Joint Preparation: Wrists and Forearms

Joint Preparation is strengthening the connective tissues around the joints: the tendons and ligaments. This is different than strengthening the muscles. Muscle tissues regenerate in about 90 days, connective tissue takes closer to 210 days to regenerate. Connective tissue has one-tenth the metabolic rate of muscle that means it takes 10 times longer to heal when it’s injured. The reason I prioritize joint preparation is because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), by its nature, is based on causing trauma to the joints (armlocks, leglocks and neck cranks), therefore, strengthening connective tissue is a priority if one is to have longevity in the sport. Since it takes a really long time to regenerate connective tissue you need to prepare your joints consistently over a long period of time.

If you look at sports injuries in general, they tend to occur at end range of the joint where the muscles, tendons and ligaments are stretched to their fullest and are therefore their weakest. So joint preparation is basically end range strengthening and conditioning. This can look like weighted stretching or may take the form of various exercises that move the joints through full ranges of motion. By gradually loading the tissues at end range we can condition them to be stronger and more resilient in those positions.

In this article, I will take you through some of my favorite things to do to condition my wrists and forearms. Doing these will help your wrists stay strong and healthy over the years of doing BJJ.

Forearm Blast
This series of exercises will warm up your hands and forearms better than any other exercise I have ever done. There are five exercises that I show on this video. You begin with your arms straight out in front of you and you extend your wrists like you are pushing against a heavy door. Stretch you fingers as long and wide as you can and then make a tight fist while keeping your wrist bent back. Repeat this as fast as you can while trying to extend and flex your fingers as much as you can. Go as long as you can manage. You want to work towards being able to go for a minute. Then repeat this with your wrist flexed and your fingers pointing down at the floor. Now it gets more interesting, bend your elbows 90 degrees like you are a T-Rex and repeat the two variations (fingers up and fingers down). Lastly, with your elbows bent quickly flip your hands over, palms up and palms down, as fast as you can. This works the supination and pronation of the forearm. This whole sequence should take you less than 5 minutes. At first your forearms will feel swollen and tight like Popeye, but then after a minute the hands and wrists will feel really warm and loose. You are probably wondering if the burning sensation in your forearms is normal and healthy. Yeah, kind of. You have many muscles in your forearms that are encased in fascia and all those muscles should be able to slide and glide against each other and move independently. When we do these exercises we become aware that we do not have as much slide and glide as we should. The friction between these surfaces causes a lot of heat. Doing the joint preparation and assisted recovery (my next blog post) will help and you will soon notice that you can go longer and longer with this exercise.

Forearm Blast from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Wrist Stretches
Now that you are warmed up, we can stretch the wrists a little. These stretches are good to help increase some range of motion and also to start loading the joints with a little bit of weight. The four stretches I show on video can all be done from the knees and do not take very long. I recommend doing 10 gentle pulses into each stretch and then holding the last rep for 30 seconds.

Forearm Blast: Part 2 from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Wrist Push-Ups
These wrist push-ups are extremely challenging, but they will build very strong wrists that can withstand a lot of abuse. I recommend starting these standing up against the wall and only doing 1 hand at a time initially (The other hand was just doing a regular pushup. Don’t try to do 1-arm wrist pushups, you fucking savage!). That is how I learned them. Eventually, I was able to do them with both hands simultaneously standing at the wall, then I started doing them from my knees on the floor with one hand and then eventually with both hands. I was at the point where I could do them from my toes, but then I hurt my wrist and had to start back from square one. Even though these exercises didn’t prevent me from getting injured, by scaling back to very light versions of these, I was able to get my wrist back to 100% in a very short period of time. Work up to 5 sets of 5 of each variation. Start with the standing variations first before going to your knees. Also do not be in a hurry. These exercises are for the connective tissues that take a long time to regenerate. You will not see huge wrist muscles all of a sudden. You have to be patient and even if you think the variation is too easy, make sure you can do 5 sets of 5 with perfect form before trying to advance. Even if you stayed at the easiest variation and did them once a week for a year, in a year you wrists would be much stronger and healthier.

