Vampire chronicles…

In an upcoming series of posts, I’ll be documenting my recent bloodwork draw, and what those lab numbers reveal.  Nutritionist Holly L’Italien, from Austin’s Merritt Wellness Center will be doing some TTP guest posting as she hacks away at this kid’s bloodwork.  I can tell you this: intelligent bloodwork analysis is a friggin Rubik’s Cube puzzle.  Many, many mitigating and conflicting factors to consider.  This should be interesting as hell, especially as my numbers are anything but straightforward.  Stay tuned.

In health,
Keith

Back to the Future: the Return of the Clan?

“Every man is the builder of a temple called his body.” – Henry David Thoreau

As a frequent Forum, with Michael Krasny listener, I was pleasantly surprised by the exceptional Ancestral Wellness literacy expressed in this recent show (Are Humans Meant for Monogamy?) by guest Christopher Ryan, psychologist and co-author of “Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality“.   Ancestral Wellness acuity of this level is rarely encountered in the mainstream.  Even mentions of vegetarianism in this show come with the caveat of “know your biological underpinnings and, if you still opt for a vegetarian diet, do so with this knowledge and take the necessary precautions”.  In this way, Ryan compares monogamy with vegetarianism — no moral judgements, just sound precautions if you chose to operate outside of your genetic hard-wiring.   Know thyself, then adjust accordingly so as to support your goals and wishes.

Hmmmm; where have you heard that before?  😉

Now this idea is as easy to parody as Paleo itself; however, Ryan isn’t advocating wanton hedonism, but rather, a need to know your genomic hard-wiring, and the hows-and-whys behind that hard-wiring’s development over our species’ existence.

Social networks and the innate human search for “spiritual meaning” (note: as opposed to religion), in my mind, are the missing — or at least, as yet unexplored — “third and forth rails” of the Ancestral Wellness movement.  Knowing who we are, in terms of diet and exercise, in an evolutionary sense, forms the base upon which those of us within this movement craft a healthier, happier and fitter lifestyle.  What’s missing, of course, is the societal and spiritual element.  Living within the societal structures of our current, modern dictates is as much an anathema to our well-being as subsisting on a Standard American Diet, or negating the positive implications of movement/exercise in our lives.  Neglecting our hard-wired need for “meaning” is just as corrosive.

Christopher Ryan suggests that the current economic situation may in fact drive some forward-thinking people to begin to form nascent “clans” (my word, not his), with both shared responsibility and shared fruits-of-labor.  As necessity is the mother of invention — or in this case, re-discovery — this can only be viewed in a positive light vis-a-vis hunter-gatherer clans and their propensity toward egalitarianism.  It will be interesting to see how governments deal with this scenario.

Ten-thousand-plus years of severe social conditioning, of course, won’t be scrubbed away in a mere generation or two.  But as with all cutting-edge ideas, there will always be forward-thinking, early adopters.  It is, in my mind at least, inevitable that the first “new clans” will emerge from this already egalitarian/libertarian minded Ancestral Wellness “sub-culture”; a sub-culture, by the way, that I am proud to be a member and vehement promoter of.

And hell, let’s go ahead and throw shamanism into the mix of ideas that were squelched/repressed/shamed a result of leaving behind the egalitarian, hunter-gatherer lifestyle as well.  Few non-fiction books have rocked my world the way Graham Hancock’s awesome work, Supernatural, has.  Totally mind-expanding, to say the least, in the way that Peter McWilliams’ work, Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do, skewed my political views (much further) toward practical libertarianism, way back in the day.  Ditto for Peter McAllister’s Manthropology, in shaping my notions of the average Joe’s physical ability and work capacity.

Food, fitness, societal underpinnings and spirituality, taken together and as viewed form an evolutionary prospective, round-out the Ancestral Wellness model.

The return of the clan and the clan shaman are, in my estimation, are a much-anticipated inevitability.  Sign me up for both.

A Weekend Fun and Frolic — on the field, in the parking lot and in the gym

Saturday: speed work –
(1) sprints: 6-seconds, self-timed, all-out and with full-recovery between reps.  Autoregulated by distance, in that when I failed to attain max distance two times in a row, I pulled the plug.  I think I ended-up getting about 10 efforts in, though I wasn’t trying to keep count.  “Full recovery” equated to about two minutes between reps.

