On “Progress”

Received this question last week:

I was just reading you blog article, ‘The Value of Abbreviated Training’… I don’t understand. You said you have kept basically the same body weight and measurements in the last 5 years. So are you saying you’ve trained all this time, but it isn’t doing anything for you? Why would that be? – Ricky

First I’ll give my response and then expand on it briefly (after which I’ll reduce it excessively):

The short answer: I’ve been training for 18+ years. I have no specific goals that my training would address that I’m not already doing “well” in, relative to where I started. I gained a lot of muscle early and have largely maintained it or modestly increased it since, save for a couple forays into powerlifting where I was much larger*.
Certainly in the past 5 years there have been performance goals** that I’ve achieved, like the ability to do a slow, clean muscle up, or hold a 1 minute handstand (to name 2), but they have not resulted in changes in body composition.
For where I am in my life, my training gives me the ability to do everything I want, perform well enough in competitive environments (e.g. 5k/10k) given the time invested. ***
*There is good literature to suggest that one can maintain a higher fat-free mass with more total body fat, this isn’t something that I would consider healthful. There is also clearly a lean body mass baseline that different people gravitate to (lol somatype) and different people have different range permissiveness around their somatype. Which is to say, when I stopped trying to take up as much space as possible, where I was nearly 50lbs larger than I am now, I came back down pretty fast to be within 10-15lbs of where I am now
**There are also goals I did not achieve that, because of the graveyard effect, you’ll never see.
***I mean really: I strength train 1 day per week, more often than not in my garage, get lots of good and varied movement & play, and 1 day per week my wife and I run ~3.5 miles at town lake while I push a heavy stroller. It’s an approximate time trial where if we’re feeling like our children have let us sleep we can really push and if not we expect to go a few minutes slower.
As a result, I TRAIN ~ 1 hour per week (unless you consider the Saturday run just mobile masturbation, then it’s ~20 minutes of training per week), but do lots of “yummy nutritious movement” every day. Depth & breadth, rinse & repeat.
Biological organisms do not adapt to infinity. My workout is sufficient for my life right now.

On Missing Out, Revisited

If you’re curious, you can read the original here.

I’ve now had a new phone for a little over a week and, with the lessons learned from being phone-free, I’ve adapted some of the following habits & strategies:

  1. No alert pop-ups, save for the sound of text messages coming in. Given my line of work, this is often the first line of communication.
  2. Eliminated the first screen of apps, as discussed here on Infomagical. All of my apps are in 1 folder and I search from swipe-right, rather than digging through the folder.
  3. No social media apps. They’re just not worth it.
  4. I’ve disabled Safari. I had Sarah put a password restriction on it. Some people can handle all of man’s collected knowledge (and terrible awfulness) in their pocket, but I cannot.

As a result, my data usage is paltry. The things that are data intensive (podcasts & music) I pre-download to the phone over wifi. As a result, I’m going to go to a “Talk & Text” plan for cheap.

I now have more time for the things I’d rather be doing, like reading, meditating, watching my boys play, being bored & the creativity it brings, and connecting with Sarah. All because I turned my phone into something that approximates a Blackberry’s usability circa 2008.

This has inadvertently been an eye-opening experience. If you feel like you could benefit, you might want to check out the “More Social, Less Media” program from Dallas Hartwig. It’s like a Whole30 for your phone.

On Training Load

I recently had a discussion with Chris Highcock regarding the implications of a paper authored by James Steele ii. The topic was how failure seems to be the primary hypertrophy trigger from resistance training, regardless of load. Given that, I noted the following:

Of course, load is useful in expediting the point (muscle failure). I have no interest in a 4 minute wall sit, so adding weight would benefit in hurrying that up.
Actually, perhaps load should be looked at as how you stay in the range of “comfortable failure.” Some people are going to be fine with low loads to MMF, where others might suffer too much metabolic byproduct discomfort and require more load. Changing the thought from “I’m trying to life more weight” to “I’m using weight to keep from doing more reps/time to failure” could really help people understand the goal.
Now given what I just wrote about the importance of load, you might be confused. Don’t be. Bone mineral density requires sufficient loading, of which often isn’t present in the studies with untrained elderly individuals who are fracture risks. When muscle is the goal, load seems, if not secondary, at least merely augmentative. Failure is the prime stimuli.
Don’t believe me? In a beautiful study in heresy, researchers at Ole Miss had students do unloaded curls and extensions to failure. They just flexed and squeezed until they could not lift their arm. The control group did heavy curls and extensions to failure. The result? Similar hypertrophy. You might suggest that the control group didn’t train heavy enough, but 70% of 1 rep max is basically New York City real estate for the prized hypertrophy zone amongst bros, bro. Results were the same, though the trainees who lifted weight got better at lifting weights. It’s like if you do the think you’re trying to get better at, you get better at doing the thing.

