“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

It’s been nothing short of a continual tempest around the TTP household for the last 6 weeks or so; an emotional roller-coaster consisting of sharply peaked highs and and the lowest of lows.  Couple this storm with a hellish increase in work load (great timing, huh?), and a fruitless attempt at trying to sell a house into a crippled market, spousal unemployment, an anemic economy and, well…you get the point.  This all would, in most cases (in a great many of the people that I’ve had dealings with) portend of a blown diet and a tossed-to-the-wayside workout regimen.  Not so with me, though, and for the plain and simple fact that my diet and workouts, along with my intellectual pursuits, spirituality, and the support of friends and family (and I include the TTP community here), keep me centered — even in the midst of some of the worst times I’ve ever experienced.

Maintaining a Paleo diet during trying times is actually a fairly easy thing to do, as long as you have an established “Paleo history” under your belt.  It’s simply an auto-pilot thing; a simple continuation of “doing that thing you do”.  Strange circumstances and environments will certainly feather into the mix, though, and one will have to maintain a Bruce Lee-like defensive posture and attitude during these circumstances, but all-in-all, these situations are not all that difficult to navigate.  I can tell all of you, though, that I have fasted more in the last 6 weeks or so than I ever have in my Paleo career, and, as a result, I’m the leanest that I’ve ever been in my entire adult life (including during my short bodybuilding career).

One of the highs -- Graduation night; 3 generations of Norris men and one beautiful daughter
One of the highs -- Graduation night; 3 generations of Norris men and one beautiful daughter

But back to the theme of this post, though: the “go-to” workout.

If you’ve been keeping up with my workouts as of late (checkout the Twitter side bar), you’ve probably noticed a pronounced lack of creativity and a noticeable recycling of the same modalities and themes.  Guilty as charged.  I maintain a set of four or five core, whole-body workouts that I’ll revert to in periods like this; periods where I have neither the time nor the creative energy to consistently come up with fresh, innovative and challenging gym-oriented schemes.  What I need in periods like this are workouts that (1) I know will offer an ass-kicking challenge, (2) are whole-body in nature (i.e., multi-joint), (3) don’t take long to execute in their entirety and, (4) consist of exercises that are easily manipulated via weight and/or rep scheme.  That is to say, the exercises that comprise these workouts can be morphed into raw strength or straight-up power versions depending on my want at the time.  Think of these workouts as the nucleus of the modality atom, with variants of these workouts comprising that atom’s electron cloud.  Simple, huh?

Here’s one example, and one of my favorite got-to workouts — a 7-round superset consisting of:

  1. Clean-Grip low pulls x 3
  2. Weighted dips x 3

It doesn’t get much easier (on paper, that is) than this.  Jack the weight up and slash your recovery time between sets and between exercises to nil.  Throw your body to wolves and let your mind zero in with laser focus on something other than your worldly problems.  I can’t tell you exactly how much aggression rage and sorrow I’ve spilled out in the course of performing this particular superset, but it’s been quite a bit.  And I’ll let you in on a little trade secret: do you think my body has any inkling that this is one of the most basic in design and easiest to set-up (in an equipment/space sense) in my modality tool box?  Well, if it does, it’s maintaining a hell of a poker face.  And sometimes I’ll go ahead and do power cleans instead of low pulls, or high pulls.  Want some on-the-fly dip variations?  Try a ballistic version, or maybe the ol’ Gironda dip; muscle-ups are always a popular, ass-kicking option.  Now, this workout would do nothing, of course, to pad my bank account if I were trying to sell it to the masses.  Why?  Hell, there’s no flash, nothing gimmicky, and *gasp* it’s hard-ass  friggin’ work to perform.  But if you want an effective, no bullshit way to push your body to its limit in the weight room, this one is the gold standard.  Here’s another from the “go-to” files.

  1. front squats
  2. behind the neck push-press

Look at all the press options that can be generated on the fly out of this initial, basic set-up.  One bar, one rack, and a multitude of possibilities.  Again, do you think your body will think it’s getting off easy for having to “only” perform this little superset?  Throw in some weighted pull-ups if you’re feeling especially froggy.

And another

The Cred x 3 + single arm DB press/push-press/push jerk.  Alternate arms, cut your rest between sets to nil, and keep going until you either hallucinate or your form deteriorates into the unacceptable realm.  I’ve also been known to add a weighted pull-up version to this combo as well.  I invite you to do the same 🙂

You don’t have to copy my go-to exercises, of course; I would suggest, though, that you come up with a collection of your own favorites to sustain you through whatever trying times you might have to navigate yourself.   Once you make it to the other side of the river, so to speak, you can return to more creative options.  Many times, though, I’ve seen people’s physical culture sink in the middle of the traverse for lack of the basic “life support” I’ve described here.  Don’t let that happen to you.

In health,

Keith

15 COMMENTS

  1. The Cred is just wicked, of course.

    Truth be told, when my mother was dying from cancer, her only wish was that she could train. She kept living her life, kept eating clean, kept fighting, wishing only to train again. I was able to put her through one session prior to Christmas and she was walking on air, feeling good about her chances for the future, plus sore as hell. A black swan intervened and thus she’s no longer here.

    So my point to your readers: don’t give up what you can do because your life is in a (temporary) spiral; a taste of what you enjoy and what drives you steers the ship during your darkest/most difficult times.

