The Anabolic Continuum, “Confounding Variables”, and Physical Culture as Art

The idea that strength and conditioning programming — and, in fact, any pursuit related to the optimal expression of one’s phenotype — is a purely unique-to-the-trainee, n=1 experiment is the underlying theory behind my own day-to-day practice of Physical Culture.  In fact, the TTP blog itself is an on-going ode to the notion that training is more art than science; or, another way of looking at it is that training is one of the main Physical Culture “arts”, and science is but a single color on the pallet used in the creation of that art.

Enter John Barban, Brad Pilon, and the “Phi Life” experience –

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and add the Phi Life podcast to your bookmark listing; I don’t think you’re likely to find a more truthful, intellectually-based series of discussions on all things related to the intersection of science and Physical Culture.  Plain and simple: these guys know their stuff, and they articulate it well.

Now, why am I so adamant in my (repeated) assertions that training must be an n=1 endeavor?  That it cannot be otherwise?  That training is more so art than science?  Well, check-out the following pair of Phi Life shows, as Brad and John deliver the goods on exactly why this is so.

I am certainly not anti-science, but the problem, at this stage of the game anyway, is that the science of sports physiology (writ large) is only in its infancy.  It’s as if we’ve only just recently identified the pieces of the puzzle, but have no “box top” to reference so as to even begin to figure how the pieces fit.  And on top of that, we continually find new pieces added to the pile.

The following two shows fit nicely together, and each runs approximately a half-hour.  I’ve taken the liberty of lifting the show explanations from the Phi Life site itself, and I hope that Brad and John are cool with that.

Hypertrophy happens; strength happens.  Athletes become faster and more powerful.  Fat is shed; anaerobic and aerobic conditioning improves by leaps and bounds.   From years of experience, we have a pretty good idea of what strings need to be pulled, how often and when, to elicit certain responses.  We have gut notions of why a certain technique, protocol, scheme, etc. will work on one guy, but will fail if used with the guy standing right next to him.  But really, we don’t have a firm grasp of what’s going on inside the “black box”, and those hints that science has eeked out for us really don’t tell us much more than what we already knew – that X protocol will work sometimes, and with certain populations, and that even if it does work, the efficacy won’t last for long.  It’s a moving target, and the gun is poorly sighted.  Do we really know much more now about sports physiology than the East Germans knew in the early ‘80s?  If in fact we do, it can’t be by much.

Check out the shows:

The Anabolic Continuum

Research on muscle building report a wide range of responders. There are those who gain virtually no muscle or strength, and there are those who have very impressive gains. If the weight training program was the same then the people doing the training must be different.

The response you will get from a weight training program is dependent upon your anabolic sensitivity. A number of factors go into assessing your anabolic sensitivity including age, training status, type of training, genetic predisposition, somatotype.

All of these factors collectively come together as a way of explaining where you land on the Anabolic Continuum.

In today’s lesson we’ll discuss what a confounding variable is, and explain that one of the biggest confounding variables in muscle building research is the anabolic sensitivity of each subject. Until researchers start categorizing where their subjects are on the Anabolic Continuum they will continue to have inconclusive results.

Anabolic Slowdown

The effectiveness of your weight training workouts might be dependent upon where you are in the anabolic continuum. This may be why different people get different results on the same workout program.

Where you are in the anabolic continuum may also be you best indicator of which exercise program to choose.

In today’s podcast we’ll discuss the concept of Anabolic Slow Down and Anabolic Resistance, and your “Training Age” vs your “Biological Age”.

We believe this is the biggest confounding variable in resistance training research and the reason why results are not consistent.

Two fabulous shows, and a hell of an education in exchange for an hour’s worth of your time.

The workout rundown for Friday, Saturday and Sunday –

Friday evening

As my days in NC are becoming numbered, my workouts are having to become ever more pin-pointed; quite simply, time is a big issue right now.  Buying a new home, readying for a cross-country move, wrapping up projects with my former employer, saying good-bye to friends – and though my kids are adults and on their own, making their own lives and their own unique way in the world, it’s still tough to leave them behind.  All this adds up to additional stress as well.  I think I manage it well, but still…  So Autoregulation will be the overriding theme for my last few NC workouts prior to next weekend’s “mother of all road trips”.

