Grand Unified Training Spectrum 2.0

Since posting a couple weeks ago, I’ve received some good feedback and had a few “duh” moments myself regarding how this should look. As much, I’ve already updated and improved the design, which now looks like this:

GUT 3.0So one of the things I’ve done is expanded the “general” section because there is more leeway in avoiding creating dysfunction or injury when your movements are biomechanically congruent. Second I expanded the purple dysfunction areas to be larger when specializing or rehabilitating, as the more specialized you become the greater your risk of injury. It seems funny to “specialize” in general movements or movement patterns, but you can. This is seen a lot in the HIT crowd where the range of motion that is best loaded (from a force output perspective) is the “only” range of motion that these people venture. Stretching and mobility are dirty words; however if you can’t get into that range of motion voluntarily, and you have to venture there for some reason in real life, you’ll end up injured. Again, this is what I referred to in the first post as improving your boundary conditions and if you’re a HIT practitioner it would be wise to spend a little time here each week.

Next, this doesn’t account for modalities within each spectrum, which was a comment I received: “This doesn’t account for X’s work.” This was not a comprehensive spectrum of technique modalities because A) the distinctions can be arbitrary and B) modalities that may be the cornerstone of a bodybuilder might only see minor, but valuable, use by those in rehab or movement specialization (if they’re paying attention to what I wrote in the first paragraph). Modalities are a bit more fluid because their use is specific to the individual you’re training; remember, this is a global view of how training endeavors fit together, not the techniques you’d use in those endeavors.

Further if you’re healthy, the directionality would be from left to right or center toward the edges. Only if injured (or are on the verge of injury because you’ve ignored boundary conditions), should you regress back to the left as you primary focus. What happens as you move from left to right is that you transcend and include the previous level. Think about it: if you’re healthy, you’re likely using physical therapy exercises as “prehab” for your joints and muscles. Or if you’re venturing into a specific sport or movement activity, you’re likely using basic strength drills to “activate” muscles for your complex movement patterns, especially when they’re new to you. This does not mean that everyone needs to ever reach the movement or sport performance stage as some sort of “zenith” to your ability. Rather, it’s important to understand that though I’ve delineated these overarching themes, the reality is that the lower levels are part of the upper levels, though serving a different purpose in the scope of training goals.

Finally, I’ve added some examples to the spaces so that people understand what might “fit” each section. Clearly not an exhaustive list, merely a jumping off point for categorization and recognition.

GUT Examples

Grand Unified Training Spectrum.

I’ve been thinking a lot about movement lately. Rather, I’ve been doing a lot of movement, with emphasis on handstand work and other bodyweight-focused modalities. Coming from a HIT and academic background, this left a nagging feeling of “going off the reservation.” That is, I am confident in what it takes from a training perspective to stave off physical and cognitive decline as one ages. I’ll snow you with a mountain of data and studies to support my position and then smugly point to the letters after my name if you need further proof.

That last bit is sarcastic, as you’d likely only laugh at how much I paid for said letters.

But, being a from the West, there tends to creep in bits of “either/or” thinking that contributes to having a hard time with this. That and I’m very visual so an amorphous blob of mind maps was hard to parse.

However, there was a clue as to how I could make it all work mentally hidden in an interview I listened to from Dr. Carlos Berio of Spark Physiotherapy. He holds both a graduate degree in exercise physiology and a doctoral degree in physical therapy. He noted how PT school is only equipped to teach you to take a person from dysfunction to normal function. That is, there is a point where a person with a knowledge base grounded in working with “functioning” individuals would be better equipped to progress the person further. That’s not to say that at PT couldn’t learn quickly, they do have the most education after all, but that their education as taught is not enough to take a person to wellness or supreme performance (or injury resistance, or what have you). He talks about the need for both to bridge the gap between rehab and high level performance.

