All the latest Read PT news and helpful info.

How to program for over 40s athletes

Training would be easier if we were all honest about our motives. While a few athletes would say they train for sports performance because their livelihood depends upon it, many others would finally be forced to admit the truth. And the truth is, the majority of people train for vanity.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the idea of being more attractive to potential mates is hard to get past. That’s no slight on training for vanity as without it our species wouldn’t have survived – there’s a definite plus to being seen as attractive to a potential partner. But there’s another reason that comes in a close second place, and that’s delaying the aging process. A lot can be done in the gym to prevent the losses that come with increasing years.

The decline in physical ability begins in the mid-30s and continues until we die. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s just how it goes. While there are some impressive older athletes around, they’ll be the first to tell you that what they can do now is nowhere near what they could do when they were younger.

The physical slide affects everything, from fitness, to speed, to power. The heart loses roughly a beat per year from its maximum capacity, which is reached in the mid to late 20s. The heart’s ability to pump blood diminishes by 5-10 percent per decade, too. This is matched by a loss of aerobic fitness of roughly 10 percent per decade.

Strength has been shown to drop by 25 percent at age 65 after peaking in the mid-30s. That’s about 8 percent per decade. Interestingly, power also drops by about 8 percent per decade from ages 20 to 70. We also lose 8-10cm of lower back and hip flexibility as we age due to the changes in both lifestyle as well as loss of collagen.

But the news isn’t all bad. Newer research shows much of these age-related declines, like loss of muscle or bone density, could be offset if you continue training. I would assume if you’re reading this, you’re keen on staying as fit and strong as possible for life. Like most of our clients at RPT the game becomes one of avoiding unnecessary losses to our fitness base. So the real question isn’t whether you should continue moving, but what the best choices are to keep as much of your movement as you can for as long as possible.

Looking at the relatively similar losses across the major areas of fitness, it makes sense to address them all equally. To recap, they are:

  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Strength
  • Aerobic fitness

These elements are not listed in order of importance, because I believe they are all equally important. I have simply listed them in the order they should be performed within a training session. Don’t get tied to a specific program or a group of favorite exercises. Yes, I know you’ll make faster progress if you follow a set plan. But let’s be realistic – unless you’re a rank beginner, you aren’t getting better at 50+.

Flexibility and range of motion are the bedrock of all performance, regardless of age. I recently made a post on Instagram that said, “I wish I’d spent less time on mobility, flexibility, and soft tissue work when I was younger. Said no one over the age of forty ever.” That pretty much explains how you’ll feel once you turn forty, if you aren’t already feeling that way. If you don’t pay attention to maintaining adequate ranges of motion you’re going to find even simple tasks like getting up and down from the ground to become problematic.

“Your primary goal is to maintain as many physical qualities as possible. For that reason, you should use as many different movements as possible every time you train.”

I have been paying more attention to yoga in my own training. Yoga has been around for 5,000 to 10,000 years. I’m inclined to believe that if something has been around that long it probably works, or else it would have vanished like Nautilus. Along with spending an hour focusing on your movement and breathing, the added bonus of yoga is that it rebalances the nervous system. Many of us operate from a place of stress in daily life, whether we want to admit it or not. Spending time on yoga and breathing practices helps release a lot of the built up tension from the body.

Flexibility by itself often an unreachable goal. Muscles work in opposing pairs – when one contracts the opposing muscle has to relax to allow it to do so. If you flip that on its head, for a muscle to elongate fully the opposing muscle needs to learn how to adequately contract. And it is this element that most flexibility programs do not address – the dual pronged attack necessary to increase flexibility through increasing strength, often in odd or extreme ranges. A well designed yoga and mobility plan will do just that for you, along with the positive effects of focused breathing work.

Power is next on the list. Power and its cousin elasticity are important physical attributes. Power can be represented by a single standing broad jump, with a single foot take off and two-foot landing. As a general rule of thumb, the jump should be equal to your height. Elasticity can be represented by a triple jump or triple hop sequence. The sum of the second and third hops should be double the first if you have good elastic qualities.

Gaining power and elasticity is relatively easy and can be accomplished with low-level plyometric drills and medicine ball work. These low-level plyometric drills are what Mike Boyle refers to as Phase One work because they are done only off the floor, with no depth-jumping component.

For mature age clients I would get rid of the vertical component for trainees who are new to jumping and completely remove any rebound depth jumping. Begin with two-leg variations before progressing to single-leg movements, and remember it takes a long time for connective tissue to adapt to new stresses. It may take months to safely progress from double-leg drills to single-leg exercises.

The medicine ball is another fantastic tool to gain both power and elasticity. And I suggest Gray Cook’s book Athletic Body in Balance for some ideas on elasticity training using a medicine ball.

Strength is quite easy to program, and there are many good systems to use. From Pavel’s 3-5 x 3-5 system from Beyond Bodybuilding to Wendler’s 5/3/1, the basic rules remain the same. Pick 3-5 exercises for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, and perform this 3-5 days per week. If you are an active masters athlete I would even drop this to two main exercises per workout. My personal favourite combinations are squats and upper body pulls such as rows or pull ups and a second workout of deadlifts and either shoulder press or bench press. Finish each session with some hard core work such as renegade rows, work from half kneeling, and various offset walks.

Choose big exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bent over row, and pull up, over exercises like bicep curls and lateral raises. The only caveat is to pick fewer exercises rather than more. Recovery ability is limited as we age, so you might find you progress faster by doing less. Counterintuitive I know, but when recovery is hampered you need less work to recover and improve.

The final piece of the puzzle is fitness work. An easy formula to remember is three sessions per week for 30-90 minutes at a heart rate of 120-150bpm to enhance cardiac output. This can be done any number of ways – running, rowing, riding, or hiking up a hill. My advice, as with most of the choices, is to not limit yourself to any one method but instead use as many as you can to maintain as much athletic ability as possible.

A Weekly Template for Older Athletes

Remember, your primary goal is to maintain as many physical qualities as possible. For that reason, you should use as many different movements as possible every time you train. If you don’t use a movement pattern for a while, you’ll find getting it back as you age is far tougher than it was in your twenties and thirties. The basic format for a week of training looks like this:

Flexibility, Power, Strength

Three days per week, total time 60-80 minutes

Flexibility: 30 minutes of yoga

Power: 2-3 different jumping, bounding, or medicine exercises work to maintain power and elasticity

Strength: 3 strength exercises for 3-5 sets or 3-5 reps

Strength training examples:

Session one: Single leg squats, renegade row, single arm bench press

Session two: Deadlift, bench press, single arm rows

Session three: Step ups, overhead press, pull ups

Aerobic Fitness

Three days per week, alternating with flexibility/power/strength

Perform 30-90 minutes of steady state work at a heart rate of 120-150bpm

Take the seventh day off to relax and enjoy life.

To learn our full system for training and programming please come to one of our Foundations of Strength workshops.

Read More

Health before performance

In the last week I have had two people become extremely confused about where they were and what they should have been doing. I don’t mean they were suffering from dementia and couldn’t figure out whether to have their shoes on or not. I’m talking about the understanding of where they were physically and what was needed to get them to their goal. And the problem wasn’t as simple as, “My goal is to run at pace X for Y,” but far more complicated.

For example, one lady came to me complaining about a variety of things. These things included not being able to squat, weak glutes, and her feet hurting if she ran more than two kilometers at a time. These were all her words that she said to me over the phone. And then the next thing out of her mouth was that she wanted to run a fast half marathon and she wanted me to check over her running form and suggest a pair of shoes that might stop her feet from hurting.

In my head I got an instant image of that Heath Ledger meme as the Joker where he says, “Not sure if serious.” I mean, your feet your hurt after a few minutes of running and you think an appropriate goal right now is to run for an hour and a half? We could just speed up the process and I could just hit your feet with a bat right now if your goal is to end up with really sore feet.

This was only a few days after another runner came to me who was honestly a complete mess – with an asymmetrical stride pattern, a body that was dysfunctional in just about every way I could measure, and a sore calf. Somehow the calf was the real problem and that was what her team was focused on fixing. They thought her calf was what was holding her back from running 80km/week.

Never mind that she couldn’t even breathe properly, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. Never mind that she had nearly zero movement to one side and about fifty percent of what she should have had the other way. It must be the calf.

Your Health Is the Problem

People often come through the door with a goal that is performance related. But the fix isn’t fitness or performance related. It’s health related. If you have a bulged disc, then you don’t get to have a performance goal until you have fixed your health problem. If your feet are so dysfunctional that you can’t stand being on them for any length of time without them hurting, then you have a health problem, too. And if you can’t breathe, and your entire body is locked up in an effort to help you get life-giving oxygen, then you most certainly don’t get to have a performance goal until you learn how to get some oxygen into your body in a way that won’t cripple you.

Another recent client had to hold her breath while walking because her shoulder hurt so badly. Holding your breath makes everything tight and creates more stability. But this lady, while being unable to walk pain free, decided a good way to spend her weekends was doing three hours of archery on a single day. You know, with the shoulder that was so painful she couldn’t walk. Because pulling on a bow string hundreds of times with a shoulder than can’t even stablise itself while walking is a good idea.

Before we can be a specialized human, like an athlete, we must first be a human being. That means we should be able to twist, bend, squat, move pain free, and be in good general health. Human being, before human doing. That means that if you can’t walk without pain you don’t get to think about running fast. It means that if you can’t walk with your feet pointing straight ahead that you don’t get to worry about how heavy you can squat. And it certainly means if you can’t display normal ranges of motion you don’t get to worry about lifting heavy.

But many people have confused this due to fitness machines and gadgets. We’ve found ways to add strength or conditioning that actually need no underlying human qualities. If you can’t brace and stabilize the body to press overhead, that’s no problem because over there we have a machine that allows you to sit, braced by the seat, and move the load in a fixed plane. No tricky stabilizing or other skills needed. Just do, do, do on this machine and see what happens. For many, they end up looking good, but with bodies that aren’t very good for anything other than standing still. By losing their ability to move, they lose the thing that actually makes us human.

The First Goal of Training Is Health

The first goal of training has to be to improve health. If you’re not better because of training, then you’re doing it wrong. And you most certainly shouldn’t be causing health problems during training. It’s one thing to be hurt by a tackle playing football and another thing entirely to suffer a disc prolapse during a controlled training session.

(And for all the people who say that you must walk the edge and push the boundaries in training, I ask two questions: First, are you actually competing at a level where ruining your health has a substantial enough financial payoff to make up for being disabled for life? And second, if your argument is that you need to expose the body to the same risk in training as you face in competition, then how come boxing trainers don’t just knock their athletes out in training so they can experience it, too?)

Going back to my runners for a moment, I asked them both whether it was more important to run now, maybe for a year or two, before the problems became so bad that they would likely prevent ever running again, or whether it was better to take six to twelve months off now, fix their health problems, and then be able to run for the rest of their lives. Sadly, neither answered with what I thought was a smart answer.

Because the fitness world will find ways to “hack” performance, to offer shortcuts, to help you sit and grind when you can’t stand, it is incomprehensible to many that you may need to cease all current training to address your problems. Gray Cook has a magnificent saying, “You can’t stack performance on top of dysfunction.” Well, you can. And I see clients every week who try. What he really should be saying is that “You can’t stack long-term performance on top of dysfunction.”

You Need a New Approach

For some people this concept will be a major paradigm shift. It may mean many months of having to address some underlying issues that may have been there for decades. So, the next thing I get at this point is, “But if I can’t X, then I’ll gain weight.” Well, maybe that means you’ll have to learn to address your diet, too, and eat like a responsible adult rather than relying on X to keep you in shape. And won’t addressing your diet go a long way towards developing better health? I’d say it’s a coincidence, but I don’t want to downplay the importance of something seemingly as simple as diet on overall health.

I know many will feel like they can bluster their way through things. Try to outwork it. You know, just add an extra mobility session, or maybe watch MWOD a bit and find the secret missing ingredient to fix all their ailments. To those people, I say go for it. Go nuts. Just realize that you’re also going to spend a lot of time at the physiotherapist’s, and later on with the orthopaedic surgeon, and then again with the physiotherapist. Then you’ll probably go back to what you were doing and repeat the process.

If you want to be one of those recreational athletes that feels like you’re somehow tougher or more committed because you train through bad injuries, then that’s on you. But know that the rest of your friends are asking themselves why you don’t just sort it out now so you can enjoy the rest of your life pain free.

Health before fitness. Fitness before performance. Don’t try it the other way around or all you’ll be doing is sending your doctor’s kids to school.

Read More

Do you need extra grip work for BJJ?

Anyone who has ever trained in judo or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for any length of time will know this simple truth – if you can’t hang onto your opponent, you can’t control them. Grip is a large part of any match, especially if you attempt multiple chokes during your bouts, which adds even more stress to the forearms and hands.

You’d think this would leave grapplers with a set of strong, resilient hands, but often the opposite is true. Outside of training, many grapplers can’t even manage simple tasks like shaking hands or opening jars without some small pain. Once they reach a certain age they need to put more tape on their hands than a mummy to protect their fingers from getting worse.

But if you’re serious about grappling, sooner or later you start thinking you need better grip strength. You think if you just made your grip a little better, you’d become a more difficult opponent. Well, yes, but quite possibly no.

Reverse the Damage

To figure out if you really do need extra grip work, you must first consider your training load. If you train infrequently (or are a beginner without a strength training background), it is possible you could benefit from a stronger grip. However, most BJJ guys I know train on the mats a lot – four to six times per week is common – often with multiple sessions on a day at least once per week.

If I spent my entire week cycling as my sport and went to a strength coach, the first thing a good coach would do would be to try to get me out of my sport position and reverse some of the damage from the sport itself. And this is exactly why adding more grip training for grapplers is often detrimental. They spend so much time with their hands flexed that adding in more flexion-based work is akin to getting a cyclist to do more quad-based work in a sitting position.

Stretch Your Digits

I’ve found that the single most helpful thing for me in relation to keeping my hands working well is simply stretching them out after training. Make sure to stretch the forearms in both directions, as gripping is a fixating action, making both the extensors and flexors work simultaneously. But even more importantly, make sure to stretch the fingers. Simply bending the fingers on each hand back individually will result in an enormous stretch if you’ve spent a lot of time on grip work.

The next step in this process is to revert to the RAIL system as per many of my previous articles on fixing body issues quickly. In RAIL, the “R” stands for Release, the “A” for Activate, the “I” for Integrate, and the “L” for Locomote. We really only need the RAI part, as there’s no way to locomote on the fingers.

R – Release: Stretch both the forearms and fingers.

A – Activate: Perform active finger extension work, either by extending the fingers as fully as possible, or against light external resistance like a rubber band. This short video shows a smart way to train extension while going through wrist extension, flexion, and rotation to make sure the fingers are moving through the full range of motion you use in training.

I – Integrate: Any part of your regular strength training that involves gripping: deadlifts, pull ups, club or bag work, or grappling itself.

People usually have no problem getting enough integration in training. The issues usually lie when not enough time is spent countering that training through release or activation work.

Build Strong and Supple Wrists

The next link in the chain for a strong grip are the wrists and forearms. Seasoned grapplers don’t need to add extra direct forearm work as, like with the fingers, they will already be stressing that area enough in regular training.

