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 $19.99 per month or $200 for the whole year, you can get started right away. Email me at coachpanda@forcedistancetime.com and we can set up payment.

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!

Keto Fail

First thing is to acknowledge the failure.

The second thing is to avoid scrapping everything and compounding the failure. “Oh crap, I’m out of ketosis! Well, I might as well eat a whole pizza.” This is an all-to-common reaction. We fall off the wagon and then compound that failure with an even worse failure. Self sabotage at its worst.

Recommit. Get back on track. The sooner the better. Steer the ship back on course.

Assess where you made mistakes and correct for those mistakes.

I woke this morning and knew I was no longer in ketosis. The past 6 weeks I have woken up with renewed energy and a body that felt younger and ready for action. Today I woke up groggy and sore. The past 6 weeks I have used that excess energy to workout almost every day. I skipped Monday and Tuesday and today (Wednesday) my body has no motivation to workout. These feeling were unmistakable signs that I had slipped out of ketosis. I took my blood readings and it confirmed that fact. My ketones were at 0.1 mmol/L (ketosis begins at 0.5) and my blood glucose was remarkably high at 10.8 mmol/L (normal range is 4 – 5.4). I took these readings at 7:30am and my last meal was roughly 12 hours before. I had only drank coffee in the morning so not sure why my blood glucose was so ridiculously high. 10.8 is indicative of metabolic derangement in the form of diabetes or pre-diabetes. Not really worried as long as I get my but back into ketosis.

What could have lead to this?

It probably started Saturday night when I indulged in wine with dinner with my friends. I still felt solid on Sunday and my workout was pretty good. Also Sunday I kept the diet under control so I thought maybe I was back on track. Solution is to go back to avoiding alcohol.

Another possible cause.

I added a little brown rice to my lunch. Even though I was cautious to keep it to 100g (approximately 23g of carbs), it probably pushed my total carbs over the limit.

I also snacked… a lot. Being a dad, I have access to a lot of uneaten snack foods. You give your kids something delicious and they don’t eat it and you decide to not let it go to waste. Once in a while that’s not a big deal but continuous grazing like this is an easy way to push your carb load over the limit.

Over the last week or so I have not been fasting. Usually I like to do an intermittent fast of roughly 14-18 hours. I stop eating roughly around 8pm and have my first meal around noon or later. When I do this regularly I feel great. A great benefit of this is that it shortens my feeding window and therefore I tend to eat much less. When I start eating upon waking (as is easy to do when the kids wake up hungry and I have to cook for them), I tend to eat 4 to 6 times per day. If I shorten the hours that the kitchen is open, then I only eat two or three meals. j

I’ve been eating less vegetables. The keto diet is a high fat diet and vegetables cooked in butter, olive oil, or coconut oil, are a great way to get good quality fats in your system along with phytonutrients and fiber. When I travel, nuts are the preferred fat source as they just travel better. Unfortunately, I got out of the habit of piling greens on my plate for the last couple of weeks. It is time to start piling on the greens again.

I have not been tracking consistently. I use an app called Macros + (My Fitness Pal is another similar app) to track how much I’m eating. It’s easy if you eat the same thing a few days in a row to get out of the habit of tracking. Also sometimes when you eat out, you can fudge the numbers and not completely track everything. Lots of excuses but the end result is less tracking means less compliance. It’s time to get back on track and enter what I eat into the app.

What have I learned?

First, Ketosis is real. I feel when I’m in or out. It’s noticeable and it affects my mood, my body, and my behavior. I feel crappy and I don’t work out.

Second, I have to fight “the creep.” “The creep” is that gradual relaxation of standards. When I started I was gung ho about doing everything right. As I got comfortable, I didn’t try as hard and I tried to get by with less effort. As my standards started to creep in the wrong direction it eventually affected my results.

On the bright side, I caught the error early. I did not compound the failure by eating a whole pizza. I know how to correct the error and am getting back on the horse. Tim Ferriss talks about jump starting ketosis in his book, Tools For Titans. He suggests a longer fast of 24-48 hours and some low-intensity cardio in the form of a long walk of an hour or more. So it’s time to put the headphones on and hit the streets.

Lifting and Rolling

Those of us that lift and roll, i.e. strength train in addition to jiu-jitsu, don’t see what the big deal is. Those that don’t lift and roll, find the concept baffling and the actual practice of it, confounding. The basic complaint is that after a lifting session, the athlete complains that they are too tired to roll or feel weak when they do this is in addition to complaining about the general soreness. The other thing to note is that people that lift and roll also feel sore and tired and weaker when they roll, but they do it anyway.

