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An essential part of training: taking a break

By Admin Admin,

Given that it’s summer and most of the civilized world has the ability to take time off with family and friends, I thought it would be a good time to remind you to do the same. Many of us who work a lot (and enjoy it) need to be reminded that work is not an end all. A balanced life includes time off and it is essential to recharging batteries that fade for everyone eventually.

This point is self-evident so I won’t bore you with my impersonation of Captain Obvious. Rather I’ll share with you some pix from my recent vacation and encourage you to do something that will relax you too!

Got to catch up with some old friends and get to better know some new ones!

 

Taught a mobility for martial artists workshop at Total Dojo in Milton Keynes.

 

A great group at Total Dojo. They are lucky to have Kru Tony Davis as their head instructor!

 

Did this mobility workshop in Newry, N. Ireland. This time as a benefit for a local girl suffering with cancer. I’m always impressed with how small communities pull together.

 

With my “brother from another mother” Paul Devenny in N. Ireland!

 

Had a wonderful experience shooting traditional English longbows in Ireland. Big thanks to Jack Pinson of Living Longbows. Man, this guy can make a bow. The one I’m shooting here is an osage self bow. Spectacular!

 

Met by the lovely Marine after landing in Biarritz for some relaxing days in the south of France!

 

My beautiful wife!

 

A beautiful beach stained by actual Nazi bunkers slowly being drawn to the sea.

 

We stayed at my friend Didier’s lovely house in Labenne.

 

A delicious first meal in Biarritz. Literally right on the beach!

 

My beauty.

 

Two beauties. My wife and the sidewalks of Lisbon. A few days in Portugal were amazing!

 

At the Castle St. George in Lisbon.

 

The looks on our faces say it all. We are blessed to live lives where we can forget about the day to day things for a short time. Do it! You won’t be sorry you did!

How’s the relationship of your training and your goals working out?

By Admin Admin,

A few months back I suggested you have a goal in mind for your training. Over 20+ years of teaching martial arts and 10+ of teaching strength, I’ve found that students with specific goals always make the best progress. This is not earth shattering information, but even though it’s plainly evident I often find that students need to be encouraged to have a goal. At my gym now, one student wants to break 500 with his dead lift. Another will be competing in a triathlon soon. As luck would have it, because I am constantly on the rest of them to have a goal, they all have one even if it’s just improved general fitness. Naturally, I prefer goals to be more specific, but I’ll take something vague if need be.

The next question is after some time, how is your training helping your goal? Have you noticed improvements? Can you specifically name them or is it just a feeling?

My focus in the gym is taming the beast: pressing, pistoling and doing a pull up with the 48k bell. Outside the gym my goal is bow hunting (with a longbow because hunting in general just wasn’t hard enough for me…). Due to a recent (and luckily minor) rib injury I was a bit sidelined from my beast tamer training. now that it’s better I can get back on that track, but for those of you with any outdoor hunting experience, the next question is obvious: How does my goal in the gym overlap with my goal in the field? One is a massive strength goal, the other due to hiking miles a day (often uphill) is more about “legs and lungs.”

Well, the name of the organization is StrongFirst. Strength is our base attribute from which everything else grows. But taming the beast is more than just a baseline strength. It’s extreme. Especially for a guy who weighs around 180 and will be 51 in November. The joke is that the organization’s name isn’t “StrongOnly.” And if you’re aware of Pavel’s constant search for better and safer training methods, you are probably aware of his course StrongEndurance which dives into “anti-glycolytic” training in an effort to deliver better power production and conditioning without leaving you unable to defend yourself should the need arise. So I’ve done the only obvious thing that a guy who crosstrained six different martial arts with Guro Dan Inosanto for nearly twenty years and taught at his school for many of them: I do both! StrongEndurance and beast tamer training done in the same program. Balancing the volume of conditioning with the volume and intensity of the strength work is key, but I am confident it will be a net gain for every undertaking I have in mind.

This past weekend I went wild pig hunting and it was obvious that I was just coming off of an injury because I was more gassed hiking uphill than I thought I would be. Now that I know my conditioning is a bit behind my strength I can adjust my programming and move forward in a more direct line.

What about you? How is your performance relative to your training goals?

Stay strong, my friends!

