Robb Wolf’s Training at 43

A cool article on Robb Wolf’s training at 43 years young. See how the king of Paleo and Ancestral Health is training and fueling these days. If you’ll notice, just like the rest of us, it’s always evolving ;). You can search for a previous post or two of his past years summaries on his site.

Enjoy…

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Howdy!

I hope you are all doing well. I started these training updates at the age of 39 as a bit of an accountability exercise. I was not sure how the initial post (or follow-ups) would be received, but I get a remarkable volume of questions inquiring what I’m up to currently. Someday I’ll get one of these up on or around my actual birthday in January, but that did not happen this year. I’ll just jump in and talk first about lifestyle, then training, then nutrition. It’s not my goal to make this a touchy-feely, self-sharing piece, but the reality is what we have cooking in our personal lives dramatically affects the ease (difficulty?) of our training and nutritional pursuits. It’s, all connected. And stuff.

Lifestyle

The end of July last year we welcomed our 2nd daughter, Sagan Rose Wolf to the Wolf Pack. It’s been awesome, life altering…and a pretty stout kick to the jimmy. Many considerations of the 2nd kid are easier (we have a little better idea what the heck we are doing) but each kid is different. Then we still have that pesky “other” kid to contend with. Zoe is now three years old, full of energy, desirous of parental time…I have all kinds of respect for the folks who have walked this parenting path ahead of me. Holy Cats!

It’s trite to say that “when you have kids you just need to be more time efficient.” Yes, that’s true, and the reality is you never, ever have the same time or capacity to do what you did previously. At least I have not figured out how to do all that seems to need doing, particularly if I want to be what I envision to be a “good dad.” I have to sacrifice some of the things I was accustomed to doing. Not the end of the world, certainly a “first world problem” but something to adjust to nonetheless. My sleep has not been terrible, but has not been ideal either. An infant + a potty training little girl + multiple businesses x trying to completely change our healthcare and food production systems = a pretty hopping schedule. So, with that background, let’s jump into training and then chow, with an eye towards my life situation.

Training

Perhaps before I dig into WHAT I’m doing, it’d be nice to think about WHY I’m doing any of this. I mean, I just spent a few paragraphs whining about how busy I am, so why train at all? Here is a short list, in no particular order:

1- I feel better, I’m a “better” person. Turns out I’m an APOE 3/3 genotype, which some preliminary research indicates does well on “a lot” of exercise. APOE4/4’s may need/benefit even more from a high activity level, but my blood-work and the good old “how do I look, feel and perform” metrics indicate if I can do more, I just enjoy life more and appear to be healthier.

2- I want to play with my kids and do cool things. Zoe is in gymnastics and it’s a ton of fun to practice handstands, levers, rolls etc. To this end mobility has slowly taken a more prominent feature in my training. I’ve always had pretty good natural flexibility and have traditionally participated things which lend themselves to good mobility (Capoeira, thai boxing, some dabbling in gymnastics). But as I’ve gotten older and faced an increasing workload, my time spent doing mobility work has decreased…unless I really prioritize it.

So, what am I actually DOING?

Mobility: First thing in the morning I try to do 5-10 min of free-flow movement. I’ve taken things from yoga, capoeira, jits and mashed them together in an effort to have some unstructured movement first thing in the morning. I recently noticed Max Shank  (easily the coolest name in S&C) posting some 5 min flows. Brilliant stuff, or I’m just searching for confirmation bias! Zoe loves doing this with me, but the process may run aground if Sagan had a rough night of sleep and the morning is a disaster. I have also started doing more dedicated mobility and stretching work between my strength activities. I talked about that quite a bit in previous updates. I know lots of exercise science seems to indicate that “stretching + strength work” is bad for strength development, but it worked well for me in the past, is time efficient and…I’m not a legit strength athlete any longer. I’m just trying to hang onto as much capacity in as many realms as possible. Nothing has changed dramatically with regards to what I’m doing for mobility, if you want to see some of the specifics I’m using, check out the previous update. The short story is that I’m focusing mainly on thoracic/shoulder/hip mobility and balance, as these all take a pounding doing grappling. Sitting is not a huge benefit to those mobility considerations either, so I’m constantly working on these areas.