A better option is to focus on wrist mobility and strength. Martial artists have spent centuries developing wrist strength and suppleness and there are many systems that will all work. My preference is to follow the wrist preparation from Gold Medal Bodies and then the wrist push up series from Ross Enamait to get everything fired up and well integrated.

A Grip for Every Situation

Now that you’ve got strong, supple wrists and fingers, you’ll probably find that your grip works better, and your hands are feeling less riddled with arthritis. If you still feel like you need extra grip work, then you may want to think about the type of grip that needs the most work. There is no point in working on a rotational grip exercise if your issue is not being able to hold an open grip. Let’s look at the different type of grips and how they are related to grappling.

Open grip – Imagine holding onto a fat bar or a tennis ball where the hand isn’t closed. This kind of grip is often used as a friction grip, when cupping the back of the elbow or head, or attempting a kimura. Wrist strength plays a big factor in your ability to keep and hold this grip.

Closed grip – Your normal grip used in strength training. Very rarely used in actual grappling, but is gentle on the hands.

Tight grip – Almost a fist. Your hand is as closed as it can be while still holding something. This is the normal grip you will find yourself using while grappling, and the one that damages hands the most.

Pinch grip – Not often found in grappling, but very common in strength sports. As a type of open grip, it is characterized by pinching two objects, such as two weight plates, together and being held for time.

Rotating grip – Usually employed as a tight grip, although can be found in open form too while looking for submissions. The ability to keep the fingers flexed hard while the wrist rotates can take a while to develop.

If, after all this, you still genuinely find yourself needing extra grip strength work, one of the best tools to train the wrists and forearms as well as the grip is a Bulgarian bag. Rather than do multiple sets at some point in your training, I prefer to spread sets throughout a session so the grip is accustomed to working for extended periods of time. Pick an exercise you like, such as halos, and use a variety of grip options on the bag throughout.

Old-school trainees may recognize this technique as the same method Arnold Schwarzenegger was said to have used to build up his calves when he first moved to America. He performed a set of calf raises in between every set of his other training in the gym. Considering the pair of iconic calves the Oak managed to build from this method, you’ll be following a tried and trusted path if you decide to adopt this approach.

Consider What You Really Need

If you are a grappler, it’s unlikely that you need extra grip work. Focus on restoring full range of motion in your fingers first in extension, both by adding specific stretching as well as strengthening. Then work on wrist strength and suppleness.

And if you still find yourself losing grip fights due to lack of strength, add in the Austrian Oak’s method of blasting your grip after every single set of strength work. Keep it up for four to six weeks and watch as you develop gorilla-like grip.

Read More

BJJ competition strength and conditioning

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become the karate craze of the 2000s. With celebrity students such as Keanu Reeves and Kelly Slater it has gone from an underground pastime to a popular fringe sport.

What sets Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) apart from its other martial cousins is that the entire focus of the sport is on the ground. While Karate, Kung Fu, and Taekwondo seek to kick or punch the opponent from standing – the actions most associate with fighting – a BJJ match may only see the competitors on the feet for seconds of the entire match.

From a visual perspective it seems to have more in common with the other grappling arts such as Judo or wrestling, yet that is also untrue. The main focus of Judo is on the throw, and matches can be finished with a single well-executed throw. Wrestling differs again as both throws and controls are the main focus to score points.

There are two things that separate BJJ as a sport from its grappling rivals. Much like a knockout punch in boxing the submission instantly ends the fight via one competitor securing an inescapable choke, arm, or leg lock. The other is that BJJ matches are fought for a single continuous round of varying lengths depending on the skill level of the competitors.

As a new sport with less than 100 years of competitive history competitors have done their best to model strength and conditioning on other sports such as wrestling, Judo, and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). But there are significant differences in the style of competition and rules when compared to BJJ and these significantly effect how one should train for a tournament.

Wrestling

Wrestling is a logical place to start as it has the distinction of having been one of the original Olympic sports. While not viewed as a typical combat sport wrestling is often seen as perhaps the toughest sport on the planet. With a unique mix of needs from strength and power to flexibility and endurance wrestlers often top many performance charts when comparing sports.

The current match length for Freestyle Wrestling at the Olympics is two 3-minute periods with a 30-second rest between. As such it is really performed as two highly anaerobic efforts split with a short recovery and training methods and physiology of the top competitors reflects that. It has been estimated that physiology alone contributes as much as ”45% of the variance seen between successful and less successful Freestyle wrestling Olympic contenders” (Callan et al., 2000)

The strength demands of wrestling are extremely high. As such wrestler have long trained to gain as much strength as possible. In fact, the history of modern resistance training dates back to Milo of Croton who was said to have walked the length of the Olympic stadium carrying a calf on his back every day. As the calf grew to be a cow so too did his strength. Such was his strength that he was undefeated for seven Olympiads.

Looking at the table below you can clearly see the strength levels required for elite wrestling competition. I’ve selected what is essentially the middleweight division for both males and females to give some perspective as to what is required.

Wrestling standards (German team)

Gender/ Class Bench Pullups Squat Prone Row Power Clean Deadlift
M <82kg 115 72.5 195 115 120 *
F<63kg * * 99 76 77 123

* not tested.

The fitness requirements of wrestling have changed substantially since 1988, when matches were a single five-minute continuous round. Perhaps it is here that we can start to get a clue as to what will help make a great BJJ competitor. Back then it was common to see high-level wrestlers with VO2max scores in the 60-70+ml/kh/min range (Sharratt 1984). However, with the change to the two three-minute rounds it is more common to see athletes these days with scores in the 50-60 ml/kg/min range (Horswill, 1992 and Yoon, 2002).

In other words, BJJ athletes are more likely to need the same high levels of VO2max development because their matches are more likely to mimic the demands of wrestling in the late 20th Century. As the rules of wrestling have changed to make it more exciting for TV and appeal to the Olympic audience wrestlers have become stronger and more anerobically trained. But BJJ doesn’t have those same needs due to the change in demands of match length and less stand up grappling, which places a much higher demand on maximal strength.

Judo

As the other Olympic grappling sport Judo holds the distinction of being the root of BJJ. While there are many stories as to the origin of BJJ what everyone agrees on is that the family credited with the growth of BJJ were initially trained by a Judo player named Maeda. (For the unadulterated version gleaned directly from newspaper transcripts at the time I recommend “With the back on the ground” available here – http://www.amazon.com.au/With-Back-Ground-Brazilian-Jiu-Jitsu-ebook/dp/B00N1BX9NU)

The key difference between Judo and BJJ is that while a BJJ match starts on the feet it will always end on the ground with the match being won by points or submission. However, a Judo match can be won with a singular perfectly executed throw for an Ippon.

Like BJJ the matches in Judo are continuous in length and international competitions are a single five-minute round. A useful study by Goncalves, 2015 showed that Judoka require high levels of grip strength and that power and anaerobic capacity are the main physiological characteristics required.

Below is a table depicting strength standards for elite judo competitors based off a spreadsheet form www.judofitness.com The three numbers in each column represent the necessary strength required at local, national, and elite levels respectively.

Judo strength standards

Gender/ weight class Press Bench Press Power Clean Squat Deadlift
M <81kg 105/ 135/ 160 160/ 195/ 270 155/ 190/ 260 215/ 265/ 360 270/ 310/ 430
F <63kg 55/ 65/ 85 85/ 100/ 125 80/ 95/ 125 115/ 130/ 175 140/ 165/ 230

So where does that leave BJJ?

Perhaps the best place to start is with Judo as that is played over a similar time frame for beginners and Masters. As these matches are held over the same short five minutes duration as Judo it is reasonable to follow on that defining characteristics in white belt and Masters matches will need high levels of grip strength, power, and anaerobic capacity.

However, as a competitor progresses through the belt ranks and matches increase in length things will change dramatically. The demands at each belt level increase the needs for higher levels of fitness. Match lengths are as follows:

White belt – 5mins

Blue belt – 6mins

Purple belt – 7mins

Brown belt – 8mins

Black belt – 10mins

The first and biggest conditioning error that many make is the exclusion of longer, lower intensity work while trying to build fitness. This study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11547894) shows that the aerobic system becomes a major factor in energy production far earlier than many believe – likely around the 75-second mark. Considering that an event as short as a 1500m race is around 50/50 for aerobic versus anaerobic energy contribution this means that longer matches, such as the ten-minute black belt matches will have a far higher requirement for aerobic energy production. But don’t think greater aerobic function is necessary only for black belts.

In Ultimate MMA Conditioning Joel Jamieson writes about the importance of the aerobic system. He notes that the aerobic system is important because it effects your recovery ability as well as how much blood you can push around your body. At his Certified Conditioning Coach course he also notes that the aerobic systems triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which has direct effect on calming the body, which is necessary to prime your system to adapt to training. This ties in with all the work Maffetone has done on aerobic conditioning. Maffetone’s entire work could best be summed up as aerobic training leads to better health.

While this may not seem important when performance is the end goal, and many sacrifice it in the search of greater performance, without health there is no cornerstone for true elite level performance. The high stress nature of BJJ training can lead to an over stimulated body. Whether you want to admit it or not, the body only perceives stress as a threat. It doesn’t distinguish between work stress, family stress, and training stress. It only knows how to behave to counter stress.

That process of countering stress begins with the production of the stress hormone cortisol. The inflammatory process that creates cortisol is the result of the use of our anaerobic systems – our fight or flight response. These systems have to create huge amounts of energy to save us from life or death situations. While that could mean escaping a burning building or running away from a tiger, it can just as easily mean that big brown belt who always gives you a hard time and you spend the entire time trying desperately not to give up a submission. Your body still sees that as a threat.

The bonus here is that the best way to reduce that inflammation, reduce the body’s perception of the threat, and boost your own fitness and health all come to a single point – the development of your aerobic system. Corrective exercise specialists such know that one of the quickest ways to influence the nervous system is to work on breathing. Now, we can find evidence that aerobic exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect too (http://www.omicsgroup.org/journals/has-aerobic-exercise-anti-inflammatory-effect-for-asthma-2165-7025.1000e108.php?aid=4612).

In Ultimate MMA Conditioning Jamieson recommends up to three sessions per week of moderate heart rate activity for durations of 30-90 minutes to build cardiac output. If done correctly, with a focus on diaphragmatic breathing, these training sessions will reduce stress levels in the body, boost health and fitness, and allow you to recover faster between bouts and training sessions. Recommended heart rate is between 120-150bpm.

One caveat that needs to be mentioned – this isn’t best achieved with circuit training methods. While it is certainly possible to get the heart rate to the required level using circuit protocols the mechanics aren’t the same as via normal cardiovascular training activities such as running, rowing, and riding.

During what I will call strength aerobics the amount of oxygen used by the muscles is lower. That is because beyond 50% tension blood flow is stopped to the muscle. That stops oxygen being used by the working muscle – it is working anaerobically – which ultimately means your body requires less blood to be pumped around the body. This study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6513767) showed that, “high-intensity, variable-resistance strength training produces no adaptative improvement in cardiovascular function. The physiological responses measured during a training session provide evidence that this lack of cardiovascular adaptation may be due to the low percentage of VO2max elicited by this form of exercise”. In other words, there is a very good reason why fighters have always done roadwork, logging steady miles. But those cardiac training benefits are now showing to have just as much benefit in lowering stress levels in the body.

Given the different match lengths seen in high level BJJ compared to wrestling and Judo it is important to develop the cardiovascular system as fully as possible. This requires teaching the heart to pump blood efficiently for extended periods of time. This has the effect of increasing the size and strength of the heart to cope with these demands. The added bonus for BJJ athletes is that it has a calming effect on the body as well as being lower intensity, which means you can fit a lot of it into your week.

The next part of the puzzle to piece together is mobility and flexibility work. Competition BJJ requires very high levels of flexibility to achieve some of the positions. A healthy, supple spine is one of the highest priorities for success at BJJ and this can only be achieved through making the hips and shoulders extremely strong and supple too. Great mobility requires a combination of both strength and flexibility so that extreme ranges of motion can be achieved without damaging the body supporting ligaments. For the back this means that not just the 26 joints of the back need to be strong and mobile but that the major joints above and below must be too.

While there are many options available for joint mobility the simplest solution is to use Pavel Tsatsouline’s Super Joints. We use this on every single client at my gym daily and these seemingly simple exercises make everything else work better. The joints of the body are like mechanical parts that need to be lubed to move properly. The only difference is that we add lube by moving them frequently through full ranges. These exercises have the added effect of soothing the body after hard rolling and can be used as part of a cool down as well as a warm up to return the body to a state of rest post training.

Flexibility is something that requires the same effort as improving any other facet of fitness. I often see people with terrible flexibility that bemoan their lack thereof and can’t help but ask if they’re training their flexibility as often as their strength or fitness. To improve flexibility is a daily task in the beginning but the rewards are highly worthwhile. The buffer that you give yourself when accidentally caught in extreme positions during training will be able to be absorbed by the body instead of resulting in muscle tears.

Forget all the nonsense that you may have read about stretching being bad for you. Great martial artists, of any discipline, all possess great flexibility and the only way to get there is to stretch. Start with thirty minutes of targeted relaxed stretching every day. If you focus on breathing at the same time you will get that same soothing effect spoken of earlier regarding settling the nervous system post training. This rested state allows the body to better absorb the stress from training resulting in greater levels of performance.

If you think that targeted relaxed stretching with a focus on breathing sounds familiar you’d be right. There is a very real reason why BJJ greats such as Rickson Gracie speak so highly of yoga and its benefits for martial practitioners. Along with the improvements in range of motion and injury prevention the focus on flexion-based postures amplifies the calming effect as it triggers the para sympathetic nervous system.

And this leaves us with strength training. A basic strength-training template is as simple as looking at the key exercises favored by its more well studied cousins, wrestling and Judo, and adopting their favorites too. The squat, power clean, bench press, deadlift, pull ups, and prone row make for a great all-round athletic training plan.

However, there are a great many options for similar exercises that can be done from ground-based postures. These postures – lying, quadruped, and kneeling – mimic many of the positions found within the sport. Additionally they are a useful way to train around the many injuries that come from hard grappling.

These exercises often target multiple qualities of movement as they’re done from a reduced base of stability. Exercises such as single leg deadlifts over deadlifts greatly improve strength and stability in single leg positions. Renegade rows allow the body to learn how to pull hard while the abs have to brace at high levels to resist the rotational forces. Here are some alternatives for traditional strength exercises that will help ground fighters more, as well as reduce training time by hitting multiple needs at once.

Pushing exercises –

One arm bench press

½ kneeling press

Pulling exercises –

Renegade rows

Sled pulls from plank

Sled pulls from ½ kneeling

Sled pulls from tall kneeling

One arm rows with bilateral stance

One arm rows with spit stance

One arm rows from single leg stance

Hinge exercises –

Single leg deadlift

Split stance deadlift

Suitcase deadlift

Deadlift with asymmetrical load

As noted earlier in the Judo section, high levels of grip strength are required for competition. There are two possibilities here. Firstly, that an athlete lacks adequate grip strength. The second, and more likely option, is that the athlete does so much grip work already through regular training that adding to it will overly stress the hands and grip.