(2) dual-leg speed hop; 10 seconds for max distance.  Same autoregulation idea as above.  Again, roughly 10 attempts before reaching drop-off.

(3) dual-leg hop — tractor tire course.  8 tires dispersed randomly, but spaced so that I could hop in, out and between each tire so as to complete the course.  Done fast as possible, but with no “double hops” or misses.  6 rounds, full recovery between rounds.

What’s the difference between speed and speed repeat (or speed endurance) work?  Check out this article from Elite Fitness: What speed training really means.  I can explain it no better than this.  Nice work, Jon.

Sunday: sprint repeat (endurance) work –
Prowler pushes, farmers walks, all manner of sandbag clean & press, snatch variations and other such manifestations of tourture — just a friggin’ free-for-all throwdown with Skyler Tanner and PFX12’s mastermind Kevin Cottrell.  Not a damn bit of it was quantifiable, although I was close to hurling at one point, so I guess that would qualify the session as “pretty intense”  Chalk another one up for the axis-side of the old power-law curve 😉

And let me just say this: you can’t take these two friggin’ animals anywhere — just look at what the hell they did to my prowler during this workout…

Check out that right rear skid.  What you can’t see is that the left rear skid is bent, too.  Does this mean that the Paleo/HIIT crowd is tougher on equipment than those West Side powerlifting behemoths?  Hmmmmm……  🙂

…meanwhile, the ol’ prowler is in ICU.  Damn, just after I got my bike off of the same such life support.  Meh…

In the news…

This is either a boon for health, longevity, and the quality of life — or a major score for the pharmaceutical industry.  Check out this story, from Big Think — The Man Who Was “Cured” of HIV.    Now this certainly can work out to be the essence of Ancestral Wellness — combining the best of modern technology, with an underpinning of smart & solid Physical Culture.  Without that solid underpinning, however, what science is creating is a class of customers beholden to the pharmaceutical industry not just for 75 years, but for 150 years.  Cha-ching!

Eat the rich, my friends…or rather, let the rich eat themselves.

In health,
Keith

The Four T’s — Tools, Techniques, Time and Tenacity

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

True for many aspects in life, but no more so than in the pursuit of a long and successful life in the game of Physical Culture 2.0.

And what exactly *is* Physical Culture 2.0?  Well, in essence, it’s the fully integrated pursuit of a healthy and vibrant existence, including (but certainly not limited to) looking to our evolutionary past to construct a scaffolding upon which to layer ever more effective and efficacious “technologies” (both modern and stone-age) so as to produce an exquisite phenotypical expression of one’s self onto the world.

And speaking of Physical Culture 2.0, here’s Skyler Tanner and yours truly speaking truth to power about this emerging paradigm shift from what is currently understood as Physical Culture (or PC 1.0, if you will) at the August 2011 Ancestral Health Symposium:

…and the presentation’s accompanying slide show.

Revolution vs Transcendence

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the emergence of Physical Culture 2.0 is a healthy, lasting process — less so an anarchistic revolution as it is a phenomenon of transcendence — the building upon (“transcending” in every sense of the word) that which has come before; even that which we might be quick to label “malicious” at best.  Carrying forward that which is good and helpful, and simply leaving behind (and with no emotional attachment) that which is not helpful.  No failures, only feedback.  Learning from previous mistakes; moving forward with no baggage — emotional or otherwise — to drag about.

And while team sports certainly have their role in PC 2.0, for the most part, this is an n=1-driven phenomena; self-mastery, self-betterment…self-knowledge.

The Four T’s

…or one person’s “play” is another person’s metcon…

I’ll speak more to the idea of Exercise vs Activity (or play) in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s just say that activity (or play) to ===> exercise is an n=1-specific continuum, and concentrate here on tools, techniques, time and tenacity; the immutable laws of Physical Culture.  As a correlate to the four T’s, consider the speed of light and its position as an immutable law of physics.  Just as David Duetsch would say that anything is possible so long as it does not violate the immutable laws of physics, so too is our ability to transform ourselves, in a phynotypical sense, so long as we properly manipulate these four tenants of Physical Culture (diet being the other side of the same coin, of course, and with it’s own set of “immutables”).  Now this isn’t so “woo-woo” as it might first appear.  Let’s, for the sake of argument, consider my last outdoor metcon outing, which went a little something like this:

100 meter sprint

6, rapid-succession, tennis ball goalpost “dunks”

30′ parallel bar “sprint”

60′ dual-leg hops

30′ monkey bar “sprint”

5 tractor tire flips + immediate 40 yd sprint

20 yard blocking sled (think heavy-ass Prowler) push

60 yd change-of-direction sprint

Wash, rinse, and repeat x3.  I won’t get into a full-on explanation of all the individual elements (I’ll post a video of this in the near future), or hella-bitch about the temperature being a nice one-ohh-whatever-the-fuc! outside during this particular shindig…

Ozzie says, "Texas heat blows, yo!"

