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Help! I’m Losing All My Gains!

I have had a bunch of people complain to me that they are going to lose all their gains during the quarantine because they do not have access to a barbell and big weights.  I assure you that does not have to be true.  You can still maintain and gain strength with whatever you have around the house.  Here are some tried and true ways to get strong in austere environments.

Upper Body

The king and queen of upper body exercises are the pullup and the dip.  You should continue to find ways to do both of these exercises to maintain that upper body strength and size.  Some of you are saying you do not have access to a pullup bar, in that case, the next best thing is to do some body rows.  You can do these by laying down under a table and pulling yourself up to the table with your heels on the ground.  You can do dips between two chairs or off the edge of a bench.

If pull-ups and dips are too difficult, do negatives.  The best way to develop the strength to one-day do pull-ups and dips is to do negatives.  Use your legs to support you at the top of the movement, then stop using your legs and lower yourself as slow as possible.  Three to five sets of three to five reps three to five days a week (The “325 Rule”).

If Pull-ups and Dips are too easy, add weight.  What might be too light a weight to curl will be plenty when added to your body weight for pull-ups.  The hardest part is often securing the weight to your body when doing the pull-ups and dips.  You will have to be creative you can put soup cans in your pockets or hold dumbbells between your feet.  If you want to keep your gains, you will find a way.

Put Yourself At A Disadvantage

Gymnasts have known for years that they can use body weight exercises to get incredibly strong by working in mechanically challenging positions.

If pushups are too easy, keep elevating your feet.  Eventually you will be upside down doing handstand pushups.

If Pull-ups are too easy, try lifting your legs out in front of you so your body forms and “L” shape or try pulling up until your chest touches the bar.

If you only have a light dumbbell to press, try doing a sotz press where you do presses while sitting in the bottom a squat.

Lower Body

The lower body is slightly more challenging but not impossible to train without big weights.  The first thing you have to do is train unilaterally, that means one leg at a time.  You effectively cut in half the amount of weight you need if you are only training one leg at a time versus training bilaterally (both legs at the same time). A one hundred pound back squat is not very hard but a one hundred pound lunge, step-up, or pistol can be extremely tough.  Additionally, training unilaterally can reveal and correct any imbalances that you have from side to side.  So the main exercises to work on are lunges, step-ups, split squats, and pistols.

The next thing to consider when training lower body is holding the weight in different positions to make it harder. The hardest variation is overhead where the stability and strength required to support the weight is amplified by the distance it is held from the body.

Finally, when training lower body, you can make some good gains by doing plyometrics. Plyometric movements essentially use gravity and speed to overload the muscles. A classic example is a depth jump where you start standing on a box and step off and immediately do an explosive jump when your feet hit the ground. There are three important elements that a plyometric exercise can train. First, is the eccentric load of landing from an elevated distance. The further you fall the greater the speed as you hit the ground which means the more force your body has to absorb eccentrically as you hit the ground. The second thing you train is explosive force. Your ability to jump corresponds to how much force you can produce against the ground to overcome gravity. So working on jumping for height or distance develops force production without the use of weights. Third, plyometric training develops the stretch reflex and speed. Humans have a mechanism called a stretch reflex that we use to create explosive force. Before you jump you always bend your knees and load your muscles with a short eccentric contraction. The more efficient and powerful you are the better you are at converting the energy stored in the pre bend of the knees into the height of your jump. Plyometric training done correctly can improve your efficiency in converting the load phase to the explode phase. So when you do your depth jump, try to minimize the amount of time your feet are on the ground. It should look and feel like you’re bouncing off the floor, not landing and then jumping as two separate elements.

Be cautious, it is very easy to overload your muscles and get injured doing a lot of plyometrics. The most basic forms of plyometrics are jumping jacks, skipping and jumping rope. The next level of difficulty is broad jumps and high jumps and box jumps. The next level would be to do jumping squats and jumping lunges and potentially adding weight. Depth jumps should only be done after you are very adept at the basic jumping skills and they should only be trained in small doses after a thorough warmup. But if you’re afraid of losing gains, then work on some explosive jumping to keep your legs strong.