Forearm Blast: Part 3 from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Training for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Taking twelve years away from Brazilian jiu-jitsu (“BJJ”) was not good for my skills on the mat.  However, I used that time to do a lot of training and coaching and worked with thousands of athletes around the world teaching CrossFit, kettlebells, weightlifting, mobility and gymnastics seminars.  While it could be said that I’ve dabbled in too many fields, I like to think that doing everything from yoga to strongman training has given me a lot of perspective when it comes to training.  As the saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  I find that yoga teachers think that yoga is what’s missing from everyone’s training and weightlifters think that everyone needs to get stronger and lift more weight.  Most blackbelts and people who have achieved success at something tend to advocate for whatever worked for them.  It’s only natural.  So when I lay out the things that I think are most important to BJJ athletes to help their training, I imagine my viewpoint might go against what other people have said. And that’s okay.  I am just here to help.

Coming back to the mat after 12 years, it’s taken me a few months to get back to my former level but I feel like I’m there.  In some ways I’m better than I was 12 years ago and in some ways I still have a lot of the same bad habits that I have to work to undo.  But what is important to remember is that now, at 46 years of age, I am in better shape than I was at 34 and I am smarter about taking care of my body.  So while I am an old purple belt and am not some world champion blackbelt or a CrossFit Games athlete, I have a lot of experience and time under tension. I also have a lot of training injuries that I’ve worked through so my recommendations come from a place of experience with an eye toward longevity.

Most blackbelts will tell you that if you want to be good at BJJ, you need more time on the mat. In order for you to log more training hours, you need to be healthy and injury free.  In order to stay strong and healthy what you do off the mat is extremely important.  Most blogs and magazine articles are concerned with optimal training: getting stronger, faster and being generally more awesome all the time.  This thinking is essential for young competitors. That is not who my advice is aimed at (although younger athletes will do well to heed this advice).  My experience is that you can take a 20-something male and throw a ton of training at them (both good and bad) and they will still continue to improve and get better.  Furthermore, younger people can train through injuries just because they’re young and (think/believe) they’re invincible.  I want to talk to the 30-, 40- and 50-year old BJJ athletes that are already starting to feel the wear and tear of training and advancing age.  Time is a precious resource and the older you get, the less likely you are going to be pursuing a professional jiu-jitsu career, so efficiency and longevity are more important than creating an optimal program.  For example, if you wanted to optimize your strength (i.e. get really strong, really fast), you might lift three to five days per week and follow some complicated periodized program and do a lot of complicated exercises.  However, lifting once or twice a week and sticking with 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 big exercises and going as heavy as you can for that day will give you almost all the general strength benefits that you need for BJJ without sucking up a lot of valuable time and energy.

For myself and my athletes I first consider that training time is limited and so our training off the mat has to be efficient and effective.  There are a lot of things that we could do, but there are a few things that we must do.  There are four areas that need to be addressed and trained and if you give them the proper weight and allot adequate time for them it will help you stay strong and injury free and allow you to enjoy your time in the dojo.

The four elements are Joint Preparation, Assisted Recovery, Conditioning, and Strength.   I listed them in what I consider their order of importance.  Furthermore, these four elements have some overlap so the lines can be blurred sometimes.  So doing joint preparation can also make you stronger and help your cardio. For example, doing heavy farmers carries (holding a very heavy dumbell/kettlebell in each hand and walking for distance or time) is not only a form of strength training, but it is also a conditioning workout because your heart will beat out of your chest.  Furthermore, it strengthens the grip as well as the connective tissues in the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  Therefore, choosing exercises that have some crossover can be very efficient if you are short on time.  Of course, it goes without saying, that nutrition is probably the most important weapon in your arsenal with regards to health and longevity, so while you read this eat a fucking salad!

I will go into greater detail in future blog posts on how to properly prepare your joints, ideas for recovery and, of course, strength and conditioning.  Meanwhile, keep training and getting better.

