Uneven Ground, and More on Explosiveness and Elasticity

First off, let me bore you with today’s workout.  Again, we here in eastern NC were blessed with a beautiful spring day, and again I took advantage of it with a good bit of fixie huckin’ about town, and the following workout.  Come Monday, I’ll be back to being sequestered within my sunless, work-a-day “cave”.  Ugh…anyway, here we go:

7-second sprints for distance. Hit my predetermined drop-off (2 misses) on the 14th sprint (i.e., the 13th and 14th sprints were near-misses).  A little bit on drop-offs here.
Followed that up with some slosh tube lunges. About 30 total reps each leg, broken-up in sets of 6 or so.  Kinda hard to quantify these in a “sets” and “reps” way; I did 6 or so, short break, another 6, break, etc.  Kept the pauses to a minimum — just long enough to recoup to the point at which I thought I could get the next 6.  Remember, primal doesn’t ascribe to a fixed sets and reps schemes — be creative!

The field I’m sprinting on now is rather uneven — plenty of rises, falls and divots — and this adds a whole other element to the barefooted sprint; a whole other level of required proprioception.

Then, I went inside for some Creds and straight bar muscle-ups.  More muscle-ups?  Sure, exercise such as this (explosive, limited time-under-tension, low volume) can be done at a much greater frequency without fear over overtraing — either in that particular movement, or in a holistic sense.

3 Creds + 2 single-arm push-presses + 1 single-arm jerk (each arm): 70, 80, 85, 85, 85
straight bar muscle-ups: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

Performed this workout at 15-hours fasted.  Post workout meal (about 2 hours later, i.e., 17-hours+ fasted) was a grilled rib-eye and some boiled, organic beets.  Poured some Tropical Traditions coconut vinegar over the beets after chilling them.  Fabulous!

More on Explosiveness and Elasticity
A quick dissection of Usain Bolt’s 100 meter gold medal performance reveals some interesting facts vis-a-vis explosiveness and elasticity.

First up, young Mr. Bolt was second to last out of the blocks.  Now this probably has some to do with the fact that he was (at that time) relatively inexperienced at the 100 meter (and shorter distance) start; longer distance starts being more forgiving — but, too, I think this is telling of just how much more explosive his competitors were.  Of course, we’re dealing with relatives here — a comparison of freaks to freaks — and I’m using this solely as a dramatic example, and am in no way implying that Bolt is not an explosive athlete as well.  He’s just not as explosive as those other 10 freaks-of-nature he’s running against.   It is interesting to note here that the first two sprinters out of the blocks — Richard Thomson (Trinidad and Tobago) and Walter Dix (USA) — came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in this race.   Also of note here is that on top of a “slow” burst from the blocks, Bolt also drags his trail-leg foot over the track in his initial stride recovery, and it so happens that that shoe is untied.  Could Bolt have done anything more wrong at the start of this race?  Probably not — but hell, it just didn’t matter in the end.

Now, at 2.4 seconds into the race — deep into the “drive” phase — Bolt is in 4th place.  At 4 seconds into the race — now into the “acceleration” phase — Bolt’s superior elasticity (and, to be sure, stride length) begins to showcase.  At 50 meters he has caught up with Thomson; at sixty meters he has clearly pulled away, and beyond that we enter the the realm of super-human.

I’m throwing out rough numbers here, but somewhere close to the 60 meter mark, most elite athletes have reached their full acceleration and top-end speed — the name of the game from here on out is who can decelerate the least.  I believe, though, that Bolt was still accelerating at this point and, having realized that he wasn’t going to be challenged by lane 7’s Asafa Powell (he’d tapped Powell earlier as his only true competition), never reached his full accelerative potential.  Scary.   This coupling of stride length with superior elasticity it truly an amazing thing to behold.

It is commonly known that Olympic-level Oly lifters are as explosive out of the blocks (if not more so) — and, in some cases, exhibit better vertical jumps — than elite sprinters.  What the Oly lifters lack, though, is the elasticity — the ability to absorb, store, and subsequently release energy.  Some discussion on that, here.

We know that explosiveness (instantaneous power production) is a highly neurological dependent function, having little to do with muscle mass.  This is why enlightened athletes don’t train like bodybuilders, but rather, train explosive attributes (speed-strength and strength-speed).

But what is elasticity, exactly?  Essentially (and in the context of sprinting), it’s the ability of the Achilles tendon complex to absorb, store and release energy.  No small thing, either, since any energy lost must be manufactured by the supporting musculature.  Not only that, but the elastic release of energy occurs much more quickly than the same amount of energy that must be produced, and then released. Check out this graphic representation of elasticity from Wired magazine.

Points to ponder: notice how elastic types posses higher/smaller calves (and, therefore, a longer Achilles tendon) than their more explosive, thick-calved brethren?  More later.