Not to digress too far, nor to go totally Matt Furey on folks (remember Combat Conditioning?!) but if you had to pick one movement that really conveyed YOUTH, what would it be? Sprinting is awesome, climbing is amazing…lifting things is clearly a burly and beneficial activity, but what is one thing that kids can typically do effortlessly, yet adults struggle with or cannot do at all? I’d say the backbend or bridge and particularly while displaying adequate thoracic mobility and not forcing the lumbar spine into excessive extension. Here is an example of a back-limber progressing and DEMONSTRATION that I really like:

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This young woman has fantastic overall mobility, but if you notice, she is able to “push her head” through her hands during this movement. We don’t see any sharp angles in the spine, and it’s a nice smooth transition. Now, check this back limber tutorial out:

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To my eye this young lady is relying too much on some hypermobility in the T-spine. I’d really like to see the shoulders opened more and less severe of an angle in the mid back. Please know, I am NOT picking on these girls, merely seeing this through the eye of a 43 year old has-been athlete trying to use various modalities to keep as fit and healthy as long as possible. Curious what y’alls thought are on the “ultimate expression of youth” in one movement. Like the back-bend? Like something else?

Strength work;

For the first 6 months Sagan was with us I usually managed to get 2 strength sessions per week. Pretty similar template as I’ve outlined previously:

Day 1

Upper body push/pull in vertical plane

Squat, lunge or similar

Trunk work (Evil wheel, levers, back extensions)

 

Day 2

Upper body push/pull in the horizontal plane

Some kind of glute/hamstring-centric movement like RDL’s, hip bridges, banded good mornings etc.

Trunk work (Rotational work, including windshield wipers, med ball throws, sledge hammer work)

Due to my time crunch after Sagan’s arrival this became largely timed circuits or density training. This has worked pretty well, but has had an interesting side effect: Last year I was about 178lbs and around 8-10% body fat. I’m still at the same bodyfat level but I am SKINNY. ABOUT 165 lbs! I’ve talked to John Welbourn a good bit about this and although traditional bodybuilding routines are more volume centric (like what I’ve been doing), I do need some heavy lifting with longer rest periods to really build and maintain muscle. Could be my fast twitch inclinations, could be completely unrelated, but it’s been an interesting change. My relative strength on things like gymnastics movements, rope climbs etc. is fantastic at this bodyweight. My absolute strength on squatting, pulling and pressing is…well, crap. Interestingly, I don’t think this has affected my grappling much so long as I stay with partners that are not much more than 40lb above my weight. Once I get beyond that…it’s rough. Having lost 15 or so lbs people who were once 20lbs heavier are now almost 40 heavier…that HAS been a bit rough.

About 2 months ago I started following our Intermediate Strength & Conditioning program offered via NorCal Strength & Conditioning.

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Now, this is a 4 day per week program, and I tend to only get in 3 of those sessions. If I miss jits in a given week I will hit that 4th day, but I often tweak things more towards a conditioning session, which I will describe in a moment. I also tend to drop in some low level, “recovery cardio” after these strength sessions, which I’ve found to be very productive. That damn aerobic pathway is important after all! Since that programming is rolled out on the Friday before the next week, I’m able to modify the week as necessary based on recovery, time commitments etc.

Grappling

 

My main “sportive” activity is still old-guy Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Some days I am completely in love with this art, and other days I want to burn my belt and gi and never, ever go near the mat again! Not sure what to make of that, but kinda interesting. On good weeks I may get in  3-sessions, most weeks in the past 9 months I’ve been lucky to get in one session. To get the most bang for my skinny buck, I have tried to focus my training almost exclusively on drilling. I’ll pick a certain position (closed guard, mount, side control) and work that in 5 min rounds with my partner. Interestingly, even with my paltry training schedule, I feel like I’m making progress and I’m not so smashed from training. I think most BJJ and MMA schools could really benefit from a program that minimizes free-rolling and focuses more on positional sparring and drilling. It’s not the most exciting way to train, but It sure is effective. I talked about all this as well as thinking about business entry points for service based businesses with my wife in this Front Desk On Air podcast. If you run any type of gym, you might give that a listen.