Here is how this should be addressed:

If you lack grip strength perform all your normal strength work such as bench press and power cleans. However for your pulling work, such as pull-ups and prone rows, use a rope or gi grip. At my gym we favor sled pulling over barbell or dumbbell rows using a rope as it taxes the grip more, and we use rope climbs or towel pull-ups over holding the bar.

The second option – the over worked grip – is better addressed by doing finger extension exercises. The muscles of hands and fingers get so tight from grappling and working on the various grips that it is easy for them to become overly tight. Just like tight muscles in the back or legs can lead to injury so too can they lead to injury in the hands. Taking time to stretch the fingers back post training can be enormously helpful, along with rubber band finger extension exercises. Simply pinch all your fingers together and place a rubber band around them. Now open the fingers outwards so that the fingers become as open as possible – the reverse of your grip. I tend to do these all day long and often carry a rubber band in my pocket so I can spend time on them while on the phone or even coaching.

Programming

The biggest hurdle for any serious BJJ competitor to handle is managing your program. Between work, on the mat skill training, and accessory work there is a lot to fit in. Most serious BJJ athletes spend at least five sessions per week on the mats. Given the class schedule at most gyms that means every evening is usually busy. That means the morning is your best choice to add in extra training. This splits your sessions up by as much as possible and allows for the best possible recovery.

Many will try to cram two sessions together in an effort to save time. This study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296973) shows that it is certainly possible to work on both within the same session, however, during periods where you wish to improve a specific aspect of your fitness it is best to have a targeted training session solely on that focus. The main areas that need to be addressed are:

Cardiac output

Anaerobic endurance

Maximal strength

Flexibility

Recovery

One of the biggest changes in sports training theory over the last two decades has been the growth of concurrent training. Concurrent training addresses multiple fitness qualities at once as opposed to a traditional linear model that was previously used. In the traditional model the athlete would work on a single quality at a time building towards a final peak event.

However, in the world of combat sports this is often unrealistic, as the nature of the sport requires many qualities to be addressed at once. This allows for multiple factors of fitness to be trained not just within a week, but within a session too. As discussed above, most BJJ athletes will train five-plus times per week, and most classes are evening classes. The following is how a sample week may look.

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
AM Max strength + Anaerobic endurance Cardiac Output + flexibility Recovery Max strength + anaerobic endurance Cardiac output + flexibility Recovery Cardiac output + flexibility
PM BJJ Class BJJ Class BJJ Class Recovery BJJ Class BJJ Class Rest

Sample plan for BJJ, full workouts:

 Monday – Maximal strength + anaerobic endurance

Warm up – 5-10mins of easy cardiovascular work

Dynamic warm up

1A. Deadlift

1B. Bench press

Perform 3 sets of 5 reps, with each set heavier than the one before. The final set should be hard to complete all reps.

2A. Renegade rows 3 x 5

2B. Get up 3 x 1

3A. One arm row from split stance 3 x 5

3B. ½ kneeling press 3 x 5

Complete 3 rounds of 6 x 30s work: 30s recovery on a rower. Rest 5-6mins between efforts. To be done at maximum intensity to replicate tournament fighting.

 Tuesday – Cardiac output + flexibility

30-45mins of steady state cycling or rowing. Heart rate should be 70-75% of max heart rate.

Finish with 30mins of targeted yoga work focusing on your breathing to relax the body.

 Wednesday – recovery

30mins of easy swimming/ treading water.

30mins of targeted yoga work focusing on breathing to relax the body.

 Thursday – Maximal strength + anaerobic endurance

As per Monday

Recovery – as per Wednesday AM

Friday – Cardiac output + flexibility

As per Tuesday AM

 Saturday – Recovery

As per Wednesday AM

Sunday – Cardiac output + flexibility

As per Tuesday AM

Many will be tempted to add in more hard conditioning type sessions, believing that more is better. But the nature of regular BJJ training is that it is already very high intensity. While you may be able to cope with added high intensity work in the short term you will find yourself burnt out or hurt in the longer term. Think of accessory training as a way to make your body better instead of a way to test your fitness – allow tournaments to do that.

With a focus on maximal strength and steady state cardiac output training there is limited interference if the sessions are split up. If you choose to mix maximal strength and cardiac output training be aware that you won’t get the full benefit of either. However, the maximal strength and anaerobic endurance training go well together.

The focus on quite a few extra easy sessions (recovery, flexibility, and cardiac output) allows you to add many extra sessions in per week with little risk. Over time these easier sessions add up, giving you a much greater pool of strength and conditioning to draw from come competition time.

Read More

Simple programming tips

Back when I first started training, things were easy. We read bodybuilding magazines because they were the only thing available, and followed all the routines in them. That usually meant picking a big exercise like squats, bench, or rows for the big muscle groups, followed by lighter accessory exercises.

Then functional training happened, and with it came Instagram. With the advent of what I call Insecuregram (because everyone on it seems to be stronger, leaner, and faster than me), suddenly we all want to do everything. No longer are handstands and levers just part of a gymnast’s training, and no longer do bumper plates only exist in a few dusty old weightlifting clubs. Now, everything is everywhere.

This increased access is not necessarily bad. There are a great host of benefits to be had from following programs like Gymnastic Bodies Foundation series or 5/3/1. Both have produced many people who have gained strength and power.

But how do you know whether it’s in your best interest to sling heavy weights around or do bodyweight exercises instead? Some will say both, particularly if you compete in CrossFit-style competitions, as you will have to perform complex skills like muscle ups and handstand walks. But what if you competes in something else?

Here’s a simple rule to follow:

If your sport involves moving an external load, like wrestling or football, then you will need to lift some heavy weights. If your sport involves moving your own mass, then just use bodyweight training.

If you are in a sport where you needs to move an opponent around – like wrestling, BJJ, Judo, or rugby – then you’ll need maximal strength. This means you need to focus on exercises based on moving an external load. He also needs what you might call a strength reserve. While you can manipulate leverage in bodyweight exercises to make them harder, he will still only ever get good at moving his own mass. If he develops some horsepower in the gym and gets used to moving loads far greater than his own mass, then when it comes to taking someone down he will have enough juice to do so.

If your client is a runner, cyclist, triathlete, or stand-up martial artist like a kickboxer, the situation is different. You need to focus on exercises based on moving their own massIf your client spends a lot of time lifting heavy things, he is going to gain weight. And every kilogram he gains means being slower. Your client will still benefit from a little bit of strength work, but he will probably be able to gain all the benefit he needs for maximal strength from a single exercise per session. The rest of his gains will come from sport-specific strength drills like hill running, sprints, and jumping rather than chasing big numbers in the weight room.

There is another group that straddles these two – the masters athlete. Masters will always benefit from the addition of strength work to help avoid any age-related loss of muscle and bone density. I am always amazed at the sheer lack of strength training by older athletes. The loss of speed and power associated with ageing are well documented and even more prolific amongst endurance athletes.

The problem is that if you have been a lifelong athlete and have a body riddled with aches and pains (like me), a lot of heavy lifting isn’t going to help. In fact, it may make the issues much worse. If this is you then you need a combination of the two to allow you to keep training despite all the old battle scars you may have.

Simple formulas:

External Load Athlete

3-5 big exercises per session, for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. Whatever mass is gained in the pursuit of improving performance in your sport is acceptable, as long as strength goes up in accordance with weight gains.

Bodyweight Athlete

One big exercise per session. Use a maximum of 3 sets of 3-5 reps. Rest as long as possible. A major reason for mass gain is accumulated lactic acid in the muscle, which drives growth hormone production. Avoid anything that even starts to resemble a heavy conditioning circuit.

Prescribe as many bodyweight accessory drills as needed with a focus on core work. Bodyweight drills don’t need to be performed for low reps. In fact, a focus on higher reps will be useful, as most who fall into this category are involved in some type of endurance activity and muscular endurance is important.

Masters Athlete

Pick two big exercises that don’t compete, such as front squats and pull ups, and prescribe them for 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps each. Pick another exercise and use a hypertrophy range of 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Prescribe as many bodyweight accessory drills as needed, focusing particularly on those that improve range of motion, such as handstands, pistols, and core work. The addition of functional range of motion and flexibility will do wonders, and the core work will help stave off the back complaints suffered by so many in middle age.

For the majority of other sessions, get out of the gym. Make sure to spend enough time on sport skills and/ or participating in athletic activities. If you want to be athletic, then you needs to train like an athlete, and that means more time playing and less time training in the gym.

Read More

Common sense strength and conditioning for the masters' athlete

Life is funny. You start off unable to look after yourself, and then after decades of doing so revert back to needing someone’s help again. This circle of life got me thinking about how things change as we age when it comes to our training too.

The Normal Progression

When we first walk into the gym we are weak and stiff, in most people’s cases. In some cases people are weak and hypermobile, but honestly these people are becoming more rare these days. The overriding problems people have are lack of mobility and strength.

So we begin training them, addressing these issues with things like the FMS as well as a systematic strength plan. This strength plan will hopefully go from slow and controlled movements with minimal load to movements with load, and then finally into speed and power work. An example of this could be to learn the hip hinge pattern and then progress to a light deadlift. As the client progresses this becomes a heavier deadlift and then, maybe, at some point we add in exercises like the power clean.

The point is that we’d have this general formula for progression that starts slow and unloaded and builds up to slow and loaded before moving to fast, heavy, and explosive. Never the other way around because beginners will simply have too much to think about if we give them fast, heavy, and explosive while trying to get them to learn a new pattern. That’s poor coaching, and an injury waiting to happen.

The Other End of the Progression

But what if we’re at the other end of the spectrum? What if we’re someone who has been around training for a long period of time and can do most lifts with decent skill, but we find that some of these lifts no longer agree with us? Ask trainees over forty how their body feels after a big squat or deadlift session, or even after a two-hour run, and they’ll likely not have much to say other than those things make them stiff and sore.

And where does our explosive work fit into all this? If slow and controlled is making us feel stiff and sore, what’s going to happen when we try to go faster? As much as those of us in the second half of our lives try to fool ourselves, we need to admit that things just aren’t like they used to be. My forty-two year old body is in pretty good condition – like a 1970s race car that is kept under wraps in the garage and only hauled out to do some fast laps every now and then – but run my vintage engine too long and too hard and I’ll be looking for spare parts. The only difference is that instead of heading to swap meets to try to find parts I’ll be booking in to see a surgeon.

The last two years has been a journey of self-discovery. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the programming department. The problem when you’re making these mistakes with yourself is that the only real warning sign is the sudden twinge of injury because you lack objectivity. And the problem with getting older is that you take longer to recover from these injuries, and the problem with that is that it then takes you even longer to get back on track with your training. A week off due to injury could be four weeks more until you’re back to where you were at the onset of the injury. And the problem with having a lower capacity is that you never remember how hard it was to get to where you were, only what it felt like to be at that level of fitness. So you start pushing hard again and the cycle starts all over again.

The Solution

The real issue, to me, of getting older and being athletic, is that in your head you don’t feel old at all. Until the next day, when you realize the workout you did the day before is what is suddenly causing you to walk like an old man, not the paragon of fitness you clearly are. And so I started looking for ways to get the same effect from training, but without some of the risk involved in the fast and explosive exercises – because that was what was usually hurting me.

My program now centres on a few concepts – mobility, stability, strength, and fitness. The overall goal is to be strong and healthy in the second half of my life and avoid another round of surgery.

Mobility

I’ve deliberately done two things to make sure my mobility stays at least at the level it currently is, or improves. The first is a whole day of training where the only goal is mobility and flexibility. For me, this logically comes on Monday to set up my whole week well. It is also a great active recovery day after long sessions over the weekend.

It’s split this work into two parts, with the first part being about forty minutes of Primal Move and get ups. This could just as easily be a yoga class or an hour of stretching but the point is the same – spend time on your mobility because you’ll want to keep as much range as possible as you get older. It’ll also help your muscles retain elasticity, which is essential for when you do decide to do some fast and explosive work.

Stability

I look at stability training differently than most do. I couldn’t care less what your BOSU single-leg squat cable kickback 1RM is. But I do care that you can stand on one leg and display good core, hip, and shoulder stability.

To that end I favor a few exercises that really work. The first is single leg deadlifts. Every time I train I do a variation of these. If it’s my mobility day then I do them unloaded and walking forwards and backwards. On my other days I do them with varying loads from sets of three up to sets of ten, but I do them daily. Shoulder and hip stability are vital too and this is where get ups, overhead holds, push ups holds, and lunges all come in. The final piece of the stability puzzle is core work and I mix this up with a variety of static holds like planks, hollow holds, and lever variations, as well as FMS based chops. But again, I do some kind of stability work in every single session.

Strength

There comes a point where you just realize that some lifts just don’t feel good anymore. Your shoulders might be a bit tight to snatch with a bar, or maybe your wrist hurts from that time ten years ago when you broke it doing BJJ. Whatever the case, it’s important that you make training fit your body as you age and not try to jam your body into a training plan that your ego says you should be doing.

For me, I still do quick lifts, but now I do them predominantly with kettlebells, or if I work with a bar then I do the power versions either from the hang or off blocks. As far as I am concerned I can get nearly all the benefits I need from deadlifts and kettlebell ballistics, but without the high risk of injury.

I don’t do much heavy pressing these days either. I’ve got a bit of an issue with heavy pressing anyway, given that roughly a third of the planet has an AC joint that isn’t set up well for pressing. I’ve found that if I do wish to press then I am better off using a hard bodyweight variation like handstand push-ups or one-arm push-ups instead of loaded pressing.

One of the other big things I’m starting to realize is that the low rep schemes – like twos and threes – aren’t so easy for me to handle anymore. It’s been a long time since I did a lot of reps above five, but more and more I find that those are the rep ranges that really allow me to work hard and keep my joints moving well.

Fitness

I have never been an advocate of high intensity cardio training. My issues with it are far too many to name in this article, but let’s just say that as you get older you only have so many hard sessions per week you can do. It’s your choice if you want to use the one or two genuine hard efforts in you for the week on a conditioning session or a strength session. I would advise that unless you have competitive aspirations, you’d be far better off saving your hard efforts to lift more weight than you will on dropping five seconds off your 2000m-row time.

The best choice for fitness that builds your health is “easy” aerobic work. If you don’t know about the 180 minus your age rule for determining your aerobic zone you should. Strap a heart rate monitor on and don’t let it go above that. You’ll find more and more that when you build up the quantity of “easy” fitness sessions you may actually be able to fit in another hard session per week. But the best part about aerobic work is that the recovery cost is nearly zero. Once your heart rate returns to normal, unless it’s a new activity, you’ll be ready to go again for the next session.

The 180 minus your age rule

Here are the rules, taken from Maffetone’s Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing:

  • Subtract your age from 180.
  • Modify this number by selecting from among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:

If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.

If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.

If you have been training consistently (at least four times per week) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180 – age) the same.

