Workout Today

I don't post a lot about the specifics of my workouts. Why? Well, whereas all the diet & fasting stuff was very accessible and could be put into practice quickly — with quick results to verify, repeat, verify, and so on — workouts never struck me like that. I'm a neophyte (still) but that's changing.

Also, I have a trainer and he's proven himself to be unconventional and actually willing to listen to me. Right off the bat, he said all I need is two 30-minute session per week of high intensity. That told me he had a lot right. Now, he often sports my Free the Animal T-shirt. That's pretty cool.

There's a new book out there I may have mentioned. It's by reader and sometimes commenter Dr. Doug McGuff, Body by Science, which is soon coming up in my reading stack. In the meantime, workout guru extraordinaire, Keith Norris, has reviewed it in multiple parts here, here, and here. [Added later: Chris Highcock interviewed Dr. McGuff here, and here's another interview on video.]

There's a bit of a coincidence. When I first began this journey two years ago, I went to the bookstore to pick up a book on working out. I was already a bit familiar with Art DeVany's power law (endurance and intensity are inversely related, i.e., the more intense, the less you can endure, and it's the intensity that drive the gene expression you want). So, it was only natural that John Little's book appealed to me: Max Contraction Training : The Scientifically Proven Program for Building Muscle Mass in Minimum Time. I read it cover to cover. Essentially, it relies on the power law principle and takes it to the end point: the highest intensity would be muscle failure in under 1 second. How to do that? Well, that's the problem. You need one and possibly even two trainers and spotters to help get HUGE weight into a maximum contraction situation, where you then hold to muscle failure. You aim for enough weight to hold three seconds, then increase weight until you can do less than a second. John had some interesting photos, such as a normal woman on an old-style peck deck holding a contraction against a bunch of plates with two guys standing on them; so, hundreds of pounds.

The punch line: John Little collaborated with Doug McGuff on this new book.

At the same time, my trainer wanted to do pretty intense, but it was mostly isolation. I was making gains, so I just shut up. Fast forward to a couple of months ago where I broached the subject of moving to compound exercises and big volume. Man, what a difference. I just love it. Rather than three boring, often excruciating sets of 10, it's now 5, maybe 10 sets, and most are only 2-3 reps, because the weight is so much. On squats, my form has improved to where I can easily do several sets of 4-5 reps at my body weight: 185. Once I am very confident of form, I'll start increasing it.

So, last Saturday I ran into my trainer here at my condos. He was training another resident in our workout facility. I invited him up, then thought of lending him John Little's book. And, so, he had a big surprise for me today.

The first was lat pulldowns. Fortunately, he had the pulldown straps that go across your elbows. It's amazing how much more you can do when you don't have to hold a grip. So, whereas 120-130 is a lot, I was able to warm up at 150, then a couple of reps at 220, and then a whole bunch of negatives at 300 pounds — where we would have to use both of our full body's weight to get into full contraction and hold. 300 is max on the machine, and I could hold a few seconds in a full contraction, ease to half and hold a couple of seconds. We did that about 4-5 times and it was simply awesome. I'll never do boring reps upon reps again.

Next was a sitting chest press that's configured in a way that makes it easy for Mike to help me press it into a full extension. First was a warm up at 150, then to 220 to test an extension, ease, and hold at half extension. No sweat, so we maxed out that machine at 300 as well. What a delight! There's something just really cool about holding against 300 pounds.

Next was off to do some free squats, mainly to warm up and practice form. Did 4-5 sets of 4-5 reps at 135 going to 185.

To round out the 30-minute workout, we went to a lay down leg press machine. Just went right to the max, which I think was 300, again, and pressed to half extension and hold. I did two or three of those, holding for about 10 seconds each time, quads quivering like crazy.

I've just gotta say that I'm really loving this. Whole New World. But, be careful out there. Frankly, I have no idea of when I'd have been ready both physically and mentally to take on this sort of thing, and I don't begrudge at all almost two years of isolation conditioning. There's a fear factor, too, and you should not be attempting anything like this without assistance from someone who knows what they're doing; but more importantly, until you're sure you're up to it. You'll know when you're up to it.

You'll feel strong.


  1. Chris on April 28, 2009 at 22:59

    Good stuff. Did you see the interview I did with Doug recently? He is a really good guy. I've also been emailing John Little and have an interview with him coming up.

    I've been messing round with HIT a bit more recently too after reading BBS. A big thing with workouts like this is the need for lots of rest afterwards – they need to be very infrequent if you are to progress. This is real power law stuff.

  2. Chris - on April 29, 2009 at 09:31

    While I really like the movement away from isolation work toward heavy compound movements.

    I'm pretty far from sold on the holding approach. This sounds like adding an isometric contraction into the mix.

    That's all well and good, but generally isometrics only increase strength at the actual joint angles that are trained, so there's very little carry over to other activities.

    I don't want to start the debate on the validity of HIT (there's plenty of that elsewhere on the internet) but I have been quite unimpressed with it. You seem to bring a healthy amount of skepticism to your investigation of new things, so I'm curious where you'll end up with it in the weeks to come.

  3. Jeff on April 29, 2009 at 05:55

    Hey Richard,

    I think you will like BBS. Dr. McGuff IS a really good guy and the stuff in the book makes sense. A couple of quick lessons learned that I found:
    1) It has shown me that it is possible to get the intensity without the risk of injury. Easy to hurt yourself while hitting the FT muscle fibers.
    2) I was doing a 15/8/4 Devany style for over a year and while it worked it is in no way as intense as SS/HIT. One session proved that to me personally.
    3) I wasn't getting enough recovery. Big lesson for me there as I was going to the gym every day to lift something heavy at one point. Less is more.

