Buying Dumbbells

I’ve had a lot of questions about buying dumbbells lately.  Seems like an easy question to answer but it’s surprisingly difficult and requires a little bit of planning to make sure you get the best set for you. 
First and foremost we should consider what kind of home gym set up you are planning to build or add to. 

  1. I don’t want a home gym, I just want some dumbbells so I can do some exercises since I can’t go to the gym. 
  2. I want a few pieces of home gym equipment so I can continue to workout hard at home. 
  3. I have a home gym and want to expand it.  

There are also a few styles of dumbbells that are out there. 

  1. Self-contained adjustable dumbbell systems.
  2. Loadable dumbbell handles and plates.
  3. Single weight dumbbells.

As you can imagine you also have lots of choices and variety within these categories.  Let’s explore your choices a little more. 
Price is the third big factor.  You can almost always find used dumbbells at yard sales, craigslist, and going out of business sales.  The price will often be pennies on the pound for used dumbbells.  New dumbbells often start at around a dollar per pound and goes up from there depending on the material and the features. Purchasing online also incurs a shipping cost which can be substantial as it is based on weight.  So your best bet is to look locally for used and new dumbbells and for free shipping deals that most vendors offer on occasion. 
Let’s say your an occasional exerciser and now you find yourself unable to go to the gym.  You want a pair of dumbbells because you feel you are starting to soften up while in quarantine.  If you’re in this situation you probably want lighter dumbbells and will probably want some choices in terms of loading.  The self-contained adjustable dumbbells like the Powerblocks and the Bowflex SelecTech are expensive but good choices.  The benefits are that they allow you to choose your weight from 5lbs to 50lbs in 5lb increments.  You lift the dumbbell out of its stand and it is loaded to the weight you selected but the rest of the weights are contained in the stand.  The benefits are that they load and unload very easily and all the weights are not strewn around your floor.  For home users with limited space that don’t want tons of gear littering their house, these are a great choice.  The downside is that they are expensive.  I’ve seen a lot of people use these and they seem very sturdy but I would not trust them with a lot of high intensity workouts where they might be dropped on the ground.  But for home use, these are an excellent choice.  
If you are an avid exerciser and want to get a good high intensity workout at home but are limited on space and/or budget, the best thing is to get a pair or two of single weight dumbbells.  Men can get a lot of fitness with bells that range anywhere from 25 to 55lbs and women can often do well with a couple pairs in the 15 to 40lb range.  Rubber hex dumbbells are great because they are extremely durable and won’t scuff of your floors, but uncoated hex dumbbells are good too and so are round dumbbells.  
Finally if you have home gym you probably do not mind acquiring some more gear and also have other gear so you will want something to fill the gaps.   If you have a barbell and weight plates, getting a good pair of loadable dumbbell handles and some strong clips is a great way to expand the variety of exercises you can do without needing to clear out more space for a full set of dumbbells.  
Any way you slice it, you can’t go wrong from getting some good quality dumbbells and working out.  So best of luck to you.  

Control The Things You Can Control.

Have you been sheltered at home for ages? Are you starting to feel despondent? Hopeless? Worried? Anxious? Have you been watching the news and starting to get concerned about the state of the world? Have you started to worry about all the conspiracy theories that are out there?  Me too. 
What can I do about any of this?  Turns out I have little power to control a virus. I cannot control the news. I cannot control what people believe with regards to the virus or the economy or politics in general.  Shit! I can barely get my kids to pay attention to me and clean up the huge mess they’ve made.  However, I can still control my thoughts and my actions.  And that’s a lot. In fact, just doing that can a be huge, time-consuming challenge.  
What factors can I control about my health? I can control what I eat, I can control my exercise.  I can control my breath. I can control the amount of sleep I get.  I can control my exposure to screens. Even though I cannot congregate nor can I control the weather, I can still go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine.  I can control my hygiene. I can take hot and/or cold baths.  I can’t necessarily stop the flow of information, but I can slow it down and try to curate my experiences so I am not getting a lot of unwanted stimulae.  
I cannot control a virus that might come wafting through the windows of my house.  However, I can take control of my health and make my body the most anti-fragile, the most resilient, the fittest it can be.  I have spent the last two months exercising every day because I have no reason not to and I enjoy it.  I wish I could say I have been eating healthy as well, but I have not. I wake up every morning with the intention of taking control of my diet, but then my kids do not finish their delicious food and some other carb-laden goodies cross my path and the desire to “treat myself” overwhelms my defenses.
I, like most people, find it easy to make excuses for myself when it comes to eating. Then I thought about it and I cannot use the excuse of not being able to control what I put in my face. I’m doing 100% of the shopping and aside from some take-out and I’m cooking all the food that gets eaten in this house. Now, more than any other time in my life, can I really focus on eating better. So I have taken that back under my control. At least for myself, I have stopped eating sugar and processed carbohydrates.
While people may believe a lot of different things about health and nutrition it should be obvious that the more robust you are the harder it will be for this virus to take you down. The data supports this. The vast majority of the deaths from COVID-19 have a comorbidity. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/nearly-all-nyc-area-covid-19-hospitalizations-had-comorbidities-67476. That means your risk of being hospitalized is greatly increased if you have another underlying health condition when you contract SARS-Cov-2.  So take care of your health.  The types of comorbidities that are most common are hypertension, obesity, and diabetes these happen to be three of the most common chronic metabolic diseases that are directly the result of poor diet.  
Without getting too deep into the science, you should know that sugar and processed, refined carbohydrates wreak havoc on your body. As you overconsume delicious, cheap, addictive, unregulated amounts of sugar and processed carbs, your body becomes insulin resistant and starts storing lots of energy in the form of fat. Simultaneously, your blood pressure goes up and your triglycerides go up and your body becomes more inflamed. The next stop on this train is obesity, or coronary heart disease, or diabetes, or cancer, or alzheimers. When you stop eating sugar and processed carbohydrates, your body starts to heal itself. Look at the stats for how much added sugar Americans eat every year: 156 pounds per person on average! Look at the death rates due to Chronic Disease: Seven out of ten deaths in the United States are associated with chronic disease. Look at the ridiculous costs associated with managing these diseases: Seventy-five percent of the $2-trillion spent on heatlhcare goes to chronic disease. The easiest way to avoid being a statistic, is to eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods and avoid sugar. Simple but not easy. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid buying things with a long list of ingredients. Buy fresh or frozen and cook it up yourself.
While the desire to eat carbs, stay up late and binge-watch shows seems irresistible, do your best to take control back. Get to sleep early and wake up without an alarm if you can. Make your room nice and dark and turn off all your devices. There are a lot of hacks to getting good sleep: start experimenting with them and find something that works for you.
Someone once told me there were three pillars to fitness: exercise, nutrition, and recovery. And like a stool you need all three legs to support the structure. If you neglect one of them your fitness will not be sustainable. Start with these three and once you have them under control, you can start to worry about other things.