If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

Following this rule will help make sure your easy sessions stay easy. The benefit of this is that these sessions are relatively easy to recover from while boosting your overall recovery at the same time. All that oxygen you bring in during these sessions does wonders to restore the body and clam it down from your other harder sessions. The final benefit is that these sessions work towards developing your heart into a larger more powerful pump. That is in direct contrast to the damage that heavy lifting can cause to the internal diameter of your heart.

I ask myself one question before every session, “Is this going to make me fitter and healthier?” If it only makes me fitter then I need to rethink my plan for the day. The goal in the second half of life should be to move well and with strength so that you can spend the second half of your life enjoying it, not recovering from surgery or illness caused by overeager training.

Read More

BMI and You

One of the things that always gets people riled is when I point the finger at their waist line. That’s understandable. No one likes being told they’re overweight or obese.

Why is BMI important? Because it is a quick and easy measurement to assess your risk factor for a variety of future health problems. Obesity usually travels hand in hand with diabetes and heart disease – both of which will have major ramifications on your life, even if the weight gain doesn’t in the first place.

Recently, this study came out. Despite what many say the results were pretty clear. For the vast majority of people – over 80% – BMI is an accurate measurement of whether or not you’re carrying too much body fat. What it says, if you’re one of the 18% who are outside the normal ranges, is that you can have too much body fat and still be in the ideal range, or have a BMI slightly too high but still have acceptable levels of body fat.

This is where the fitness crowd usually throws up their arms with a cry of, “gainz bitch!” Umm…not likely. In fact, only 11% of the 5000 people studied fell in that category of having a BMI that was considered high while having normal body fat levels due to increased muscle mass. That doesn’t put the odds in your favour. More likely it means if your BMI is high you need to lose some fat mass.

The topic of diet has been known to lead to arguments that could almost be described as religious. While I don’t think anyone is going to commit a jihad over whether or not to eat paleo, you know exactly what I mean if you’ve ever tried to steer people in a better direction with their diets. From crazies like Food Babe, to people who scream about fat shaming, to those who seem to be on a permanent bulking cycle, and everyone in between – talking diet makes people crazy.

Like most things in health and fitness, the problem stems from a simple fact: you were lied to. Lies form the basis of the fitness industry. Included among them are ideas like needing to join a big gym that has an army of treadmills and two of every machine created in order to get in shape. Or that you need to consume four different protein concoctions to help burn fat. Most of it is just designed to sell things – usually supplements or gym memberships.

The truth is simple: the quality of your diet dictates your body composition.

A Growing Epidemic

These lies have propagated because the modern world is getting fatter and fatter. The rate of obesity has increased 214 percent since World War II. Three out of five people are overweight, and one in five is obese. That leaves only one in five with a healthy body mass. (Or one in five that the BMI charts are incorrect for).

Like everything in our modern world, we have access to a lot of information about diet. Probably too much information, because the reality is, diet isn’t that difficult. The biggest problem is that many people wrongly interpret their needs. Figuring out the type of diet you need starts with an honest assessment of where your body composition is right now.

If you’re one of the five who isn’t overweight or obese, congratulations. Your task is to train the house down and increase athleticism. Make yourself as strong as you can while keeping your body weight in a healthy range.


Be honest with yourself about your needs and get your health and fitness on track.

You’re a Ticking Time Bomb

For the other four out of five people, listen up. Your body composition is indicative of your overall health. If it’s too high, your system is under extra pressure. Sooner or later you will suffer some kind of problem. Whether that is diabetes, a heart attack, or knee problems from being overweight, I don’t know. But I do know that when the odds are against you, the house always wins. So sort it out now. If you are overweight, you don’t need another bulking cycle. Nor do you need a strength cycle. You need a weight-loss cycle.

This is where that information overload becomes a problem. There are so many weight-loss programs to choose from – Zone, paleo, vegan, Atkins, Lemon Detox, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Buddhist, Kosher, Body for Life, South Beach, Grapefruit Diet, Israeli Army, gluten-free, ketogenic, alkaline, Blood Type, intermittent fasting, and more.

And the weird thing is, they’ll work. Maybe. The one factor that determines success on any ideal eating plan is compliance. It’s easy to write down a New Year’s resolution that says you’ll finally get a healthy body composition this year. But actually eating the salads and doing the food preparation ahead of time is much harder.

5 Steps to Get Your Body Composition Under Control

1. Get Rid of Junk Food

“I’m having a hard day. I deserve a beer.” What a complete load of crap. Food isn’t a reward system for showing up for work and doing your job. Nor is it a form of self-medication to deal with your idiotic boss. If you want to be an athlete, food is your fuel. If you want to rev your engine hard, then you need to use quality fuel.

That means fast food and highly processed snack foods need to go. Alcohol too, for the most part. Replace calorie-containing beverages with water. At this stage, what you replace these things with hardly matters, as long as you replace them with actual food.

2. Minimize Carbohydrate Intake

Don’t get rid of your carbohydrate intake all together. That’s like trying to run your race car on fumes. Carbs fuel hard efforts in training and help keep your system running properly.

If weight loss is your goal, be mindful of timing. The best time to take carbs is post-training when the body is primed to store the glycogen gained in the muscles rather than as excess body fat.

3 Eat More Salads and Vegetables

The root of this whole conversation is health, so you should be concerned about how many vegetables you get every day anyway. At Read Performance Training, we tell our clients to eat a minimum of four cups of vegetables and one piece of fruit daily.

4. Add Daily Walking

Low-intensity activity, such as walking or easy cycling, won’t burn up the small amount of muscle tissue you already have. It also won’t leave you flat and unable to repeat it the next day due to soreness. I watched someone lose 100lb in a year with 10,000 daily steps as the cornerstone of the program, so I can attest to how well it works. For myself, I am always at my leanest when I get in daily walks.

5. Add Resistance Training

This is actually the easiest of the five, which is why I’ve placed it last. For many people, the hardest part about weight loss is preparing meals and eliminating bad food choices. Daily long walks can also seem difficult for those who don’t believe they have time. We’ve all got the same 168 hours in a week. The problem is usually down to laziness, not lack of time.

Lifting weights, on the other hand, is easy. You show up, work hard for an hour or so, and then you’re done with it for 24 hours or more.

Undoing Damage Takes Time

The one piece missing from the four points above is hunger. I mean actual physical hunger. It is perfectly fine to be hungry all day long. Learn to deal with it. This is the price you pay for having not been hungry at all for however long you’ve been overweight.

Remember, you are covered in excess energy stores, and the only way to get at them is to be in a caloric deficit. There are no secrets, just the constant application of basics over enough time to get the results you want.

Read More

Starting running pain free

Whether it’s events like Tough Mudder, a marathon, or a local sprint triathlon many people decide to take the step to get into running each year. They search online for free programming (because running is so simple no one should need to actually pay for advice) and find something called a “couch to (insert name of distance here).” The problem is these programs are usually terrible and make a few false assumptions.

Why Would I Need A Plan For Running?

The first problem is they assume everyone comes into them with a clean bill of health. Most people assume that means that they have no heart or lung problems. But they’re missing one vital aspect of the equation – the body. If you’ve done nothing but sit at a desk for years and moved little you’re not going to be ready to run until you can get the kinks out of your body. Something as simple as the amount of ankle dorsiflexion you have can make tremendous differences to your running.

Try this test – place one foot flat on the ground and push your knee as far forward as you can until the heel is just about to come off the ground. Make sure to push the knee out in line with the little toe, not over the big toe or inside of the foot. Measure how far forward your knee has moved. If it’s less than 4” or 10cm you have a deficiency. If you’ve got a significant difference left to right that’s even worse.

So let me tell you what happens. Because you lack adequate movement at the ankle your body needs to find that extra range somewhere else. Maybe it’s in the toes or foot, maybe it’s the knee, maybe it’s the lower back. But somewhere else along the line your body is going to create extra inches of movement that you don’t have in your ankles – and at 1200-1500 steps per kilometre that can add up to a massive amount of potentially damaging movement being created in the wrong place.

And all this made me realize that starting running isn’t as easy as lacing up your runners and heading out the door. There’s three distinct phases you need to go through, and the older you are and the less history of running you have the longer you’ll need to spend on each of these stages.

Running Stage 1 – Walk/Run Intervals

This is the point where you decide that despite never having run significantly you’re now going to enter a race or maybe just begin running to help get in shape. But let’s be realistic. Are you actually ready to race? Probably not, if you’re like most of the first timers I meet when they walk through our doors.

Stage 1 actually has two parts. The first part is to get an FMS screen, such as offered by us when you sign up at RPT, and begin working on getting the body to a solid starting point while simultaneously building form. Because every body is individual I will not go into what you may need as far as corrective exercise goes, however what I will do is talk about the process to starting running.

The best step is to go and buy Run Strong. It contains an amazing amount of information on safe practices, injury prevention, which shoes to choose, and structuring training plans.

I am not a huge believer in any of the popular running methods. There is no evidence that people who run with POSE, Chi, or any other style suffer fewer injuries or go faster. There are some basic guidelines to form and this article by Tony Benson remains the best I’ve seen. Unlike most so-called running coaches, Tony has been there with the best, both competing with and coaching athletes at the top level. Ingrain what he says and focus on those points while running – resist the urge to zone out. Every single step should be an effort to make the next step better than the one before it. (I also advise no music for the same reason, as it’s too distracting).

If you were a beginner in the gym no one would think to load you up with a maximum load straight away. Yet when you tell people you want to run the first thing they say is, “You should do sprints.” I have to say I believe that to be the single stupidest piece of popular fitness advice in today’s fitness industry. Running fast puts an enormous strain on the body – far more than a heavy squat or deadlift session ever could, with loads of up to eight times body weight recorded in sprinting. Compare that to a “heavy” squat session for a beginner that wouldn’t even have full body weight as load on the bar and you start to see how damaging urging an underpowered and poorly aligned novice to sprint can be.

The top minds in movement all say the same thing – develop mobility, stability and proprioception, then endurance, and finally add strength and power. You can build mobility and stability concurrently while learning about how to run at the same time. The best way to do this is a walk/run program.

I like to begin with sets of five minutes. The first stage is thirty minutes total – jog one minute and walk four, repeated six times. Perform this three times per week.

Week 1 – Jog 1/Walk 4 x 6
Week 2 – Jog 2/Walk 3 x 6
Week 3 – Jog 3/Walk 2 x 6
Week 4 – Jog 4/Walk 1 x 6

Now we start adding time to the intervals and push that out to ten minutes:

Week 5 – Jog 6/ Walk 4 x 4
Week 6 – Jog 7/ Walk 3 x 4
Week 7 – Jog 8/ Walk 2 x 4

Increase interval time again:

Week 8 – Jog 12/Walk 3 x 3
Week 9 – Jog 13/Walk 2 x 3
Week 10 – Jog 14/Walk 1 x 3

Increase interval time again. You’ll notice we’ve gone from thirty minutes total time to forty to forty-five minutes. Now we extend out to an hour of total time.

Week 11 – Jog 17/Walk 3 x 3
Week 12 – Jog 19/Walk 1 x 3
Week 13 – Jog 60 mins.

That gets us to the end of phase one. While it may seem like it’s a long way to get there, trust me when I say if you’re taking up running later in life (and sorry to say but that is 35+) this will be an injury free way to get you to running non-stop for an hour. The injury issues can be compounded more if you are either overweight or carrying a high amount of muscle. Take your time getting through stage one.

Running Stage 2 – Build Strength, Endurance, & Stability

This stage is simple. Now you’re running an hour and you need to get to the point where you can run an hour twice a week with a longer run of 90-120 minutes on another day. For people who question the long run this is one of those “you just have to trust me” things. Until you’ve done the long sessions and see what happens as a result, you won’t understand. But once you do these weekly for a few months you’ll understand.

The mid-week runs are to be easy, nasal breathing runs. The weekend run is easy as well, but run the last twenty to thirty minutes a little bit harder. At this point there is to be only a limited amount of intensity. In gym terms, you’re still in the three sets of ten phase, of needing easy volume to further hone form and build the body. We still need a solid bed of strength endurance before adding intensity.

Before people jump all over me, realize the most important thing about running distance is that you can maintain midline stability and foot and ankle control for periods of time. The stabilizing muscles of the body are all slow-twitch and need to be trained that way. As well, attachments take a long time to adapt so this is still part of our breaking in process. I would stick to this phase for six months. It makes an ideal winter preparation period for a summer event.

Running Stage 3 – Speed Work

Now we’re ready to get serious and add some speed work. Don’t be foolish and decide to go run 400m intervals. The purpose of speed work is not to run flat out, but to teach the body to run at a slightly higher pace than what you can right now. Most people do not ever get faster; they simpler run further. So their 5km is half of the 10km time, which is only marginally faster than their half marathon time. The goal of a speed session is to do some quality work at higher than target race pace.

I like to only use one quality session per week for most people. At this stage we’re up to four runs per week – 2 x 45-60min easy runs, 1 x longer run of 120mins with last 30mins hard, and a interval or hill session. Here’s how both of those work:

Intervals:

1-2km warm up including some 5x100m faster efforts building up through each.
3-5 x 1km efforts at above race pace with 1-2min easy jogging in between.
1-2km cool down.

Hills:

Find a slight hill of 2-4%. Just like with the speed work don’t be foolish and go and try to find the steepest hill you can.
1-2km warm up.
Run up the hill for 500m at above race pace, run down the hill at below race pace. If you averaged your speed for both up and down the hill it would be equal to your goal race pace. Do 3-5 reps.
1-2km cool down.

This whole process may take a year just to get to the third stage, but trust me when I say you’ll be injury free and enjoying running. Not only that, but you’ll likely be covering a half marathon every weekend in your long run, so longer events won’t pose a problem (like Tough Mudder, which is averages 18-19km). Don’t be in a rush, as that way leads to the doctor’s office.

The best step is to go and buy Run Strong. It contains an amazing amount of information on safe practices, injury prevention, which shoes to choose, and structuring training plans.

Read More

Building the Squat

When it comes to physical training just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. For instance, I could decide to go and start sprinting up a hill as fast as I could with no warm up. Perhaps my body would cope with it, but the more likely scenario is that it wouldn’t. A far smarter idea would be to begin with some running technique work, if I had no running base. Once that was grooved in place I could do some easy tempo runs gradually building the pace. Only after a few months of building up would it be smart to move onto the hill sprints, and only then once a thorough warm up had been undertaken.

Often in the gym people forget that there are exercises that go before exercises – progressions, or regressions, depending on how you look at it. Two of the most fundamental yet poorly done exercises are the humble squat and push up. Both require you to maintain good trunk alignment while producing force with the extremities. These skills flow into other more complex athletic activities like running, jumping, punching, and throwing. But I’ll guarantee that if you can’t do a squat or push up well you’ll have little chance of doing any more difficult task well so it pays to get the basics right.

How to build the squat:

The first, and most important part of building the squat is the very base layer. That base layer is the requisite mobility to squat well without load. If you can’t achieve a good squat position unloaded you have some issues. And if you can achieve a good position, but need 50kg to push you into position first, you may have more issues.

The three key areas of mobility for the squat are the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. I like to use a two-part system to free things up of static stretching followed by mobilising the area. For the ankles combine a static calf stretch for 60-120 seconds per leg with ankle mobility work for 10 – 20 reps.