So that got me thinking about how to put these pieces together: those who are well and high performing as dismissive of PT because on its face it’s “easy” and seems to be silly doing these small specific exercises. It occurred to me that many of those in “movement” disciplines are equally dismissive of general strength training and, to some degree, strength and conditioning because the movements seem contrived. Erwan Le Corre is fond of saying that nobody ever screamed “BICEP CURL FOR YOUR LIFE!!!” He has a point: from a motor learning perspective elbow flexion is a component movement. Running, jumping, throwing, kicking, and catching are phylogenetic, that is behaviors that are common to all humans that do not have to be taught. So if most movements and behaviors that have their roots in those base patterns, something like a biceps curl seems totally arbitrary. But the human body is supremely adaptable and we’re really good about working around weak links. So if your pulling is somehow being hindered by biceps strength, they have value and can no longer be considered arbitrary. See how this can get confusing fast?

I believe everyone had a valid viewpoint. To quote Ken Wilber: “Nobody is smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time.”So I came up with a visual that puts everything together in an easy to digest manner. If you can understand where you are (or your clients, or your goals) are along this spectrum, you can plan for your training and hopefully avoid injuries. The big problem is the name…first take a look:

Grand Unified Training SpectrumI call it the “Grand Unified Training Spectrum.” Excuse the grandiosity, but I don’t know what else to call it. So what we see here is the delineation between where a person is along their frame of performance and where their goals are along a “specific/general” separation. I understand some goals could be classified as both. Remember: the map is not the territory and this is just a helpful guide.

Let’s take a look at some examples. First up is how a progression might go for someone who is an athlete recovering from an injury:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum AthleteSo what’s happening here is that an athlete suffers some sort of injury and receives specific sport physical therapy. From there they’re going to move relatively quickly through “general” strength training to bridge the gap to the strength and conditioning work they specifically need to do for their event. In this case think Olympic lifters or track athletes. This is the space where specialists live, and they’re really constantly on the verge of dysfunction. As my business partner Keith is fond of saying: Athletes aren’t healthy, they just look it. It should also be noted that people who start their kids off doing only 1 sport for all of their life have effectively widened the dysfunction condition. That is they aren’t generally prepared from youth; they don’t see a wide variety of stressors and stimuli that would better prepare a growing body for something more specific later on.

Here’s an example of how a person doing a “pure” HIT program and nothing else who happens to work a desk job might function:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum General PopulationOver my years of training I’ve seen this happen: you’re using biomechanically congruent exercises that exposes the joint to as little strain as is possible from strength training. The person has a job that parks them in front of a desk and they do nothing else with their life. I’ve made them muscle stronger, muscle healthier BUT if you take that too far you can develop problems. Play and physical activity away from training serve a variety of things but for your average bear it serves to maintain robust boundary conditions (hat tip to my client Paula). If you can’t get into a position because you’re too inflexible, you’re going to get injured, even if the muscle is very strong. If you train in a congruent range of motion under load but seek to maintain a wider range of flexibility unloaded, you avoid the dysfunction space. It should also be noted that distance runners live in this space:  phylogenetic behavior that, if too concentrated leads to injury. The least flexible runners tend to have the best running economy (a proxy for performance) but have also been shown to be the most likely to be injured.

It should be noted that one can live in the “general” rehab space for a period of time. I see a lot of clients like this, where I’m fixing their gait or posture. They don’t have any acute injuries, but they’re in a position to very quickly get injured if they don’t fix these general movement patterns.

Finally, let’s look at someone who may have been injured at one point, moved into general strength training, and finally decided they wanted to do some sort of movement modality. Here’s their curve:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum General to SpecificIn this case a person may have had a specific injury requiring specific care. After that they moved into a solid, biomechanically grounded resistance training protocol before getting excited about attempting to tackle some specific bodyweight movement modality. For the sake of illustration let’s say a one arm handstand. There is a point where “strong enough is strong enough” and the person must start working the skill to develop the specific strength (note: it’s not different than general strength, but coordinating all of the factors that are required to pull off such a feat requires far more than just strong deltoids). Of course, such specific goals can push a person to be injured in a way that is more likely to occur performing said skill.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about. For me, this was something that let me parse where certain training modalities live, where they relate to one another, and how one person’s training can be different than another person’s without one being an idiot and the other being a heretic. ;)

Regular Blogging vs. Specialty Blogging

So I’ve been writing over at our company website (www.efficientexercise.com/blog). What I’m doing is keeping all of the more “deep science” and personal thoughts on this blog, while using the EE blog for actionable blog posts. I’ll link to my writing here when I post on the EE blog so you can check out those posts as well.

