Should Physical Culture be studied and understood more like a clock or a cloud?

Borrowing from an analogy put forward by the philosopher Karl Popper, NYT writer David Brooks posits that we tend to think of problems or phenomena as either a “clock” or a “cloud”. Unlike a clock, which can be taken apart and studied as individual, constituent systems/mechanisms, a cloud is a dynamic (or “emergent”) system that can only be studied as a whole.

An emergent system, therefore, is a phenomena/entity that cannot be defined by a straight, lock-step, causal relationship. Instead, it must be understood as a whole, by studying the interplay between its parts.  An interplay that, itself, is continually in flux.

One problem we run into when attempting to deconstruct superior health, athletic performance, or some desired physical attribute (such as hypertrophy), is treating each of these phenomena as if they could be broken-down and studied like the mechanical constituents of a clock.  If A, then B; a very clockwork universe, Newtonian way of thinking.  This is simply wrong-minded (in my humble opinion), and leads to faulty conclusions.

For instance, that true, single-set-to-failure and/or super-slow protocols could be utilized as a sole means of eliciting an individual’s maximum hypertrophy potential is a result of treating hypertrophy as a “clockwork” phenomenon.  That is not to say that there is not a place for these protocols in the larger Physical Culture landscape — far from it — every tool, though, has its appropriate applications and limitations, and these must be thoroughly understood vis-a-vis the cloud-like aspect of (in this case) maximizing the body’s hypertrophy response.

Check out the two following hypertrophy-themed TNation articles, and ask yourself if the study and/or pursuit of maximized muscle growth is a “clock” or “cloud” phenomena.  For now, suspend judgement as to whether the actual pursuit of n=1 maximized hypertrophy is necessarily a “healthy” endeavor, or a good use of one’s allotted time on this earth — focus, instead here, simply on the art and science of gettin’ swole  😉

The Hypertrophy Specialist

Why Bodybuilders are More Jacked Than Powerlifters

And by the way, if you’re looking to delve a little deeper into emergent systems, Raima Larter’s blog, Complexity Simplified, is an excellent read.

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Questions?  Answers!

TTP reader Brendon asks the following:

Keith,

I have begun following your blog and I find your entries informative and helpful.  I have begun to delve into the archives because I am very impressed with the information you provide.  I have switched over to a Paleo/Primal style of eating and do some I.F. on occasion, as well.

However, my question pertains to training not nutrition.  I am soccer goalkeeper playing in college.  I am looking to improve on my performance from a physical aspect during my training this summer.  However, training books and programs from my coaches all seem to tout the mantra of high reps weight training and long distance runs for endurance.  As a goalkeeper, I feel that would be detrimental to my performace since the movements I make in a game involve jumping, diving, and short, quick, and explosive movements in all directions.  The longest run I might make in a game probably won’t exceed 20 yards so I don’t see how a five mile run will help me get any better at those!

So I guess I am asking for advice on how you would approach training a goalkeeper.  I’m certainly not asking for a program since that is what people pay you for!  I was just hoping you could point me in the right direction towards methods you feel would be the most beneficial.  Sorry for the long question and I appreciate any advice you provide!

Thanks,
Brendon

Brendon,

Your gut instinct is spot-on; you ought to focus on training for power, explosiveness and quickness — long/slow runs and higher rep lifting schemes are a poor utilization of your available training time, and will do nothing to improve these aspects of your physicality, not to mention will they do anything  improve the condition/efficiency of your anaerobic energy systems.   Unfortunately, most collegiate strength and conditioning programs are focused on the “money sports” — football and basketball, and to some extent, baseball — which leaves very little time and available effort to put towards the “lesser” (in terms of money-making potential) sports.  This isn’t an indictment of collegiate S&C staffs, it’s just, unfortunately, the economies of scale at work.  It’s just much easier to tell a kid to run for 5 miles and/or hit a higher-rep, bodybuilding-like resistance program, as it involves little in the way of programming and supervision, and the potential for injury is pretty low compared to having these same kids perform unsupervised ballistic/power-intensive work.  Also, I’m quite sure that there is plenty of “old school” training thought permeating the sport of soccer — i.e., to be “in shape”, you gotta log the miles.  The Tabata studies, and subsequent empirical demonstrations of the efficacy of such programs, out to have put that old notion to bed.  Unfortunately, that’s not yet the case.    You’re probably better off cobbling together and implementing your own power/explosiveness-themed S&C plan, if that’s at all possible.  Changing tides and minds takes time that you don’t currently have.  Sporting careers are short-lived.  Endeavor to make yourself better now, and work to change the system later.  You may, in fact, become a role model for the new power-based soccer training paradigm at your school.

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Efficient Exercise in the media:

Check out Efficient Exercise’s “Philosophers of Physical Culture”, Skyler Tanner and I, talking shop with Jimmy Moore in episode 475 of the Livin’ la Vida Low Carb Show.  Jimmy is a true professional and a master at guiding one through an interview.  A funny aside here is that I had an unexpected, drop-in consultation just prior to the taping, and I could see Skyler through the studio office window giving me the ol’ wrist-tap as Jimmy, on the other end of our Skype connection, waited patiently for me to finish with the would-be client.  So much for any pre-interview prep!  Skyler and I truly worked this one off-the-cuff.  I guess it helps that, like an old married couple, we can finish each others thoughts and sentences 😉

…and speaking of off-the-cuff shop talk, here’s another episode of EETV; Physical Culture performance art, at its best 😉  –

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI4XQgBV120]

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Workouts for the past couple of weeks –

You’ll notice that most of my workouts incorporate some form or fashion of Autoregulation.  To the extent that a trainee learns to fully incorporate the tenants of Autoregulation within his own training regimen will go a long way toward determining just how accomplished that trainee will become as a Physical Culturalist.  In fact, this “Autoregulation” theme will be the basis of my talk at this summer’s 21 Convention in Orlando.