For the hips it’s not as simple as you need to work on multiple muscles to free up their range. Here’s the list:

Hip flexors – kneeling hip flexor stretch for 60 – 120s followed by cook hip lifts for 5 – 10 reps.

Glutes – pigeon stretch for 60 – 120s followed by the active pigeon drill for 10 reps. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJHbhMNBjxI)

Adductors – frog stretch series by my friend Jon Engum.

The next step is the thoracic spine. For best results lie across a foam roller so that it sits at the bottom border of your shoulder blades.

Follow that up with face the wall squats.

Now that base mobility should have been gained you can move onto actual squatting. But now comes the next problem – where to start? There are so many possibilities from body weight to loaded using a variety of implements.

The first step should always be to assess raw movement unloaded. That means we begin with body weight squats. Our goal here should be three sets of 20 reps with good form. Good form constitutes:

  • Heels stay on the floor throughout the entire movement.
  • Knees track toes.
  • Knees don’t collapse inwards.
  • Hip crease travels below the knee at bottom of squat.
  • Lower back doesn’t curve and pelvis doesn’t tuck under.
  • Upper back remains upright, not hunched.
  • Hips rise at the same speed as the shoulders.

The next step is to add some load. The best way forward is the goblet squat based on the yoga garland pose, which relied on prying the knees open with the elbows to help achieve a solid base position. Holding a kettlebell at chest height squat to the same depth as with the body weight squats.

One of the cool things about the goblet squat is that the slight weight does two things for you. Firstly, it shifts the centre of gravity slightly forward, which gives you the feeling of having your heels raised, making a good squat easier for people to achieve. Secondly, the weight is trying to collapse you forward and your abs need to work hard prevent that flexion. In corrective exercise terminology the kettlebell is giving you core assistance by forcing your abs to engage so the hips can be free to do their thing. (And if you book this workshop I’ll be sharing a special way to do this exercise to amplify this even more).

Our goal with goblet squats is three sets of 10 performed to the same standard as the body weight squats. Suggested loads for males is a 24kg bell, and for females a 16kg bell.

Next up is even more load and we progress to double kettlebell front squats. While the addition of the load obviously adds more stress to the legs it also forces the core to engage even more. Once we progress to the use of the barbell this will become important as trunk stiffness will be the key to preventing the back injuries that are all too common in squatting (as the abs act to control the rotation of the pelvis).

Our goal now is five sets of five with the same standards as for the bodyweight squats. Goal weight is double 24kg bells for men and 16kg for women.

Now we can move onto the barbell and front squats. The reason to put front squats before back squats is that the bar in front of the body position forces that core engagement and teaches the body to do it automatically. That skill will be needed when the transition is made to back squats as it is easy to switch off everything once the bar is loaded on the spine and just have your skeleton support its load instead of maximising the protection you get from your musculature.

Five sets of three with your bodyweight loaded on the bar are the goal. Form should still look identical to your unloaded bodyweight squats.

The final step is barbell back squats where the loading is only limited by how much time and effort you put in. But by the time you have gotten to here you may have found a few things out and realised that you don’t actually need to use back squats as you’re “strong enough” for your sport or hobby. At RPT we don’t even use back squats with our clients as we don’t need to, and I have yet to see anyone perform the front squats technically well enough at bodyweight to satisfy my standards.

But the base of all of this is the mobility work at the very start and the unloaded bodyweight squats. Spend your time there before worrying about all the loaded steps and you’ll likely find new found performance once you progress.

Read More

Rethinking Kettlebell Ballistics

Back when kettlebells first became popular there were three things that drew me to them. Firstly, they allowed you to perform a lot of movements with only a few pieces of equipment – something that appealed greatly to my minimalistic nature. Secondly, they can be a great tool for rehab, strength, and conditioning (although to a lesser degree). And finally, many of the exercises were hip centric movements which would do wonders to help get rid of the lazy glutes many suffer from and help build full body power.

Along the way there has been a lot of knowledge gained about kettlebells. That’s been largely thanks to a few leaders in both the RKC and SFG communities who have looked to exercise science to improve things, rather than rely on the hype surrounding kettlebells, as well as the works of guys like Dr. Stuart McGill and Andrew Lock who are pushing their uses forward in both rehab and strength.

If we could just side step for a moment to speak about the squat – the reasons will be clear later on. If you think about the different types of squat – bodyweight, goblet, kettlebell front squat, barbell front squat, back squat, and overhead squat – and the shapes your body makes do perform them you’ll notice a difference. Your trunk will be in a different position for each, your stance will be narrower or wider, and your toes may even point in different directions. And that’s how we all make the various squat forms fit us based on our own mobility and limb lengths. There is no universal squat shape that will allow you to accomplish all of these variations without modification.

And this brings me to kettlebell ballistics. The swing is the first exercise many learn because it forms the basis of other exercises such as the clean, snatch, and high pull. It’s also proven to be a helpful tool for fat loss, hip strength, grip development, as well as what I’m going to call incidental conditioning.

The way the swing is generally taught at RKC and SFG events is no issue. That is a tried and trusted path to follow that gives proven results. However, when it comes to teaching the clean and snatch science has perhaps shown us a smarter way forward that few are willing to take note of.

When teaching the swing the students are taught to project the bell forward as if punching the kettlebell at an opponent. The RKC/ SFG crowd often talk about the American Swing as wasted energy, saying that if they want to project the bell upward they’ll snatch to distinguish between the horizontal and vertical force differences of the two exercises.

And that all makes a lot of sense. The near vertical shin angle taught during the development of the swing is most beneficial for horizontal force projection, as in a standing broad jump. I say “near vertical” shin angle because there is still an amount of knee extension involved in the completion of the swing and that slight knee forward angle allows for this to be executed with more force. Like our squat we’re going to have a few different versions of the bottom position of kettlebell ballistics so that we can get the most out of them.

Now this is where it starts to get tricky. Bret Contreras wrote an excellent article on deadlifts versus swings on T-Nation back in 2012. To save you the time I’ll just give you the summarised version:

A hip hinge style loading phase for the swing creates ~370N of horizontal force when using a 32kg bell, compared with ~176N for a squat style pattern.

That is a pretty clear reason as to why you should be using a hip hinge/ vertical shin style pattern for the swing – because when you want the bell to be projected horizontally, as in a swing, you get double the force output. But what about if you want the bell to be projected vertically? What happens then?

A squat style pattern gets you more vertical force than a hinge does (by roughly 200N). In other words, if you want to direct force upwards, as in a snatch or clean, then the way you look in the bottom position is going to be different than it is when you swing.

But kettlebell ballistics aren’t as cut and dry as jumping is. Jumping can be broken down into maximum distance either horizontally or vertically. Kettlebell ballistics will always have a component of horizontal force projection because of the arc the bell is forced to travel. While the hinge pattern is needed to develop the swing, and it’s in people’s best interests to improve their ability with it to counter act all the deficits from sitting, it isn’t going to be the text book hinge we should see when doing cleans and snatches.

Instead what should be seen is the slight knee forward position in the bottom and the more vertical the lift the more the knee should be allowed forward to help in the use of heavier bells. Looking at the angles of the arm will help to determine which is the most vertical of the lifts. The swing is clearly the most horizontal of the three and can be performed with the textbook vertical shin. The clean is at the other end of the spectrum as the bell stays closest to the body out of the three lifts, as the upper arm never even leaves the ribs throughout. And that puts the snatch somewhere between the two in terms of how much horizontal force there is versus vertical force, despite the snatch being the most vertical looking of the three.

But how much knee forward is acceptable? Remember that all three have elements of horizontal force projection in them, as unlike using a barbell it is impossible to get a kettlebells to travel a clean vertical path. (Incidentally, this is why I don’t teach single dead cleans or snatches as it allows the student to do this, forces them into a far more squat style stance, and makes it much harder later on to get them to do it right when expecting multiple reps. It’s also why I reserve teaching of the dead swing until after they’ve mastered the regular swing so they don’t form that bad habit initially, as most won’t be able to resist the trap of allowing their knees to drift forward on succeeding single reps as it will be more comfortable for them).

Looking at the video (and I apologise for the poor quality but that’s how slow motion videos come out often under halogen lights) you’ll see a difference between the knee position for the swing and the snatch. But this isn’t a heavy bell – that’s only a 16kg and the model usually snatches a 20kg. If we put that up to the 22kg or 24kg, which are “heavy” for her then you’ll see far more knee shift during the snatch as she’ll need extra vertical force to power the bell to where it is.

Despite the bottom half of swings, cleans, and snatches looking the same there should be some differences to a trained eye when working heavy. Because of the vertical forces needed to power the bell to a different place for cleans and snatches you should accept that some deviation in form is acceptable. The idea that the clean and the snatch are swings is correct. Sort of. The truth is that while they look very similar the powering action of them is going to be different compared to their root swing.

Read More

Rebuilding the BJJ back part 1

If you’ve been involved in BJJ for any length of time you probably have a story that involves hurting your back. Maybe it was your lower back or maybe it was your neck, but likely you’ve hurt it at some point. It’s no secret that BJJ despite being named the “gentle art” is far from it.

The back is unlike most other joints in the body. Most joints are pretty simple – a few bones meet and are held together by some muscles. The action of the muscles pulls on the bones on one side and levers them to bend the joint. If you look at our limbs we have two types of joints. The closest to our center, the hips and shoulders, are multi-directional joints that move in all directions. Then we have joints that move in only single directions. Our elbows and knees are called hinge joints for this reason, as like the hinges on a door they only work one way. Then, at the extremities we have another set of multi-directional joints for our hands and feet, or more specifically our wrists and ankles.

While the dexterity of the hand speaks volumes as to how many muscles and nerves are involved, and the huge array of muscles around our hips and shoulders allows them to work in any direction, the back is different again. The back consists of twenty-six vertebrae. That’s twenty-six joints that all link up and articulate. Holding this in place are an enormous number of muscles. To move the spine through flexion, extension, or rotation is the job of all these muscles.

As non-clinicians we want an understanding of back mechanics that allows us to quickly figure out what is wrong, and address is appropriately. An easy to use system breaks the back into three segments – the neck or cervical area, the rib cage or thoracic spine, and the lumbar or lower back. Three chunks.

The neck or cervical section has seven vertebrae. The mid back or thoracic spine has twelve. And the lower back has five plus the sacrum. So just saying to someone, “I’ve hurt my back” isn’t going to cut it from a treatment perspective. You’re going to need to be a little more specific with your language. This, by the way, is why you should run a mile from anyone who diagnoses you with “non specific back pain” – they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about if they can’t narrow down what your problem is. You should run a mile from these charlatans.

There are a lot of myths surrounding backs as to what you should and shouldn’t do. Sadly most of these come from someone with a product to sell. Pilates springs to mind as the likely biggest culprit when it comes to snake oil methods of back care. Comments like “you shouldn’t flex your spine” always seem to spring up without taking back mechanics into account.

Given the nature of BJJ it is unlikely that you will significantly hurt your thoracic spine during training. The reason for this is simple – it’s designed to flex far more than the neck and lower back, and has bigger muscles to control its action. Instead, we are far more likely to injure the neck and lower back. The neck is pretty easy to figure out – you’ve got a little thin thing with seven joints in it supporting a bowling ball. That’s a lot of stress at the best of times, let alone when you are curled up in a ball with someone trying to smash pass you with all their weight driving into you. And that’s not even taking takedowns into account.

The lower back is the other chunk of your spine that is likely to get hurt. That makes sense, right? We learn to control the head or the hips, and in many cases to even twist them to control our opponent. Well, the lower back doesn’t deal well with being flexed or twisted. In fact, noted physiotherapist Shirley Sahrmann says that flexion and rotation of the lower back is the worst thing you can do it from an injury perspective. And that makes sense too. Have you ever had someone do a can opener guard pass to you and noticed how everything is fine until suddenly it isn’t? And at that moment when you are being crushed into a little ball your brain basically shuts down, your legs fly open, and your opponent is able to casually walk past your legs.

The problem with BJJ is that much of our sport occurs during moments of spinal flexion. Add on to that many people who practice the art are coming from a deskbound perspective and they are already turning up to train with a compromised spine. One of the leading back specialists in the world recommends a simple solution – perform work in back extension to reduce flexion based pain.

This video shows the early version performed prone.

The next step is to perform standing extensions, as shown below.

And finally, perform these neck glide plus extensions to regain normal function in the neck.

In part two and three we’ll cover more extensive ground based spine and neck work to use once you’ve settled the pain down.

Read More

So you want to be in shape at 40?

The fitness industry is designed around a few big myths:

  • You need supplements to do anything – both fat loss or muscle gain.
  • A six pack is the defining criteria for fitness.
  • Once you’re no longer young and beautiful there’s nothing for you to do but wait to die.

It may seem harsh but if you look through any fitness magazine or website that’s what you’ll see perpetuated over and over again. From the covers sporting airbrushed, starved and dehydrated, trainaholics to the ads inside the message is loud and clear – get buff, buy our stuff, and we care about the young and beautiful. Too bad if you don’t fit that mold, as we have nothing for you

But life isn’t like that. And to be honest being in shape in your twenties is actually relatively easy. Not so much when you’re in your forties or beyond. You’ve got more job stress. You’ve probably got kids who need a fair bit of attention too. And time isn’t so kind in terms of how easy it is to get back in shape after even a short layoff.

And with the way the fitness industry presents itself the workforce is filled with relatively young trainers tying to tell you how to live your lives. I know this because I was one of them. I used to believe that when I was in my twenties I did a good job with my more mature clients, that I was empathetic, and understood how hard it was for them to balance life and training. Looking back I probably did reasonably well because my client retention rate has always been high, but I also will admit that as a now forty-year old I sucked pretty badly at quite a few things.

I had no idea how hard some days would be for an older athlete. There are days where I can crush it in the gym and look super impressive. For an hour or two. What people don’t see, but what older athletes go through, is that behind closed doors they spend the next two days hobbling around paying the price for that session. Muscles recover slower, joints hurt a little bit more, and it can be easy to accidentally skip a nourishing meal in the rush for work to get done slowing recovery further. And then there’s that younger trainer expecting them to bring 100% to the gym for the next session. It’s unrealistic.

And that’s why my own training isn’t shaped like that anymore. No more two hard days in a row. No more two hard sessions in a single day. It just doesn’t work anymore. Most athletes and trainers understand this, yet when it comes to passing on this knowledge to their clients this seems to go out the window. As if the training that is good enough for them needs to be somehow modified for their clients. None of the training at RPT is like that and the sessions vary individually flowing from easier sessions to harder ones to allow the body a chance to recover and adapt. This is what has allowed me to keep up with kids heading off to BUDS, or to train with others half my age in BJJ classes and keep up.

This doesn’t mean the end of hard sessions. Because that’s the other side of this – trainers who seemingly refuse to actually make anyone sweaty or even the slightest bit sore. Those are necessary side effects of the transformation process from unfit to fit. Yet I see plenty of trainers who baby their clients and then wonder why those same clients never seem to actually get in shape. I’ve had people say to me after their first session at RPT that they’ve never worked so hard in their life, despite having been a member of a gym and having had personal training for over four years. Our bar is set high to help you become the best that you can be. But it ain’t going to be easy.

