Angelo Coppola, in his latest installment of the This Week in Paleo podcast (and, I might add,  an excellent Paleo resource; Angelo possesses a superb “on air” persona) recounted an illuminating  story that took me back (waaaaaay back) to my Poli Sci undergraduate days — the story of a drunk,  his lost wallet, and a streetlight.  Seems a city beat cop came upon drunk crawling hand over fist beneath the beam of a streetlamp.  The cop, of course, inquired into the details of the situation.  The following discussion ensued:

drunk: “I’m not hurt, dammit…I’ve lost my %^#@* wallet”.

cop: “what makes you think you’ve lost it here?”

drunk: “I don’t think I’ve lost the ^&%$#@ thing here”.  Then, pointing across to the pitch-dark side of the street, “I believe it’s over there somewhere”.

cop: “uh-huh…well, then why are you crawling around over here?”

drunk: (incredulous) “because here is where the light is”.

This, it seems to me, is a perfect analogy for the current state of exercise science.  It’s not that those involved in science are bad guys by any means — and that’s not at all what I want to imply here — the problem with conducting science in an atmosphere of funding, profit motive, grant acquisition, etc., is that it forces scientists, and their studies, to remain under the streetlamp, so to speak — there’s no incentive to go looking in the dark corners for long shots, for the difficult to prove and/or tease-out.  In fact, this seems true to me in much of science — not just in the exercise/diet fields.

And this is where the citizen scientist, and n=1 experimentation fits in.

Tim Ferriss recently posted about self-experimentation here; in fact, his new book, The 4-Hour Body (which is a fantastic romp, by the way), is entirely a chronicle of his various self-experimentations.   From the above linked blog post (and quoting the n=1 Jedi himself, Seth Roberts):

“…I repeatedly found that simple environmental changes, such as avoiding breakfast and standing more, had big and surprising benefits. In each case, the change I’d made resembled a return to Stone Age life, when no one ate breakfast and everyone stood a lot. There are plenty of reasons to think that many common health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, are caused by differences between modern life and Stone Age life. Modern life and Stone Age life differ in many ways, of course; the fraction of differences that influence our health is probably low. If so, to find aspects of Stone Age life that matter, you have to do many tests. Self-experiments, fast and cheap, can do this; conventional experiments, slow and expensive, cannot. In addition, conventional research is slanted toward treatments that can make money for someone. Because conventional research is expensive, funding is needed. Drug companies will fund research about drugs, so lots of conventional research involves drugs. Elements of Stone Age life (such as no breakfast) are cheap and widely available. No company will fund research about their effectiveness…”

Emphasis mine.

Again, I’m hardly anti-science, but I also realize the limitations put on science practiced in an atmosphere of expected positive (i.e., proof of need vs non-need) outcomes.   This is also why I continually beat the drum of  effective training being as much art as it is science, and that effective training must be n=1 driven.  What works for one may work for another, but more than likely, various aspects of any effective protocol will have to be tweaked/personalized for optimum results.  Human physiology is the same across the board, yes — but how that physiology is expressed in the real world, and how the real world imprints upon that physiology, is highly, highly individualized.

Many will hate on the Conjugate System simply because it has little “lab science” backing its results.  Please.  If you want to wait for science to confirm what’s been proven (albeit empirically) in the iron lab, be my guest.  I’m a little too impatient for that though, and I’d rather test and tweak myself, using my own body and gathered empirical evidence as a lab of one.  It’s only my body, of course, that has to express itself under my own unique environmental conditions and given my own unique set of training tools, time and circumstance.   More on this idea, here.  My suggestion is this: know the limitations of the tool you’re using to assess any situation/question.  Is contemporary science a good tool to use in attempting to tackle questions of art, philosophy, religion?  Probably not; under the circumstance, it’s a blunt tool at best.  Science in questions of Physical Culture?  Well, science is a better tool here, of course, but it’s still rather limited.  Just as we eat with knives, forks and spoons, so too should we engage the questions of life with the proper tools.  Learn to use science, art and philosophy as tableware for the mind.