Conditioning

 

Not a ton new here, if you checked out the last update things are pretty similar other than the inclusion of a VersaClimber SM Sport, which I’ll get to in a moment. I am still hitting some “aerobic intervals” a few days per week that involve 30-45 min of total work, usually broken up in 5 min increments of Airdyne, VersaClimber and occasionally a C2 rower. That rower can irritate my low back, so I more often throw on a 40lb vest and walk around our neighborhood.

Something that IS new is how I’ve incorporated the VersaClimber into more intense sub-intervals that I’ve been tinkering with. I read a very interesting paper on a year long periodized program for BJJ and something that I noticed in the paper was that the study authors indicated that BJJ tends to be a time indexed as follows: cycles of 5-15 sec scrambles with 30-120 sec periods of moderate activity. Specificity is clearly important in training (silly ole’ SAID principle!) and I was thinking about how to emulate this in my conditioning sessions. Traditionally folks have structured things like a Fight Gone Bad workout that is 5 x 1-min rounds at a variety of stations. This is good stuff, but what people tend to do is moderate their pace so they can make it through the whole 5 min. There tends to not be much variance in work output, especially if the focus is getting the most “points” as is common in Crossfit. All that considered, I started fiddling with my more sport specific training in the following way:

I’ll set a timer for 5 or 10 min rounds. This is just running in the background. I’ll then do 1 min on the Airdyne at a moderate pace. At that one min mark I’ll jump off the Airdyne, climb on the VersaClimber and go hellbent for 5-15 seconds. I’ll then crawl back on the Airdyne, and “recover” at a moderate pace for 3-4x the time I spent on the VersaClimber. If I really crank up the resistance on the VC that 5-15 sec sprint is about the best dry-land training I’ve ever done that feels like rolling. I will repeat this process for the duration of that 5 or 10 min round, then do a min of rest then back at it. I vary between 3-5 total rounds on this, and will do another 5-10 min of cool-down work to clear lactate and get back to some semblance of normal.

Has this improved my grappling? Well, what it has definitely done is that even if I’m not getting in to roll consistently, I feel pretty good on the mat and do not feel completely smashed from a hard rolling session. If I miss a session of rolling I’ll drop in one of these dry-land sessions. Works pretty well and is not so boring that I want to kill myself. BONUS!

Chow

 

If you have followed my stuff at all, you may recall that I’m constantly fiddling with my macros. I tend to feel better at the low carb, even ketotic side of things. The downside of rolling while LC is that I do not seem to have that “pop” that can make the difference in quick scrambles. I can motor along fine for a long time, but I often miss some transitions as the quick, explosive movement is just not there in the same way that a carb supplemented program provides. For ME (cannot emphasize this enough, not saying any of this is right for anyone but me) the more consistent carb feedings help my jits, but I suffer some low blood sugar symptoms and cognitively, I have felt like crap. CRAP! I know paleo-land has swung back and forth on the carbs: They are good for everyone! No, carbs cause cancer and cause loose morals!. I’ve diligently eaten potatoes, white rice and other dense carb sources…and I feel like shit. I think I MIGHT just have genetic, epigenetic or metaphysical issues that make me not do so well with carbs relative to fat. At this point, my cognitive function is more valuable to me than being at the top of the heap of old-dude blue belt jiu-jitsu. My only take-away from all this is the following: Tinker. See how you look, feel and perform, be rational about what is the most important thing for you. I personally have a dichotomy in that the sport I do (jits) requires a type of fueling that is counter productive to how I feel. I’ve also felt a bit…forced…into playing more with carbs to keep up with the times. I’ve finally hit a point that not having blood sugar crashes is more important to me than another 10% improvement in my rolling. YOU can find your optimum running parameters with a little fiddling. But your optimum may be dependent on what your specific goal happens to be. I spent a lot of time trying to optimally fuel my rolling but still feel good. Have not cracked that nut. For now, It’s more important that my cognition is at 100%. I need to completely change our medical and food production system and i won’t be able to do that If I’m drooling on myself in a hypoglycemic episode.

