Of Goals, and the Most Efficient Route

Zack Dechant, of the fantastic Strength & Conditioning-themed blog, Sports Performance Training, knocked another one outta the park a while back with this aptly titled post, More is Better? It’s a keen observation of the coaching community’s tendency to fall back on tradition – on what “worked” last year, or last decade – versus doing the heavy lifting of running those traditional concepts through the critical analysis grinder.

Of course, it’s not just over-burdened S&C coaches who are guilty of this practice.  Even if the only person we train is ourselves, it’s easy to fall-back into sleepwalker mode.  If you’re still rockin’ the 80’s clown-pant gym-wear look, blasting through 4 x 15’s in the DB kickbacks “for killer tris” and eating 6, perfectly timed meals and 2 bags of rice cakes a day (no fat!), then it might be time to put your own “truths” under the spotlight of some serious, critical analysis.  Is the path that I’m currently following the most efficient route to achieving my goals? We should all be asking ourselves this routinely, placing not only group-think but, (and probably most importantly so) what we consider to be our own “knowledge” under the greatest of suspicion.

The following is a snippet from Zack’s post that is think is especially pertinent, here; make sure, though, to check out the entirety of Zack’s post, as it is a true gem.

“…one reason Charlie Francis, famed sprint coach, loved the Olympic lifts was due to the high amounts of motor unit activation.  Instead of spending an hour or more in the weight room after a sprint training session with exercise after exercise, Charlie felt they could hit the majority of the motor units within the body with a few Olympic movements and get out quick.  This way the majority of their time was devoted to adapting to their speed sessions, with the weight room serving as an accessory to the ultimate goal of being faster.  He didn’t want to impede results by fatiguing athletes even more in the weight room.  Often times, they might only perform one or two exercises depending on how their track session went.  But in the end it he still utilized minimal volume that could produce the results he was after.

Hypothetically, if an athlete can achieve the same goal necessary with a 50% reduced workload then it is a far more efficient route to take.  Not doing so takes much more energy.  We don’t want this when that energy could’ve been used for the adaptation process…”

Of course we shouldn’t all flock like crows to everything new and flashy, either, nor should we become stunned into inaction via contraction of the “analysis paralysis” virus.  Keeping up with the latest in applicable research is certainly to be encouraged; however, we never want to fall into the “data mining trap”, or of “being blinded by science” and automatically assuming that, just because certain results were produced in a lab environment, that they should (by virtue of being born of “learned” minds) trump solid empirical evidence shaded to the contrary.   Training is an art, yet the best artists in this medium are adept at knowing both how to integrate relevant and useful science, and what ought to be left to the wayside; useful fodder for debate, perhaps, yet next to useless in real-world application.

And Speaking of Goals and Efficient Routes –

Great article by Bryan Krahn and Christian Thibaudeau, Thibaudeau on Ramping, over at, the site that causes me mad (mad, I tell you!!) surges of cognitive dissonance, T-Nation.

Is your goal strength, hypertrophy, metabolic conditioning, generalized health and well-being, a combination/ratio of all of the above?  Whatever your goal, make sure your plan of attack is the most efficient route to get you there.

Yeah, it happens to me too… –

You head into the gym with a plan, and then have to alter that plan on the fly.  Hey, it’s all good – chalk it up to the God’s of randomness nudging you to change things up just a bit.  You didn’t want to fall into a rut anyway, did you?  Thought not.

For whatever reason, everyone and their mama decided to descend upon the YMCA weight room Tuesday evening, so I had to bust-out a little creative juggling; this is what I ended up with:

clean-grip barbell power snatch (from the floor): 7 sets of 2, approximately 10 secs between sets.  Speed emphasis.  135 lbs

then:

front squat (full range of motion, i.e., ass-to-grass): 135 x 5; 165 x 5; 185 x 3; 195 x 2, 2, 2.  Very little recovery between sets; maybe 1 minute or so, if that.