So why do it? Lifting, done correctly, makes you stronger. Being stronger helps your jiu-jitsu. Period. Training against a larger opponent requires more strength than training against a smaller opponent regardless of the technique. Every move you do you need to apply more force to in order to move that opponent. So being stronger will help. Additionally, strength training will increase the size of the muscles but also help build the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones. Stronger tendons and other connective tissues make your joints more resistant to injury. Strength training also increases your bone density which decreases the risk of fractures. In other words, strength training is protective. It makes your body more resilient and allows you to have greater longevity in the sport.

Here is the common problem. It’s similar to the New Year’s Resolution problem. You get all excited to go back to the gym for the first time in forever and you jump on every machine and do every exercise that you can think of. Then a day or two later you are so sore you can hardly walk much less train. Then you avoid the gym for another week or two and repeat the process and then you quit going to the gym. We see this play out every January when the gyms are packed with people and then in February it’s empty.

What you should do, especially if you are looking to train jiujitsu, is under train. What is under training? It’s going in to the gym and doing much less than you think you need to get any results. When you start training after a long lay off, the excitement to go back and hit it hard is great. But you should be thinking about consistency. Make a commitment to go to the gym two or three days a week and try to spend minimal time and effort there for the first two to four weeks. Just make going to the gym a habit before you try to cram in a bunch of exercise. Over time you can increase the volume and intensity of your workouts, but don’t even worry about that until just showing up is a habit.

For example, let’s say I used to be able to squat over 300lbs when I was training hard. If I go into the gym with the idea that I can still squat over 300lbs even though I haven’t trained in 6 months, I’m going to hurt myself or the very least set myself up for disappointment. Instead, I would start very humbly and load the bar up to 95lbs and do several sets of 5 to 10 reps and call it a day. The next time maybe I would stay at 95lbs or maybe go up to 105lbs. Even if the weight felt ridiculously light I would make it a point to hold myself back. The same goes with upper body exercises. I would make it a point to do far less than what I was capable of. To leave the gym with the desire to come back and do more is far stronger than leaving because you simply couldn’t do any more. When leave the gym and you go to jiujitsu you will walk in full of that energy to continue training. Essentially, using your strength training as a physical and mental warmup to prime the pump for rolling. Gradually from there you can increase the volume and intensity of your gym sessions.

I’m sure someone will read this and say that you will never get anywhere if you keep under training. That’s true. Ultimately, if you want to get stronger and faster, then you have to train harder and lift more. However, what I am advocating is prioritizing your primary goal, getting better at jiujitsu, over your secondary goal, getting stronger. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get stronger, it means that you shouldn’t be trying to do that to the point of it interfering with your primary goal. If your deadlift goes up from 250 to 275lbs you’ve gotten stronger. If I train you just on weightlifting, I could get your deadlift to go up in 6 to 8 weeks. That would be optimal. But that would require making the weightlifting the primary goal for the 8 weeks and your jiujitsu would probably suffer. If I focus on increasing your deadlift over 3 to 4 months, it is less optimal with respect to weightlifting, but still very doable while keeping your jiujitsu game strong. Slow gains are still gains. Consistency is key.

The Sugar Problem

Sugar is possibly the perfect drug. It’s perfectly legal, it’s cheap, it’s highly addictive. Sugar is ubiquitous and quotidian. There is absolutely no barrier to acquiring it. To the contrary, it is so omnipresent that you have to go to surprisingly great lengths to avoid it. I believe that sugar is the most insidious drug facing our society today. I’m sure we can all point to lots of things that sound far worse at first blush. What about opioids? Unlike opioids, sugar doesn’t require a prescription or any illicit transactions to acquire and at least when you take an opioid, you are aware that you are taking a drug. We ingest sugar without a single concern that it may be harmful and addictive. Furthermore, our society is so accepting of it that we do not even bat an eye when purveyors of sugars begin to get our children hooked on it from birth. It is considered so harmless that I sound like a crazy person for even suggesting that it is the cause of a worldwide health crisis.

The Perfect Drug

On average, Americans consume between 150 and 170 pounds of added sugar per year. That degree of sugar consumption leads directly to a condition called hyperinsulinemia, too much insulin in the blood. Hypersinsulinemia is the catalyst for metabolic derangement and chronic disease. Chronic diseases are conditions that last for more than 3 months and are largely self-inflicted and include such killers as coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Eighty percent of our health care expenditures goes to dealing with these conditions that are largely preventable. There is a mountain of evidence that shows sugar is horrible for you. There is another mountain of evidence that shows that removing added sugar from your diet will have almost magical effects on your health.

This situation of people flagrantly disregarding the overwhelming amount of evidence is not unlike the situation with smoking a few decades ago. For years people thought smoking was great, even healthy, then finally people realized that smoking caused lung cancer and then we got so outraged that the tobacco companies had lied and concealed this fact for years that we sued the tobacco companies and put warning labels on cigarettes. Can you imagine? Tobacco companies knowingly sold harmful, deadly cigarettes for years and all we did was put warning labels on them. People still smoke despite knowing how bad cigarettes are. It hasn’t changed much. But at least we don’t have as many ads targeting children.