I kicked tonight’s session off with some whip-snatch + overhead squats, 3 sets of 5 at 95 lbs.  Rapid-fire reps, about 15-secs between sets.  That got the blood pumping nicely, and I’ve found that it’s is a great cycling-to-weight-room transition movement.  Now I can dive right into the meat of the workout, a superset of deadlifts and weighted dips – and pray that I’ve got enough legs left at the end of it all to get me back home  🙂

deadlifts (conventional, over-under grip): 185 x 10; 285 x 6; 375 x 5; 375 x 4

weighted dips: 45 x 10; 75 x 6; 95 x 6; 95 x 7 (+ 3 additional rest-pause reps)

then one set of Hierarchical (hat tip to Art DeVany) barbell curls: 95 x 15, 105 x 4, 110 x 3.  The rest between “sets” was just long enough to slap on the additional weight and get rolling again.  It would be interesting to see what the TUL was here.  I pushed the first two “sets” right to the brink of failure (i.e., the last good, fully-completed rep), then pushed the last set to full-on negative failure – in other words, the last two concentric reps were “cheat” reps, coupled with exaggerated (6-second) negatives.  The addition of bands or chains here would provide a better strength curve – I’ll keep this in mind for future set-ups.

Saturday –

I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s just something brutally effective about a hard lift set, followed immediately by a sprint.  We did versions of this theme back in my college days, but Dan John is the only person I know who has actually written anything about what he calls (and what I’ve now come to call), the Litvinov workout.  Here’s what I did Saturday:

– 20 fast-as-possible (yet with good form) front squats with an 11’ by 4” diameter slosh pipe, then, immediately following that

– a 40 second sprint for distance…

…then, recover just long enough to get your lungs, spleen and pancreas back in their proper locations, and hit it again.  I did 4 of these on Saturday and they took all of about 15 minutes to complete.  Only 15 minutes?  Dude, that’s a warm-up!  WTF, didn’t you do anything else?  Yeah, right.  Give ‘em a shot, and get back to me on that point.

Sunday –

A pair of supersets on the menu today.  First up, a heavy pairing with the intent being to move the weight as fast as humanly possible on every rep.

behind-the-neck push-press: 115 x 3; 145 x 3; 175 x 3; 195 x 3; 205 x 1, 210 (missed lock-out); 205 x 1

weighted regular-grip pull-ups: 35 x 3; 50 x 3; 60 x 3; 70 x 3; 75 x 3; 85 x 2, 2

followed that up with an elevated feet push-ups and GHR superset; shifting gears into the repetition method this time, though:

elevated feet push-ups: bw x 45, 30, 15 (4, 2, 2, 2)

GHR: 20, 20, 10 (3, 3, 2, 2)

this was done in three sets, with rest-pause utilized in the last few reps of the last set.

3/19/10; The 20-Minute Squeeze

Sometimes work is the beast that endeavors to devour every last bit of your free time; now is one of those times for me.  Big, looming deadlines on the horizon, plenty of late hours at the grind.  I woke up this morning and realized that even if I hauled some serious ass, I’d only be able to squeeze-in maybe 20 minutes or so of actual iron time.  Now, I could’ve said the hell with it and chilled, chalked it up to the interventions of “randomness” or whatever; but that’s not me, and I’ll tell you why — because, although I might not have pushed the envelope physically this morning, what I did do was give my body the signal that, yes, it still has to perform — and no, it can’t get lazy and “chill”.  That short little burst this morning let my nervous system know that it’s not okay to “throttle-down”.  Hey, there are plenty of completely missed workout opportunities to chalk-up to “randomness” — if you’ve got a 20 minute window, you’ve got to jump on it and do what you can.

Serendipity strikes:
My good friend Skyler Tanner (who comments quite a bit here at TTP), recently drew up a fine practical example of Post-Activation Potentiation/Post-Tetanic Facilitation (PAP/PTF) and, after having read Skyler’s piece, I thought, “hey, yeah — I can dust-off a couple of sets of PAP/PTF, weighted pull-ups”.   I haven’t done front presses in a while, so I coupled some heavy presses with the the pull-ups.  The result?  A nice, challenging workout — compressed into 20 minutes.  Not bad at all.

