How’s My Training (etc.) Been?

Just received this comment from Scott M:

Hey Skyler,

How’s it going? Wondering what your training frequency is like these days – still once every 5? Are you still doing mostly SS HIT with some old school weights thrown in? Still doing chaos training? How about diet – still paleo with carb cycling on workout days? or have you added safe starches? Also, how’s the HRV going?

Good to hear from you.


Thanks for the question Scott!

The short answer is: I’m not doing any of that, save for the dietary front.

The longer answer is that I’ve been mostly doing hand balancing and calisthenic work with rings and parallettes. Other than deadlifting and some weighted shoulder dislocates, I don’t do too much object manipulation (Save for when I play around with Movnat combos).

There are many reasons for this, but the main factor is that I’ve been lifting a long, long time and wanted to learn how to manipulate my body in space. Further, with the birth of my son, I can’t always grab a workout at the gym, in spite of working at one. When my days are crammed, I leave after my last client to go pick up my son, so having the parallettes at home to train while he plays is always an easy option. Plus, he thinks it is so cool.

Further, the HIT jihadists are just so damn annoying. For every level-headed practitioner of HIT there is a wake of believers flowing behind him. It’s a bit like Ghandi’s saying:

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians; they are so unlike your Christ.

And since Efficient Exercise isn’t a “HIT gym” per se, I’m not required to toe the party line because there isn’t one. I can train however and train clients in a way that keeps them training and gets them results, safely. This happens to be very HIT influenced because they’re busy and want the largest bang for their buck.

An Ecological Worldview

So it’s both about wanting to try different things and because of all of the reading I’ve been doing. Given my education, I can argue for or against any approach, but I do like a more “wholistic” (intentional misspelling to emphasize “whole”) point of view. To take into account as many variables that may change the health and well being of a human animal. For a brief primer on human ecology, read this. Sounds familiar, no? All the way back in 1973, no less!

With that in mind, a real game-changer for me has been the book “Human Frontiers, Environments, and Diseases” by Tony McMichael. I originally read about this on, which belongs to Keith Thomas. Long (long!) story short, it’s an academic volume with accessible writing that manages to tie all of the strings together. While a “paleo” perspective is almost only about diet, an Ecological perspective accounts of every aspect of human interaction that can have a positive or negative effect on health or well being. I’m still digesting the book but so far it’s been a great read. You might not find it as such, but if you want a nice review see Keith’s here.

That said, it wasn’t this book that made me change my training: it was fatherhood. The deep components of my psyche that I didn’t know was altered or influenced by relatively benign aspects of my childhood bubbled up to the surface. For example, my father contracted gangrene in his leg during his late 20’s after an operation to remove a bone spur. Fortunately he still has his leg after some confident surgeons and cutting-edge (at the time) use of hyperbaric chambers to heal after the fact. That said, my father was not able to be particularly athletic as a result: hiking has been the long and short of his physical activity save for HIT. I didn’t realize how much this was kind of engrained until my son was born. I see him and I want to not just keep up with him, but I want him to be super-impressed by his father’s physical capability. Not making a weight go up and down, but what I can actually do with myself. It’s not a competition; I want to be the role model for his vitality, ya dig?

And that reminds me: how many old weightlifter do you know that aren’t fat or beat up? Not many. Correlation is not causation, and I can’t help but think that constant striving for an external variable to define “success” or “progress” might let the ego take the wheel and drive to injury sooner than later. I also can’t help but account for the longest lived cultures on Earth and how they don’t do any specific training, not generally. They have lifestyles that dictate lots of physical activity and they maintain their vitality through a huge lifespan. In fact a recent analysis showed that the variable that most correlated with the longevity of the Sardinia blue zone men was *drumroll*… physical activity.  Not training, but “pastoralism,” grade of the terrain, and, distance traveled to a place of work. Not magic legumes, not red wine, not cheese, not a super-secret workout…physical activity!


This of course segues into diet, which as noted above really hasn’t changed. I typically fast 16 to 18 hours each day and then eat in the remaining window of the 24 hours. My work schedule dictates such, though I’ve been doing some form of IF for 7 years now so it’s really a lifestyle for me. My bodyweight has been within 2 pounds of 175lbs for 4 years now, which pegs me right at 12% body fat according to DEXA scan. I’ll see you at 11o.

