Dr. Jack Kruse
Keith Norris, of Efficient Exercise
Chris Kresser L. Ac
James Fitzgerald – OPT (Optimum Performance Training)
Mark Sisson, and
All are lunatics, but he who can analyse his delusions is called a philosopher – Ambrose Bierce
My Efficient Exercise clientele, widely speaking, consists of folks situated smack-dab in the bullseye for being the most susceptible to “diseases of affluence” — those maladies exacerbated (and, arguably, initially brought-on) by poor dietary choices and lack of proper and sufficient activity. By poor diet, I’m referring, of course, to a non-Paleo/Primal way of eating — a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, grains, and poor-quality fats. In the larger Ancestral Health community, we may quibble on some of the finer dietary points within this context (potatoes?!), but broadly speaking (and especially in terms of where “the rubber meets the road”, i.e., in dealing with the general, “not geeked on diet and fitness” public), we offer a united front. Can there be much argument, for example, that implementing Robb Wolf’s Quick Start Guide is not a great way for John and Jane Q. Public to begin taking charge of their health and wellbeing?
Ahhh, but then we get to the other side of the healthy lifestyle coin — the “activity” side — and here, in my opinion, things begin to degenerate rapidly. Let’s see if we can put things back into prospective.
First and foremost, ours is a genome that, to steal a riff from from Dr. John Ivy, is hardwired for daily activity. Now before I kickoff a shitstorm royale here from the HIT crowd, I said daily “activity”, not a daily WOD beat-down, or Bulgarian-style, multiple-times-per-day Oly thrashing. That some mutants (myself included) can survive frequent sightings of the great-white-buffalo-in-the-sky does not at all imply that it’s necessarily a healthy thing to do. I’ve pontificated on this before and, more recently, Skyler Tanner has written a superb post examining the relationship between “exercise” and “activity”, and the wide, wide spectrum of “movement” wherein these terms settle. And let’s hold onto that notion of high-end performance beginning where health begins to degenerate; let that be our guide-star in this discussion.
And we are speaking of a full spectrum of movement/activity here, from chasing the great white buffalo, to “play”. Part of the problem, though, in discussing this subject is (1) there are so many moving (pardon the pun) parts to consider, (2) this is a highly, highly n=1 subjective subject, i.e., due to my strength and work capacity, my “play” may be another’s gut-busting “exercise”, and (3) the language used in discussing this subject is vague at best, and at it’s worst, imprecise; the term “workout” can mean many things to many different people. Case in point: in discussing my attendance of a recent MovNat workshop here in the epicenter of Physical Culture, the ATX — an awesome experience, by the way, with Clifton Harski (@cliftonharski) and Brian Tabor paving the way for a most excellent, and challenging, day of fun and frolic — with a client of mine (and emphasizing the “fun and frolic” part), she shook her head and replied “fun? Sounds like a hard-ass workout to me!”. Of course, I considered the experience more a day chock-full of rough-and-tumble play, but that’s exactly my point. Think of strength and work capacity together, as being a workhorse. The bigger and stronger the horse, the more “stuff” you can pile on it’s back. A 500 pound load is nothing to a Clydesdale, but might cripple some poor, exhausted, slat-ribbed thing.
Art DeVany, of course, has made many constituent, bedrock, contributions to the Paleo/Primal/EvoFit movement — none so more important, though, and in my opinion, as the application of fractals and power law within the totality of life experience. And more germane to this discussion, fractals and power law as applied to the full spectrum of human activity. If you haven’t yet read Art’s Essay on Evolutionary Fitness, by all means do so — it’s a gem.