After a quick warm-up of ballistic stretching, a few sets of whip-snatch to OHSs, and a couple of  “primer” super-sets of pull-ups and front presses, I did the following:

  • regular-grip pull-up “hang”, 135 lbs x 15 secs.  This isn’t a “dead” hang, but rather a “contracted” position — a position equal to the first inch or so of movement out of the bottom-out, dead-hang position.
  • rest approximately 2 minutes
  • regular-grip pull-up negative from full, end-of-movement position; 90 lbs, 9 secs of TUT (time under tension).
  • 2 minute rest

Then I jumped into 3 rounds of this super-set:

  • front press (minimal “jerk” or “cheat push”): 165 x 5, 5, 5
  • Regular-grip pull-ups: 45 x 6, 6, 6

Nice, snappy reps on all.  45 lbs felt mighty light; I may have been able to pull-off a muscle-up single at this weight.  I’ll give that a shot next time around.

An article in this month’s Esquire (Mutant, by Luke Dittrich), about sprinter Usain Bolt, got me thinking about the interplay of strength, power and elasticity.  Can an athlete be explosive, yet not be a good sprinter.  Absolutely.  More this weekend.

3/4/10 The Ins and Outs of an On-the-Fly Workout, and An Additional Thought on the Sous-Vide Method

Are you down with the Robb Wolf and Any Deas Paleolithic Solution Podcasts over at Robb Wolf’s blog?  If not, you really should be, as they’re a great source of Paleo diet information.  Robb is a trained biochemist who was somehow able to shed the prescribed university brainwashing, put two-and two together, and come to the conclusion that the human body was built to motor on a Paleo-like diet.  The Wolf/Deas collaborations — aside from being an enjoyable listen (good chemistry between these two) — are a series of Q & A discussions on all manner of dietary issues — all viewed, of course, through a Paleo-leaning prism.  And Robb’s blog offers a good place for intelligent, post-podcast discussion.  Head on over when you get a chance, listen-in, and join the fray — you’ll be glad you did.

In particular, check out the discussion associated with Episode 17, where I tossed-out the sous-vide/plastics leaching question that I initially brought up in this post.  Paleolithic Solution reader/listener Mathieu Lalonde responded:

“I’m a chemist and I was waiting for someone to bring up this issue. I was personally horrified when I first read about “Sous Vide”, which means “under vacuum” in French. Take food, place it into a plastic bag, place the bag under vacuum, seal it, then heat it. I cannot imagine a better way to leach plasticizers into food. Especially with fatty foods. I would love to see someone study this. The phthalates would be trivial to detect by mass spec. Many plasticizers, including phthalates, are endocrine disrupters. I don’t care how good “sous vide” food tastes, I’m not touching it until the plasticizer issue has been studied and/or resolved.”

I have to agree with Mathieu, here.  This just looks like too much of a plastics-leaching, perfect storm for me to feel comfortable with.  For now, just roll with the ol’ fashion crock pot, and reserve the right to change my opinion on the subject later.

On to today’s workout…

Here’s the combo that I created on the fly this morning:

Jump Squats (3/4 position):

165 x5; 215 x 5; 265 x 5; 305 x 5

BTN Push-Press:
165 x 5; 185 x 4, 5, 5

Step-Ups (reps per each leg):
165 x 5; 185 x 3, 3, 3

Regular-Grip Pull-Ups:
45 x 5; 55 x 5, 6, 6

So, 4 rounds of that combo.  I actually performed 2 additional rounds that were a “bridge” between the end of the warm-up and the meat of the workout (round 1).  Build-ups, feel sets.

So, how did I come up with this beast?  Pretty simple, really. First I identified the movement pattern I wanted to work — not the exercise per se,  but the movement pattern — then I identified the energy system I wanted to utilize while working that particular pattern.  At this point I begin to cobble-together particular exercises.   In this instance, I knew I wanted to work the single-leg step-up — in my gym, that puts me in the power rack.  I know from past exprience that I’ll use approximately 185 lbs for 3 reps each leg (and this rep range corresponds to my target energy system).  185 lbs also looks like a good btn push-press weight for me, so I’ll add that as well.  Now I’ve got a bar loaded-up in the power rack at a height that, for me, is at roughly the 3/4 squat position.  Hmmmmm, load-up the bar a little more, and I’ve got all the makings for some jump squats.  As a bonus, look at the great potentiation potential jump squats offers to the other two exercises.  Cha-ching!  The pull-ups?  They’re a natural push-pull companion to the push-press.

And last but not least, a very interesting read from the Global PolititianDid Lactose Tolerance Trigger the Indo-European Expansion? Highly, highly recommended reading.

