“Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit.” — Henry Rollins
The past week has provided for an interesting convergence of physical culture themes, punctuated by the resurgence of a few instances of the age-old “HIT vs old-school bodybuilding” debate. Actually, the debate has now mushroomed so as to include many other methodologies (CrossFit, Oly lifting, power lifting, parkour, all manner of natural movement schools, kettlebells….you get the idea) and has come to resemble what I can only imagine early Christianity looked like in the year 300 AD. I guess we’ll eventually convein and cobble a “Nicene Creed” for physical culture and be done with it, once and for all. I really don’t care how it all turns out (I’m not going to adhere to “doctrine” anyway). Just call me up when the Crusades are on; I’m all in for that!
But fun (and as aggravating, at times) as they may be to watch, these “what’s best” arguments are absolutely pointless. Pointless, of course, because “best” can only be defined by context and as measured against one’s goals and Five Ts orientation. What’s “best” for a seasoned athlete, for instance, would be ludicrous overkill for the average, just-wanna-be-healthy Joe and Jane. And probably just as ludicrous for seasoned athlete in another sport.
That the above can’t really be nicely packaged for public consumption is something that has dogged me as I try to push forward my “3 Pillars” idea of health, fitness and wellness. Just try to wrap the intellectual underpinnings of Efficient Exercise, Paleo f(x) and ID Life into 3 separate, snappy-shiny soundbites, and you get an idea of the difficulty in “selling” legit wellness information to those who need it most (the masses). Combining all three of those ideas into a single, tidy package is damn near impossible. People want quick, easy fixes — and quite frankly, that simply does not exist. Now, the cornerstones of proper exercise, lifestyle habits and supplementation are not all that difficult to understand, but it does take at least a bit of effort and a questioning, curious mind to form a solid grasp on these things. More so, at least, than blindly adhering to the latest Dr. Oz proclamation.
But let’s face it — very few reside in the “question authority” camp. In the not too distant future the “1%” will refer not the monied elite, but the physical culture elite. Or hell, just those merely considered “healthy”. This I truly believe.
An additional speedbump: most folks will realize that, the more you dig, the more there is left to uncover. Now some — myself included — take great joy in this. There’s always more to learn! For others, though, this notion can be damn near paralyzing. Unhappy with navigating the endless river, they want to scale the mountain and plant the flag.
Ahhh, but there are certainly bright spots on the horizon. In particular, I had a lengthy discussion with a fellow over the weekend who was torn as to what exercise protocol he should follow. He loved and was drawn to the “science” and (in his mind, at least) the pragmaticism underpinning HIT, but could not deny the efficacy (or evidence-based effectiveness) of old-school bodybuilding “art”. Now I generally run far far away from these discussions as they tend to lead (much like diet conversations) nowhere but right back to the questioner’s pre concocted beliefs. But hey, in this instance, his buying the beer kept me a bit more engaged.
I went directly to questioning what his primary goal might be — aesthetic, performance-related or health. He could only pick one; no overlap allowed.
He demured a bit, fudged (very common), and attempted to combine elements before finally settling on “aesthetics”. No foul here — people wanna look good nekkid; no shame in that.
We then dove into a very Socratic discussion of the Five Ts. Again, he was buying the beer, so I played the willing Physical Culturalist Huckleberry. And I for sure became a better Socratic facilitator as the IPA count mounted. We discussed, at length his relationship with the following:
All, by the way, within the context of his overriding goal; that of “gettin’ swole”.
Ultimately we landed on this: he had access to just about any tool he needed. Time was an issue, for sure — but if need be, he’d let go of other time sucks — especially so if the results were forthcoming (the old”realized returns on time investment” juggle). Techniques might be an issue, but he could, if need be, hire help along the way. His parents had done him absolutely no favors whatsoever, in a genetic sense, vis-a-vis his goal; this he understood, acknowledging there was no “inner Arnold” lurking in his DNA. And he felt that realizing some gains — whatever scant — would just add fuel to his already high motivation. He was fully on board with the “best he could be” proposition. All in, as it were — eyes wide open.
Okay, so now we’re *really* getting somewhere. Drilling deeper. No need to talk about performance-based S&C. No need to balance optimal “health” vs a severe time crunch.
Ultimately, though, he was still drawn to the “science”, pragmaticism, and time efficiency of HIT. We’re talkin’ the poster child for left-brain dominance, here. That said (and with my reservations toward straight-up HIT), I suggested this very simple — though rather long-ranging — plan of action:
(1) get a full-blown DEXA scan
(3) get another DEXA
(4) go on a full bore 5 or 6 days per week, old school bodybuilding split. What kind of split? Who cares; pick a late 1960’s era program and run with it. Hell, go 5 x 5 and really keep it simple. Follow this program of choice for another 8 months or so. Then,
(5) get yet another DEXA
(6) now make your determination. Is the added time investment worth whatever additional body composition gains were realized?
And here’s the thing: am I confident a better body composition would follow the additional time investment required of the old school bodybuilding or 5 x 5 method? Absolutely. I’m an evidence-based guy, and I’ve been in this game too long to think otherwise. And this gets back to the way the original “what’s best” question is framed. N=1 context matters; goals matter. And, of course, n=1 Five Ts matter; a lot. I’ll bet the farm on increased body composition following the greater “time and toil investment”. But the determination of “is it worth the time and toil investment” is completely left to the individual. It has to be. What’s “worth it” to one is a complete waste of time for another.
So would one really need this long a run to find out what “works”? Well, in this n=1 instance at least, yes. If you’re going to run the test, run it correctly. And here’s the thing: this won’t be settled by surfing the interwebs and listening to the idle chatter of others. To truly find out what works for you, you’re going to have to go out and perform and intelligent test run. And it’s going to take some time, sacrifice, and hard-ass work. Simple as that.
And the downside is this: you may find, after all of that work, that the added time and toil it’s not worth it. And that’s cool; at least you know. You can then better adjust you’re time vs expectations from the iron game. But then again, you just might get bitten by the iron bug, and be perfectly fine with spending an hour a day in the gym.. Worse things could happen, brother
I find the above discussion rather ironic, as I’ve otherwise been fully immersed in Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson’s work, Triphasic Training. Highly, highly recommended reading. This is the best, S&C geek-fest work I’ve poured over in a hell of a long time. And believe me, I’ve just about read ‘em all. And, (irony within an irony), I’ve also been re-reading quite a bit of Vince Gironda’s old stuff. Talk about two totally different ends of the iron game spectrum! But this is exactly the mix of art and science that makes this iron game endeavor so tantalizing to me.
And finally, a self-serving promotion: be sure to catch my Efficient Exercise partner Mark Alexander and I discussing ARXFit technology with none other than Athlete io’s John Kiefer, here. In the second half of the interview, Michelle and I talk about the upcoming Paleo f(x) symposium. Good stuff for sure! So be sure to check it out.
In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness -