A League of Super Friends

Combat sports differ from many other sports in that proper training and development is based on working with live, resisting training partners.  Thus it is important to learn how to be a good training partner and how to help teach others to be good training partners.  A great training partner is a Super Friend and your ultimate success and the success of your team is based on creating a league of Super Friends that help and support each other. 

If grappling dummies were the best way to practice and drill, the elite BJJ academies would have 20 or 30 grappling dummies and classes would be taught on dummies and everyone would drill with their own grappling dummy. There is a reason why that doesn’t happen. It’s because BJJ is based on real sparring with a live opponent that is trying to negate what you are doing while simultaneously imposing their own will on you.  Thus an inanimate grappling dummy is limited in what it can offer with respect to real time feedback and live, human partners continue be the best choice for training.   

Have you ever noticed that a lot of higher belts will only want to train with certain people? There could be many reasons for this but I often find that myself and other higher belts have a short list of Super Friends: training partners that know how to drill and roll and can help them improve.  When left to our own devices, we seek out our Super Friends to train with and try to find nice ways to avoid training with partners that do not act like Super Friends.  Our long-term success and enjoyment in the sport of jiujitsu is going to depend heavily on our ability to find people to roll with that will challenge us and help us learn, grow, and improve. The job of the instructor is not only to teach how to perform techniques, but also to teach people how to be good partners and, ultimately, to create a culture of Super Friends. Imagine if we could create a culture where everyone was a good and conscientious Super Friend? Then we could have many more good training partners and create more opportunities to roll with different people.  A league of Super Friends is a team committed to helping each other improve.  

What is the point of drilling and training and sparring?  The goal is always improvement.  Biologically and physiologically we improve via adaptation to stimulus. A stimulus has to be sufficient to drive adaptation; it has to be hard enough to cause organism to begin the adaptation process. When training with a barbell the load is the stimulus.  We adapt in proportion to the load on the bar.  If I never add load to the bar, I will never get stronger.  If I add too much to the bar and cannot lift it, then I will never get stronger.  The way barbell training generally works is that I perform a number of reps and sets at a challenging load.  That’s the stimulus. I go home and recover and adapt–get stronger. The next time I go to the gym, I have to increase the stimulus. I add more weight or do more sets and reps.  I continue in this manner over time and I get stronger.  Our BJJ training should also follow a similar process of gradually increasing the stimulus.  

The problem is that people are not like barbells.  It is natural to throttle up our intensity when our ego is threatened.  It is natural to be too polite and not give enough constructive feedback.  It is easy to forget our job as Super Friend and just do what makes us look good or to just roll without focus on helping myself and others really improve.  The problem that faces most jiujiteiros is that during class, you spend half the class drilling with minimal resistance and the other half of class rolling with maximal resistance.  Essentially you go from no weight on the bar to more weight than you can lift.  Neither of those scenarios is a an appropriate stimulus.  Thus, unfortunately, it takes a lot longer to improve than it should.  

Most seasoned practitioners solve this problem in one way, they seek out partners that are at different levels.  A purple belt might warm up with a white belt and then have progressively more difficult rolls with blue belts of various levels and finish with some rolls with other purple (or higher) belts.  The problem there is that the seasoned purple belt is getting a lot of out of this process but the white and blue belts are not.  This is creates a system that rewards those that stay in the system long enough to rise to a certain level, but slows the process of the white and blue belts that are used as grappling dummies for the higher belts.  What we should strive for is a system where everyone learns and progresses quickly from the white belt level all the way through black belt.  

The answer is learning how to drill progressively.  It is becoming more and more clear to me as an instructor, that I have to take responsibility for creating the culture of Super Friends.  I have to teach people how to drill and be better partners for each other.  It’s not something that comes naturally.  Before I can do that, I need to at least define what the characteristics of a Super Friend are.  

In the dojo, your partner’s job is to provide the stimulus.  If your partner does not provide enough stimulus, you will not improve.  If your partner provides too much stimulus you will not improve.  A true Super Friend provides enough stimulus to challenge you but allows you to succeed.  
The job of the Super Friend:

  1. Provide the appropriate stimulus 
  2. Allow you to be successful
  3. Give important and timely feedback
  4. Keep you safe

The appropriate stimulus is a moving target but let’s look at our barbell analogy again.  If your training session requires squatting 3 sets of 5 reps at 225lbs.  You would need to warm up before putting 225lbs on your back. You do a couple of sets with the empty bar.  Then you would probably do 3 or 4 warm up sets progressively going up in weight from the empty bar.  Your warmup sets might be at 95lbs, 135lbs, and 185lbs before loading up 225 and starting your work sets.

If I was to draw a parallel to drilling in BJJ, let’s take the example of move like the step-around armbar from side control where I underhook the far-side arm and walk around my partner and sit down into juji-gatami on the other side from where I started.  It’s a fairly basic move, but let’s say that’s the move of the day in class.  If I really wanted to train it and improve it to jgj, I would need enough repetitions to get a stimulus and I would also need enough resistance to force me to adapt and get better.  In an ideal world, me and my Super Friend would take turns drilling the move.  Let’s use the same rep scheme as our barbell example.  Maybe my Super Friend and I do two sets of five reps of the walk around armbar with minimal resistance.  We basically just go through the movement without any resistance just to get our bodies familiar with it and to warm up.  Then we perform three more sets of five reps each with increasing resistance.  Now being a Super Friend I gradually increase how hard I resist.  I also take these reps to point out where my partner is maybe missing some details or feels loose or off balance.  This gives each of a chance to make some adjustments while gradually increasing the resistance.  Finally, we might finish with three more sets of five reps but these sets and reps are performed at closer to full speed and resistance, but not so much that my partner can’t be successful.  Think back to the barbell example, if I loaded 315lbs on the barbell instead of 225, I might only get 1 rep or maybe no reps, or get injured.  That’s not a good training session.  When drilling I have to learn how to give enough resistance to make it hard for my partner but not impossible.  I have to learn to fight hard, but not too hard.  To move faster, but not too fast. 

