Archive for November, 2012

As an athlete, when programming a resistance training exercise for yourself, always ask: what is the point of this movement? If it’s not a large compound (ie. pull-up, squat, box jump, etc.), an assistance lift (ie. Romanian deadlift), or (p)rehab (shoulder external rotation), chances are you may be wasting your time. That’s right, you may want to ditch the front delt raises to failure at the end of your upper body lift. #allgo


One of the things I want to do in this blog is introduce you to some lesser known exercises and exercise variations that can make for some interesting programming and help you to push past sticking points. With that in mind, check out these three exercises.

1) Anderson Front Squat

Why You Should Do It: Besides all the benefits of a standard front squat (quad strengthening, power increases, rectus abdominis development), the anderson front squat teaches you to generate force coming out of the bottom of your front squat without relying on the momentum created by the minor bounce at the bottom of the standard front squat. I don’t think I said front squat quite enough in that last sentence…

How To Implement It Into Your Programming: Because in the anderson front squat you are eliminating the momentum of a normal squat, you will be using less weight than a normal front squat. Ultimately, it is the front squat which will lead to greater strength and power increases than the anderson variation. Therefore, don’t use the anderson as an end itself, but as a means to the end of improving your front squat. Use the anderson variation when your front squat has plateaued.

2) Front Rack Reverse Barbell Lunge

Why You Should Do It: Single leg training is a great way to supplement heavy squatting and Olympic lifting in athletes. Single leg training will help to increase your big bilateral lifts, prevent injury by increasing balance and symmetry in the lower body, and prepare your body for athletic situations like sprinting which require you to push with one leg at a time.

The front rack reverse barbell lunge combines the benefits of single leg training with the benefits of front squats. The front rack position creates a greater demand on the core the a lunge done with dumbbells held by the side, or the bar resting on the back of the shoulders.

If you want to really challenge yourself, try starting with both feet on a box a few inches high. When you lunge, leave your front foot on the box and touch your back (lunging) toe and knee to the ground behind you (off the box). The increased knee flexion will really help VMO development. For you MMA or grappling competitors, I would argue that this is the SINGLE BEST gym exercise for improving the power behind your shots and takedowns.

How To Implement It Into Your Programming: In a workout focused on strength and power, your main lifts should be the Olympic lifts, squats, and arguably heavy deadlifts. Once you have done all the heavy lifting, move on to a lunging variation like this one. DO NOT try to do this exercise before you do heavy squats, cleans, etc. You will be starting your heavy bilateral lifts fatigued.

3) Standard Pallof Press

Why You Should Do It: The pallof press is a great way to create core stability. Being able to stabilize your core against external force is essential to any sport where physical contact is involved, and many non-contact sports. Pallof press will help you fend off an upper body-targeted takedown from a Judoka, or catch a hard pass in football which is just barely in arms reach.

How To Implement It Into Your Programming: If you are doing a lot of compound movements, squatting, etc., you most likely do not need to do a ton of additional core work, as your core is working in those movements. Throw in some Pallof presses as the last activity you do on your lower body day. You could potentially do core at the end of an upper body day as well, but if you have a lower body day the day after, core fatigue from the pallof pressing on the previous day might effect your squat, Olympic lifts, etc.

Give these exercises a shot. They are all surprisingly difficult, but will really pay dividends if used correctly. #allgo

Quick Tip

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Quick Tip

At this point, I expect to have three types of posts on this blog. General information posts, posts related to programming or specific exercises, and quick tips. The quick tip posts will be exactly what they sound like: short pieces of advice about a variety of topics relating to health and fitness.  Here is my first ‘quick tip’.

When doing sport-specific training, always try to lift the weight quickly. Power is important in almost all sports, so get used to trying to generate it, even if the weight is heavy and you are unable to displace it in an explosive manner. Conversely, lowering a heavy weight at high speed and with little control can result in injury. Don’t forget the importance of tempo! #allgo

Okay, you and I both thought I was done this series. And then BAM! Part 3. Looking over my posts thus far, I realized that I’ve used terms such as ‘powerlifting’ and ‘Olympic lifting’ without actually defining them. While I do hope this blog serves as a jumping off point which encourages you to do your own research, I do want it to be able to stand alone to a certain extent.

For the record, my definitions of each of these types of training are not meant to be exhaustive. I intentionally left out a lot of details about each sport. The goal of this post is not for you to understand everything there is to know about each of these types of training, but rather to give you a basic understanding of some key principles, as well as how each form differs from the others.

