Should I Scale

It’s “Open Season!” The CrossFit Games Open: The five weeks from February through March where CrossFitters all over the World compete with each other to see how they stack up. It is an amazing and stressful time of year for athletes and affiliate gym owners. For the affiliate owners, it throws a wrench into your regular flow of classes and programming because you have to clear out at least one day per week to run the weekly workout as well as time for people to make it up if they miss it or want to repeat it. You are also stressed because you have no idea what the workout is every Thursday night when it is announced. You do not know in advance what equipment or space or time requirements you will need for the weekly workout. The workouts have ranged from 4 minutes to 20 minutes and have required multiple pieces of equipment and space requirements that can tax the resources of smaller boxes.

On the other end, the athletes are faced with a new challenge each week that they are expected to give their all to. This means that between each weeks challenge the athlete has to continue to train but also recover enough to be prepared for the next challenge. Program has to be potent enough to keep athletes progressing and getting fitter throughout the five weeks, but also forgiving enough to allow athletes to be fresh each weekend to perform the workout once (or possibly more times).

The biggest question for most athletes is whether they should scale the workouts. For many athletes, the Open presents an opportunity to try going Rx’d for the first time and getting a personal record (PR). It might be some athlete’s first double under or pull-up or an opportunity to lift more weight than they ever have before. It’s this aspect of the Open that is the most inspiring across the community. Watching people dig deeper and expect more of themselves and those around them is the best. That being said, scaling is still a great choice for a lot of people. Take a realistic look at where you are at with respect to what is asked of you in the workout. If you cannot do a pull-up or a dip, then spending 14 minutes trying muscle ups is pretty pointless. Scale it so you can workout hard. If you’re close to a skill and have never had success previously, then the Open might be the right time to go Rx’d and see if you can get a PR.

However, if you really are going to sit around for most of the workout practicing, then maybe you should allocate that time to practice, but then do the workout scaled and get a good workout. Here is what most people forget about a properly scaled workout: it’s still a hard workout. You’ve simply taken what is an impossible workout and made it possible. If you think your scaled workout is too easy: you either did not scale it correctly or you were not trying hard enough. I recommend most people work on their movement first and their intensity second and then worry about the weights. People are eager to master more complicated skills and add more weight and that’s great but, in the meantime, work on getting the most out of the lighter weights and easier variations but being able to work at intensity. It’s the intensity that is going to get you results.

The workout this weekend (18.3) was a long one and I scaled it. I feel good about my choice, because it became a good workout for me. None of the moves or reps or weights in the scaled version by themselves were a challenge to me: single unders, overhead squats at 45lbs, dumbbell snatches at 35lbs and pullups. However, the challenge was to move as fast possible through the 928 reps. My goal was to keep moving and rest as little as possible. I finished the workout in 12:26 and I only had very small breaks in the transitions or when I tripped on the jump rope or could no longer hold on to the pull-up bar. Certainly there is room for improvement. It was a good test of my fitness and let me know that while I have some capacity in one gear, I need to find another gear and work on going faster still. My goal was to finish in around 11 minutes, so I missed the mark by about 90 seconds. The althernative was doing a bunch of double unders and overhead squats and then spending the remaining time trying to eek out a couple of muscle ups. Sure that would be fine but not much of workout. It would be a different kind of victory to get some muscle ups and feel good in that regard. However, the workout of 200 double unders and 20 overhead squats would just be an appetizer to the main dish of muscle up practice for 10 minutes. Whereas, by scaling I got to just push myself 14 minutes and get a fun and challenging workout.

There’s not one right way to do things, but choosing your adventure can change the outcome so think about what you want. And there is no rule that says you can’t do both.

Should I Eat This?

People always ask me some version of this question. Sometimes it is phrased like “is this okay to eat?” “Is this Paleo?” “Is this bad/good for me?” Perhaps those are not the best questions to be asking. You, as an individual, need to assess where you are and where you are going. Nutrition advice broadly can be prescribed as eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. However, when dealing with the individual not everyone has to adhere so closely to every rule.

