More on the Thorny Issue of “Strong Enough”

Patrick Ward, who maintains what is, in my opinion, one of the better training-related blogs on the net (Check out Patrick’s work, here),  wrote this piece recently, which I thought was a fantastic compare-and-contrast/food-for-thought companion to my own recent Of “Failure”, “Intensity”, “Inroad” and “Frequency” post, and, too, to an older piece that I wrote, What, Exactly, Constitutes ‘Strong Enough’?.  This particular offering from Patrick’s site is an interesting and insightful interview with British sprints coach and biomechanics researcher, Jon Goodwin.  In this interview, coach/researcher Goodwin speaks to strength as it relates to sprint speed; and it’s interesting stuff, indeed.

Now as I’ve stated before, issues of increasing athletic prowess are applicable to only a fractional subset of trainees or potential trainees; yet I do thoroughly enjoy the “geek factor” involved  in locating an athlete’s weak-link, attenuating that weakness, then witnessing that “applied theory and practice” manifest in an improved athletic performance.

But then again, there’s a huge satisfaction to be had in seeing your “average Joe/Jane” reap the rewards of adopting tenants of properly applied Physical Culture.  Both scenarios are special in their own way; it’s all good.

Anyway, I do encourage you to check out the full piece over at Patrick’s site.  Below, however, is a snippet of the interview that I’d like to highlight, as it does directly relate to ideas that have been kicked around a bit here at TTP as of late.

Bold portions = emphasis mine.

Patrick asks:

In your opinion, how strong is strong enough?  We have seen some great sprinters who do very little resistance training.  How much lifting do sprinters need to do, volume or frequency wise?  While every athlete is different and has different needs, do you have a basic template that you follow for programming training for your sprinters that you can speak a little bit about?

Jon Goodwin replies:

There is no ‘strong enough’. Providing they don’t break, you can never have a sprinter that wouldn’t benefit from being able to express more force more quickly when they hit the ground. However there are some caveats to this statement.

One is that there certainly is a point of ‘muscular enough’. More muscle mass enables sprinters to run faster through the application of higher ground forces. However for all athletes there is a threshold where this relationships flips; where the strength pay off is outweighed by the additional resistance you have to overcome to accelerate your bodyweight vertically. We don’t have any numbers to say what this point is for individual athletes so coaches have to make a judgment call. I certainly think there are some 10.0 sprinters around that would run a bit quicker if they weighed a few lbs less. Perhaps dropping some of the pecs and guns and even a bit more body fat in some cases would help!

*TTP insert – Hello?  Paleo nutrition, anyone??  😉   Sorry, couldn’t help it…*

The second is that with a finite limit on optimal muscle mass there is then a ceiling on how strong we can get a sprinter. Our general training is designed to educate the athlete to rapidly activate all of their big, high threshold, fast twitch motor units in a coordinated fashion. Well once they can do this maximally and with sound steering/control, since we can’t get them bigger to get further strength increases, then general training ceases to be effective in pushing the athlete forward in terms of force production (not to say there aren’t other benefits).

As strength coaches we need to accept that the closer athletes get to their optimal muscle mass, and rapid maximal activation of that mass, then our general training methods become progressively less effective. Eventually all that is left is becoming more skillful in expressing that force in the specifics of our sports task, in this case sprinting.

The sprinters we see excel without strength training are the rare and lucky breeds who are naturally able to achieve many of the outcomes that our general training is directed at. Perhaps they are gifted with a level of hypertrophy that is optimal without any resistance training, perhaps they naturally are able to recruit all of their big fast twitch motor units in a skillful manner upon ground contact. I’m sure we can often still improve these athletes further, but certainly the gains are likely to be a lot smaller.

