Bodybuilding, Health and Athletic Development

Three diverse pursuits emanating from a single, overriding endeavor — weight training.  I began dabbling with a Venn diagram to illustrate the association (or, rather, lack thereof) between the above-mentioned individual pursuits themselves, and quickly gave that up; the association being more along the lines of the interaction of blobs within a lava lamp (showing my age here) as opposed to any Venn diagram can accurately portray.

It seems to me that what is lost on most people — even those who are relatively well-steeped in the S&C/iron game — is the fact that weight training (writ large) must be considered the toolbox fabrication shop within which the various tools, techniques, methods and modalities are housed and, indeed, expressed.  The basic tools and techniques of metalsmithing, for example, apply both to the welding of I-beams, and to the creation of fine art; the same mindset, I think, should apply to the art of “phenotypesmithing”.

If your goal is to become a better athlete, it makes little sense to train as if you were (or wanted to be) a bodybuilder.  High-rep/high volume protocols will indeed increase muscular hypertrophy via increased cellular sarcoplasmic fluid volume; a phenomena that, although kinda cool, has little (if any) correlation to betterment of the strength/power-to-bodyweight ratio that athletes ought to be concerned with.  Enter the “look like Tarzan, play like Jane” conundrum.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m down on bodybuilding and/or body-comp pursuits in general — to each his own, I say (in true libertarian fashion) — I just want folks to realize that goals and methods need to be smartly co-joined.   This is not to say, however, that I can’t cross lines and borrow from the bodybuilder in order to enhance (in a round-about way) my athleticism.  This, my friends, is what a smartly-designed, n=1 programming entails.  With an open mind, absorb what is useful, and with no attachment, let go of what is not.  Be a lava lamp; a lava lamp, though, with n=1 direction and discretion.

OK, so I managed 3 back-to-back lifting sessions over the course of last week; again, not ideal — but, hey, that’s life.  Of course, no single session was quite like the others, so I can, to some extent, mitigate any overtraining issues.  One thing I have dearly missed as of late are my sprinting sessions, and I hope to reintegrate those as soon as my life normalizes out of this transition period (moving cross-country; new house, new gig, etc.).

Monday (Rosedale studio) – a superset of btn jerks (with a slow, controlled negative return to the rack position) and bodyweight pull-ups.  This was attacked as a short and intense metcon burst; very little rest between sets and/or movements.  Rest-pause as necessary on the pull-ups in the later rounds.

btn jerks (left leg lead x reps, then right leg lead x reps): 135 x 5; 185 x 5; 195 x 3, 3

pull-ups: bw x 15 each round

Tuesday (Rosedale studio) – similar idea, a different movement pairing.

power clean: 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 175 x 5, 5, 5

dips: bw x 25 each round

Wednesday (Downtown studio) – with an anticipated 4-day break looming on the horizon, I dived headlong into this one.  Nice contrast, here, with the metcon-dash style of the previous two sessions.

MedX lumbar extension: 300 x 12, 12 (5010 tempo)

tru squat (extended set, rest-pause method): 135 lbs, 0lb counter – 10, 5, 3, 3 (40×0 tempo)

leg press: 420 x 17 (40×0 tempo)

then, a superset of the following two exercises (partial movements following full-range failure on all), each at a 4010 tempo (40×0 on partials):

(A1) Nautilus pec dec: 110 x 10, 7, 7

(A2) Nautilus reverse flye: 110 x 12, 8, 7

Xccentric flat press (no external load, no counter): 12, 11 (70×0 tempo)

Nautilus pullover (extended set, rest-pause method): 255 x 10, 3, 2 (5010 tempo)

Admin note: I will be posting additional workouts — some client examples, some of my own — over at the Efficient Exercise blog.   In doing this, I hope to illuminate the vast array of n=1 approaches taken toward achieving the common goal of  improved “fitness” and bettered health.  Also, I’ll be dissecting some Paleo meals on the Efficient Exercise site and, as the vast majority of Meesus TTP’s and my food is locally (Austin/central Texas) sourced, it only makes sense to cover them in a more localized forum.  Even if you’re nowhere near the “epicenter of Physical Culture”, though, drop on by and check out both the workouts and the good, Paleo grub.