Now, if we consider, in the context of optimum human activity, the ideas of fractals (repeating patterns), power law distribution (intensity vs frequency distribution), we can see how this dovetails nicely into the work of (the above mentioned) John Ivy, Frank Booth, and Boyd Eaton (nifty little paper, here). Add the notion of n=1 individualization, and this generic power law distribution curve then becomes personalized; my long-tail is (to whatever extent) different from your long-tail, as my strength and work capacity are pretty damn high. The extreme right of my long-tail includes roughly 7 hours per day of training clients (on my feet moving, scampering, climbing, squatting, loading/unloading weights, demonstrating lifts, etc.) and at least some fixie riding and/or walking; this is what I consider a “day off”. Workout days, of course, ramp-up exponentially from there.
To the extent that we endeavor to make one a more healthy individual (fitness and performance, remember are altogether separate pursuits), we will need to bump this curve up and to the right. Just how much? I don’t know exactly, but this is something I’m attempting to quantify. Although I’m a huge fan of John Ivy’s work in principle, I’m less sold on his concept of figuring one’s “minimum daily allowance” of activity. You’ll have to checkout his book to see what I mean.
But back to the practicalities of boosting one’s health: in everyday speak, this is simply known as increasing the subject’s strength and work capacity (subject for a later post). The problem with saying this, though, is that folks automatically relate the terms “strength” and “work capacity” to the high-end performance realm. What I am speaking of here, though, is that minimum amount of daily (long-tail) activity required to keep an individual healthy, nothing more. Which, by the way, is not that damn much daily activity. This, in fact, is the basis of my proposed AHS12 presentation, and and area where, I believe (along with the erudite Ken O’Neill), the Paleo/Primal movement (writ large) has trended off the skids. For all we attribute to healthy eating, we turn a blind eye to the necessity of honoring the requirements of that long-tail, daily activity level. Let’s make no mistake here, our genome is predicated on daily activity — we are first and foremost obligatory movers, then opportunistic eaters. Discounted by many in this movement are the positive epigenetic triggers established by this minimum daily, or long-tail zone, activity. In essence, the community as a whole tends toward too little long-tail activity (classic HIT), or too much (mainsite CrossFit). We quibble over the make-up of a stone-age vs modern tuber, and totally discount (or grossly under-estimate) the average daily activity level of the stone-age hunter-gatherer. Hunted-gatherer is a more accurate definition; these poor bastards had to be ever-vigilant and constantly on the move.
Note: Dr. John Ivy’s recognition of “Minimum daily activity levels” as normalizing efficient metabolic pathways (or “circuits”, in his explanation) just might be the brigde between the Calories-in/Calories-out dogmatists and 1st Law of Thermodynamics apologists. Stay tuned.
My blog, so obviously, my opinions here; take ’em for what they’re worth. My contention is though, that the traditional (dogmatic?) HIT schema of a single day of blast and 7 (ish) days of full-on sloth fails to meet the minimum daily long-tail activity level, and so falls short of being an optimum total regimen choice. Of course, at the opposite end of the intensity frequency spectrum (but no doubt equals on the dogmatism scale) lay mainsite CrossFit where, if a little bit of high intensity work is good, a lot more is fo’ sho’ a hellova lot mo’ better. This scenario sets us up for over-reaching at best, overtraining at worst, and the sacrifice of long-term health for short-term performance gain. The answer, in my opinion, lay somewhere between these two extremes. Take a 30k-foot view of my personal exercise proclivities trended over the year and you’ll see that I skew much more toward the mainsite CrossFit end of the spectrum, though I’d like to think that (1) my workout-to-workout programming is a bit more intelligent, and (2) my day-to-day intensity and volume are more sanely regulated, and wind-up graphing pretty damn close to the power law distribution. And remember, too, that my n=1 given is that of a good deal of strength and a pretty high work capacity — my long-tail activities reflect as much. I’ll turn 47 this week, and I’m still healthy, fit and somewhat muscular so I think I’m on to something.