And then there’s what happens in most group training now – everything is a competition. As much as we like to think that we can be as good at forty as we are at twenty that isn’t realistic. There’s a very real reason why the average age of a medal winner at the Olympics is twenty-eight and that there are masters’ competitions – because age related declines in performance are very real. And yet there these classes are, denying this fact, and expecting that the older clients mix it in a competitive workout with the younger ones. Sooner or later what usually happens is the older clients either get hurt trying to keep up or burn out and give up, walking away from their fitness goals. The alternative is to follow a program that fits where you are and have goals that are realistic for you, not for the other ten people in class.

There’s no BS at our place. Just an expectation that when you come you’ll work hard to accomplish the challenges we set out for you. But that is balanced by the reality of understanding the stresses and realities of no longer being a twenty-year old. We don’t promise to cure cancer or regrow cartilage – we’ll leave that to the snake oil salesmen in our industry – but we will get the best out of your body that is possible.

Read More

Why you need kettlebell swings

If you’ve been around exercise for any length of time you’ll have heard the hype surrounding kettlebells by now. Over the last few years even the mainstream gyms – usually the slowest to adopt any new training equipment that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg – have started buying kettlebells. But put your fears aside – kettlebells have been around for hundreds of years. far long, in fact, than any of the other equipment found in your gym such as barbells, treadmills, and TRX.

Like with all exercises that are effective kettlebells have struggled to compete against the many myths that surround their use. I see recommendations frequently from people as to how best to use them and frankly many are just jumping on what they hope will be a profitable band wagon, with little real experience or knowledge to offer.

If there was one exercise that exemplifies kettlebell training it is the swing. All the other major exercises can be done to varying degrees of success with other pieces of equipment, however, it is the swing that can only be done with a kettlebell. Let’s look at the facts regarding kettlebell swings:

They are a fantastic exercise to build posterior chain strength. That is, they develop the hips, hamstrings, and lower back as well, if not better, than other exercises, including those that use a higher load. If taught properly to hike pass the bell there is a “virtual” load placed on the muscles eccentrically that can be as much as four times the weight of the bell. In other words, that 24kg bell you’re swinging may feel like it weighs 96kg to your glutes.

The swing involves these muscles in the posterior chain – rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, both gluteus medius and maximus, rectus femoris, and biceps femoris. If you’re not an anatomy whizz that means it involves all the muscles of your core, your upper back and the biggest muscles in your legs.

One of the really cool things about the swing is that even with moderate loads they have recorded 50% MVC (maximum Voluntary Contraction, or the maximum amount the muscles could contract) in the muscles of the back and 80% in the glutes. Because you are able to perform many swings during a training session you are able to effectively flush an often troublesome area with blood and allow it to heal or recover.

A correctly taught swing isn’t a squat. It’s what is called a hip hinge. A hip hinge is the action you would perform if you wanted to jump as far forward as you can, as opposed to a vertical jump which will see you need a more squat like starting position. This is where people often go wrong utilising a squat motion for their swing instead of the correct hip hinge.

The value of the hip hinge is that far more force can be projected horizontally. In a hip hinge swing you can see forces of 340-400N projected horizontally versus only 165-185N for the squat swing. For many athletes, such as runners, whose sport involves horizontal force projection that makes swings a far better choice for training than even an exercise like deadlifts. While deadlifts are a fantastic exercise for raw strength they can lead to a lack of explosiveness in athletes due to the grinding nature often used in the lift. Secondly, the high loads can be problematic for endurance athletes who likely don’t have the core strength or stiff backs of seasoned lifters. With the swing they can get a better training effect with less stress on the back.

For grapplers, the swing provides a fantastic tool that also builds grip while building the power needed for an explosive penetration step for takedowns. The addition of incidental grip training is useful both for hand fighting as well as being part of a system that helps shoulders stay healthy.

Kettlebell swings are a great option for those wishing to get some heart rate/ energy systems training yet are unable to perform better variations such as running. An ACE study on kettlebell swings puts it at 1200 calories burned per hour. That’s based off a much shorter study, and no one is going to be able to swing for an hour non-stop, but the energy used is on par with running, and given all the other benefits if you had a choice of a short run or a choice of doing some swings you will be likely better off choosing the swings.

If you want to learn how to achieve all these benefits of kettlebell swings then book now for our Introduction to Kettlebells Workshop. We’ll also cover essential drills to keep the body healthy and supple regardless of sport, as well as three other core kettlebell moves.

Read More

Mature aged guide to buying a personal trainer

So you made it to forty and noticed some things weren’t as they should be. Gravity has started winning the battle. Keeping up with the kids has become harder than it was previously. Napping is a perfectly suitable past time for an afternoon after spending the morning in the garden.

You’re not alone with this – time marches on and with it come small inevitable declines in ability. For some of us at least. Recently I thought it would be interesting to check under the hood on my own 43-year old body and see just what was really going on. The only way to truly do this is via blood work as cosmetic detail can hide a lot – do you think Lance Armstrong was unhealthy looking when he was found to be riddled with cancer? Checking out the blood tells you the real facts about how your body is coping.

What I found was eye-opening for two reasons. Firstly, my testosterone levels were the same as they were when I was 28. That’s a pretty good thing. But it also means that sadly as a 28-year old I wasn’t that special. But what it says to me now is that there is a lot of great reasons to engage in strength training and endurance work – they are literally the fountain of youth.

That’s all well and good for me. After all, it’s my job to know about this stuff and I’ve spent my life figuring out the best ways to get in shape and stay that way. It’s as natural for me as waking up every day is. But I recognise that for many people that isn’t the case, and that means one thing.

You’re going to need to pay for professional help.

So here’s the scoop on personal trainers in Australia. And this is for all of Australia, not just Melbourne, and not just in our suburb of Moorabbin. These are the stats for our fitness industry:

30,000 personal trainers

15,000 new trainers each year

Every year 10% of the trainers leave for a variety of reasons. So if you start with 100 trainers by the end of the first year you’d have 90. At the end of the second year you’d have 81. The end of the third year would be 73, and the end of the fourth year would be 65. But then something really bad happens. At the end of the fifth year 70% of those remaining leave. That means that of the 65 who made it to the end of the fourth year only 20 will be left.

I’ll be honest and say that because of how easy it is to become a personal trainer it’s also easy to leave the field too. Doctors probably feel very differently about a six-year degree course that cost them somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 to obtain than someone does about their six-week course that cost $4,000. The low barrier to entry also provides a low barrier to exit too.

That’s not all bad because in most cases the ones who can’t survive shouldn’t be in the field in the first place. There’s a lot more to the job than enjoying being in the gym and frankly most 20-year olds don’t have the maturity, common sense, communication skills, and business sense to be running their own business. Not only that but these are the guys who often end up hurting clients. Clients like you who are a little older and not in the same shape as a twenty-something. Because twenty-somethings aren’t that good at empathy, are they? They don’t know what it’s like to have the boss throw a big stack of papers at them at 6pm and say that it all needs to be done by tomorrow. They don’t know what it’s like to have to go home and spend time with the kids or make sure the bills are paid, or maybe even go and work the second job to pay for the kids’ schooling. And that lack of empathy is usually the thing that ends up hurting you.

You’d think that those who go and get degrees in exercise science would be slightly better choices but that isn’t necessarily the case. Consider a young graduate, fresh from their three-year degree course versus a three-year personal trainer. The degree certified trainer has a fancy piece of paper and close to zero work experience while the six-week trainer has nearly three full years of work experience. I know who I’d choose in that face off.

But let’s put it all in perspective. My accountant has about twenty-five years experience in handling taxation and small businesses. I pay quite a bit (I’m sure that’s not how they feel about it, but they are one of my bigger expenses yearly) for that experience. The day to day work is done by a kid who has a degree and three years of experience. In fitness industry terms that kid would be highly thought of – a degree plus three years work experience would put him or her above 70% of the industry. But he can’t even sign off on a single thing on my accounts without the final clearance from my actual accountant. But in the fitness industry you might be seeing that kid three times a week year round, giving him 150 different chances to hurt you.

There’s a lot of BS in the fitness industry. Most of it comes from the mouths of trainers and concerns how many bits of paper they have. The only thing you need to be focused on when interviewing a potential trainer is how much experience they have helping people with your background. It doesn’t matter what classes they used to run, or how they look in a bikini. What matters is how many people they have right now who are in the same boat as you, or who have been in that boat previously. A great test is simply check how long their current clients have been with them – if they can’t keep clients there is a very big reason why.

At RPT there are three of us working. I’m at the weird end of the fitness industry – the 1% who have been at it for over 15 years. Our other two staff have both been at it for six years now. In other words, under our roof you’ll get better advice and more experience than you will from at least 70% of the fitness industry, and when it comes to what we specialise in – kettlebells, movement, and functional strength – you won’t find any who can match us. No false claims, no damaged or hurt clients, just continual forward progress that comes from a systematic approach that we work with you on in a way that is appropriate for your level.

Be smart when you’re looking for a new trainer. I have some genuine horror stories of trainers killing clients with inappropriate exercises and training methods, hurting them in a way that requires surgery, and belittling and humiliating them. You’ve got one body so make sure you treat it with the respect it deserves and take the time to seek out a genuine high-level trainer. Don’t purchase on price or convenience – your body deserves better.

Read More

Freedom of Expression

Imagine living in a country where you weren’t able to speak your mind for fear of punishment? Now imagine that your body is one of those places – locking down what can and can’t be done athletically, all in the name of what is good for the whole body.

The freedom to move in all directions is one that we take for granted as children and then lose as adults. The mainstream fitness media do little to help this situation. There are plenty of articles about how stretching is dangerous, lowers power production, or is ineffective. None of this is true. The bottom line is that range of motion gives us the ability to better express our athleticism. As we get older our ability to move freely becomes worse and worse. All those years of sitting down teaches the body to only work to a certain point and then stop, which limits our full potential. Even if you’ve been active there can be problems because muscles need to be stretched again to regain their length after all the contraction of athletic activities, especially resistance training.

When we move without load we can see our full range of motion. Now, load can also be speed in the context of movement so it is possible that even unweighted you lose range once you try to speed up a movement. The more load (or speed) we use the more limited our range will become. If you have a hard time getting into a squat without weight, once we add load to that it’s not going to get better. This is how you can always find that guy in the gym who has about 400kg on the leg press and is doing quarter inch reps with it – the load has diminished his ability to express how much range he has.

There can be a dangerous side to range of motion. Imagine someone with contortionist flexibility. Now imagine that at the extreme of their already extreme range of movement we add a big load to them. That’s not going to end well. So yes, extreme flexibility an be a problem if you decide to add load/ speed to it at extreme ranges. But how many of you are circus contortionists? How many of you can’t actually touch your toes?

In terms of basic movement ability touching your toes is a pretty good test for a lot of things. But how do you go about it? And is gaining flexibility different for kids than it is for mature adults?

If you go to PubMed and search for articles on stretching for both adults and children you will get a fair idea of the differences. The search for adults will show that the vast majority are related to performance with a few that are for injury rehab purposes. However, the search for stretching for kids shows that all of them are for children with a disability of some sort such as cerebral palsy. What that says to me is that (a) there is no money in researching flexibility in children so we see it only being conducted in medical settings, and (b) it’s likely that children have a CNS that is much more responsive to all types of input. That makes sense as children learn by moving and their body adapts to all movement.

The situation isn’t the same for adults. Once you pass the age of twelve the CNS is largely set in stone. Making significant changes becomes much harder and learning new skills becomes more difficult. If we view stretching as the same as any other athletic skill, such as ball skills, you always see the most advanced athletes in any sport were the ones who took it up the youngest. This, in part, has to do with the 10,000 hour concept, but it also has to do with learning of fine motor skills. But none of this helps us as adults.

There’s literally over 2,000 articles on stretching in PubMed alone. All of them show that stretching has a benefit of some kind. That’s some pretty compelling evidence as to why you should be stretching. Forget what you’ve heard about how it decreases power production. While studies such as this one by Yamaguchi et al do show ” that relatively extensive static stretching decreases power performance” the reality of how you train is different to what is being researched.

Firstly, this study, and others like it, are on peak power/ maximum intensity training. As in, perform static stretching and then go immediately to a max effort. How many people do you know who actually train that way? A far more likely scenario is that they might stretch, then perform some activation type drills before moving onto their warm up sets. At this point, maybe thirty minutes after their stretching was completed they will be starting to work towards their maximum efforts. The short-term loss of power is a small window of minutes, not hours or days.

Secondly, for many trainees they will never, ever get close to a real maximum effort. At RPT we rarely work towards 1RMs as I don’t believe they’re that useful for the majority of people. Our typical rep range is between 5-8 reps. That corresponds to an intensity of 75-85%. Do you know how many studies show a drop of performance in people lifting at 80% after static stretching? The number is zero.

Another common comment people make regarding static stretching is that it doesn’t do anything for injury prevention. Yet this study by Small et al, taken from cross-referencing 364 studies from four different resources shows that stretching does reduce the risk of musculotendinous injuries. Things that make you go hmmm…

The missing link here is talk about types of flexibility. Research is often done just on either passive static or dynamic flexibility, so we need to understand the difference. Static and dynamic are opposite ends of the movement continuum. Static obviously means that there is no movement at all during the stretch, while dynamic is the opposite and includes exercises like rhythmic arm and leg swings. But there’s some missing information here too. You need to take into account both passive and active flexibility as well. Passive flexibility is displayed when you have an external force acting on you. An example would be sitting on the ground and trying to reach your toes while a partner pushes you forward. The combination of your relaxation and their assistance enhances the stretch. Active is the exact opposite. A good example of active flexibility would be lying on your back and lifting a straight leg as high as you could in the air without using your arms to assist the movement (because using the arms would be passive stretching). What you’ll see is that there is a difference between passive and active flexibility.

This difference between the two is what a dynamic warm-up tries to reduce. A well-constructed dynamic warm-up consists of dynamic stretching as well as active range of motion exercises. The combination of the two is superior to static stretching in both warming the body up so that it functions better as well as activating muscles so that everything is switched on and ready to go. For people keeping a close on things this is exactly what I wrote about above describing going from stretching to activation drills, to specific warm up sets. To those of us who have been around a while it’s just called warming up and we have always known that this is the best way to go about things based on what we feel and see going on with ourselves and our clients.

But still none of this helps our aging athlete gain movement. As my man Ido Portal says, “You won’t foam roll your way to the splits”. When you look at a cross section of the world’s best movers you will see one common theme – they all stretch, and they do so in a variety of ways but static stretching is always part of that practice. The biggest problem with using static stretching is that it can feel like it takes forever to achieve any kind of appreciable results. In today’s world of instant gratification that obviously isn’t popular. Charles Poliquin believes that it takes roughly an hour of flexibility work daily for six weeks before the effects of your program will be noticeable.

