I initially thought of using a very non-Paleo visual metaphor for the construction of a proper weightlifting/exercise combo.  It looked a little something like this:


King Features

The Dagwood is less mentally taxing to construct, I’ll agree.  Just open the fridge and grab anything that doesn’t scurry away first.  However, this isn’t exactly the return-on-investment that the Paleo/EF-minded strive for.  No, we here at TTP choose to milk our valuable workout goats for the very most.  And if we go about things the correct way — invest in just a little bit of intelligent pre-planning — we can construct workout combos that are extremely effective and that waste little in the way of time or effort.  Every movement will have a purpose, and every rep of every exercise will be tapped for the greatest return.  Willy-nilly mash-ups, while easy to put together are, in the end (and like our bud Dagwood’s sandwiches), something less than fulfilling.

No, the visual metaphor for our workout combos will look more like this:


A perfectly matched, Paleo/EF meal combination.

So, where to begin?  Well, for starters, check out this article by Christian Thibaudeau, writing for T-Nation.  Open it in a separate tab, because you’ll likely want to refer to it now and again in relation to this post.  Now remember, my aim on this blog is not to reinvent the wheel.  I’m not going to suck up the science that’s out there, only to regurgitate it in a new form, with a catchy, newfangled name, and call it my own.  There’s plenty of that creeping around the web already.  No, my aim is to take the best of what’s known about exercise science and put it to practical use.  Plain and simple — -if I can’t actually use it in the real world, then what the hell good is it to me?  And you’re reading this blog, you’re more than likely in the same boat.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love to see what methods the professionals put to use, and I’m a complete cutting-edge/theoretical geek — hey, maybe I can deconstruct, out of such esoteric knowledge, a little something that I just might be able to put to use, given my time limitations.

Christian’s article is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  The information contained in this small article is nothing short of phenomenal; and it’s friggin’ free.   How cool is that?  But now you have to ask, “yeah, the article rocks alright, from an intellectual standpoint — but…”  But, what are you gonna do with that information, right?

Well, for starters, let’s look at just a small part of Thib’s article.  This is a condensed version of an application I put to use, in some form or fashion,  just about every time I workout.

Type of ExerciseCNS InvolvementWhen to Stop the Set
Reactive Lifts.  Overspeed work.Very HighWhen the speed of movement decreases.  Or when form deteriorates.
Olympic lifts, ballistic exercises, speed lifts with 45-55% of maximum, plyometrics, and jumps and bounds
Sprints of all kinds.
Throwing objects.
Very highWhen the speed of movement decreases. Or when form deteriorates.
Deadlifts (and variations), goodmornings (and variations), squats (and variations), lunges and step-ups, free-weight pressing (overhead, incline, flat, decline, and dips), and free-weight/cable pulling (vertical and horizontal)HighOne to two reps short of failure. Accept some speed loss but don’t go to failure.

Loss of “snap” in the movement

Machine pressing and pulling, chest isolation work, quadriceps isolation work, hamstrings isolation work, lower back isolation work, and abdominal workLowGo to failure on at least one set per exercise; you can go to failure on all sets.
Biceps isolation work, triceps isolation work, traps isolation work, calves isolation work, and forearms isolation workVery lowGo to failure on all sets. You can go past the point of failure (drop sets, rest/pause, etc.) on one to two sets per exercise.

The above is a reproduction of the table in Christian’s T-Nation article, with my additions noted in blue. This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather, a launching point for further discussion; something to build upon.  What follows are the basic “hows and whys” of what I consider when constructing a combo.  This is definitely not the only way to skin a cat; it has, though, proven effective for me.

Step 1  Choose Exercises or Movements/Methods with a Similar CNS Level of Involvement

I can’t prove this, but I know it empirically: if you mash-up dissimilar CNS Level of Involvement exercises in a combo, the entire combo will suffer.  I think, to put it in the simplest of terms, the central nervous system gets “confused”.  It doesn’t know whether to, say, “blast out of the starting blocks”, so to speak,  or “grind out a massive weight”.  You can mix and match from the Very High and High groups and be OK.  Same goes for mixing it up from the Low and Very Low groups.  Consider the boundary separating the High CNS Involvement side from the Low Involvement side as being the Rubicon;  cross at your own peril.  I rarely venture into the Low or Very Low zones, however; I much prefer the hard and fast blasts for maximum power output — but hey, to each his own.

Step 2  Opposites  Attract

To get the most out of your time (and to help keep your power output jacked), employ the push-pull method along a similar plane of motion.  Doing some manner of overhead press?  Pair it with a pull-up.  Dips? How about a low pull, deadlift, upright row, etc.  It’s neither a perfect, nor an exact science.  And really, there are no wrong answers with this, just better answers.   Believe me, our Paleo ancestors didn’t bother themselves with such minutia —  and they were, if the fossil evidence extrapolations can be believed, good athletes — and pretty damn buff, to boot.

Step 3 You Gotta Know When to Say When

I realize the “When to Stop the Set” column is a little fuzzy.  When the speed of the movement decreases?  One to two reps short of failure?  Accept some speed loss but don’t go to failure?  Loss of “snap”?  Hmm.  Well, I like to use the term “drop-off”, as I feel that this more closely approximates what I’m trying to convey.

And yeah, this is where a good bit of the “horse science” comes into play.  Again, there are no right answers per se, only better answers.  This subject is also a little more involved, and will necessitate an additional post.   For the purposes of this post, though, understand that the ultimate goal of a workout is to improve performance (or appearance — or both) and this cannot be effectively accomplished, by way of annihilation. Overall fatigue must be properly managed.  And believe me, it is still quite possible to overtrain while working out only 30-minutes a day.  Hell, I’ve succeeded in overtraining on a less than 30-minutes a day, 4-days a week schedule. So please, don’t repeat my mistakes.  If you’re going to screw-up, be creative and find a new-fangled way of doing it.  Then drop by and tell us all about it, so we can learn, too.  Be proud of your creativity!  And please, share the wealth —

Keep an eye out for the continuation.

In Health,


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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.


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