The same situation is happening with sugar except the sugar people are marketing to everyone, kids and parents especially. Maybe one day we can bring a class action suit against the sugar companies. Maybe we can get warning labels placed on every product that contains added sugar. But the problem would be that would require us to put a warning label on almost every processed food. At that point nobody would really notice because everything they touched in the store would have a label. If everything has a warning label, then nothing has a warning label.

Maybe the best thing is to just get everyone to give up sugar. Sadly, I’m sure that will not happen. The companies that make all those sugar-laden foods, have too much at stake to let us just give up sugar. A company like RJR Nabisco, Coca Cola, and Pepsi have billions of dollars tied up in sugar-laden foods and beverages. They have lobbyists in Washington, DC. They have scientists putting out studies that say their processed foods are “healthy.” They have billions of money in marketing putting out propaganda that says sugar is perfectly fine and “exercise is medicine.” They put the burden on the consumer to try to out exercise their crappy diet.

As a recovering sugar addict, I know how hard it is to give up sugar. Hyper-palatable foods laden in sugar call my name every day. I can’t go anywhere without carbs staring me in the face and challenging my resolve. That’s just the way the world is. However, I know if I can resist them them, then so can you.

Athlete vs. Warrior

What does it mean to be an athlete? Athletes tend to prize certain characteristics such as drive, determination, competitiveness, commitment, and adaptability. Athletes also comport to a code of conduct referred to as sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship means to play fair, be a team player, lose gracefully, win with class and dignity, respect the officials, and respect the other team.

What does it mean to be a warrior? To be a warrior one must possess strength, courage and honor. Warriors follow a code of Bushido which espouses honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice. On a philosophical level these two groups are not at odds, in fact, they overlap nearly perfectly. Thus it is not surprising that many athletes look to the great warrior texts such as The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings for inspiration and guidance.

What is surprising is that martial artists do not look more closely at the best practices of athletes to help them physically prepare. I work with a lot of athletes and the best ones all do similar things. They eat right. While each athlete might have a different plan for how they eat, they all have a plan. Good athletes are in control of the quality of their food as well as the quantity of their food. They keep track of there macro and micro nutrients. Good athletes understand that proper nutrition is essential to your performance and health.

The best athletes work hard in the gym to keep their bodies functioning at a high level. Varsity and professional weight rooms are filled with athletes getting after it. There are coaches helping them not only get stronger but also fixing imbalances and preparing their bodies to be injury resistant.

The best athletes warm up. They show up early and prepare their bodies and minds for the training session or the competition at hand. They know that a good warm up not only helps them avoid injury but also helps them get mentally prepared to work hard.

The best athletes take their recovery seriously. The best athletes are nerds and go to bed early. They stretch and roll and get massages and take care of small aches and pains before they become bigger problems.

The best athletes use their practice time to fix their mistakes. I see a lot of athletes that are not that impressive in practice. They seem a little slow and sometimes look like they have two left feet, but when it’s game day they are MVPs. What I have come to realize is that good athletes will use their training sessions to fix mistakes and work on new skills. They are not concerned with how they look in practice because they are consciously working on new skills which naturally makes them slightly slower and more awkward. That’s how the best athletes continue to improve.

In addition to spending time with high level athletes, I spend a lot of time with enthusiasts and hobbyists. It is okay to merely come to the gym or dojo to look better for the summer. And, honestly, sometimes it’s more fun to hang out with people that are not seriously competitive athletes. However, we could all adopt a few better practices that would help us improve.

You do not need to revamp your whole diet, but you could make sure you eat more protein especially after you work out. You could consider removing some processed foods from your diet. You don’t have to hire a professional coach, but you could do some more burpees and swing a kettlebell every other day. You do not need to hire a professional masseuse, but you could make sure you show up in time to warmup for class and stay 10 minutes later and do some stretching before you leave.

Taking a few small steps will add up to better performance and longevity. Think like a warrior and act like an athlete.

All Other Things Being Equal

There is a common argument that is put forth so much that we do not think about how stupid it is. The argument goes like this, “All other things being equal, the person with more X will prevail.” The argument is always used by someone that is trying to sell you more X. The fallacy of the argument is that the way it is set up, no matter what X is it will confer an advantage over people that are otherwise equally endowed. So no matter what X is, the statement always holds true for X as well as Y or Z.

For example, you hear this in competitive sports all the time, “All other things being equal, the athlete that is _________ will win.” You could fill the blank with “stronger,” “faster,” “heavier,” “better conditioned,” etc. The point is anybody that has an advantage of any kind and can capitalize on that advantage will be victorious. The argument that one advantage is more advantageous than another is specious.

