Sunday, April 14, 2013

....Feeling like a Heretic

Just an excuse to play some Lloyd Cole:

"Looking like a born again, living like a heretic"

That was the phrase going through my head this weekend as I thought about this post.  The heresy?  For so long I've been identified with, and I suppose in some ways promoted, certain positions in terms of fitness and diet.  There has been a lot of other stuff on the blog: big jumps, neuroplasticity etc, but the recurrent themes are probably diet and exercise.  Diet: paleo-ish and fairly low carb.  Fitness:  HIT style weight training.  The thing is, over the last few months, maybe longer, I've moved away from both to some extent.

Such shifts make me feel like a I am rejecting some fundamental truths.  Not only a set of principles, but the people, the tribe.

Looking like a born again

 The change has not harmed me.  I am leaner than I used to be when limiting carbs and have more muscle than I did while training once a week to failure.

Giving up the search for the philosophers stone

There is probably more to write about why I've moved on from low carb paleo, but essentially I drifted from low carb - I realised that carbs were not the enemy but often the preferred source of fuel.  Then overtime I started to question much of the dogma of paleo, particularly the quasi-religious nature of the whole paradigm, this utopia from which we fell in which we all lived these ideal lives, with optimal diets, social interaction and physical activity.

In terms of exercise I am still walking, spending time in the hills.  I am doing balance work and trying the movement rests that Tim Anderson writes about in Becoming Bulletproof and Original Strength (very Feldenkrais influenced).  But weights has gone on to 3 or 4 days a week, with the old bodybuilding split of chest/shoulders/triceps & legs/back/biceps.  Focus on progression in weight, not going to failure.  One exercise "heavy" 3 sets of 4-8, then one exercise at 2 x12-15.  This is based on Brad Schoenfeld's paper on the mechanisms of hypertrophy (mechanical stress, metabolic stress and muscle damage) with the heavy move pushing the mechanical stress and the lighter set going for the metabolic stress.  A bit like Lyle's bulking routine.  I am not rejecting HIT, just talking a change for a while because I actually enjoy training more than once a week.


The whole alternative, gnostic, hidden knowledge is so attractive.  We have something that the mainstream doesn't have.  It plays on the same fears and conceit that drives nutty conspiracy theories.

The thing is that all this alternative stuff is not really needed.  The mainstream often has the truth, but we do not want to listen or apply it.

The bodybuilders got it right

Increasingly I am coming back to positions that I had 15 or 20 years ago.  Maybe longer.  The sciencey bodybuilders.  Clarence Bass, Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald.  Newer writers too like Go Kaleo.

We are searching for the truth about how to get lean, muscular and fit and the natural bodybuilders have been doing it for years. (Natural I said....drug assistance means lots more latitude).  Then build muscle and get lean....often without the craziness. (There is some craziness but there is also some sensible stuff)

The internet led me astray?

I discovered the internet in about 1996 and immediately started searching for fitness stuff.  I found low carb then paleo then Art Devany.....and then it was deep into the alternative realms.

The basics stay the same

I still think the basics are the same as I've been writing for a while:

Eat real food
Progressive strength training
Stand up straight
Get enough sleep.

and of course, patience and consistency.

I can't give up

I will keep reading, writing, thinking and hopefully progressing.... of course I can't give up the search to  improve, to learn.


Steven Sashen said...

If you can tell me how to get enough sleep, that would be wonderful. I'm currently on the entrepreneurial "intermittent sleeping" program, with a cheat day on Sunday where I fall over on the couch for 3 hours in the afternoon (soon to be the hammock now that it's getting warmer).

Anonymous said...


great post. You don't have to "abandon" paleo or HIT to realize that other systems also work well But that's how one tends to feel when the concepts/dogma become of a religious nature. Consider that many of those who post on the BBS web site are professional trainers with financial interests in their system.

I've always thought that the main benefit of HIT is not its effectiveness, but its efficiency-you almost get something for nothing. But BBS is NOT bodybuilding and some on that site still seem to think that you can get bodybuilding results from doing 10 minutes of weight training a week. Think about how ridiculous that is! Health benefits? Yes. Bodybuilding? No way. Even then, bodybuilding results-I mean real bodybuilder muscle-may only be achievable to those born for it, regardless of the system.

