Physical Culture 2.0

Physical Culture 2.0

 Thursday evening July 21st, 2011 occasioned private dedicatory celebrations for the Joe & Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture at the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, University of Texas, Austin — also home of the Todd-McLean Physical Culture Archives (more than 300,000 items contained in 2.5 miles of compact shelving).

Attending the Weider Museum dedication were roughly 100 legends of the past 60 years of Physical Culture. While many were in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, most appeared to be at least 20 years younger than their physical age. Consensus had it that Physical Culturists’ claims of longevity enhancing benefits of a diet of natural, nutrient dense foods combined with robust physical activity bore fruit among the living legends in attendance that night. For some examples, see my photo collection at my FaceBook page

Former Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and three times Mr. Olympia Frank Zane and I attended dedication of the Weider Museum together, bringing as guests Lane Sebring, MD, and Keith Norris. LINK As Dr Sebring put it remarking on the age-defying benefits of Physical Culture accessing genomic potentials of health and longevity: “the irony is that what we wish for most is what we once were.”

The term Physical Culture fell into disuse if not discredit some decades ago.  Physical Culture enjoyed popular usage for decades prior to the 1970s, so much so that in the Yellow Pages telephone directories through the 1960s gyms were listed under the business subject heading “Physical Culture.”

Physical Culture meets Paleo

For several years Dr. Sebring and I have jointly developed The Primal Wellness Program offered through his Sebring Clinic. Sebring was in on the ground floor of the Paleo movement prior to publication of Cordain’s book, and has successfully included Paleo Diet in treatment of a number of diseases. Upon joining work with him I finally got around to reading Cordain’s book. With a background of more than 50 years in Physical Culture, I prematurely dismissed the  book as yet another nutrient dense dietary approach to high protein/fat, low carbohydrate eating — the benchmark of nearly a century of Physical Culture.

Digging down into the Paleo literature introduced me to the emerging new discipline it rests upon, that of Evolutionary Medicine. The marriage of medicine with anthropology brought about a revolution of understanding born of breaking free of generally accepted standards concerning health and disease taken for granted in our culture. With the addition of anthropology, health and disease were suddenly viewed in human context rather than standards of modern America.

Dr. Sebring quickly noted an intrinsic limitation to evolutionary medicine: so far, it excludes complimentary, alternative, and integrative medicines — among the leading edges of health care. His observation raised a red flag: what else is missing? With further immersion in evo med and its popular expression in the Paleo movement, it became readily apparent a lot is missing — and for good reason.

Beyond the Biochemical Genetic Model

The late Lily E.Kay, PhD published her thoroughly researched The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology in 1993 through Oxford University Press. Dr. Kay was faculty at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before then with the University of Chicago. Noting her impeccable credentials in reference to her book is to distinguish her work’s merits from ill-informed conspiracy theories?

Just a scant 100 years ago the state of medicine in America of little scientific value, unregulated to any standards of professionalism, education, and licensing, hence a field over run with snake oil salesmen, charlatans and hucksters. The very weak American Medical Association joined with the Carnegie Foundation in a concerted effort to upgrade the condition of medicine. Hiring Abraham Flexner to lead an investigation of the state of medicine at that time, the resulting Flexner Report became the single most guiding document for the formation of modern medicine — both in terms of education and standards of practice.

Backing the Flexner Report were powerful monopolistic interests and agendas of the Rockefeller and Carnegie fortunes aimed at creating new monopolies in both pharmaceuticals and medicine. By means of new Federal income tax laws, establishment of charitable trusts offered tax write offs for corporations and the very wealthy. Those non-profit trusts, in turn, endowed chairs in medical schools, provided research grants, and set up scholarships for students — all conforming to their agenda. A large number of medical schools closed due to a variety of factors: some were diploma mills, while others were penalized for standing firm in advocacy of science rather than kowtowing to subservience to industrial monopolies. Eliminated from medical curricula for proper dancing to monopolistic tunes were nutrition, physical culture, energy medicine, chiropractic and other healing arts vilified in a commingling of emerging new science and ‘science as a marketing strategy.’ Greatly aiding the take over of medicine were the Republican presidential administrations of the 1920s and the subsequent Great Depression they brought to the United States. Between favorable funding and the Depression, a large number of medical schools failed, leaving those well endowed and connected by thick cables of obligation to corporate masters.