Where are you? If you are twenty-something and relatively fit, you have a buffer. You can eat some pizza and drink some beer. You can crush a pint of ice cream. Where do you want to go? If you want to be an extremely competitive athlete then there is less room for pizza, beer, and ice cream. If you are not trying to be super competitive, then it’s okay to make some less awesome food choices.

Conversely, if you are in bad shape and overweight, then you have less wiggle room and need to make better choices more frequently. If your desire is to lose weight, get off the medications, get into better shape, then stay away from dense carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar-laden snacks. So whether or not you should eat something is more dependent on you and what you are trying to accomplish than the food itself.

It is not enough just say “it’s paleo” or “it’s vegan” or “it’s low-fat” because those are just broad guidelines to guide you toward better choices but they don’t always. For example, people always find a way to get their cheat foods in through loopholes, e.g. Paleo, Vegan or low-fat brownies. Another question you want to ask is how does this food affect me. Everything you eat will have some repercussions. Sometimes we are okay with a tummy ache if we get to eat our ice cream. Sometimes we decide that it is not worth the distress and find an alternative. So when someone asks whether something is Paleo. The more important questions are how does that food affect you? Does it make you sluggish? Bloated? Achy? Gassy? Practicing an elimination diet is a great way to find out if certain categories of foods agree with you. Take grains out of your diet for a month keep track of how you look, feel and perform grain-free. After 30 days slowly add grains back in and see what, if any, side effects come with those grains.

Good Fighters Don’t Need Water.

There’s an old expression in boxing: “Good fighters don’t need water. Bad fighters don’t deserve it.” There’s nothing wrong with hydration. You need to hydrate. The problem is that people use water breaks as an excuse to rest when they should be working. You simply do not need water during a 15 minute workout. You don’t. If you came to the gym hydrated and ready to work, you should be able to push yourself for 15 minutes without needing to drink water. There is no amount of working out in 15 minutes that is going to cause you to get dehydrated. The fact is, you want to take a break. You want to quit working.

My job is to push people out of their comfort zone. My job is to get people to push and work harder. Sometimes that means telling you to put down the water and get to work. Of course, some people push themselves really hard and it’s helpful to tell them to take a sip of water and take a break if they are red-lining. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage pregnant women and the old and infirm to take breaks during the workout. However, if you’re of a viable age with no injuries and in dire need of some fitness, I’m going to tell you to stop wasting time and keep working.

Hydrating should be done before you get to the gym and after your workout. Throughout the day, you should be drinking water. But during short high-intensity efforts, you should focus on pushing yourself. Then when you’re done, get yourself some water. If you are doing a longer workout, taking a moment for a sip of water, chalking your hands, writing down how many reps you’ve done are great ways to rest and pace yourself. That type of break should be earned. When I’m doing a longer workout, sometimes I tell myself that when I finish a certain amount of work, I’ll reward myself with a short break. Most people just need to embrace the discomfort and stop reaching for the water.

The Best Defense Is Good Fitness

Self defense is important, but let’s be honest, does it work? Largely the failure of self defense techniques to work and adequately prepare people for altercations is the fact that the emphasis is entirely misplaced. The majority of self defense protocols place too much emphasis on techniques and for preparing for a very limited set of scenarios. Where the most emphasis should be placed is on pre-contact awareness, danger avoidance, and application of raw power.

Most victims of violent crimes had a warning. They often describe a “bad feeling’ that preceded the incident. It is imperative that we teach people to recognize and react to those “bad feelings.” Victims are quick to dismiss those feelings (“it’s just my imagination”) and then later regret it. It is better to suffer some embarrassment for creating “a scene” by shouting, looking for help, crossing the street, or running, than it is to realize too late that that uneasy feeling was legitimate.

It is hard to over emphasize how much more important it is to learn how to be aware of your surroundings, than it is to learn how to fight your way out of an otherwise avoidable situation. Learn how to avoid high risk areas. Keep an eye on your surroundings. Look at the people that are around you and notice their features. Avoid zoning out and looking at your phone when you’re alone and vulnerable.

