Physical Training for Heretics

In late November I signed up for a 4 mile New Year’s run in the town I was living in.
I hadn’t done a competitive run in several years, not since I’d been a college student with a secure place in suburbia.

I’ve been an endurance athlete since I was an 8th grader and over the years I’ve learned a few things about what works.

Growing up, I spent years on cross country and track teams putting in a high volume of training every week only to be drained on race days and burnt out by the end of the season.
Experience has taught me that it pays to be strategically lazy.

In preparation for this race, I went out running no more than 4 times a week, often less. I kept the distance pretty short for most workouts but pushed my limits with sprint intervals every time. I’ve learned the hard way that high mileage at a steady pace just wears you out while yielding relatively low returns.

I also had some weights to work with that I used about 2 times per week. I focused on intensity in order to get the most out of my time.
In between workout days I’d enjoy some cigars, sip some brandy, and go out for leisurely walks.
I never bothered to time myself or chart my progress.
Every two weeks or so I’d go out for 10+ miles. On one of these trips I went about 16 miles and loafed the whole way through breathing mostly through my nose. However, for these runs I’d wait until it had been 18-24 hours since my last meal.
These runs were about teaching my body to use its glycogen stores efficiently and to cope with sustained stress.

I barely worked out at all the week before race week, I was busy hanging out with someone I hadn’t seen for a long time. When he was gone, I went back to training with just a few more days to go before the race. I realized I had definitely gotten a bit out of shape and did what I could with the days I had left.

On new year’s I ended up finishing the 4 miles in about 25 minutes, around an average of 6:15 per mile. I was pretty pleased with the result. It was comparable to the pace I’d been running at when I was 8 years younger and putting in 10 times the effort. I was pleased because I realize I could have easily done better.

And this leads me straight to an older experiment in heterodox training.
Most endurance coaches discourage extensive weight training.
When weights are involved at all, it’s always low weight at high reps. But 8 years ago as a college sophomore I decided I wanted some muscles so I started hitting the gym, often right after cross country practice.

I normally would start out a season at about 6:35 pace on an 8k(5 mile) course and plateau around 6:15 pace. Even at a very small college I was pretty mediocre at the competitive level(Not sucking begins below 5:30 per mile). Yet even as I worked myself to death trying to run and lift at the same time, my race times started to plummet. I was constantly sore and exhausted but I kept getting new PRs. Finally, around mid-season, I broke 6 flats.
At the same time, I was benching more than my body weight and heavy squatting about twice my body weight.
It was soon after this point that exhaustion finally started to catch up with me. I had to choose.

I quit cross country and ceased to be a specialist. Ever since then, I’ve focused on reaping the benefits of multiple types of physical activity.
I’ve found that approaching the Pareto point in different types of exercise:

-Is easier, less time-consuming
-More fun
-Feels better
-Causes much less wear and tear

Than trying to compete in just one.

I often wonder what I could accomplish if I had the rare combination of leisure and resources to pursue a serious program making use of everything I’ve learned.

But the real payoff, perhaps, is having an enjoyable hobby that doesn’t eat up tons of time and effort while keeping me in pretty decent physical condition.

Above all, my move away from the micro-specialist philosophy of sport was a formative experience in shaping the way I think about societies and nations.
In time, I was applying the same principles I used on my own body to much more massive bodies.

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10 responses to “Physical Training for Heretics

  1. I’ve had a once every 5 days weight lifting routine I’ve been using for over a year, got me reasonably built up to 170 pounds, 230ish bench, 410 squat ( on a really good day), 280 deadlift (weak grip/wrists never fully heal).

    The hard lesson for me was finally coming to terms with the fact that no matter how hard I try, I can’t really pull off more than around 35 hours weekly of very mentally taxing work. I may red-line it one month, but it will always catch up to me the next one so I’ll have to slow down. I crashed several times, blowing most of my earnings going full tilt before I finally accepted those limits. I knew I was getting slower, taking longer to get things done, not adding the same impact, but it doesn’t quite catch up to you until you add up the numbers from one month and compare it to the previous one several times over.

    After I got passed my initial fear of failure and got used to moving outside of my comfort zone, I could always muster the willpower to keep moving forward no matter how much my defensive system told me to rest. But the power curve doesn’t really care how motivated you are. Though I plan on testing later this year whether changing the sleep schedule over to an uberman 2 or 2.8 hour daily sleep schedule effects the 35 hour rule.

    Here’s some brainfood on the 35 and 40 hour work week:

    http://www.lostgarden.com/2008/09/rules-of-productivity-presentation.html

    • Pushing our limits, erring on the side of excess is something to do when we’re noobs.

      In my early twenties I tested myself pretty harshly in several ways, but I wasn’t trying to become a workout addict.
      Because I went through those trials, I can tell real fatigue and pain from mere mental lassitude.

      I worked myself as hard as I could in my early twenties because I had a burning need to know my fleshly limits from the spiritual.

      Without that knowledge, it’s hard to know if we’re making rational decisions about our bodies or just making excuses and shying away from discovering our potential.
      I couldn’t have developed proper lazy strategies without obsessively wrecking myself first.
      And because I went through that, I understand why most competitive athletes are physical wrecks by age 30.
      There’s a reason why super fit professional athletes aren’t on my list of longevity outliers.

