“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

True for many aspects in life, but no more so than in the pursuit of a long and successful life in the game of Physical Culture 2.0.

And what exactly *is* Physical Culture 2.0?  Well, in essence, it’s the fully integrated pursuit of a healthy and vibrant existence, including (but certainly not limited to) looking to our evolutionary past to construct a scaffolding upon which to layer ever more effective and efficacious “technologies” (both modern and stone-age) so as to produce an exquisite phenotypical expression of one’s self onto the world.

And speaking of Physical Culture 2.0, here’s Skyler Tanner and yours truly speaking truth to power about this emerging paradigm shift from what is currently understood as Physical Culture (or PC 1.0, if you will) at the August 2011 Ancestral Health Symposium:

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/27934442]

…and the presentation’s accompanying slide show.

Revolution vs Transcendence

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the emergence of Physical Culture 2.0 is a healthy, lasting process — less so an anarchistic revolution as it is a phenomenon of transcendence — the building upon (“transcending” in every sense of the word) that which has come before; even that which we might be quick to label “malicious” at best.  Carrying forward that which is good and helpful, and simply leaving behind (and with no emotional attachment) that which is not helpful.  No failures, only feedback.  Learning from previous mistakes; moving forward with no baggage — emotional or otherwise — to drag about.

And while team sports certainly have their role in PC 2.0, for the most part, this is an n=1-driven phenomena; self-mastery, self-betterment…self-knowledge.

The Four T’s

…or one person’s “play” is another person’s metcon…

I’ll speak more to the idea of Exercise vs Activity (or play) in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s just say that activity (or play) to ===> exercise is an n=1-specific continuum, and concentrate here on tools, techniques, time and tenacity; the immutable laws of Physical Culture.  As a correlate to the four T’s, consider the speed of light and its position as an immutable law of physics.  Just as David Duetsch would say that anything is possible so long as it does not violate the immutable laws of physics, so too is our ability to transform ourselves, in a phynotypical sense, so long as we properly manipulate these four tenants of Physical Culture (diet being the other side of the same coin, of course, and with it’s own set of “immutables”).  Now this isn’t so “woo-woo” as it might first appear.  Let’s, for the sake of argument, consider my last outdoor metcon outing, which went a little something like this:

100 meter sprint

6, rapid-succession, tennis ball goalpost “dunks”

30′ parallel bar “sprint”

60′ dual-leg hops

30′ monkey bar “sprint”

5 tractor tire flips + immediate 40 yd sprint

20 yard blocking sled (think heavy-ass Prowler) push

60 yd change-of-direction sprint

Wash, rinse, and repeat x3.  I won’t get into a full-on explanation of all the individual elements (I’ll post a video of this in the near future), or hella-bitch about the temperature being a nice one-ohh-whatever-the-fuc! outside during this particular shindig…

Ozzie says, "Texas heat blows, yo!"

…no, actually what I want to do is look at this workout through the tools, techniques, time and tenacity lens.

…enter “the study”…

From the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, consider the following:


What’s the take-home message here?  Quite simply, this: that Sprint (or High Intensity) Interval Training — even at moderate intensities — can impart some pretty damn impressive physiological adaptations.  That’s smart and efficient training, folks; training, by the way, that requires little in the way of tools and, if performed moderately (or “scaled”, if you prefer), only a modicum of tenacity.

Additionally, I’ll tell you this about HIIT/SIT: this manner of training will, in short order, devour an enormous amount of calories, both during — and for many hours following —  said exercise bout.  And while the metabolism remains jacked for up to 24 hours following a SIT/HIIT bout, there is an even more important shift taking place in the musculature at the fiber-type level: a preferential shift to fast-twitch dominance and a preservation of this fiber type (Bending the Aging Curve, from the above-sited talk and slide presentation). In addition, there will be an up-regulation of anaerobic, ATP, and aerobic enzyme activity.  In other words, all energy systems will become more efficient at generating energy and burning calories.

