Of Sprinting, and Leptin Signaling Mimetics

My good friend Chris Highcock, of Conditioning Research, (and he by way of Andrew Badenoch, of Evolvify) clued me into the recent Journal of Applied Physiology article, Is sprint exercise a leptin signaling mimetic in human skeletal muscle?  

I won’t delve into the interesting details of this paper, as Chris has already done a wonderful job of that here, but I would like to add just a few of my own thoughts about these findings.

What’s more important, vis-a-vis, weight loss — diet or exercise?

I’ll get into this a bit more in a future post, but as a Physical Culture 2.0, new breed fitness educator, I am the interface between geeked-out science, empirical wisdom and a general public searching for accurate and articulate answers, to help them make sense of the never-ending, fire-hydrant-like gusher of (often times) conflicting diet and fitness “truths”.  Two big obstacles that I have to overcome in performing this function, though, are (1) that my answers are predicated upon a base understanding of a movement (Physical Culture 2.0), which itself requires the acceptance of there being no black-and-white answers — that in all instances, the notion of n=1 and “it depends” prevail, and (2) a general public which is too tired/stressed/overwhelmed with day-to-day life to undertake the due-diligence required for such an understanding; a general public who only has time for the ingestion of pat answers.  You see the conundrum here.  And I’ll get to why this matters in relation to this particular study in a moment, but for now let’s take a quick look at an extension of the above-mentioned study’s findings — the performance of fasted-state, High Intensity Interval Training.

Fasted HIIT (or, don’t let lack of scientific underpinnings spoil the empirical results)

Dan John has articulated as much in some of his prior writings, but let’s just say that you’ve followed a Paleo-like diet for 30 days (ala Robb Wolf, or Whole9), coupled that with adhering to a basic 5 x 5 weightlifting scheme and, lo-and-behold, at the end of that trial period you find yourself having dropped 30 lbs of fat and gained 5 lbs of muscle.  Now, did you lose that fat because you physically ingested fewer calories, or did that fat loss come as the result of a favorable hormonal cascade established by the diet and/or workout scheme itself?  Or what it some other combination thereof?  And hey, “everyone” knows that one cannot simultaneously lose fat and gain muscle, but your little experiment just proved the contrary.   And here’s the thing: do you really friggin’ care that you’re treading on shaky scientific ground?  Does lack of scientific confirmation negate your results?  Is the fact that you had to punch three new holes in your belt and that your shirts are now fitting tight across the shoulders (instead of across the gut) somehow now irrelevant?

I don’t bring this up so as to promote a Flat Earth Society mentality when it comes to matters of Physical Culture, but more so as to put some prospective on the weight afforded to the supporting science (or lack thereof, as the case may be) in this area of study.  In other words, empirical evidence means a hell of a lot to me.  Pondering the “whys” behind an empirically-proven methodology’s efficacy —  intellectually invigorating as it may be — ought not get in the way of actually utilizing that methodology in the real world.  I can always go back and tweak a methodology accordingly, depending upon the outcome of follow-on science.  That I cannot articulate precisely and unquestionably (as supported by science) what, at the cellular level, is precisely occurring as a consequence of HIIT training does not prevent me from utilizing this method of training or, more importantly, from reaping the benefits.  We’ve long known, in the strength and conditioning community, that performing HIIT in a fasted state just obliterates body fat even while precipitating lean muscle gain.  Of course, there was the ever-present chorus of “there’s just no relevant science to support that claim” who presumably sat this one out, waiting for scientific conformation one way or the other.  In the training of horses, though, as in the training of athletes, the proof is in the final product.  Can these methods be more finely tuned in light of prevailing science?  You bet.  Wait for the perfect answer, though, and you’ll never get under the bar or put spikes on the field.  In other words, get in the game, and don’t allow the perfect to get in the way of the good.

This sprint/leptin study is a good case-in-point to what I’m attempting to articulate in this post.  We know, empirically, that fasted HIIT works –

*note – I am extrapolating here, as this particular study only considered the performance of a single sprint on the resultant hormonal cascade.

– and now we see, presumably, one important (and no doubt interesting!) pathway in which this scenario plays out.  We also see that being fasted (at least carbohydrate fasted) is an important part of the overall equation, here (if weight loss is a mitigating factor), and so we can now tweak our methods accordingly, and rock on.

So what’s more important in weight management, diet or exercise? 