I See Your Point

  • Is there an infectious diseases that is killing thousands of people? Yes.
  • Have there been other infectious diseases like this throughout the course of human history? Yes.
  • Will humans be able to survive and will our immune systems be able to deal with this threat? Yes.  
  • Will many people die because their immune systems are not strong enough or because the virus is too strong? Yes. 
  • Do we need to slow the spread of this disease because people are dying and it’s overwhelming the healthcare system? Yes.
  • Will wearing protective gear, washing our hands, avoiding human contact, and sheltering in place help slow the spread of the disease?  Yes.
  • Is the economy falling apart? Yes. 
  • Are millions of people unemployed? Yes. 
  • Do we need to get back to work so the economy can stay afloat and we can continue to live? Yes.
  • Are there people, companies, and governments that are conspiring to grab power and money? Yes.
  • Are there people, companies, and governments that are conspiring to do good for people? Yes. 
  • Is my government lying to me? Yes.
  • Is it preposterous to think that all these groups can coordinate a large scale conspiracy on a massive scale? Yes. 
  • Is the media extremely flawed and divisive and filled with bogus information? Yes.
  • Is there good information out there? Yes.
  • Should I question the news I am getting? Yes.
  • Should I question what I believe? Yes.  
  • Is the average person doing their best to live their lives? Yes. 
  • Is it possible to want to do the right thing but still do the wrong thing? Yes. 
  • Is it possible that something is right for me, but wrong for someone else? Yes.
  • Is it possible something is right for a lot of people but wrong for a lot of people? Yes. 
  • Should I listen to health care professionals? Yes.
  • Should I listen to scientists? Yes. 
  • Should I stop watching the news and social media? Yes. 
  • Should I do everything in my power to make myself healthy and strong? Yes. 
  • Should I protect my family and those closest to me and keep them safe? Yes. 
  • Should I respect other people and their choices? Yes.
  • Do I want to go back to work? Yes.
  • Do I want to stay inside and avoid people? Yes. 
  • Can I agree with some of the things you say and do but not all of the things you say and do? Yes.
  • Is it possible to still love someone even if you disagree with them? Yes.
  • Is it possible we all want the best solution and that solution is going to have to be some sort of compromise? Yes.
  • Are we notoriously bad at compromising? Yes.  
  • Should we still try? Yes. 

Problem Solving, Part 2: Heuristics.

In my last article on Problem Solving I discussed what I called algorithmic problem solving. An algorithm is a finite sequence of well-defined instructions used to solve a class of problems. In jiujitsu you often learn a sweep, then you learn that if they post their hand, you do something else to complete the sweep. However, if your opponent posts their leg, then you do a different move.  Etc.  We have all learned a set of moves and counters and counters to counters.  That is algorithmic problem solving.  Much of jiujitsu is taught and learned this way. That’s great. But at some point you simply run out of storage to remember all the counters to the counters. Also in real time, it becomes impractical to read your opponent and react appropriately and quickly enough to be successful.  

In order to be successful in real-time training, we must rely on heuristic problem solving.  Heuristics are mental shortcuts that help us make quick decisions. Using heuristics is often a way to get a satisfactory solution when reaching an optimal solution is impractical. Take for example defending your guard in jiujitsu.  Most of the time you are taught if your opponent does one pass, you use this technique to defend it and if they do another pass you use a different technique to defend it.  While that has it’s place, what happens is  in real time your opponent switches attacks so quickly that it becomes impractical to try to read them and perform the correct defense in the moment. Instead you have to rely on some heuristics or “rules of thumb” to guide you and allow you to defend in a more general sense no matter what your opponent throws at you.  

Examples of heuristics in jiujitsu are things like:   

  • Never lie flat on your back. Always stay slightly on one side of the other.      Always posture up when you’re in someone’s guard   
  • Where the head goes, the body follows   
  • Never cross your ankles when you’re on someone’s back   
  • The person who wins inside position with the feet will win the battle for the legs.   
  • Try to make your opponent’s knees face away from you when you’re passing their guard.    
  • In order to break a joint, you have to control the next joint above it. 

When you begin to think of these rules that you’ve heard your instructor tell you, you can now recognize them as heuristics.  In jiujitsu students take a while to fully grasp these rules and implement them.  As a new student, it is comforting to learn precise techniques and exact rules for how to play the sport.  However, the further your develop, the more you get bogged down trying to remember all the various techniques and the more you have to start learning the broader rules and concepts and then you are able to fill in the various details from the library of moves in your memory or, potentially, make up new techniques on the spot to solve the problem.  Heuristics are the forest and techniques (algorithms) are the trees.  As you develop you realize it is important to balance heuristic thinking with algorithmic thinking.  Truly great jiujitsu practitioners employ both of these methods whether or not they realize it.  

Many moves begin off the grip. And new students struggle because the very first hurdle of a technique they want to use can be impossible to achieve against a resisting opponent that knows you want to get a certain grip. So the student tries and tries and is either lead into a trap by the more advanced student or they plow forward without the grip they want and hope for the best.  The more advanced student knows some basic rules of grip fighting: 1) the person that controls the grip controls the course of the attacks; 2) the best way to control the hand is at the wrist or cuff; 3) two on one is stronger grip than one on one; 4) keeping my elbows tight to my hips is the strongest position; 5) taking an opponents arm away from the centerline or across the centerline are the best strategic options.  

Knowing and utilizing some of these basic rules for grip fighting can lead you to countless ways initiate a solid grip fight with your opponent without an actual “technique.”  Instead of thinking about where your left hand goes and where your right hand goes, you simply try to improve your position by trying to implement some of these heuristics.  Thus you may score any number of good grips and advantageous positions that you can then start implementing one of your favorite techniques from.  Thus learn how to think and solve problems using both a rules-based approach and a technique-based approach for the best possible results.  