You are only limited by your creativity and your desire to stay strong. Good luck and keep training.

Why You Should Learn To Breathe Right Now!

“No amount of strength, power, endurance, stamina, speed, flexibility, skinny, buff, youthfulness or what you eat matters if you lack the ability to breathe well. You cannot out-exercise this paradigm, as every bit of our physiology is dependent on oxygen.”

Brian Mackenzie

There are very few things as essential as your ability to breathe. You can live far longer without food and water than you can without oxygen.  It is so important that our body is designed to keep us breathing without our conscious control.  And any inhibition in our breath is met with stress and a strong fight or flight response as the body struggles to regain our breath.  As important as it is, we do not come preprogrammed with our breath optimized. Just because you have driven a car for ten, twenty, or thirty-plus years, does not mean you are a better driver than you were when you were 16. Likewise, just because you have been breathing all your life, does not mean that you are world-class, breathing champion. Even though our breath works well enough, we can upgrade it. And, in fact, we must upgrade it. 
Usually I speak to people about breath in the context of improved athletic performance, Improving the way you breathe will have a direct and positive impact on your physical performance. However, in today’s world we have to really take a hard look at breath from the view of health and longevity.  We are all living in fear of a respiratory virus that seeks to compromise our most basic of life functions: our breath.  Now, more than ever, we should focus on developing better breathing mechanics.  

What can you do right now to breathe better right now?

  1. Only breathe through your nose. We are designed to breathe through our nose and it is healthier as our nose is designed to filter and warm the air. 
  2. Tape your mouth shut.  If you’re like me, you often find yourself mouth breathing, especially during workouts.  Tape your mouth shut and force yourself to breathe only through the nose.  Your workout intensity will drop precipitously but ultimately you will train your respiratory muscles better and gain more capacity in the long run. 
  3. Irrigate your nose. Buy a neti pot or some kind of sinus irrigator and flush the sinuses with salt water/saline.  It’s gross and weird at first but it helps clean out the pipes and makes nasal breathing easier. 
  4. Do some breathing exercises. I will continue to post some here and on social media. I teach breathing exercises in my online classes.  Also google “pranayama” and jump right in with some breathing exercises. 
  5. Strengthen the muscles of respiration. The lungs while essential to breathing are not muscles and do not move on their own. The main muscle of respiration is the respiratory diaphragm which is hard to control independently.  We must learn how to use our abdominal muscles to help facilitate diaphragmatic control.  We must learn to engage the intercostal muscles to create proper movement in the rib cage to facilitate breathing.  
  6. Be conscious of your posture.  Good postural positions facilitate better breathing while slouching and poor posture can constrict our ability to breathe.  

What The Internet Taught Me About Fitness

We all need a place to bitch about things. That’s one reason I need this blog. This is not a feel good post, but I hope it makes you laugh or at least nod your head in agreement. Here’s a list of some stuff that I have learned from watching thousands of posts on Instagram about fitness in last three weeks. 

  • It is far easier to workout than eat right.  
  • People generally suck at crossfit programming. 
  • Bodybuilding type workouts and exercises are far harder to replicate at home without machines than functional and compound movements.
  • People move poorly.
  • Range of motion is a theoretically concept that is largely misunderstood or misapplied in the real world. 
  • People have too much time on their hands. 
  • Everyone is suddenly an online yoga teacher. 
  • Suddenly everyone that was gluten intolerant can eat sourdough bread. 
  • Pushup challenges are stupid.
  • All fitness challenges are stupid.
  • Everyone that said they didn’t have the time to workout are still remarkably busy.  