Having said all that, most of us aren’t lucky enough to work with animals like that, and generally have big gains to be made. In those cases then typically gym based work takes precedence for me in the first 3 months of a winter off season. 3 gym based sessions, and possibly 4 will be in place where we think the athletes structure and general force producing capabilities are a limiting factor. Progressively running reclaims the front seat through mid winter and by the time May/June comes round then general strength training gets dropped almost completely, about 8-12 weeks before key races of the season. In this period all training efforts are in refining the way forces are applied in running specifically. It’s another common mistake that I think is made, people wanting to hang on to their big general strength training exercises for too long into a season. General strength gains built over months or years don’t disappear when we stop lifting. Our squat score goes down but that’s more a skill issue than an underlying strength issue, and the skill we are concerned with is running, not squatting. The fatigue from continuing heavy lifting far outweighs any benefit from continuing strength work. Squatting a 190kg PB 2 weeks before a race will not likely enhance performance as that strength is only being expressed in a squat action and we haven’t had any time to transfer that to force production in our running action. Squatting 180kg 2 months before and then practicing running with that strength, in a more rested state, is what is likely to improve performance.

So, some fantastic stuff here for sure; and that’s just a teaser.  Like I said, be sure and check out the rest of the interview at Patrick’s site; you won’t be disappointed. Also, If you happen to be a member of the Crossfit Journal, check out this; Nicholas Romanov (of POSE method fame) speaking to how the maintenance of proper forward lean correlates to record sprint times – or record times for any running distance, for that matter.  Now it’s my belief that Dr. Romanov has the cart before the ox here (I believe that strength and athleticism allow for the maintenance of proper lean angles, not the other way around – see my comments on the site), but nonetheless Dr. Romanov’s ideas are fantastic food for thought.

The Human as an Endurance Athlete?

Is it just me, or is there something missing in the whole “humans evolved as endurance athletes” story?  To wit, here’s an interesting story from the folks at NPR.  Interesting, no doubt – however, there’s an obvious (and, in my mind, at least) whole other half of the story that’s continually left unexplored.  And not only unexplored, but seemingly unacknowledged.

No doubt some humans are superbly suited for endurance endeavors; whippet-thin, slow-twitch dominant – all lungs, ligament, tendon and bone – and part of the problem here may be that the researchers themselves are, for the most part, (1) put together thusly, and (2) are themselves, endurance athletes.  Confirmation bias, anyone?  Seen through the prism of the endurance enthusiast, all of mankind is either a well trained, severely untrained, or badly trained, distance athlete.  And sprinters?  Simply a forced phenotypical expression (read ”ill-advised” and “ill-conceived”) that an underlying elegant and — quite natural! — endurance chassis must endure.

Now, I’m certainly not a trained professional in this line of study, but this “endurance” line of logic just doesn’t resonate with me.  Something, my logic tells me, is badly amiss.

Of course, I could be accused of the same manner of confirmation bias in my own insistence that there also had to be an evolutionary niche for the powerful, sprinting human, a niche that “endurance man” simply could not fill.

And, too, the idea of the “persistence hunt theory” – though no doubt part of the overall human evolution story – simply cannot be the whole, end-all of the story.  These “sprinting types” peppered about humanity had to have evolved from a set of specific evolutionary pressures that had little to do with endurance and persistence, and more to do with swift, powerful and lethal.

It seems to me that the energy expenditure to energy pay-off for persistence hunting (as defined in the “endurance” theory) has to be dreadfully low – even if we are to consider exceptional running mechanics.  I have no doubt that in some niches that this was necessary – surely, though we co-evolved in diverse settings that required a diverse set of evolutionary skills.

And possibly endurance evolved among humans, not for the purpose of persistence hunting, but for the purpose of scouting for the tribe?  Think overall calorie intake for the communal band as a whole – women and children included — not simply a few runners and one (relatively) small, and no doubt lean, animal.  A band of humans might more effectively and efficiently deploy scouts in numerous directions to locate promising hunting grounds and/or rich scavenging/gathering sources, allowing the tribe as a whole to find the best options within a large range. This method would, it seems to me, maximize caloric intake at a minimum of total communal expenditure, as the specialization within a group allows several to run for scouting/exploring purposes while the remainder can conserve energy for hunting (sprinting?) and gathering purposes once the most promising site has been found.