Better A Diamond With A Flaw Than A Pebble Without

We have all heard the phrase, “perfect is the enemy of good.”  It is something I have to remind myself of daily.
I am a strength and conditioning coach and a body nerd (anatomy, physiology, movement, yoga, mobility, etc.).  And most of the thinking and writing around strength and conditioning is geared toward optimization.  How can you max out your gains?  What’s the quickest way to lose weight?  What’s the fastest way to get strong?  What’s the best technique to perform this lift? etc.  That’s all great.  As a professional I need to concern myself with the best methods to train and get results.  However, the reality is that most people can’t train optimally (for multiple reasons) and focusing on doing things perfectly will often take valuable energy away from doing things good enough.
Why is chasing perfection impossible?  Let’s consider the most basic barrier to perfection: your genetics.  Just imagine if there was a scientific study that said training 6 days a week is optimal for making gains that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work best for you and your body.  If scientists had gone and created an experiment to find the optimal training days, their findings would be based on a statistically significant number of people that completed the study.  It would not be based on 100% of all people.  That means there are always people that did NOT respond optimally to the 6 days a week.  Some people responded better to 5 and some did better with 7.
Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. — Confucius
Another example of genetics that can be a double edged sword is that some people have genes that favor endurance sports and others have genes that favor strength and there are various other athletic characteristics that your genes may favor.  That suggests that if you are lucky enough to like marathon running and you happen to be genetically predisposed to being good at it, you can be very successful (Perfect).  But there is no guaranty that you will like marathon running just because you have favorable genes for it.  Furthermore, sometimes people are drawn to things that challenge them more than things that come easily to them.  So you might be a weightlifter trapped in a runner’s body. In that scenario, you might never be a great weightlifter but will find more joy from it and train harder at it because of the challenge (Good).
So when I think about training myself and training regular people, I seldom concern myself with what is optimal.  I concern myself with good enough and better.  To the type A person reading this, it sounds like a recipe for mediocrity.  We want to have a formula for being the best.  Why should I chase good enough and better?   Because real people spend more time concerning themselves with trying to pick the best program than actually working out.   This problem is not just true of couch potatoes but it also a debilitating mindset displayed by many gym rats.
Somewhere there is someone on the couch googling things like “what’s better weightlifting or cardio?”  “Will lifting make me bulky?”  “How can I get huge like Arnold?”  They are spinning their wheels worrying about what’s best: lifting, cardio, looking perfect, and Arnold.  If they asked “what is good enough to get me started?” “What’s better than sitting on the couch?” They would be better off.  If they decided to just go to the Zumba class five minutes from their house they’d be better off.  Then after they get bored of that they might ask “what’s better than Zumba?”  “What would I like to do?”  They’d be making progress and moving forward.  Slow progress is better than no progress.
Another example is the gym rat that is working out constantly thinking that more is better.  They are always looking for the next new exercise or workout to make those gains.  Those people often waste a lot of time chasing different workouts and worrying about if I’m working my legs, I’m not working my arms and when I’m working my arms, I’m not working my legs.  So they are never satisfied.  I used to spend a lot of time and money researching and buying new gear for the gym and for myself so that I could do a different exercise or add something else to my program.  Ultimately, most of those purchases were a waste of time and money.  I get more benefit working out harder with a few basic pieces of equipment than I do from fancy new toys.  For example, I do not own a bench for bench pressing.  Would it be optimal for developing upper body pushing strength?  Perhaps.  But I find that pushups, dips and floor presses are good enough to work my triceps.  When I see an ad for a bench, I stop and think maybe I should get one, but then I decide to just stop worrying and do some dips.  Maybe you are a powerlifter and want to compete, then you need to bench.  But if that’s not you, there are plenty of ways to get strong that are good enough.
If you are sitting there and worrying about what’s best, stop! Go and do something good.  Enjoy it.

Foam Rolling Isn’t Really Myofascial Release

A client just sent me this video and asked me what I thought.  I am supposed to be a mobility guy and I talk about rolling and doing myofascial release and this videos says that’s BS!  Or does it?

