Ori Hofmekler and Stress
The poison is in the dose
I happened to come across a copy of my old friend Ori Hofmekler’s book, 7 Principles of Stress. Ori is one of the health and fitness world’s few original thinkers. An internationally known artist, his satirical political cartoons were featured in the London Times, New York Times, Der Spiegel, US News & World Report and Washington Post, to name but a few. When Ori turned his full attention to fitness, he came at “fitness” from a radical perspective: Ori’s optimal physique and ideal performance profile was a military archetype, not an athletic archetype.
Ori posited that the ideal physique is best exemplified by the lightly muscled, highly conditioned, intermittently fed Greek Trireme ship rowers or the common Roman foot soldier. A Trireme was a war ship used by 450 AD Greeks to conquer the world. Each Trireme had 166 rowers, free men, men that got a cut of the loot, the bounty seized from raids and conquests, Trireme rowers were not beaten abused slaves, these were extremely fit, financially motivated, warrior-athletes. Men competed in tryouts to capture a Trireme seat. The work was brutal and metamorphosized a man’s physique.
Rowers nominally pulled oars through water for extended distances. Periodically they had to be able to “sprint,” to repeatedly attain ramming speed during sea battles. Fitted with a razor-sharp prow, a metal nosepiece used to puncture and sink enemy ships, the Trireme ruled the seas for a century. Imagine the type of physique this job created? The Roman foot soldier carried 25% of their bodyweight in armor and weaponry with every step they took, with every charge they made, during every battle they fought.
Soldiers and rowers developed what Ori calls, hybrid muscle fiber, not fast twitch, not slow twitch, a superior blend, a hybrid muscle fiber. Dr. Len Schwartz first pointed out to me, and as Ori confirmed, hybrid muscle fiber is loaded with mitochondria and built with what I call, ‘weighted’ cardio. Swing a sledgehammer, run or walk with weighted packs, sprint, engage in an extended kettlebell session, wrestle a strong opponent, tear into MMA drills, land row, run up hills, etc., etc., this type of training, weighted cardio, creates new mitochondria within the working muscles. These cellular blast furnaces reset a man’s genetic potential; sedentary people have a paucity of mitochondria; elite athlete’s muscles are chock full of mitochondria. Weighted cardio drills need to be sustained and consistent.
Ori sought to create a type of training that would replicate the performance and physiques of these military archetypes. He sought a physique capable of regular and repeated sustained physical effort, and when needed, during life-and-death encounters, the ability to call on berserker strength. Ori wanted sustained strength for forced marches and rowing for long distances; he also wanted the absolute strength needed to overwhelm a weaker opponent on the battlefield. Sustained strength, strength endurance, requires a preponderance of slow-twitch fiber, explosive strength requires a preponderance of fast-twitch muscle fiber. Ori wanted both.
Ori's resistance training approach is similar in many ways (yet dissimilar in other ways) to the philosophy Dr. Len Schwartz used to create Heavy Hands, i.e., create cardio drills that include purposeful muscular contractions and requires all four limbs, arms and legs, to participate, to contribute, in generating the totality of the muscular effort. Ori was dismissive of bodybuilding and most sport-specific resistance training. Ori’s “strength-endurance” approach prefigured modern MMA training and prefigured the whole “tactical” strength movement.
Modern mixed martial artists created drills designed to keep them from “gassing out,” from running out of energy and becoming exhausted during a fight. MMA drills purposefully inject muscular effort into cardiovascular formats. Examples might include repeatedly slamming a heavy slam ball, running up a steep hill for reps, push or pull a weighted sled, any drill that requires repeated muscular contractions designed to push the athlete past their current abilities to deal with oxygen debt, glycogen exhaustion, lactic acid build-up, etc., all the while increasing pain tolerance and increasing mitochondrial density. Ori has championed this type of training for decades.
Ori also noted what these ancients ate, and just as importantly, how seldom they ate. Thus, the Warrior Diet was spawned. Before Ori, there was no such thing as intermittent fasting. That concept sprang full-blown from his big brain, from his study of warrior culture. His nutritional contention was simple: we eat too much of the wrong stuff too often.
The premise behind his book, the 7 Principles of Stress, is that there exists a “biology of stress,” and by recognizing and codifying differing types, kinds, and sources of stress, by identifying and differentiating stresses, stress can be ridden like Laird Hamilton shooting the curl of a 20-foot wave. Like big-wave surfing, Ori demonstrates that there is a thin line between beneficial and harmful. Stress, manipulated and bent to our particular purpose, amplifies the quality and quantity (length) of our lives. Too much of the wrong kinds of stress creates an equal and opposite reaction.