Again, this is not to say that I dismiss the “endurance theory” out of hand, but simply to state that I know there has to be a “rest of the story” left to be uncovered.  Simply put, I just don’t believe that the sprinting/power-inclined phenotype can be overlooked in an evolutionary sense, especially vis-à-vis the endurance path.  Of course, this opens up the debate about genetics in sport; a debate that either focuses on the “endurance gene” (what makes Kenyans and Ethiopians so dominant?) or on the “speed gene” (West Africans, Jamaica and the USA).  To be sure, it’s a debate that is heated, because it has anthropological, racial, cultural undertones.  It’s a debate for another time, though, and a bit beyond the scope of today’s post.

One thing that all runners benefit from though, is the superb spring/recoil characteristics of the foot structure.  For more on that most interesting story, check this out.

Ok, so in my humble opinion, not every human is naturally wired for efficient endurance endeavors, however, listening to Dr. Lieberman, though, would lead one to believe it so.  I think I’ve established here that I have to disagree with the good doctor’s stance – I do, however, think that Dr. Lieberman’s choice in footwear absolutely rocks!  🙂   Now if he’d just give my power/sprint-inclined phenotypical brothers some well-deserved love, already!

Moving on to Tuesday Evening‘s Iron Session –

I began this session with squat cleans – “greasin’ the groove” with 25 perfect rep singles at 135 lbs, with an approximate 7-second recovery between reps.  I returned the weight to the floor (i.e., no drop) after each repetition, took my hands off the bar, stood up straight, took a breath, re-gripped and hit the next rep.  Each rep was with perfect form, and as fast as I could make it.   The first 12 or so will make you feel like a well tuned machine; the second half of the set will make you feel as though you’re quickly coming apart at the seams.  This is a good, explosive lead-in to the meat of the evening’s workout.  Next up was a superset of the following:

reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 x 10; 60 x 6; 80 x 6, 5

barbell muscle-ups: 135 x 5; 145 x 4, 4, 4

A black-sky storm was rolling in, so I left the gym immediately following that superset.  Not that I would have done much else anyway, though; I was pretty well zorched after the chin/muscle-up pairing.  And lemme tell ya, there’s nothing like close proximity lightning strikes to put a little *umph* in your fixie get-along.  Holy sprint-wasted legs by the time I got home.  And by the way, I did beat the rain – again!  Still battin’ a thousand for this summer. I know this rain-dodge cockiness is going to do nothing but get me drenched here before long  🙂

…Which Leads Us to Wednesday’s Bout with the Iron…

Same idea as with Tuesday’s “greasin’ the groove” power cleans, only today’s lead-in exercise of choice was the whip snatch to overhead squat; 115 lbs x 15 singles, 7-seconds between reps.  Again, I went to the floor between each rep, then re-gripped & pulled easy to the power position, then hit it.  The ol’ PC was feeling it for sure by the end of this.  From here, I hit a superset of barbell lunges and btn jerks:

reverse barbell lunge: 115 x 10 (10); 135 x 6 (6); 185 x 5 (5), 5 (5)    Left leg(Right leg)

btn jerk: 115 x 5; 135 x 5; 185 x 2, 2;

Then, following the superset, I continued on with the btn jerk, 200 x 5 rest-pause singles.

Shaky, post beat-down hands make for a lousy picture, but here’s a shot of my lunge/btn jerk set-up –

The problem that I have to deal with here of course is the lack of bumper plates and a lifting platform.  But, I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with; that’s all any of us can hope to do.

Anyhow, put a fork in me after this workout – I was damn well done.  A well deserved and much appreciated off day is on tap for tomorrow; some light riding, maybe some barefooted strides, depending on the weather.

Today’s Workout (1/10/10) and an Interesting Question


Damn, I think it was even colder out this weekend than last.  I’m a trooper, though – notice the fixie in the background of the picture  🙂   I must say, though, that this workout was rather abbreviated.  I began with some ballistics, dynamic stretching, sprint starts and approximately 50 shoulder dislocates to get in the groove.  Then:

  1. 8 x “flying” 100s.  Approximately 2 minutes between sprints.  “Flying” = a 10 to 15 yrd. “run in” or “bounding” start – as opposed to a dead or block start.  For me, this is a cold weather/muscle pull precaution.