A new paradigm had emerged. And with it emerged an intellectual reign of terror not witnessed since the Inquisition in Europe. By the 1950s the AMA’s inquisitional forces learned to scapegoat alternative science by branding it as “Quack”.  A new mythology was set loose. Twentieth century medicine amounts to a quantum leap forward in prevention and treatment of communicable disease along with an ever deepening understanding of biochemical and genetic processes constituting life. While incredibly successful, modern medicine has become an exclusive orthodoxy yielding unchecked authority, thereby thwarting development of a greater paradigm of health science.

With the triumphs of 20th century medicine, Physical Culture fell into relative disrepute as a form of quackery. Taking pills requires much less effort than challenging, character building physical activity!

Exercise Physiology => Physical Culture 2.0

From the 1970s a new health related academic discipline slowly yet steadily began emerging on university campuses — generally in colleges of education, in physical education departments variously known by names including exercise physiology, kinesiology and others. Pharmaceutical and medical organizations did not sponsor that research. Alumni donors interested in their old school fielding championship teams and athletes contributed mightily to the cause of developing peak performance. Rather than studying pathology, exercise physiology sought to develop winning athletes who were bigger, faster, and stronger. It should be kept in mind the leading pioneers of exercise physiology largely remain in the field since they were in graduate school forty years or less ago. It’s a very new discipline, one only beginning to gain popular attention in media.

Our popular Paleo movement is rampant with theories concerning training for fitness, health, and athleticism. For those familiar with the past half century or more of Physical Culture discussion, modern Paleo discussions largely repeat and perpetuate many of the same topics: included are how often to train, how much training, what kind of training, etc? Worse still, division among the same old training camps still occurs. Physical Culture 1.0 is a culture of rich diversity, hence rampant divisiveness, often rude, authoritarian disagreement. Reading volume one of Randy Roaches’ Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors or the fascinating 1,000 page Legends of the Iron Game by Bill Pearl immediately give rise to the conclusion that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Two examples of heated debates raging for decades are (1) volume versus intensity and (2) strength versus pump training. In terms of PC 1.0, those debates were viable. With PC 2.0, however, both are pseudo-issues. How so? Thanks to exercise physiology, we now have tools for accessing performance. Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield first applied Hill’s strength-velocity curve to power lifting and body building applications, then Dr Joseph Signorile extended the discussion. In turn, one of Signorile’s graduate students, Juan Carlos Santana, used it as the basis of his unique coaching system successful in training varying athletes and for fitness application. Scott Abel further developed the model, filling in discrete areas of exertion as specific training protocols while noting associated metabolic effects. Of late, Brad Schoenberg’s article “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy & Their Application to Resistance Training” has further fleshed out the complexities of genomic expressions (plural) associated with specific types of training and associated metabolic systems. Given refined scientific tools born of exercise physiology, we can now look upon the debates of the past as largely pointless to reiterate. Instead, we can focus on the principle of specificity with program development for specific desired outcomes: training power lifters is profoundly different from body builders, and both markedly variant from training a decathlon athlete.

Another implication of PC 2.0 favors consumers: one is hard pressed to accept blatantly commercial theoretical claims of the superiority of any singular training method or equipment which contradict exercise physiology. And the good news in that allows one to selectively chose training modalities in concert with individual needs.