…followed by a nod Mike Mentzer, and his brand of HIT:

machine flye: 165 lbs x approx. 10 reps, (4,0,4,0 tempo) to positive failure + 10-count continued push; followed immediately by:

weighted dips, single-set-to-failure: 45 x 6 (4,0,4,0 tempo) + rest-pause x 3, 3, 2, 2 (3, 0, x,0 tempo).

Why “to failure” in the upper-body movement, and not for the legs?  Inroad is both systemic and localized.  That said, I won’t totally inroad my lower body unless I’m quite sure that I won’t be biking or running (sprinting) for the next few days (at least).  Quite simply, this is a best-fit compromise between maintaining lower body strength without digging such in inroad hole that I can’t perform well in the other lower body-intensive activities that I enjoy.

Thursday evening explosives –

A basic explosive superset on tap for this session.  Emphasis was on speed and perfect form.

whip snatch to overhead squat: bar x 10; 95 x 3, 3; 115 x 2; 125 x 2; 135 x 2, 2, 2; 140 x 1, 1

straight bar muscle-ups (reg.-grip, pull-up variety): bodyweight x 2 for each of the 10 rounds

A Quick Q & A, and an Upright Press-Centered Workout

Q & A Time –

TTP reader Tony asks the following questions in reference to my recent Autoregulation post.  A quick disclaimer, though, before we delve in: First off, I am an unabashed generalist athlete; if I were training for a specific event, my work would be much more directed and precise.  As it is, my personal training methods are more along the lines of “free-lance” than the 9-5 type work that is required of a sport-specific athlete.  I use the terms “generally”, “most times”, etc., not to be vague or flippant, but because I may very well change direction – and 180-degrees so – on a dime.  I continually self-evaluate, and may shift gears and enter a “specialized” phase that totally negates all I’ve written here.  The answers below reflect my “holding pattern” training, those times when I seem to be firing on all cylinders; no glaring chinks in the armor, as it were.  That said, here we go with a few quick questions:

“What five base movement patterns do you identify? I’m guessing push, pull, squat, lunge, and….?”

For my purposes, I roll with the following: (1) overhead push/press, (2) overhead pull/pull-up variation, (3) vertical push/dip, (4) pull from the ground/deadlift, and (5) squat variation.

“In what framework within your base patterns do you integrate your ancillary movements? In what way do you seek to compliment the base movements?”

*Most* ancillary work that I do is done under a higher repetition scheme (i.e., the repetition method) with the specific goals being (1) the development of another (of among many) aspect of strength, (2) – and this is especially so far arm work – tendon, ligament (and maybe even fascia) work, and (3) – and related to “other aspects of strength” — as a means to induce more work load without overtraing a movement pattern, via the hypothesis that the same movement pattern can be trained in close proximity, so long as the same modality (i.e., set, rep, tempo, etc. schemes) are not repeated.  See the note below Wednesday’s workout explanation for one example.

For ancillary work, I generally look back to what muscle groups were most recently worked (base-loading wise), and compare this to what I think I might do in the immediate future (i. e., the next immediate workout), then I pick my ancillary work according to what has had the least amount of directed work.  For instance, I rarely do any ancillary leg work, since I engage in so much sprinting, biking and plyos.  Most of my ancillary work is therefore upper body, push and pull centered.  To a lesser extent, I work-in arms as an ancillary-type movement.

“How do you integrate your Metcon/explosive movements within this construct?”

I engage in a good deal of MetCon work in the form of running and biking, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  I don’t usually post on these sessions (the bulk of which take place on non-lifting days), unless I happen to engage in a dedicated, or out-of-the-ordinary, HIIT-type session that I think people may be able to get some useful information from.  I don’t ever train specifically for endurance work, however, I do engage in extended (hours-long) mountain or fixie rides now and again.  By the way, I can more than hold my own, even at a beef-a-loe hefty weight (for a cyclist), in these endurance outings, even as my conditioning training is specifically geared to mimic that of a sprinter.  That’s a topic for another time, though.