I then went into a sled drag/muscle-up/prime-time combo.  I didn’t keep track of reps and such in this combo.  I alternated drags and prime-times with muscle-ups in groups of 3s & 5s until I missed, then when back to the drags and prime-times.  About 3 rounds or so of that.

For me to explain why I performed the sled drags the way I did – in an upright, straight-legged, marching motion – we need to first consider the sub-components comprising any sprint over, say, 10 meters or so.  Now entire careers can be (and, in fact have been) built upon analyzing the sprint, and what I’m going here is simply throwing out the rudimentary core components.  Those basic components are:

  • Reaction Time
  • Block Clearance
  • Drive Phase
  • Transition
  • Maximum Velocity
  • Maintenance
  • Negative Acceleration

Now, most folks would assume that sled drags should be done with a hard lean-in, approximating the position of the first few steps out of the blocks (a “prowler” type motion could be substituted here as well) – and, properly prescribed, this can certainly be a good idea.  However, the bulk of most sprinting is done in the post-transition phase, i.e., in an upright position, and the inability of an athlete to maintain power production in this position is what ultimately limits the athlete’s sprint time.  In fact, I believe this is the most overlooked aspect of bettering sprint performance with athletes not directly involved in track & field.  Most strength and conditioning programs fixate on the initial few steps of the sprint – which is no doubt important – however, to fixate on this aspect is to leave lots of potential speed as just that – unrealized potential, left on the table.

I know that some S&C coaches prefer to perform this motion like this, however, I prefer to employ more of an exaggerated, fascist goosestep motion.  In other words, I reach out with a nearly locked knee, pulling through and as far back as possible with the heel, toeing-off only at the last possible moment.  And I concentrate on one leg at a time – for instance, 10 reps left, followed by 10 reps right.   Again, I apologize for not having video of this…someday, I promise!  “Prime-times” are the ballistic, bodyweight version of this motion, done for speed and per-step distance, with the only technique difference being that I remain on the balls of the foot throughout, with no heel strike.

All of this talk brings up an interesting point of discussion.  Is developing vertical or horizontal force application (power) more important in bettering one’s sprinting ability?This black/white, either/or argument is rampant among strength and conditioning coaches.  The fact of the matter is (my opinion, of course) that both forces are obviously important, and the question as to which which one is “most” important is simply an exercise in minutia quibbling.  Improve strength and power in all of the applicable vectors; hell, it’s not all that difficult.  Just don’t fixate on one aspect at the expense of another.

For a little more on the topic, see this EliteTrack post.

1/5/10, Strength-Endurance

Went purposely heavier on the push-presses today (i.e., more of a strength bias, a little less endurance) while extending the total time to completion of the 21 reps.  I actually went a bit heavier than I’d initially shot for, as I’d intended to clock-in at an approximate 12-minute time to completion.  Reps 20 and 21 ended up being a bit slower in execution than I’d otherwise accept, but being that I’d skewed this “set” toward more of a pure strength emphasis anyway, I was ok with that.  Anything slower, though, and I would have pulled the plug on the set early.  Today’s workout:

  1. Behind-the-neck push-press: 135 x 3, 3; 165 x 2; 185 x 2; 190 x 21 (rest-pause) ==> 2s until rep 6, then singles thereafter. 14:15 time to completion.
  2. weighted, reverse-grip pull-ups: bw (ballistic) x 3, 3; 45 x 3; 70 x 21 (rest-pause) ==> 3s and 2s until 15, then singles thereafter.  Straps after rep 12.  4:50 time to completion (compare to same weight at 5:30 last time out).  Increase weight to 75 next time out.

My initial intent was to perform a 21 rep rest-pause round of GHRs.  I think I got plenty of hip work with the heavy push-presses, though.  I also performed tire flips on Sunday and plan to perform low pulls on Thursday.  Don’t want to overdose on hip extension/PC work.

The loading, time-to-completion, and execution of these two exercises today are good, practical examples of the two extremes of the strength-endurance modality, at least in the way I define that particular division of the modality continuum.  Note that in the BTN push-press, the nod was given more toward the expression of strength via a heavier loading, and more rest between reps.  The opposite was true of the round of reverse grip pull-ups, where the emphasis was hedged toward endurance (lighter loading, less between-rep rest).  The actual per-rep execution, in both cases, however (except for the last 2 in the push-press), was fast and crisp.  Not quite as fast as I am capable of in a power-emphasis modality, but still pretty damn fast.  In fact, it would take a fairly astute eye to notice the difference in repetition speed.  The difference in feel is much more noticeable, though.