    • Great words, Skyler. And it’s true — these workouts mean so much more than just “going through the motions”; they’re almost — dare I say? — spiritual.

  2. You don’t know me, as I don’t generally comment. Please take my strong moral support for the travails you are going through. You seem to be made of strong fiber, and hence I have no doubt you will sail through this workout of life and emerge stronger.
    Remember, there are people whose bad times don’t seem to end….

    • One of my favorite — though a bit sardonic, I suppose — lines is, you don’t know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.

      All tongue-in-cheek, of course. I consider my self a very blessed person going through a period of intense learning. Spiritual special forces training, maybe? 🙂

  3. Keith,
    I hardly ever reply to the blog as I often feel it is a very manly territory so to speak, but I do love reading about your ideas and experiences very much.

    You seem to be a very strong person indeed and I always found that in times of crisis it just shines through naturally and it is almost as if one didn’t have a choice but keep on going, trying even harder because all of a sudden survival is on the agenda. Some people have it more than others and as “good” as it is, the ones who are dealing with all the issues often feel they were not asked before if they wanted to take so much on in life.
    I am very much inspired by your resilience and positive outlook in life and keep reassured that the one thing that is always constant is change. As long as we strive to give our best we will be alright and brighter days will be ahead for most of us.

    Keep on going and thank you for being so open and sharing with us.

    Hug
    Marianne

  4. I can’t tell you how applicable I’ve found this message to be, Keith. Any particularly rough patch is far more easily weathered when I can retreat into a consistent, reliable outlet in the form of exercise. Some might look at it as superficial . . . i.e. the “how can you focus on fitness during a time like this?” or “we need to nail this deadline … how can you let fitness take up any of your time?”

    I don’t think they realize how grounding a good physical outlet can be. And how much it can improve your mental clarity. How can we be expected to perform, or endure, when we are anything less than at our physical best? It seems so obvious to me …

    Have you met with this sort of criticism before?

    • Oh yeah. Those few who know me intimately, understand. The vast majority, though, consider any physical outlet during a time of great stress as being, as you said, a superficial (and I would add narcissistic) undertaking. After as many years as I’ve been around, though, though, I’m used to it; so much water off of a duck’s back.

  5. Hey Keith,

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on fasting vs. less than desirable (or even non-paleo) food choices. For example, what would you be likely to do when on the road and forced with a lack of paleo food. Would going to McDonalds and ordering a burger without the bun be more desirable than continuing to fast when you’ve already been a long time without food? What about some soy bean oil/salt covered Planters nuts from a gas station. Would you buy these if there was no other option, or simply fast frequently and wait for a more desirable meal? I know whenever I fast I pretty much require a nice big paleo meal with plenty of good fat and protein, but if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or what it will contain (ie. if you were going to visit friends in another state and staying at their place), would you eat these snacks and accept them as a necessary evil?

    One more thing, have you experienced any muscle and/or strength loss during these bouts of frequent fasting? And do you have any recommendations on certain tricks to help preserve muscle mass and strength when fasting (ie staying active to simulate a search for food)?

    -Justin

    • Road trips are tough to navigate from a Paleo point of view. First and foremost, I live by the mantra of “do the best you can with what you’re given”; a little planning does go a long way, too, though, so try to look ahead and take along some raw nuts, jerky, coconut butter and other such “in a pinch” foods. Don’t obsess, though, about those things you can’t well predict — that’ll just turn you into a kill-joy, and it’ll ruin your trip.

      Now, the obvious easy answer to a situation of bad food options is to fast. Another option is to fall back into “graze” mode, as in most instances you can at least find something of Paleo consumption worth. Let your true hunger be your guide, here.

      A couple of “road dog” tricks:
      — Think “meat first”; BBQ joints, mom & pop “home cookin'” places are usually good in a pinch.
      — Micky D’s are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, so plan ahead with “salad augmenters”, that is to say (for example), fry up a whole package of bacon before hand, keep it on ice; whip it out when you hit that evil establishment.
      — All manner of eggs and meat can be had at a Waffle House. That is, of course, if you can survive the cigarette smoke, bad jukebox music, and carb-pushin’ waitresses (wha…? No bread??)

  6. Where do you get your jerky? I’ve yet to find a brand that isn’t chalk full of preservatives and other additives I really don’t want going into my body.

    Thanks for the reply, by the way, those tips are all very helpful.

    • Check out your local farmer’s market or co-op, a couple of locals here sell jerky that way. Another option is if your lucky enough to have a full-fledged butcher shop in your area. Having friends that hunt is a big plus as well 🙂

  7. For some reason Gainesville is filled with a ridiculous amount of vegetarians, so our farmer’s markets barely include any animal products. I guess our farmers that do have animals realized it was futile to bring their stuff to a crowd consisting mostly of vegans. If only they knew what they were missing with grass-fed, healthy raised farm animals…

    On another note, I need to get in with some red necks asap.

  8. Also, if you have any tips at all on how to successfully peel a medium boiled farm fresh egg, please tell me, because every morning after I boil a dozen the shell peels off in a million little pieces.

    • Two things here (1) I soft-boil my eggs so that the yokes are semi-firm to runny, and (2) I begin peeling the egg at the bottom, where the small air pocket is located, and only to the point where I can insert a teaspoon to “scoop” the egg out of the shell. The egg will not come out whole, of course, but I don’t eat them like that anyway. It’s a hell of a lot less aggravating than picking at glued-on shells.

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