High Intensity Training, Pushing Beyond the Mind’s “Pull the Plug!” Signal, & Running and Hip Strength

A couple of things to ponder over the long weekend –

One topic that is central to any discussion of High Intensity Training is the understanding of what, exactly, constitutes “muscular failure”.  The point of muscular failure is, in fact, one of the key tenants (or gauges, or yardstick measures) of HIT-like protocols.  The thing is, though, what is commonly interpreted as “muscular failure” is most times simply the mind demanding that the trainee “pull the plug” on the activity.  This obviously adds another dimension to the HIT equation, as muscular failure cannot be thought of as a “hard” variable in the way that the number of sets, reps, load and total time-under-tension are considered.  “failure”, then, becomes a nebulous thing that’s not easy to corner.  Just how “nebulous”?  Well, check this out.  The point is, though, that it’s obvious – not only when we look trainee to trainee, but within the same trainee at different times – that this “shutdown switch” is affected by a myriad of outside – and inside — influences.

But back to the original question – are some trainees simply naturally “wired” (“cocktailed”?) in such a way so as to allow them to demand more of their bodies than others?  And if so, how does this affect the efficacy of HIT-type training in general?  It would seem obvious that, given two trainees with identical physiologies and epigenetic stimulus, the one “wired to go full-throttle” would progress much faster, and to a greater extent, than the trainee who cannot mute the brain’s “shut ‘er down” pleas.

The ability of some individuals to consistently push themselves far beyond that of what “mere mortals” can accomplish is, in my view, one huge reason why some experience phenomenal results from HIT and /or BBS-like protocols, and others do not.  Hang around a bunch of athletes, military-types, or even regular Joe trainees long enough and you’ll see the empirical truth to the claim (my claim, anyway), that most emphatically yes, there is definitely something – chemical, hormonal, learned…wiring? (and, more than likely, a combination of all) – something that allows some trainees to push their bodies to the point of self-destruction, while others are literally forced to “cool their jets” well before the body is in any real danger.  Now, add this “danger mute switch” ability on top of a set of superior genetic and epigenetic factors favorable to a given sport, and you’ve got yourself the makings for a Lance Armstrong level of athletic freakiness.

What exactly constitutes this factor, though, and what can be done – if anything – to enhance it?  Note that what I am not talking about here is the Golgi tendon reflex, which we know can be both trained around and, to some extent, blunted.  No, what I’m referring to is totally “in the head” – or in the central nervous system, as it were.  Granted, the Golgi reflex may very well play into this loop, but for today’s purposes I’m interested more in what lies further up the CNS stream.

Amphetamines, of course, can be used to blunt the brain’s fatigue signal, and even the more benign versions (Modafinil, for example) can be employed for sports-enhancement purposes; I’ll leave those discussions to more sport-oriented venues, though.  My aim here is to figure out what the regular guy can do to push the fatigue envelope.

Well, as you might imagine, the recommendations are…not so different than what your (Paleo) grandma would’ve told you: eat right, recover properly, and get plenty of sleep every night.  We shouldn’t be surprised, though, as these recommendations form the holly trinity of physical culture and continued wellness.

From this study (and this, a companion article), it would seem that dopamine is a big player in the cns “fatigue mute switch” feedback loop.  And here’s another article to back-up that theory.

I do seem to remember a study completed a few years back (though I can’t seem to locate it now) that seemed to indicate that some special forces recruits (in this case, Navy SEALs) were naturally “wired” so as to have a blunted dopamine reuptake response.  To be more precise, these guys had normal baseline levels of circulating dopamine, however, this baseline level was relatively unaffected by a severe stress stimulus, whereas a “normal responder’s” response would be a precipitous drop in freely available, non-bound dopamine levels.  I may not have the specifics exactly correct – it’s been a while since I read the study and, as I’ve said, I can’t seem to locate it at the moment (if anyone knows of this study, please clue me in!) – but if this is true, it my help shed some light on the “impervious to stress” types out there.

I do think, though, that there is plenty of room for the average Joe to improve upon his own “imperviousness to pain” via good, old fashioned, and conditioned mental toughness.  Like any other aspect of training, someone else’s enhanced natural ability should not dissuade or discourage us from chasing our own n=1 dreams.  As always, the name of the game is to make the most you can with what you’ve got.

A Couple of Interesting Things for the Runners Out There –

Here’s a study that sheds some light on the importance of runners developing and maintaining adequate hip Strength.  Now, I don’t think any of this comes as a surprise to this blog’s readership, however, it does give me the opportunity to once again implore my more endurance-leaning brethren to give strength training its fair and deserved due.  I know you endurance types loath being cooped-up in the gym with us knuckle-draggers, but as I’ve mentioned before, there are other options.  Gimme a mere hour a week at such a place as Austin’s Efficient Exercise, and we can boost your strength – and therefore, your performance – measurably…and get rid of those niggling knee (foot and ankle, too!) injuries that have you hobbled, in pain and off the road.