What I mean by 3s, 2s, and singles is how I managed rep execution within the 21 rep, rest-pause, extended set.  For example, I might hit this frequency within my 21-rep, extended “set”: rep, rep, rep, pause….rep, rep, pause…rep, rep, pause…rep, pause…

Now, the next obvious question here would be what’s the damn difference between a “pause” and in what defines anyone else’s “set”? And that’s a legitimate question for which I really don’t have a definitive answer, other that to say a pause, to me, is “breaking just long enough to enable nailing the next rep”.  A “set” would define a group of reps off-set by a noticeably longer rest period – long enough to ensure nailing the next group of reps.  Or, alternately, breaking to move to another movement.  It’s just one of those things you have to experience in order to understand.  Far off in the distance of my mind’s eye resides the goal of 21, quick-succession, rest-pause reps – and a little further out yet is the time-to-completion goal.  My immediate hurdle, though, while performing the 21 rep rest-pause scheme, is The Next Rep, and only the next rep.  What follows that next rep is anyone’s guess, as far as I’m concerned – I might nail it, miss quit, bottom-out, pull the plug on the exercise, whatever; I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  And once there, the process begins anew.  Sisyphean in nature.  Mini “Ground Hog Days” is how one of my old training partners aptly put it.

…and speaking of strength…

…check out this post on sprinting speed being the result of net forces acting upon the ground (as apposed to, say, stride length, and other issues).  A nice summary of the “Allyson Felix” topic I covered in this recent post, and some good commentary – as well as a couple of interesting video clips.  Power-to-bodyweight ratio, folks, is what it’s all about.  Interesting stuff to geek-out on – after you’ve done your work in the gym and/or on the track, of course.  First things first 😉

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.

Two Bars, a Rack, and 15 Minutes

The best-laid plans of mice and men/often get completely goat-f$&#@&”   ~ Keith Norris

This is how it goes sometimes: So I come up with a solid game plan on Tuesday night, to perform the exact same workout as the one I’m about to spell out below.  So far, so good.  However, that plan included a 25 to 30-minute workout window, with added time built in, as well, for a nice, long, contrast bath.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my act even close to together come Wednesday morning.  Yeah, it happens to even the most seasoned of schedule jugglers and master planners.  I forgot this, misplaced that.  Didn’t select my work clothes and have them already hanging neatly in the car.  The day’s lunch was not pre-packed and, well, the list goes on and on.  Anyway, the ultimate result of all of this was that instead of a solid 30-minute workout window (with time remaining for some contrast bathing), I was left to scratch-out a 15-minute, chop-chop, blow-and-go.  I chalked it all up to the Gods of Randomness smiling down upon me though, took it in stride and did what I could with what I’d been given.

And what I was given was this: time enough for a general warm-up (I alternated 3/4 speed 40-yard sprints with pull-ups and push-ups) and about 10 minutes for a specific exercise ramp-up to working weight.   I then jumped right in to the body of the day’s workout —

  1. Regular Grip (over/under grip) Deadlifts + SLDL (Straight Leg Deadlift) Eccentrics x 3’s and 2’s
  2. Barbell Floor Press x 3’s and 2’s (I elevated my back off the ground just a tad with a step class platform)

As many rounds in 15-minutes as possible.

The modality I chose to work with in this pairing was this: max power output in these particular ranges of motion in a given unit of time (15 minutes).  Now, at first glance this might not look like much of a deviation to a normal set/rep setup, and certainly not enough of a deviation to note, much less keep track of.  However, the normal set/rep scheme leaves the issue of time — and therefore, overall power — open-ended.  Remember the very basic power equation — Power = Work/Time, with Work being a function of Force multiplied by Distance. Now, if we keep Time constant at 15 minutes, and Force is constant (I’m not dabbling with the working weight once I’ve got it set), the only thing left as a variable here is Distance. With the range of motion of each exercise being held constant, the only other factor that can change to affect distance is the number of repetitions performed in each exercise.  This is just a long-winded route to explaining what you already intuitively know — that the more reps of the two exercises performed, in a fixed amount of time (and in the chosen rep range, as explained below), will translate into an increased power output for that particular rep range within a 15 minute window.  Everyone together?  Stick with me, there is a point to all of this, really.