Quick aside – I’m fully immersed in both Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body and Art DeVany’s The New Evolution Diet.  Both are highly recommended, excellent works; both are as different from one another as, well, the personalities that produced them.  Tim’s work is a machine-gun blitz, and not meant to be read straight through, but rather skipped about, the subjects picked and chosen as mood and interests dictate.  Art’s work, I think, was best described by Doug McGuff in a recent Body by Science post as “elegant” — and I couldn’t agree more.   For anyone of a questioning, contemplative attitude, who truly desires to understand the “whys” behind this Evolutionary/Primal/Ancestral movement, this is that explanation.  Nicely done, Mr. DeVany; nicely done.  With each book (and as is always the case), use n=1 proper discretion; these works are meant to be signposts, not dictates.  Physical Culture is not a paint-by-numbers game, but rather you are being supplied the canvass, brush and paint to do with what you please.  Go forth and create your own n=1 Picasso.  Only you can know (or can hope to know) the landscape of your own life.

On the workout front:

Tuesday, 12/21 –

(A1) CZT leg press: 7 rest-pause hyper reps

(B1) RFESS: 45 lb DBs x 12, 10

(B2) Russian leg curl (i.e., poor man’s GHR): BW x 10, 8

The legs were friggin’ noodles following just 7 hyper reps on the CZT.  How can this be?  Quite simply, the strength curve is perfectly matched throughout the entire range of motion; there is simply no place during each entire concentric/or ecentric where the exercise “lets up”.  One is forced to go all at the “easiest” (most bio-mechanically advantageous position), as well as hardest  (bio-mechanically weakest) portion of the lift.  Truly exhausting work.  For the RFESS, I supported my “up” foot in a Blast Strap harness.  This affects an entirely other element of difficulty as far as strength, control and balance (and especially those elements under fatigue) go.

Wednesday, 12/22 –

A HIT dose for the upper body:

(A1) weighted dips: 105# x 22 total reps; 5, 3, 2, then single reps for a total of 22 rest-pause reps (30×0 tempo)

(B1) Blast Strap flyes: bodyweight x 13, 10, 8 (30 seconds between sets)

(C1) Nautilus pullover: 255 x 18 total rest-pause reps; 11, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1 (4010 tempo)

(D1) pull-ups: bodyweight x 5, 4, 4 (30 seconds between sets)

Thursday, 12/23 –

50-rep blocks of 45 lb kettlebell swings, scattered throughout the day.  6 separate instances, for 300 total reps.  Add this to the volume of fixie sprints I did throughout the day as well, and…wow!  Holy metabolic hit, Batman!  Seriously, though — I’ve found the simple kettlebell swing to be a great high-rep companion to the Oly derivatives.  Much the same way as higher rep flyes (for example) are a great companion movement to the floor press.

And a quick announcement:  If you live in the Austin, Texas area and want to take part in Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation, let me know.  You can contact me either at the TTP email address, or my work address (supplied at the end of the clip below).  This will be an interesting, informal “study” of sorts to follow, and for those chosen to participate, it’s totally free of charge.  What kind of body transformations can result from the micro-dosing of intelligently programmed training coupled with adherence to a sensible (i.e., Paleo) diet?  Is this an intervention that is practical, effective and sustainable for non-fitness geeks?   We at Efficient Exercise think that it is, and we’re doing our small part to show that the true fix to the current healthcare crisis is not to be found in government intervention or insurance reform, but rather by making small and lasting changes to personal behavior.   Check it out, below; we hope to have this “study” in motion by the 3rd week in January.  Updates will be posted at the Efficient Exercise blog, and at the Efficient Exercise Facebook page.  Give us some “like” love, and follow along 🙂  Better yet, jump in the swim, and kick-start your n=1, Project Transformation journey.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0JtqMoUvY0]

In health,

Keith

2 COMMENTS

  1. Been following your blog/newsletter for about six months. Great work, thanks.

    I cannot seem to find anywhere in your writings an explanation of the term N=1. You use this term a lot. Can you enlighten me?

    Best regards
    Bob Tonner

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