Further, no counting of any macronutrient. Some days I’m basically a damned protein-chowing carnivore; others a raw vegan, others still an Inuit on a bobsled. Some days huge carbohydrate loads, others almost zilch. The foods remain the same though:

Eat-Real-Food-What-is-Paleo-620x481Do I think, you know, legumes or the like will kill you? No, especially when cooked. Do I enjoy good bread from time-to-time? I do, with a crapton of butter on top. Or olive oil.

But for my internal calculus, they’re not regulars in my diet for this reason: are they giving me something I can’t get elsewhere? No. Do they pose potentially problematic components that I’d rather not have regularly? Yes. Ergo I avoid them. I’m not freaking out if the salad I bought came with croutons, or if the chili that’s available has some beans in it. I live in the real world and can control very little. But in my house, where I have control, it’s the above.

That calculus might not work for you; maybe you grew up loving legumes and just can’t think to get rid of them, nor do they cause you problems. Great! I came to this perspective through a Blue Zones perspective, so I’m certain legumes are generally fine. But I never liked legumes, so I don’t buy either side of the coin: yes they’re consumed regularly in these longevity cultures, but I don’t think they’re magic, AND they have potentially problematic compounds, but I don’t think they’ll kill you and they have good nutrition value if that’s your thing.

It’s a bit of the “Jeet Kune Do” or “Wei Wu Wei” of diet. It just is.

Oh, about HRV. I still use it, but not to track my workouts. I use it during my breath meditation to play with different breathing patterns and see how that changes my HRV. Great tech and once you know where you best benefit from a certain type of mindfulness practice (as measured by HRV), you can stop measuring. However, you might also see changes in your HRV in spite of the “known” breathing pattern because of life stressors. Still a good indicator, no longer use it for my training.

Summed up

That’s a longish winding answer; I like bullet points so let’s do that:

  • Currently I’m “training” 3 days per week with parallettes or rings (think GMB Fitness-type stuff) plus trap bar deadlifts
  • And I’m “moving” 6 days per week (Movnat, hiking, yoga, the odd trail run[!])
  • I do this because the activities are fun at fit the whole “ecological” paradigm without being silly. Plus they’re portable given my schedule. And my son thinks they’re great.
  • I fast daily.
  • I eat real food, avoiding problematic compounds without being dogmatic. I feel best on this form of eating.I don’t make fake fill-ins; if I want bread or ice cream, I eat bread or ice cream, not fucking “paleo bread” or “low carb ice cream.” Fuck that noise.
  • Do the best you can given your circumstances; it’s more than enough. What matters is that it’s consistent. Consistent imperfection trumps inconsistent perfection. What, you thought the longest, healthiest, and leanest cultures on Earth count their macros? Aim for the “perfect” exercise stimuli? Fuck. No. They. Did. Not.
  • Ironically, doing the above resembles magic when done for a long enough period of time.

In a strange turn of events, I’m going to leave the comments open on this one. Make me proud, Internets.

Ancestral Health Symposium 2014

This is an expanded version of my chat about AHS2014 over at the Efficient Exercise blog. Go read that now if you haven’t yet…I’ll wait.

…Good? Good.

If you haven’t seen the video, you can take a look at that too:

So in addition to everything I wrote over there and said in my talk, there are a few small additions I’d like to make about the event. First of all, the thing that is readily apparent from year one (2011) to year four is that the organizers have started to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. For example, Year one featured talks about the topic of violence in the course of human evolutionary history, which is actually not an unrelated or topic lacking in discussion (for example, see Ned’s exploration of the War of Canudos and the unexpected longevity of the survivors). However, from the perspective things a person can control or influence, famine and war are so far away from either. So AHS has moved from the total umbrella of things that have influenced evolutionary outcomes to the things that we can control or influence that lead to larger health & healthcare outcomes. Further, you had to present your evidence for your conclusions. It wasn’t enough to present a just so description, but rather people gave guided tours of the science and how it doesn’t fit perfectly with what is currently recommended, either in the ancestral health community or in the mainstream community. As I said before: You had to show your work.