…no, actually what I want to do is look at this workout through the tools, techniques, time and tenacity lens.

…enter “the study”…

From the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, consider the following:

A PRACTICAL MODEL OF LOW-VOLUME HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING INDUCES PERFORMANCE AND METABOLIC ADAPTATIONS THAT RESEMBLE ‘ALL-OUT’ SPRINT INTERVAL TRAINING

What’s the take-home message here?  Quite simply, this: that Sprint (or High Intensity) Interval Training — even at moderate intensities — can impart some pretty damn impressive physiological adaptations.  That’s smart and efficient training, folks; training, by the way, that requires little in the way of tools and, if performed moderately (or “scaled”, if you prefer), only a modicum of tenacity.

Additionally, I’ll tell you this about HIIT/SIT: this manner of training will, in short order, devour an enormous amount of calories, both during — and for many hours following —  said exercise bout.  And while the metabolism remains jacked for up to 24 hours following a SIT/HIIT bout, there is an even more important shift taking place in the musculature at the fiber-type level: a preferential shift to fast-twitch dominance and a preservation of this fiber type (Bending the Aging Curve, from the above-sited talk and slide presentation). In addition, there will be an up-regulation of anaerobic, ATP, and aerobic enzyme activity.  In other words, all energy systems will become more efficient at generating energy and burning calories.

Simply put, training in the anaerobic-glycolytic pathway via proper manipulations of SIT/HIIT methodologies up-regulates all energy pathways (yes, including aerobic oxidation), making them more efficient and, as a result, making you a better conditioned Physical Culturalist.  So high-intensity exercise elicits a high output from all metabolic energy systems — however, this does not work both ways. Training for endurance (aerobically, i.e., long and slow) will not lead to equal up-regulation of  ATP and CP or anaerobic glycolytic enzyme activity/pathways, simply because aerobic type training does not stress these systems.

Now, let’s shift environments (and available tools), and see if we can produce the same type of metabolic effect using old-school black iron.  Check out this workout from earlier in the week.  I also ran a few of my more advanced clients through this same, Martin Rooney inspired, black iron circuit, which can, of course, be scaled (or exercises can be swapped) so as to suit any ability level.  Remember the emphasis here is on metcon/energy system training, not strength, per se.  Since the “rules of the game” are such that I have a 30-minute time limit, and that I’ll need to rely on old-school tools to accomplish the task, I’ll have to select exercises that can be performed safely under some pretty severe fatigue.  Uhhh, so yeah — that means Oly lifts/derivatives are out 😉

So here’s what I ended up with:

power sumo DLs x 10

T-bar swings x 20

alternating lead-foot BTN jerks x 10 total

wash, rinse, repeat x3.

Tough?  Yeah, you bet your sweet ass it is.  But the cool thing is that anyone, in any condition, can perform this basic theme (scaling and/or subbing exercises where necessary) and — as the study sited above demonstrates — derive some fantastic benefits from it.  So my “play” might be somebody else’s beat-down, but that’s the beauty of this Physical Culture thing — it’s all about the n=1 experience.

In health,

Keith

The Ancestral Health Symposium, 2011

“To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.” – Benjamin Franklin

Excellent!  Always a man ahead of his time; cool Ben, the original proponent of intermittent fasting 😉

The Ancestral Health Symposium, 2011

In a word, just a fabulous, fabulous, 2-day event.  I won’t go into a complete re-tread of of AHS 2011 events here; soon enough, you’ll be able to partake of the entire 2-day extravaganza — at least virtually, via slides and Vimeo — here.  And I really implore you to do so, as all the presentations were top-notch.  But more to the point, so much good coverage (this piece, for one example) has already been written on the event, anything else would simply be rehash.  One suggestion, though: for a really cool perspective of the gathering, how about some Twitter hashtag coverage of AHS11?