And on a final note – wow, how times have changed.  Now, I’m all for the NFL’s Play 60 initiative, but damn!  When I was a kid (again, showing my age, I suppose)  our neighborhood’s moms fretted aloud as to what to do to get the kids to back the hell off for 60 minutes; 60 minutes of relief from bloodied noses (and other minor, blood producing emergencies), mischief, and all-around neighborhood-wrecking mayhem.  Oh well, times do change.

In health,


1/22/10, Doin’ the Deadlift Wave – the TTP Way

In the most simple of terms, a “wave” (as it applies to weightlifting), is any rep grouping/template that aims to take advantage of the well-known temporary physiological adaptation known as post-activation potentiation.

Standard waves are figured using percentages of the trainee’s 1RM in the particular movement.  This method of set/rep load determination – while probably sufficient for beginning/novice-level trainees – leaves much to be desired in the more advanced trainee.  A couple of the more obvious problems in using straight percentages for this purpose are (1) actually defining a true 1RM for the movement in question(do we mean competition max?  Gym max?  All-time max?  And within what time frame are we speaking?), and (2) the lack of factoring for the effects of surrounding training/stresses (fatigue) which are totally unrelated to the particular movement in question, i.e., factoring for what my best effort can be, considering today’s unique set of fatigue-related circumstances.  I’ll probably add more to this over the weekend (if time permits), but for now just know that I use more of a per-workout drop-off method to determine my per-set/rep/and wave loading; my first wave being what I would consider a “feel” wave – getting a general feel for what the day’s max effort is likely to be.  I realize this is a bit too right-brained for some of the more left-leaning readers who insist upon hard/fast numbers, but this is how I roll.  I call it ruthless subjectivity, and it requires the ability to push one’s self (or your trainee) well beyond the day’s comfort zone, regardless of what any “spreadsheets”, “progressions” and mojo “calculations” predict that you should do.  Now that’s not to say that my best efforts are not factored into all of this – they most certainly are – but only insofar as this number imparts a ballpark notion of where I ought to end up.  I know I need to head west to reach California; getting From G-Vegas, NC to LA, though, requires a little more in the way of planning, mapping and intra-trip adjusting.

Today’s workout – rise and shine at 4:30 AM, in the gym at 6:15 AM, coffed-up and ready to roll:

Warm-up – farmer’s walk/gobblet squat combo.  220 yrd farmer’s walk with 80 lb DBs, goblet squats x 7 (80 lb db) every 50 or so yds (5 sets total of goblets).  Some dynamic stretching and plyos.  Then:

Snatch-grip “deadlifts”.  I say “deadlifts” here because these are actually a deadlift/RDL hybrid – in other words, I tried to minimize the quadriceps involvement in the movement, shifting as much of the load as possible to the posterior chain.  I “pushed the floor away” with my heels throughout the pull, reaching as far back with my butt as possible until the bar cleared the kneecaps  – this creates a slightly different knee angle than the traditional deadlift, somewhat reducing the quad involvement.  I can tell that I maintained a good bar-to-shin relationship, since both my shins are now rubbed raw.  The snatch-grip also helps to nullify any natural deadlift pulling advantage I’ve got due to having long, gibbons-like arms.  Added pull-up bar muscle-ups x 3, and a few bw drop-squat rebounds between each set.  hey, I get itchy in that 2 minutes or so between sets that I’m supposed to be resting.