So what would I have added? Well, the one point I forgot to expand upon was something I was actually criticized for: it kinda looks like a HIT protocol is the “best” for achieving these outcomes. The point I wanted to make, and simply forgot, is that like the rest of the evidence base, there is no “base protocol” for testing to see if certain putative markers or clinically significant outcomes are even seen in humans (based on animal studies).

This exists for cardiorespiratory training. Are you familiar with the Bruce protocol? On a treadmill, you increase the speed and grade until a person taps out or a true VO2 max is reached:

Bruce GraphSo this is normally used as a stress test (“Graded Exercise Test”) to determine some amount of metabolic fitness. As we learned in school, it’s also a dismissal test that is done with EKG so if the person kicks in the parking lot, you have data to show that they were great on the treadmill!

Anyway, when a novel marker of something is discovered in animal models, a standardized test like this is helpful to see if said marker is seen in humans. For example, here’s a clinical trial in which the Bruce will be used to see if BDNF is increased in those with spinal cord injury. What I’d like to see is someone put together, based on the literature, the resistance training equivalent to the Bruce, one that can be used to determine physiological responses to a particular training modality. This does not imply that it is the only protocol that elicits the response; it’s only there to test the feasibility of response.

In other words, the exercise physiologists had to go through the Bruce before getting to Tabata as far as determining changes in lactate threshold (for example). The same thing needs to occur for resistance training: a base protocol that determines IF a change can occur before the variables are tweaked as to how to MAXIMIZE the change that occurs.

So, you know, if that looks like HIT currently, so be it. I can’t turn an ought into an is, no matter how confident you are that it’s sub-optimal. That’s why we do research, folks, but you gotta start at square one.

HIT + Movement Training: The Ultimate Health Protocol?


Nothing like a hyperbolic title to get a person’s attention!

That said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Though in my early 30’s, I think a great deal about the notion of sustainable training. That is, what are modalities that a person can take up in their life to improve their health that have long shelf lives? Though something like powerlifting is very useful, you’ll find many more people participating in their teens through their thirties than you would in their sixties and seventies. I find the odd 80 year old hugely inspiring, but you don’t see the graveyard of the people who trained in basically the same manner who are just beat up old weightlifters or quit training after a gnarly injury. Remember, our joints are meant for millions of movement cycles and the wear is cumulative assuming no acute injury. Those years of junky muscle ups may turn into a “mysterious” frozen shoulder in your 50’s, that you’ll be dealing with in some capacity until you die.

Which is to say, I’m aiming to avoid that.

BUT I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing some handbalancing. Prior to ~9 months ago, I had never stood on my hands or even attempted it. Now my best handstand is 20 seconds and long term I’d like to build up to a press handstand and a one arm handstand. These are my hobbies, but I’ve also enjoyed some minor acrobatics and other stuff just for fun.

This brings me to something I discussed in my “Grand Unified Training Spectrum” post, namely that HIT guys are super narrow unless prodded to do more movement. They generally find flexibility useless (I used to, but now I disagree), mobility work unnecessary (it has great value), and from those I’ve met they suggest that people live in a hyperbaric chamber between workouts (To quote Dr. Ben Bocchicchio). Can you imagine how much “fun” that would be?

The point is to take the strength you build and apply it in your life. This is the “Active Phenotype” that amazing mutant researchers like Frank Booth talk about. It helps if your macroenvironment supports lots of physical activity, rather than just exercising within your microenvironment. A culture of activity furthers the active phenotype through avenues of physical activity. But if you live in a city that does not support this, what are you to do? No matter how perfect the program, an otherwise sedentary life is going to hamstring health and longevity.

So HIT is very efficient, is sustainable, is joint friendly, focuses on stimulating new muscle tissue and all of its endocrine-altering effects. What do you do the rest of the time? Patrick Diver had it right when he was interviewed at Conditioning Research:

My take on it goes like this:  do a HIT session once a week to cover your bases, and then go jump, roll, fight, climb, cycle or whatever else that seems like fun to you. 