Above, the pre-game warm-up:  Meesus TTP and I (and Skyler Tanner — blue shirt, over my left shoulder) take in Doug McGuff’s Body By Science presentation, just prior to the Tanner/Norris dog-and-pony show — the unveiling of Physical Culture 2.0, Efficient Exercise style.  Photo by my good friend (and excellent photographer) A. Jolly.

Plenty of great blogosphere coverage of AHS11, yes.  Unfortunately, what you won’t be privy to were all the stimulating, impromptu, cross-disciplinary conversations among presenters, and between presenters and the myriad (600+?) of attendees.  Oh, that and the stunning UCLA campus, and the oh-so-perfect 72-degree, no humidity weather.  Not that I’m weather-jealous or anything… Anyway, what a rich environment for the blending of knowledge and ideas.  It has taken me a full week to decompress, process and synthesize all that I took in during that whirlwind two days.  Wow, is just about all that I can say at the moment.  My pea-little brain is still in overload.  Or maybe it was the 105-degree Texas heat I returned to (again, I’m not LA weather-jealous); sprints, bar work and tire flips being my welcome home to Tejas workout.  Crazy?  Yeah, no doubt — but a Physical Culture 2.0 fit kind of crazy — and that makes being crazy, well…kinda okay 🙂

And speaking of crazy

A *serious* meeting of the minds 😉

Okay, so it wasn’t all furrowed-brow and free of levity 😉  The symposium was, in fact, a seriously fun, extremely social event as well.  As the above picture was being taken by Meesus TTP, John Welbourn (of CrossFit Football) — who was leaned against a table just to my right — was uttering “awk-waaaard”; just too friggin’ funny.  Immediately following this shot, I had the opportunity to chat a while (Chico sockmonkey in-hand) with John about his training experience with Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell crew out in Cleveland, Ohio.  Some fascinating, first-person insight into Louie’s methods (lift heavy some days, lift fast other days.  Bust ass all days; that about sums it up).  The juxtaposition of this picture and that training-related chat I had with John rather epitomized the entire conference for me; fun, frolic and seriousness — all combined into a two-day “Woodstock” of primal-living event.  Kudos to the original epistemocrat, Brent Pottinger, and the ever-hospitable Aaron Blaisdell, and their team of dedicated volunteers for pulling-off such a fantastic event.  I’m already looking forward to AHS 2012.

Physical Culture (PC), 2.0

The philosopher Ken Wilber – who I’ve been devouring ever since being introduced to his work via my AHS 2011 co-presenter, Skyler Tanner – speaks of evolution as a process of transcendence and inclusion; exactly the process by which PC (Physical Culture) 2.0 will “evolve” from the current, sorry state of affairs (think bloated, cartoonish, professional bodybuilders) into the defining, all-encompassing meme of the Ancestral Fitness movement; the “yang” component to the Paleo diet “yin”.  This healthy, lasting process is not so much anarchistic revolution as it is building upon (“transcending” in every sense of the word) that which has come before; even that which we might be quick to label “malicious” at best — for example, the doings of the AMA and Big Pharma, the Prodigal Son-like travels of Physical Culture 1.0. Take beyond/carry forward that which is good and helpful; simply leave behind what is not, with no emotional attachment. This is the way of true progress.

My good friend and tribal elder, Ken O’Neill, has written a wonderful piece related to the emerging Physical Culture 2.0.  It seems to me that this movement is being born even as we ping ideas and methodologies back and forth; as if we are actually midwifing (if that is actually a valid term) the movement into being rather than “inventing” anything per se.  Fiction writers often speak of “chanelling” a work into being rather that actually “creating” anything.  I can certainly attest to that notion, having written a work of fiction myself (The Blood of Samuel), and I have to say that this particular “emergence” process feels much the same as bringing a work of fiction from the “ether” and into the mortal world.  Call it being a conduit between realms, if you will — and if you’re down with that kind of thing.  But one thing is for sure: this movement is underway, and it simply won’t be, cannot be, stopped.