Practice makes…

By Admin Admin,

Everyone is familiar with the statement “Practice makes perfect.” Ahhhh, if only this were true. In reality, as my good friend, mentor and world renowned MMA coach Greg Nelson has said for years, “Practice makes HABIT.” Whatever you do repeatedly will become your habit. Good or bad. So you must practice every movement with a focus on technical excellence in order to actually make it “perfect.” Conversely if you practice the movement in sub-par manner you will develop a sub-par execution of said movement as your habit.

Let’s take archery for example. Most people who have never been taught how to shoot a bow think you just pull the string back and let it rip. In reality there is an extensive, multi-step “shot process” that goes into every shot. Whether you train Olympic recurve style shooting or some other method, you do that process the same every single time you shoot an arrow. If you don’t then you will not be consistent. And no matter whether your archery goal is target shooting or bow hunting, if your shot process is inconsistent, your arrow groups will be also.

So what does this have to do with strength training and martial arts practice? Here’s a line you’ve likely seen before. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” This quote is often attributed to Aristotle but was likely written by historian Will Durant. Be that as it may, everything we do becomes our habit. In the physical arena it becomes muscle memory and in the emotional arena it’s behavior. Am I saying we are not slaves to our emotions? Yes I am. I make a concerted effort every day to put a smile on my face no matter what has gone wrong. And guess what? I feel happier because I act happier. Similar to physical movements, the more that I practice this the easier it becomes.

We can go down the “don’t be a slave to your emotions road” on another day. For now I have one simple suggestion for you in terms of training. Always practice everything you do with technical proficiency. Do not agree to practice something poorly. The habit you build is dependent upon how YOU practice.

Stay strong, my friends!

Training while injured

By Admin Admin,

Injuries are an unfortunate part of the training cycle. Even with the best program and technique, you will eventually get hurt. Hopefully it will be minor, but sometimes it will be significant. As upsetting as serious injuries are, they make the healing process very clear because neither crutches nor a sling allow for much in the way of training. Even if you can move, pain can often be exacerbated from just the jostling of every day movement that would otherwise be innocuous.

Luckily, for most of us serious injuries are not that common. Let me pause to say injuries must be diagnosed by qualified individuals. This means both you and your trainer are likely not qualified – myself included. However, assuming you get the injury diagnosed properly and it’s minor enough that you can work around it without delaying your recovery, please do!

Speaking for myself, I recently was sidelined by a rib injury. It was minor but enough that I couldn’t press, dead lift, do pull ups or ab contractions. So I did what I had left – squats. Body weight at first and then with light loads.

The bottom line is you have to find a balance between recuperating properly (not slowing down at all) and excessively (wrapping yourself in bubble wrap).

Get injuries diagnosed.

Ask what movements you can do safely.

And then do them. Wisely. Don’t overdo it because you can only do one thing.

Stay strong, my friends!

Life doesn’t always offer perfect leverage.

By Admin Admin,

I spent last week at my brother’s homestead outside Providence, Rhode Island. He and his wife have a beautiful little spot with 5 acres, nut trees, fruit trees, berry bushes, chickens, pigs and (soon) a steer. He worked his butt off for years and decided to retire from his previous line of work and live the good life on the farm. I’m not sure if he realized it would be more work than he’s ever done before!

Anyway, I will write a more in depth piece on this for the StrongFirst website, but for now feast your eyes on the beastly rocks we had to remove to get the livestock shelter built. Oh and the truck that pulled on rock out and the jackhammer that broke up the other one are just figments of your imagination. We did everything by hand…yeah.

Digging away!

 

How heavy could that be?

 

When you need more brute force, it’s good to have a diesel truck handy.

What are you training for???

By Admin Admin,

I know you like to lift. So do I. But what exactly are you training for? Are you trying to hit a specific load with your dead lift? Are you trying to get in shape for an endurance event? Or maybe a martial arts competition. Maybe, like me, you want to tame the “Beast” (that’s a strict press, strict pull up and pistol squat with the 48k kettlebell). That goal will take me some time but while I work toward it I am also able to stay strong and mobile and adequately conditioned for the upcoming bow hunting season, some of the time likely spent at altitude. Whatever it is, you should know what it is.