How Do We Go Back To BJJ?

I see a lot of prominent schools asking about this as well as other businesses.  It is a legit concern. Many of us need to get back to work.  We need to start earning again. CrossFit is sweaty and people are in close proximity but ultimately it may be possible for people to work out at a relatively safe distance from each other and avoid potential cross-infection.  
Jiujitsu is more troublesome because it requires human contact and you cannot help but breathe on each other.  It is potentially possible for people to wear masks but those offer minimal protection at such close quarters and will definitely get ripped off after a short amount of grappling.  Anybody that has worn wrestling headgear knows that wearing masks will be futile.  
Let’s assume that we open jiujitsu schools on a limited bases, the challenge for us and for businesses in general is controlling the spread of the virus much like it is now. With regard to the virus, we do not have a vaccine, people are still dying, and we have no evidence that we have herd immunity.  So what are we talking about?  We are talking about slowly opening things up and seeing how quickly the virus starts to spread again once we lift restrictions.  
Safety guidelines suggested not reopening until states showed a decline in cases for two weeks. No states have shown that but states have started reopening anyway. Probably the thing to do is watch them for two weeks and see how they are doing.  If cases start to spike again in those states then we are in serious trouble.  
Also Tanner Rice in California has reopened his jiujitsu school in defiance of the State’s s order to shut down. That will be a great source of data.  I doubt very much he will actually track how many of his members come back and how many catch the virus over the next month, but it would be great to see if they are adversely affected.  
Jiujitsu schools thinking of reopening absolutely must make the effort to track how many members are training and how many catch the virus.  That’s above and beyond the safety measures they take to try and minimize the spread.  Anybody can be carrying the virus for two weeks before they even show symptoms.  If someone shows ups six times in two weeks they could potentially infect the entire school before they show a symptom.  All they have to do is infect the teacher who might be there for every class and then the teacher could infect every other student over the following two weeks.  
I know our school is creating a plan where two training partners can work together and only with each other and sign out time slots where they can basically have the mat to themselves to drill.  That way they minimize the spread if one of them gets it.  Small groups of people that again do not intermingle with other groups is another way to reduce the risk.  So one teacher could potentially teach the same group of six people Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And another teacher could teach six other people on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. As long as the groups do not cross over they can reduce the spread.  
What was once good natured ribbing about washing one’s belt will now be very strict guidelines on showing up with clean gear and sanitizing before and after rolling.  I don’t know how it will play out but things are going to be different for a while. I, for one, am eager to start strangling people again.  

Problem Solving: Solo Edition

When you learn math as a child, you start with basic counting, then addition, then subraction, you learn multiplication and division, and then on to higher level algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.  You build off previous knowledge and skill and use it as the base for more complicated problem solving and abstract thinking.  
It has been said by many people that the art of Brazilian Jiujitsu is high-level problem solving. Much like chess where you strategically advance your position against an opponent that is actively trying to advance their position against you. In BJJ, you must solve problems in real time and deal with a constantly changing landscape as your opponent brings their skills to bear on beating you.  
We can all remember when we were white belts going against purple belts and the experience was much like a fifth grader trying to take a high school calculus exam.  You simply did not have the tools be effective. The problems were too hard and you simply could not solve them fast enough for you to be successful.  
How do we learn to be problem solvers in jiujitsu? Initially things are very algorithmic and linear. For example, someone is mounted on you and you learn to bridge and reverse the position. Then you learn the elbow escape as another possible escape from mounted position.  Eventually, you learn to combine the two moves in order to maximize your effectiveness. This is basic problem solving.
Techniques are the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. You can think of each technique as solution to a problem. This technique is how your break the grip. This technique is how you open the guard. As you get more advanced, the techniques get more advanced and are often comprised of many sub-techniques. In order to get from one position to another you will have to go through several other positions along the way.  Thus, your ability to successfully get to where you want will require the ability to use multiple techniques to successfully overcome each problem along the way. For example, you have an opponent in your closed guard and you want to take their back. In order to get to your opponents back, you must be able to get your head higher than their head and reach around their back to their far lat and get a grip.  But before you can do that you must take their elbow past your center line.  However, before you can move their elbow, you have to break their grip. Now the order of operation is set: break their grip, pass the elbow across your centerline, get your head higher than their head, grab their lat, take the back.  Once you have the outline you have to solve each problem before you can tackle the next problem but if you solve each problem correctly, you can advance to your opponent’s back. 


Thus we can start to see how this thinking is a very linear algorithm: if A, then B; if B, then C; if C, then D, etc.  Once you’ve decided what you want to do, you figure out the problems that you will need to solve to get there and then proceed to solve the problems. 
How can we bring the same problem solving mentality to our solo drilling?  This is the important question to ask if you want to stay sharp while training on your own.  Initially, we learn by repetition. Whether it’s multiplication tables or armbars, we drill over and over again until they become reflexive.  The old axiom is “You do not practice until you get it right, you practice until you cannot get it wrong.”  However, we have all been in the situation where a move feels effortless in drilling but impossible to execute against a live opponent.  So drilling is not enough.
In addition to drilling, we need to practice our improvisational skills, our ability to problem solve in real time.  In drilling you know what is next and you are not trying to create new solutions but rather memorize old solutions.  In improvisation, you are trying to solve new problems in real time.  The difference between drilling and sparring is like the difference between playing your scales and sitting in the with the band.  
Solo drills are usually done in warmups. And the way we practice is through repetition. Sometimes we do 10 bridges, 10 technical stand-ups, and 10 sprawls. Sometimes everybody lines up on one end of the mat and shrimps down to the other end and gets up and walks back to beginning and then this time they do forward rolls. You keep drilling like this or in a similar manner for most of your BJJ career.  That’s fine for a warmup and is a good way to get your reps in. If you’re a white belt, then that is what you should be doing  However, eventually you want to move and think like a jiujitsu player.  
You have to stop thinking of reps and start thinking about the connection of movements and positions.  Let’s say you do a few shrimps and run out of room.  Do not just get up and walk back to the other side of the room.  Figure out what moves are going to enable you to get back to the other side of the mat. You can bridge and get to your knees and then forward roll, you can do a technical stand up and do low lunges or shooting drills, you can forward shrimp, or you can sit up and do collar drag drills, The important thing is that you do not merely do reps. Instead you should think of what movement connects to this movement or how can I move across the mat or how can I go from here to there using jiujitsu moves.  
Try to get from one position to another position, from your back to your belly and use the jiujitsu moves that you know.  There are dozens of ways to solve that problem of going from your back to your belly using moves you do in jiujitsu. For example you can bridge over one shoulder and go to your knees or you could do a backward roll and go to your belly just to name two ways. If your movement goal is to get from one side of the mat to the other likewise there are many ways to accomplish that using basic grappling moves. Thus your practice is now not about learning words, but rather about putting words into sentences.  You are developing the ability to link movements together to get from position A to position B. That requires you to do some creative problem solving and accesses that part of your brain that you use when you train jiujitsu.  The more you do this the more fun you have and the more interesting drilling and warming up becomes.  You can start to visual that may actually arise and you can start to shadow grapple the same way that boxers shadow box.  Thus now your brain can connect the movements to actual situations and then you can access these moves much faster when you find yourself in the situations you practiced.  
Go ahead and start to practice flowing from position to position.  Try to find several ways to get from A to B and then from B to C.  Things will start to open up for you and your solo training will be much more productive.  