Framework vs Fundamentalism

One theme that I was happy to see emerge from the Ancestral Health Symposium was that of basing N=1 experimentation upon an evolutionary framework, as opposed to sheepishly following some lock-step, dogmatic, one-size-fits-all prescription.  Remember, as viewed through the evolutionary lens, “optimum” can only be hinted at; more digging, more critical thinking, more thinkering (hat tip to Brett Pottinger for the term) is required to tease-out the optimum from the merely satisfactory.  That our species can survive to breeding age and successfully reproduce on a completely bankrupt diet is a testament to our supreme adaptability, and speaks nothing to what is optimum for our genotype.  And, too, any step toward singularity is a step toward extinction, be that in a species or in an entity.  My hope is that the healthy debate of ideas remains a integral part of the AHS organization.

On the Workout Front…

I’ve been a bit jammed for time as of late, so what I thought I’d do, in lieu of posting a round-up of all of my between post workouts, is to select a choice few to dissect.   The following is a metcon workout that I completed on Saturday, the 13th.  The clips are in two parts, because I’m an IT-idgit, and couldn’t get Windows Movie Maker to cooperate with me and my Android clips.  Shouldn’t this all be compatible?  Meh…

Part I

…and continuing on with the 4th exercise in the circuit…

Notice that none of the 4 exercises in this circuit are particularly technique-heavy, and are therefore suitable for under-fatigue utilization.  And by this, the 5th round of this doozie, I’ve got some serious fatigue goin’ on; though I’m still pushing the front squats with adequate umph, the explosion in my prowler pushes has pretty much dwindled to nada.  Of course the real ball-busters in this circuit are the front squats and prowler pushes; the dips and curls can almost be thought of as “active recovery”.  And this is how I like to program a weight-centric metcon workout — variations of intensity within the circuit itself, and little to no rest between each round.  Think American football, two-minute drill here.  This type of workout — repeat, short-duration busts of high power output — lands square in the middle of my natural ability wheelhouse; my basecamp, as it were.

And Finally…

Check out this excellent and informative KQED/Sydnie Kohara interview – Sustainable Meat and the Art of Butchery

Charcuterie is near and dear to my heart; a luxury afforded to those of us lucky enough to be alive in this day and age, and another example of enjoying that life under the framework of a stone age existence, but with the benefits extended to modernity.

About the show, from KQED’s Forum website:

In recent years, more chefs and consumers are demanding local, sustainable meats, driving some to raise and butcher their own livestock. We get into the gristle with three butchers and talk all about meat, from what consumers should be asking at the counter to how to cook a whole pig in the back yard.

Grock on.

In health,

Keith

In an Evolutionary Sense, Why Hypertrophy?

No passion so effectively robs the mind of all of its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.

Edmund Burke

The question of “why should there be a hypertrophy response at all” has puzzled me for some time.  On the surface, inflated muscle mass does seem to be a grossly inefficient answer (in metabolic terms) as to how best to endure repeated-effort bouts of high intensity work.  A massive, power-sucking brain we can surely justify — a huge return on metabolic investment, in an evolutionary sense.  Hypertrophy, though, in my mind, is a bit harder to justify.  Why not more of a hedge, for example, toward improved CNS efficiency?  Or a different type/mix of fiber?  Or an overall shift toward a more power-leaning motor unit makeup.  Of course the various “how to’s” of hypertrophy are, in and of themselves, quite enough to keep the forums and blogosphere rife with speculation, hate-mongering and discontent.  All well and good with the lively, on-going debate on that front; we ought, though, to be asking the deeper questions of just why hypertrophy should be in the first place.  Once we know this, we can better hone-in on how to produce it

Evolution for me is a roadmap that helps answer all questions (save for origin), as to what is most efficient at propagating genes from one generation to the next.  Note that “efficient” does not necessarily imply “optimum”.  Keep in mind that in an evolutionary sense, optimum is not required — what is required is that an organism be more efficient than the competition at passing genes from one generation to the next.  Evolution truly adheres to the wise dictum of not letting perfection stand in the way of the good.  Good enough to git’er done better than the competition is good enough.  Optimum phenotyipical expression is another question entirely.  This is where thinkering, manipulation, and critical thought come into play.  Having a firm grasp on where one is, and where one wishes to be, on the health-performance continuum is critical.

My good friend Ken O’Neill has suggested that hypertrophy can be considered in the same light as the neuroplasticity phenomenon associated with the brain.  In other words (and this plays right into our species’ niche as being extremely adaptive, nimble, and opportunistic), the evolutionary beauty of this response might not lay in it’s uber efficiency, per se, but in it’s extreme adaptability.   A leopard retains its leopard-ness, more-or-less, no matter the environment; humans, on the other hand, morph accordingly.   We are nimble enough to both craft a spear, and powerful enough to then hurl the thing…with enough fine motor control, by the way, to land the spear on target.  Our muscle fiber make-up and CNS “wiring” scream of compromise.