One idea that I have been very pleased to see begin trickling out of the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness/Ancestral Fitness community as of late is the notion of Paleo (writ large) as being a framework of ideas and technologies vs being some sort of paleolithic re-enactment movement. In other words, there’s a profound difference between melding the best practices of our paleolithic ancestors with that of modern science, and that of simply becoming caveman re-enactment aficionados on par with the Civil War enthusiast who gathers on the weekend to time-bend back to Antietam. Robb Wolf has mentioned this, along with Andrew, of Evolvify. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with the “time-benders” per se — hey, to each his own — but I do think it’s wrong-minded to assume that blind, attempted mimicry of past practices will somehow lead to positive/enhanced outcomes in the here-and-now.
I tend to think of my own Ancestral Fitness journey as being an n=1 best-scenario composite of fueling and forging my mind and body according to primal dictates, but enhanced by the luxury of additional knowledge afforded me by the study of modern science, and the study of n=1 results reported by other like-minded individuals. A Luddite I most certainly am not; a skeptic, critical thinker, an epistemocrat most definitely, but not a Luddite. My HIIT training certainly does not consist of hunting cave bear, nor does my post-workout chow-down consist of the BBQ’d carcass, nor do I feel that I need to re-enact that moment of paleolithic plunder in order to better my health in this modern environment. For better or worse, the bulk of my daily existence is spent on city streets, my hunting is done in farmers markets, and my physicality is challenged in gyms, and on pavement and manicured “tundra”. I’m not out in the sun as much as I’d like, so I augment with D3; my omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is lacking, so I supplement with a good bit of fish and/or krill oil. I work too much and sleep way to little, and for that the ancient hunter-gatherer would be laughing his hairy ass off, casting a wtf shrug my way. Back off, cave brah; I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that’s the essence of the game.
Late edit, 11/25/10 – I just came across the following Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in a recent Mark Sisson newsletter; apropos, my friends, to our discussion here:
On the workout front –
The theme for last week was “very, very little available time”, and my workouts reflected as much:
Not sure how to classify this one; had a few minutes between clients, with the former of those clients having just used a 350-pound loaded trap bar within his routine. What to do? Break the bar down at a leisurely pace and set-up for the next trainee? Maybe grab a quick cup of joe as well? How about instead let’s see how many 350-pound trap bar pulls I can reel-off in a couple of minutes? Yeah, that was the “workout” — if you wanna call it that — for 11/9; 4 sets of 15 at 350 pounds with the trap bar. I think it took roughly 3-minutes to complete, but left me temporarily wobbly and blowing like a freight train. A nice little jolt of “fight-or-flight” that kept me humming for the rest of the day. Random? Yeah. Fractal? You bet. But hey, when opportunity knocks…
So I jump on many opportunities like this throughout the week that I don’t think to report here in TTP. An Oly bar loaded with 225 looks like a quick burst of power cleans for example, maybe some btn jerks. The results of doing something like this are, of course, something that I can’t really quantify — other than to say that I feel really “good…alive” after having done a bout of one of these intense micro bursts. And maybe it does have something to do with the pulsate nature of the fight-or-flight response being a natural phenomena? Who knows. If you have a home gym, or otherwise “happen by” training opportunities throughout the day, give it a shot yourself and see what you think. But never “force” yourself into one of these intense micro bursts, rather, let it come about organically. Listen to your body.
The following day, 11/10 — my birthday, by the way (46 if you’re wondering) — and the luxury of 20-minutes worth of precious, unbroken, available time.
med ex back extension: 310 x 15 reps (5010 tempo) — single set to positive failure
super-slow ham curl: 200 x 10 (5010 tempo) — single set to positive failure
true squat (0 lbs offset, full ROM): 45 x 8, 90 x 5, 135 x 6, 180 x 6 (30×0 tempo) — final set to positive failure
Nautilus pull-over: 240 x 11, 255 x 2, 2 (51×0 tempo) — single set to positive failure + 2 rest-pause sets
Thursday, 11/11 — An hour-and-a-half of fixie saddle time bliss. The ATX is fixie heaven, y’all 🙂
cable lunge flye: 125 x 15; 155 x 12, 10, 10
floor press: 135 x 7; 185 x 5, 4, 2 All sets with orange Jump-Stretch bands (triple-wrap)
snatch-grip rack pull (knee level): 315 x 5; 385 x 3, 3 (rest-pause). All sets with orange Jump-Stretch bands (triple-wrap)
Get healthy or get fit? Let’s define the terms a little better so that we’re all on the same page. Skyler Tanner does just that over at our Efficient Exercise blog.