UPDATE:

The above piece was written about 2 months ago (sorry this is turning into a book). Although I cognitively feel great in ketosis I DO have some gut biome concerns and let’s face it, a KD gets a bit boring. I’ve talked to a number of folks including Dr. Ruscio and Grace Liu. What I’m trying to figure out is if I have some kind of gut dysbiosis and/or epigenetically driven insulin resistance and carb intolerance. I have some early life experiences that could have set me up for either or both of these scenarios. For example, my mom was almost certainly suffering from gestational diabetes as I progressed from unicellular to multicellular Robb. This appears to have significant impact on epigenetic factors governing insulin resistance and carb tolerance (for starters). This paper is pretty interesting. Check out this section:

…avoiding adverse environmental factors in the periconceptional and intrauterine period may be much more important for the prevention of adult disease than any (i.e. dietetic) measures in infants and adults.

Embryonic developmental environment (and I’d add in early post-uterine life) may be far more important than our diet with regards to adult health. Clearly, there may be caveats to all of this, but to the degree this is accurate, all of the high-carb/low-carb wars may be meaningless other than how it applies to the individual. Perhaps amylase gene frequency in humans means our ancestral environment had more carbs than is traditionally talked about in paleo/LC circles, but epigenetic changes in our early life (lack of uterine birth, lack of breastfeeding, gestational diabetes) may make that fact irrelevant. There is still far more that we do not know about this topic than what we are sure of. It’s all part of “peeling the onion” of health. What I’ve been fiddling with in trying to unravel this story for myself is the following:

1- Extensive gut testing to see if I have any type of SIBO (small intestinal overgrowth) OR pathogens. I’ll do a follow-up on the details of the testing, both what I use and the results, but what this will hopefully tell me is if I have some kind of overt gut dysbiosis. If I do, this might explain some of the foggy-headedness, lethargy and hypoglycemia that I’ve historically experienced with a higher carb intake.

2- During my months of ketosis I supplemented like crazy with a number of probiotics including large doses (about 6 capsules per day) of PrescriptAssist and as much fermented food as I could fit into a given meal. I then used the process described by our trainer, Sarah Strange in her outstanding blog post Carb Reloading. Well worth a read, but the takeaway from that is to set calories at a fixed point, start with a carb level that is tolerable and then ratchet up carb intake in the following way:

Week 1 increase carb intake 10-20g, decrease fat by a the same caloric amount, hold that steady for a week.

Week 2 repeat the above.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

I started this process at about 50-60g of carbs while in ketosis and around 2800 cals. I’m now up to about 200g of carbs per day, training or non-training, and I feel pretty damn good. It’s not perfect, but it is a HUGE change from what I experienced previously. Most of you likely know my disdain for food scales and measuring cups…but this is clearly an appropriate place for these tools. I’m going to keep riding this train and see where it goes. Perhaps worth mentioning: virtually all my carbs are “paleo” carbs with the exception of some white rice after particularly hard training. So, generally we are talking yams, green bananas, squash etc.

Ok, that’s it for now. I’m kicking around that idea of attending AHS in New Zealand this year. The idea of traveling around the world with kids makes me consider running my head over with a  forklift…but we will see. I will also be at the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund wing-ding in August. ALSO, if you are a trainer or coach you might want to check out the Cube Summit where folks like Jim Laird, John Welbourn, Mat Lalonde, Dave Werner and myself will be dishing out the pseudoscience.

Maybe I’ll start my year 44 update now so it’s done on time!