This method of training is, by the way — like virtually every other training method out there (save for some of Jay Schroeder’s stuff) — nothing new.  Charles Staley has coined this method Escalating Density Training; when Christian Thibaudeau speaks of Canadian Bear Training, he’s talking about what’s essentially the same thing, albeit with a few tweaks here and there.  You’ll also see quite a bit of CrossFit influence here as well.  I put my own little twist on it, and call it — well, I haven’t gotten that far yet.  I need something catchy from the marketing department.  Anyway, here’s my twist: I manipulate the weights used in each exercise to fall within a certain rep scheme (modality) so as to increase the overall power output in that particular modality.

For example, my max power output for this particular exercise pairing, under this particular time constraint, may actually (and most assuredly will) occur under a totally different weight/rep scheme (I know, empirically, that it’s a lighter weight/higher rep combo).  And this is one perfectly valid way that I could go about measuring “improvement” — an overall power increase (this, in a nutshell, is Staley’s basic EDT system).  But what if I wanted tweak the process even further?  What if I wanted to emphasize my fast-twitch fiber contribution in these movements over that same time period, even at a detriment to my overall power out put?  And why and the hell would you want to do that, you ask?  Well, let me use sprinting repeats as a quick example.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I can cover one mile in a 5 minute run, and that equates to a certain overall power output.  But let’s say that I can only cover 1/4 of a mile worth of all-out 40-yard sprint repeats in that same 5 minute time period. Now, even though my overall power output during that 5-minute period is higher with the continuous run, is that really going to improve my ability to perform on the soccer field, where I’m obligated to perform a series of all-out sprint repeats?  Am I better off to improve the number (and speed) of my 40-yard repeats, or the total distance I can cover in a 5-minute continuous run?  I’d say I’d be better off improving the speed of each individual, and number of, repeats.  It’s simply more sport-specific.

So this is just another wrinkle, nothing more, in the workout pantheon.  It’s neither the best way, nor only way, to measure progress — it’s just another available tool, that, under the right circumstances, just might be the tool you’re looking for.  And speaking of improvement, how would I measure improvement in the particular modality and time bracket I performed on Wednesday?  Two things, really: (1) I could complete more overall reps (at the same working weight) of this exercise pairing within the 15-minute time frame, or (2) I could increase the weight a tad, assuming I don’t suffer on the total repetition output — because, remember, our power output is, in this case, dependent upon the product of the number reps and the weight used. I logged that product for each exercise on Wednesday — next time I attempt this I can either shoot for increasing the number of overall reps obtained at the same weight, or jack the weight just a bit and see what happens to my end total (reps x weight) within the specified time frame.  My rule of thumb is that, as I approach the top end of my rep brackets (I use 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12) consistently throughout the 15-minute ( or whatever time bracket I choose) duration, I’ll bump up the working weight a bit.  Do it long enough and you’ll develop a feel for what to tweak to result in a higher subsequent power output.

And why those particular rep brackets?  Well, they happen to correspond nicely to my own personal,  goal-related, issues — power production in the 0-5 second, and 5-10 second range and overall hypertrophy (9-12 rep range).

