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.

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The Sport-Specific Phenotypical Expression…

…or, the Advantageous Coupling of Select Epigenetics with a Favorable Genetic Predisposition

What happens when a kid of obvious genetic predisposition is placed in an environment richly advantageous to the expression of that genetic potential?  The right coaches, the right atmosphere, the right competitive environment — the perfect nurturing cradle just waiting for the arrival of that “perfect” genetic hand.

This is the perfect storm that leads to the creation of sporting legend.  The right kid finds his way into the right gym and falls under the tutelage of the right coach.  A young Lance Armstrong becomes enamored with the then budding sport of triathlon, is noticed by the right people, encouraged and sponsored at an early age; a young, gangly, athletic kid becomes a “work in progress” for storied Jamaican sprints coach Glen Mills — in each instance we know, of course, the rest of the story.

Genetics.  Epigenetics.  The hand you’re dealt, and how that hand plays out vis-a-vis the balance of the cards in the shoe, the strategy of the other players, the manipulations of the dealer.  The perfect hand at the right game doesn’t guarantee a win any more than does a gimp hand at the wrong game necessarily necessitate a fold, though, as such hard-to-pin things as will, desire and drive (which we now know are largely influenced by one’s genetics!) play such a substantial part in the final outcome.  When everything does come together “right”, though, the result is a beautiful thing to behold.

Now I’m not an endurance athlete myself — Hell, I consider 200 meters an endurance event — but I do appreciate the athleticism and training dedication required of these types of events.  I also appreciate the poetic synergy of obvious genetic predisposition within an advantageous epigenetic environment.  That said,  consider this kid, Lukas Verzbicas, as a perfect example of that synergy.  And check out an example of one of Lukas’ workouts.  A far cry and away from one of my own track sessions  🙂  And yet…

…and yet, what Lucas and I do have in common is the need for a base level of strength.  A differing base level of strength, to be sure, but even endurance athletes — if they wish to maximize their sporting potential — require a certain base level of strength.  Or, as it has been said, “…level of strength with which to endure”, a quote (or something similar) that I believe can be attributed to Charles Staley.

How would I suggest Lukas — or any endurance-leaning athlete, for that matter — obtain and maintain that required level of strength?  HIT/SS training is, in my estimation, the perfect fit.  In as little as an hour per week, the endurance athlete could build an impressive, and performance-enhancing level of strength.  A pretty damn good time investment-to-performance enhancement ratio — with the double pay-off being the enhanced metabolic conditioning that this manner of training provides; like an intense, off-the-track interval session.  I’m not sure what types of facilities Lukas has at his disposal in Orland Park, but if he were based in Austin, I’d suggest he slide by one of Efficient Exercise’s four locations and get hooked-up with the good folks there.  If you are an endurance athlete who happens to be lucky enough to live  in Austin, and you aim to boost your performance, by all means take advantage of the fact that the EE studios are available and convenient , and get on by.  Remember, all other things being equal, the stronger athlete will prevail.  It’s a maxim that’s just as true for power-burst endeavors as it is in endurance sports.

Yesterday’s (6/8/10) Workout –

Some dynamic and repetition method iron work at the gym yesterday.

feet-elevated push-ups: 40 lb vest x 12, 12, 12, 12 (1/0/x/2 tempo)
reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 lb vest x 6, 6, 6, 6 (rest-pause each rep within each set)
kneeling jump squat: 40 lb vest x 5, 5, 5, 5

4 rounds of that, then a superset of:

Pec deck: 195 x 10, 10, 9
Kneeling DB clean & press: 40 x 12, 12, 10

There are many, many permutations of the kneeling (or seated) DB clean & press.  In some, the motion is akin to what I would call more of a DB muscle-up than a “clean & press”.  In my version, the movement is initiated by hammer curling the DBs to shoulder height, then immediately transferring into a DB shoulder press, with the two distinct motions flowing as seamlessly together as possible, i.e., with as little pause at the transfer as possible.  Working the repetition method with this superset.  Every method that contributes to the goal has a part to play, some more so, some less; the trick is to continually assess one’s faults, then apply the correct tool and protocol to each perceived weakness.

In the push-ups, my feet were elevated such that I’m at an approximate 45-degree angle at the bottom-out position.  I push off of two platforms, such that my head and chest are allowed to sink below my hands without auguring into the mat.  Each rep was completed as explosively as possible, with just the slightest of a pause at the top between each rep.  No grind reps, each was quick and crisp.  Same with the pull-ups, which were performed on one set of gymnastics uneven bars.  These bars give quite a bit, and therefore absorb a good bit of power; I was surprised at just how tough 6 explosive rest-pause reps can be on these things — it’s akin to sprinting in sand.  Kneeling jump squats: I added an additional jump to the end of these, so that the final combination turned into a kneeling jump squat into a depth drop vertical jump.  How’s that for a mouthful?  It doesn’t roll real easy off the tongue, but it’s a helluva great explosive jump combo.

What You Don’t Know About the Pushup, by Zach Dechant, assistant strength and conditioning coach at TCU (and whose excellent blog can be found here), is a fantastic article, and explains much of why, for horizontal pressing movements, I much prefer the push-up to any back-down, barbell or dumbbell pressing motion.  Every now and again (on max effort/strength days), I will utilize a barbell or DB press from the floor — but that’s more so because I don’t have access to the proper toys (chains, proper bands, etc) and knowledgeable spotters that would enable me to do heavy work in a push-up movement.   I’m a huge believer in the “free scapula” notion that Zack speaks of in his article.  Plus, the push-up just feels like a more athletic (natural?) movement to me, better suiting my ultimate goals.  Just as I appreciate the dedication required of an endurance athlete, though, I appreciate what it takes to hoist an especially big bench — it’s just not my game, nor my personal aim.