The terrible partner archetype.  There are a couple of classic examples of terrible training partners.  Do your best to not fall into either of these categories and then see if you can gradually become a Super Friend. The Ragdoll.  This is the partner that just lays there limp and doesn’t resist at all and doesn’t even try to hold their body in position.  These partners are extremely frustrating because they offer no resistance and you cannot even perform the most basic move on them. 

The Ragdoll is most often seen in very young kids and young women as they may have no prior experience wrestling with people and, thus, have no idea how to behave or hold themselves in positions. It is more frustrating when adult males can’t seem to sit up straight in your guard, regardless, the Ragdoll results from an extreme lack of physical confidence, strength, and experience.  Thus very rudimentary prerequisite strength and confidence must be build so that they can just hold themselves in basic positions.  No amount of yelling is going to get people there.  Extreme patience is required to develop that strength, confidence, and experience and get these Ragdolls to be effective training partners. These people will often undergo extreme changes off the mat as they acquire physical strength and capacity that they have never known before.   

The Immovable Object.  The Yang to the Ragdoll’s Yin is the Immovable Object.  This is the guy that no matter what you tell him, will not let you drill on him.  Every thing you try is countered with brute force.  This person has no concept of how drilling is supposed to work.  They come in and are all ego and refuse to let anything happen to them.  The immovable object must be educated on the job of a training partner and you must explain to them that in order to fully learn the techniques they need to experience them from both sides.  Some of these Immovable Objects respond well to a good ass-kicking, especially by someone smaller and weaker than them.  It quickly opens their eyes to the effectiveness of jiujitsu.  However, often that usually just drives them and their big egos out the door.  Creating a team culture where people understand that although this is an individual sport, we train as a team and we need the team in order to be our best.  Once they realize where they fit into the team, they can start to let go of the ego and start being an asset to the team.  

Actions are better than words.  Most people in BJJ understand the team dynamic and understand the need for Super Friends.  What they do not understand is the most effective way to be a Super Friend is through your actions not through your words.  Here’s the classic example, a lot of guys in BJJ will gladly show you a move, or show you a defense to a move, or stop and tell you what you’re doing wrong after you roll.  That is almost always done with the best of intentions.  It’s a sign of gratitude and friendship when, after we roll, I leave you with some good tips on how to train better next time.  If we took that same intention and applied it to our drilling and rolling and being a Super Friend we could make even faster progress as a team.  The best Super Friends are the ones that meet you where you are and push you just past your comfort zone.  

How to be a Super Friend:

  • Be conscious and aware when you are applying the moves and, especially, when they are being applied to you.  Pay attention to the details. 
  • Work cooperatively to learn how to do the moves correctly.  Try to figure out where you are struggling and ask questions. If you feel where your partner is struggling help them.  
  • Meet your partner where they are.  If they are new, do not resist too much.  Let them learn.  If they make a mistake, point it out and let them repeat the move until they stop making the mistake.  
  • Try not to spaz out.  Be mindful of what you are doing and what your goal is when rolling.  Do not try to kill your partner.  Try to implement moves that you know without trying to muscle everything. 
  • Perform the correct reactions.  For example, post when your partner tries to sweep you or react by lifting your head after they try to snap your head down.  
  • Coach your partner as you are performing the drill and let her know what she is doing right and wrong. When they are making mistakes help them fix it. Slow down and do more reps. When they seem to have it, that’s when you gradually increase your resistance.   
  • Learn to modulate resistance and speed gradually.  Most people only have two gears: no resistance and all the resistance.  Super Friends play at different speeds to meet their partner’s needs.  It’s so hard to go from easy drilling to full-out rolling. Learn to roll at a moderate intensity to allow both of you to improve.
  • Learn how to stop in the middle of a roll and rewind and do it over. Super Friends will tap you and then show you the mistake you made and rewind the roll back to before the tap and let you practice the escape.  That way common mistakes do not become permanent habits.  

Start to view training as a cooperative process, as a learning process more than just a competition.  One of the keys to effective training and improving lies in finding the appropriate stimulus. Find ways to improve those around you and they will improve you as well.  Create a league of Super Friends to train with and become the best you can be.  

Do More Cardio and Other Lies Your Sensei Told You

Here’s something interesting to chew on. Cardio respiratory endurance is sport (modal) specific.   You take someone that is an elite (or even above average) endurance athlete in one sport (modality) and place them into a different sport and their dominance or competitive edge largely disappears.  Take Lance Armstrong at his peak all doped up on EPO and drop him into the NYC Marathon and his formidable cardio respiratory endurance is above average but not elite and he was certainly not a threat to any of the top runners.  When he ran many people speculated that since he was arguably the best endurance athlete in the world, he would crush the NYC Marathon. His best time was a 2:46 which is respectable but not dominant.

This is why triathletes basically train all the time because they are trying to increase their capacity in each modality.  If cardio worked like most people think, then a triathlete could basically train one sport to excess and expect it carry over to the other two sports.  So if we know that the cardio from biking doesn’t really help our running and the cardio from running doesn’t really help our biking, then why do we believe doing either of those things will help our jiujitsu?  