First, watch the video.  It’s an excellent primer on fascia which is the scaffolding of the body.  Fascia is the soft tissue that we try to manipulate when we do mobility work.  When we say we are stretching muscles what we are really talking about is changing the length and tension of the fascial tissues.  The muscle tissue lives inside the fascia and doesn’t really stretch.  The knots or adhesions that we poke and rub are in the fascia not the muscle.  So fascia is really what most people mean when they say “I need to stretch this muscle” or “I have a knot in this muscle.”

Second, as to the claim that rolling or instrument assisted soft tissue manipulation (‘IASTM’) is not myofascial release. He is being too simplistic or perhaps making a broad claim for a bit of shock value to get people to click.  But if you listen to the actual explanations he states that deep pressure and rolling over the skin with a roller or instrument does not cause relative movement between the tissue layers (which I call ‘Shear’ or you can think of as ‘slide and glide’) and is therefore not myofascial release.  Yes and no.  It is true that a traditional foam roller works like that and does not create shear force.  The same is true for some IASTM tools like theracanes or Graston.

One of the reasons I love Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls and recommend all my clients use them instead of foam rollers and lacrosse balls is because they are designed to be grippy and catch the skin and to help create a lot of shear force and create a truer myofascial release than with a foam roller. In the Yoga Tune Up lexicon there a couple of techniques that we use to create more shear force:  Pin & Stretch and Pin, Spin & Mobilize.

In the first two videos below, I use two different Yoga Tune Up balls to create a pin & spin shear on my bicep and on my belly respectively.  Using the ball to spin and catch all the skin and pull it across the fascial layers underneath just like Dr. Spina demonstrates in his video.

In the third video, I use a pin & stretch technique on my quad by tacking down the skin with the Alpha ball and moving the knee joint  creates shear as the muscle lengthens and shortens under the ball and relative to the skin that is pinned down.

So if you really want to create a true myofascial release, you need the right tools and the right techniques.  Get some Yoga Tune Up® balls and play along with my videos and give your foam roller away as a gift.

Day 22 of 30. Gun Maintenance. from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Day 15 of 30. The Twister. from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Day 10 of 30. The Quadzilla from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Why So Much Hate?

 

The older I get and the more I see, the more I realize that I don’t know everything.  I have always had opinions.  I have always thought that I had a right and fair view of the world, but now I realize I just don’t know as much as I thought I did.  Especially when it comes to knowing other people, I know very little about people and their motivations and their realities.

We all think we understand people and their motivations. We think people fit the labels we put on them.  They don’t.  We see someone and label them as “good” or “bad.”  We always think “we are good” and “they are bad.”  We think all the bad people deserve our scorn and hatred.  All the good people get a pass.  Life isn’t really like that.  I now realize that I know lots of people and they’re all complex.  I know people that are really wonderful and not racist, yet they voted for Trump. I know people that are generally good people when it comes to their job and family but are racist.  I know people that have been to prison for various crimes and have come out and started wonderful families and have great jobs.  I know people that smart and funny but are also pathological liars and criminals.

I know cops and soldiers and firemen.  I know doctors and lawyers and engineers.  I know drug dealers.  It’s not your job that makes you a good person.  It’s not your political party that makes you a good person.  It’s how you treat other people.  Right now most of the country is failing this test.  It’s sad.  I wish I could say I’m totally above it, but I am not.  I am pissed.

Nonetheless I temper my anger by trying to summon as much empathy as I can muster. I want to respect that people are all feeling a lot of emotions and tempers are heated.  My hope is that people will be able to find common ground and love each other despite our differences. My hope is the people look at themselves and their own issues more than they point the finger at others.  I know that’s what I try to do most of the time.

 

Speculation, The Future and The Media.

Humans are bad at speculation, predicting the future and judging what is reliable in the media.  Every time I read something that I vehemently agree with or vehemently disagree with, I think of The Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.

The Gell-Mann Amnesia effect was coined by Michael Crichton in his 2005 essay “Why Speculate?”

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”
Michael Crichton

I read this quote many years ago and it has stuck with me.  Today, for the first time, I went back and read the original essay and am struck by how prescient it is.  We need the press but we must not relinquish our need for scrutiny and judgment in how we read the news.