4/10/10; Today’s Workout, and Paleo Chow on the Fly

Actually, let’s back up just a moment and look at last night’s dinner.  Now remember, I absolutely LOVE to eat skillfully prepared, intricate and exquisite meals; thank goodness, then, for Meesus TTP’s kitchen skills, and for the talents of my favorite restaurant’s fine chefs.  Making such meals myself, though?  Meh, I’ve neither the time nor the inclination for that.  I can pull off a pretty good Paleo kitchen improv, though; case in point: after returning from an evening fixie spin, I found I had the following on hand (and not much else, by the way):

1 lb ground sausage
1 lb ground buffalo
1 large sweet onion
2 medium sweet potatoes

Hmmmm, what to do.  OK, so I sliced, seasoned, buttered and roasted roasted the sweet potatoes in the oven, chopped and sauteed the entire onion in a butter/coconut oil mix in a cast iron skillet.  Then, once the onion was done, I added the sausage and buffalo to the skillet mix (along with a sundry of spices…whatever looked like it might work), and cooked that until done.  The result?  A pretty damn good, on the fly meal — even it it wouldn’t win too many creative points.  So, waddaya think?  Am I Iron Chef material?  Heh…

OK, so flash forward to today, and today’s workout:

  • 30 minute intermittent-intensity fixie ride
  • barefooted sprints — 8 x 100 yds @ <13 secs/sprint, approx. 1 minute between runs.
  • 20 minute intermittent-intensity fixie ride

Then it was in the gym for the following:

  • clean grip low pull (out of the rack): 135 x 7; 225 x 5; 315 x 5; 365 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3,
  • elevated feet ballistic push-ups x 7 — or —
  • elevated feet medicine ball push-up x 6 each arm

So 7 total rounds here.  I alternated between “normal” dual-arm ballistic push-ups, and the medicine ball, single-arm variety.  The single-arm variety was done as explosively as possible while minimizing the contribution from the “off” arm.  Minimized hand-to-ground contact time on both varieties, maximized “air” time.  The bar was set just above the knee for the rack pulls.  Full triple extension (and up to full tip-toe), full shrug, and explosive on each rep.

Pretty good demonstration of med. ball push-ups here.  Now, I performed mine with feet elevated (about 18″), and I performed 6 reps with one arm, then shifted to the other for another 6.  Just another variant of this fine exercise.  One thing to keep in mind is to not let your hips sag while doing any manner of push-up — no saddle-back horse look-alikes aloud!

Another 15 minutes worth of fixie huckin’ to get home.  By this time I’ve been fasted for 18 hours; I won’t eat for another 2.  And when I do eat, it’s this:

Remember last night’s dinner?  Well, here’s part of the left overs —

Me thinks a couple of free-range eggs will go well to top that off; here’s the end product:

Check out those yokes!  By the way, the egg on the right is a duck egg.  This concoction doesn’t look like much, but it sure tasted good!

12/28/09, Transitioning Out of Hibernation Mode

I’ve been on an intense bout of rest and relaxation since the evening of the 22nd, so I approached this workout as a transition back into the swing of things.  Just wanted to get out and move; get the ol’ blood pumping a bit.  Once I get back into the gym (tomorrow morning), I’ll be shifting my focus slightly toward the strength end of the modality continuum.  The loading will be a bit heavier, the rep speed – though still pretty crisp – won’t have the explosiveness indicative of a max power emphasis workout.  The mentality, though – as always – will be to move the weight as fast as possible.  More on the method as I progress through the block.

Today’s workout began with a good dose of fixie sprints around the beautiful town of G-Vegas, NC.  I appreciate having returned to a point just far enough south so as to have access to snow and slush-free streets.  Good ride, and good to be back in the saddle.  Then:

  • 50 shoulder dislocates x 2 sets
  • 150 push-ups/50 yd. sprint combo*
  • straight bar muscle-ups, reverse grip/regular grip power pull-ups combo ( 1 “set” = 4 rev. grip power pull-ups, transition in air, 2 regular grip power pull-ups, transition….until miss or failure) x “a bunch” of sets – didn’t keep track, just kept at it until form degenerated so as to be deemed atrocious.

*An old GPP standby, and a nod to the folks at CrossFit; something my firefighter trainees will learn to loathe come February (do your homework boys and girls!): with a running clock, perform 150 quality push-ups with a fifty yard sprint at each break.  In other words, (for example) 30 push-ups, sprint, 25 push-ups, sprint…until a total of 150 push-ups have been completed.  No pause in the push-up reps allowed; if the slightest of pauses is necessitated, a sprint must ensue.  And this is a quality, all-out sprint – not a stride, lope, or half-assed effort performed as a “recovery” cycle.  If a rest is required (and you can bet your ass there will be), it must come after the sprint and before the next “set” of push-ups.  The number of push-ups within each set does not matter, so long as they are quality reps.  The shoulder dislocates did me no favors in the push-up department here, so I wound up performing plenty of sprints –  especially in the last 50 or so reps.  8:35 total time.  I don’t know what my last outing of this timed-out at, but I’d have to say it was a hell of a lot faster than that.  There’s always something to work on, something to improve.