With that in mind here’s what was posted today: Small Health Habits make a Big Difference.

Lessons From Grad School

Last week I officially graduated. I’m not finished with my final project for publication, but that happens independent of getting my degree…it’s icing on the cake.

Having a week of doing nothing school related allowed space to reflect on some of the take-away lessons from school. In no particular order:

  • You get out what you put in. Totally cliche but totally true, you’re going to get a lot of new information and you can just remember it or attempt to integrate it into your current understanding. Allowing it to actually change what you think you know allows you to be a better practitioner in whatever you’re going to school for when you’re finished.
  • To that end, there are some people who let the information wash over them like water off a duck’s back. They want the credentials, not the intangibles that come with hard work.
  • Academic writing is a giant pain in the ass, but I understand and appreciate why. I’d rather just apply what I know. As a result, any other degrees I get will likely be clinical or “applied”-type degrees.
  • Your core curriculum serves to deepen your silos of knowledge; the electives serve to add silos. Take advantage of this.
  • As a result, the class I found most interesting, and most applicable in tying everything together, was a class I was least looking forward to taking (as I’ll explain in a later post).
  • Academia is not glamorous. There are no more Indiana Jones-type professors and I’m not sure there ever will be again. It is a job, period.
  • There is not cathartic moment with graduation; you’re still you. Only now you get some letters after your name signifying a modicum of expertise. I think if you didn’t come from money or privilege, this is a very big deal on a personal level. I know it was for me.
  • Your standard internet fitness guru can dig up a mess of information about content without having any idea as to how to contextualize it. This is the difference between a kid with a new toy and a master with a box of tools.
  • It is very easy to develop a type of Stockholm syndrome while in the deepest bowels of a degree program. “I’ll just stay in school forever!” as some sort of distraction from the daily slog. Once finished, this disappears.
  • Most of what people refer to as “exercise” is really just gussied up recreation. Without a good way to measure what’s going on at the physiological level (what you’re attempting to “exercise” for health outcomes), you’re just guessing which part of the noise is actually the signal. Most are terrible at this.
  • On the other hand, the value of recreation cannot be denied. However, only recreation often leads to injuries in trying to take something that should be “fun” and push it to “exercise.” Just leave it fun.
  • Being able to read journal articles like a scientist has value that cannot be understated.

Those are off the top of my head, I’m sure there are tons more in there. But that should give you a taste of some of the “intangible” knowledge acquisitions you’ll gain if you’re about to venture down the graduate school path.

Getting “Stronger” With Aging – How Do We Score?

This is an expanded version of an answer I wanted to give over at Doug’s website to the question of how do you judge improvement in functional ability with aging. Specifically, Ed is almost 69 but feeling really solid about his strength. The exchange:

“Another Point: Folks, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re “stronger” after 5 Years of aging – one might perform exercises better or score well on machines, but age Kicks Your A**”

Not sure I agree. I firmly believe that I’m as close to defying the aging process as could happen. Between 61 and 63 my measurable strength levels went up about 60-70% (despite “working out” with weights for 20 years prior…I had a good start). Going on 69 and they have not dropped one bit. So that said, in the last 5 years I’ve seen no decline in what I accomplished the first 2 years. Which says to me, I’m just as strong now as I was 5 years ago (not to mention I feel fantastic!)

The other trainer basically waves off Ed’s statement by saying he’s “keeping score on machines” and implies that a barbell bench press would be the “real” scorekeeper of his strength levels. Let’s talk about this.

What the heck is strength, actually?

Or specifically, what are the ways in which our body manifests strength? People with a little experience in this field understand that it’s not *just* muscle mass being added. There’s a whole host of compensatory mechanisms being used to make one “stronger” without a corresponding increase in size.