Asking a badly articulated/constructed question is worse than asking no question at all; the problem is that the person to whom the question is directed will feel an obligation to offer-up an answer, ham-strung as it may be.  Construct a question that legitimates a sound-bite answer and you’ll get exactly that (Poli-Sci/Stats 101).  You’ll also get an answer that only approximates the truth of the matter, if that.  Of what relevance is this to the sprint/leptin study?  Well, let’s consider how best to achieve a long-term fasted state to begin with, and still have the energy required to tackle a HIIT-like training session with adequate intensity.  The short answer here is that we’ll need to first establish an enzymatic and hormonal underpinning resultant of following a Paleo-like diet.   The blood-sugar roller-coaster resultant of a (for instance) Standard American Diet will throw a monkey wrench into the works from the get-go.  I see this play out all-too-frequently in real-world practice.  That far-far-away look in the middle of a HIIT throw-down?  Yeah, that’s blood-sugar crash, up close, ugly and personal, kiddos.  At the same time, though, we know that intense physical exercise potentates the expression of that same desirable enzymatic/hormonal underpinning.  So what we’re really talking about here, of course, is synergy.  Synergy is slippery, though, and not easily accounted for in a standardized-testing, sound-bite-answer world.  The masses want easily-digestible answers (especially if provided by Oz, Oprah, et al) and synergy simply doesn’t play in that house.  Sorry to disappoint, but there it is.  You can no more bust ass in the gym and on the field, eat crap and expect phenotypical perfection than you can eating as a Paleo purist while abstaining from (at least some modicum) of repeated, physical exertion.  And no, computer jockying does not count as “repeated physical exertion”.

Synergy, my friends; diet and exercise — it’s the one-two punch, and the only way I know, to attain phenotypical perfection.

Sunday’s MetCon circuit –

Being under a bit of a time crunch didn’t prevent me from sneaking this one in.  Short, sweet, and to the point.

– 10 second sprint

– 20 ft. rope climb

– 30 ft parallel bar hand-over walk

– 20 yd dual hops

– 5 muscle-ups

– 30 ft hand-over monkey bar traverse

– 7 tire flips (+ 5 extra on the last round)

wash, rinse, repeat x 3.

Trivia for the day – 26 tire flips = 51 yards (football field sideline to sideline) 🙂

In health,


Questions? Answers! Strength & Conditining for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Stephen Hawking

What follows is a question from the mail bin.  I’ve reached the point now where I’m forced to choose representative questions in lieu of answering all the inquiries that I receive.  I wish that I could field each individually, but that’s just not possible with my available time.  Certain themes do emerge, though, and I’ll try to address these “themes” as they arise.  I’ll also tackle novel questions as well – something that forces all of us to stretch our understanding of health, fitness and the Paleo way beyond any bounds or borders that might begin to solidify.  The last thing we ever want is for this journey to become some kind of dogma.  I feel quite confident in saying that no one has all of the answers, least of all me.  I’m simply an n=1, m=1, “practitioner”, chronicling my own journey, reporting and advising on where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what has (and hasn’t) worked for me.   That being said, feel free to drop me a line at theorytopractice@gmail.com – your ideas, comments and questions will help me to determine what this community wants to see discussed.On to the question:

Dear Keith,

Firstly, the website and your knowledge of training and the Paleo lifestyle is both impressive and inspirational. With that said, my question revolves around incorporating jiu jitsu into my training regimen. My weight training has revolved around a speed/strength emphasis and my workouts deteriorate when I spend more time training BJJ. I would like to continue to improve upon my strength/speed emphasis while training BJJ.
Not sure if you have ever trained BJJ before however, live rolling can be taxing. How would would you recommend setting up a training week given these goals. Would you recommend completing a speed/strength workout on BJJ training days ( 45 min-2hrs roughly 3 days per week)? This would allow for more days off from exercise. Or would you suggest alternating the two? i.e. lift weights one day train BJJ the next. Which do you think would help me avoid over-training?
Thank You,