Helplessness

I hate feeling helpless.  I assume I am not the only one.  I think most people hate that feeling.  Of course, we all make this problem worse by outsourcing so many of our daily needs.  I think ultimately giving our power away to other people can contribute to feelings of helplessness if we let that outsourcing go unchecked.  Some of this outsourcing is justified by the “convenience.”   Most people don’t cook because it’s easier to order in.   Sure it can be much easier and often more fun to order in and easy to justify the increased cost because of the time saved: time being a more precious commodity than money.  However, the real costs are often hidden.  We rarely get the healthiest foods when we outsource to third-parties so we pay for that food (partially) with our health.

Along with the poor health comes the feeling of being helpless to stop the problem.  Many people complain that “it’s too hard to eat healthy.”  It’s not too hard, unless you don’t know your way around the kitchen.

Another common problem is that people rely on experts to take care of all basic needs.  I know as a person that grew up in New York City, that when I take my car into the mechanic, I am totally at their mercy because I don’t know anything about cars.  My car maintenance skill set includes: filling it up with gas, checking the oil, changing a flat tire, replacing wiper blades and fluid, and changing lightbulbs.  Beyond that I am helpless and at the mercy of the mechanic.

When it comes to human body maintenance, most people have an extremely limited skill set: they can fuel it, clean it and drive it really fast and hard.  When it comes to the human body, I consider myself an expert driving instructor as well as an expert mechanic.  I refuse to feel helpless when it comes to the place I spend all my time.  Not only do I want to teach people how to drive their bodies better, I want to teach them how to perform the basic maintenance on their bodies so they don’t have to rely on experts.

Coach Greg Glassman is fond of saying,  “I’ve got an analogy for you. Physicians are lifeguards. Trainers are swim coaches. When you need a lifeguard, you need a lifeguard, not a swim coach. But, if you need a lifeguard, you probably needed a swim coach and didn’t get one.”  My goal is to be that swim coach for people.

How Would This Look If It Were Easy?

I love Tim Ferriss: the person, the books, the podcasts. He’s definitely put out some great stuff over the years. He asks great questions, not just of his interviewees on his podcast, but of himself. Sometimes in life asking the right question is really the trick. One of the questions that Tim asks of himself is “How would this look if it were easy?”

Don’t misinterpret this as an excuse to take the easy way out of things, but it is an inquiry into not making things more difficult than they have to be. I heard recount how he asked himself this question about doing podcasts. He had spoken with enough podcasters to know that it could be an extremely time-consuming endeavor to do a podcast, but then he asked himself how it would look if it were easy. So from choosing equipment to management to editing, Tim made choices that would allow him to put out a lot of good content with the least painful investment of time and effort. For example, he consciously chose to do long-form interviews with no editing. So once the interview is finished he tacks on the opening and closing bumpers and is done. Because most people lose momentum between the recording and the editing and find it hard to stay on a weekly schedule. He solved the problem by making an easy decision.

Look at your life and where you find yourself complaining that it’s too hard. Then ask yourself what it would look like if it were easier. Maybe you can simplify something to make it easier. For example, dieting is hard for many people. What would it look like if it were easy? Perhaps the solution is to subscribe to a meal delivery service that sends you healthy, pre-made meals. Some people find it hard to find the time to go to the gym. Maybe the solution is to get two friends from work and make a pact to workout at lunch every day. You can create a penalty if one person cancels, they have to buy lunch for the other two that day.

Solutions to problems come from asking the right questions. The wrong answer to the right question is better than the right answer to the wrong question.

Understanding Fear

The recent election has me asking a lot of questions. Mostly “why?” and “how?” The main answer I have is “because of fear.” I look at the world right now and I see a lot of people who are afraid on both sides of the issue. Fear is a great motivator, but it can motivate many of the wrong actions. I try to look at people who are afraid with a sense of compassion even though to me one person’s FEAR can be False Evidence Appearing Real, to them it’s extremely palpable.