In Neuromechanics of Human Movement, Roger Enoka (the author) lists eight potential neurological areas for non-hypertrophy related strength gains:

  • Enhanced output from supraspinal centers (which they show from simply imagining muscle contractions)
  • Changes in descending drive that reduce the bilateral deficit (the inability to fully recruit all of the motor units during dual limb compound movements)
  • Increased motor unit synchronization
  • Greater muscle activation (EMG)
  • Heightened excitability and altered connections into motor neurons
  • Reduced coactivation of antagonist muscles
  • Greater activation of agonist and synergist muscles
  • Enhanced cross-education

Big list, but the important component is that basic coordination between the muscles is the single greatest contributor to non-hypertrophy related strength gains. Along with neurological adaptations, adaptations involving increased stiffness in the tissues that connect from bone to bone (tendons, extracellular matrix, etc.) can lead to increased force transmission from muscle to bone, which play a significant role in increased strength gains. The more “spring-like” the tissue can become, the more the force produced ends up moving through the barbell or apparatus attempting to be moved.

So in that sense, the trainer talking about keeping “score” with machines (or any exercise) is correct: they can lie to you. However, it’s important to note that these mechanisms cannot compensate forever. Imagine if they could: you’d be the 98lb weakling dead lifting 800lbs. Rather, these compensations occur in parallel with hypertrophy and within parameters. Eventually the compensatory ability reaches its ceiling for a given amount of muscle mass and you either add tissue or, if you’re near your genetic limit, don’t get any stronger or bigger. Such is life. But the take away is that if you’re getting stronger and your weight is stable, you’re probably not losing muscle. This measure is directionally accurate.

So how else can you keep score?

Body composition

Let me remind you that Ed is nearly 69. He’s on the downward slope of muscle mass and strength gains, where his peers are withering. Ed is making progress due to their rapid loss of tissue due to inactivity and sudden fat increase, a term called “sarcopenic obesity.” A great review of this can be found here.

From a visual perspective, this curve can be displayed. Here’s how it looks based on the literature:

Muscle curve ageThe original curve is from “Bending the Aging Curve” by Joseph Signorile. I added the “Paddon-Jones” curve, as one of Dr. Paddon-Jones former students was a muscle physiologist at Texas State University (where I received my masters). She explained that the original curve doesn’t account for the fact that people get injured, lose a lot of mass, and never recover to a “normal” projected loss. So the “gap” between a good functioning person training and their sedentary peers is even larger.

It looks great on a graph, but something more substantial is required. How about images?

psm.2011.09.1933_fig5 The 40 year old and 74 year old triathlete look nearly identical as far as muscle mass are concerned. Remember it is the total volume of tissue we’re looking at here; it’s difficult to sometimes see how a person actually is doing when they’re aging because of the breaking down of the collagen matrix in their skin making them look less “hard” than when they were younger. The muscle is there, but the skin lies a bit.

Ed notes substancial strength and tissue gains in his early 60′s. We see these improvements in sedentary 90+ year olds. It looks like this:

90 muscleBased on the above, it is reasonable to assume that one could “jump” a line if training is sufficient in intensity and progression. Perhaps this explains Ed’s jump in strength and maintenance thereof.

Another point: muscle is an endocrine organ. High quality work with muscle stimulates a more youthful expression in all of the organ systems in the body. It is literally the gatekeeper to youth.

Takeaways

  1. Strength is a directionally accurate indicator of lean tissue maintenance and/or gain during aging.
  2. Decay is inevitable but the rate of decay is largely within your control.
  3. The surest way to “keep score” of your physical function throughout aging is a yearly DXA scan to assess muscle and bone, a basic mobility screen, and strength as assessed by your training regimen. All of this with feeling really damn good covers both objective and subjective measures of physical function.

Whole 30 #2 Review

I was apparently ahead of the curve in proclaiming the paleo diet to not be magical in any way. Take that, johnny (and Jane?) come latelies! Here’s the thing: magic isn’t actually magic, but boy if it doesn’t resemble it. With that in mind, the value of such an eating strategy has never been lost on me, nor its utility. It’s really hard to screw up (unless you’re making “paleo donuts” or some sort of other stand in for your sugar addiction), gives you a ton of nutrients, jives with that whole “you’re a human animal” mismatch elimination thing, and satisfies my internal calculus.

Internal calculus? That is to say, in a cost/benefit analysis, the foods I don’t eat aren’t missed. Grains,legumes, and dairy do not offer anything my diet does not already have in abundance and only bring things that either subjectively make me feel rubbish or objectively are problematic in the body. Thus, they have no place in my regular diet. This simple calculus doesn’t work for everyone, some people need to bathe in the wonder that is a really great functioning, reduced-inflammation human body to “get” it. That’s where the Whole 30 comes into play.

