…or, the Advantageous Coupling of Select Epigenetics with a Favorable Genetic Predisposition

What happens when a kid of obvious genetic predisposition is placed in an environment richly advantageous to the expression of that genetic potential?  The right coaches, the right atmosphere, the right competitive environment — the perfect nurturing cradle just waiting for the arrival of that “perfect” genetic hand.

This is the perfect storm that leads to the creation of sporting legend.  The right kid finds his way into the right gym and falls under the tutelage of the right coach.  A young Lance Armstrong becomes enamored with the then budding sport of triathlon, is noticed by the right people, encouraged and sponsored at an early age; a young, gangly, athletic kid becomes a “work in progress” for storied Jamaican sprints coach Glen Mills — in each instance we know, of course, the rest of the story.

Genetics.  Epigenetics.  The hand you’re dealt, and how that hand plays out vis-a-vis the balance of the cards in the shoe, the strategy of the other players, the manipulations of the dealer.  The perfect hand at the right game doesn’t guarantee a win any more than does a gimp hand at the wrong game necessarily necessitate a fold, though, as such hard-to-pin things as will, desire and drive (which we now know are largely influenced by one’s genetics!) play such a substantial part in the final outcome.  When everything does come together “right”, though, the result is a beautiful thing to behold.

Now I’m not an endurance athlete myself — Hell, I consider 200 meters an endurance event — but I do appreciate the athleticism and training dedication required of these types of events.  I also appreciate the poetic synergy of obvious genetic predisposition within an advantageous epigenetic environment.  That said,  consider this kid, Lukas Verzbicas, as a perfect example of that synergy.  And check out an example of one of Lukas’ workouts.  A far cry and away from one of my own track sessions  🙂  And yet…

…and yet, what Lucas and I do have in common is the need for a base level of strength.  A differing base level of strength, to be sure, but even endurance athletes — if they wish to maximize their sporting potential — require a certain base level of strength.  Or, as it has been said, “…level of strength with which to endure”, a quote (or something similar) that I believe can be attributed to Charles Staley.

How would I suggest Lukas — or any endurance-leaning athlete, for that matter — obtain and maintain that required level of strength? HIT/SS training is, in my estimation, the perfect fit.  In as little as an hour per week, the endurance athlete could build an impressive, and performance-enhancing level of strength.  A pretty damn good time investment-to-performance enhancement ratio — with the double pay-off being the enhanced metabolic conditioning that this manner of training provides; like an intense, off-the-track interval session.  I’m not sure what types of facilities Lukas has at his disposal in Orland Park, but if he were based in Austin, I’d suggest he slide by one of Efficient Exercise’s four locations and get hooked-up with the good folks there.  If you are an endurance athlete who happens to be lucky enough to live  in Austin, and you aim to boost your performance, by all means take advantage of the fact that the EE studios are available and convenient , and get on by.  Remember, all other things being equal, the stronger athlete will prevail.  It’s a maxim that’s just as true for power-burst endeavors as it is in endurance sports.

Yesterday’s (6/8/10) Workout –

Some dynamic and repetition method iron work at the gym yesterday.

feet-elevated push-ups: 40 lb vest x 12, 12, 12, 12 (1/0/x/2 tempo)
reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 lb vest x 6, 6, 6, 6 (rest-pause each rep within each set)
kneeling jump squat: 40 lb vest x 5, 5, 5, 5

4 rounds of that, then a superset of:

Pec deck: 195 x 10, 10, 9
Kneeling DB clean & press: 40 x 12, 12, 10

There are many, many permutations of the kneeling (or seated) DB clean & press.  In some, the motion is akin to what I would call more of a DB muscle-up than a “clean & press”.  In my version, the movement is initiated by hammer curling the DBs to shoulder height, then immediately transferring into a DB shoulder press, with the two distinct motions flowing as seamlessly together as possible, i.e., with as little pause at the transfer as possible.  Working the repetition method with this superset.  Every method that contributes to the goal has a part to play, some more so, some less; the trick is to continually assess one’s faults, then apply the correct tool and protocol to each perceived weakness.

In the push-ups, my feet were elevated such that I’m at an approximate 45-degree angle at the bottom-out position.  I push off of two platforms, such that my head and chest are allowed to sink below my hands without auguring into the mat.  Each rep was completed as explosively as possible, with just the slightest of a pause at the top between each rep.  No grind reps, each was quick and crisp.  Same with the pull-ups, which were performed on one set of gymnastics uneven bars.  These bars give quite a bit, and therefore absorb a good bit of power; I was surprised at just how tough 6 explosive rest-pause reps can be on these things — it’s akin to sprinting in sand.  Kneeling jump squats: I added an additional jump to the end of these, so that the final combination turned into a kneeling jump squat into a depth drop vertical jump.  How’s that for a mouthful?  It doesn’t roll real easy off the tongue, but it’s a helluva great explosive jump combo.

What You Don’t Know About the Pushup, by Zach Dechant, assistant strength and conditioning coach at TCU (and whose excellent blog can be found here), is a fantastic article, and explains much of why, for horizontal pressing movements, I much prefer the push-up to any back-down, barbell or dumbbell pressing motion.  Every now and again (on max effort/strength days), I will utilize a barbell or DB press from the floor — but that’s more so because I don’t have access to the proper toys (chains, proper bands, etc) and knowledgeable spotters that would enable me to do heavy work in a push-up movement.   I’m a huge believer in the “free scapula” notion that Zack speaks of in his article.  Plus, the push-up just feels like a more athletic (natural?) movement to me, better suiting my ultimate goals.  Just as I appreciate the dedication required of an endurance athlete, though, I appreciate what it takes to hoist an especially big bench — it’s just not my game, nor my personal aim.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Keith,

    I read somewhere that Lance Armstrong’ skeletal structure morphed as a result of spending so much time on the bike (he and the bike “became one” in more than one way). Now that’s some (non-healthy) sport-specific plasticity. I’ve seen it in golfers too, where, say, a right-handed golfer experiences changes in the bones of their left arm due to impact position dynamics repeating over and over again.

    One the epimicrobiomics front, I wonder how endurance training alters gene expression of the microbiome? With the increased oxidative stress imposed on the host, there might be some ripple effects. Who knows?

    Cheers,

    Brent

    • I’ve wondered the same thing as it relates to bodybuilders’ notorious lack of coordination and athleticism. Is this nature or nurture at work? Or, more appropriately, I suppose, to what extent is this nature or nurture? By necessity, the bodybuilder is forced to utilize the repetition method to the exclusion of the more athletic/functional dynamic and max effort modalities, AND (again, by necessity) these guys (and gals) are required to work muscles in (as much as is possible) isolation vs working movement patterns.

      Re epimicrobiomics: this is just an utterly fascinating subject. Where optimization of the CNS is the new frontier for athletic development, epimicrobiomics, I believe, is the new frontier in nutritional study.

  2. Agree. I like hedging with fractal movement patterns. A good old Levy-flight now and then as a prophylactic. Despite the dire health situation we’re facing on large scales, the promise of new frontiers definitely keeps me motivated!

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