Yes being stronger than your opponent is helpful if you can capitalize on that. The same is true of having better endurance or a better strategy. But all other things are not equal. They are never equal. Ever. You and your opponent both have strengths and weaknesses. The best path to victory is not trying to merely outdo everyone with strength, speed, or endurance. Because what will you do when you encounter someone stronger than you? Remember, there is always someone stronger than you. Always.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

You need to be strong when your opponent is weak. You need to be fast when your opponent is slow. You need endurance when your opponent is gassed. You need strategy when your opponent is confused. You need to be centered when your opponent is scattered. Your fitness is not one thing, it is many things. Your success should be built on many things not one thing. Specialization is for insects.

Your training off the mat should make you formidable on many levels. Train to have no weaknesses that your opponent can exploit. Train so hard off the mat, that rolling is always easy in comparison.

Your Cardio Sucks

Here’s a phrase I want you to ponder, “cardio-respiratory endurance is modal specific.” What does it mean? Let me give you an example. Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France victories and was considered the best cyclist of all time. Prior to becoming the greatest cyclist, he was a reknowned triathlete as a teenager. After retiring in 2005, he decided to run the 2006 New York Marathon. Yet the best cyclist in the world, who had triathlon experience, who was coached by elite marathoners, and who was likely taking the best performance enhancing drugs available at the time, was only able to perform above average at the marathon. Many people speculated that since he had the best cardio endurance of any athlete alive at the time, he would be able to dominate in an endurance event like the marathon. Yet human physiology proved them wrong.

You take the best cyclist in the world and put her in a boat, in running shoes, on cross-country skis, in a gi, or in any other event other than cycling, and she will cease to be dominant. How many times have you heard people new to jiu-jitsu remark that “grappling is a different type of cardio” or some version of that statement. At the most basic level, cardio-respiratory endurance is the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. As you train, the body will get more efficient at intaking oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. That’s a good thing. However, efficiency at running does not translate perfectly to efficiency at jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu uses many more muscles than running, it requires changes of tempo and direction, it requires both isometric holding of positions and dynamic, explosive movements. Jiu-jitsu utilizes the anaerobic as well as the aerobic energy pathways. It should not come as a surprise that 20 minutes of cardio on a treadmill doesn’t have much carry over to a 7-minute grappling session. This is why you see people come in to jiu-jitsu for the first time and they seem fit from the gym, but they gas quickly when on the mat.

This is not an excuse for you to stop doing cardio!

If you want to improve your cardio-respiratory endurance on the mat (and you should!), then you need to train in such a way that has carryover to BJJ. You need to do short fast intervals. You need to do longer workouts with high rep full-body movements, You need to train with multiple modalities in a single workout. You need to change your workouts often to avoid plateaus.

Strength vs. Technique

Being stronger is better. Period. Anybody that tells you otherwise, doesn’t know anything about being strong or about being better. Strength is not just how hard you contract your muscles nor is it how big your muscles are. Strength is the productive application of force. Strength is force applied at the right place and at the right time to complete a task. If you cannot complete the task, then you are not strong enough. No amount of stepping on the pedal or turning the wheel will make your car go forward if there is no engine under the hood. The bigger the engine the faster the car goes. There is no real world situation where strength is a disadvantage. It’s not the only important thing but you should never pass up an opportunity to get stronger and avoid people that encourage you to do so as they are not to be trusted.

Jiujitsu guys love to give lip service to technique. And you see guys complain when they get tapped that the other guy was using too much strength and their technique was bad. A tap is a tap. In the real world we don’t tap just because someone used good technique. We tap because the move worked. Technique is merely the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. There are many many different techniques that can be used to accomplish the same task. When we rate a technique as good or bad what we are really looking at is the amount of energy expended to accomplish the same task. One technique is “better” than the other if it accomplishes the same task with less energy. Both good and bad techniques can be effective and accomplish the task, but the more efficient technique will lead to better results in the long run.

I want you to have strength and technique because both of these vectors point in the same direction. We have all faced the person who has limited technical ability but they make up for it with a lot of strength and they are tough opponents and can overcome very advanced practitioners just based on their size and strength. We have also faced some tiny black belt that seems very frail yet they are able to gradually break down our defenses and submit us. However, the most formidable opponents are the ones that are strong and technical.

To separate strength from technique is actually a fallacy and cannot be done. Strength and technique both point toward task accomplishment, i.e. getting the job done. An athlete that has good technique will appear stronger because the techniques they use will maximize the force they can apply to an opponent. Conversely, a stronger athlete can overcome technical deficiencies with their strength and pull off moves that a weaker athlete would not be able to.

Choose strength and use that strength to bolster your techniques.