      As you point out, there’s also definite limits on the mental energy we can devote to demanding work.

      As apprentices we discover our limits.
      As journeymen we discover the real work is figuring out how to optimize within our limits.

  2. I’m close to 20 pullups in one set….

    though I’ll get sore and slack the next day….

    I like mountainbiking, but slack and only do it once or twice a week, I’m not disciplined enough to be an “athelete.”

    I eat what I want, or more properly what I can afford, hehe…

    • Mr. Weedwhacker,

      Something I’ve learned from my own experience. The number of reps is less important than how you do them.

      Most people I see on the pullup bar crank out steady endurance reps. This works fine I guess, but it works better, faster, and funner to vary your motions, especially if you want to maintain some basic muscles with minimum effort.

      I like to alternate explosive movements with negative holding movements in most exercises. The stark contrast really makes you sore and forces your body to adapt.

      On the pullup bar, I’ll actually start out with a few normal reps and begin ‘jumping’ with my arms. That is, explosively launching my body weight upwards as hard as I can letting go of the bar and catching it again on the way down.
      Going through any motion like you mean it yields a testosterone rush that just cranking out reps will never give you.
      There’s nothing like explosive movements to train aggression.

      Then I’ll switch to holding one position until it starts to burn and very slowly move through the motion of just one rep and let the burn spread.
      Doing this really makes you more aware of how your muscles work together. You’ll feel when your lats, chest, triceps, or shoulders are bearing most of the load.

      I’ll also throw in micromovements. I’ll go through the full range of motion of a rep or two with as many tiny, discrete, explosive movements as I can manage.
      The first few times you try exercises like this you might realize how ill prepared we are for this type of movement without training for it.

  3. Yeah, pretty close to that. Though you have to be pretty quick to smoothly switch between under and overhand.

    Looks like I’m hardly the only person out there who gets bored with just cranking out vanilla reps and likes to find ways to spice things up.
    After all, if a workout isn’t any fun, we just make excuses not to do it.

    I just looked at the comments on the video and everyone seems to hate him for doing the exercise differently.
    Perhaps he’s something of a heretic. :)

  4. haha,

    I actually cranked out a set like that at the beach today…

    probably helped that I chugged a beer just before ;)

    wasn’t as tough as I thought, didn’t feel it in my back, upper shoulders like when I do regular pull ups, felt more stress on my wrists and outer arms….

    here’s a song for the heretics:

    • Beers are great after a workout. Hops are a natural sedative.
      If I want to soothe my nerves, muscle soreness, or just relax I start downing IPAs.
      Well…hops are a relative of cannabis. And when you have a high dosage you become aware of its very calming effects.
      But don’t do beers all the time if you want to feel aggressive and motivated. Hops are highly estrogenic.
      I like the way the effects of hops combine with a good loose leaf green tea and a bowl of pipe tobacco.

      The explosive effort and coordination of grabbing that bar will definitely make your forearms pop. You might start seeing some new striations.

      Your position and angle is important.
      Because most everyone wants to do as many pullups as possible to impress their friends they ‘cheat’ with their legs.
      The guy in your first video is no exception.
      You see them moving straight up and down relative to the bar to minimize the work they have to do for each rep.

      However, if you make your upper body your center of gravity, you’ll suddenly find your lats especially have to do a lot more work.
      If you do it like this, your chest, upper back and shoulders are closer to being parallel to the bar instead of just hanging around uselessly underneath.
      And yes, it takes some core strength to do this.

      Never letting your body get complacent matters. It pays to switch between underhand and overhand. Explosive and holding position. Long movements and short. Wide grip and narrow grip. Or for fun, you can even try a few reps grabbing with your fingers.
      To really let those hand tendons do all the work, you can fold in your thumbs so they’re touching your palms.

      If you make your lats do lots of work on the pullup bar:
      that’s one of the quickest most reliable ways to develop a ‘v’ shape to your body even if the rest of you is scrawny.

  5. I actually did manage 20 pullup in one set yesterday-thankfully not feeling too sore today….

    The form wasn’t great and 18-20 burned….

    It was wide grip pull-up….

    Also helped that there were some hawt surfer girls looking on….

    Then I tried the overhand/underhand explosive ones….

    seemed like my coordination went to crap as I had exhausted myself in the first set….

    I’m gonna throw in more variations to my pull-ups….

    So aside from developing biceps, I suppose chin-ups aren’t all that useful…

    • I take it you must be from California. Not only are there surfer chicks at the beach in the winter, you have the carefree demeanor of a classic West Coast ‘dude’ even when you’re online.

      Chin-ups are pretty useful, it’s just that it’s easy to make them a whole lot more useful.

      Definitely best to start out with the explosive stuff early on in your workout. It’s pretty much a waste once you’re exhausted.

      If you want to really know which muscles are doing the work try just locking into a position and holding it until the pull of gravity makes you burn.

      Exercises where you hold position or move very slowly are good for tightening and strengthening the tendons.
      This is actually pretty important to do if you’re going to be doing explosive exercises, especially if you’re dealing with heavy weights.(i.e. max benches, deadlifts).
      It’s a great way to prevent injuries.

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