In a nutshell, this is a classic dose/recovery issue, and my first question would be not how much time do you have to workout, but how much time can you devote to full recovery?  Now, I’m going to assume here that BJJ is your primary focus, with weight training being an augmentation to your BJJ performance.  To better make my point, consider that, under ideal conditions, you could (using sensible auto-regulation techniques) train BJJ and the strength/conditioning aspect every day. The rest of your day, however, would need to be occupied by sleep, massage, feeding, recovery…you get the picture.  If you think this sounds like the lifestyle of a professional athlete, you’d be correct.  More than likely though, you’re holding down a full-time job, shop for and cook your own food and probably have family obligations to juggle as well.  This being the case, you can still train BJJ 3-times per week and weight train and/or condition 3 (even 4, if you prefer) times per week if you limit that weight room/conditioning training to only working on your weakness.  BJJ is all about (technique/skills aside, of course) maximizing the power to bodyweight ratio (P2BWR), so the first thing you’ll want to do is to asses what it is that is limiting your power output – and this must be measured, of course, against whatever time requirement (energy system) that is most important to you.  I’m sure instantaneous power is important, but you’ll also require a certain degree of “bout-length” stamina.  Are you weak compared to your cns ability (the Allyson Felix example) or the other way around?  Keep careful weightroom notes so that you can correlate per-exercise drop-off ratios ( a ballpark measure of dosing) as related to your recovery  unique abilities and BJJ performance.  I think what you’ll find is, is that your per-session time in the weight room – if you’re hitting on the proper high intensity cylinders and employing proper auto-regulation techniques – will be minimal, but extremely beneficial.

One other note – I wouldn’t train BJJ and strength/conditioning on the same day – unless you have the luxury of all-day, devoted recovery between the two sessions as described above.  Of course, the real-world being as it is, you might not have the luxury of splitting up your workouts perfectly.  My advice in this case is to monitor your sleep quality (subjective, but helpful), and, if possible your morning pulse rate and/or temperature.  I wouldn’t force a difficult training session following a night of poor or inadequate sleep.  Also, if you notice your AM pulse and/or temperature beginning to creep up, it’s a sure sign (as is continued poor-quality sleep) that you’re edging into the overtraining zone.  Remember, there’s a time and a place for “pushing through pain and discomfort” and I’m all for that notion in relatively untrained individuals.  The problem becomes carrying this mindset over into more highly trained individuals, as these athletes are able to pummel their bodies with an incredibly high exercise dose before the “cease and desist” signal ever appears.  The greater the training maturity, the more the old “train smarter, not harder” adage applies.

Also, remember not to skimp on your high quality fat intake.  Very, very important.  And if quick recovery between workout sessions is necessitated – i.e., you’re training multiple times per day, say – then be sure to ingest the greater portion of your days carbohydrate intake during the approximate 2-hr, post-workout window.  If you have at least 24 hours or so to recover between workouts, the post-workout refueling window becomes irrelevant, as this is a speed of recovery issue, and has nothing to do with the magnitude of recovery, which, at roughly the 24 hour point, equalizes.

In health,


Of Tiger, Mere Mortals, and Travel

“Cynicism is the intellectual cripple’s substitute for intelligence. It is the dishonest businessman’s sub writer, for self-respect.”

Russell Lynes

I wonder by what age he'd clocked his 10,000th hour of practice --

I wonder by what age he'd clocked his 10,000th hour of practice --

Malcolm Gladwell, in his very interesting book, Outliers (if you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend you do), posits the notion that the combination of inherent talent, timing (luck of circumstance), and persistent skills training are the three crucial components to “superstardom” in any endeavor, beit intellectual, physical, or a combination thereof.  Copious in its absence — for athletic prowess, at least (power/Oly lifting not withstanding) — was strength and conditioning training.  And for good reason.

I’ve discussed the mental mindfield of causation/correlation a few times prior (here and here, for instance), but it was brought to the forefront again recently for me in the form of a Facebook message I recieved from a good friend of mine.   My buddy has been wading into the Paleo waters over the last 4 months or so, shedding some significant weight and 4 inches (an inch per month!) off his waistline in the process; and this while being a slapshot — at best — paleo practitioner.  In any event, my friend has shed enough weight to not only get back into pusuing his passion — golf — but to try his hand at some form of strength and conditioning as well.  The strength and conditioning, he says, will go along way toward improving his golf game.  And to some extent, he’s correct; but not to the degree, or even the form, for that matter, that’s held in his mind’s eye.

Weight training for a golfer, even more so than for a baseball player, is tricky business.  Performed correctly, and within the correct dose/response window, and if performed as an adjunct to maintaining skills, I believe, of course, that it can be a boon to one’s game.