“Diogenes struck the father when the son swore.”
The following question comes by way of TTP reader Bret Brams (any relation to Johannes, I wonder?), a teacher from Belgium. Bret tells me that his interests revolve around anything related to the fields of nutrition, sports science, psychology and biology. Sounds like a pre-requisite hanging out around these parts, huh? And when he’s not ladling knowledge over dry but eager minds, Bret busies himself with competitive powerlifting and sprinting. Bret also wanted me to extend, for him, a hearty welcome to any serious trainees who’d like to join him in his fully-equipped home gym in Belgium; all are welcome to come down and train with him, or just hang out and discuss any and all aspects of physical culture. If you’re in the neighborhood, look him up; if not, you can can find Bret here, at his Facebook page.
On to Bret’s question:
I’ve read your thoughts and habits on meal frequency and such. How much do you think this matters in muscle preservation? Slowly I’m weaning myself off the bodybuilding idea that you have to eat every few hours to retain muscle, however, it’s still somewhat foreign to me.
I’ve gone from 8 to 6 to 5 to 4 meals a day over the years, now eating fully paleo. Reliance on hunger has become something unnatural to me, as I’ve always disciplined myself to eat every few hours(for the typical reasons … digestion, etc.). I haven’t gotten around to fasting yet, but I’m trying. It seems I’m still hungry(for the good stuff, but still)and can easily eat the entire day, even on paleo foods.
Can you perhaps address what you noticed in terms of muscle loss/gain and fat loss?
I assume that initially one will lose some muscle(due to loss of muscle glycogen) but will afterwards gain it back when his insulin sensitivity rises and the glycogen sparing effects of the fasting improve.
Less is more?
My Reply follows. Bret will notice that I’ve embellished quite a bit from the answer I originally sent back his way; the advantage of a little extra thought and a little extra time:
I went through the same wrestle with the meal frequency issue, and truthfully, only recently do I think I’ve fully got a handle on it. A few tears back I’d thought that, having completed a few months of full-on Paleo lifestyle, that I’d fully transitioned to the Paleo way — but the problem of meal frequency (and of still being “hungry” numerous times throughout the day) persisted. Eventually, though, I reached the point of being able to listen — really listen — to my body, eating only when truly hungry. I do think that it takes a while, however, to get to that point; especially coming out of the old, ingrained, “6-times-a-day” habit. And this is largely the result of two separate (but wickedly co-conspiring) phenomena — social conditioning and carbohydrate addiction. Of course one must learn to navigate the practical issue of living Paleo in a modern environment as well, and this will be different for each individual due to their living/working circumstance. For instance, I’ve had to learn how to square randomness in eating and working out with a mostly regimented and always extended-hours working life. My solution(s) are not necessarily easy to implement or to follow — and they’re certainly not perfect — but they do represent the best I can do under my given, restricted, situation. And that, I believe, is all that we can be asked to do.