Your Why Is Not Your How

The question, “What is your ‘why?’” Was made popular by Simon Sinek. It is important to start with why.  Especially in these times while we are all locked up in our houses, it is easy to lose motivation.  It is easy to forget why we should bother waking up early, getting dressed, bathing, eating properly, and exercising.  It is easy to fall into the doldrums of depression and angst. That’s why we need to be even more vigilant now with remembering our “why” and using that to motivate us going forward.  

One problem I see with a lot of my friends is that their “Why” is also their “How.”  For example, they love jiujitsu and it is why they exercise but it is also how they exercise and now that jiujitsu has been taken away from us for the foreseeable future, they are lost.  

My suggestion is that jiujitsu should be your “why.” Maybe you never had a reason to want to get into shape before or to eat better. Maybe now that you have jiujitsu in your life, you can see the importance of being fitter and more flexible. Now you have a reason to eat better.  However, just because jiujitsu is the “why” does not necessarily mean it is the “how.”  Jiujitsu is a great martial art.  However it is not a strength and conditioning program.  Jiujitsu practitioners can be great at submissions but that does not mean they are necessarily the best nutritionists. Look outside your bubble for good tips on strength training, nutrition, and recovery. 
If you want to be better at jiujitsu, you obviously need to practice, but there are other qualities that you bring to the mat that will help your jiujitsu. Some things can be developed on the mat, but some are better developed off the mat.

The claim of jiujitsu has always been that it can help the smaller, weaker man defeat the bigger opponent.  Unfortunately that message has been misinterpreted to the point where people believe it is better to be a smaller weaker jiujitsu player. It most certainly is not. You should never hope to be the smaller, weaker person in a physical contest with another person.  Of course we can never control the size of our opponent, that is when jiujitsu can level the playing field, but never seek to be on the wrong side of the playing field. You should want to be the biggest, strongest, fastest, and fittest version of yourself.

 Now I’m not suggesting you strive to be Arnold in 80s. I suggest that you work on those aspects that will make you better once your return to the mats.  Get up and exercise, eat right, sleep, stretch, and take care of your body, so that when you go back you are in peak shape too begin training again.  

Most people are not interested in jiujitsu. For most, the necessity of earning money to support themselves and their families has been taken away. Your job is your “how”. Your “why” is to support yourself and your family. If you keep your eyes on the “why,” you can find another way to make that money. All of us are going to have to reevaluate how we live our lives and make money and find new ways to get along in the world. For some this will be an opportunity and for others it will be an obstacle. The point is that if you focus on the “why” the how becomes easier to navigate.

My professor, Kevin Sheridan, asks, “what is your return on bad luck?” How can you turn this shitty event around to make it a win for you.  If you took the next month to get stronger, improve your cardio, lose 10 pounds, and get more flexible as well as let some of your injuries heal, you would have made a great return on this bad luck.  

Raw Material

Have you heard the expression, “you can’t polish a turd”? For the most part it’s true.  If the raw material is shit, you can’t dress it up and sell it as a flower.  We, all of us, are at a crossroads where we can take steps to improve our raw material.  We have the opportunity to improve the stuff we are made of so that we can be better for ourselves, our families, and our communities.  They say “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” In these days of pandemics and quarantines we see people’s true characters are being revealed. We see who are diamonds and who are turds.  Let us all seek to take some time to ourselves and turn our characters into diamonds.  We cannot simply dress up our shitty selves and try to pass it off as a better version.  We must endeavor to go back into the cave and meditate and reflect and shed our turd skins for new shiny coats.  
How do we do it? Some people are called into action now to do their jobs despite risk to their health. They are showing their good character.  Bravo! To them. Keep it up. Other people are staying home and washing their hands and taking steps to flatten the curve.  Cheers, to them as well. On top of that we can make choices that will make us stronger. We can eat better. We can exercise more. We can sleep and meditate. We can read and study. We can create music and art. We can be of service to our neighbors. That and more. You must, in this time of self isolation and self reflection, choose adversity. Do hard things to build your character.  Undertake projects that scare you.  Go into your cave and face the darkest fears.  If we do not do this, if we fail to use this time to better ourselves, we will return to our world softer, weaker, more selfish, more afraid, in short, we will be turds.  