Lest you think I’ve slipped off the deep end here, let me assure you that I still believe in the athletic enhancement benefits of a properly designed and executed strength and conditioning program.  I believe in the heath benefits, and the whole host of other positives derived from “physical culture”, writ large.  All that I am saying is — well, let me show you what I wrote to my buddy, in response to the purported, “Tiger’s workout plan” that he sent me:

“One thing I would say about what you sent is to make sure that you don’t fall into the “false correlation” trap. That is to say, correlation does not imply causation. Tiger is not Tiger because of his workout, but because of inherent talent, natural athleticism and focused practice. He may be a slightly better golfer b/c of his workout regimen; there is always the chance however (though I doubt it in this case), that he’s actually being hindered b/c of his workout regimen. That said, if I were you, and an improved golf game were my goal, I’d focus first and foremost on gaining strength in the basic moves (deadlift, overhead press, squat), then moving on to improving explosive power. I’d also work up to doing short sprint intervals. Note that whatever workout you choose to follow, you MUST continue to practice your golf game, as the fine motor skills must keep pace w/ your added strength and power.”

And don’t get me wrong — to emulate the actions, techniques and attitudes of the best and the brightest of any given endeavor is a wothwhile and, I believe, even a healthy and highly intelligent thing to do.  To gain the most from this practice, though, we must take into consideration both our inherant weaknesses and the “emulatee’s” inherant gifts, and adjust, in both our mirroring of these actions and our expectations, accordingly.

Gone to Texas

I’ll be out of pocket for a few day while Meesus TTP and I travel down to Hunt, Texas for a family reunion.  Though, due to Brittani’s absence, it will be bittersweet get-together, we are looking forward to seeing friends and family, lazing about in the Gaudalupe, and raisin’ a little hell out at Crider’s (the site of much of my misspent youth).  If you happen to be out that way — maybe checking out the Stonehenge replica, or the dinosaur tracks, or the indian pictographs, stop by and say hey — or beter yet, meet us out at Crider’s for a great Friday and Saturday night.

Following that trip, we’ll head out to Georgia to tie up some remaining loose ends from B’s passing.  I don’t know how much posting I’ll get in between now and until after the 4th — posting or not, though, my mind is always reeling with thought, and I’m sure I’ll return chock-full of  posting ideas.  One thing I know I want to address is the old axom of , “lift on your heels, play on your toes”.  I’ve got some ideas about that, and I’ll address them when I get back.

By the way, Congratulations to the University of Texas baseball team for such a fine run this year.  Close, so very close guys.  And, though it pains me to say it 🙂 a special congratulations to the boys out at LSU.  Fine job, guys.

In health,


A Peek Inside “The Graveyard”

“Just as those who practice the same profession recognize each other instinctively, so do those who practice the same vice.”

Marcel Proust

Note 1: This subject may seem over and above what any “normal trainee” need worry himself with, and to some extent, that’s true enough.  However, the take away message here — Know thyself, know thy goal, and train appropriately — applies to any trainee (or potential trainee, even) at any skill level.

Note 2: For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, SS/HIT in the Strength & Conditioning community parlance, simply refers to Super Slow (as in rep speed)/High Intensity (as in one set to failure) Training.  For all intents and purposes, and at its roots, this is essentially the same protocol as that espoused by Dr. Doug McGuff in his book, Body By Science.

Chris, of the fabulous Conditioning Research blog, alerted me to this Sports Illustrated article which apparently hit the Net last month.  I don’t know how this one got past (what I though was, at least) a pretty thorough article screen, but alas,  it did.  Anyhow, much thanks again to Chris for sending it my way.

I “Twittered” about Ross Tucker’s SI article at the time Chis alerted me to it (I make Twitter updates frequently with little finds like this), however, in light of the discussion having ensued as a result of the Body By Science Part 3 review, (and the Conditioning Research post cited below), I’d like to re-visit the article now, as it somewhat verifies – even amongst the most highly trained and resilient of athletes – a notion that Dr. McGuff has pointed out in his book. Namely, the point of injury (and especially cumulative trauma injury) incurred directly as a result of questionable training practices. As Dr. McGuff (and Nassim Taleb) are fond of saying, one really ought to “survey the graveyard” as part of any complete study on the efficacy of any purportedly “successful” training program. The fact of the matter is that  survivors of certain questionable training practices (or hell, any training practice for that matter) are just that — survivors — and there’s a big difference between merely surviving a protocol and actually having been made a better athlete by that training protocol. And this difference is very, very hard to discern. 