I’ve Finished Netflix. Now What?

Some people are still out on the front lines caring for the sick.  Some people are still working to do the essential tasks of picking up our garbage, stocking our supermarkets, delivering food, and keeping our streets safe. Our debt to all of them is immense. My gratitude and thanks will never be enough. They will undoubtedly come through this quarantine experience changed.  We all will.  

However, those of us doing our part by staying home, have more choices in the way our situations will play out. After a full month of being quarantined it is starting to feel repetitive.  We need to focus on our personal goals. We need to rely on routines and habits to keep us making positive choices when motivation starts to ebb.  If you’ve continued to wake up early, workout, eat right, spend time with your family, take moments of quiet reflection, and go to bed early, then you have set up a good system for yourself to continue to make positive change.  If you are still struggling to find a routine, focus on that.  Keep your alarms set, cook healthy meals, and turn off the screens for a couple of hours and read, exercise, meditate, stretch, play music, make art, or indulge in your hobbies. 

I can’t claim to know what other people are going through, but I imagine one of the hardest things for people to do now and always is be alone with their thoughts.  Set the time on your phone for 3 minutes, then shut your eyes and breathe and sit still. Unless you do this often, it is surprisingly difficult.  Luckily we all have phones to distract us. Now we never have to sit and contemplate our thoughts because we have that distraction.  But be careful because those thoughts can sneak up on you, so before you go to bed make sure you alter your mind with some alcohol or marijuana that will help distract you.  Good you dodged those thoughts again. 
I know a lot of people have actually spent some time alone with their thoughts and they seem to be the ones that are at peace in this situation.  The blocking out of outside sensations and turning your attention inwards is a practice yogis call, “Pratyahara”  The path of the yogi is described as eight limbed path (“ashtanga”).  Of these eight limbs, the three I think are super important right now are the fourth, fifth, and sixth limbs. The fourth limb is “Pranayama” which is breath control it is characterized by various breathing exercises. The fifth limb is “Pratyahara” that withdrawal from the senses and turning your focus inward. The sixth limb is “Dharana” translated as concentration.

These limbs are somewhat sequential. First, you decide to breathe deeper. Then you start to ignore the outside world and focus your attention on inward on your breathing and your thoughts. Once you have accomplished that you can start to build the power of mind to concentrate. This happens naturally because your mind will want to wander. First the outer world will keep trying to overtake your senses: noises, smells, random itches, and other distractions will keep trying to draw your attention outwards. Furthermore, your own mind will try to wander and steal your focus away from your breath. Your mind will try over and over again to get you to be distracted.  But the more your fight the distractions, the better you get at concentrating.  

It is often a misstatement of the practice of meditation that you are trying to “clear your mind” or “empty your mind.” On the contrary, the goal is not to have no thoughts, the practice is to have the thought but not get attached to it. You see the distraction coming and acknowledge it for what it is, a distraction, and then let the thought go and turn your attention back inward. The better you get at this, the fewer distracting thoughts your mind starts to create and the faster you become at avoiding the attachment to the thought.  

It is through the breath that we find the easiest access to turning our attention inwards.  By slowing our breath down and focusing our attention on it we naturally stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system.  That is the part of our nervous system that is transformative, it creates the condition in the body where we rest and digest. Working out is a stressor on our body and it often upregulates us and stimulates our sympathetic nervous system. In order for our body to rebuild itself and adapt to the stress we must enter the parasympathetic state.  We flush the adrenaline and cortasol from our systems when we enter our parasympathetic state. Breath is our tool to affect state changes in the body.  Fast, shallow breathing can cause us to go into a sympathetic state and slow deep breathing can switch us off and allow us to go into a parasympathetic state.  It’s a user feature that many people do not know they have nor do they know how to use.  It reminds me of the time I bought a Chromebook to use as a beater laptop that I could write on, carry to coffee shops, and even let my kids watch videos on.  I had that for six months before I even realized it had a touch screen. In fact, I think it was my baby girl that was touching the screen that tipped me off.  
Well all of us have had these bodies for years but didn’t realize there were all the features we could access.  My hope is that over the course of the quarantine I get better at using this body of mine and likewise hope that I can help people use theirs better too.  Stay safe.  

Building Your Home Gym: Grapplers Edition

You’ve been stuck at home for a while without being able to roll.  You are probably getting pretty antsy. Maybe you have already started burning off some of that energy by working out. Maybe you are considering drilling at home with a grappling dummy to keep your skills up.  If you have not done it already, it is time to start putting together your home gym. This will be your sanctuary to go and train day or night and get yourself in the best shape possible for the future.  Where do you begin? What will you need?  Let’s plan it out.


Dedicated space.  

Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated space to train, but maybe you can move a few things around or have a space that serves a dual purpose.  First consider your garage or your basement.  Those are the first choices.  Second choice might be a guest bedroom. If those are not options consider setting up your living space so you can easily move your couch and tv and rollout your mats to train and then put everything back when you’re done. If you have young kids consider a dual purpose play space that has matting and some gymnastics equipment for them to play on that you can also use to train on.  