Assuming you know what you’re training for the next question is are you on the right path and the question after that is are you sticking to the plan? Once you have a program in hand you need to follow it. Now I don’t mean hitting heavy singles at 95% of your 1RM the day after you had a crappy night of sleep and feel like death warmed over. If that’s your instinct, I’d refer you to my previous post “Always be smarter than the kettlebell.” But assuming you have your head screwed on straight, make sure to follow the plan. Just as desired outcomes in life are not guaranteed, so too is the case for desired outcomes in the gym, but staying the course is your best (and only) chance to find out how close you can get.

So I will ask you again, what are you training for? And are you following the plan you’ve chosen? If not you need to either rethink your goal so it’s more in line what you really want to accomplish or you need to kick yourself in the pants and get back on the program…and stick with it!

Stay strong, my friends!

Always be smarter than the kettlebell.

By Admin Admin,

I wrote “The Martial Arts / Kettlebell Connection” back in 2010 for Black Belt Magazine. When I signed copies for people I always wrote something I had been telling my students for a while, “Always be smarter than the kettlebell!” I found this a funny way for me to get across to people the importance of staying present and rational during training.

Training is a good and necessary thing. But all good things can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. Water is the single most important element to our daily survival. We can last without food for weeks but two days without water in the right (wrong) conditions and you’re dead. Water is truly essential, but you can drink too much. It’s called hyponatremia and is no joke. The condition is rare, but my point is clear: There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

In training, the desire is often to beat ourselves to a pulp in order to rebuild stronger. There’s nothing wrong with a good work ethic. In fact, I think it’s one of the few things we can’t really teach someone. It’s either there or it’s not. But like all things it can be taken too far. I had a student who used a lacrosse ball to such an extreme he actually bruised himself. Clearly this is not the goal of a recovery tool. I had another student, actually more than one, who if the session for the day called for running through traffic, they would do it with no hesitation.┬áThis is a problem. This is when someone becomes their own worst enemy.

So, yes, please work hard. Training shouldn’t be easy, but it also shouldn’t be stupid. If you find yourself frequently injured or sick, take a step back and make sure you’re being smarter than the kettlebell. Our minds separate us from animals that behave on instinct alone. I strongly suggest you use it.

Stay strong, my friends!

To Paleo or not to Paleo?

By Admin Admin,

In my opinion, diet is the single most powerful element of training to affect body composition. You won’t get “fit” from eating a specific diet and yes you need to move and lift in order to build strength and cardiovascular conditioning but diet is the key to reach your body composition goals.

Most of my students train 3x/week. Some less. Some more. But think about it, that’s only 2 to 6 hours a WEEK that I am directly impacting their lives. There are 168 hours in a week. Subtract 8 hours a night for sleep and you’re down to 112. Minus another 40 hours for work and you’re down to 72. This means that you have 66 to 70 hours a week to really make a mess of things. And the easiest way to make a mess is to eat crap. Compound that with the fact that food is often a thing people go to when depressed or tired. And I don’t know about you but when I’m in either of those states, I don’t make good choices.

There are a lot of diets out there. Vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, carnivore, primal, macrobiotic, Adkins, pescatarian, Mediterranean, and I’m sure many more. Some are plant based, others blend plant and animal sources, others are pure animal. This post has “Paleo” in the title but really a good diet is one that helps you reach your goals and is sustainable. Period. I’m not here really to convince you to eat Paleo, but I will admit that in over 10 years as a strength coach, Paleo has proven to be the easiest to explain to students and the easiest for them to sustain.

Simple to understand and simple to follow are two additional keys to success.

Anyway, I’m really not here to convince you to eat Paleo. What I am trying to do is convince you of how important a good diet is to your performance goals and overall health. Body composition is the thing that gets people to do things. If it will make them look better on the beach, chances are they’ll do it. A good diet will definitely do that. One of the reasons I’m (mostly) Paleo is because in addition to making staying lean easy, I just feel better. I sleep better and I very very very very very rarely get sick. Those are reason enough for me.

At its core, Paleo is a great diet for those reducing inflammation and that leads to the things I just listed. Plus it’s easy!