I *usually* try to perform an explosive Oly-derivative to lead-off each weight lifting session, and I’ll feather-in plyometrics work and/or other explosive elements where and when I see fit.   There are phases where I’ll concentrate on Oly work (and/or the derivatives) and/or explosives and plyos and back-off on the “traditional” weight training.  This all depends on what I see in my continual self-assessment – if I notice some lack, I’ll immediately begin to ping on it.  Right now, I seem to be pretty well centered — however, experience has taught me that that “centeredness” won’t last for long.  Maintaining good athletic balance is akin to herding cats — you’d better be on top of your game,  and ready to alter course at a moment’s notice to bring in the strays.  My last glitch was a fairly big discrepancy in single leg strength (both in the press/squat and in the pull).  I managed to clear that up in short order with dedicated unilateral work; during that period, though, my overall training plan resembled little of what my plan looks like today.  Anyway, all is cruising right on along at the moment — something else, though, is bound to crop up soon.  And this isn’t my expression of abject pessimism, it’s simply the nature of physical preparation.

On to Wednesday’s, Upright Press-Centered Workout –

power snatch: 95 x 5; 115 x 5; 135 x 4 sets of 3

~ superset both the power snatches, and then the military presses, with straight-bar muscle-ups (the pull-up variety), bw x 2, each round ~

military front press: 95 x 10; 115 x 6; 155 x 5+, 4+

Then, utilizing the repetition method, the following superset:

standing bicep curl: EZ bar + 50 x 15; bar + 70 x 12; bar + 90 x 12

laying tri extension: EZ bar + 50 x 15; bar + 70 x 12; bar + 90 x 11+

Note: as an example, one option in my next workout, for ancillary upright pressing work, might be high repetition Bradford presses.  Heavy shoulder work today, followed by more work of a differing modality in the next follow-up session.  Note that I performed btn jerks in the previous workout.  So, in very short order, I will have performed btn jerks, military presses and (most likely) Bradford presses – all upright pressing movements, but all requiring different aspects of strength.  This is my nod to Simmons’ Conjugate methodology, and its cycling, within the same training week, of max effort, speed, and repetition work.

On the Fly Paleo Chow, No Dip Session is the Same, and Other Weekend Tidbits

No Dip Session is the Same…

…Or, for that matter, is any selected movement within an exercise session ever the same; there are just way too many variables at play — and that, in and of itself, is a good thing, serving to keep the trainee from becoming both mentally and physically stagnant.  It does, however, mean that tracking progress in a particular movement — once beyond the beginner stage — can be a nebulous (and to some, a daunting) thing.  What does it mean, for example, that my dip is “improving”?  Raw strength?  Power?  Strength Endurance?  Yielding strength?  If I “improve” in my Gironda-style dip, will that improvement necessarily carry over to the more conventional version?  And, if it does, does that necessarily portend anything meaningful?  Well, a lot depends on what you consider to be a “conventional” dip.  I happen to be strongest in the more upright version of the movement, where I can fully engage the triceps throughout the full range of motion.  Others choose to lean-in, engaging the pecs to a greater degree, and would therefore — theoretically, anyway — see more of a benefit carry over from the pec-dominant, Gironda version.  A lot depends as well on what the dip movement as seen as a proxy for.  Athletic enhancement?  Aesthetics?  As a means to an end in its own right?  You can see how this can become very convoluted in a flash.