Simply put, training in the anaerobic-glycolytic pathway via proper manipulations of SIT/HIIT methodologies up-regulates all energy pathways (yes, including aerobic oxidation), making them more efficient and, as a result, making you a better conditioned Physical Culturalist.  So high-intensity exercise elicits a high output from all metabolic energy systems — however, this does not work both ways. Training for endurance (aerobically, i.e., long and slow) will not lead to equal up-regulation of  ATP and CP or anaerobic glycolytic enzyme activity/pathways, simply because aerobic type training does not stress these systems.

Now, let’s shift environments (and available tools), and see if we can produce the same type of metabolic effect using old-school black iron.  Check out this workout from earlier in the week.  I also ran a few of my more advanced clients through this same, Martin Rooney inspired, black iron circuit, which can, of course, be scaled (or exercises can be swapped) so as to suit any ability level.  Remember the emphasis here is on metcon/energy system training, not strength, per se.  Since the “rules of the game” are such that I have a 30-minute time limit, and that I’ll need to rely on old-school tools to accomplish the task, I’ll have to select exercises that can be performed safely under some pretty severe fatigue.  Uhhh, so yeah — that means Oly lifts/derivatives are out 😉

So here’s what I ended up with:

power sumo DLs x 10

T-bar swings x 20

alternating lead-foot BTN jerks x 10 total

wash, rinse, repeat x3.

Tough?  Yeah, you bet your sweet ass it is.  But the cool thing is that anyone, in any condition, can perform this basic theme (scaling and/or subbing exercises where necessary) and — as the study sited above demonstrates — derive some fantastic benefits from it.  So my “play” might be somebody else’s beat-down, but that’s the beauty of this Physical Culture thing — it’s all about the n=1 experience.

In health,



  1. If there’s a father of Physical Culture, it was the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagorus – the guy who’s law of the triangle we all learned in geometry. His academy, Krotona, was in what is modern day Sicily – for harmonious education of body, mind, and spirit. Harmonia or harmony was central to Pythagorean thought and expressed with his monochord in development of the Western musical scale. His school was called a ‘gymnasia’, a term identical to academy for that time. (As an interesting aside, the prefix gymna refers to the practice of training nude which was standard for centuries – perhaps today’s ‘working out to look good naked’ has roots in antiquity!).
    The pillars of classical physical culture are diet, specific activity (hence specificity), and inner emotional/psychological harmony.

    As an aside, when I developed Physical Culture 2.0 it is fully in context of an evolutionary transformationalist framework, within the blog Trans-Evolutionary Fitness. PC 2.0 hinges on recognition that the immense genius of our biological evolution has created the miracle of our embodied minds; moreover, the next step in evolution is gaining self-mastery of our embodiment. I was careful to NOT use transcendence due to association of that word in monotheistic mythologies with their innate dualism separating mind from body, and spirit from body, rendering transcendence as rising above the inferiority of the body. In India and China transcendence is understood as an integrative function (not integration which can be taken as homogenization) – integration maintains the freshness of being an active verb, a process. PC 2.0, then, is within a transformationalist whole systems paradigm, one rising above fragmented, arbitrary constructs – and as integrative intentionally coordinates PC 2.0 with emerging new exercise physiology and neuroscience understandings of peak performance and its relation to fitness.

    Good video presentation at AHS! Congratulations guys. It’s very edifying to see you guys becoming stakeholders in PC 2.0 after decades of PC 1.0 folks blowing it off.

    • Thanks for noting/clarifying my use of the term “transcendence” here. I’m using the term in a Ken Wilber sense, which would be much more along the lines of “integration” and positive maturation.

      • Use of transcendence in a physical culture context caught me by surprise and precipitated some consideration. I’ve since incorporated that thinking to my new blog article.

        Transcendence as used by Wilber is not unique: he’s a voice in the choir using that term for about 40 concentrated years. It’s use today is certainly psychological, with deep roots in Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamik karikas, a 2nd or 3rd century handbook for emptying or transcending DUALIST states and categories. The referent for transcendence used by him (and many more of us) is transpersonal psychological emergence. I don’t discuss it as such in the new blog but it’s all over the place.