From a learning perspective, you’d be hard pressed not to learn to move better from participating in Movnat. I used to think Erwan was a crazy French hippy but after many discussions with him, his point that physical activity should make one more adaptable, should be in line with natural human movements (“phylogenetic movement patterns” in motor learning lingo), and should be an expression of the human animal (e.g. “active phenotype”) is true. I agree 100%. The thing is that too many people confuse exercise for physical activity. They’re not the same: exercise is akin to a flu shot that necessitates a long recovery interval to manifest a measurable improvement in what you’re exercising. Physical activity should be done with a greater frequency, as practice for the sake of bettering the movement quality requires such. Further, one should not be trying to quantify the exercise benefit of physical activity, as getting better can often mean diluting the exercise benefit. This is why you have fitness tourists: after they suck, they move on because it got “easier.” So Movnat is great and it’s even better when combined with HIT or a time efficient program looking to make the muscles stronger. Win-win.
What can you do if you don’t a have some sort of Movnat practitioner near you or you simply don’t want to pay for it? You could do the MODs from Movnat if you have the space and facility, but what if you wanted more structure? There’s something that fills the gap: Floor 1 from GMB Fitness. They’ve distilled everything I’ve discussed earlier into a program that builds you from the ground up for higher quality movement, dexterity, and body control. This is the “gap” that just lifting misses: you WILL go out of alignment in the real world. Giving yourself “Biomechanical Headroom” will go a long way toward keeping you injury free while also having a good time just movement and learning what you can do with your body.
I’m not an affiliate of GMB, nor have they given me anything. It’s just the only program I know of that can fill the gap if you have no interest in doing a sport or are not otherwise improving general movement quality (at least until Erwan’s book comes out).
Remember: the body gets better at doing or not doing the things you regularly do. Pay attention to your movement quality and you’ll be keeping that movement quality for the large majority of your life.




Inputs and Biological Responses

Michael Allen Smith, who writes entirely too much, recently wrote this about the messy  notion of “Quantified Self.” The link he provides gives you all you need to know about why humans tracking inputs into our biology leaves all sorts to be desired…the margin of error is just too much for any sort of meaningful information to be derived:


We’re not machines; if we were, we could expect a given input to yield a linear, time-consistent response. X volume of powder A yields Y response in Z minutes. But it doesn’t and we don’t. Not only are we not machines, but some of the greatest advances in phlebotomy and proteomics research have come when we get the human element out of the way, mostly for the “unreliable/distractions/kittens” element mentioned above.  Examples:

So just live all Dionysian and  attempt to not control anything? No, but you must understand that the inputs are signals…they are stimuli. The stimuli is directionally accurate and dose-dependent. Further, the dose will have varying outcomes depending on the state of your physiological milieu at the moment of input. You can be sure ingesting protein will lead to new amino acids being available for protein synthesis, but the standard deviation of the response will vary depending on a variety of factors that you can never hope to control.

Further, the body is directionally set by the stimuli…it doesn’t care nearly as much by the context of delivery as much as by the quality of the content. This is especially true in the “paleo” community, with the idea that “Caveman X was on the savanna, therefore only could lift heavy rocks and get thorns in their ass when they screwed. I must mimic this for maximum health!” Here’s the thing:

The body doesn’t care about concepts; it only cares about stimuli.

The SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demand) referred to the type, quantity, and frequency of a stimuli. So while our hunter-gatherer ancestors trained their posterior chain by hauling an animal, we might dead lift or use a good lumbar extension. The stimuli is similar, no hauling required. The mismatch was never “We’re not hauling bison out of a ditch and eating mongongo nuts”; it was “we’re never exerting to a sufficient intensity while eating lots of processed garbage.” You mimic the stimuli while reducing the risks.

Coming full circle, once you do that, don’t go looking for a tightly defined output that repeats with the same input. You’ve narrowed the possible conclusions, but you’ve not selected any one of them. Your body will do that arithmetic in a way you can’t rationally understand based on milieu you cannot control. Your stimuli influences the possible outcome, nothing more.  To attempt to track everything and be sure you “found” a definite outcome is akin to reading tea leaves and predicting Harry Potter will die.


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 ( 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.


  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.