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.

The ARXFit Endurance Experiment Pt. 3

In my previous post, I discussed the philosophical framework around how I plan to run an ultramarathon (and finish well) on around an hour a week of training. I also noted that I’m no the first person to do this and do it well. What I’m attempting to do is use even less running to accomplish this goal, by leveraging the technology I have available to me that very few folks have access, and also working really, really hard.

An Eccentric Argument

Part of the argument for higher volume training to run these longer races comes down to the actual eccentric load your muscles, connective tissues, and joints will experience. When you’re running super-long events, you’ll rarely approach your threshold pace, but the sheer length of the event, the thousands of steps you’ll take, will wear you out and break you down. It’s the real problem of long distance events & staying injury-free (or at least, serious injury-free).

Resistance training has a track record of reducing injury rates in endurance athletes, competitive and recreational alike. This is in part due to the ability to maintain all of the alignment that comes with an efficient gait for longer, but also due to the increased eccentric strength that resistance training readily develops.

That said, ARX lets me take it a step further. Eccentric-only training has shown that you can increase the eccentric:concentric strength ratio with eccentric-only training. For my purposes, this is the killer feature as I can make up for my lack of volume with controlled eccentric loading. I think this separation of skill & strength is actually the BEST way to go about increasing the water level that raises the whole ship.

Leave it to the Elites

The fact of the matter is that I’m not elite, and perhaps the thing that most surprises me about endurance sports, coming from the background of strength training, is how many people look to the elites and then emulate that. Maybe I’ve just been around HIT for so long, but there seems to be an understanding that whatever X athlete or bodybuilder is doing is not what you should be doing. They’ve earned it by way of hard work and a favorable genetic hand. They built up to that and have coaches holding them back from blowing themselves up (which is what a good coach does). We’re not that person…why train that way?

In his interview with Brian MacKenzie, Rich Roll talked about his training at Stanford for swimming. He said that basically no matter the distance, the vast majority of the work was skill-based followed by intervals. This got me thinking about Graduate school and how field tests for athletes went in basically this order:

  1. Skill
  2. Power/Speed
  3. Strength
  4. Endurance

So I’m structuring my training in a way that addresses this. I’m 1000% certain I’m not the first person on planet earth to do this, but I’m very surprised that, when you look at general nervous system input vs. energy demands, everything flows downhill from hi/lo (skill’s need for high neural input versus the gross energy demand of the skeletal tissue executing the motor pattern) to lo/hi (endurance athletics).

The General Structure

Currently I’m training 3 days per week with a total “work” period of just over an hour, coupled with lots of moving around, unstructured. Let’s take a look at my last week.

Monday 5/2/2016

After some high hip and deep glute mobility work that Kelly Starrett explained in “The 4 Hour Body,” I did the following:

  • Power + Skill work
    • Weighted seated squat jumps supersetted with Handstands, 3 x 4 reps
    • Depth jumps supersetted with L-sits, 2 x 4 reps
  • Strength Work
    • ARX Omni Romanian Deadlift, inroad mode to 40% fatigue
    • ARX (vertical, vintage) Incline Press, inroad mode to 40% fatigue
    • ARX Alpha leg press, inroad mode to 40% fatigue
    • Blast Strap Plank at ~30* angle, 1:00

The strength component took <10 minutes, while the power component takes 15 minutes, on average. Total work time: ~25 minutes

Thursday 5/5/2016

This is the HIIT-specific day. The goal is the drive the physiological adaptations while marrying the skill. Remember: the higher the neural input the faster the skill is adapted, which is why I marry running technique work to interval work. The workout:

  • Skill work
  • Endurance Work
    • The endless hill. Started the treadmill at 8mph and 0* grade. Every 2 minutes I upped the grade 2*, with the goal of reaching 10 minutes total time and 8* grade. This workout I made it to 9:30, which is 30 seconds longer than 2 weeks ago. When I reach 10 minutes, I’ll increase the speed and repeat.

Again, the split between skill work and specific work was 15 minutes and 10 minutes, so ~25 minutes total time.

Sunday 5/8/2016

Normally, Sarah and I run with the kids on Saturday, usually doing a 3.5 mile run (that’s as long as we get before my oldest wants to get out and run himself). Today we ran the Sunshine Run 5k, which I ran barefoot and pushing the stroller the entire time. Like all of my training, I was also fasted. The great thing about the race environment is that you can get really focused and aroused, leading to better times. Of course it’s also training.

Overall it was a great run. In spite being quite humid (Texas in May!), we managed 25 minutes on this run, which is about as fast as Sarah could go 8 months-post the birth of our youngest son. The exciting part for me is that, while pushing 75+ pounds of stroller, I was only 1 minute slower than my 5k PR last fall. I estimate that I could have clipped off a 21ish minute run without the stroller. Things moving in the right direction.

Training time: 25 minutes; total time for the week: 1 hour and 15 minutes.

I have 6 months between now and the 50k in November, which is tons of time to get even faster. My next “big training run” will be in June, a 21k trail run. Mind you I’ve never run farther than 10k, so I’m excited to see how this all plays out. Prior to that I get a DEXA scan to see how my 12+ weeks of ARX-only strength work has changed my body composition. Onward.