        In the traditional west, the distinction used with transcendence is literally NON-Physical, while what you’re getting at is called Immanence. Physical Culture 1.0 from the 19th & early 20th century is Immanence based metaphysics. Silly? Maybe. Those are the kinds of confusing applications of words one runs into.

        Wilber can be misleading due his having no capacity or skill in primary texts in non-English languages. My blog introduces a method he made an utter mess of in one of his books by relying on poor interpretation and not doing his homework.

  2. Really enjoyed the presentation guys. Now I feel like I finally really understand what you’re talking about when you say “Physical Culture” and I definitely agree with your 2.0 philosophy.

  3. Keith (and Ken, if you’re reading in), just hoping for some clarification.

    I’m relatively new to paleo, HIT and ‘Physical Culture’ as terms and concepts. I live in the UK, but through reading widely and experimenting with my diet and exercise over the last 12 months, I’ve dropped about 40lbs in weight, while increasing my strength and generally feeling better. My bodyweight is now around the level it was when I was a university student 15 years ago.

    During this time, in addition to your site, I’ve also enjoyed and learned a lot from reading Doug McGuff’s work and Kurt Harris’s(amongst many others).

    Earlier this week, having read a number of Ken’s comments on this site, I was prompted to ask a question of Dr McGuff on his Bodybyscience comment board. Basically, I said that I enjoyed and had learned a lot from his work but did he have a response to some of Ken’s criticisms. The post was deleted, from the board, as was was my follow up query. Both were politely phrased.

    Have I missed a previous disagreement or debate between/among you? I have intimated this post to Dr McGuff too, in the hope that I can be further informed.

    Neil Smith

    • I won’t speak for Ken, here, but for my part I’d say that Doug and I agree 100% on the diet side of the coin, and about 95% on the training side. It is a bit complicated to delve into our differences in a comment (and, too, I don’t want to speak for Doug). I guess if you were to put this in a nutshell, Doug would say that muscular genetic potential can be realized via HIT protocols generally (and BBS protocols specifically) and I say that genetic potential can only be realized via a route of multi-layered training; surfing the force-velocity curve, if you will.

    • Since I know both guys I can tell you that, if they were to sit down together with a beer and talk, they’d get along great and generally agree on things. The internet makes criticisms seem black and white, while the grey is where they likely agree but is difficult to discuss in this format.

    • I don’t know Dr McGuff. I’ve read his book, watched videos, etc. As he says in his AHS video, medical school is not academic – not like graduate school in sciences or humanities. I find his book an embarrassment. As Frank Forenchec notes in his new State of the Meme, movements within Paleo often make their point by selectively cherry picking ‘evidence.’ In my opinion, McGuff and Little’s attempt to ‘prove’ HIT does so by putting it on life support.
      Brad Schoenfeld, Scott Abel, Professor Joseph Signarole demonstrate that not only HIT but most known systems of training work only selected zones of the wider conditioning, metabolic, and hypertrophy zones. With regard to HIT, despite it’s originator Art Jones’ claims it would produce physique stars, it never has – except with copious amounts of foreign testosterone, HGH, and insulin doping – which proves the case for pharmaceutically induced hypertrophy. Natural, drug free training will be most optimal in health, fitness, strength, and muscular development by surfing the curve of types of training – a virtual constant in the Golden Age of Physical Culture. With PC 2.0, we’ve got science that didn’t exist then.
      McGuff’s book either purposeful ignores a lot of academic research in exercise physiology or suggests neither author is trained to be up to the task of scientific research.
      I read a great many of the reference articles, as well as looking at other research by the same authors. Having ghost authored several doctoral dissertations (all awarded PhDs) and edited even more, the requirement of dissertation committee review and peer review fleshes out poor scholarship pretty quickly. On that note, my searches for peer review – pro or con – on the book failed to turn up anything. That generally means the academy is simply ignoring the work as a tacit statement of quality!
      Science, in principle, lives in a community of discourse as does any matter of respectable academic discourse – and within an etiquette of gentlemanly disagreement, one devoid of personal attacks or censorship. Saddening news of deletion of your post since that thwarts communication.