The next problem is focusing in techniques. I have practiced and taught jiujitsu for a really long time. In fact I have taught many movement modalities such as yoga, kettlebells, gymnastics, weightlifting, and more. And one thing is true, movement is a skill. Everyone starts as a beginner. The more complex the movement, the longer it takes to learn it and master it. I have seen countless people come and learn a handful of basic techniques on one night and the next week or even the next night they come back and cannot recall any of the techniques. It is only through countless hours of practice and training that people are able to learn a technique well enough to use it on a larger opponent that is resisting and simultaneously trying to harm them.

It is very wishful thinking indeed to imagine that attending a single self defense seminar can adequately prepare someone for a dangerous confrontation. While such seminars are good and can really do a lot to help empower women (and men). They can also provide a dangerous level of false hope. Leaving a seminar thinking that you are adequately prepared to defend yourself against a larger attacker will no doubt have very bad repercussions. There is no doubt that being proficient in jiujitsu can save your life. However, dabbling can get you hurt. If you want to have skills that will serve you in a real life situation, these skills must be practiced and developed and in your repertoire. Not just something you learned one time. We do not rise to the occasion, rather we sink to the level of our training.

The bigger issue is one of fitness. Are you fit enough is the question you should be asking yourself. Can you outrun someone that is chasing you and bent on doing you harm? Running from danger is probably the single best thing you can do to stay alive. Do not for second think about being a hero. If you have the choice between fight or flight, choose flight every time. The only time for fighting is when the choice to run has been taken away from you. But jogging isn’t going to save your life. And don’t imagine that you are somehow going to develop magical cardio super powers in the face of danger. You have to run sprints often and be prepared to run, jump, cut right or left and stiff arm a tackler. The fitter you are with respect to running, the safer you will be in the long run. All you need to train to be a better runner is a new pair of shoes and a stopwatch. Go run some sprints. They will save your life one day.

Don’t be fooled by what you see in movies. Chases in movies always look way faster and last a lot longer than what really happens. Go to the track one day and see how long it takes you go around one time (400m, a quarter mile). Notice how you probably got half way around the track and wanted to quit. Maintaining a fast sprint for a quarter mile is hard, but it will probably save your life. Go practice that instead of buying a can of pepper spray. Also it’s really good for you. You’ll be in better shape if you go to the track once a week and run some stairs once a week.

Get stronger. It doesn’t matter how many self defense classes you take and how much you practice your spinning back fist. If you cannot put some power behind your punches, they are just for show. Even if you know how to grapple and choke someone, you need to be strong enough to apply your moves to a larger and angrier opponent. Strength is one of the most important life saving attributes you can develop.

If someone bypasses your initial warning signals and gets close to you and if the option to run is taken away from you, it is then that you will have to fight. Real fights look like those on World Star not like what you see in the movies. Fancy techniques rarely work unless you have years of experience applying them and are in a “fair” one-on-one situation. Fear and anxiety will most likely impede your ability to do anything fancy and technical. You will most likely resort to basic animal instincts: hit hard to the vital organs.

At the end of the day, do you have the speed, strength, stamina, and will to persevere? These are elements of fitness that can be trained. When we do CrossFit, we work each of these attributes both independently and together. Get out there and train like your life depends on it.

Back Pain?

Back pain? Spasms? Everything hurts? It’s the worst! Having a back injury can be really debilitating. If you go to the doctor and they don’t find anything wrong and just prescribe you painkillers, you might be thinking you’re all set. Unfortunately, painkillers are just a bandaid for the symptoms. You still have to strengthen and rehab your back.

There are many potential underlying causes of back pain. You may have a bulging disc. You may have a strained muscle. Your muscles could be weak. The muscles could be hypertonic. There could be a muscle imbalance. Something could be out of place. Whatever the case, there are some general things that you can do to improve your back problem. I’m no doctor but I’ve dealt with my own back problems and helped others over the years by following some of these basic rules.