Technique Always Beats Strength and Other Lies Your Sensei Told You

Pretty much everyone that has done jiujitsu has heard their sensei or some higher belt say, “technique beats strength.”  However, everyone that has trained jiujitsu has been beaten at some point by someone bigger and stronger than them.  I’ve seen plenty of high level wrestlers with no jiujitsu experience give high level jiujiteiros a really hard time.  Jiujitsu is a physical practice.  Martial artists, including jiujiteiros, love to talk about martial arts as having magical or mystical powers, but all physical practices are still governed by physics and physiology, not magic.  So when you want to discuss things like strength, leverage, force, technique and mass (size) you cannot separate those things from the laws of physics and physiology. 

“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Socrates

The first thing we need to do is define some of these terms.  Technique is the movements or positions used to accomplish a task.  Read more here. Whether the task is a sweep or an armbar, there many techniques that will get the job done.  The better technique will accomplish the same task while expending less energy.  We understand that when we see newbies using 100% effort to perform the simplest move on someone compared to a blackbelt performing the same move with their eyes closed and talking to someone else seemingly expending next to no energy. 

We often view strength as mere contractile potential and a factor that is separate and at odds with technique. That is wholly wrong. Strength is not merely the size and force of your muscles.  In reality, strength is the productive application of force: applying the right amount of force at the right time and right direction.  True strength is inseparable from technique.  If strength were merely about size, you would determine the winner of strength competition by the size of their muscles. If strength were purely about how hard you could contract your muscles, you might see the leg press as a contested event. Strength is directly correlated to the task you are trying to complete.  Thus the squat, deadlift, bench, clean & jerk are all separately tested events and the winner of one lift does not necessarily win the others.

Here’s another example: when performing a classic juji gatame armbar, you point your opponent’s thumb to the sky as you pull back on the wrist and bridge up with your hips.  The same amount of force (contractile potential) applied with the thumb facing sideways will be ineffective at breaking the arm.  Similarly the right technique applied with too little force will also be ineffective.  For example, a 5-foot tall, 100lb female trying to armbar a 6-foot, 5-inch tall male athlete that ways 250lbs will likely be ineffective no matter how proficient her technique. 

To a large degree, mass moves mass.  And to deny that would be ridiculous.  This is why we have weight classes in sports.  Too large a discrepancy in size and strength cannot simply be overcome with technique. If you want to be competitive, you should not neglect the value of getting stronger. Do not conflate increasing strength with becoming slow and inflexible which is a myth that kept many sports lagging behind the curve for years. Gone are the days when skinny Brazilians can enter the octagon wearing a gi and whoop three people in one night. We now have to train like real athletes and increase our speed and power and strength to be competitive.

There’s Only One Correct Technique and Other Lies Your Sensei Told You

For years I was guilty of saying things like “that technique sucks” and “this technique is the right way to do this.”  I still catch myself doing that from time to time.  What I want to impart to you is that you should try to limit that thinking.  Thinking of techniques as merely “good or bad” or “right or wrong” is limiting your understanding of techniques.  Techniques are merely the moves or positions used to accomplish a task.  They should first be evaluated on whether they are getting the job done. Ask: “does it work?”

 If you watch people applying the same move at different levels of competition, you’ll see great variance with respect to the how the move is done successfully.  Thus given two techniques that both accomplish the same task, the one that does so with less output of energy is the more efficient and therefore “better” technique.  

“Methods are many and principles are few.  Methods always change, but principles never do.”  


Because you are going against a live opponent, within a single jiujitsu technique are a multitude of problems that must be solved along the way to the final outcome.  To say something like the armbar from the guard is a single technique belies the truth that a single technique is in reality a multitude of solutions to problems that arise when you undergo a desired task. That means that even a technique that begins and ends the same may look drastically different in the middle as the opponent has provided a different response to the same attack.  


As you advance, start to dig deeper into the concepts and context under the techniques and seek to understand how parts of the techniques are solutions to various problems. See problems and solutions in the details.  Ask yourself: “why should I put my hand here?”; “what if the opponent does this?”; and “how can I prevent him from doing that?”  Open your eyes to the deeper level and try to understand what underlies the techniques.  

Read more about methods and principles here.