Interestingly, many at the BBS site are now being fed the idea that timed static contractions are a new concept, and that eating raw meat will create huge increases in muscle mass. Hogwash! PT Barnum was right.

garymar said...

Personally, I love to gnosh on gnosticism.

Seriously, I'm still doing the Max Pyramid protocol, but have experimented recently with increasing the volume. Instead of 2 exercises every 4-5 days, I'm doing 3 exercises every 3-4 days. Of course it's progressive as I slowly increase the weights as the weeks and months pass. Results so far -- I'm a bit grouchier than usual.

There are rhythms to these things. I feel myself going through about a 4-5 year rhythm change right now -- maybe you're going thru something similar.

Anonymous said...

There are real drawbacks to putting all of your eggs into one training or diet philosophy basket. Just watch guys like Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson fade into obscurity as the paleo wave dies down over time.

Even smart guys, like them, can convince themselves of the correctness of their dogma when there is a financial interest involved. Their confidence and the simplicity of their concepts is infectious, drawing many people into the fold.

But to a large degree it's a house of cards and all has to come down at some point. People get bored, find out that its not magic, and move on. And they (guys like Mark and Robb) are left looking silly.

Chris said...

Garymar - yes there are rhythms - and that fits with Anon's comment. HIT is time efficient, good for health and will do wonders for most people. However I do't necessarily think it is optimal if you are trying to add muscle. i think everyone could benefit from a 1 day a week to failure HIT routine. Building more muscle though might need more

Chris said...

Oh yes....the raw food stuff. More woo. Another piece of magic thinking, the final piece of the jogsaw that will solve your problems.... Fasting is also getting pushed there too. Something else that is old news and again no magic.

Unknown said...

For me there is also not much left prom the fountain of controversy I found on the web. I moved to more reliable, proessional sources in diet and exercise. Currently it's only HIT that's left, because I don't know the conventional methods that well and haven't implemented them yet because of schedule, so I feel proper HIT is better than imitation of conventional method.

But it wasn't all wrong. HIT, Objectivism and Daygame are still pretty interesting topics I found mainly through 21 Convention.

Now even the "pros" use the web. Layne Norton, Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon,

Another topic is the application of methods vs. further studying. Most of honest gurus tell you to disconnect from the community when you have enough info. Daygamers like Tom Torero, Sasha Daygame or Hailey Quinn say the community is weird and it's uneffective to spend time on forums, immersed in theory, they prefer to learn through experience.
Matt Stone also says we should let the idea of physical perfection go.
I recently found it's much more powerful to take one source we like from the area, write down the advice, simplify it, absorb it and practice it.
In diet, we are unlikely to come with a breakthrugh. Training is probably the area where we can expect some fine-tuning by experts but still...the studies effectively comparing methods are utopia. And effective methods are already there, fine-tuned by infield experience, on both ends of the spectrum, from Drew Baye to Brad Schoenfeld.
If we take into account our life is not perfect, it doesn't really matter if some slight improvement over those routines will appear. The years pass by, we lose our ability and strength anyway. It only matters if it's our passion, but it doesn't contribute much to the goal itself, which was probably the reason for studying in the first place.
Maybe browsing Amazon twice a year looking for professional consolidated advice with great ratings is enough to satisfy the need.

Asclepius said...

Hi Chris, I'm thinking much the same thing. Your basics are spot on. (Props for linking to Lloyd Cole as well.)

Lyn Watson said...

You are right, carbs is not the enemy. We need the right amount of carbs in our diet for energy. It is impossible to get a ripped body without enough energy for intense workout. Also, our muscles will not grow without enough nutrients. We can eat many of the healthy stuff as long as we also perform more than what we eat.

Unknown said...


If you like more volume now, why not use Max Muscle Plan? I am pretty convinced by it and I'd surely choose it as my conventional plan. Come on...plan by Brad Schoenfeld, Layne Norton foreword and nutrition chapter reviewed by Alan Aragon? What are you waiting for, Arnold on the cover of 2nd edition?:-)

JamesSteeleII said...