In the excellent forward to the 7 Principle of Stress, Matt Kaeberlein, professor of pathology and genome science, notes that “the key concept here is hormesis…a little bit of stress, applied in the right way, can cause a biological system to adapt and become resistant to a variety of different stressful conditions. One consequence of stress resistance is slower aging, and a corresponding delay in the chronic diseases and disabilities that go along with aging. Hofmekler rightly concludes we live in a world of ‘anti-hormesis.’ Modern man has too little exposure to the environmental stresses that humanity evolved to deal with.” Amen Matt.
Ori and I agree that progressive resistance training is self-inflicted trauma, stress. The right progressive resistance dose (right frequency, right intensities, right exercise selection, right techniques) strengthens the organism. Stress that strengthens is invaluable. The stronger the organism, the more resistant and resilient in dealing with life’s struggles and stresses.
Modern Man is either dying from lack of stress, the right kind of stress, stresses in the proper dosages and frequencies - or Modern Man is dying from too much stress, the wrong kind of stresses in inappropriate dosages and frequencies.
Ori suggests that Modern Man needs to self-inflict predetermined doses of stress using differing modes and methods. Hardcore resistance and sweat-inducing cardiovascular training create physical stresses. Ori, like me, feels that Modern Man uses the wrong exercise modes that either inflicts stresses of insufficient intensity or the wrong intensities needed for the construction of mitochondrial-laden hybrid muscle fiber.
Ori is no fan of bodybuilding, “Why train to be statuesque?” Bodybuilding is divorced from performance while Hofmekler cares only for performance. Performance improvements, using his template and his strategies, builds hybrid muscle. This is tough work and there is no crying allowed during an Ori workout. His training purposefully injects repeated intense muscular contractions into extended cardiovascular formats.
Ori might start off a drill by riding a stationary bike like he is fleeing a rabid wolverine. While pedaling he begins pushing light dumbbells overhead - to failure for perhaps 25-reps. This is immediately followed by curls to failure, now onto side laterals, now front raises, now back to overhead pressing…. repeat for 45-minutes.
Another Ori drill might be to run stadium steps wearing a weighted vest while pumping light dumbbells, do this for 30-minutes. Now drop the vest and bells and commence wind sprints on the flat track, every Ori workout is designed to take a man past his current capacities to endure.
Ori’s drills push deep into the pain and discomfort zone: lactic acid and waste products accumulate with astonishing rapidity. This type of training, done repeatedly and consistently, creates additional mitochondria within the working muscles. This doesn’t happen overnight; it happens over time and with methodical adherence. What are Ori’s 7 principles?
- Exposure to low-level stress yields resiliency to high-level stresses
- Maximum resiliency requires combined nutritional and physical stress
- A low dose of toxins can help relieve or prevent toxicity
- Energy deficit is the key factor in hormesis
- Excess intake of energy inhibits hormesis and shortens life
- Hormesis requires stress be intermittent and not chronic
- Resiliency to stress extends vitality
Ori and I both note that truly strong people are more resilient than weak people. If a strong person adds a necessary cardiovascular training effort, and underpins hardcore, high-intensity training with intermittent fasting, you create a healthy, stress-resistant human. Ori stresses nutrient quality. He is all organic all the time. Organic foodstuffs, locally sourced, seasonally appropriate proteins and produce, are not only maximally potent they are also maximally flavorful.
His contention is that we need to detoxify. We are poisoned and should eat once a day. The one meal starts with salads and natural, uncooked vegetables. This is a perquisite before consuming portions of organic protein. The quality of the food detoxes, and the 22 hours of non-eating allows the human body time to clear and cleanse. Ori sets up a daily “anabolic burst” with his brilliant food strategies.
I think Ori and Wim Hoff are both stress masters. Wim is another original thinker. I wrote the forward to his book. What could be more body-shocking, more stressful, than lingering in cold air or icy water? Wim found that overcoming the stress of cold water and cold air caused the body to overcompensate, with the best possible consequences.
Wim’s cold therapies create a more resilient organism, Ori’s strategies create a more resilient organism, our hardcore power training strategies creates a stronger, more resilient organism. And all three approaches short-circuit the overactive conscious mind, thereby eliminating mental stress. Because, as Krishnamurti notes, “If there is no thought, there is no (mental) stress.” Let’s get to self-inflicting some stresses out there – just make sure that the dosages are appropriate: not too little, not too much, just right.
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.