First thing is relax. Usually when you’re in a state of pain, you stress out. Once you’re stressed it heightens the pain. Lay down on your back, bend your knees to 90 degrees, and elevate your feet on a chair or couch so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your shins are parallel to the floor. I also recommend internally rotating your thighs by keeping your knees close together and your feet apart. I sometimes use a strap to gently tie my knees together and use the back of the couch or chair to block my feet from coming together. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Deep breathing through the nose using abdominal-thoracic breaths will help you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. This helps the body relax and helps quiet the pain response and helps muscles that are in spasm relax.

Three Abodes of Breath from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

The next thing I recommend is to stay in motion. Sitting for long periods of time will cause your hip flexors to tighten and they can put a lot of stress on your lower back the moment you try to stand back up. Try to minimize the time you spend seated. When you do get up, try to move slowly at first, then try to walk around for as long as possible before you try to sit again.

The next thing I recommend is trying to increase blood flow and circulation to the area. The low budget approach to this is doing some cobra pushups. I recommend 3 sets of 15 or more reps with a 2-second pause at the top. They are simple. You lie prone on the floor with your hands next to your chest pressed into the floor like you are about to do a pushup. You squeeze your shoulders down and back, curl your chest up, squeeze your butt, then press your arms straight. Keep your butt squeezed and try to keep your hips close to the ground. The contractions of the glutes and lower back will warm the area and bring blood to the area.

Cobra Pushups from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

If things are so bad that you cannot move without pain, then you need to find other ways to stimulate the muscles and create some blood flow. I like to use an electrical stimulation unit like a Powerdot or a Marc Pro that stimulates low level muscle contractions and helps create muscular activation without the pain that may be associate with moving. Once the muscles are stimulated and warm, you can then begin to move without pain. This is a good protocol if you have access to a muscle stimulator and can place the electrode pads on your back by yourself. You may require assistance and a small loan (worth it!) to purchase a stim unit.

Another way to stimulate blood flow to the area is through cupping or scraping. Cupping involves putting small cups on your back that have the air sucked out so it creates a vacuum. The vacuum draws the skin up and away from the superficial fascia and creates some bruising like a hickey. That bruising is what brings blood to the area. Scraping is another protocol (sometimes called gua sha or Graston) that uses an instrument (like a spoon or dull metal blade) to create soft tissue mobilization. Basically scraping the skin to create a sheer force between the skin and the superficial fascia. The result is again more blood flow and sometimes some bruising. The downside is that you will need someone to do these to you as most people cannot adequately perform these on their own lower backs.

Things to avoid are over stretching. Stretching has its place but is often over used. The problem with stretching is that it often feels good in the moment. Unfortunately, once the moment has passed, the pain often returns and is worse. This is especially true for certain disc injuries. So consider doing some stretches and exercises where you focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position and only move about the hip and shoulder.

Try these hip hinges and isolated hip circles to improve mobility without aggravating your spine.

Hip Hinges from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Isolated Hip Rotations from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

The 1-Arm Kettlebell Swing

In the world of Kettlebell sport the 1-arm swing is the foundational movement. The contested movements are the kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell clean & jerk. Success is predicated upon a firm grasp of the 1-arm swing which underlies both the clean and the snatch. Nonetheless, the 1-arm swing is a great exercise on its own which has tremendous carryover to other athletic endeavors.

Unfortunately, the kettlebell is underutilized and misunderstood amongst the crossfit community. The 2-arm American swing, the go-to-exercise in CrossFit) is a great exercise in regard to its ability to deliver a potent training stimulus. The 1-arm swing, however, might be a better tool in the development of athletic movement. Specifically, the development of rotational power.

All unilateral movements (1-arm or 1-legged movements) demand an athlete either generate rotational forces or resist rotational forces. Running, punching, kicking, throwing, swinging are all powerful unilateral movements where rotational forces must be managed. It is in the teaching and developing rotational movement that many CrossFit coaches and athletes have a blindspot. As CrossFit has developed into its own sport that ultimately tests for power output, we have cornered ourselves into a relying on a body of movements that only operate in the sagital plane. As most of our daily battles in the gym are against gravity we have become extremely adept at moving up and down. However, in nearly all other sports we need lateral and rotational movements on the field of play. And coaches and gyms that have a bigger picture of fitness beyond purely CrossFit style competitions recognize this and program and teach accordingly.