For example, some fitness advocates in the Paleo movement repeat the mantra of a commercial theory of exercise first expressed 40 years ago with advocacy of ‘short, infrequent workouts with sets carried to failure.’ A simple review of PC 2.0 standards of exercise physiology indicates such an approach, while useful, is incomplete. When expressed as the sole gold standard of training, it’s blatantly wrong — if knowingly uttered, then dishonest as well. For persons enjoying robust, active lifestyles with myriad physical demands satisfying other metabolic training aspects, then such an approach has merit. Context of one’s lifestyle is the primary determinant if training oriented for fitness.

Another training system popular in the Paleo movement reminds me of Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach of the 1930s-1950s, although without gymnastics, tumbling, and hand balancing. That movement varies workouts by the day, and engages in a lot of classical PC 1.0 movements. With some better understanding of biomechanics, it could go a long way in preventing inevitable injuries with foolish practices such as kipping. Is it the gold standard? No, since it excludes other dimensions of training. But I’ll bet it’s sure fun for younger people.

Physical Culture 2.0 is a demarcation from opinionated divisiveness along with being an important addition to both evo medicine and the popular Paleo movement. Physical Culture 2.0 has roots in classical Physical Culture while resting on a foundation of exercise physiology. What’s more, PC 2.0 doesn’t confuse itself with a dogmatic theory mistaken as infallible truth: instead, it’s a model. As a model it aims for inclusiveness by leaving no stone unturned. Anomalies in science point only to limited, less than adequate theories. Ignoring or dismissing anomalies is usually a pathetic, desperate attempt to defend the weakness of a pet theory at the cost of scientific integrity. PC 2.0 has practical roots in the know-how and insights of its grassroots practitioners: coaches and those who train the world over. PC 2.0 aims at development of a whole systems model, excluding nothing and free to pose rude questions as an expression of empirical ethics.

Next Evolution

Physical Culture 2.0’s most important attribute lies within its context of development: its foundation is Trans-Evolutionary Fitness, hence PC 2.0 aims at the next step in evolution being consciously volitional, incorporating our embodied minds as our personal director. In fuller version, PC 2.0 incorporates emotional intelligence, stress management and development of brain/mind responses overcoming detrimental aspects of contemporary living. In that context, fitness is vividly whole system oriented.


I readily confess to straddling between two worlds. One the one hand, I became a Physical Culturist in 1959, first as a swimmer then by being ‘bitten by the Iron Bug.’ Until steroids came upon the scene creating an uneven playing field, I competed in power lifting, Olympic lifting, and bodybuilding all sanctioned in those times by the Amateur Athletic Union. While no longer competing after the later 1960s, I’ve never stopped training for the pure fun of it. Those whom I coach get results. My approach is always client-centered because cookie cutter programs just don’t honor physiological individuality.

As a life long Physical Culturist it has only been natural to explore and keep abreast of current scientific breakthroughs. From the late 1970s a new literature variously called life extension, anti-aging, and longevity began emerging. In that time a UCLA sports medicine physician (physician to five Olympic teams) noted over-trained athletes blood panels resembled those of aging persons. That moment of insight had far reaching impact to both keeping athletes in peaked condition as well as application to slowing down the aging process. From that moment forward my research direction expanded to first life-extension. Nearly 20 years ago Evans & Rosenberg’s disclosure that muscle wasting is the major contributor to both premature aging and Syndrome X focused my attention to application of Physical Culture to our pandemic of chronic degenerative diseases. The Primal Wellness Program is, to our knowledge, the first comprehensive application of medical diagnostics of individual patients with application of Paleo Diet and my Primal Metabolic Condition to the prevention, arresting, and reversal of the major diseases of our times.

In my life, I do two separate types of coaching. Within the medical Primal Wellness Program of the Sebring Clinic we address prevention and resurrection from a pandemic of debilitating diseases stemming from modern life choices made in contempt of our genomic needs: blood panels demonstrate the efficacy of the program. Within my Smart FIT (Smart Fully Integrative Training), a non-clinical coaching service, specificity rules in formulating client-center programs aimed at meeting specific needs.