Think of written training programs as cookbooks, or maybe the old woodcut plans of your 7th-grade shop class.  A true Physical Culturalist is on par with the acclaimed chef or the master woodworker, and a program, recipe or woodworking instructions written by any of these professionals can only hint at a particular theme — the theme, maybe, of a great marinade, crafting a particular piece of furniture or, in the case of Physical Culture, a training program.  Learning the true essence of each endeavor, though, takes years of trial and error, or — and if you’re extremely lucky — an apprenticeship under a master.  Training programs — like cookbooks — are guides, nothing more.  To make a recipe — or a training regimen — truly your own, you have to breathe life, love and art into it.  In the game of Physical Culture, autoregulation is that life, love and art.

5/16/11, Monday
Autoreg each exercise
(A1) deadlift (Oly bar): 135/10; 225/10; 325/6; 415/6, 5

(A2) seated (floor) barbell front press: 95/15; 135/10; 155/7; 175/4, 4

5/18/11, Wednesday

(A1) BOR, Oly bar: 135/12; 225/6; 275/10; 305/7  (Autoreg)

(A2) LM single-arm press: 75/12; 95/10, 10, 10

(A3) RLC: bw/10, 10, 10, 10

Friday, 5/20/11

(A1) Oly bar creds (single-arm power snatch):
65/7; 85/7; 105/3; 115/4 singles, each arm

– three hours later –

(A1) ARX horizontal chest press: hyper-reps/5, 5
(A2) flat DB flyes: 45 x 15, 15
(A3) feet-elevated push-ups to failure: 25, 15

Tuesday, 5/24/11

(A1) barbell muscle-ups: 95/10; 115/6; 165/5, (4, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3)

(A2) ring pull-ups: bw: 12, 15, 14+

(A3) Russian leg curl: bw/10, 10, 10

Autoreg’d muscle-ups.  After the initial 4 reps of the second 6RM set, I just felt primed to continue into a lower-rep extended set.

Wednesday, 5/25/11

(A1) hip press (H2): 445/15; 545/8 (note: increase 25# on each)

(A2) ARX horizontal leg press: HR/3

(A3) blast strap pike: 15

2 rounds; A1 and A2 paired as a hierarchal set.

Thursday, 5/26/11

(A1) feet-elevated drop, stick, rebound push-ups: bw/7 each of 4 rounds

(A2) 45-degree incline press (leverage piece): ballistic reps; +20/7; +30/6; +35/6, 6.  Curtailed set when bar failed to leave hands.

(A3) T-bar row (underhand grip): 100/10; 145/6; 190/12; 215/8  — autoreg’d

Saturday, 5/28/11

(A1) trap bar deadlifts (low grip): 265/10, 10, 10; 355/6, 445/4, 4; 355/12, 12 — autoreg’d

In health,

Keith

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good thought provoking preface to what we hope becomes a major discourse – if not here, the on my Smart FIT (Full Integrative Training) site soon.

    Can focus be directed simply to emergent hypertrophy qua contractile v sarcoplasmic hypertrophy? Steve Hollman’s already resolved that with his latest iteration of X-Reps. Contractile operates within a difference frequency zone than sarcoplasmic for recuperation and supercompensation. So, it’s not an ‘either/or’ debate locked on the dualistic horns of a dilemma: it’s a both/and world.
    That form of training brings about pretty quick changes, pretty quick adaptation. I wouldn’t recommend staying with a formative routine for more than four weeks – in fact, I wouldn’t personally go for four weeks without changes.
    This issue with hypertrophy has always been that of avoiding plateaus and sticking points, or shortening one’s stay in the realm of being stuck. I’m convinced the major factor is that of requisite variety. Ashby’s formulation in his Introduction to Cybernetics holds that the controlling element in mechanical or biological systems is the one with the greatest number of choices (for a full treatment: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/REQVAR.html). Since most training is by rote, a feedforward loop of most training based on unquestioning dogmatic adherence to incomplete and/or outdated theory, requisite variety is lost. So much of the current state of human evolution is likewise stuck in recursive loops; next evolution would awaken self-reflective, questioning, imaginal focus of attention freeing us from the traps and snares we unwittingly dwell within as little more than animals caged by their own unconscious devices.

    So, an emergent paradigm would necessarily embody a whole systems approach, a full & comprehensive ecology of Being human. Is muscular hypertrophy limited to muscles? With stimulation of kinases as part of the response elicited by training, skeletal muscle is also endocrine. Elicitation of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters make brain hypertrophy the primary beneficiary of training. Now, one can simply give up in face of the complexities – or, better still, come to realize the realm of wonder and awe diving deeply into Physical Culture will draw you into. In fact, keeping Physical Culture sequestered, even marginalized, prevents it rightfully claiming its place as a bona fide art and science of what intrinsically genomically makes us HUMAN.

  2. What an interesting post. I have nothing to add at the moment, except a plug for the Dao De Jing (and Lao Tzu as an instructor in the art of being human). We are standing at a kind of crossroads in human development, on the verge of uniting a bunch of disparate fields (medicine, sports, science, government, education) into something bigger (and hopefully better) than any one of them.

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