But specifically, let’s look at the “big two” in way of obstacles to reaching meal frequency un-attachment — and forgive me if I begin to sound a little too Zen about this whole thing, but really, “un-attachment” and/or “dissociation” are key in finding resolution, here. Are you truly hungry? Then eat. Eat what? Well, I never go by hard and fast rules, but I try to consume more fat calories than protein, and certainly more animal protein calories than carbohydrate. The rest takes care of itself. How many times a day do I eat? Well, the average is probably 3 — but I fast often (mostly in the 20 – 24-hour range, but sometimes as long as 36 – 48 hours), and many days I only eat once or twice. In fact the only constant to my eating pattern is that there is no constant. And as an overlay to this template is the random template of my workouts, with one having very little influence (if at all) on the other. This was one aspect of the “social conditioning” that was so hard for me to break. I’ve come now to believe, though, that the whole business (conventional notion) of “refueling” — timing windows and such as that — is, in a word, bogus. And I am being quite generous here. I also believe that the multiple-times-per-day eating regimens so popular now amongst bodybuilders and athletes is flawed — even if those meals are Paleo-like — because they act to limit the body’s need to and/or ability to utilize stored fat. So this is more of a mental construct then, that must be dismantled and overcome. My n=1 experience is that my musculature has taken on a definite degree of increased hardness due, I’m sure, by the shedding of some intramuscular fat and a lack (due to a low carbohydrate environment) of water retention. I’ve also experienced a reduction in subcutaneous fat and water retention as well. And, to top it all off, I’ve banked a net gain in overall bodyweight (note the previously mentioned reduction in fat and water) over the last few years. So, unless my bones and/or organs have massed-up, I’d have to say I’ve gained a decent amount of lean muscle tissue. Hardly the “wasting-away” outcome from this manner of eating prophesied by the 6x/day “experts”.
The other half of the co-conspiring dynamic duo then, is carbohydrate addiction. I almost hate to use the term, because it implies a certain level of sensationalism, but it is addiction we’re dealing with here, nothing less. Now the degree of addiction may be more for some than for others, but addiction it is, none the less. I’ve discussed the phenomena previously, here and here. The short answer is, though, one is compelled to eat frequently for similar reasons as to why a smoker reaches for another cigarette — a combination of social conditioning and physical dependence. Both phenomena must be overcome if one is to truly break the meal frequency cycle.
PS — (10/23/09, 1550 EDT) I failed to include this post from Richard over at Free the Animal. Make sure to check out the comments as well — lots of great information contained therein. Carbohydrate addiction — and specifically, sugar and HFCS addiction — is no joke.
“Sometimes the best way to convince someone he is wrong is to let him have his way.”
So, you’re feeling kinda bummed-out because you were born with a small frame, are ya? Well, here’s a little old school Iron Guru for you — the man, the myth, the legend; Vince Gironda, circa 1947. Nineteen-friggin-forty-seven, folks! Just look at how cut the man is (courtesy of Iron Guru.com, a great repository of Vince Gironda knowledge). Check him out — all of the roughly 170 lbs of him:
I’ve written about Vince previously, so I won’t bore you with a rehash of that. I will reiterate here, though, that if you look at what the man advocated as far as a trainee’s diet, you see that it was essentially Paleo in nature. If you read through some of the man’s writings, you’ll see just how appalled he was by the average American’s diet. And this was pre-1980’s — I can only imagine what he’d think now. And make no mistake, Vince advocated the notion that if you wanted to look healthy on the outside, you had to actually be healthy on the inside. True health, in his mind, radiated from within.
Now I’ve heard many in the S&C community dump on the man’s training philosophy, but here’s he thing — Vince never claimed to be, nor did he ever claim his methods were advantageous for, anything other than physical aesthetics. I can appreciate that kind of honesty. And If you leaf through some of his training manuals, you’ll see that the man knew what he was talking about. There’s a stunning breadth of knowledge contained in his teachings, and an unparalleled understanding of human physiology and kinesiology. Check out the Iron Guru site, it’s full of great Vince Gironda teachings. And even if you happen to be more into athletic performance than the aesthetic side of things (like me), there’s still a boat-load of useful and interesting information here.
Next up, I’ll wrangle with a reader question pertaining to meal frequency, and a little later, I’ll discuss in a little more depth my take on the intersection of power production, exercise selection and MetCon work. Stay tuned, and have a great rest of the week.
“I think people don’t place a high enough value on how much they are nurtured by doing whatever it is that totally absorbs them.”