The ARXFit Endurance Experiment Pt. 2

I’ve posted previously about my goal to run an ultramarathon on super-low volume training. To do this, I’m leveraging the available technology that most don’t normally have access to for this sort of thing, namely the ARXfit Omni & Alpha. Beyond that, I’m leveraging HIIT work to build the additional physiological capacity to run this race and finish in the top 3rd (or better!) of the field on an hour a week or less of training.

First, an aside

A little over a week ago I ran the Cap 10k barefoot while pushing my sons in a stroller for ~3.5 miles of the course. It functioned as both training (barefoot work = foot strength) but also mental work (75lbs of boy and stroller make the hills just a *bit* difficult). I was running at the pace my wife could run at (6 months post birth of baby boy 2) so we finished in under an hour. I’m certain I could have gone 10-12 minutes faster, if not more, had I not been pushing.

Not a test pilot

First of all, I’m not the first guy on planet Earth to do this. Andrew Magness is an ultra endurance athlete, race director, and entrepreneur who, after having kids, still wanted to compete in races that challenge you to actually finish rather than just finish in X time. He found that he could use HIIT and regular bigger efforts to be very competitive and maintain a very high level of fitness.

This appealed to me from the perspective of what’s at stake in these events: weirdos in the woods aren’t making money from their efforts. Save for a few people, everyone else is doing it to live up to or exceed their own expectations. I’ve always been motivated by doing less than anyone to be better than most. This is actually beyond the 80/20 Pareto principle, the second iteration. Andrew talks about the 64/4, which is that 20 percent of the 20 percent drives 80 percent of the 80 percent. I’ve posted a nice visual before, but you can get 2/3rds of your health outcome potential from exercise from the first hour invested:

Exercise per week

So what I’m trying to leverage is that I feel there’s a “better” 4% that can push you beyond the 64% of potential benefit (the ARX is a great example of this). I also think you can do this with HIIT if you take the event down to integral components.

Separate, Perfect, Integrate

So one of the things I think can help the non-professional athlete get more out of their efforts are to separate skill-intensive work from metabolic-intensive work. Now the athletes who can tolerate such high volume of work are able to do enough of the activity are the egg that can be thrown at the wall and not break, which is to say you can’t know a priori.

Instead, separating the demands within a workout, using the “optimized” 4%, and training it hard would be the prudent solution. Trying to fix your gait while tired is the wrong thing to do. Trying to increase your turnover when you’re trying to drive hard is the wrong thing to do. Instead, training them hard perfectly but separately and then integrating them in longer efforts is, in my opinion, the way to go for the type of athlete I’m talking about.

So in part 3, I’ll discuss how this all hangs together for me and some of the longer efforts (though not “long”) I plan to perform leading up to this race, and some of the hacks I plan to use to help optimize this whole thing.

The ARXfit Endurance Experiment

Goal: Run this race in November: Muleshoe Bend 50k

Why?: Because I’m not the biggest, or strongest around (but I have some much bone), so I may as well be best at suffering!

How?: Taking a mixture of all sorts of training ideas from people who believe in quality over quantity. People like Eric Orton,Aaron Olson, Andrew Magness, and yes even Brian Mackenzie.

ARX will play an important load in allowing me to keep mileage low but maintain high eccentric loading. Also, I suspect I’ll gain some muscle during this process (how cool is that?).


After the Cap 10k, I’ll be dialing in the specifics of the program, but recently my schedule has looked as follows (and will resemble my training for the 50k):

Globally here’s the overview:

Mondays: Rock climbing, if anything. Also at least 45 minutes of mobility work during one of our EE meetings.

Wednesday: 400m repeats with a 1:30 rest. Once I get below 1:10 (remember, this is running gait, not sprinting gait [middle image]), I’ll reduce the rest interval by 5 seconds. VO2max focused. I’ll also bring in some heat therapy on this day as well for those adaptations. This is all from Andrew Magness and his ideas.

As speed starts to level out, expect 200m’s to be feathered in with less rest.

Thursday: ARX workout. Basically Big 5 for my purpose (RDL *or* belt squat, pulldown, chest press, calf raise, leg press), plus including some specific abdominal wall work (blast strap plank and anti-twist “palof press” mostly). However Mike is going to torture me as we go through this process and ramp up volume.

Saturday: “Long” run. Currently Sarah and I are currently training for the Cap 10k, so I’m pushing a double BOB for distance. When that’s done, I’ll start piecing out a blend of longer runs and tempo repeats on this day, taking advantage of my dead ass legs at peak DOMS (I’ll explain why in another post why this is the path). These times and distances will be drawn from the “Low Milage Running” program for half marathon distance. I’ll also follow the workout immediately with sauna to exploit those adaptations. I follow this with Eric Orton’s foot drills on a wobble board.

Daily: foam rolling, movement (GMB Movement Vitamin), and not being sedentary.

ALSO I’m doing the 100-up drill regularly (~5 days/week) on a 1×8 board. Like is demo’d here:

I expect to gain muscle since I’ve never, EVER, spent a concentrated amount of time on the ARX. Now is the time.