Much, of course, depends upon one’s training goals.  At either extreme end of the spectrum, we have the pure bodybuilder, and at the other, the pure athlete.  One’s concerns revolve solely around physical appearance, the others’ primarily around performance (as defined by the sport).  One’s idea of “improvement”, therefore, can only be understood in light of that individual’s ultimate goal.  I tend much more toward the athletic side of the spectrum, though I have no defined “event” or “season” to shoot for, and my performance markers are haphazard at best (“engaging” with the environment is tough to quantify); in other words, I’m not aiming to peak for a world-record 100 meter, or a particular Oly lift — and hey, let’s face it — on top of it all, I still want to look good nekkid as well  🙂

Friday Night Iron Works –

Kind of unusual for me to delve into a night session — but hey, that’s just the way it came about, so I rolled with it.

I love to tinker with different variations of Istvan Javorek’s barbell and dumbbell complexes.  Mostly this tinkering has to do increasing the intensity (via heavier loading), and busting-up the complex as a whole into many, “mini complexes” with very short rest periods between.  This gives more of an interval feel to the enterprise, and fits my goals a little better that performing the Javorek complexes “as prescribed”.  For instance, I kicked-off Friday night’s session with Javorek’s “Whoop Ass” dumbbell complex.  Now, Javorek uses a lighter weight and rotates through the three exercise for 6 continual rounds, then ends with a few finisher exercises.  Good stuff to be sure, however, I work this energy system a plenty (for my particular needs) with all the biking that I do, SO,  I chose heavier DBs (40’s), and did “broken” rounds consisting of:

  • the first 3 lunge exercises as depicted in the clip, followed by
  • DB squat thrusters x 6
  • DB muscle-ups from the floor x 6

I hit each of 6 rounds as hard and as fast as possible, but rested between each round so as to turn the workout into more of an interval experience.  Tough as all hell, I have to say.

Following that I did this complex:

cable flye (swiss ball, 5/0/x/0 tempo): 70 x 5 sets of 5
reverse cable flye (bent-over position, 5/0/x/0 tempo): 30 x 5 sets of 5
weighted dips (ratchet sets, 1/0/x/0 tempo): 45 x 1, 3; 70 x 1, 3; 80 x 1, 3; 85 x 1, 3; then 7 rest-pause singles @ 90 lbs

5 total rounds of these three, with round 5 of the dips being the extended rest-pause set.  The cable work could be thought of as “pre-exhaust” sets when paired with the weighted dips.  Ratchet sets: the first single allows the body to adjust to the weight and movement, then I can fully engage the 3-rep set.  These were done in an explosive fashion — come down fast, then immediately blast back up.  I cut the sets when I sensed that I was losing speed on the concentric portion of the movement (a drop in power production).  At that point, I moved on to the rest-pause set.  I hit these explosively as well.

Saturday –
I reeled-off approximately 25 miles of tough, tough mountain biking, and was totally zorched by the end of the day.  The temperatures were between 95 and 100 degrees here in NC, and I lost A LOT of fluids.  If I could ever get my crap together, and remember to take along some coconut water, it would make for a nice n=1 recovery study.  Mt theory is that coconut water, combined with a Paleo diet approach, may just be the the one-two punch endurance-leaning athletes are looking for.  If you lean toward endurance activities and have tried coconut water as a replenishment means, please chime in and let me know how it worked for you, how it sat on your stomach and, in general, what you think about its efficacy.

Sunday –
Saturday’s “recreational” ride is a great segue into a quick discussion on the importance of auto-regulation in the weight room.  In the initial stages of a trainee’s weight room career, step-by-step adherence to a linear progression type program (a 5×5 scheme, for example) gets the job done nicely.  And the truth of the matter is, the vast number of trainee’s need not ever progress beyond pushing the limits of this type of modality, OR beyond a HIT/SS/Body by Science type of program.  Unless one is a competitive athlete or, like me, is one whose life hobby involves training akin to a competitive athlete, the benefit to risk ratio is just not there.  The basics of auto-regulation, though — regardless of one’s training experience or training “age” — ought to be known, and the principles practiced.  As in all things, practice might not make for “perfect”, but it at least moves one toward that end.