In case you might have missed it, TTP reader/commenter Dexter had this to say in relation to CNS priming:
“…Could it be that IF is a CNS stimulator? That IF creates an actual threat to the organism? I find that when I exercise at the end of a 36 hr fast, I usually achieve that zone of invincibility…that zone where reps at higher and higher weights come effortlessly…”
Absolutely. In fact, a Paleo athlete would be much better off going into a competition in the fasted state; 18 to 24 hours fasted, I believe, would be optimal. Of course, this is just my opinion, and is not substantiated by any evidence whatsoever — outside of my own, that is. My experiences and results with my own demanding workouts while in a fasted state, are sufficient enough to serve as positive n=1 evidence of this notion’s efficacy. So much so, in fact, that I’d have no qualms whatsoever in advising a properly adjusted athlete to do the same. Properly adjusted is key here, though. The athlete must be fully adapted to the Paleo lifestyle for this method to be effective. I think we all know what the results would be otherwise. Bonk city, severe cramping, the shakes/trembles, debilitating weakness, nausea; the list goes on. Contrast this to the added boost the Paleo athlete would garner from the added CNS stimulation/adrenaline rush, not to mention the added energy available from the body’s not having to deal with digestion issues, and the edge of not having to deal with that “fullness” in the gut. The team-building ritual should be that of the post-game feast — a nice fatted calf offered up in a “spoils-of-victory” fashion (i.e., the post-hunt feast). Unfortunately, though, this scenario is a long, long way off. To wit (from the NAU Football Blog, 10/3/09):
“…The players have their pre-game meal on campus. Today’s menu was rice, stir fry, lasagna, and breadsticks. After this each position will meet and then the game countdown begins…” (emphasis mine).
I don’t offer this up as a slam against anybody’s program, but simply to illustrate a point. Eating a pre-game meal of this fashion is the only way possible to survive if an athlete is a sugar burner. I ate the same manner of pre-game meal myself back in the day(admittedly, this was back in the dark ages). What I’d love to see, though, is a few of these kids make the transition to a full-on Paleo lifestyle, and reap all the performance enhancement that comes part-and-parcel with primal eating patterns. Their success and stellar results from doing so would have the Paleo way spread unabated through the collegiate and professional ranks. Really, it is just a matter of time before an already successful athlete takes the leap of faith. That almighty sought-after edge is there to be had; and no anti-doping agency has yet to put the Paleo lifestyle on any banned substance list…yet.
“Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.”
I don’t know that I’ve ever found this particular cut of ribs outside of those little mom & pop Mexican stores. You know — those places that thrive in areas that are lucky enough to have a large enough Mexican immigrant population to support them. If you have such a place near you, frequent it — you won’t be sorry. The best butcher shop in my town is located in just such a place. And language (and culture, for that matter) is no barrier when it comes to good food at fantastic prices.
Below is a shot of the ribs just before I put them on the grill. The night before, I prepped the ribs by slathering them liberally with olive oil, then coating them with fresh cracked pepper and brisket rub. I stored them in the refrigerator, in a plastic freezer bag, turning them over whenever I thought to.
You’ve got to cook the ribs over a very, very low heat. It takes quite a while, but the end product is phenomenal. Also, I like to smoke-in a little applewood flavor via use of pre-soaked wood chips.
Unfortunately, getting an all done, “plated” picture slipped my mind. We did have avocado and steamed & buttered brocolli for sides. Good stuff.
According to Mark Sisson, over at Mark’s Daily Apple, I suppose I am actually more “Primal” than I am “Paleo” since (among a few other details) I don’t eschew fat. I’m actually a fat-lover, truth be told. Ah well, I’ve never been one to easily label. Much like my workout philosophy, I pick and choose across the spectrum to form my own, “TTP” guidelines. I actually think I’m closer in diet and workout “beliefs” to Art DeVany’s Evolutionary Fitness — but that’s just splitting hairs, in my opinion. To cop a line from Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”