12/5/09, Speed-Strength Emphasis

Had to go into work today to catch up on a few projects.  Have no fear, you won’t soon run out of H1N1 vaccine  – Big Pharma is looking out for you  😉   Pouring down rain and otherwise nasty-ass weather made spending a Saturday pinned behind a desk playing keyboard jockey a little more tolerable – that, and the fantastic workout before hand.

Curiosity #1: apparently, whoever had control of the gym’s music selection this morning had chosen the ’80’s/retro station; ahhh *smiles broadly*.  By the middle of my workout I was having some uber-serious “back in the day” flashbacks (thankfully, none of them involved a rat tail, or mullet).  Which brings up another curiosity: my workout on this fine morning, with all the great ’80’s tunes blasting away in my ears, would have been mostly indistinguishable from any workout I’d undertaken some 25 years ago.  I don’t credit myself, but the fine Strength and Conditioning staff (shout out to coach Kline) at Texas State (then Southwest Texas State) in the early and mid 80’s for having the foresight, at that time, to know what methods would make a better athlete.  Just blind, luck of the draw on my part.  Wow, has it really been that long ago?

Curiosity #3?  I hadn’t heard this Missing Persons tune in the longest.  Little did I know back then what this song would portend:  widespread obesity and a nation-wide (world-wide?) epidemic of metabolic syndrome.  Couldn’t find anything but more recent, bad quality, live clips.  We’ll just opt for audio, here:

Anyway, on with the day’s festivities.  Following a solid, sprint-intensive warm-up:

  • cns prime: sprint-starts, 20 meter/20 meter/40 meter/20 meter
  • clean grip low pull from floor: 135 x 5, 5; 225 x 5; 315 x 3, 3, 3
  • BTN split-jerk: 135 x 4, 4; 165 x 4; 185 x 2, 2, 1
  • cns prime: regular grip muscle-up x 3
  • weighted, regular grip pull ups: 45 x 5, 5; 70 x 3: 80 x 3, 3, 2

So, 6 total rounds of that, auto-regulated.  Trended weight upward to hit the 3-5 rep range in the latter sets.  Went a tad too heavy in the split jerks.  Alternate lead foot in the jerks, i.e., at 135 went 2 left lead, 2 right lead, for a total of 4.  185 single was w/left lead.  Note the difference between a strength-speed emphasis push-press and a speed-strength emphasis jerk.  Ripped the low pulls off the floor, no slow grind.  Same method with the pull-ups.  Then:

Jump squats for max height (from an approx. 110 degree knee angle) x 7 at 135 lbs x 2  sets.

For nostalgia’s sake, I weighed myself following the workout; something I rarely do anymore, as I feel it doesn’t account for much of anything at all.  Anyway, 209 lbs at 6′ tall.  Back in the “Walkin’ in LA” days, I was 215-ish.  I’d say I’m a hell of a lot more lean now, and probably more muscular.  My neck is a good bit smaller these days – I’ve found that nothing builds a neck like consistently using the head as a lethal weapon.

And with that, I’m off to watch the 2nd half of the Texas – Nebraska game.  Sleeping in tomorrow; my only chance for another very long stretch.

11/17/09, Speed-Strength Emphasis

6 hours deep sleep.  Up @ 4:30 AM, coffee, on the road @ 5:15 AM.  Begin warm-up @ 6:15, workout 6:30 – 7:15 AM.  last meal 6:30 PM (steak salad).

Warm-up: ballistic lunges, ham stretch, strides, skips.  Work-ups to 30 meter sprint/starts.  6 x 30 meters w/ballistic push-ups b/t sprints.

  • BTN Push-Press: 135 x 5; 165 x 3; 185 x 3, 3; 195 x (2,1,2) rest-pause
  • Regular Grip weighted pull-ups: 45 x5; 70 x 3, 3, 3; 75 x (2, 1, 2, 1) rest-pause
  • GHR: 45 x 5, 4; 50 x 4; 55 x 4, 3, (3, 2, 1, 1) rest-pause

B/T set CNS prime – vertical plate toss (45 lbs) x 3, straight bar muscle-ups x 2.

Order: plate toss==>BTN push-press==>muscle ups==>pull-ups==>GHR



Rep range (3+/-1) ==load==speed (fast as possible concentric)



Wild International is my kind of workout music.