      Keith has previously linked to my blog’s Tight Fittin’ Genes. I seem to be the first to articulate and celebrate the work of exercise physiologist Frank Booth – the best kept secret of the Paleo world. Frank’s work does not harbor the concerns and issues of Brad Schoenfeld’s October 2010 article.

      Wrapping it up, evolutionary medicine and its popularization in the Paleo movement are incomplete paradigms. Exercise physiology is not part of either. Currently HIT and Crossfit both seem busy trying to colonize Paleo. Were robust exercise physiology part of the Paleo model, those attempts wouldn’t work. With relative ignorance still the standard, anything goes – that’s not good enough for me. With more than 50 years in the game, I’m tempted to say it’s just another fad.

  4. Thanks for the responses guys. Keith, I entirely take your point that it is difficult to explore in a couple of paragraphs in a comment. I would be very interested to see Doug and Ken engage further with each other’s opinions. Skyler, the point about internet ‘tone’ is a good one, reminds me of the short-lived relationship that I kiboshed with some poorly worded text messages!

    Purely from a volume of training perspective, I certainly think BBS is on to something vis-a-vis ‘overdoing it’. Skyler, I’ve read your posts on your blog in the last six months regarding your conditioning when younger and the realisation now that you may have been closer back then to realising your genetic inheritance. This entirely tallies with my own training experience. As a rugby hooker, at 19 I was convinced that lots of heavy work in the gym (no drugs) would have me piling on the pounds. Nope (although I did become much stronger). In the last twelve months, getting back into lifting, I have also shed a lot of excess body fat on paleo and, hey presto, I look like I did when I was 19!

    At the same time (and this ties in with your performance/training/health curve Keith and, I think my understanding of Ken’s point), I tend to agree that if you’re shooting for anything beyond basic health, for performance a deal more is required. I suppose the n=1 factor is that I know that I would struggle with your weekly training load but require a bit more than one quality weights session and nothing else. How much more is the question!

    Keep up the good work guys.


    • After Keith got back from the AHS conference, he had good things to say about McGuff, suggesting communication. Good idea, can I have his email address. I wrote several weeks ago, no answer to date.

      I should add that I sometimes shoot myself in the foot. It’s not too hard to tell by my writing that I’m more adroit in academic communication than a Mark Twain or Will Rogers. With my blog, I start out that way then edit toward making my point simply and directly. That’s work. The criticism I wrote about McGuff’s book was to an academic orientation, hence undoubtedly came off as unfriendly. Folks who know me I’m not confrontational – one habit I dislike of some academics is their bullying behavior.
      I’m indebted to McGuff’s book for referring me to Metabolism at a Glance – bought a copy right away.

      As far as Skyler’s concerned, he loaned me some of Brian Johnston’s j-rep/zone training books that have changed how I train. Like HIT, intensity is the rule. Unlike HIT, i get more than contractile hypertophy. At 67 I’ve gained close to 3/4″ on upper arms that were above average for my age to start with – and strength to boot.

  5. Neil,

    Your question was not deleted on my blog. I checked the admin page and never could find your original question. Usually comments are deleted because the security parameters are set on “high” so I don’t have to spend all day deleting spam posts. Website links are the most common cause of posts being dropped.

    I have chosen not to comment on Ken’s comments because they are made with such an inflammatory and disrespectful tone (such as “I find his book an embarrassment.”). If you go back and read some of his other posts you will find even more inflammatory/insulting statements. To try to defend myself on a blogroll, I would probably end up saying things I shouldn’t. I think internet communication lacks the “face-to-face” component of communication necessary to keep things civil.

    Also, Ken seems very determined to prove what an intellectual superpower he is-as witnessed in this gem:

    “Transcendence as used by Wilber is not unique: he’s a voice in the choir using that term for about 40 concentrated years. It’s use today is certainly psychological, with deep roots in Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamik karikas, a 2nd or 3rd century handbook for emptying or transcending DUALIST states and categories. The referent for transcendence used by him (and many more of us) is transpersonal psychological emergence. I don’t discuss it as such in the new blog but it’s all over the place.”