Anyway, enough about my thoughts on diet. Here’s a terrific debate from Rogan’s podcast between a vegan cardiologist named Joel Kahn and one of the best researchers out there, Chris Kresser. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULtqCBimr6U. They both argue their points well and thankfully it never degrades into a yelling match, which is common when “discussing” diet. Check it out and see what you think.

A final suggestion: once you decide on a diet to try, do yourself a favor and stick to it for 90 days to see what happens. Use your gut and your head and your goals to help you decide which one you want to try. But once you decide. Do it. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Stay strong, my friends.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Is it possible?

By Admin Admin,

There is probably a finite amount of wisdom accessible to humans. I mean it’s a large amount but it’s more than likely finite. I’m guessing this is why there are so many different ways of saying something. For example, my Wing Chun instructor Sifu Francis Fong has a great saying regarding fighting, “There is no right or wrong, just consequence.” He is usually smiling and smacking you upside your face while saying this, just in case you missed his point. I humbly modified his saying to, “Anything will work if you can pull it off.” Basically what you did might be technically incorrect, but if it worked, it worked!

Vince Lombardi said, “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

John Wooden is one of my favorite sources of inspiration. He has so many amazing one-liners you can buy a book of them. Really. Check it out here. “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” is my reigning favorite right now.

But there’s another powerful saying that I like. I’m not sure who said it first, but it’s still great. “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” We are a creature of habit AND comfort. We like a soft bed, hot water and temperate climate. Who can blame you? They all feel GREAT! But comfort is where we stagnate. Not just psychologically but also physically. I attended StrongFirst’s “PlanStrong” workshop last weekend with StrongFirst CEO and Master SFG, Fabio Zonin. (Fabio is a spectacular instructor. And English isn’t even his first language!) Anyway, he reminded us that discomfort is essential for optimal training results. For example, if you are writing a program and you would be comfortable breaking 12 reps up into 4 sets of 3, you should instead do 5, 4, 3 or something less comfortable than the sets of 3 your instinct told you to do.

How do we do this? By forcing ourselves, of course. Going with what we “feeeeeeeeeeel” (emphasis added) is almost always a bad idea. It will lead us to doing things that benefit us and pretty much no one else. Go with what you KNOW to be better. Use your mind and overcome your instinct. Acting on instinct is for mere animals. We can and should do better.

You can get comfortable with being uncomfortable simply by making a decision to do so. We are not judged by our thoughts but by our actions. Make your actions the best you can. Getting out of your comfort zone is one of the surefire ways to do so.

Stay strong, my friends!

Is having Purell everywhere really that good an idea?

By Admin Admin,

No matter where you go these days there seems to be some kind of Purell (or similar product) dispenser because God forbid I get my cappuccino without eradicating every germ on my hands. My students are familiar with my “caveman filter.” No, this does not mean I’m a caveman, though that wouldn’t really bother me. It relates to how would our ancient ancestors have handled X or Y? For example, would they have needed to frequently shampoo and condition their hair? Chances are no. And I’ve proved this, at least in my non-scientific study of one (me). I had pretty annoying dandruff since I was a kid. I tried every dandruff shampoo out there. “Big Pharma” types like Head and Shouders or Selsun Blue as well as the overpriced organic offerings from Whole Foods. Nothing worked. I mean that literally. Nothing was what worked. Yes, I mean I do not shampoo my hair. And since the day I stopped I haven’t seen a flake of dandruff. I rinse in hot water, use conditioner and some jojoba oil and that’s it. Death to dandruff. Ok, maybe the caveman from whose loins I sprang thousands and thousands and thousands of years later didn’t use conditioner and jojoba oil, but you get my point. They did not clean everything in sight. And guess what, they survived and thrived in a time where survival was the biggest challenge of the day.

The same, I would surmise holds true for the ubiquitous appearance of Purell over the last 10 years or so. For those of you who can’t see gray area, I’m not suggesting you wash your hands in the toilet prior to flushing. I’m suggesting that killing all germs is probably not a great idea. It stands to reason that we are weakened when we don’t need to fight anything off because it’s already been killed for us. I’m about to start NassimTaleb’s book “Antifragile” which deals with this idea of disorder helping us improve and when everything is neat and tidy we are not as well off. It seems to me that a society which uses Purell by the metric ton would be better off getting a little dirty.

Thoughts?