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For The Love of the Open

This time of year is very interesting if you are a crossfitter.  The CrossFit Games Open Competition is five weeks of worldwide, online competition between basically every crossfitter in the world.  Each week for five weeks a workout is released on a Thursday evening and by Monday evening everyone must submit their scores and have them validated.  People compete against, themselves, their friends at the gym, and against other crossfitters from around the world.  The practice of “leaderboarding” becomes a favorite pasttime during the Open as everyone constantly checks the online leaderboard to see where they rank and also follow their favorite athletes to see where they rank. By using different filters on the leaderboard, you can compare yourself to others of the same age, profession, or in the same region, etc.  It’s quite an event.  
From the gym owner’s perspective it is a complicated time of the year because you try to sign everyone at the gym up for the Open.  You have to make sure people take the online judges’ course and make yourself available to judge and validate scores.  Most gym’s choose to run the Open workout all day Friday or Saturday and also make themselves available for make ups and do overs. With some people insisting on re doing the workout several times up until the last possible minute on Monday before scores need to be submitted.  This can be an incredible opportunity for creating a fun, supportive, competitive environment at your gym and bring members together.  Additionally, the Open competition has a magical ability to push athletes to try and succeed at many tasks that they heretofore were unable to do.  Social media is often overrun with videos of people performing their first muscle up, double under, handstand pushup, etc.  It’s a great time of the year.  Many athletes enjoy the fun competitive atmosphere as well as the opportunity to push and hit new personal bests.  
There is a downside to the Open as well. Many gym owners complain about this time of year because it forces additional administrative duties on them.  The need to register people, judge and validate scores, keep the gym open longer for people to redo the workout.  Additionally, many gym owners find it extremely hard to program workouts during the Open because they do not want to overtrain their athletes during the competition or fatigue some body part on Wednesday or Thursday right before they may be needing it on Friday.  Gym owners often complain about the logistics of the open. So workouts are difficult to run in certain spaces, they may not have enough equipment.  Some athletes will either want to or need to video their workouts and that often requires rearranging of space and resources to accommodate.  Also managing people’s expectations during competition season requires a whole other level of empathy above and beyond what is usually required. 
From the athlete’s point of view, the Open is a competition and all the stress of competition is in full effect.  People stress much more about everything when it’s a competition.  Some people shut down in the face of competition and refuse to partake or partake only half-heartedly.  While others give in to the dark side of competition and start to obsess about everything.  They swear they will only do the workout once and then find themselves repeating a workout two or more times until they are satisfied or out of time.  As I said before, some people embrace this stress and it pushes them to breakthrough to new personal bests.  Others breakdown. They quit. They cry.  They Crumble.  
I myself find the impending Open always fills me with a little dread, but once I’m in it, I am glad that I signed up.  The Open is possibly the best part of the year in CrossFit despite all the negatives and hassles and here’s why.  The Open re-affirms one of CrossFit’s defining characteristics: intensity gets you results.  The Open is about intensity.   If people treated every training session at the gym every day like it was the CrossFit Open, they would get much fitter much faster.  Sadly, most people, coaches, owners spend the other ten and a half months chasing more volume and doing longer workouts, doing multiple workouts, and chasing quantity over quality.  Then they have a hard time adjusting to the all-out intensity of the Open.  
Here’s what a standard day looks like in an affiliate.  There is a brief chat about the workout.  There is a general warmup.  Then the class will do a lifting session sometimes culminating in an EMOM.  After that there is a mad rush to set up equipment for the Met Con and it’s “3,2,1 Go!”  Followed by a cool down and class is over.  Very little time is spent preparing for the workout, going over the movements and the standards.  There is very little coaching or correcting when it comes to range of motion and standards.  There is very little time spent on mobility or workout strategies.  There is very little time spent on skill development.  
Contrast this to how things happen in the Open.  Every time a workout is released coaches start posting strategies and tips to their social media. You learn the best ways to mobilize, tutorials for how to do each of the movements, the best way to cycle the barbell, the best strategies for breaking up bigger sets, etc.  Suddenly people become aware of things like range of motion and movement standards and no reps.  And, maybe most importantly, class isn’t divided into multiple workouts.  The whole hour is devoted to getting you to perform your best and be effective tackling one workout.  
When you think about it like that, it’s no wonder that so many people set personal records during the Open and get their first muscle up or double under.  What if we had one workout per day and just devoted a whole hour to smashing it and getting the best performance possible? Think about how that would affect your long term training and development.  This is why if you look at CrossFit.com you will still see only one single workout each day.  Each day the intention is to smash one work hard as if you were in competition, as if it was the only thing that mattered.  
Every year the Open is a reminder to me to focus on one thing and do it better.  

My Top 10 Keto Tips

The keto diet is a great way to lose weight, reset your metabolism and kick your sugar addiction. The basic rules are that you eat roughly 80 percent of your calories from fat and about 5 percent from carbohydrates. I have had a lot of success with it, but I’m 48 and my metabolism was a mess. Since experimenting with keto I have lost 25 pounds and have never felt better. I recommend it for older people that have accumulated a lot of extra fat around their midsections. Here are the 10 things that I have found that help me be successful with the diet. Two things in addition to this list are get a blood test monitor (Precision Xtra or Keto Mojo) for tracking your ketones and use an app on your phone (myfitnesspal or macros +) to start tracking what and how much you’re eating.