In Health,


Paleo Sprint, Heave and Haul Workout — Indoors Version

“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”  George Bernard Shaw

I decided yesterday morning to perform the “‘indoors version” of one of my favorite outdoor workouts, The Paleo Sprint, Heave and Haul Workout.  The entire workout clocked in at 35 minutes, and whereas a metcon centered workout shades a little more toward the endurance end of things (I would consider the majority of CrossFit WODs to be in this category), this combination of exercises is more of a prolonged, high-intensity, power bout.  This is the “sweet spot” of where I like to train.  All my other workout modalities (speed-strength, strength-speed, raw strength, RFI work, etc.) are designed to support —  and ultimately, to improve — my performance on this type of workout, which is, I believe, indicative of what a well-trained, sprint athlete, ought to be able to excel at (in a GPP sense, technical aspects of the particular sport not withstanding).  Let’s take a look at how it shaped-up (6:30 AM, prior to work, empty stomach):

  1. 3 x 40 yard (approximately), rapid succession,  sprints.  Sprint 40 yards,   1/2 speed for 40 (recovery), sprint 40…
  2. Power Snatch x 3’s
  3. Weighted Split-Squat Scissor Jump x 8’s (4 each leg)

4 rounds of that,  followed by:

  • Snatch-Grip High Pull x 7 singles (rest-pause fashion)

Now, I have the luxury of access to an indoor track (short as it is) that is right off the weight room, and this makes the transition between exercises practicable.  Burpees or mountain climbers could be substituted for the sprints, however — or, if you have a basketball court in the vicinity, you could incorporate horses.  Also, notice my workout construction here, especially the High Pull finisher.  This really drives home the posterior chain triple-extension (hip, knee, ankle) power aspect of the workout.  Sprinting, too (if in proper form), is a posterior chain dominant exercise.  And the Split-Squat Scissor Jumps put quite a bit of stress on the glute/ham complex, if the landing is “stuck” and the subsequent blast-off is initiated, from a position of the hip being below the lead knee.  If you get in the said position you’ll feel the stress migrate (as your hip passes down below the lead knee) from your lead quadriceps to the lead ham/glute.  Of course, the hip flexor of the rear leg is worked in this exercise as well.  By the way, the landing (or “stick”) position of this exercise mirrors what you’d want to hold in the split-squat QEI or LDI.

I even had some time remaining to squeeze in a little steam bath/cold shower contrast therapy.  What a fantastic way to kick-off the week.

My thoughts on a certain find

There is an entire world of exercise-related information out there, so much so that one could easily drift-off into severe analysis paralysis when designing, or altering, a workout plan.  Please keep this in mind, though — whether you mirror my workouts, or craft your own — focus on your own unique goal and design an effective strategy to support the acquisition of that goal.  This strategy does not have to be complicated — in fact, if you cannot defend, in one simple sentence why you are doing a particular exercise at a particular time, and in the particular method (sets, reps scheme, etc.) in which you are performing it, you might need to rethink your strategy.  Remember, the body requires much less in the way of novelty than the mind.  Now, I’m certainly not advocating that you never alter your routine, or experiment with new exercises.  far from it.  What I’m referring to is repeatedly dipping into the grab-bag of novelty exercises at the exclusion of perfecting and bettering your performance on the basics.

Here’s a quirky clip to illustrate my point.  Let’s imagine that a certain someone’s fitness “goal” is increased IPod sales (stick with me here; this will make sense, in a metaphorical way).  How would we construct a workout plan supportive of the acquisition of that goal?  Hopefully, not the Microsoft way, as in this clever example.  Keep it simple, uncluttered, short and, above all, intense.  Hat tip to Daniel Meissler for this find.

In Health,


Stadium Sprints, a 24-Hour Fast, and a Hardcore, Early Morning Iron Fest

Damn it was cold on Sunday.  And windy, too; especially on the upper deck of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.  Not much of a problem, though, if you dress properly.  Now, I may not be (OK, I’m quite sure I’m not) the most fashionable guy around, but I damn well know how to keep my narrow ass warm when it’s cold and windy out.  I’m including the picture Meesus TTP took of me prior to my heading out for Sunday’s bout of fixie huckin’ and stadium fun.   Yeah, yeah — go ahead and yuck it up — my so-called facebook “friends” are doing so as well.  Might as well join them in their cheap thrills.

“Rico Suave” strikes a pose, just prior to a 2-mile interval sprint on his beloved fixie.

Fashion optional

Fashion optional

Anyway, once at the stadium, I proceeded with the following:

* Ramp sprints (approximately 7 x 35 meters, @ a 5% incline?), to the top deck. I’m not sure of the standard incline for a ramp of this nature.  Any structural engineers out there?