Fresh from the “what a friggin’ great idea” file — TTP reader Beck Anstee has started a Chicago-land sprinter’s meet-up group.  Sprinting is the most primal of fitness activities, and Beck has put social media to work in a way that will enable all you Chicago-land primals out there to get your “sprint on” in the company of like-minded paleo peeps.  Dang, makes me want to transfer to Chicago.  Is it really true that Chicago only has two seasons — winter, and 4th of July?  Hmmm, if only it were a bit warmer….  🙂

You’ll notice that I’ve added Diana Hsieh  Modern Paleo blog to the TTP blogroll.  Objectivist-leaning, Paleo lifestyle — Ayn Rand meets the hunter-gatherer.  Bring your A-intellect to this one, folks — Objectivists don’t suffer fools easily; I for one can appreciate that sentiment.  I’ll be spending quite a bit of time here, to be sure.

In health,

A Genetic Ceiling? Maybe…Maybe Not

“There is a kinship, a kind of freemasonry, between all persons of intelligence, however antagonistic their moral outlook.”

Norman Douglas

The Manipulation of training routines so as to more properly engage one’s genetic profile has much in common with the science and technique behind fat loss, in that one can quickly lose any sense of practical bearing, sliding headlong into the rabbit hole of minutia.  As an example, just look at the comments that this post generated.  After all that bantering over “is a calorie a calorie”, we’re still right back to making real-life decisions about what and what not to eat.  Paleo works, and the mechanisms behind why it works are known (even if some of the minutia are still hotly debated); but really, though — does the minutia matter one whit when you’re out at the restaurant with friends, and faced with a decision between steak and pasta?  Real life is where we operate, and the succession of real life decisions are where we ultimately either succeed or fail at out goals.

Now, as I’ve said before, I can geek-out on the minutia and specifics of a subject with the best of them — however, practically speaking, if real, tangible health and fitness is what we’re seeking, we’ve got to get out of bed in the morning and hit the ground running with a foundationally solid, and doable, plan of attack.   At 5 AM on a workout morning, I have to have converted whatever applicable science I so choose into actual weight on the bar; sets, reps, total time under load — this is where real progress is made; this is where theory is converted to practice.

So I’ve been thinking a bit lately about individual genetic profiles, determinism, and sporting prowess; the specific genetic hand we’re dealt, and how best to play that hand within the limitations of the real world.  First off, how about a little visual representation of what a mutation to a single gene (actually, the non-presence of the GDF-8 gene) can cause in an otherwise similar breed of dog.  GDF-8, by the way, is responsible for signaling the production of myostatin, which, in turn, is responsible for limiting the amount of muscle production in an animal.  Myostatin works the same way in humans as it does in these whippets.  GDF-8, while being yet another stroke of evolutionary genius (muscle mass past a certain point is an unnecessary metabolic drag, i.e., survival limiting), is an area of obvious interest within the physical culture community.

Normal whippet muscling

Normal whippet muscling, 2 copies of the GDF-8 gene

A single copy of the GDF-8 gene

A single copy of the GDF-8 gene

No GDF-8 gene, and hence, no myostatin to curtail muscling

No GDF-8 gene, and hence, no myostatin to curtail muscling

No PhotoShop here, folks; just a dramatic demonstration of the effects genes can have upon muscling and athletic prowess.  And this is a representation of what affects a single gene mutation can signal.  What I find interesting is that if Wendy were a human, we’d just assume that she was much more dedicated in following her (fill in the blank) workout regimen; being that she’s a dog, though, we’re ok with the fact that she’s come by her appearance the old fashioned way — i.e., via inheritance.  By the way, here’s an interesting Animal Planet video clip of Wendy, the defacto spokes-pooch of bully whippets.  A normal whippet in every way, except in skeletal musculature.  I find it very sad that appearantly these animals are normally euthanized at birth (I’m assuming because they are not charactoristic of the AKC whippet?).

So that’s a pretty dramatic visual.  My intent here, though, is not is not to kick up a dust cloud of fatalism, but rather to bring a sense of realism to the endeavor of physical culture.  We are, all of us, in theory, limited by our genetic make-up; the question remains, however, how many of us actually realize that genetic ceiling? Given the optimum training protocol for our individual genetic make-up, how far could even a mediocre genetic hand advance?

Here’s an article that appeared in the September 2000 issue of  Scientific  American which discusses the muscle fiber differences in sprinters vs that of endurance athletes.  This article was also cited in Body by Science (page 141), and for good reason.  Even though this article is going on 9 years old, it is still a relevant piece of work.  There’s plenty of food for thought here, especially as related to the plasicity of the genetic make-up.  For an analogy, think of your genetic make-up as a set of gaurd rails along a winding highway; lots of manuevering room in between.  What the genetic make-up is not is a set of railroad tracks.

And by the way, see if the last portion of this article, “Brave New World”, doesn’t make you immediately call to mind Usain Bolt’s utter dominance in every sprint event below 400 meters as of late.  I would love to know what Usain’s muscle fiber make-up looks like, and what his genetic profile looked like before he started serious training.  One has to wonder if he might have a mutation which allows for the prevalence of type IIb fast-twitch fibers.  That would be very, very interesting indeed.  Which leads to the question of the inevitability of future gene “doping”, which is covered in the article as well.  This is the new frontier of sports enhancement, and the results of successfully manipulating an already accomplished athlete’s gene pool will obliterate any “doping” response results seen thus far in the sporting world.

And had the wall not come down with the death of communism — had the eastern block sporting machines remained viable — this, in my opinion, would already be old, passe science.

In health,