    Great post. Enjoy!


  4. Richard Nikoley on April 28, 2009 at 23:33

    Yep, saw and read that interview. Doug drops a comment now and then here. Whotta guy.

    I think I'm in the sweet spot with recovery. I do HIT once per week, then more of a crossfit, body weight, plyo, higher rep but vastly varied routine the other day. Every now and then I skip a workout, one or the other, and every 2-3 months I take a week off entirely.

  5. pnw fitness on April 29, 2009 at 01:12

    I'm currently reading Body by Science. Should be finished in the next couple nights. Really liking it so far. Most of it seems like common sense, so how come so many of us don;t know it?

  6. Adam Cilonis on April 29, 2009 at 08:39

    My father-in-law is always talking about doing static holds, push it half way-hold, all the way-hold, 3/4-hold, down. And then several more reps of the same thing. The weight is heavy but light enough to do 10 or so reps. Is there and benefit in this type of lifting? It sounds too complicated or unnatural to be helpful…???

  7. Robert M. on April 29, 2009 at 09:57

    If you're going to do isometrics, do them at maximum muscle extension. That portion of the muscle is active throughout the entire range of motion.

  8. Richard Nikoley on April 29, 2009 at 09:28

    I've done various static holds like that, sometimes with my trainer physically pushing on the weight during the hold phase. Probably some benefit, but in an entirely different league to what I'm doing.

  9. Richard Nikoley on April 29, 2009 at 09:35

    For now, it's fun. I've actually already talked to the trainer about mixing all three: full-range compound, heavy lifting for some reps sets, isolation for 10 x 3, and the HIT holds. We'll mix and match, and it's only once per week, as the other day is crossfit & plyo.

    I think it's far more important to mix things up that to become an evangelist for one specific type of exercise.

  10. Richard Nikoley on April 29, 2009 at 10:10

    For contraction exercises (like lat pulldowns, rows, etc) I do mostly full contraction and then try to hold somewhere mid-range as I'm easing off. Other times, I hold the full contraction as long as possible.

    For extensions (chest presses, leg presses), that's a bit more difficult, because I can essentially hold full extension almost indefinitely owing to the geometry. One exception might be a really huge deadlift, as it takes a whole lot to hold it. The problem is getting far more weight than you can life up to where you can hold it.

  11. Skyler Tanner on April 29, 2009 at 17:33


    I've always though De Vany was short-sighted with his application of power law. Blasphemy, right?

    So if he "scales up" his sets to try to conform to power law, why not blitz for 1 to 2 weeks, at least doubling training volume and really blasting yourself before taking a week off and moving back to something more sane? That's power law on a macro level and can add lbs of muscle in a short period of time ESPECIALLY if you're still quite a novice.

  12. Keith Norris on April 29, 2009 at 10:34

    Welcome to the addiction, Richard o_O ! And if you really want to get deep into the theory behind extreme isolations, see Jay Schroeder's work; Evo-fitness is what he goes by now, I believe.

  13. Richard Nikoley on April 29, 2009 at 11:10


    I get it, now.

  14. Patrik on April 29, 2009 at 21:24

    @Chris – fitnessfail

    Agreed. While I wish Richard the best with this — I am unimpressed with what Doug McGuff espouses.

  15. Skyler Tanner on April 30, 2009 at 12:22

    I learned of power law long years before Devany from one Brian D. Johnston. He derived the idea of "Blitz Cycles" from a book called "Ubiquity." There is a critical point of change for everything in life, from earthquakes to city size, and he just extended this to workouts. Glenn Pendelay has data where these routines cause a huge rebound in hormone output after the cycle is complete. It's all good stuff and stuff to consider.

  16. Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2009 at 09:45

    And that's really just taking a more fundamental DeVany principle — that of intermittency, variation, etc. — and applying it to the workouts.

    I suspect he mixes things up quite a bit personally, but I suppose it's difficult to come up with something a novice can follow and make progress on without it appearing somewhat rigid to the more experienced.

  17. Thomas Stone on May 1, 2009 at 12:58

    Have you read Slow Burn Fitness Revolution, by Hahn, Eades, and Eades? (yes, the same Eades!) If so, I'm curious what you think of it.

  18. Thomas Stone on May 1, 2009 at 15:09

    Frederick Hahn, Drs. Michael Eades and Mary Dan Eades put forth a rather different exercise regimen. Once you get going on it, it amounts to one 30 minute session, only once a week. There are very specific exercises, that you do with a timer or metronome handy, for two minutes each. You use appropriate weight levels (will take a few session to figure out appropriate levels for each individual). The key is that you do the reps *very slowly* (say, taking 10 seconds for each rep) and to the point of muscle failure. In the book they describe the benefits of this approach, why it works, and why it makes sense in terms of the biology of our muscles and so on. One key aspect of the article is that by strictly following this approach you are forcing your muscles to do *all* the work, instead of relying on momentum, your bone structure, gravity, etc. — which most people who workout with weights end up cheating (often without realizing it).

    It is a *very* quick read, because the first third is the info/theory, then the other two thirds are the directions for the exercises: one set for home workouts and one set for gym workouts.

    So, because of that, you might find you could read the first part in just a few days, and only read the exercises if/when you were interested to give it a try. Hence you could put it near the top of your reading list without putting off the next books by more than a few days. :-)

    Anyway, if you ever do read it, I'd be interested in your take on it… at that point, presumably you'd do a blog post on it so I'll just keep reading (as I would anyway!).

  19. Richard Nikoley on May 1, 2009 at 14:07

    Have not read it, and from the looks of my reading stack, it would probably be some time.

    Have you a brief synopsis you could offer?

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