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team,’ but there’s a ‘U’ in ‘Turd.’” – Joe Alexander

Minimum Effective Dose

From what I can see on social media right now, it is awesome how much everyone is working out. Exercise is great. We can all use the mental benefits from the endorphins. We can all use the benefits to our health and immune systems that exercise provides.  But remember exercise is like a drug. Too little exercise and will not get the benefits. Too much exercise and we can overdose.  And like all drugs it comes with some side effects. Some of you are athletes with specific athletic goals and this only sort of applies to you.  Most of you are regular people with regular jobs that are recreational users of fitness and exercise with the typical goals of looking better naked and staying “in shape.” Those weekend warriors that suddenly find themselves with a lot of time on their hands and find themselves getting tagged in push-up challenges on social media, this is for you.  
Drugs all have what is known as a minimum effective dose, the least amount you need to get the desired effect. Exercise is no different. We want an adaptation to exercise, be it strength, stamina, endurance, or weight loss.  Lift enough weight to get strong. Do enough reps to build your stamina. Run far and fast enough to improve your lungs and heart.  If you’re not stressing the system, you are not stimulating adaptation.  For example, I might do a workout with 100 push-ups. That could be a good workout for me to get a little fitter.  That does not mean a workout with 200 push-ups in it will make me twice as fit.  In fact, if your sweet spot is 100 pushups, 50 won’t be enough to continue improving and 200 will probably side line you for a while and leave you too sore to workout for a while.  Conversely, if you did 100 push-ups a day, eventually that would stop being enough to be a stimulus. You need to increase the number over time as you build a tolerance.  
If you are newly quarantined and haven’t been working out for an hour or two every day, then jumping right into all that might be a little much.  Overtraining can lead to a lack of adaptation as well mental and physical fatigue.  You can quickly burn out and even get injured.  Consider it like the “January effect” where everyone signs up for the gym in January and by February have given up on working out altogether.  Too much. Too soon.  I encourage people to ease into it.  Develop the habit first.  Start with a short workout every day maybe some sit-ups and push-ups. Next week add some air squats and maybe a short run. By week three your body should start to feel invigorated and now you can open up the throttle a little more and start throwing some weights around. 

The worst physical side effect from over exertion is compromising your immune system. Exercise is a physical stress and too much stress will release a lot of stress hormones and depress the immune system. So there is a delicate balance of exercising enough but not too much. The fitter you are the harder it will be to cross that line since your body is used to repeated stress from exercise, but for the newly initiated, it is best to start slow and build. Consider following your exercise with a nap to allow for recovery. I tell people to imagine that they’re a firefighter and that they shouldn’t work out to the point where they could not go and immediately answer an alarm. At least in the beginning it is best to leave something in the tank for tomorrow.
The psychological effect of overtraining is just as deleterious. With everyone posting exercise videos on social media these days it easy to feel like a fat piece of crap for not working out 3 hours a day.  Like a drug, a small dose once or twice a day is plenty. Thinking that you should take more and more is a dangerous road to go down.  Also watching people workout all the time can cause you to feel like you’re not worthy and you’re not doing enough.  Do not get sucked in to the hype. Work out and get fitter, but do not compete to out exercise everyone on the internet.  Use this time to better yourself. But do not create anxiety around working out.  Spend some time reflecting on areas in your life you want to improve and spend your time wisely.  Spending two hours working out probably will not help you reach your goals as much as spending one hour working out and one hour cooking healthy meals for yourself.

Seek to find the minimum effective dose: enough to get you better but not enough to give you the negative side effects.