Does this get us any closer to uncovering the “secrets” to hypertrophy?  Probably not.  But if we realize that muscle is both metabolic currency, and that it’s metabolically expensive as all hell to gain and maintain, we begin to see just how much absolute work is required to elicit a hypertrophic response; we begin to see the difference between training for “health” and forcing the body into an all-hands-on-deck, survival response.  We also begin to see why we have such wide-ranging genetic predispositions for certain phenotypical expressions of “fitness” or “performance”.  You can take the lanky kid outta the savanna, but you can only somewhat take the savanna outta the kid, so to speak.

If hypertrophy is our species’ evolutionary answer to surviving an extreme (and hopefully short-term, from the body’s point of view) environmental onslaught, it stands to reason that the onslaught better be pretty damn severe for the body to invest in such a risky metabolic fix.  That this “fix” can also be utilized as a ready fuel source should the onslaught subside is just pure evolutionary genius.

Time, tools, techniques, and tenacity; preach it, brother...

This also implies (in my mind, at least) that an optimized hypertrophy response requires a stimulus from all sections of the force-velocity curve; something Scott Abel has termed “surfing” the force-velocity curve.  In essence, we need to perform work throughout the force-velocity spectrum, from the upper-left absolute strength zone on down to the lower-right land of RFD; it all matters and it’s all essential.

cowabunga, dude...

This then implies that if maximized hypertrophy is what you seek (as opposed to mere superior health), then you’d do well to (1) have  access to a large and varied tool box so as to enable working on various movement patterns from the totality of the force-velocity curve, (2) become a master craftsman (technician) so as to manipulate these tools properly, (3) be possessed of the tenacity — the wherewithal — to soldier through the requisite hard work; reading/writing about this is easy, implementation, however, is a never-ending series of gut-checks, and (4) you better have some expendable time on your hands.  We can effectively trim a lot of excess fat from workouts, but the fact of the matter is that an exorbitant amount time under the bar is a necessary evil.

Pushing the performance/hypertrophy envelope is a Faustian bargain, no doubt — which is why so few choose to pursue this path.  Many more are quite content with superior “health” and/or various degrees of performance leading up to the all-out assault on optimizing one’s phenotype — conquering Mt. “Swole”, as it were.  But isn’t this true in all areas of life?  In all areas of maximized performance?  Why is it that we think human performance should follow rules outside the dictates of of nature?  That there must be some inherent “magic” involved?  Sure, the totality of human performance has always been, and will always be, a mixed bag of inheritable traits, epigenetic factors, and human will — all in varying degrees no less.  We are the opportunistic species; placicity is our evolutionary endowment.  For each athlete who’s made it via brutally hard work, I can show you another who was just “born” phenomenal.  Same with the musician, and with the mathematician.  But there is no one formula, one recipe, for success.  We would not have survived as a species if it were otherwise; each step toward singularity is a step toward extinction.

~^~

So the 21 Convention is now in the rear-view window, and the Ancestral Health Symposium lay ahead.  It’s been a whirlwind last few weeks.  What a great time I had with Anthony Johnson and the rest of the 21 Convention crew.  Fantastic speakers, enthusiastic attendees and an awesome atmosphere.  The unveiling of the ARX Omni was a highlight of the event for me, and I was able to both discuss this tool’s place within the greater toolbox, and allow some of the attendees to give ‘er a test drive.

I also got to spend quite a bit of time with Richard Nikoley, of Free the Animal fame.  We hit it off like long lost pals.  And why not?  We’re both ex navy men, with a hell-bent Paleo leaning.  I can tell you that Richard is just as “take no prisoners” in person as he is in “blog life”.  What a cool cat.  I look forward to spending more time with him out in LA next weekend.  So what’s the TTP pitch going to be in LA?  Well, Skyler and I intend to champion Physical Culture’s rightful place — the “new” Physical Culture, that is; Physical Culture 2.0, if you will — in fixing the damn healthcare quagmire we find ourselves in now.  Since we hail from the epicenter of this integrative holistic medicine/fitness movement — Austin, Texas — it seems fitting.  Stay tuned 😉

In health,

Keith