    Don’t you think the point could be made without having to prove one’s familiarity with obscure 3rd century handbooks, or that you ghost authored PhD dissertations. He writes so much in this vein, if one were to disagree with him, it is hard to know where to start.

    Perhaps Ken should write a book proposal, get a publisher to accept it, then write the book (with scientific references) and get it through the editing process (even partially intact) and onto the bookstore shelves. THEN we could compare notes.


    You have made a very good approximation of my opinion. I would add that I think genetic potential and adaptability go hand-in-hand. Those with modest potential are also less adaptable. These are the folks that reach their potential with BBS type workouts and fail to improve with all different variables and then come back to a simple program (Skyler wrote a great post on his own journey). Those with greater potential are also more adaptable. As a result, they experience a sense of continued improvement as they adapt to their varying routines. The clients that come to EE are likely to be self-selected average responders. As you accumulate 5-10 years at EE training these average Joes and Janes, you may see this pattern as well.

    • Doug’s lack of familiarity with more than forty years of ongoing discourse in the transpersonal psychology/philosophy movement accounts for his comments. Such sources are not in the least obscure – they’re formative phenomenological sources.

      Otherwise it with a shrug and a yawn we witness an attack rather than constructive statements concerning the real issue: attempting to resurrect HIT from life support maintenance by selectively cherry picking a few studies rather than addressing matters within context of a thorough literature review reflecting the current state of exercise physiology. Of course, that’s likely NOT to happen because in current EP, HIT is recognized as having important yet limited value – along with most all other approaches as universal solutions. There is an important difference between science and polemics – too often popular books supporting personal emotional investment include some science while remaining rhetorical. That leaves the average reader in a conditional of detrimental reliance.

      HIT seems caught in a defensive posture rather than actively joining the contemporary discussion. As such, it marginalizes itself. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions shows how a new paradigm has to be bigger than the older one it replaces: there can be no anomalies, no stone unturned.

    • As a blog it can only be opinion, but I don’t like this argument –

      ‘Perhaps Ken should write a book proposal, get a publisher to accept it, then write the book (with scientific references) and get it through the editing process (even partially intact) and onto the bookstore shelves. THEN we could compare notes.’

      It implies books have to be toned/edited down/amended to be released and popular to the general public, if this is the case why not stick to the internet world than to reduce the belief/impact of the work, or is there a commercial bias at work?

      I have not ever attempted to have a book released so more of question/learning comment than to criticize anyone.

  6. I’ve enjoyed, and learned from, Keith’s blog in the past. I don’t agree with everything, but usually find it interesting. So too with Doug McGuff’s blog. One of the things I especially have appreciated about McGuff’s contributions to his own blog is a certain intellectual generosity and openness; it invites intellectual engagement, rather than closing it down. I’ve trained seriously for more than 30 years, and read quite a bit in the relevant literature. However, I’m not an expert in exercise physiology or nutritional biochemistry. But I am an academic. I hold a PhD and a JD. I know quite a bit about how to evaluate good scholarship and how to critically assess arguments. My sense is that anyone who would announce to the public (and, apparently with some pride) that he has “ghost authored” a number of PhD dissertations is not only a fool, but he is also someone who has knowingly collaborated in academic dishonesty.

  7. Doug:
    In rereading your comments, please understand nothing personal was directed toward you. When a work is published as science, the rules of the game are based on science, scholarship, research competencies reflected in selected works, knowledge of the field, etc. – on principles, never personalities.

    I suggest you carefully review Brad Schoenfeld’s The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training, Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (24:10, Oct 2010). His metabolic model, consistent with exercise physiology, includes differentiation related to stimulation or not by specific training protocols. Spunway & Wackerhage’s 2006 Genetics & Muscular Biology of Muscle Adaptation is a comprehensive resource. Both assume ‘normal metabolism’ as learned in medical school doesn’t take into account Darwinian biology, hence “normal is abnormal” in genomic terms.


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