Let’s get back to the point, the 1-arm swing. The basic understanding of how to perform this movement is flawed in the general public. The bottom and top positions are both done incorrectly for purposes of power, alignment and transferability. I have detailed here what the important aspects of the top of the swing are.
1) Square the hips and shoulders at the top
2) Keep your shoulders down and back
3) Relax your elbow down and squeeze your armpit closed
4) Turn your thumb to about 45 degrees above horizontal
5) Stop at about shoulder height with the bell in front of your nose.

1-arm kettlebell swing top position analysis from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

I have detailed here what the important points are for the bottom of the swing.
1) Have the bell completely back through your legs
2) Have your arm glued to your body
3) Have your shoulders rotated
4) Keep your legs relatively straight and work on hinging forward rather than squatting down
5) Make sure the non-swinging arm is swinging as well to assist in proper rotation

1-arm kettlebell swing bottom position from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Finally let’s look at a few swings in their totality to get a sense of how they should be performed.

1-arm kettlebell swing analysis from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

I encourage you to go and pick up a kettlebell and start swinging and record yourself and see if you can dial in the 1-arm swing. Once you do, then we can move towards the snatch and the clean. Have fun and train hard.

“Stick to the basics and when you feel you’ve mastered them it’s time to start all over again, begin anew – again with the basics – this time paying closer attention.” – Coach Greg Glassman

The World’s Most Vexing Problem

We tend to over-complicate things. Occam’s razor is a principle that tells us we should look for the simplest and most direct solution to a problem. In the case of many, many of the chronic diseases afflicting people worldwide, the simplest solution is to eat better and exercise. It is not merely that the western diet and processed carbohydrates in particular are bad, but they lead to sedentarism, inflammation, depression, and a host of other problems that compound our poor health.

Merely eating better and exercising is the cure. Specifically a diet of meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar combined with constantly varied, functional movements executed at a high intensity is the prescription for lifelong health and fitness. So simple that it is elegant and so elegant that it may be optimal.

The poor health that we are experiencing is made worse by a complex web of corporations that profit from our combined ill-health and sickness. Shitty processed foods are a profit center for the corporations that produce them. Adding refined sugars to food makes them more palatable and also highly addictive. This leads to sickness. Unfortunately, the problem with the medical profession is that it is more profitable to treat the symptoms of disease than it is to cure them. Why cure diabetes by regulating carbohydrate consumption when you can sell someone a drug for the rest of their life that eliminates some of the symptoms of diabetes without curing it?

As a society we cannot continue to do this to ourselves. We are digging our graves with our mouths. Beyond just the health concerns we are creating a huge burden on our economy. Our healthcare system is overloaded with costs associated with treating people with diabetes. I challenge you to look up the stats on diabetes (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318472.php). It is staggering. Then combine that with the costs associated with Obesity (https://stateofobesity.org/healthcare-costs-obesity/) and Coronary Heart Disease (http://newsroom.heart.org/news/cardiovascular-disease-costs-will-exceed-1-trillion-by-2035-warns-the-american-heart-association) and Cancer (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/economic-impact-of-cancer.html).

Do the math. We are snowballing downhill out of control. We cannot keep trying to put band-aids on this with drugs. We need to go to the root of the problem and get off the carbs and get off the couch. It’s not too late to turn the ship around.

Don’t Listen To Your Body

The common refrain is that we should “listen to our bodies” as if our body held some higher wisdom that we were deaf to. I certainly have pitched that phrase a number of times when at a loss for anything more intelligent to say. However, more and more, I find myself uncomfortable with that advice. Certainly, our body may manifest some warning signs that we should heed. However, more often than not, our body just lies to get what it wants.

If I were to compile a list of the most frequent requests my body makes it would be along the lines of:
1) gratify your sexual urges;
2) eat all the carbs;
3) lie down on the couch and watch netflix instead of working out; and
4) stay up late at night and hit the snooze bar and stay in bed in the morning.