1st wave –
5 x 225
3 x 275
2 x 315
1 x 355

2nd wave –
3 x 315
2 x 355
1 x 365

3rd wave –
3 x 335
2 x 365
1 x 375

I put bar speed at a premium here, with the only “grind” rep coming on the 1 x 375.  What we’re going for here is the potentiation effect of the heavy single allowing for (i.e., potentiating) a heavier loading in the subsequent 3s and 2s.  This means that the heavy single is only a means to an end – not an end in and of itself.  My intent was to hit a 4th wave (only a 3 and 2 set, though – no need for an end single, unless I just felt like I had it in me) and that’s why I did the last single at 375 (to potentiate the next two “money” sets).  I’d lost track of time, though, and realized I wouldn’t be able to squeeze those last 2 sets in.  Anyway…  This took about 35 minutes to complete, but I wasn’t concerned so much with this being a MetCon-esq workout, so I didn’t keep close tabs on that.

Post workout nutrition was a Fage Total Greek yogurt and a handful of walnuts about 1 hour following the workout.  I Put some free-range yard bird in the crock-pot along with a couple of sweet potatoes before I headed out for the gym this AM.  By the time I get home from work this evening (hopefully before 7PM), I’ll have a nice dinner awaiting me.  I’m sure the dogs are going absolutely snake shit right about now with that good chicken aroma wafting about the house.  Poor little dude and dudette.

Strong Enough, Part III

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Rudyard Kipling

There’s an old proverb floating about somewhere (that I can’t seem to put my hands on at the moment), that says something to the effect of agreement to one’s own notions being the most intoxicating form of flattery.  That being the case, check out this recent post by Mike Young for the EliteTrack site.  In it you’ll find that renown track and field coach Loren Seagrave’s take on the value of, and the eventual diminished cost-to-benefit returns on, the acquisition of additional absolute strength over-and-above what is essential mirrors my own thoughts on the subject.

Of course, the definition of exactly what is essential differs from person to person, and requires a true goals-vs.-skills, n=1 evaluation.  It’s also a major rub, as it were, because it is truly subjective in nature.  We’ve discussed this recently in the What, Exactly, Constitutes “Strong Enough” post, and in that post’s follow-up, More on the Acquisition of Baseline Strength.  Essentially – and when all the armchair coaching is done, and it’s time for the rubber to meet the road – what we wind up with is a purely subjective strength value for a particular movement, and at this point in the game, all the nifty linear progression spreadsheets, percentage of 1RM calculations and mounds of “textbook knowledge” have to take a back-of-the-bus seat to a (hopefully, fairly astute) coach’s wisdom, experience and gut feeling.  All is not lost, though.  For all that one must really do is to continually ask – every day, every workout and every rep – where is the deficiency, and what can be done to rectify that lack? We all wish it was so simple as saying, “the athlete needs to be stronger, throw some more weight on the bar”; the truth of the matter is, though, that with decently trained athletes, this is rarely the case – and if it is, it certainly should not be the case for long, as absolute strength is by far the easiest of all deficiencies to rectify.

And don’t think that you have to be an elite or professional-level athlete to benefit from knowing when you’re ready to graduate from the school of “absolute strength acquisition”.  A proper n=1 evaluation may prove that you’re ready to pursue other, more challenging modalities.  This is usually not the problem among young (in training age) iron game practitioners, though, most of whom are all too eager to “skip a few grades”.  Train true to an honest n=1 evaluation, fix what needs fixin’, and all else will take care of itself.

In health,

The “Go-To” Workouts

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

It’s been nothing short of a continual tempest around the TTP household for the last 6 weeks or so; an emotional roller-coaster consisting of sharply peaked highs and and the lowest of lows.  Couple this storm with a hellish increase in work load (great timing, huh?), and a fruitless attempt at trying to sell a house into a crippled market, spousal unemployment, an anemic economy and, well…you get the point.  This all would, in most cases (in a great many of the people that I’ve had dealings with) portend of a blown diet and a tossed-to-the-wayside workout regimen.  Not so with me, though, and for the plain and simple fact that my diet and workouts, along with my intellectual pursuits, spirituality, and the support of friends and family (and I include the TTP community here), keep me centered — even in the midst of some of the worst times I’ve ever experienced.