Flooring

Once you have a space picked out we have to consider the flooring.  If you’re using your garage or basement you’ll probably want two types of flooring. You’ll want some rubber matting to soften the concrete and allow you to lift weights on and also some soft mats for grappling.  Depending on your space you may want to dedicate the soft mats to the floor as a semi-permanent grappling area or get some fold up or roll away mats.  There are lots of choices here but here are the considerations.  Are you creating a dedicated grappling space or a mixed-use space that also doubles as a gym and/or kids play space?  Are you going to seriously train with a few friends in this space or are you just going to drill and grapple with a dummy? The harder your training the more durable the mat you will need especially if you plan on doing takedowns, you’ll want some thick mats.  If you just plan on doing some solo drills and practicing with your dummy then you don’t need especially thick mats. 


Grappling dummy

There are a million choices here as well.  This is because there is no perfect grappling dummy. Each design is better for some drills and worse for others.  The cheapest options is stuffing a gi with pillows and towels and making a dummy that way.  I have seen dummies on amazon that you can fill yourself with old shredded t-shirts and these range from $25-65.  Then there are a variety of dummies that come filled.  Some people want a dummy that they can practice their ground and pound, in which case you might just want to get an old heavy punching bag and put it on the ground.  Some people like the throwing dummy which is like a heavy bag with arms and legs that you can practice picking up and throwing.  And there are some other various shapes and sizes that are good for different types of drills, but chances are you’re going to want something that you can grab on and choke that isn’t going to complain the way your wife might if you did it to her.

 
Exercise Equipment    

Solo drills are not going to be enough to keep you sharp and in shape for your triumphant return to the dojo.  You need to start working out and getting stronger and faster and more flexible…all those things you said you wished you were but couldn’t make the time for because of your busy life and devoting all your spare time to jiujitsu.  So where should you begin? We will start with essentials and then ponder some more extravagant purchases.


Pullup Bar

You need to do pull-ups if you are a jiujitsu player. I mean they are, hands down, one of the best upper body strength exercises in existence. All you need is something to hang from and you can improve your grips strength and endurance as well as your arms, shoulders, and back.  The cheapest option is to build something yourself with $10 of material from the plumbing supply store.  Get a length of threaded pipe between 3 to 4 feet long and some flanges and you can install it in a doorway or hallway.  You could also secure it to the wall or ceiling if you get some elbow joints and two more 1-foot lengths of threaded pipe.  You might need some 2’x4’ pieces to reinforce your studs. Nonetheless it is a simple DIY project.  If you want something removable, you can get a doorway bar but those vary in quality and anything that isn’t screw into the studs can come loose pretty easily and cause injury so be careful.  The other option is to buy various prefabricated pullup bars that screw into the walls or perhaps get a free-standing one.  Once you have something to hang from you have the ability to do pull-ups, muscle ups, leg raises, skin the cats, levers, and other awesome upper body exercises that you simply cannot recreate without hanging.  

Rubber Bands

Some of you are saying, “I’m not strong enough to do pullups.” Buy some big rubber bands to assist you on your journey.  These days you can get giant rubber bands for pullups on every fitness equipment website as well as amazon.  They are about 3’ long and vary in thickness with the thicker bands giving the most assistance and the thinnest giving the least.  I recommend buying a set of these ranging from 1/4” to 2” wide and that will give you not only plenty of assistance on pullups but these are also great as a substitution or addition to other resistance exercises done with weights.  


Weights

Barbell

Strength training is necessary no matter what. No matter whether you are a man or a woman, an athlete or a hobbyist, a child or a grandparent, you simply must do some resistance training to stay healthy and functional.  Your muscles and bones need resistance. Two of the biggest health threats to astronauts in zero gravity is osteoporosis (loss of bone density) and muscle wasting.  Sedentary people suffer the same problems just slower. The point is that humans require resistance to remain healthy.  The most versatile choice is a loadable barbell. A barbell with a set of rubber bumper plates allows you the greatest amount of options with respect to the amount of different exercises and loads.  Obviously a seven-foot barbell and plates will take up some room so its best used in a garage or basement.  If you choose to use a barbell in your living area, you will want some rubber flooring and should considering getting some drop mats to deaden the sound and vibration from repeatedly lifting an barbell off the ground.  

Racks and Benches

If you’re going to be serious about weight training, get yourself a squat rack. A good rack is the center piece in your home gym.  The rack will allow you to squat, press, and bench heavier weights because you can take the loaded bar from a set height as opposed to picking it up off the ground to start every set.  A squat rack will often have a pullup bar that goes across the top so you will have killed two birds with one piece of gear.  Depending on the rack you get, it will often have the option of having spotter arms or rails that you set to a height just below the bottom of your movement so if you fail a heavy lift the barbell will land on the arms and not crush you.  Depending on the rack you get there are often lots of other fun attachments that you can get to do more and more exercises. 
A flat bench is another standard piece of gear.  Obviously it is necessary for bench pressing, but it can also be used for box squats, step ups, jump ups, jump overs, and a variety of other great exercises.  The upgrade would be to get an adjustable incline bench which offers even more options, but these tend to be far more expensive than a plain flat bench.  
Generally speaking working out at home is extremely safe and effective, however the bench press may be the single most injurious move in the gym…especially the garage gym.  Don’t believe me? Go on YouTube and look up bench press fail videos.  If you are going to bench press at home alone, get a rack with spotter arms and use the spotter arms. Bench with a big arch in your back and bring the weight down to your chest.  The spotter arms should be set an inch or two below the bottom of your deadlift such that if you stop arching your back the weight will rest on your spotter arms about an inch above your chest.  If you can’t afford a rack with spotter arms make sure you always avoid using clips when you bench press. If you ever get pinned under your barbell, you can tip it to one side and the weights will slide off then you tip it the other way and you can unload your bar. It will make a ton of noise and you might break some stuff that’s on the floor of your gym but you’ll be alive and safe.