And speaking of knees, hips, feet and ankles (and lower backs, too!), check out these couple of clips from our friends at Vibram Five Fingers and a discussion of heel vs forefoot strike.  I absolutely love my Vibrams!   Apparently, I don’t have the fit problems that Richard has, and it’s actually very hard for me to tell that I even have them on.  But hey, that’s what n=1 experimentation, and the reportage of that experimentation is all about.  We all benefit from this vast collection of knowledge.

Below, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman waxes poetic on heel strike vs forefoot strike:

and part 2 –

Good stuff!

Thursday Night’s Workout –

The name of the game in this superset was speed-of-movement in each exercise.  If an on-looker were to witness the bar (in the high pull) or my body (in the dip), it would seem as if each would “float” to the top-end of the movement after the initial umph from the bottom-out position; in other words, the movements should appear effortless to the casual observer.  Those in “the know”, know better, though.  J

high pulls from the floor: 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 175 x 5, 5, 5, 5

dips: 45 lbs x 3, each of 6 rounds

Followed that up with some repetition method work (done in superset) –

feet-elevated (approx. 24 inches) push-ups: bodyweight x 55, 45 (rest-pause last 10 reps), 40 (rest-pause last 10 reps)

GHR: bodyweight x 25, 25, (no 3rd set)

A Friday Night Push/Pull Session –

I came into the gym tonight with the idea to do close-grip floor presses in a superset with bent-over rows; sets of 3, strength-speed emphasis.  Once I had everything set up, though, I thought, “what the hell, why not go ahead and add in some snatch-grip shrugs as well?”.  I mean, I had to reposition the bar from the floor press pins to the floor between sets anyway – might as well do something with it while it’s in my hands, right?  Right.  Here we go (all with a fat bar) –

Close-grip floor press: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 195 x 3; 205 x 3

Snatch-grip shrug: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

Clean-grip BOR: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

Snatch-grip shrug: 135 x 3; 235 x 3; 275 x 3; 285 x 3; 295 x 3

So 5 rounds of that, with 2 sets of shrugs within each round.  Then I tacked-on an additional set of close-grip floor presses @ 215 lbs x 5 rest-pause singles.

Enjoy the extra-long holiday weekend, everyone.  Have fun, be safe, and stay Paleo!

Of Vibrams and Fossil Records

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”

~ Ovid

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From Crikit (Lori G's) Photostream

I’m sure many of you have already seen this story, which appeared back in late February:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 27, 2009) — Ancient footprints found at Rutgers’ Koobi Fora Field School show that some of the earliest humans walked like us and did so on anatomically modern feet 1.5 million years ago.

Tim Jones, of the blog, remote central, does a fine commentary on the findings here; if you haven’t already found your way to Tim’s work, it’s well worth the trip.

But why do I bring this particular subject up now?  Ahh, because I’ve just recently purchased my first pair of Vibram five fingers footwear — the KSO model, to be exact.  With help form TTP readers Mark Lepper and Ryon Day, I was able to hone right in on the model I wanted, and was able to predict how to account for accurate sizing (which is European, and you’ll tend to have to get a size smaller than you normally would in a European fit).  My recommendation about sizing is this: you’ll want to go to a local supplier, if at all possible, and test out a few sizes.  Take your time, walk around a bit.  I bought mine at a Great Outdoor Provision Co., in Greenville, NC; the folks there were fantastic, indulging (encouraging, even) my want to try various sizes and models to pinpoint the perfect fit.

Putting the Vibrams on is a bit of a chore the first couple of times, at least until you get the hang of  sliding into them, while at the same time spreading and working your toes into the individual “finger” wells.  Now, though (after about a week of ownership), I can get into my Vibrams just as quick as any other pair of shoes.  I have to say that initially I was pretty sceptical about the whole fit and performance issues of the product.  I just couldn’t imagine that the fit would be snug enough to prevent blisters and chafing, especially when utilized in hard sprinting efforts.  And if the snug fit was there, surely the comfort factor wouldn’t be.  Both of those concerns have been roundly eliminated, though, as I’ve put my Vibrams through the paces — both in the gym and on the track — and they have performed well above my expectations.  And talk about a conversation starter.  If there’s been any drawback to wearing them, it’s that I’ve sacrificed quite a bit of valuable workout time in talking about them to the curious.

All in all, I have to give the Vibrams a big thumbs-up thus far.  They seem to be of good, solid construction as well, so I expect to get plenty of wear out of them.  There’s just no substitute for lifting and sprinting “barefooted”.

In Health,

Keith