The weighted dip executed in Friday night’s workout, for example, simply cannot be considered outside of the context in which it was undertaken.   Look at all of the variables that might conspire to alter the rep/loading scheme here at the selected target modality, which, in this case, happened to be the strength-speed aspect of power production.  Auto-regulation is, in essence then, the ability to push one’s self sufficiently to make gains, with an eye towards — but not at all fixated on — external loading parameters and rep schemes.  85 and 90 lbs for me, in this movement and under the strength-speed modality, is not a particularly heavy loading.  However, given the context of, not only this individual workout’s exercise selection and the exercise order as a whole, BUT the way the training week as a whole shook out as well.  This, then, was the most productive loading for that particular moment in time.  This is a huge act of mental jujitsu, however, that many a trainee simply cannot grasp.  How does one quantify improvement, if not by incremental loading and/or rep increases?  You just have to trust yourself, brother — it boils down to that.  Because the fact of the matter is this: when one fixates on external loading, rep numbers, etc. at the expense of becoming adept in the art of auto-regulation, a total crash-and-burn (both mental and physical) is inevitable.

Having become adept at auto-regulation early on has kept me fully engaged in the physical culture game for 30+ years, and it will keep me engaged for the next 30…40…50 years…and beyond.

So, given that I was totally pummeled by Saturday’s mountain biking excursion, then, let’s look at how Sunday’s BTN jerk/Muscle-up combo shook out:

btn jerk: 115 x 3; 135 x 3; 155 x 3; 175 x 3; 185 x 2; 195 x 1

straight bar muscle-ups: bw x 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2

The jerks felt surprisingly light, given the blistering mountain bike outing yesterday.  I’d planned on a short go of it — just a little bit of work to loosen things up.  Just when you think you’ve got this exercise physiology thing figured out, you get pitched a (nice, in this instance) curve like this…

Anyway, once again I rolled with it, and ended up completing a pretty tough gym session.

From the btn jerk/muscle-up combo, I moved on to Bradford presses: 115 lbs for 6, 6, 6, 5 (front-to-back = 1 rep.).  Then, a little repetition work for the bi’s and tri’s, in superset fashion:

cable bicep curl: 60 lbs x 10, 10, 10
cambered bar triceps push-down: 75 x 12, 12, 12

I then finished-off with a round of Nautilus 4-way neck work; 45 lbs x 10 front and side-to-side, 55 lbs x 10 to the rear.

The cable curls were done in an upright position, a cable in each hand, with the pulley of each set at the lowest (ground) level.  The resultant curl motion was then at an approximate 45 degree angle from the bottom-out, arms extended position to fists just under the chin.  No real magic to this particular angle; just one of a million I could have chosen.

Some Good Paleo Grub ~

Cuban Picadillo

Nothing at all wrong with this recipe as it is; just as with Javorek’s work, though, I took the basic idea and molded it to fit my own needs.  In this case, I had some leftovers on hand, a hankering for bacon, and a want not to go out to the store.  Hey, I’m not big on being a slave to the post workout re-feed window, but I do know that post workout hunger will kick-in after about an hour or so.  The solution?  Take the basic recipe, add some creative substitutions, and roll with whatcha got at home.

So, I fried up a few strips of bacon in coconut oil, added a leftover link of beef sausage to the mix, subbed El Pato Mexican style hot tomato sauce for the regular variety, and added in some Gaucho Ranch Chimichurri sauce to the concoction.   I also subbed the dry white wine for an equal amount of coconut vinegar.  Unfortunately, I wolfed this down before I remember to that  a picture of the final product.  It’s easy to make, and definitely a keeper in the rotation, so next time around I’ll (hopefully) remember to take a shot of the final product.

Sunday Brunch

A trip to the farmers market Saturday netted (among other things) some fabulous, massively yoked duck eggs, free-range ham steaks, and North Carolina ruby sweet potatoes.  Nothing like fresh, locally raised food!   Yum-O!