Building Your Home Gym: Grapplers Edition

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

Dedicated space.  

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


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

Grappling dummy

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

Exercise Equipment    

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

Pullup Bar

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

Rubber Bands

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



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

Racks and Benches

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

Dumbbells & Kettlebells

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


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

Cardio Equipment

Lift Weights Faster

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

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


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

Jump Rope

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


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

Ergs Et Cetera    

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


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

Neck Trainers  

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

Hands, Wrists, and Forearms

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

Fat Grips 

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

Wrist Roller

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


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


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

An Old Gi

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

Heavy Bag

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

Screen, Clock and Music

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

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

21st Century Jiujitsu

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

Fitness Is A Hedge Against Sickness

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

Shake Things Up

A good routine can help you get a lot of things done. Now many of us have the time to develop some new habits or pursue some passion projects. But routine can be the enemy.  I’m getting too comfortable in my daily routine. It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day.  The workouts are changing, the meals are changing, but the days are blending together and looking alike.  
I do not know what exactly I have to do to shake things up, but I know it must be done.  Being comfortable is desirable as a long-term state.  Discomfort leads to growth. The thing is that discomfort does not have to insurmountable. Simply setting goals for yourself each day to hit no matter what can lead to that growth. Right now I have very few daily goals. I think I need to start putting together a list of things I need to do every day so no more days slip away from me going forward. 
Here’s a list of things I am pondering right now:

  • Write 500 words a day.  (This is probably just under 200 so far).
  • Study 30 minutes of jiujitsu videos a day. As opposed to just watching, I should take notes.
  • Play my guitar for 30 minutes.
  • Fix or clean or tidy one thing in my house every day. I need to get that Kondo lady in here to spark some joy. 
  • Shoot an instructional video every day. 
  • Read or listen to a chapter a day on self-improvement. 
  • Organize my digital files. 
  • Row 1,000,000 meters 

What could you do to shake things up? How could you be more uncomfortable?

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.