For the sake of hypertrophy, think about weight on the bar as a means to keep you from having to suffer from some of the downsides of an extended set. While a pump feels awesome, you’re also likely to stop the set because it’s burning, not because you are incapable of generating enough force to continue performing repetitions. THAT’s the failure we’re talking about and the prime hypertrophy stimuli.

On Bone Mineral Density

I was having a discussion with a gentleman recently who was concerned about his bone mineral density results from two recent DXA scans. In addition to consulting with me about how to solve this, he also brought it to a group of HIT practitioners who, on the balance, are generally good-headed guys.

One of the gentleman in the group was concerned due to a piece in the New York Times about how exercise “doesn’t” increase bone mineral density (BMD). Let’s explore the studies presented.

  1. Aerobics-only (*Fart Noise*)
  2. Combined training, including 5 – 8 Rating of Perceived Exertion on a Borg scale for resistance training (*Wah-wah*)
  3. Resistance training or jump training (*The Price Is Right Fail Noise*)

So the last two studies cited actually showed an increase in bone as a result of resistance training, with concurrent improvement in functional measures like the sit-to-stand test or stair climb test. However, they did not increase their bone enough to reduce break risk as a result of a fall.

So what’s the problem? Well, the weights weren’t heavy enough. This isn’t some bro declaration, but rather a function of an untrained elderly trainee’s stunted efferent drive. This varies depending on the study, but a 2015 study showed that elderly untrained individuals were only able to generate ~2/3rds the force of a mass-matched young trainee. So training with 80% of their 1 rep max is really training with 50% of the muscle mass’s potential force production. This is a function of inactivity, not age, as a recent study showed that lifelong strength training resulted in similar efferent drive when compared to younger individuals.

As per Wolff’s law, we know that bones respond to loading, but given the above, they’re not seeing nearly the load required to stimulate sufficient bone regrowth. A recent study on a novel isometric loading device has shown that the bones of elderly individuals can safely tolerate 3 to 9 multiples of bodyweight (MOB) in the spine and hip, respectively. When the device was used as part of a  24 week study, not only did the osteoporotic trainees double the MOB their hip and spine were exposed to, but they increased their BMD by 16% in the hip and 15% in the spine as measured by DXA. These numbers are astonishing, as the studies above saw an increase in BMD of 1% over the course of the year.

To summarize: if you want bone, you need load. Heavy isometrics are a good start for someone who doesn’t have a novel device like the one in the studies above, or an ARX nearby. You can also progress it over time by adding weight week after week, as the participants of the study increased the force they generated (and thus the load their bones were exposed to) over the course the study.

ARXfit Endurance Update

When I was talking to Andrew about this challenge I set for myself, he said something along the lines of “That’s a really long time to train for an event.”

When I said it to my wife, who has run 6 marathons, she said something to the effect of “That’s too much time to train.”

In true husband form, I knew she had no idea what she was talking about. Also in true husband form, she was of course correct.

The summer has been largely ARX every other week (with a James Steele-like bodyweight workout to fatigue in my garage in the in-between weeks) and the weighted 3 mile run in high heat and humidity. Interval work has been sporadic, as having the kids home for the summer means that I have daddy duty during when I would otherwise be able to grab a workout and cry on the floor afterward.

That said, Andrew’s apprentice did something like 20 minutes a week over 4 months, on average, so I’ll just say summer is for heat adaptation and that will serve me well come November.

On missing out

Recently, my iPhone bricked. The genius bar could not help it, and due to a variety of very exciting developments in my life, I could not get another phone before the end of the contract period with ATT. So I’ve not had a phone for 2 weeks.

Let me tell you: not having infinity in my pocket has been so very gratifying!

I hate to paint a hippie-dippy paleo picture of life before technology, because here I am writing on my Macbook, but rather that by not having a phone in my pocket, I’m creatively bored. Things stick in their longer, digest better, and result in clearer outcomes. The chance to NOT impulsively explore every whim is actually exciting.

Other fringe benefits: I’ve further come to appreciate how great KUTX is because I can’t just put on a podcast or Apple Music when I get in the car. And while I can’t “remember” all of the new or interesting music I hear, I am paying better attention to it than I did before.

Since I’ve not clicked the dopamine button all day long, I’m also able to better control any computer time I have away from non-working hours. Life is more interesting because I haven’t created a hyper-stimulated environment to dull the wonderful sheen of analogue living.

As such, the next thing I’ll do is that, when I get a phone again, I’ll be dumbing it down so that I can reap the benefits (like Maps and, you know, phone calls) without the downsides.