Somewhere…
A man is afraid he’s going to lose his job to an illegal immigrant.
A soldier is afraid of dying at the hands of a Muslim.
A woman is afraid of getting assaulted on the streets.
A black man is afraid of getting shot by the police.
A child is afraid of getting bullied at school.
A police officer is afraid of getting killed on the job.
A young couple is afraid of not having healthcare for their new baby.
An old man is afraid of losing his social security benefits.
A gay couple is afraid of losing their right to marry.
A religious person is afraid of living in a Godless country.
A young woman is afraid that she’ll lose the right to choose.
An old man is afraid a young woman is going to kill her unborn baby.
A woman is afraid of doing the same work as a man but getting a fraction of the pay.
A Muslim is afraid of being assaulted in the streets.
A Jew is afraid of the return of concentration camps.
A Mexican is afraid of a wall.
A millionaire is afraid of losing her money.
A poor person is afraid of losing everything.
A soldier is afraid there won’t be any wars to go fight.
A military wife is afraid there are going to be lot more wars for her husband to go fight.
A parent is afraid that his child will grow up in an unsafe world.

These fears are real to people and what all of us are doing is dismissing other people’s fears as stupid and unreasonable. Unfortunately that strategy doesn’t work. Neither does rational argument. Fear spurs us into action, but the problem is that sometimes that action is irrational. Our reaction to fear is based on survival when our lives are threatened. In those instances, we run or we fight and fight hard. We lash out with everything we got because to not do so (to our reptilian brains) would mean death. However, is the case of voting our fears (for the vast majority of people) are not imminent, they are fears of a possible outcome that has not come to fruition. In the literal sense of the word, they are imaginary fears. Thus we lash out with everything we have at the enemy even though, in the present, that enemy is not doing any immediate harm to us.

How this manifested is that, in this election unlike others, much of the back and forth between the candidates was ad hominem attacks and which carried over to the voters. Campaign attack ads are the norm now, but this particular election cut deeper on many levels on both sides. It went beyond the usual “your economic plan sucks and you’re not trustworthy” rhetoric to “you’re a rapist” and “you’re a murderer” which like toothpaste is hard to put back in once you let it out. The usual rhetoric casts the other side as merely unfit for the job. The current state of politics is that now when you look at the screen you don’t merely see two candidates for a job, you see the objects of your fears. Instead of “vote for me because I’m the best” the tone of this years election was “that person is what you fear most in the world do NOT vote for them.”

It do not think it is even remotely possible for anybody that followed the campaigns to look at the opposing candidate and not see a monster because that is what we have conditioned the population to for the last year. Now we have a country doesn’t merely dislike the other side but is in actual fear. Do I have to spell out how dangerous and troublesome this is?

Is there any way to break the fear loop? We need to get into action. Action is what breaks the fear loop. However, like I said we must be careful that the actions we take are not more divisive. We need goal action results. You need a short term goal to get you moving out of danger, e.g. get to the car and lock the doors. We need to move toward safety. Once we get to a safe place we can make more rational decisions, but until then keep moving.

I recommend getting back into your routine that brings you peace of mind. I meditate and workout and spend time with my family. Now that I feel that things are good here I can think about how to create the world that I want without having to rely on the government. I can support organizations and charities that might be in trouble in the next four years. I can spread love and joy to my immediate circle and choose to be better to people that are worse off than me. I can do my best to be understanding of the emotions people are feeling, all people, the winners and the losers. I love this country and the people in it. I believe in the Constitution and in democracy and believe this experiment is working overall. I think the electoral college needs to be done away with. I believe we need a pissed off populace that will fight for change in this country but we can’t keep pulling in different directions all the time. We need to stop living in fear and spread some love around and heal wounds instead of lashing out.

“Love is all you need.” The Beatles

Your Legacy

Do people still consider their legacy? In the course of history many great people were great partly by design. They felt compelled to have a legacy that would outlast them. Like Alexander Hamilton, they wondered who would tell their stories.

As I get older, I suddenly am confronted by that question more and more. Part of me wishes I had asked that of myself many years ago. However, there is no time for regrets. noragrets

As my passion for helping others grows so does my desire to leave behind something to this world. Not out of vanity. I don’t wish to be remembered because I did something miraculous. I want to be remembered because I helped people live their lives better.