My own training is another matter. For myself, a microcycle consists of a full two weeks of varied training. After Signorile, Santana and Abel, those two weeks are spent surfing the curve. No two workouts is ever the same. Everthing included is intense although not necessarily to failure. Rest periods are generally kept very short. EPOC (extended post workout oxygen consumption) is part of my strategy when a set of curls induces breathing usually associated with wind sprints. Laura’s Matrix Principles and Brian Johnston’s brilliant J-Reps/Zone training are included some days. And on other occasions eccentric training is done. Complicated? No! Complex! As complex as our genomic metabolism. With more than five decades of training experience, switching modalities from session to session is no challenge: self-knowledge settles that. I will be offering workshops to pass on my Orderly Chaos approach to others. With this method there are rarely more than two rest days: recuperative hypertrophy is also conditioned.

PC 2.0 will extend both understanding and application of evolutionary medicine and Paleo. Our genomic Stone Age body has proven maladaptive to our Space Age

environment. Paleo diet fuels Stone Age humans while only proper, adequate exercise controls healthy genomic expression.  More is at stake than building and maintaining lean, healthy muscle. Close to 20% of the USA’s domestic national product goes to disease care. The daunting revelation of evolutionary medicine is simple: as a nation we invest in debilitation, decay, and death all of which is unnecessary. The cost in suffering to individuals and families is outrageous. Financial considerations are ruining our nation. Implementation of Physical Culture 2.0 within the agenda of Trans-Evolutionary Fitness seems to be a volitional pathway from extinction of our moral fiber and, perhaps, much of our species. Taking the uncommon evolutionary step forward will result in unprecedented character development along the path of self-mastery.

As with Kurt Harris’ inspirational Paleo 2.o, subsequent blog entries will deal with specifics of importance to us all.

Copyrighted © by Ken O’Neill. All rights reserved.

About Trans-Evolutionary Fitness

At age 14 I was a science geek whose life was irreversibly changed upon lifting a barbell: I became a Physical Culturist whose science roots rendered me a walking question mark, a Free Thinker. Fascinated by rumor of a mind-muscle or mind-body connection I sought in vane for answers, all but laughed out of the Western academy. Graduate work in a Japanese Buddhist university bestowed beginner's understanding of how consciousness results in mental, emotional and physical embodiment along with voluntary control of our lives. I became a Kyoshi of the Jodo Shin heritage of Japanese Buddhism in 1972, then went on earning further competencies in Western psychological and gnostic traditions. Human wisdom heritages offer a heartfelt understanding of how consciousness creatively embodies us so greatly needed for both facing the anthropocene crisis and gaining self-mastery by a quantum leap to a meta-biological orientation to life. Trans-Evolutonary Fitness, my other blogs, and podcast all stand as contributions supporting a grassroots Renaissance of well being.
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8 Responses to Physical Culture 2.0

  1. Eddie says:

    Hey Ken,

    I enjoyed reading about physical culture and the paleo movement. I like the thought of never doing the same work out. I was wondering, when you say you move through a 2 week cycle of training, how many different work outs does that entail?

  2. Number of workouts depends on the condition one is in! Assuming six months of progressive fitness acquisition, I’d keep it around 8-10 sessions over half a month. Due to varying recuperative cycles, some variation in rest/recuperation days is required. For example, sessions with higher reps, very short rest between sets are far less demanding on connective tissue and require much less structural repair of contractile tissue. Such sessions include eccentrics and lower rep, heavier resistance. I’ve gone three days in succession with lighter, sacroplasmic hypertrophy sessions.
    The key is always sensory acuity – listening to your body’s feedback. If you feel tired, then declare a rest day! If you planned a heavier day yet feel slightly off, change your plan. I’m not one for counting reps but, instead, going by physiological outcome – fatigue, pump, burn, each depending on a loose rep range. It’s the outcome felt in the target muscles that counts most.

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