Dumbbells & Kettlebells

The next thing you will want is some dumbbells and kettlebells.  Even and single dumbbell or kettlebell used properly can provide an abundance of options for exercises and workouts.  Adjustable dumbbells provide a great variety of loads but are often unsafe as the clips can come lose and drop weights on your face, foot, or floor.  So if you choose adjustable dumbbells invest in good clips.  I prefer rubber coated hex dumbbells because they do not roll and they don’t scuff my floor or tear my mats when I use them indoors.  
Kettlebells are great too and are often preferred by jiujitsu practitioners.  There are a handful of exercises that are really great with kettlebells that are unique and hard to replicate with dumbbells.  I love both kettlebells and dumbbells and do not really want to choose.  If you can afford both, get both. If you are strapped, look around for used equipment and get what you can afford based on price and availability.  You will always be able to find dumbbells at garage sales and gyms going out of business that are selling kettlebells.  So consider starting with whatever you can and adding to your stockpile over time.  
If I didn’t have anything and was starting my collection I would probably start with a single 25-35lb dumbbell from the store or garage sale and then gradually grow my collection from there.

Sandbags

As a grappler, I believe the sandbag is an essential training tool.  If for the the simple reason that you should be able to pick up a deadweight that weighs roughly the same as you and hold it and carry it around.  Talk about something in the gym that is directly applicable to our sport.  If I can take a sandbag that weighs the same as my average opponent and pick it up off the ground carry it, squat it and throw it over my shoulder, then I can feel confident that if I can wrap my arms around my opponent I can do the same thing to him.  Here’s thing: lifting up a sandbag that weighs as much as you is really damn hard and if you’ve never done any lifting do not start with a sandbag that weighs as much as you.  
So before you go buying a 200lb sandbag, you should be able to deadlift, squat and clean your body weight for multiple reps with a 200lb barbell.  The barbell is mechanically easier to lift than a sandbag so a 200lb sandbag feels almost twice as heavy even though they weigh the same.  So I would not consider these an either/or equipment purchase. I think a sandbag in addition to a barbell is the way to go.  
The good news is that sandbags are relatively cheep to buy and ship.  The bad news is that they are hard to change the load once they are loaded with sand.  The best kind of sandbags are the ones that look like pillow cases or laundry bags, not the ones that look like gym bags with handles all over them.  If you want a handle, use a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. If you want something that translates to grappling get a heavy sandbag that has no handles and forces you to hug it and hold on.  
My recommendation is to get 3 or 4 sandbags and fill them in 25-50lb increments. Having a 70lb, 100lb, and 135lb bag will be great additions to your gym.  Bags usually cost less than $100 and you just buy sand and fill them up.  Some bags have built in liners other bags require you to pre-bag your sand in smaller bags so that the sand doesn’t all leak out. There are ton of DIY options and instructions on YouTube. These are a great and cost-effective training tool.  

Cardio Equipment

Lift Weights Faster

Many people assume you can only train your cardio respiratory system by getting on a machine and doing long runs. You can, in fact, create an enormous demand and training stimulus on your heart and lungs by doing many functional movements for an extended time and an intense pace.  You can do a circuit of 5 pullups, 10 pushups and 15 squats for 20 minutes and your lungs will be on fire. Similarly you could take a pair of dumbbells or a barbell and do several sets of thrusters paired with burpees for a another sure fire lung burner. 

Running
The cheapest thing for you to do is go outside and run.  Don’t buy any special shoes, just run. I recommend if you are going to run to learn how to run better.  Pose Running by Dr. Romanov is an excellent way to learn how to run in and efficient and SAFE manner where you don’t develop a lot of overuse injuries of the feet, knees, and hips that so often plague runners.  Most of the time stick to shorter, faster sprints, and occasionally go on longer runs.  Hills, sand, trails, stairs offer good variety and training. 

Treadmills

Pretty much everyone that buys a treadmill uses it for a drying rack for their clothes and gis.  This won’t be you though! You’ll get up every day and run three miles. I generally think most consumer treadmills are over priced and under built so I wouldn’t get one unless you really love to run but are allergic to the outdoors.  You can always find someone getting rid of one.  
However, the one treadmill that is worth getting is a curved, self-powered treadmill.  These treadmills initially designed by Woodway are now available from a variety of providers and they are curved so that when your foot contacts the tread on the upper part of the curve gravity pulls it down and you are able to run like a hamster on a wheel powering the treadmill yourself and dictating the speed by your ability.  These are preferable because they force you to do the work and they force you to run more ergonomically and strike on your fore or mid foot and require better postural control.  These are also great if you want to work on your running form because you can video yourself on one and send it to your running coach and they can give you feedback. You can send video of you running on your street but it is much harder to capture 2 minutes of consecutive running unless you have someone driving next to you.  Still I would consider these a luxury item for those that have money and space and really care about running. 

Jump Rope

The next cheapest thing you can do is get a jump rope.  I find there surprisingly few good places to jump rope in or around my house. I love jumping rope and would do much more of it if I had a smooth level surface to do it on.  That being said, if you have the space, a jump rope is a great investment for home and travel fitness.  Get something good and watch some Buddy Lee videos for instruction and inspiration.  

Bikes

If you do have the space and money and desire to add some good cardio equipment start with an air bike.  Every old wrestling room had a few Schwinn AirDynes in the corner and if you can find an old airdyne used, they tend to hold up really well over time. Of course these bikes have been improved over the years so if you want the Cadillac of air bikes get the Rogue Echo bike which is reasonably priced for what it is.  There are cheaper options out there as well as more expensive ones, but I don’t think there’s a better air bike on the market.  
Certainly there are other indoor bike options like the luxury Peloton which offers group exercise classes via a built in screen.  If you want to just cycle on more of budget or are tight on space, you can get a indoor bike trainer for your regular road bike and then you can use your regular bike indoors and outdoors. 

Ergs Et Cetera    

If I was going to tell you to get a piece of cardio equipment for your home gym, it would have to be a Concept 2 Rowing Ergometer a/k/a a rowing machine.  The Concept 2 is the erg that used by every crew team in the world for their dry land training. In fact indoor rowing is its own sport with competitions and world records.  For less than $1000 a Concept 2 Rower will last you a lifetime with minimal to no maintenance. The full body movement of pushing with the legs and pulling with the arms is directly transferable to playing guard.  The monitor is easy to use and provides all the data you need to track your progress.  It also saves data and allows you to download to your computer and upload to online training logs and do online competitions. 
Concept 2 also makes a ski erg and a bike erg which are just as great but I wouldn’t put them on the “must have” list for grapplers.  But if you fall in love with the rower, you might eventually want to expand your concept 2 family to include one of these other pieces and have more options at your disposal. 
There are other things like the Versa Climber, Jacobs Ladder, stair master, elliptical, etc. that are okay as well.  I think these are mostly based on your personal tastes but my recommendations are to choose something that gets you moving your whole body and requires you or at least allows you to go hard and fast.  The rower and the air bike allow you to work exceedingly hard and fast to the point of vomiting.  Most other exercise equipment kind of forces you set a tempo and cruise and you cannot go hard and fast even if you wanted to.  That’s not what you want.  