I haven't read the Max Muscle Plan yet but I assume it is based predominantly upon Brads review papers.

If so I have to remain unconvinced and skeptical purely because the recommendations in his papers rely exclusively upon speculation from acute studies and reference to flawed reviews recommendations including the ACSM position stand and James Kreigers meta-analysis on hypertrophy.

His work is very interesting but currently I don't believe anyone has properly synthesised the actual training intervention studies on hypertrophy utilising valid measurement outcomes. Acute variables in response to particular training manipulations need to be corroborated with chronic training studies. They are great for hypothesis generation or for trying to explain why we get certain effects from chronic studies, but ultimately the chronic studies are what hold the most weight for training recommendations.

JamesSteeleII said...

Should clarify I'm not saying 'HIT' (or 'WTF') is most appropriate for hypertrophy. I don't know what currently is.

Unknown said...

James: Yes, Krieger is mentioned in argument against single set to failure routines, but he is not purely negative about HIT. And it's based on his studies. It is very well written, but I agree that the conclusions he makes are more art than science although he claims otherwise. The programme is periodsed, every day of every week is laid out, there are different phases like Max Muscle, Max Strength etc. to "prevent plateaus" and the frequency varies from 2 to 6 times a week, mostly 3-4. I think he uses mostly 3 sets, but the instructions are different each cycle. Even training to failure is there.
It is certainly much more easy to follow Evidence Based Resistance Training Recommendations, Max Muscle Plan tries to use every bit of knowledge that "helps" like extreme exercise variability (100+, cable, dumbbells, barbells) which makes it much less practical.
One thing that is pretty confusing is instruction like "Do this for 15-20 reps, 3 sets, with 15-20 RM at RPE at the end of 9, then 8, then 7." (example I just made up, but something like that) How the hell one knows this? Is it a guess?

Schoenfeld claims he had excellent results and I think one may well have better results than with 2x20 minutes a week, but to follow the plan is challenge in itself and the benefits are very questionable, because with HIT, it is not that hard in terms of planning and execution to do it right. But for someone who wants to try more volume and periodisation, I wouldn't look anywhere else, the book contains no amount of pure unscientific bullshit, which is rare. That said even the authors claim they don't know everything, so it's still art, as anything else.

Anonymous said...

I think lots of people seem to have followed the same path as you chris, probably one of many reasons that folks identify with your blog posts and keep reading. I finally realised adherence is everything, if you can't keep at it over the longterm it means nothing, for me this means fun (ido portal/chris sommer/barbarians type 'training') and variety, for others I'm sure that would have a different expression, whatever works for each of us but follows sound principles i suppose

Scott Pierce said...

First off, I thought I was the only Lloyd fan left in the world. Thanks for reminded Lloyd is still out there (shows our age).

I never bought into the whole "paleo" idea of paleo but I definitely think there are a some good takeaways. But they are just that, takeaways. HIIT is good stuff in my opinion but it isn't the totality of my workouts. Avoiding grains and sugar are definitely good things in my opinion but sometimes you gotta have a buttery roll. Someone said Mark S and Robb would one day look like fools. I don't personally believe that. I have always liked Mark's attitude toward things, move more in natural ways and try to stick to the outer ring of the supermarket 80% of the time. All good advice. It is the cult-like elements of paleo where any divergence gets weird and I don't see that with Mark at all or Robb for that matter. They both, though Mark is more down-to-earth, come at things from primarily an evidence based perspective and I appreciate that. Even if the whole "grok" thing doesn't live on, there is still plenty there to glean.

AL said...

Another good post in the vein you you been mining recently. Agree 100%. There is good information in the HIT world, and some people worth listening to. Then again, there are a lot of nutty folks, mostly followers who latch onto any old obscure thing like a zealot. Funnily, they are usually the most strident about their independent thinking, lol.

As I tweeted to you, I recommend the new cbass book (Take Charge) as a read. He covers a lot of the research he has written about on his blog lately. And of course he remains a physical marvel at age 76. A great advertisement for conservative, but open-minded training (I like how he has incorporated a "morning motion" routine - mobility work).