One of the best qualities we can develop is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty or misfortune. That quality is known as resilience. Physically we want to be tough and strong and fit so that adversity has as little effect as possible.  Like bugs on a windshield we would prefer to be unphased by the problems life throws our way.  However, we must recognize that life will throw bigger and worse things at us. Part of our constitution is concerned with how much something will set us back.  The other part of our constitution is concerned with how quickly we can rebound.  These two qualities are intertwined.  In CrossFit we think of this as something that goes hand in hand with our Fitness. 

Fitness is defined as your work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Fitness can be considered a state of super wellness. Your fitness creates a hedge against sickness.  If your fitness markers like your mile time, your deadlift, and your max set of pull-ups are near fit values that’s good and it should help drive your health markers like blood pressure, body fat percentage, and resting heart rate toward super normal values as well.

As I write this we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Fit people are not immune from Covid 19. We are hearing about people dying from every demographic. Fitness is not a “get out of jail free” card, but it is the best insurance we have that we can come through this relatively unscathed.

Ideally we would like our body to respond like the virus is a bug on our windshield. However, if it does hit us harder we want our bodies to have the resiliency to fight it and bounce back quickly. When it comes to working on our fitness, it is just like the proverb. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

So start taking care of yourself right now. Eat healthy. Exercise. Sleep. Meditate. Smile. Love.

Consistency And Constancy

It’s Saturday and I, like most everyone, have been avoiding human contact for the last week or so. Some parts of the world have been locked down for weeks already and some are just joining party. But it is clear now that this is the way of things for the foreseeable future.

One thing that is clear is that maintaining both consistency and constancy in these times is paramount to our physical and mental health. Consistency is steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc. My jiujitsu school, Sheridan BJJ, has “be consistent” as one of its core values. If you wish to improve in something, you need to practice consistently. Showing up day after day, rain or shine, is the key to long-term results. So what happens when we cannot train the way we did before or go to the dojo or the gym? How do we be consistent in the face of such adversity? That’s the eternal question.

Life has a way of screwing with us. We plan to go to the gym every day. We plan to go to jiujitsu every day. We plan to eat right. We make plans and then God laughs at us and life throws us a curve ball. In many ways, being forced to take time off is a blessing because now we can finally make time to take care of ourselves and do some of the things we’ve neglected. The cruel twist is that now that we have the time to train and eat right, the gyms are closed. The trick is that even though you cannot necessarily practice jiujitsu or lift the heavy weights are whatever is your normal practice you can still maintain the habit. Or if you have been trying to build the habit, now is the time.

A healthy routine is more important now, than ever. Even though you have nowhere to go, set your alarm every day and wake up and implement your morning routine. Be consistent in your daily practice. You have the ability to do some things that you may have been neglecting. Try to build those habits now while you can. Maybe you need consistency in your nutrition, or your workouts, or your stretching, or your meditation. You know you have been using the excuse, “I wish I could, but I just don’t have the time” too long. Get started. Do a little everyday and get the ball rolling. Momentum will build and you will start to see the fruits of your actions.

The other quality we must embrace is Constancy. Constancy is the quality of being faithful and dependable or enduring and unchanging. While we have the ability to create consistent habits that allow us to grow and ground us. We also must practice constancy and be faithful and dependable for those around us. We are charged now with trying to be our best and most optimistic selves for those that depend on us. We, all of us, need to do what we can to help stop the spread of the virus and to help our families and communities weather the extreme hardship that this pandemic is thrusting upon us. Panic is not justified, nor is indifference. Adherence to our core values and our moral code is what will allow us to get through this without losing our humanity. While we are physically isolated it is easy to become selfish, but that is the most insidious trap. We need to think communally even when alone. We need to fortify ourselves and our families so we can be our best for the greater communities that need us.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