  1. Get a lot of sleep. Lack of sleep will make you crave carbohydrates. Getting enough sleep (8-9 hours) provides a plethora of health benefits and helps you avoid cravings and keeps your metabolism functioning properly. In general, we could all sleep more. Make sleep a priority.
  2. Fasted Cardio. Get a workout in first thing in the morning while you’re fasted. This will accelerate fat burning for fuel and boost your ketones. 10 to 30 minutes in the morning is a good way to start off your day and get your metabolism fired up. If you want to accelerate your fat burning then do some low intensity cardio. If you’re looking to make some gains, then lift some weight. Unfortunately, I found my strength went down a little when doing keto. However, that is not an excuse not to lift, just don’t stress if you’re not hitting your previous numbers.
  3. Take electrolytes. When people start doing keto it will burn through your electrolytes and when they get depleted you experience the “keto flu.” It basically feels like you’re getting the flu. This can be avoided with supplementing electrolytes: sodium, magnesium, and potassium. You can get these from your food, but a little supplementation will insure that you don’t bonk. I have mixed my own electrolyte cocktail and that’s cheap but a little time consuming. I also use Nuun electrolyte tabs because they’re super convenient. However, Nuun tabs are costly. Lately, I have been experimenting with Emergen C which has electrolytes, vitamin C and 8 grams of carbohydrates. Those carbs will be fine if you time them around your workout for a little energy boost.
  4. Buttered Coffee (grassfed butter, coconut oil, or MCT oil) is a delicious way to start your day. On the plus side, it gives you energy through your whole morning and curbs your hunger, so it is great for when you are restricting your eating to later in the day. The MCTs in the fat are a preferred fat source for ketosis so you’ll generate more ketones if you’re trying to do a keto diet. The down side to buttered coffee is that it is a huge bolus of fat and calories. So if you’re trying to lean out, drink your coffee black. Essentially your body will choose to burn the fat you just drank instead of the fat on your ass because that is way it’s programmed. So drink responsibly.
  5. Time-restricted feeding window. Eating all my food for the day within a 6 to 8 hour window works very well for me. I tend to consume less total calories per day and the short 16- to 18-hour fast, allows my body to utilize more stored energy. Some people refer to this as time-restricted feeding or Intermittent Fasting. I don’t feel like I’m under eating and I don’t feel hungry between meals other than during the fasting period. This protocol also helps when I’m doing Keto because I will make more ketones during the fasting period as I am utilizing stored fat for energy.
  6. Frozen vegetables. Vegetables are a fat delivery system. Go nuts with butter, coconut oil and olive oil to make your veggies delicious. I hate it when I buy fresh vegetables and don’t get around to cooking them before they go bad. Therefore, I prefer to buy frozen vegetables that I can easily heat up when I choose and not have to worry about spoilage. As far as greens go, I’m not too adventurous but I tend to keep broccoli, green beans, spinach, brussel sprouts and kale in the freezer. All you need is some coconut oil, garlic, salt, & pepper to turn any vegetable into a tasty dish. Add a portion of meat and you’re all set.
  7. Cheap proteins. Grassfed steak is the gold standard when it comes to protein sources. Not only is it extremely nutrient dense, it seems to be the best for performance. Many of the strongest lifters swear by red meat. Organ meats like liver are also extremely nutrient dense, but hard to get used to. You’ll soon go broke if you’re only eating grassfed steaks. You need to get yourself some more cost effective protein sources. Enter Sardines! Sardines are high in protein, high in creatine, high in Omega 3 fatty acids, and cheap. If you just tried to source that much protein, creatine and Omega 3 for a shake, you’d quickly realize the value in a single tin of sardines. Additionally, you can eat tuna and oysters and other canned fish to keep things varied and interesting, but sardines are the gold standard in cheap protein.
  8. Nuts. Nuts are a great snack but, as the name implies, it’s easy to “go nuts” and overdo it. Nuts pack a huge caloric load because they are mostly fat. They also have enough carbs in them to make them problematic if you over-indulge. As a snack they are delicious and help to curb hunger because of the fat. However, if you’re trying to lose weight you can easily push your daily caloric intake over the top and stall weightloss. Additionally, if you’re trying to be in ketosis, you can quickly find that over indulging in nuts will push your daily carb numbers up too high. Keep them on hand but use them sparingly. Don’t over indulge.
  9. Pork Rinds. Pork rinds are considered gross, gas station food by most. However, they are quite delicious and have great mouth feel and satisfy that desire for something crunchy and salty. They are all protein and fat and have zero carbs (unless they are coated with some sweet seasoning). You can now find gourmet pork rinds from ethically sourced pork, so eat them guilt free. They are also perfect for scooping up guacamole.
  10. No carb sweeteners. If you need something sweet, consider getting some monk fruit or stevia drops to add to your coffee or desserts to sweeten them without bumping you out of ketosis. Use these sparingly.

Good luck with your keto adventures.

It’s Not Working

You have two gyms each running the exact same programming and after six months, you have two populations with wildly different results. Why? Because the programming comes second to the coaching, the community and the athletes. How the program is implemented is just as, if not more, important as the program itself. That’s not to say that the program is irrelevant. The program is important and a good program can help foster better coaching and community. More importantly a bad program can really hinder a coach and create road blocks to fostering a good community.

I often hear coaches and gym owners that deal with athletes and clients complaining about the programming. If your athletes are complaining about the program something is wrong but it may or may not be the program. The athletes are unhappy that’s the main problem. So let’s first deal with that problem and then dig deeper into how to implement a good program.

People want to have fun. Fun comes in many flavors but creating a fun atmosphere goes a long way toward keeping your athletes from complaining. Smile, play some music, tell some jokes, don’t take things too seriously and make sure people know that having fun is encouraged.

Training hard is its own kind of fun. Getting after a workout and suffering together with other people is a special kind of fun that people will eventually embrace. They understand that the hardwork comes with a payoff in the way they look, feel and perform. It’s okay to encourage them to enjoy the process as well as work for the outcome.

Make people feel cared for. People like to be acknowledged and cared for. Some people need far less of this and some people need far more. Some guys can get by on a fist bump and you bringing the bucket of chalk closer to them during the workout. Some people need a look in the eyes, a hug, you saying their name and telling them that everything is going to be okay. Regardless, everyone needs to know that their needs will be met for the next hour. They need to feel like this is a safe place to let their guard down and make ugly faces during the workout.

People need to be coached. Coaching is not just counting reps and cheer leading. You need to fix their movement and help them get PRs. That can be as easy as reminding them to keep their heels on the ground or as challenging as setting up a special station for them to do banded muscle ups in the workout. Even a high-level regionals athlete can benefit from a pair of eyes on them telling them to squat a little lower or pick up the bar a little sooner. Nobody is immune from coaching and everyone performs better when chasing or being chased.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged. Find ways to celebrate the victories for everyone. It’s not always a faster time. Sometimes it’s a new skill. Or just waking up early for the morning class. If you notice people’s effort, they will respond.