Accessories

If you have mats, a pullup bar, and some weights you have the essentials, but there will probably be some other things you’ll want to consider.  Depending on what you like and what your goals are. 

Neck Trainers  

Grapplers need strong necks. You can do a lot of exercises with minimal equipment. I’ve used Thera-bands, physioballs, towels, and just my own resistance to do neck exercises, but I believe every grappler should have some specialized neck trainer.  The basic one is a harness that straps a weight under your chin and you can do basic Yes/No movements to strengthen the neck muscles.  The more elaborate one is the Iron Neck which is a type of halo worn on the head with a resistance band that swivels around a full 360 degrees and allows training the neck from many angles.  This device is a lot more expensive but if you want to keep your neck strong, i recommend getting one.  

Hands, Wrists, and Forearms

A strong grip with exceptional stamina is what you need for grappling.  The world of grip training is quite a rabbit hole to go down. But a few simple tools will quickly help you develop a vice-like grip. 

Fat Grips 

These rubber handles slide over your barbell, dumbbell or pullup bar and make the handle roughly 2” in diameter which is much harder to hold on to. Doing a few extra sets of your favorite lift with Fat Grips will develop your gripping strength immensely.  

Wrist Roller

Take a PVC pipe and drill a hole in it. Pass a five foot piece of string through it and attach the other end to some light weights.  Hold your arms out in front of you and roll the weight up and down. Each time you roll it up you switch the direction of wrist action. If you don’t feel like making one.  You can take a barbell and put it on a rack at chest height. You loop a big rubber band around one of the sleeves and loop the other end through a weight.

Grippers

The plastic grippers that you had as a kid are lame. If you want to invest in a real piece of exercise equipment get a Captains of Crush gripper.  They are knurled steel and sex appeal in a hand-sized package.  

Rope

A climbing rope is an amazing complement to your pullup bar.  Pullups and rope climbs are arguably the King and Queen of upper body pulling exercises.  However if you don’t have the ability to hang a rope of 15 to 20 feet high, find a length of rope 3 to 6 feet long and 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter and throw it over your pullup bar.  Do pullups with the rope.  Loop it through your kettlebell handle and do rows with it.  You can find lots of ways to use a rope to supplement your grip training. 

An Old Gi

They sell short lengths of gi sleeves that you can use over your pullup bar or around a weight to directly develope your gi gripping strength.  Not a bad idea but I would save the money and use an old gi.  

Heavy Bag

95% of all fights end up on the ground, that’s why we learn jiujitsu. 100% of all fights start on your feet, that’s why we need to learn to strike.  Find a place to set up a heavy bag for punching.  If space is tight your might have to hang it from your pullup bar and take it down when you want to do pullups. If you don’t have that much room you might want to get one of those pads that screws into the wall.  If you don’t have a good place to hang it, you will want to look for the free standing bags that are supported with heavy bases.  You’ll also need some cheap hand wraps and a pair of gloves.

Screen, Clock and Music

If you’ve ever been to a gym where they were playing crappy music, you will soon realize this alone may be worth the investment in a home gym.  If you can afford it, you will want a dedicated screen in your gym for working out along with videos.  Obviously the grappler’s ultimate home gym will allow you to put on an instructional video and follow along with your friend or grappling dummy.  A big screen would be great for that, but for live interactive sessions with your teacher you will want a computer or tablet that has a camera.  Furthermore, recording your workouts for reviewing your technique is a necessity when training by yourself since you do not have a live coach there.  You already have the technology for all of this in your phone, but if you can have a dedicated video, clock, and sound system it will make your home gym feel more professional. 

The sky is the limit when it comes to home gyms. Dream big, but start small.  Start planning out a space and dreaming of what you can fill it with.  Add pieces one at a time and grow gradually.  Hang up some posters and make it feel like home. Enjoy. Stay fit and stay healthy.  See you on the mats. 