I’m friends with Dallas and Melissa, so I guess that’s a disclaimer (though Dallas and I have stimulating conversation on all points in which we disagree, so no critical thought is lost in process). The utility for such a period of clean eating for us is a reset and a check: a post-birth reset after the whirlwind of generally good eating but not quite all the time because we had a newborn; and a check to see if our normal eating habits were or were not making us feel subtly not our best without our knowledge. So on we went.

There is a guide to how you’ll feel at what day throughout the process. It was a good sign that we never really hit those notes…I never wanted to stab anyone during a sugar comedown anymore than I usually do because there wasn’t a sugar comedown. Second, nepotistic articles in online magazines set up awesome straw men about such a diet, with lines going on about a paleo diet not having enough carbs for hard training athletes. Never mind that endurance athletes (who need way more carbs than your average meathead) wrote a book on the subject. Hell, further never mind that certain professional hard-training athletes (read: paid millions for their performance) find a great deal of success with such an eating plan. Digressing, in my experience is that I eat more carbs when I tighten up my diet because psst, unless you lived near the poles, you had fruits,berries, and tubers available to you! It’s food! An example of this was how many times Sarah said “How many bananas is that today?!” which means I was eating a lot!

So since Sarah and I have done this before, we had no problem with buying in and understanding the subtle cues to pay attention to throughout the 30 days. However, as we progressed Sarah would say things to me like “I’m not really feeling anything.” This was actually a good thing, as it meant that our normal habits were really pretty solid and that tightening up wasn’t really too much of a stretch. Contrast this with the first Whole30 where Sarah walks in around day 13 and tells me how damn good she’s feeling and how great her skin is looking etc. etc. Our normal was now really damn good, so we didn’t notice much improvement in that regard.

At the end of the 30 days, we went on our first post-birth date sans baby. We got some sushi, felt a bit drunk from the voluminous rice, a serotonin smoothie if you will, and then the next morning went back to our normal habits that had been adjusted by the past 30 days.

So other than subjective results, there were the body composition changes; I lost 1/3″ in my waist, a couple pounds, and a few mm’s on the caliper, though nothing major nor expected. I call in the clean diet fudge factor: doesn’t change how my clothes fit or how I feel, though the OCD’s out there would go crazy for it. Ebb and flow around a central point, like my weight which has been within 2.5lbs either direction of a “stable” weight for 4 years now. These measures are the same. Sarah lost 4lbs without trying and is now fitting into pre-baby clothing, which is a nice side effect of just eating damn good food.

In the time period since, ~3 weeks, we’ve come to an interesting conclusion: in our life, a diet that is basically Whole30 + wine & dark chocolate works great. We get all of that sweet mortality reduction from the booze and dark chocolate doesn’t make us feel…well, anything. It just feels like heaven as all dark chocolate should! Seriously though, it lets us have social latitude without feeling like we’ve been run over by a truck as a result. And what’s better than that?

They’re starting another Whole30 in January; if you’ve been jonesin’ to try, that’s as good a time as any. And no, I don’t get anything from the reference, unless you count having Dallas on my cell phone as compensation. College girls everywhere are jealous, I’m sure.

The Elderly Need More Exercise? Not Exactly.

An interesting discussion over at Doug McGuff’s message board regarding exercise and aging. This comment was of interest:

I suggest that the sedentary elderly require more exercise, not less. I am one such. A few minutes a week is not going to do it for sarcopenia or anything else. If I train once a week I cannot maintain my condition, strength,metabolic benefit, motivation or momentum. Nor can you if the rest of the time you are inactive.

Here was my response to this statement:

And I disagree; I think the elderly need more activity, not exercise. Further, the health education research is clear: in the elderly, physical activity and self-efficacy track side by side. The more confident a person is in their abilities, the more physically active they are; the more physically active they are, the more confident they are in their abilities.

If you make a person stronger in your studio, they’re more confident in their ability to do other activities. This is what Doug talks about when he says people want to move more after training for a number of months. Get strong and you’ll get more active relative to your starting lifestyle.