Perhaps your body is giving you better advice. However, if your body is selling the same bad advice as my body, I encourage you to stop listening to it and do the opposite. I am a happily married man and, while I do love the female form, there is no benefit to me ogling women on the internet or in real life. Certainly in today’s climate it is best to find other hobbies. And taking matters into my own hands (as the euphemism goes) is a procrastination device that leaves me hollow and unfulfilled and diverts valuable energy away from productive activities. The goal should be to cultivate a better and more gratifying relationship with my spouse as opposed to spending that energy on more productive actions.

Eating all the carbs gives me a dopamine rush. That hit of dopamine (and insulin) is what helps me stay addicted to carbs. The problem is that more I eat, the more I want. Listening to my body in this regard just makes me fatter and more sluggish. Then I feel worse about myself and my ever-growing gut. When my blood sugar gets low, I get depressed and want more sugar. Then the sugar high makes me feel good for about 15 minutes before it starts to fade and my blood sugar begins to drop again. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Getting off the carbs is the right thing to do despite what my body keeps asking for.

My body seldom tells me to workout. It’s usually so full of carbs and tired from masturbating that it just wants to lie on the couch and binge watch some shows on Netflix. Also I am often sore from the few times that I do workout and my body convinces me that I need to rest. Certainly rest and recovery are important, but I rarely need as much rest as my body requests. A good way to tell is that when I finish working out I often feel better, less sore, and more energized. That is a sign that my body was wrong. On the occasions when I feel worse after working out, I realize that those are the times that I really do need some more rest. People often say that you should not go grocery shopping when you are hungry because you will make bad choices. That seems smart. Similarly, I would not make decisions about working out when you are on the couch. I recommend moving around and warming up before making a decision on whether to work out. It’s the law of inertia: a body at rest wants to stay at rest and a body in motion wants to stay in motion. Do not listen to your body when it tells you to stay on the couch.

When my children are tired it is really obvious to me, but they insist that they are not tired and fight hard to stay up. Sadly, I am no better at going to bed early and judging when I should pack it in for the day. Certainly as adults we have a lot of stuff that we need to get done, but also recognize that sometimes you just waste time at night vegging out in front of the tv or surfing online. Get your work done and then go to bed sooner. On the flip side, try to wake up earlier. Since having kids, I strive to wake up early and get shit done because the only time that I can get stuff done is before the kids wake up. If you want to be productive do not listen to your body and hit the snooze. Set the alarm a half-hour earlier and get up and get to work. Front load as much productivity into the first half of your day and then try to get your evening cleared up so you can get to bed.

The next time your body tries to tell you some bullshit and sabotage your best efforts to be great, ignore it and go be awesome!

Just Squat

If you’re looking to get stronger, healthier, fitter, lose weight and be more dominant on the mat, then you need to squat. Squats are an essential human movement. We sit and stand every day when we get up off the couch or off the toilet. It’s essential to our lives as human beings. Essential in the sense that if we lose the ability to squat, we lose the ability to live independently and our quality of life is greatly diminished. People that claim that they cannot squat for a variety of reasons have accepted decrepitude. They have resigned themselves to the inevitable decline that ends with them in a scooter cruising around the grocery store and living with an aide that cleans your creases. Learning and practicing basic squat mechanics and reclaiming this movement that came easy in our youth is a refusal to submit to aging and physical decline.

As an exercise, squats have the ability to strengthen not only the legs, but the back, the core and the lungs. Squatting also helps maintain flexibility by moving the ankles, knees, and hips through a normal, healthy range of motion. There are many varieties of squats, however only a few mechanical considerations which are universally accepted.

– The feet must remain flat on the floor. Weight shifting to the toes or the inside edges of the feet is to be avoided by shifting the weight back into the heels and actively trying to push the knees away from each other.

– The knees should point in the same direction as the toes. This not only helps keep the feet flat, but it puts the knee in the safest position: where the kneecaps point in the same direction as the middle toe. STarting with the toes turned out about 30 degrees is a good place to start.