Perfect Is The Enemy Of Good

Everybody on the planet is trying to sell you the best thing.  The optimal thing.  The perfect thing.  The problem with the perfect workout or the perfect diet is that they often require much more time and effort and the likelihood of you failing at a perfect plan is far greater.  If you want to be a championship athlete, you might need to spend 3 or more hours a day in the gym, but right now, you can’t seem to get 3 hours a month of time in the gym.  Similarly someone can write out the perfect diet plan for you, but if you are chasing it down with 3 sodas or 3 beers a day it’s not gonna work.  The allure of the best program makes us want to buy it because it promises the best results.  As consumers we can’t help ourselves.  However, as General Patton observed, “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” 
I am selling you a good plan which you can violently execute now as opposed to some perfect plan that you can execute next week.  I’ve read several books on building habits and one thing that they agree on is that you should start with small, easily achievable steps.  Tell yourself you are going to do 1 pushup a day.  It’s so stupidly simple to do that you can’t possibly fail.  Of course, 1 pushup will not get you fitter.  However, the chances are that once you are down on the ground you will bang out a few more is highly likely.  And once you break a sweat you might as well keep going.  But we have all started a plan or new year’s resolutions with lofty goals to do 100 pushups a day and failed after day 3.  The worst case is you do 1 pushup but on the hand, anything extra is something to be celebrated.  10 pushups is 10x your goal of 1 per day, but if your goal was 100 then it would be 10% of your goal.  Set yourself up for big wins instead of big losses.  
Start with the goal of eating 1 piece of fruit or 1 vegetable a day or drinking 1 glass of water.  
To be clear I am not selling you the 1 pushup and 1 glass of water diet and exercise program.  But it’s pretty close.  I’m 49 and I have two kids.  I don’t have a ton of time to workout.  I have some nagging injuries that keep me from doing some things.  I have a lot of excuses and so do you.  But despite that I workout and train and try to get better as I get older, both mentally and physically.  How many times have you said, I don’t have the time? You don’t need the best workout routine or the best trainer in the world or an expensive gym membership.  You need to get off your ass for 5 minutes and start a small habit of exercising during commercials or whenever you go into the kitchen.  Pick something that triggers you to get up and do that 1 pushup or drink that 1 glass of water or whatever it is.  Maybe you tell yourself you can only look at social media while you are stretching so it will force you to stretch a couple of times a day or, if you really hate stretching, it will cure you of your phone addiction.

The World’s Greatest White Belt

Competition in jiujitsu is fun.  I mean, I don’t care for it particularly. It makes me nervous and anxious and I never perform my best. However, the need to test our skills regularly whether in day to day training or competition is an essential part of the sport.  I encourage people to compete at least to see if they like it and enjoy it.  For some people the thrill of competition is everything.  And finding that as an adult can be a great vehicle to improve their lives.  That being said, I have to put something into perspective. 

The real competitions start at Black Belt.  I’m not trying to be dismissive or condescending.  It is great that there are competitions open to students of all levels.  And the only way to improve at competition is to compete regularly.  I get super excited over my friends and students competing as anybody would. I cheer them on and I coach them and I watch their matches with great enthusiasm.  However, once someone is dominating the field and bringing home gold medals from multiple competitions, it just signals to me that they are ready to be promoted.  That is another good thing about competition.  It can signal when someone is ready to advance.  

I think it is important to remember this if you are competing and losing.  Yes, that gives you stuff to work on.  Learn from your losses! It also means you are where you should be regarding your belt.  And, third, you are probably going against people that are due for a promotion.  This is why I often say rather sarcastically that nobody cares if you are the world’s greatest white belt. In my mind the white belt world champion (I can’t believe that’s even a title) is just a blue belt that hasn’t gotten promoted yet.  And so on as you go up in ranks.   That’s not a bad thing (although I often say it with disgust). It’s just how it is.  

If you want to compete, then you have to be willing slog it out in the same division for a couple of years until you start making progress.  If you’re competing then it pays to be the world’s best white belt.  However that to me just translates to the world’s newest blue belt.  Then the process starts all over again as you move your way through the blue belt division for a few years.  

Enjoy the process.  One day you might be the world’s best white belt and the next day hopefully you’ll be the worst blue belt.  That’s the journey.