Scale and manage intensity. Assume more people should be scaling more often. Lighter weight does not mean less challenging. Create conditions for your athletes to experience intensity. They might be scaling the load, but they should be going faster or doing more reps unbroken. New athletes might need to just focus on mechanics and not speed. Challenge them to do 10 or 20 perfect reps in a row. The job of the coach is not merely to administer the workout, it is to train the athletes to perform. That means they within the workout there are many opportunities to improve their performance. Keep newer athletes from overdoing it and make sure the athletes that are ready and capable are pushing themselves appropriately.

Coach your athletes to be successful in the short term and the long term. If the workout involves fast barbell movements, then you should be coaching them on how to successfully cycle a barbell quickly so they can do their best on the workout. I often see coaches teach the same clean & jerk progression whether the workout is a 1 rep max or 30 reps for time. While it is essentially the same exercise, the specifics of how these two movements are done in each workout differ tremendously. That’s short term coaching: coaching them to win the workout. Long term success is giving them opportunities to practice skills that they need to work on more frequently. It’s useless to only do muscle up progressions once or twice a month when they show up in the workout. They should be incorporated much more often if you want your athletes to start getting muscle ups.

Keep your programming simple. You only have an hour to warmup, workout and cooldown. If you try to cram too much into that hour, you take away time from coaching and teaching. You also rob people of time to interact and have fun with each other. A warmup takes 5 to 10 minutes. If you want to actually teach and coach people you need to spend 10 to 15 minutes per movement going over progressions and drills and coaching. If you are going to lift above 80% of your max, then you will need to warm up and do 3 to 5 sets to gradually build to the weights you are going to lift. That takes a lot of time and requires a lot of attention from the coach to try to coach people while the weights are still light enough that they can make some changes.

Lastly you need to educate your athletes. There is no reason why your athletes would understand how CrossFit programming works. Many coaches, gym owners, and high-level athletes do not understand it fully. Find a way to explain that they need to be strong. Find a way to explain that variance allows them to train for whatever life throws at them so that they can be generally physically prepared for life outside the gym. You need to educate your athletes on why cheering for each other is more important than just putting away your weights and mixing a protein shake before everyone else is done. You need to educate your athletes on why doing things you suck at is important and will make them better at the things they’re already good at. You need to educate your athletes on nutrition and why eating like a grown is important and the answer is not another bag of protein powder. You need to educate your athletes on why it’s important to keep a log book of their workouts and when they say that the program isn’t working, open it up and go over the data and see what is and isn’t working instead of just listening to them complain because they don’t want to run a 5k.

When your athletes complain use that as an opportunity to evaluate whether you are doing everything you can to help them be better and keep them happy. See how much you can fix on your end. Then if they still want to complain just turn up the music and say “3, 2, 1, go!”

The Tightfisted Panda Program

I’m just a guy that’s trying to stay in shape. I have a family, I have a job, I have a full plate, but I still need to make time for working out. I want to look good, feel good, I want to set a good example for my kids, and I don’t want to be that guy that’s let himself go because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re in your forties. I do not believe that you have to spend all your time working out to be in good shape. Intensity and consistency are the keys to getting in shape, not spending hours in the gym.

For me, fitness is my job and my hobby so I have a lot of gear. Most people don’t need to invest in a lot of gimmicky gear that’s going to collect dust and eventually get sold at a yard sale. You need the bare minimum of gear, but more importantly, you need a plan and someone that’s going to motivate you. That’s me.

This program is not going to turn you into The Rock. It’s going to motivate you to get off your ass for 20 minutes a day and workout. It’s going to make you stronger, it’s going to improve your endurance, and it’s going to challenge you to move in new ways.

Sound good? What you need is one kettlebell*, something to do pull-ups* on, and a place to run*. I program a single workout per day, five days per week. There are video examples of each exercise as well as video briefs for most of the workouts. There are tutorials for more complicated movements and options for modifications and scaling if the exercises are too hard. But best of all they are all short, intense workouts that take 20 minutes or less.

Why one kettlebell? If I could only have one piece of exercise equipment on a desert island, it would be a kettlebell. A kettlebell can be held with one hand or with both hands simultaneously, thus there are more exercise options than with a dumbbell of the same weight. The center of mass is offset unlike a dumbbell, thus you can do swinging exercises that are hard to replicate with a dumbbell, and you can hold it in different ways to challenge your grip. They’re small and portable and can be used almost anywhere. What if I want more than one kettlebell? You can have as much gear as you want. I will totally support you in spending as much as you want on cool exercise equipment. However, for this program, you just need one kettlebell. I recommend men get a bell between 35 and 55 pounds (1 to 1.5 pood). Women should get a bell between 20-35 pounds (10-16kg). I will demo almost everything with a 16kg competition bell. Most of you if you’re buying a bell for the first time I would recommend women starting with 12kg or 25lbs and men starting with 16kg or 35lbs. If you have absolutely zero working out experience and that sounds heavy, then go lighter. If you have a lot of weightlifting experience and that sounds too light, go heavier. I’m going to program everything with the 25/35 pound weight in mind for the average user and assume if it’s too challenging you will modify the reps down or modify the exercise. And I will assume if you’re using the heavier option you will either go a little slower or do fewer reps.

