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

The Human as an Endurance Athlete?

Is it just me, or is there something missing in the whole “humans evolved as endurance athletes” story?  To wit, here’s an interesting story from the folks at NPR.  Interesting, no doubt – however, there’s an obvious (and, in my mind, at least) whole other half of the story that’s continually left unexplored.  And not only unexplored, but seemingly unacknowledged.

No doubt some humans are superbly suited for endurance endeavors; whippet-thin, slow-twitch dominant – all lungs, ligament, tendon and bone – and part of the problem here may be that the researchers themselves are, for the most part, (1) put together thusly, and (2) are themselves, endurance athletes.  Confirmation bias, anyone?  Seen through the prism of the endurance enthusiast, all of mankind is either a well trained, severely untrained, or badly trained, distance athlete.  And sprinters?  Simply a forced phenotypical expression (read ”ill-advised” and “ill-conceived”) that an underlying elegant and — quite natural! — endurance chassis must endure.

Now, I’m certainly not a trained professional in this line of study, but this “endurance” line of logic just doesn’t resonate with me.  Something, my logic tells me, is badly amiss.

Of course, I could be accused of the same manner of confirmation bias in my own insistence that there also had to be an evolutionary niche for the powerful, sprinting human, a niche that “endurance man” simply could not fill.

And, too, the idea of the “persistence hunt theory” – though no doubt part of the overall human evolution story – simply cannot be the whole, end-all of the story.  These “sprinting types” peppered about humanity had to have evolved from a set of specific evolutionary pressures that had little to do with endurance and persistence, and more to do with swift, powerful and lethal.

It seems to me that the energy expenditure to energy pay-off for persistence hunting (as defined in the “endurance” theory) has to be dreadfully low – even if we are to consider exceptional running mechanics.  I have no doubt that in some niches that this was necessary – surely, though we co-evolved in diverse settings that required a diverse set of evolutionary skills.

And possibly endurance evolved among humans, not for the purpose of persistence hunting, but for the purpose of scouting for the tribe?  Think overall calorie intake for the communal band as a whole – women and children included — not simply a few runners and one (relatively) small, and no doubt lean, animal.  A band of humans might more effectively and efficiently deploy scouts in numerous directions to locate promising hunting grounds and/or rich scavenging/gathering sources, allowing the tribe as a whole to find the best options within a large range. This method would, it seems to me, maximize caloric intake at a minimum of total communal expenditure, as the specialization within a group allows several to run for scouting/exploring purposes while the remainder can conserve energy for hunting (sprinting?) and gathering purposes once the most promising site has been found.

Again, this is not to say that I dismiss the “endurance theory” out of hand, but simply to state that I know there has to be a “rest of the story” left to be uncovered.  Simply put, I just don’t believe that the sprinting/power-inclined phenotype can be overlooked in an evolutionary sense, especially vis-à-vis the endurance path.  Of course, this opens up the debate about genetics in sport; a debate that either focuses on the “endurance gene” (what makes Kenyans and Ethiopians so dominant?) or on the “speed gene” (West Africans, Jamaica and the USA).  To be sure, it’s a debate that is heated, because it has anthropological, racial, cultural undertones.  It’s a debate for another time, though, and a bit beyond the scope of today’s post.

One thing that all runners benefit from though, is the superb spring/recoil characteristics of the foot structure.  For more on that most interesting story, check this out.

Ok, so in my humble opinion, not every human is naturally wired for efficient endurance endeavors, however, listening to Dr. Lieberman, though, would lead one to believe it so.  I think I’ve established here that I have to disagree with the good doctor’s stance – I do, however, think that Dr. Lieberman’s choice in footwear absolutely rocks!  🙂   Now if he’d just give my power/sprint-inclined phenotypical brothers some well-deserved love, already!

Moving on to Tuesday Evening‘s Iron Session –

I began this session with squat cleans – “greasin’ the groove” with 25 perfect rep singles at 135 lbs, with an approximate 7-second recovery between reps.  I returned the weight to the floor (i.e., no drop) after each repetition, took my hands off the bar, stood up straight, took a breath, re-gripped and hit the next rep.  Each rep was with perfect form, and as fast as I could make it.   The first 12 or so will make you feel like a well tuned machine; the second half of the set will make you feel as though you’re quickly coming apart at the seams.  This is a good, explosive lead-in to the meat of the evening’s workout.  Next up was a superset of the following:

reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 x 10; 60 x 6; 80 x 6, 5

barbell muscle-ups: 135 x 5; 145 x 4, 4, 4

A black-sky storm was rolling in, so I left the gym immediately following that superset.  Not that I would have done much else anyway, though; I was pretty well zorched after the chin/muscle-up pairing.  And lemme tell ya, there’s nothing like close proximity lightning strikes to put a little *umph* in your fixie get-along.  Holy sprint-wasted legs by the time I got home.  And by the way, I did beat the rain – again!  Still battin’ a thousand for this summer. I know this rain-dodge cockiness is going to do nothing but get me drenched here before long  🙂

…Which Leads Us to Wednesday’s Bout with the Iron…

Same idea as with Tuesday’s “greasin’ the groove” power cleans, only today’s lead-in exercise of choice was the whip snatch to overhead squat; 115 lbs x 15 singles, 7-seconds between reps.  Again, I went to the floor between each rep, then re-gripped & pulled easy to the power position, then hit it.  The ol’ PC was feeling it for sure by the end of this.  From here, I hit a superset of barbell lunges and btn jerks:

reverse barbell lunge: 115 x 10 (10); 135 x 6 (6); 185 x 5 (5), 5 (5)    Left leg(Right leg)

btn jerk: 115 x 5; 135 x 5; 185 x 2, 2;

Then, following the superset, I continued on with the btn jerk, 200 x 5 rest-pause singles.

Shaky, post beat-down hands make for a lousy picture, but here’s a shot of my lunge/btn jerk set-up –

The problem that I have to deal with here of course is the lack of bumper plates and a lifting platform.  But, I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with; that’s all any of us can hope to do.

Anyhow, put a fork in me after this workout – I was damn well done.  A well deserved and much appreciated off day is on tap for tomorrow; some light riding, maybe some barefooted strides, depending on the weather.