I’ll even make it a nice soundbite: have you ever heard the phrase “a stronger athlete is a better athlete?” The same is true of human beings throughout aging, that is a stronger human is a better (more active, more healthy, more resistant to cancer/metabolic disease/disability) human. (Emphasis mine…just now!)

There is a nugget of wisdom in there that I want people to pay attention to: “relative to your starting lifestyle.” If a person is doing zip and they start a once per week strength training routine that then leads them to take leisurely strolls because they enjoy it, they’re going to do a whole lot better for themselves compared to where they started as far as disease prevention and injury risk reduction. If you had a crazy triathelte at the same advanced age add the same dose of exercise, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. There’s a survivorship bias discussion that will be addressed another time, but here’s my advice: don’t take advice from an endurance athlete who has been training “all of their life” as the gospel…there’s more at play than just hard work!

I digress; elderly individuals should look at their training as an upside-down oil funnel: the widest, part is going to be activity that is very low in intensity but very high in frequency. It seems this is where one can start making a semantic argument that this too is “exercise.” However, it’s really just being a good human animal and setting a functional path: if you move a certain way today, you’ve got a good chance of moving that way tomorrow. The middle part of the funnel is going to be mobility work as maintaining joint free range of motion is paramount for maintaining activity levels. When looking at barriers to exercise, the less mobile people are, the larger their barriers to exercising become. For example, those with mobility limitations cite “poor health, fear and negative experiences, lack of company, and an unsuitable environment as barriers to exercise…”. Performing joint mobility work for 10-20 minutes a day, hell even starting at 5 minutes per day, when mobility is still pretty good will go a long way to maintaining mobility, which maintains activity levels and exercise efficacy. Finally, the tip of the funnel is exercise training, preferably of a high intensity nature. Muscle is the most plastic tissue in the body, the largest endocrine organ we have, and creating a sufficient degree of demand will improve all aspects of a person’s physiology. By its nature, it cannot be sustained for very long and requires a prolonged recovery period. That’s fine, as it means more time for the activities the person would rather be doing, which is going to set the table for continuing to do the activities until the day they die. All good stuff!

So no, the elderly do not need more exercise; they need just enough exercise to produce a body that feels good doing lots of physical activity that a person would rather be doing. Maybe this advice will produce a few more Stephen Jepsons in the world and how cool would that be?

Strength is a Skill

The subtitle of the post should be “…that doesn’t always lead to mass.”

I’m in the midst of writing a research review of publication and I came across a study on exercise volume and hypertrophy & strength changes. The study is titled “Strength and neuromuscular adaptation following one, four, and eight sets of high intensity resistance exercise in trained males” and is found in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Click above for a preview.

The study used 32 resistance trained males in a 10 week study of the squat at 1, 4, and 8 sets per workout performed twice a week. The authors concluded ” The results of this study support resistance exercise prescription in excess of 4-sets (i.e. 8-sets) for faster and greater strength gains as compared to 1-set training.” Yup, that’s true. No beef there. But let’s look at the numbers.

Strength Stats

So the numbers are cut and dry: the 8 set group saw an average increase in 37kg in their 1 rep max squat over the course of the 10 week study, compared to a 17kg increase from the 1 set group. Here’s the thing: when you compare the lean tissue changes, the result is much, much smaller. The 1 set group gained 2.03kg lbm over the 10 weeks, while the 8 set group gained 2.69kg lbm. So for the 8x increase in time spent training, and a 1 rep max 20kg higher over the same period, the trainees gained…0.66kg more? Really?

Strength is a skill and all of that time spent under the bar is practice. It just also happens to contribute to hypertrophy but not in a linear fashion. The fact is that if you want to get strong as fast as possible, more practice will get you with the movement pattern will allow a larger exertion to be controlled when performing that movement pattern.

The problem with these studies is that they cannot, due to funding, account for the long view of time. I’ve shown this crude sketch before but it’s relevant here.

Rate Of Gain vs. Injury Potential

While reaching one’s “absolute” potential is something very few are in danger of achieving, the fact is our progress slows down as we get closer to that absolute max. Understanding that each one of us has a limit, it must be asked that does doing more sets merely get us to that limit faster, only to coast longer? Given a time frame of say 5 years, would the 1 set group and the 8 set group be moving very nearly the same weight, all things being equal? I’d suggest that they’d be very close, with the reduced set group having spent less time in the gym and reduced occurrence of injury. There’s only so much recovery to go around and the tolerance for error becomes smaller under heavier loads.