Ido Portal has great results with what he terms his Corset protocol. The Corset is a blend of concepts taken from martial arts, gymnastics, and dance and uses all the various types of flexibility as well as mobility/ activation work, which is then followed by strength work. The continuum is to gain range, activate the muscles so that you are protected within the new range, and then strengthen the entire range. One of the key features of the Corset is the use of loaded stretching. The adult CNS is quite resistant to change and often overly protective. Trying to get the attention of the CNS with light static stretches is like a mouse trying to hump an elephant. No matter how hard that mouse tries the elephant isn’t going to notice.

The use of loaded stretching speeds up the process of encouraging the body to embrace new range. It has the added benefit of being an activation drill at the same time because you are strengthening at the same time as you are developing new range. Keep an eye out soon for our own workshops that go through the main problems of the body and how to address them by tying together drills from various sources with a knot made from the FMS system.

One final point is that static stretching has a calming effect on the CNS. After spending time winding it up with performance training it makes sense to spend time after training allowing it to wind down too. All those negative points about static stretching being damaging to power production if done pre-workout are the exact reasons why you should put it at the end of each session to regain movement and settle the body and mind.

The bottom line is that stretching is always beneficial. Don’t over think it, especially if you’re an old dog trying to stay athletic. You need to keep as much range as possible and can’t risk losing more – you’re already going to be stuff from years of desk work and training. High degrees of movement are the fountain of youth so work to retain as much suppleness as possible at all times. Gain movement pre-workout with a combination of active and dynamic flexibility exercises and then activation drills. Settle the body post-training with relaxed static stretching. Done regularly you’ll find regained athleticism, even as you age.

Read More

So you want to be a 40 year old bad ass?

Ask yourself the question – do you want to be a show pony or an ass kicking bad ass?

The reason I ask is simple. Right now bodyweight training is a big deal. In fact, it’s one of the highest-ranking Google searches you can do in regards to fitness. But what kind of bodyweight training do you want to do?

If you want to be a circus performer there’s one type of bodyweight work you should do. If you want to actually be able to use your fitness for something other than drinking games then there’s another way you should train instead.

And if you want to be a forty-year old bad ass then you also need to stop and think for a second. The reality for us older guys is this: we have jobs that are serious, limited time, and probably have bodies that are banged up thanks to some extra athletic miles on them compared to the youngsters you see on Instagram.

That means that you need to choose wisely what you spend your time on. A decent handstand could take you years to learn. Or you could spend those years continuing to kick some serious ass athletically and be like Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge.

Back in the early days of gyms they categorized gymnastics into heavy and soft training. These terms had nothing to do with actual load but the difficulty of the skills. Heavy gymnastics was the use of rings, pommel horse, and vaulting. Light gymnastics on the other hand was the use of dumbbells, clubs, and wands.

I think calisthenics needs to go the same route and start terming heavy and light calisthenics. Heavy calisthenics would be all the show-off, circus tricks you see – handstands, levers, pistols, and planches fit here. While impressive feats of strength they don’t really lead to anything. On the light side of the equation you have all the real work. Burpees, push ups, squats, lunges, pull-ups, and even star jumps – all the exercises that have been used to help create bad asses since Sparta.

The thing no one ever mentions about the impressive looking stuff you see on Instagram or people’s Facebook pages is that like all hard physical skills the risk of injury is high. Want elbows that don’t work properly? Try one-arm pull-ups. Want wrists that hurt to bend? Start doing planches. No one ever seems to want to tell you that to get to the point where your body is supple enough to deal with that kind of work might take you two years. If you’re hell bent on doing those things then have at it, but in two years time I’m still going to be fitter and stronger than you thanks to the two heard years of work I’ve been able to put in while you worked on gaining wrist flexibility every day.

Want proof that bad asses are made from higher reps of more basic exercises and not low rep circus tricks? Here’s the current Physical Screening test for entry into BUDS (SEAL school):

Minimum –

Push-ups – 42

Sit-ups – 50

Pull-ups – 6

550yd swim – 12.30min

1.5mi run – 11min

However, those are minimums and you’re unlikely to get much notice from a recruiter looking for potential frogmen with scores like that. Here are the “competitive” standards:

Push-ups – 79

Sit-ups – 79

Pull-ups – 11

550yd swim – 10.30min

Run 1.5mi – 10.20min

You’ll note nowhere does it list “max effort front lever” or “max handstand hold”. In other words, real bad asses don’t care about how many fancy tricks you can post on Instagram. They care about real-world fitness useful for hauling yourself and your gear for hours and hours. They care about the kind of strength endurance that allows you to crawl, climb, ruck, run, swim, and move for long periods of time.

The over emphasis of maximal strength started in opposition to the jogging trend of the 70s. Overnight coaches started telling athletes that cardio made them weak and that they needed more strength. Strength is a great asset but it is not the be all and end all of physical qualities despite what some gurus will try to tell you. When it comes to battle nothing is more feared than an enemy that will not stop. Stamina, or strength endurance is what allows you to attack hard for as long as needed to drive the enemy into submission.

I tend not to train in anything other than an integrated fashion. My workouts always include strength and cardio as well as bodyweight and loaded movements. The reason is simple – done this way the whole becomes greater than the parts.

My all-time favourite workout was one I created back when I competed in BJJ. I would set the timer for twenty minutes and perform as many swings and push-ups as I could in that time frame. I’d swing a 32kg kettlebell for ten reps at a time then I’d “rest” by doing hindu push-ups for ten reps. My goal was always to hit a hundred reps of each in that twenty minute window, but I never made, and neither has anyone I’ve ever trained.

They actually pair together better than you might think at first glance too. The hindu push ups are very similar in action to the swing – flexion at the hip followed by extension. Done properly the breathing will be the same too with an inhalation on the flexion aspect and exhalation as you go into extension. The other benefit is that you’ll stretch your forearms out while doing the push ups. Believe me, they’re going to get smoked swinging the 32kg for that many sets one-handed.

What you will notice if you do this for a month or so is massively increased GPP. This was my base conditioning routine for BJJ and gave me a big head start on everyone when I started competition specific preparation. An added bonus of this method, and one fighters will understand, is that you switch between power and economy breathing. If you try to fight for even a few minutes doing only the type of power breathing you use for swings you won’t last long. The forced relaxation of the breathing and hindu push-ups will recharge you to go again and get more work done in the same time frame.

Don’t turn your back on high rep calisthenics. It’s a method that has been creating warriors and world champions since we crawled out of the ooze. For best results combine it with high rep, heavy swings and become fitter than you thought was possible.

Read More

Ten Minutes

In the fitness world everyone is trying to sell you something for a quick buck. The goal of the product seller is to try to solve your fitness problems with a product that solves all your problems.

They’ll sell you on shorter workouts. They’ll tell you that if standing is too hard then you can do it sitting. They’ll tell you that moderation in your diet is acceptable. Meanwhile they tell you all of this with a bodyfat percentage that isn’t even in the lean category, no visible fitness, and no client results to back it all up.

Probably the fastest way to make a shameless buck in the fitness industry is to sell short “high intensity” sessions to customers who don’t really like exercise. Selling 101 is simple – identify the problem, supply solution, make profit, get bitches. In a world where the majority of people are overweight it’s pretty clear that not many really enjoy exercise. The thought of having to work hard for an hour or more just isn’t appealing. So here comes the heroic huckster to convince you that all you really need is to train for thirty minutes a few times per week.

They’ll tell you that their plan is so good that this kind of training is used by elite sportsmen or women, or by elite fighting units or UFC fighters. That’s not a lie – high intensity training is used by all those people. The thing they’re not telling you is that all highly fit people are not doing just a little bit of training each week. You know those cover models you aspire to be on Men’s Health? Two sessions a day, five or six days per week. Elite athletes? Twice a day since they were about ten years old. Fighters and military? At least two fitness/ strength sessions per day with skill work thrown on top.

Now imagine that you tried to go all out for all of those sessions. What do you think the result is? Absolute physical burn out, exhaustion, and over training is what happens.

Here’s the truth, backed by research on how to get in shape and stay there, even as you get older. In 1936 a guy named Bruce Dill at Harvard undertook a twenty year study on response to exercise. Unlike most studies, which only run for six weeks (and anything can work for six weeks), this study is incredibly important because it shows us the importance of using intensity in training. The subjects who maintained the use of intensity in their training dropped only 1% fitness each year, or 27% total (the final study was done at the twenty-five year mark). Those who dropped off the exercise wagon showed a loss of about 43% of their fitness. Use it or lose it.

Looking at this you’d think that we should then make every effort to make every session as hard as possible to prevent the inevitable drop in performance over time. But a study done by Billat in 1999 used three different groups to test the effectiveness of interval training and discover if there was an optimal ratio.

They ran a study that split training into phases of all easy (below the point of exertion where your breathing changes – called the ventilatory threshold), 83% easy and 17% hard, and 50% easy and 50% hard. (Where hard was measured as 91% of maximum heart rate). The findings will shock you:

The average fitness increased from a Vo2max of 71.2 (already extremely high) to 72.7 after the 83/ 17 phase – an improvement of 1.5%. Many people believe Vo2max to be relatively untrainable but this study, in already experienced athletes, shows differently. However, when the training switched to 50/ 50 the tests showed a drop in Vo2max to 70.9 – a decrease of 2.5% from the previous level.

The answer is clear – too much high intensity training will send you quickly into an over trained state. This test was done using four-week blocks for each phase. Not only was three high intensity workouts per week too much for these high level athletes, it was worse for their fitness than doing none at all.

So how do you make this work?

Looking at the Billat study we have a very strong clue – roughly 80% moderate intensity and 20% high intensity. You’d think that the rules for strength and fitness training would differ but they don’t. We are still governed by the same CNS and we use the same muscles for both activities, so the rules remain the same regardless of what you choose to do in your training. (Believe me, it took me a long time to accept that). Using 80/ 20 as our guideline we can see that an hour long session should have no more than twelve minutes of high intensity work. Here are some examples for running:

Run 20 minutes easy, 3 x 3 minutes hard/ 1 minute easy, finish the run with easy running as for the warm up. (Total time ~ 1 hour).

Run 20 minutes easy, then 8 x 20s all out/ 10s easy (or rest), 6 minutes easy cool down. (Total time 30 minutes).

Break up a gym strength session into:

10 minutes of warm up and flexibility.

2 x 10 minute blocks of strength work done at 70% (i.e. use a weight you can lift 8-10 times comfortably and perform sets of 6-8 reps). Stretch for 5 minutes between each block on the muscles used.

10 minute hard interval work on rower – 2k TT, 4 x 500m all out with 2 minutes rest between each, or 10 x 30s all out: 30s rest.

Cool down and stretch for remainder of session. (Total time 1 hour).

Following this format we see 100% of our clients achieve better and better results every time they do our inhouse fitness tests. There are no injuries, there is no burn out, there is only continued, unstoppable forward progress towards greater and greater fitness regardless of their age.

Read More

Help me help you

We have a very cut and dry policy when it comes to injuries at RPT. It’s very different to what most other personal trainers anywhere will do, and having seen what the competition does locally in Bayside (Brighton, Sandringham, Highett, Moorabbin, Hampton, and Black Rock) it’s actually quite a shock for most people when they first start training with us.

See, if you’re hurt you can’t train. Most trainers will hear you say you’ve got a sore neck and just blaze away with both guns as if nothing is wrong. Your knee has been bugging you too? No problem, we’ll just squat light today. I’m not kidding at all about this stuff. I had to spend six months rehabilitating a woman a couple of years ago because their previous trainer thought the best thing to do with a sore shoulder was handstand push ups. The result of that was shoulder surgery. Having had shoulder surgery I don’t wish it on anyone. Not that my recovery was unnecessarily painful or difficult, just that any time you can avoid having someone cut holes in you the better in my opinion.

If you’re one of our current clients and reading this I know you’ve already experienced this firsthand, and this is not directed at you in anyway. I know you all get it and appreciate how serious we are about helping you not only get in shape but also stay in shape along the way. Too many trainers seem to think it’s acceptable to trade your current health for the potential gain in the longer term. But how fit are you going to become when you have to stop for surgery along the way? And how many sessions can you string together before a short term injury knocks you back?

I see it all the time. We’ve had clients who have displayed massive holes in their own abilities yet refused to address them. For some it is incredibly tight upper bodies making a lot of upper body training nearly impossible as they simply can’t even move into the range of motion needed. For others it’s a lack of core control making them prone to all kinds of injuries. And for others still it’s poor movements caused by years of not having addressed an older injury properly in the first place. In all these cases everything seems fine until suddenly it’s not. The first time it becomes apparent is when someone will say something like, “oh, my knee is playing up again”. That one word – again – is the clue. The knee shouldn’t play up again. The knee should have been fixed when it originally got hurt and rehab should have been done to fully restore any lost movements so that full activity could be resumed again.

And this is why we have our system at RPT. Aches and tweaks occur during training. That’s just how it is, especially with clients who are 35+. My rule is very simple – if the tweak lasts for more than two weeks you need to go see someone. The exception to this is neck and back pain. If you exhibit spinal problems so severe you can’t move properly you’re not allowed train with us until such time as we have received clearance from our physio. For many this come as a shock. “Oh, but so and so used to let me train when I did this”. Well, so and so is an idiot and hopefully they haven’t allowed to cause long term harm to yourself. Given I’m not a medical professional and I don’t have x-ray vision until I hear from someone who is an expert in these matters you’re grounded.

The weird part about this is that people often try to fight me on this rule. As if I’m doing something harmful to them. But here’s the thing. By stopping them from training I am helping them heal. By forcing them to go see one of the few good physiotherapists in Melbourne I am making sure that they heal. That makes me seem like a bad guy. Some, with overly inflated egos, can’t handle being told that their body has broken down and they are in unacceptable condition to be allowed train. Their anger at themselves for their failings will be directed outwards towards their trainer who is looking out for their best interests. But you have to stick to your guns here.

People think that training is all lollipops and fun WODs but every time a client walks through your doors you are in charge of their safety. That comes down to not just the environment and the training plan you set up for them but also in terms of looking after their health. And sometimes they’re too obsessive about training to notice that the warning lights are on and what they should be doing is resting rather than training. As a trainer you need to accept that you are going to be the bad guy in this situation. But your job isn’t to encourage people to go to red line. In my experience people don’t often need a cheer leader. They’re far more likely to need someone to hold them back so they don’t train too hard too often.

There’s this strange thing that happens when people walk into a business. They switch off mentally. In their heads they are in a safe place and their are professional staff on hand to look after them. As the trainer you need to be that safety minded person for them. It may not mean cessation of all training – a sore knee can mean that instead of a lower body session you’ll need to get them doing upper body. Or that instead of doing a form of cardio like running or rowing perhaps you need to use a ski erg. But you do need to address it. And if the pain persists for more than two weeks they need to be referred out.

Just a quick word here on medical professionals. There are some great ones out there, but sadly many are mired in the dark ages when it comes to treatment. If your physio or chiropractor says anything along the lines of, “You need to come see me twice a week for six weeks to fix this” get out immediately. Honestly, they should only need to see you two or three times if they’re any good. If their treatment involves ultrasound and a but of tape it’s probably garbage too. I’ll make this bit as clear as possible – unless you suffered from trauma (hit by a car, fell down stairs, etc) your pain is being caused by poor movement on your behalf. If their treatment isn’t about getting you to move better it is flawed and you need to find a therapist who understands how to fix movement.