A couple of quotes from the book that sort of applies to your thoughts here:

"Enjoyment is the key to long-term success in training. Almost no one will stay on a diet they don't enjoy. The same goes for exercise".


"There is no 'best' way to train, there are many. Finding and pursuing ways that suit your body and personality is what taking charge is about."


"Bits and pieces of my training routine are scattered throughout this book. That doesn't mean that what I do is the best choice; I make no such claim. The key is to exercise regularly - in a way that is enjoyable to you; that is what I do."

I enjoy the blog Chris. Keep posting.

August said...

Generally, I am finding similar things to be true, but I can't forget what got me here. I wouldn't be in the gym if I hadn't learned about paleo. At the time, I was interested in losing weight. Now that I no longer have that problem, I am finding working out enjoyable. So, what works for me now definitely would not have worked for me in the past. I see a few of these folks who put themselves out there as "post-paleo" as people who are thinking in the now and can't remember the value the info had on them in the past.

Stuart Gilbert said...

It's interesting Chris that you have found a level of success with increased training volume and a drop in intensity. Over on Critical MAS, Michael has made similar findings, despite staying within HIT guidelines. Conversely Bill DeSimone seems to be finding success with relatively low volume, during his X Force and 30 30 30 experiments. Maybe the power of the mind is something that is often overlooked. Perhaps "faith" and enthusiasm for one's program, despite the design, is an important factor in the level of success achieved. Pouring oneself into your training, because you enjoy it and believe in it surely can't be overlooked. Perhaps a good compromise might be reached via an idea I read over on Dr Dardens forum. Keep the volume relatively low for all but one or two bodyparts, where the volume can be ramped up for a few weeks as part of a specialization program. The bodyparts emphasized can be cycled in an organised fashion.
As regards to dietary and training practices, most seem to come round in cyclical fashion. they gain prominence and then attract detractors. I've noticed that one of the current flavours of the month HIIT intervals has already begun to see fitness authors spring up to warn of the dangers and caution against the overrating of their effectiveness, compared to more traditional steady state work. Lyle McDonald and Matt Stone have written articles to this effect, and this was before Andrew Marr.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

I enjoyed reading about your experiment.

With your current training split, how many times per week do you train each muscle group?



Chris said...

Everything gets hit twice a week. Although sometimes for legs I am just doing sprints on the bike for one of the sessions.

Unknown said...

I just accidentally found that Matt Perryman - - published a new kindle book "Squat Every Day", I started to read it and it's very stimulating for the debate of training volume, scientific approach etc.

Tezzab4 said...

I've come across this article at Clarence Bass' site where it looks like this protocol provides for both high tension and good metabolic stimulus. I've tried it once and it feels awesome.

Alex said...

Hi Chris and all, we ve found Devany the same time, after years of training and sports it inspired me to change my routines and i tried lowcarb etc. Results
were good, but much of it was a false bias, every massive change would have had such an impact.Change is another key you can add to your list. Nothing works forever.
Look at dieting with steak and salat from boxing or weightlifting for Rugby or Footballtraing or in Germany Handball, you ll find man gems, but you've never searched for. Nothing new under the sun, but Paleo/devany was attractiv, wasn't it. I'm still fascinated, a little take it easier, 'cause i'm an older guy now at 47, but i must offen think of what Art would do ;-)
Greetings Form Germany

Alex said...

Hi Chris and all, we ve found Devany the same time, after years of training and sports it inspired me to change my routines and i tried lowcarb etc. Results
were good, but much of it was a false bias, every massive change would have had such an impact.Change is another key you can add to your list. Nothing works forever.
Look at dieting with steak and salat from boxing or weightlifting for Rugby or Footballtraing or in Germany Handball, you ll find man gems, but you've never searched for. Nothing new under the sun, but Paleo/devany was attractiv, wasn't it. I'm still fascinated, a little take it easier, 'cause i'm an older guy now at 47, but i must offen think of what Art would do ;-)
Greetings Form Germany