One victim of this Strength and Conditioning coach carnage, as described in the article above, was Houston Texans S & C coach, Dan Riley (link here).  Some discussion of Dan’s methods (SS/HIT intensive, for the most part) vis-a-vis his firing were discussed recently over at this Conditioning Research post dealing with the idea (or lack thereof?) of functional training in relation to SS/HIT.  Additionally, you can glean some insight into Dan’s training philosophy here, at the achieve of the “Fitness Corner” articles he did for HoustonTexans.com.  Be warned, though, that the preceding link may not be around too much longer, for obvious reasons.  The point of this post, though, is not to attempt to discredit the SS/HIT methodology — I happen to think that SS/HIT, properly applied/dosed, can be a productive methodology if employed under certain circumstances — but to emphasize the need for individually customized training protocols.  And this, is my mind, would be a dictate for every trainee, regardless of skill level or specificity of goal.  Follow any “canned” workout protocol (including my own) without adjusting for your own goals and needs, and you’ll end up with, at best (and only if you’re lucky) lackluster results.  The worst that can happen is that you’ll either get hurt, or suffer some other form of a setback; physical, psychological, or otherwise.

Grasping the Contextualized Content; or, Digging for the Underlying Meaning, as Opposed to the Gathering of Specifics

In the spirit of intellectual juxtaposition, I didn’t want to let this blog post from Vern Gambetta, of Elite Track, go by unnoticed. Vern is voicing a sentiment here you’re unlikely to hear very often, especially from such a high-profile coach, as sentiments like this serve to severely undermine the potential profit margins of the few big players in the S & C community. So what does Vern’s post have to do with the Sports Illustrated article cited above?  Well, everything that is Strength and Conditioning, if you ask me.  And here, too, can be found edification of that valuable nugget of wisdom that any trainee, regardless of ability, goal, or “training age” (i.e., experience) can put to use immediately — namely that, to be effective, ant chosen training methodology must be matched to the specific trainee, and to that trainee’s specific needs at the particular time in question.  Identify the need, and pick the methodology best suited to address that need; that is to say, train the specified weakness, in the context of current circumstance, via the most appropriate methodology suitable in the pursuit of trainee’s defined goal . Unfortunately, for NFL (and for the collegiate level, even more so) S & C coaches, this is a theory that’s next to impossible to put into practice.  As Ross Tucker states in the aforementioned SI article:

…There is another well-known strength coach whose program is the same for every position on the team. Now the actual weights the players lift may be different, but the specific exercises that every player is asked to complete are identical, which makes absolutely no sense to me. How can he possibly think offensive linemen and cornerbacks are the same type of athletes and need the same workouts? That’s like training a bear and a cheetah to hunt the same way. They’re different animals.

Interior linemen and perimeter skill guys are barely even playing the same sport if you ask me. Offensive linemen need to focus on power, short-area quickness and lateral movement. Cover corners need to concentrate on speed, flexibility and fluidity in and out of their breaks…

This pretty much sums-up my sentiment on the subject as well.  Now, I wouldn’t say that I agree totally with Dan Riley’s application of SS/HIT, but I certainly don’t think that his over-reliance (my opinion) on SS/HIT was the whole reason behind the Houston Texans lackluster, on the field performance the last few seasons.  There are many, many factors to consider — some of which may have been under Dan’s control, most of which, though, assuredly were not.  Back to the point of the previous article excerpt, though, and, as Vern Gambetta puts it:

…I realize it is so easy to get caught up in the trap of the new great exercise or the next great machine, but as I have said many times in this blog, there is so much more to it than that. First of all, do you have a plan, a plan for that session, for the mesocyle, for the block and for the year. What are your goals? Are those goals measurable? How will you measure them? When you get down to selecting the actual exercises in some ways that is the easy part, does each exercise have a specific context? Where and how does it fit into the bigger picture?

and then:

…Frankly that is why when I write or speak I am very reticent to show or print workouts, because people want to copy them and apply them, without any thought to the considerations I previously mentioned. I will put up a couple of workouts this weekend and the audience will try furiously to copy them. My intent will be to show context, but I am sure the audience will be looking for the magic bullet, it is the same everywhere. Coaching is a creative and a scientific process…

Training has always been thus, and thus it will remain; a unique mix of properly applied science, creativity, art, psychology and feel.  Cookie-cutter programs and across-the-board delineations are not, and will never be the answer.  Just as each individual is unique, so is each individual’s training needs at each unique point in time.

In Health,