Why pull-ups? One of the best upper body exercises is pull-ups. Unfortunately, there are surprisingly few places to do pull-ups in our environment, so it is worth it to invest in a pull-up bar. Since many people find pull-ups extremely challenging, what I recommend is investing in some sort of suspension training device. I use a pair of gymnastic rings that I have suspended from the ceiling, but you can get a TRX type system and hang it from the ceiling, a pullup bar, or the back of a door. The suspension trainer allows you to do upperbody pulling exercises using your legs for assistance and allowing you to train your pullup muscles even if you cannot yet do a pullup. It also opens up a tremendous amount of additional exercise possibilities.

Why do I need to run? Good question. I often ask that same question when I’m in the middle of a run. Running is a tremendous cardio exercise and a life skill that will get you out of danger. Whether you like it or not, you should be able to run a full sprint to catch a plane, chase down a pick pocket, or escape from a horde of zombies. However, if you cannot run or do not have a place to run, I highly recommend having access to some piece of cardio equipment that can crush your soul in a similar fashion. I suggest running because it’s cheap. Most people have access to the outdoors, but some of you might live in a 5 story walk-up on the lower east side and running might not be feasible. Don’t worry. We can make it work. If you have a bike, a rower, an elliptical, a jump rope, or some other cardio equipment that’s awesome, and you can always just run in place if that’s the only option.

What kind of workouts will these be? Well you can expect that you will have to run, use the kettlebell and do something on the pullup bar every week, but the workouts will always be changing to challenge you in different ways. Some days you will spend more time running. Some days you’ll just stand in one place and do a lot of kettlebell swings. Some days will be a circuit of many different exercises. Some days will challenge your flexibility and balance and some days will challenge your strength. Some days you’ll hate it and be frustrated and other days you will feel amazing. It’s all part of the process. You won’t get bored, you won’t over train and burn out. Most importantly, you’ll get fit.

The cost is $20 per month or $200 for the whole year, you can get started right away. Email me at coachpanda@forcedistancetime.com and we can set you up.

I Want To Start Lifting But I Don’t Know Where To Begin.

You want to start lifting but don’t know where to begin.

Do you want to be stronger? Do you want to have healthier bones, joints and muscles? Do you want to increase your metabolism and improve your body composition? Do you want to dominate people on the mat? Then you want to start strength training and lifting them weights. #gainz

Maybe you are a jiujitiero or maybe not. Maybe you have lifted weights before or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you have taken a long hiatus from the gym or maybe you’ve never been in a gym before. Whatever the case, you are looking to get stronger but don’t know where to begin. Here’s a simple, quick, and effective program for you to get you back on the #gainztrain.

The general rule to getting stronger is that you have to lift heavy three to five days per week at loads at or above 80% of your one rep max (1RM). However, rules were made to be broken! I have found that most jiujitsu players find it challenging to do a linear progression program like 5/3/1 or Starting Strength on top of their regular jiujitsu training.
They complain that they are simply too tired and sore to roll after a long lifting session. That makes sense because those lifting programs are for people that are only lifting and not doing a second sport.
So I want to dodge that whole problem with a program that will allow you to start lifting and getting results without derailing your jiujitsu training.

What I recommend is a few sets of 8×8. If you google “German volume training” or go to Thundrbro.com you will find lots of cool articles and lots of variations of this program. But most of the articles on it will prescribe this as a high volume training for intermediate to advanced athletes. Recently I rediscovered this through my friends at Thundrbro.com and started modifying it for myself and a few of my athletes and love the way it works.

I like this method of training because: 1) it builds strength; 2) it builds muscle; 3) it strengthens connective tissues; 4) it is fast and efficient; and 5) it uses lighter weights. The reason you are using lighter weights is that you are doing longer sets, you are under tension the entire time, and you are doing a lot of eccentric work. This creates a huge training stimulus. I additionally like starting newer lifters with lighter weights and having them move slower because they can focus on the quality of their movement more. Beginners love to rush, this program does not allow rushing. The lighter weights means you do not have to do a lot of warm up sets to get to your work weights. A quick general warm up and a couple of sets of the exercise as you work toward your weight for the day is plenty and you can get right to work.

Here is all you have to do. You will take an exercise and perform 8 sets of 8 repetitions. Each repetition is performed with a 3 second negative and a slight pause. Take approximately 30 seconds of rest between sets. If you do this correctly, each set should take between 30 and 40 seconds. Sets can start every minute or every 70 seconds. The total time for the 8 sets (64 reps) is under 9 minutes which makes for an intense session. If you do two exercises per lifting day, you will be able to finish in 30 minutes with a warm up and cool down. That’s efficient. I recommend 2 or 3 sessions per week. That is plenty on top of a normal jiujitsu training schedule.

You have to work 3 different movement functions: squatting, pushing, and pulling. These are the three biggest movement functions that use the most muscle and have the most general carry over to all athletics. Every session should include a lower body squat or lunge and at least one upper body pull or push. You can always add more, but try to carve out enough time for two 8-minute sets. Start with the legs first and then do the upper body second. But it’s not the end of the world if you switch the order because you’re waiting for someone to finish doing curls in the squat rack.

I try to rotate through different exercises each time I do a session: front squat with kettlebells, front squat with barbell, back squat, sandbag bearhug squat, weighted step ups, rear foot elevated lunges, etc. It’s more important that you do the exercise well than you just keep trying new exercises. So get familiar with an exercise and how much load you can handle for 8×8 before you switch to a new exercise. It is extremely common to start the workout with weight that seems manageable only to find out about half way through that you can’t finish all 8 sets. You can either rest and reset, or you can chalk it up to a learning experience and come back the next day and choose a lighter weight. Better to start too light and build some confidence than grind through the hardest workout your first day in the gym and get too sore to return the next day.