Now that I’ve spoken to the trainers, let me speak to all the clients out there. We, your trainers, aren’t here to be your adversaries. We are here to help you become better. You came to us for our expertise and knowledge. So when we say that something isn’t right and needs to be addressed then please listen and take action accordingly. One of the things that most frustrates me is when I make a recommendation to someone and later find out they hadn’t gone to see the physio like they told me they had. As if somehow lying to me and continuing to train was going to fix their neck. But here’s the thing – my neck doesn’t hurt and when you end up having cervical fusion surgery at forty because you tried to win one over on me by not seeing a therapist it doesn’t have a huge impact on my life. If you want to be so juvenile that you resist my attempts to help you, well, you’re on your own then buddy.

There’s this common misconception that it’s clients versus trainers. As if we somehow enjoy having to ask you to push your knees out in the squat one more time. Or that we really enjoy talking to you about the diet you’re not following that you paid us good money to get you to adhere to. We just want to do out jobs and that means that you need to turn up in shape and without injuries, or that if you do get hurt – as happens from time to time – that you address it properly by seeing the therapist we recommend. There is a very good reason why RPT uses the physio that we do – because we have mutual respect and I know for certain that after a client sees them not only will we get a full report but we will also know exactly what that client should and shouldn’t be doing in training. (Here’s a buyer’s tip – if you are looking at starting with a trainer ask who they refer to for injuries and why. If they don’t have a support team perhaps shop elsewhere because that person is operating without a safety net).

Remember we’re here to help. If you’re getting sick frequently, are often injured, or otherwise finding it hard to get any training momentum going we know why. Please listen when we try to help you. And for the trainers out there, stick to your guns and don’t let clients train hurt. Ever.

Read More

The path less patterned

One of the things I can never understand is how people can turn up at an RKC and still not be ready. It’s one thing if they’re injured leading up to it but still want to attend – no one expects a miracle if you’ve been hurt. But how can a healthy person turn up and not be ready?

It would be somewhat understandable if the RKC was a new course. With the way the fitness industry is most trainers expect to pay some money, attend a course, and walk away “certified’ as an instructor in whatever it is. In my opinion, that’s utter garbage and has led to the dismal state of the industry as it stands today all around the world. But the RKC isn’t new. It’s been around since 2001, and is well known for how tough the standards are. A quick search on the internet, or even reading the testing standards on the sign up page, will provide all the answers you need.

But still I often have to speak with students at the end of the weekend who haven’t satisfied all the requirements to pass. Some, having been told all weekend that their form is sub standard are ready to hear this. But others stare back at me, obviously surprised by having failed something. I suppose the fitness industry standard of passing everyone makes many believe that the teachers for the weekend had just been talking tough about the high standards.

If I had to nail down one thing that I felt was the leading cause of not being ready it’s pretty simple – not enough time spent on patterning. Trainers are not exactly the smartest people on the block usually. I mean, we just pick things up and put them down again for a job, right? And it always strikes me as odd that we’ll tell clients they need to train with someone certified in using a particular tool, but many trainers will get their education off YouTube. Things that make you go hmm…

So imagine a trainer, seeking to do the RKC, sitting down in front of their computer searching for RKC standard videos. There aren’t many around to be honest. We have some on our YouTube channel but even they are mostly focused on fixing specific elements of individual lifts, rather than just showing what good form in each lift entails. So there you are, looking for good videos on RKC standard technique, and all you find is one awful video after another. And so it’s not unexpected that you walk away thinking that your own poor technique compares well to the videos and that you’ll be just fine at the RKC.

Except you won’t.

Back a few years Dragon Door used to send out a list of required reading materials for the RKC. The list included: Enter the Kettlebell, Return of the Kettlebell, Super Joints, Relax into Stretch, Resilience, Naked Warrior and Power to the People. If you’re an RKC hopeful my first question to you is how many of those do you own, and how many have you read? Would you sit a university exam without having read the textbooks and expect to pass? So how come you come to the RKC – a very physical test – and expect to pass without having put in the required amount of time learning? (All of these are available from www.dragondooraustralia.com in Australia).

The second step, after reading those books, is to get in front of an RKC and have them check your form in all the basic exercises. Don’t be surprised if it takes an hour just to get you doing swings correctly. At this point, early in your kettlebell journey, I wouldn’t even bother about any skills other than the first three – two hand swing, goblet squat and get up. There’s a reason these are the same exercises taught at the HKC and it’s because they are the ideal starting point for home training as well as for instructors to better learn about kettlebells.

The big reason the HKC is so important is one thing – patterning. While all the more advanced kettlebell drills such as cleans, snatches and jerks are performed one handed to begin with it’s best to start with two hands on the bell. Additionally, for many people they’ll actually need to learn how to squat properly. The goblet squat was never intended to be a strength exercise, but a patterning exercise – one that taught high school kids quickly and safely how to squat en masse. The get up may be the ultimate patterning exercise for a variety of issues. Someone who can perform a solid get up will be able to perform a variety of other exercises well too.

In Australia the odds of passing the RKC are about 50% if you haven’t previously attended the HKC. But if you’ve been to the HKC those odds change to 90%. If I told you that you’d be guaranteed to make over a hundred thousand dollars if you just spent a day and $500 doing some kettlebell training would you go? Because that’s about what you’ll earn as a PT over the two years following your RKC. That one time $500 investment will pay off double over the following two years. Think about it – $500 to earn $100,000. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you haven’t grasped the gist of this yet, the step by step process for passing the RKC should be: buy and read ALL the books listed, train with an RKC, attend the HKC, and finally start working on attaining the strength and fitness standards needed for passing the RKC. Don’t think you’re talented and special and can avoid the patterning work, because you’re not and you can’t. I’ve seen more people who thought they’d be able to wing it fail the RKC than I can count. Don’t jump the gun, don’t waste time watching YouTube videos from other training groups, and don’t think you’re talented enough to pass without having done the work prior. Better men and women than you have tried that path and failed. Pay your dues, work on the basics and get the patterns right before adding load or volume. Attend the HKC. Workout with an RKC. Your chances of succeeding on your own are slim.

The RKC isn’t impossible. There are more than enough RKCs worldwide to show that passing isn’t that hard. Yes, it’s a tough weekend, and yes, you will be pushed. But if you’ve spent the time prior working on the patterns, attending an HKC, and working with a local RKC, you will be fine.

Read More

Attitude

In the long list of qualities that trainers wish clients had – strength, flexibility, endurance, etc. – the top of all traits is not physical. The biggest problem for most is simply what’s between their ears.

Many give up without even truly trying. And what does that say about how they treat the rest of their lives?

If it’s acceptable to turn up for training late, is it acceptable to turn up for work late?

What about if it’s okay to put in 80% effort when the workout states to put in 100%? Have you ever done “just enough” at work, or do you truly go all out on every project?

Just looking at the last two – have you ever felt like you weren’t looked at for promotion but couldn’t figure out why? Perhaps laziness is the answer? While not lazy enough to warrant firing (or truthfully, making your boss go through the hiring process to end up with another sand bagger who likely will be just as bad as you, but in a different way) you manage to hang in by virtue of being the devil known, rather than a performance standout.

And this is how working out is. Each session brings a particular mental element that needs improving. I watched a client this morning spend 35 minutes on a single lap of crawling. Given the entire purpose of today’s session was to teach the clients to finally crawl correctly I was delighted. What made it even more fantastic was that for each breach of form there was a 10 push up penalty. For someone who struggles to do a single set of 10 push ups it is quickly obvious why it took her so long as she had to do 80 push ups to complete a single lap of crawling. The crawls were done with a foam roller sideways across the lumbar spine – any form breakdowns and the roller comes off. What made her efforts so spectacular was that even if it meant she dropped it without taking another step she dropped and did 10 push ups. Compare that to the clients who grabbed it with their feet but though, “it didn’t hit the ground, so I don’t have to do push ups”.

Which of those people would you be more inclined to hire if you were looking to employee someone?

The skills of life are in evidence during training. Gym time is merely a microcosm of the rest of life that allows us to breakdown and focus on different skills in isolation. Just the same as I can set sessions to focus on your squat, or deadlift, or crawl, I am also setting sessions that test patience, perseverance, toughness, and discipline. Will you actually go all out when the workout says to and face the inevitable detonation after, or will you play it safe? Will you complain when the workout is changed halfway through, or will you take it in your stride and laugh about it? And again, if you were thinking as an employer, or a husband, or someone stuck on a desert island with someone, which traits would you rather they have?

We have three rules at our gym, and the second is “Don’t complain”. Even with it written up on the walls it is amazing how many people fail to realise that they self-sabotage by allowing themselves to be involved in negative self-talk. Their argument for this is that they are using humour to cope with the situation. Yet in every joke there is truth, so what is really being said is, “I can’t cope right now”. Yet the only actual hardship they are facing is shortness of breath. It’s not like anyone is firing live rounds at them, nor are there dangerous wild beasts attacking them, and there certainly isn’t a ninja death squad out to kill them. All there really is, is  a little bit of physical discomfort.

At some point, and we can find it in most people quite easily, the thing that really will set them apart from the herd is mental strength. Attitude. It can be developed and it can be improved. To be honest, anyone who is still focused on the shallow physical side of training, and in particular the aesthetic side of training, is largely wasting your time. nailing down the discipline to eat right, go to sleep on time, and turn up and train regularly is a guaranteed way to improve the way you look (and feel). Ignoring the underlying health aspects of training won’t ever see much improvement in anything other than what you see in the mirror. And while having a six-pack can be amusing, it won’t make you many decent friends, and it won’t get you a raise, nor will it help you buy a house. But discipline will do all those things.

This is why we push genuine challenges at our clients every week. Only by pushing them past their boundaries can we help them as people. There is simply no place for the comfort zone in training sessions. Coddling people only serves to make them softer and weaker both mentally and physically. Forget shallow goals like bigger arms, or how you’ll look at a dance party and realise that the only benefits of any true value from physical training are the mental benefits and any training program that doesn’t address these is written by someone with a child’s grasp of where training fits into modern life.

Man evolved as the apex predator by being tough, relentless, cunning, and determined. If you think you have what it takes to be an apex predator then contact us.

Read More

Standards

I believe that many people waste their time in the gym for a variety of reasons. The most common of these is a lack of clear goals. Most people enter the gym with a goal of “getting in shape”. As far as goal setting goes that is pretty hazy.

A good goal is very specific and measurable. The problem for many is that they see a goal that might be “lose 5kg”, which as a goal is easy to measure, but don’t understand what might be some bench marks to help that become achievable. One of my friends, fat loss guru Josh Hillis, says that when women can do five pull ups they are usually in rock star physical shape – the kind of shape that you see on stars when they’re in big budget action movies. I know for myself that at certain levels of strength and performance I feel like i can run through walls.

But just having goals on its own often can lead to further confusion. It’s no good if I have a set of standards for the gym to help fat loss goals, but my personal goal is an ultra marathon. So even having a standard may not fix the problem of wasting workouts.

Our goals at Read Performance Training are simple – we are trying to create athletic, durable humans, who are capable of accomplishing a wide variety of physical tasks. To accomplish this what is needed is a broad base of physical qualities that covers everything from strength to endurance to strength endurance. Along the way we probably want to avoid injury too, which means that we need some kind of standard to ensure that the body is working correctly. The gold standard for this is the FMS.

Because people operate at all levels of physical skills when they come in the door, we need to know quickly where they are at physically, so that we can train them at the right intensity right from the start.

Baseline – FMS score of 14, no asymmetries. If a 14 is not achieved then priority must be given to achieving a solid foundation for hard training. Whether that takes a week or a few months that still must be priority. And yes, for current clients this means that some of you may not be eligible for group training in the near future but will instead need one-on-one training to rectify these issues as quickly as possible.

The standards below are written with male standards first, followed by female standards. There is some age adjustment for certain standards because it just makes sense. For instance, the male Journeyman standard for the 5min snatch test is 100 reps with a 24kg bell, and for over 50s it will be a 20kg bell. These standards appear in brackets after each test where applicable.

Recruit

  • FMS score – minimum 14, no asymmetries.
  • Deadlift – body weight for 5 reps, both male and female.
  • Squat – double kettlebell front squat. Males, 2x16kg. Females 2 x 12kg. 5 reps.
  • Pull ups – 5 sets of 30 second flexed hangs on pull up bars done with strict 60 second rest between sets, both male and female.
  • Push ups – Males, 3 sets of 20. Females, 3 sets of 10.
  • Run – 5km in 30mins.
  • Row – 1000m. Males, under 4mins. Females, under 4.30mins.

Journeyman

  • FMS score – minimum 14, no asymmetries.
  • Deadlift – Males, 1.5x bw for 3 reps. Females, 1.25x bw for 3 reps.
  • Squat – BW for 5 reps, both male and female.
  • Pull ups – Males, 10 pull ups. Females, 5 chin ups. (8/3 for over 50).
  • Press – Males, 2 x 24kg kettlebells for 5 reps. Females, 2 x 12kg kettlebells for 5 reps. (20kg/ 12kg for over 50).
  • Clean and Jerk/ Long Cycle – Males, 2 x 24kg kettlebells, 25 reps/ 5mins. Females, 2 x 16kg kettlebells, 25reps/ 5mins.
  • Snatch – 100 reps/ 5mins. Males, 24kg kettlebell. Females, 16kg kettlebell. (20kg/ 12kg for over 50).
  • Run – 5km, 25mins.
  • Row – 2000m. Males under 8mins. Females under 9.15mins.
  • Stamina – RPT Century. Under 10mins.

Veteran

  • FMS score – minimum 14, no asymmetries.
  • Deadlift – Males, 2xbw. Females, 1.5xbw. 1 rep.
  • Squat – Males, 1.5xbw for 5 reps. Females, 1.25xbw for 5 reps.
  • Pull ups – Males, 24kg, 5 reps. Females, 8kg, 5 reps.
  • Press – Males, 2 x 32kg kettlebells, 5 reps. Females, 2 x 16kg kettlebells, 5 reps.
  • Clean and Jerk/ Long Cycle – Males, 2 x 32kg kettlebells, 25 reps/ 5mins. Females, 2 x 20kg kettlebells 25 reps/ 5mins.
  • Run – 10km under 45mins.
  • Snatch – RPT Snatch Test. Under 5mins.
  • Row – 2000m. Male, under 7.15. Females, under 8mins.
  • Stamina – Murph. Under 1 hour 20mins. Males, 10kg. Females, 6kg.

Many people chase just one aspect of performance, ultimately making them unbalanced as both an athlete and a human. If you have a double bodyweight deadlift but can’t run around the block without fear of a heart attack you are unbalanced. If you can run all day but can’t touch your toes you are similarly unbalanced. Addressing all the components of these standards will make you better all round than chasing just one facet. Figure out where you are and address your weaknesses to overcome your inadequacies. This makes planning and future training easy and straight forward, although for many once you start to measure yourself against a firm standard you will see how much hard work is ahead of you. If you’re like many and have an FMS screen under 14 you have even more as you first need to address your movement quality issues.

Read More