So what’s your goal? If you want to powerlift, more time under the bar is better (though 8x the sets only got a bit more than 2x the strength gain…4 sets is a nice compromise in that regard). If your goal is lean tissue gain, strength improvements are important, though a side effect of quality contractions under sustained load with sufficient metabolic distress and enough rest and calories. Oh, and there’s that whole genetic thing to be discussed in another post! Finally, if your goal is robust health, improved function, and a better looking naked body, 1 set with a sound set of eating habits centered around real food is hard to beat. The time investment is paltry and the return is profound.

Body Criticism: It’s Turtles All The Way Down

Yesterday on Facebook, Krista Scott Dixon posted this:

Stump

She’s right: if you are otherwise free of pathology, there is nothing wrong with your body. This is a fitness industry-wide trap, to make you feel bad about your body as a means of motivation. Unfortunately it’s as big a trap as the one the Rebels encountered and far less entertaining.

It's a trap

The sort of self-talk that comes with this self-criticism is reactive in nature. Let me give you an example: if you decide, for some reason, that your deltoids are too small and “need” fixing before your physique is “perfect,” your goal is inherently about how imperfect you are and thus are in need of fixing. After you “fix” your deltoid size, you’ll find something else that is “wrong” and “needs fixing.” And you can do this forever, endlessly finding more and more that is wrong with you in the face of the recent “fix” you achieved, hence turtles all the way down. You may end up with a more beautiful body, but your journey there was on a wagon of self-loathing. In men, this is the root of the Adonis complex; in women, anorexia nervosa among others.

Your body is exactly the way it is; nothing to be fixed. One way to realize it is to actually do things with it that you’ve not done before. This is a proactive framework, where you add to the foundation that is you, not chip away at it. You lift more, learn to handstand, juggle, or some other skill. You take up a sport, take up yoga, take up tai chi, explore everything that you body can do. You come to realize that you’re a pretty rad machine; look at all you can do! If you were “broken” you’d never actually be able to do these sorts of things. Your body may change as a result, but that’s a side effect of learning all of the cool stuff you can do.

In Health Education, there’s a lot of discussion about intrapersonal theories. How do you teach a person a set of skills that allows them to rationalize better health decisions over their lifetime? Now omitting that there are a host of others factors that are likely more important (e.g. interpersonal factors, community factors, cultural factors for instance), these theories identify where people are in how they think and some of them point to how they think and aim to modify these behaviors. One in particular that is relevant to this discussion is the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). The theory states that a person’s attitude toward behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control, together shape an individual’s behavioral intentions and behaviors. Especially in fitness, it often goes like this: behavior (“working out = punishment for cake”), subjective norms (“everyone is so much fitter/prettier/skinnier/harder working than me”), perceived behavioral control (“But I can fix me! I can control everything and look like that!”), together shape a person’s behavioral intentions (“I’ll find every flaw, and until I do, post myspace angle photos hiding that which I perceive as such”). I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate, but a negative affect from the start will only lead to misery.

Here’s a suggestion: find something you want to do with your body (not to your body), really work at getting better at it, and stand back and be amazed at how far you were able to get when you didn’t worry about what was wrong with your body, but how many great things your body can do. It’s astonishing.

“Aging with Strength” is live!

This past spring, I was presented with the opportunity to speak at PaleoFX 2013 on strength training and aging. This was a fun challenge, as I was given a small block of time with which to fit a 40+ minute talk. This meant that I had to hit the big-picture points without leaving people in the dark and I think it came out well. I hope you enjoy it, especially the addition at the end with how little exercise it takes to cement these health outcomes.

So PaleoFX 2014 will be happening April 11th through the 14th here in beautiful Austin, Texas. Tickets for this event are now live, as is the preliminary list of speakers. I’ll be presenting a new talk on skill acquisition in high level athletics, so if you’re just plain tired of me talking about how awesome you can be when you’re old, you won’t want to miss this talk.

Get your tickets now!