– Athletes must learn to squat until the hip crease passes below the top of the knee. This below parallel position is extremely challenging because it is right at this point where the squat wants to fall apart, but maintaining proper mechanics throughout this range of motion builds the strongest squats and strengthens your muscles at the end range where they are most likely to fail.

– The squat is initiated by sitting back as if into a chair. This mimics our everyday movement pattern of sitting our butts down onto an object. Also by sitting back we learn to balance by bringing our head forward. Balance is a perishable skill that also needs to be practiced often lest we lose it (pun intended). Sitting back also helps maintain even weight on the feet and helps get the knees to line up with the toes.

– Maintaining a neutral spine. The Chinese say, “you are as old as your spine.” Thus a healthy spine is the key to longevity. The squat, done correctly, is a functional and safe way to progressively load the spine and keep it healthy. Start standing up straight and brace your spine by contracting all the muscles of the core and back so that the spine cannot bend while you are squatting. Movement should be limited to the ankles, knees, and hips.

By adhering to those five basic points of performance, squats can be done safely in all populations. Insist that all five points of performance are adhered to the best extent possible for the given athlete. If range of motion cannot be achieved, the athlete can still squat but the long-term goal would be to increase their range of motion so that they can get on and off the toilet by themselves.

There are many ways to squat and you should try them all. Air squats, back squats, front squats, overhead squats, zercher squats, goblet and many more. The style of squat mostly depends on the equipment you use and where you hold it. First start with a basic air squat (unloaded) and work on the basic mechanics. As you practice work on increasing your reps. Starting with sets of 5 to 10 is easy enough to maintain the basic points of performance. Then gradually increase the reps to 20, 30, and beyond. As fatigue starts to increase your form will decrease and you must do your best to maintain proper mechanics as the intensity increases.

Next step is to add some weight. I recommend a goblet squat. Grab a dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or some similarly heavy object between 15 and 50lbs. Hold the weight like a goblet under your chin with your elbows down and hands up as if you are about to take a sip from the challis. Squat down just like you did in the air squat. Usually with a light load, you will immediately notice some improvements in form: better balance, lower depth, more upright posture, and greater ability to have the knees track the toes. Again start at about 5 to 10 repetitions. You will most likely be limited by fatigue in the arms and shoulders from holding the weight. That’s fine. You will gain some strength and stamina by doing more of these. As with the air squat, slowly increase your repetitions until you can do sets of 50 or more with a light weight.

When you get to the point that you can do 100 air squats in a row or 50 goblet squats in a row, you will notice not only that your legs are stronger, but that your cardio is vastly improved. The benefits to your health and fitness are obvious and you will notice that your jiu-jitsu improves as well, especially regarding your passing game. Having strong legs as well as the conditioning to squat many many times will allow you to push the pace hard inside someones guard and not slow down due to fatigue. That’s only the start though. Continued progress will come from finding many different ways to make your stronger and better. The goal now is to gradually pick up heavier objects and put them on shoulders while you squat. What about reps? Jiu-jitsu doesn’t happen in sets of 5 or 10. Your training should be varied between light weight for high reps, moderate weight for moderate reps, and heavy weight for low reps. Also change the stimulus between front squats, back squats, overhead squats and zercher squats, and change the equipment from barbells, to dumbbells, to kettlebells, and to sandbags. Spend less time worrying about what to squat or how much to squat and just squat!

Injuries Suck

Injuries suck. However, the sad truth is that we all get injured eventually. Whether it’s something you could have seen coming like an overuse injury or something totally unpredictable like a slip and fall, you have to understand that injuries will happen eventually. The best thing is to have a plan B and try your best to make the most of a bad situation.

I slipped and fell down the stairs last night and twisted my knee up pretty bad. There’s no telling how long my knee will be out of commission. However, I know in the gym I can work a lot on my upper body strength while my knee recovers. With respect to jiu-jitsu, it is obviously a lot harder to roll with a bad knee but certain drills and moves are still available to me.

The point is that it would be easy to be disheartened by this setback, but I see it as an opportunity for growth and development. The goal is to not lose too much ground or even to improve on some areas while the knee is off-line. When the knee comes back online, I should be as good or better than I am right now.