If you are an experienced lifter, you should be targeting 40-60% of your 1RM on your 8×8. If you are new you should start light, work on your form and increase weights gradually every time you cycle back to a lift you have done before. On this program you add weight to your lifts once every cycle. The lower body lifts cycle every 4 weeks and you add 5 to 10 pounds per lift. The upper body lifts cycle every 3 weeks but only increase by 2 to 5 pounds. If you are an experienced lifter, cycle through program for 8 weeks and then go back to lifting heavier again. If you are a novice, try to find your one rep max on each lift after 8 weeks.

Obviously, it would be better to have access to a gym and some weights but if you are at home and only have a kettlebell or pair of dumbbells you can make it work. If the dumbbell you have is too light to challenge your legs in the squat, then do lunges or step ups so you have to lift the weight with only one leg. That will make the weight seem twice as heavy. Likewise, if you have to press or pull with one arm at a time to challenge yourself, then do that. Stop procrastinating and go get swole.

Here are two example days.
Day 1
0:00-5:00 Warmup with some squats and pushups and a quick run or bike.
5:00-13:00 8 sets of 8 Goblet Squats with a 3-second negative and 1-second pause at the bottom. Start every set on the minute.
Rest 2:00
15:00-23:00 8 sets of 8 Bent Over Barbell Rows with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the top. Start every set on the minute.
Rest 2:00
Do as many burpees as you can in 5 minutes.

Day 2
0:00-5:00 warmup with some squats, pushups and a quick run or bike.
5:00-13:00 8 sets of 8 sandbag bearhug squats with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the bottom.
Rest 2:00
15:00-23:00 8 sets of 8 dumbbell bench press with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the bottom.
Rest 2:00
25:00-30:00 Grab the heaviest dumbbell or kettlebell you have and do a 1-arm farmer walk until you have to put it down, then switch hands and walk until you have to put it down. Continue for 5 minutes.

What is with the 5 minute piece at the end? Well it’s a good habit to start getting in some conditioning while you are tired. At first it will be exhausting but eventually you will condition your body to be able to keep pushing when you’re fatigued. After a few weeks of this program you will notice the difference on the mat. You will be stronger and faster and able to roll longer without getting as tired.

OMG Literally Dead

I have seen a lot of social media posts from movement educators (yoga teachers, physical therapists, and others) about various cues being inaccurate. Taking issues with cues is a distraction. The cue isn’t the problem. The cue is a description or a direction but it is not a literal/factual/actual definition. If I cue you not to judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes some uppity movement teacher would chastise me for telling people to steal shoes and blame me for the shin splints and plantar fasciitis resulting from excessive walking in ill-fitting footwear. It’s a power move where the internet coach tries to position themself as an expert by criticizing the way others are doing something and presumably set them straight. Classic. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing to some degree. Regardless, it’s a waste of time and energy and ultimately not advancing the cause of movement education. For example, the one that comes up a lot lately is the “breathe into your belly” cue that is popular with yoga teachers. It’s only been the last decade that movement educators outside of the yoga space have taken any interest in breathing and suddenly they come rushing onto the scene to tell yoga teachers how they are doing it wrong. These newly minted anatomists are quick to point out that we do not have lungs in our bellies and that the cue is woefully inaccurate and misleading. Please!

A “Cue” is a directive from coach or teacher to athlete or student to get them to move or position themselves better. A cue is often a shorthand for a much bigger concept or set of instructions. Some cues are “terms of art” which are words or phrases that have a precise, specialized meaning within a particular field. If I shout “hooks!” at my jiu-jitsu athlete during a training session, he should understand, that I want him to position his feet on the inside of his opponent’s thighs. It is important to understand that the cue is only as good as the result that it gets. The best cue is the one that works. While an anatomically more accurate cue might be less subject to criticism it is useless if it does not get your student into a better position.

If you have been teaching movement for any length of time you will start to realize that talking more does not lead to better movement from your students. Your students move better by moving more. Nobody needs to hear everything, nor can they assimilate everything, on the first pass. In order to free the angels in the marble you need to chisel away over and over. Better movement is more refined movement. More refinement comes from repetition and a gradual improvement on the previous iteration. The job of refining movement is that of a sculptor gradually chipping away the imperfections in the marble until the hidden beauty is revealed. A sculptor takes many passes over the marble with finer and finer tools to eventually get to the finished product. A sculptor that only has a large chisel will never be able to create the fine details in the piece and a sculptor that only has a very tiny chisel will never be able to create the rough shape of the form. Your cues should have many levels of detail depending on where you and your athlete are relative to where you are going.

The job of a teacher is not merely to educate with factual knowledge, The job of a teacher is also to inspire, to entertain, and to challenge their students. The mere recitation of anatomical facts does little to ignite a student’s curiosity or get them over their fear of getting upside-down. The teacher must wear the hat of cheerleader, poet, task master, sage, story teller, and wikipedia author. The job is to curate an experience for the student from beginning to end that will ultimately be the best part of the student’s day. Using flowery language, poetry, telling stories, and cheering for students in subtle and not-so-subtle ways is part of the teacher’s job. A balance must be struck between how much you speak in literal prose and how much you speak in metaphor but both are necessary. Taking any cue out of context will often reveal many deficiencies, but the point is you can never separate the cue from the context. Do not let the literal-minded extinguish your poetry!