Maintaining a Paleo diet during trying times is actually a fairly easy thing to do, as long as you have an established “Paleo history” under your belt.  It’s simply an auto-pilot thing; a simple continuation of “doing that thing you do”.  Strange circumstances and environments will certainly feather into the mix, though, and one will have to maintain a Bruce Lee-like defensive posture and attitude during these circumstances, but all-in-all, these situations are not all that difficult to navigate.  I can tell all of you, though, that I have fasted more in the last 6 weeks or so than I ever have in my Paleo career, and, as a result, I’m the leanest that I’ve ever been in my entire adult life (including during my short bodybuilding career).

One of the highs -- Graduation night; 3 generations of Norris men and one beautiful daughter

One of the highs -- Graduation night; 3 generations of Norris men and one beautiful daughter

But back to the theme of this post, though: the “go-to” workout.

If you’ve been keeping up with my workouts as of late (checkout the Twitter side bar), you’ve probably noticed a pronounced lack of creativity and a noticeable recycling of the same modalities and themes.  Guilty as charged.  I maintain a set of four or five core, whole-body workouts that I’ll revert to in periods like this; periods where I have neither the time nor the creative energy to consistently come up with fresh, innovative and challenging gym-oriented schemes.  What I need in periods like this are workouts that (1) I know will offer an ass-kicking challenge, (2) are whole-body in nature (i.e., multi-joint), (3) don’t take long to execute in their entirety and, (4) consist of exercises that are easily manipulated via weight and/or rep scheme.  That is to say, the exercises that comprise these workouts can be morphed into raw strength or straight-up power versions depending on my want at the time.  Think of these workouts as the nucleus of the modality atom, with variants of these workouts comprising that atom’s electron cloud.  Simple, huh?

Here’s one example, and one of my favorite got-to workouts — a 7-round superset consisting of:

  1. Clean-Grip low pulls x 3
  2. Weighted dips x 3

It doesn’t get much easier (on paper, that is) than this.  Jack the weight up and slash your recovery time between sets and between exercises to nil.  Throw your body to wolves and let your mind zero in with laser focus on something other than your worldly problems.  I can’t tell you exactly how much aggression rage and sorrow I’ve spilled out in the course of performing this particular superset, but it’s been quite a bit.  And I’ll let you in on a little trade secret: do you think my body has any inkling that this is one of the most basic in design and easiest to set-up (in an equipment/space sense) in my modality tool box?  Well, if it does, it’s maintaining a hell of a poker face.  And sometimes I’ll go ahead and do power cleans instead of low pulls, or high pulls.  Want some on-the-fly dip variations?  Try a ballistic version, or maybe the ol’ Gironda dip; muscle-ups are always a popular, ass-kicking option.  Now, this workout would do nothing, of course, to pad my bank account if I were trying to sell it to the masses.  Why?  Hell, there’s no flash, nothing gimmicky, and *gasp* it’s hard-ass  friggin’ work to perform.  But if you want an effective, no bullshit way to push your body to its limit in the weight room, this one is the gold standard.  Here’s another from the “go-to” files.

  1. front squats
  2. behind the neck push-press

Look at all the press options that can be generated on the fly out of this initial, basic set-up.  One bar, one rack, and a multitude of possibilities.  Again, do you think your body will think it’s getting off easy for having to “only” perform this little superset?  Throw in some weighted pull-ups if you’re feeling especially froggy.

And another

The Cred x 3 + single arm DB press/push-press/push jerk.  Alternate arms, cut your rest between sets to nil, and keep going until you either hallucinate or your form deteriorates into the unacceptable realm.  I’ve also been known to add a weighted pull-up version to this combo as well.  I invite you to do the same 🙂

You don’t have to copy my go-to exercises, of course; I would suggest, though, that you come up with a collection of your own favorites to sustain you through whatever trying times you might have to navigate yourself.   Once you make it to the other side of the river, so to speak, you can return to more creative options.  Many times, though, I’ve seen people’s physical culture sink in the middle of the traverse for lack of the basic “life support” I’ve described here.  Don’t let that happen to you.

In health,