21st Century Jiujitsu

Things have changed. I do not think we can go back to the way things were before COVID-19.  I cannot begin to fathom the new world we will step into one day when the quarantine is lifted, but let me imagine what the new grappling world will look like.  
The word on the street is that things cannot really approach normal until we have a vaccine.  And the most aggressive timeline for a vaccine could be 18 months.  That means the earliest we could expect to even expect to be in large gatherings might not be until Halloween 2021.  Even if there is a vaccine, there will not be enough for everyone and rationing will have to occur to get the vaccine to some of us but not others.  So 2021 is not looking better than 2020, we should gear up for 2022. I know people are buzzing about opening things again soon, but I have to think it’s overly optimistic since we have no contact tracking, minimal testing, and no vaccine.
As far as we know, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is spread by droplets in saliva that are discharged through breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing and can be passed from direct inhalation or from contact with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.  So considering the amount of human contact and breathing on one another that occurs during grappling, it is a very dangerous proposition.  Furthermore, we believe the incubation period to be about two weeks.  So let’s say I have my one super friend and training partner and he or she comes into contact with an infected person and contracts the virus.  They might not show symptoms for two weeks and we could be rolling that whole time and then they show symptoms and then I show symptoms and then we have to go back and consider every person that we had contact with in the two weeks prior to the symptoms.  Forget about ringworm, COVID-19 is going to really screw up grappling around the world.  
That being said, having a single partner that you train with will likely be the safest way to continue to train in the future.  Roommates and relatives are the best bet because you live together, but those of us that do not have live-in training partners will have to create some bizarre monogamous grappling relationships to continue to train.
If that is what grappling looks like for the next few years, then what does the jiujitsu school look like, if anything?  I know my professor is considering allowing pairs of people to come in and train together for an hour at a time. The single training partner model is going to be really challenging but it is better than nothing. Can we scale that up in to small classes? Potentially, yes. But here’s an interesting conundrum, what about the uke? Will the instructor only demo and train with his uke? If we follow the basic idea that it’s safest to have only one partner, then that’s what will likely happen.
If the schools are going to have limited one-on-one training and very small group classes, that means a lot of students are going to be displaced. So a lot of people are going to be training at home. I’m sure many people have already started training at home.
Let’s look at the home school scenario. The demand for video instruction during this quarantine will be much much higher and continue to grow if more people opt to just train from home.  You and your buddy in the basement drilling moves from a video instructional will be the most cost effective (and safest) way to get your training in. For between $500 and $1500 you can buy mats, a big screen, a grappling dummy, and a library of instructional videos. You can split that cost with your training buddy and you will recoup the cost of your average dojo membership in a few months.  If group classes are limited then home training will become the most attractive option.
How can a jiujitsu school compete with the home school if group classes are no longer a viable option?  The thing that videos do not offer that is essential to someone’s development is instructor feedback. Live instruction is far superior to video instruction because the instructor can give feedback to the students either in response to what they see or in response to the student’s direct questions. A student watching a video might not even know they’re doing something wrong and since there is no instructor to give feedback it is easy to spin your wheels doing stuff poorly or incorrectly for years.  The BJJ instructor that thrives in the new world, will have to be very good at coaching their students remotely.  Giving precise feedback and instruction over the internet is challenging enough and will extremely difficult in large Zoom type classes where your view of the class is subdivided into many tiny screens on your device.  Chances are that live online classes will have to be limited to a number that the instructor can effectively coach or the participants will get frustrated and not feel they are getting value beyond what they could get from an instructional video.  Also remote instruction will be hindered by the technology on both ends.  Coaching from your phone will not be as effective as coaching from your iPad will not be as effective as coaching from a 40” screen. Also students rolling in dark basements with their phones propped against a shoe might not as much coaching as those that have better lighting and equipment which will make the coach’s job easier.  
Remote private lessons will fill a need for both the student and the teacher.  Students can get the majority of their techniques from a video can check in with their teacher weekly or monthly for a tune up.  Furthermore, they may be able to submit some live footage for feedback.  In the new world, a BJJ instructor should position themselves less as the purveyors of techniques but as the editor that can clean things up in post production.  I imagine a world where two buddies go in on some mats and a large screen tv and spend a couple of hours a night drilling from instructional videos and live rolling.  After a couple of weeks they sit down and list all the moves that they are still struggling with and book a private with their live instructor.  The instructor analyzes and gives feedback and helps them tighten up the techniques they struggled with. This is not ideal but it is likely how a lot of jiujitsu is going to go down for a while. 
I imagine many schools will continue to run online classes much like there traditional BJJ classes. Unfortunately those do not translate well to the online format.  The typical BJJ class starts with a warmup which everyone would rather skip. You never do warmups on instructional videos, but that doesn’t mean a class shouldn’t do them. Working out or warming up together even online can be fun and helpful. Everybody practicing the same moves all at the same time can build some camaraderie. Leading the class through some exercises or stretches can be beneficial as well add some solo or partner drilling. After the warmup, there is the technique portion of class where the professor shows a technique and then you all practice on each other while the teacher presumably walks around and makes corrections.  If you are teaching a purely online class, then the teacher will still need an uke to demonstrate on. It may make sense going forward that small group classes are simultaneous streamed online so students training from home can feel like they’re in a real class. This potentially cuts down labor and time and has a big upside if you can simultaneously have local people and remote people training with you at the same time. After the technique portion of class is randori, where people live spar with each other for several rounds. As we discussed this may only be rounds with a single person. The downside is that remotely it is hard to watch multiple matches at once and give any coaching or feedback. I think if classes continue to be held online, the randori will get set aside for more drilling.
What we have been focusing on initially on video platforms is group classes that focus on accessory elements that lend themselves to better performance on the mats.  The initial offerings online have been breathing, meditation, flexibility, mobility, strength, conditioning, jiujitsu specific moves, and flows.  These classes add a lot of value to the BJJ practitioner that always says, “I should work on _____, but I just don’t have the time.” Well now they have the time to work on that stuff and they should.  So these offerings are filling a gap for many people. 
Despite the online format being less desirable than live classes, they offer some benefits. They provide community and allow people to see each other and catch up. The classes provide a sense of normalcy in a time where many people feel like they are set adrift. Online classes are not restricted geographically. People that lived too far away from a school to be consistent can now easily click a link and join no matter the physical distance. This will potential allow greater access to more and better teachers as you can shop around the world for an online jiujitsu instructor.
The big names in jiujitsu that already have their online schools, have a leg up in this new world. However, that does not mean there’s no room for you and your online school. On the contrary, we know online jiujitsu schools can work and there is plenty of room on the internet for more. I think what we will start to see in the future is not so much the innovative techniques that separate school, but rather the innovative teaching. By and large, the vast majority of Brazilian Jiujitsu is all taught the same way. I think there is lot of room for improvement on how it’s taught and we will see more and more of that as teachers have to make their way in the post COVID-19 world.

Fitness Is A Hedge Against Sickness

Fitness is not just about looking good. Fitness is not just about being a better grappler. Fitness is a hedge against sickness. What that means is that if you take all the measures of health such as blood pressure, body fat, resting heart rate, cholesterol, bone density, etc. as well as all the measures of fitness such as your 1RM deadlift, mile time, max reps pushups, etc. and plotted them for your cohort, you would see that they fall along a spectrum. The fittest people should have all their health and fitness markers toward one end of the curve and the sickest people will have their markers at the other end of the curve with the majority of the population somewhere in the middle. Genetic differences aside, people do not just magically end up on this curve. This curve, our fitness and health, is a direct result of lifestyle choices. The sickest tend to not only suffer from over consumption of refined and processed foods but also tend to be more sedentary. The fittest tend to eat better and move more and make other choices that positively affect their health and fitness.
It is only through a continued practice of making good choices consistently that we move ourselves toward the fit end of the spectrum. Likewise bad choices and neglect can lead us toward sickness. However, if you’ve spent years eating right and exercising and improving your fitness, it is like putting money away for a rainy day. When times like this occur and you cannot eat as well or workout as much, you have your fitness savings account to fall back on. However, if you’ve been living hand to mouth, you will be more susceptible to large events that negatively impact your health.
So put some time in every day to getting off the carbs and off the couch. Invest in your health and fitness as a lifelong pursuit. Build a strong buffer against sickness.