  1. Dual-leg hops (3 steps/hop.  13 “hops”/round).  Think standing broad jump, here — clearing 3 steps every jump.  Also think hot steps, i.e., limit “reset” time between jumps.
  2. Decline ballistic push-ups x 10 reps, in a “push-up vert.” fashion, i.e., feet and hands clear the platform on every rep, attempting to get “max air” each rep.  Each “catch” was “stuck” in the down position.  One second hold/re-stabilization in the catch position between reps.

I completed seven rounds of that.  I have no idea how long it took, but I allowed myself a full recovery between each round.

41 steps of the upper deck

41 steps of the upper deck. Nice, steep incline.

The remains of a season

The remains of a Bowl-bid season. Memphis, here we come!

In the Reflection of the Murphy Center

In the Reflection of the Murphy Center

TTP's GPA booster

TTP's GPA booster?

And a Fast …

Also of interest were my eating patterns over the weekend.  I ate dinner Friday night at approximately 8 PM.  Saturday I chowed-down at 3 PM and 8PM, and then not again until Sunday at 8 PM.  I did not consciously alter the amount I took in at any one meal, but ate, as is my usual, until pleasantly satiated, and no more.  Notice that my stadium run came amidst the 24-hour fast, and that I did not eat, post-run, until 8 PM that night.  Again, I did not deviate from the amount (nor the make-up of) what I normally eat at a given sitting.  I suffered no real hunger pangs either — even in those hours following the workout — though, I did keep myself very busy during the post-run period, and this may have “kept my mind off of it”, so to speak.

Fast-Forward to Tuesday morning ~

I wanted to hold-off posting this until today, so as to make sure I was able to include this morning’s workout.  Now, take notice, if you will, of the contrast between this weight session and Sunday’s bike/stadium workout.  I like to mix things up as much as I can until I identify what I think might be a weakness.  At that point, I’ll put more steady emphasis on the “weak-link” modality, ramping-up the direct targeting (increasing the frequency) of workout “hits” on that modality until it has, in my mind, been brought back in line with the whole.  I’m not really emphasizing any one modality at the moment, but if I’m true to form, something — some kink in the armor, if you will — will crop up soon.  It may be overall speed, it may be overall power or strength, for example.  And this can be tough to decipher without a coach or other such impartial input.  You’ve got to really know yourself and be honest with yourself about your shortcomings.  It is so very easy to default to your strength (or to what is routine) — especially in the wee hours of the morning, when the absolute last thing you want to do is think.  Just something to keep in mind as you assess your own workouts.

This workout was as tough as they come for a weight session:

  1. Front Push-Press.  Emphasis on max strength, i.e., some of these reps were “grinders”,  x2’s
  2. Regular-Grip Pull-ups, x 4’s.  Same emphasis on max strength
  3. Glute-Ham Raise with slow eccentric (fast as possible concentric, ~5 sec eccentric) x 3’s

3 rounds, at working weight.  Then,

Front Push Press, 5 singles (long, rest-pause fashion), followed by another round (at the same weights) of #2 and 3 above.  Then,

3 sets of 7, of reverse incline push-ups on a pair of Swiss balls (get your mind out of the gutter).  Picture this: lay in an upright plank, with your spine/shoulder blades set in the valley created by a pair of Swiss balls set side-by-side.  Your arms will be positioned as if you were going to do a set of incline dumbbell preses.  Now, instead of pressing up, contract your arms back toward, and into, the Swiss balls, thereby raising yourself (and,specifically, your chest) up a little higher, then hold for a three-count or so.   The same exercise can be done by sitting backwards on a Pec-Deck machine, but I prefer the added instability aspect of doing this on Swiss balls.  Now the bigger question is why do such an exercise? Well, in short, I’ve felt a tad bit of an imbalance in my shoulder girdle and, looking back over my notes, I see that I’ve neglected my rear deltoids region just a bit.  This is a swing at trying to fix that perceived imbalance.  We’ll track it and see what, if any, improvement comes from a few sessions worth of this exercise.  Then we’ll re-assess and go on from there.  This “game” is all about continual improvement.

In Health,