Before we get into different types of resistance training, I want to tackle an often used and rarely explained term…


While most fitness professionals have an idea of what this is, it can be difficult to actually define. Here is my stab at it. My understanding of functional training is that it is training which can be applied in a variety of ways. What I mean by this is that the capacities developed in training carry over into lots of different athletic activities, and in everyday life. For example, the gym-goer who spends all of his ‘leg day’ on the leg press would probably have a harder time picking up a heavy barrel off the floor than the athlete who spends his time front squatting. Why? Because the front squat is a gym movement which challenges your body to displace a heavy load using a NATURAL movement pattern.

Ever seen a small child pick something up off the ground? They pop down into a deeeeeep squat like it’s their job, hang out there for a while, and then get up when they feel like it. Squatting is a natural movement. Squatting requires core stabilization as well as movement in the hip, knee, and ankle joints. Picking up a heavy barrel in front of you is basically a mixture of a front squat and a Zercher squat. The leg press involves little core stabilization and virtually no hip extension. As a result, core muscles and glutes are ignored in favor of disproportionate quad and ham development. Leg pressing will do little to help you pick things up in real life, or win a sprint race. A leg press is therefore not very functional. If you front squat, the work you do will pay dividends in athletics and in everyday physical tasks. Therefore, the front squat is a functional exercise.

And now for the resistance training styles.

1) Bodybuilding

General Goal: hypertrophy (muscle growth), aesthetics

General Training Principles: focus on body parts as oppose to movements, use of compound movements such as squats and isolation movements such as leg extensions, moderate intensity aerobic exercise is used for fat loss

Athletic Pros: a bodybuilding routine can produce strength and power gains

Athletic Cons: I don’t want to go too deeply into this because I don’t want to come off as insulting to people who bodybuild who may be reading this blog. I will just say this. A bodybuilding resistance training routine will lead to increases in strength and, to a lesser extent, power. Beyond that, such a routine will do little to help improve your athletic performance. Any serious bodybuilder who knows anything about fitness will tell you this.

2) Powerlifting

General Goal: lift the largest weight possible in the sport’s three lifts: deadlift, back squat, bench press

General Training Principles: focus on the ‘3 big lifts’, low rep strength training

Athletic Pros: powerlifting makes you strong, good mobility is required in knees, hips, and to a lesser extent, ankles

Athletic Cons: Conditioning is not part of powerlifting. Powerlifting is only concerned with the three big lifts. Powerlifters do want to get strong, but they also want to find ways to make the lifts easier. Many powerlifters squat with an extremely wide stance to reduce the range of motion, and bench with an obscenely round back for the same reason. Between the focus on the three big lifts as well as the constant attempts to make those lifts easier, powerlifting may not be the best tool for creating functional strength. I knew one powerlifter who told me that his body would literally explode if he tried to do anything athletic besides powerlifting. Lastly, due to a large amount of benching with little emphasis on upper body horizontal pulling, many powerlifters have internal shoulder rotation. Lastly, there little to no single leg training involved.

3) Olympic Weightlifting

General Goal: to lift the largest weight possible in the sport’s two lifts: (squat) snatch and (squat) clean and jerk.

General Training Principles: focus on the two big lifts, low rep strength and power training

Athletic Pros: Olympic lifting will get you strong and powerful, to Olympic lift properly you have to have excellent upper and lower body mobility, because of the nature of the Olympic lifts (as opposed to the power lifts) there is a large amount of functional carryover, focus on upper back stability and quad development (specifically the VMO) is good for preventing knee and shoulder injuries

Athletic Cons: no focus on conditioning, Olympic lifts are extremely complex and difficult to learn which means there is an increased potential for injury, little emphasis on single leg training and upper body pulling

4) Strongman

General Goal: displacing extremely heavy/odd objects (functional strength)

General Training Principles: (see general goal), low rep strength training

Athletic Pros: the goal of the sport is functional strength, short duration anaerobic conditioning involved

Athletic Cons: lifting odd objects increases risk of injury, little emphasis on mobility

5) CrossFit

General Goal: general fitness and athletic capacity

General Training Principles: constantly varied workouts, combines aspects of powerlifting, Olympic lifting, endurance events, gymnastics, strongman

Athletic Pros: excellent for anaerobic and aerobic conditioning, focus on strength and power, constant programming variation means your body is being challenged by a large variety of different movements

Athletic Cons: poor form and exercise adaptations (such as kipping pull-ups) create a high risk for injury, focus on anaerobic conditioning hurts strength and power gains, little emphasis on systematic programming and periodization

Here is the important thing to take away from this post. With the possible exception of bodybuilding (which I would argue is not a sport at all, but rather an art form), there are ASPECTS of each of these resistance training styles which can assist in athletic training. Note the emphasis on the term “aspects”. If you are a football player, don’t train like a powerlifter. You are not a powerlifter. If you are an MMA fighter, don’t train like a CrossFitter. You are not a CrossFitter. In my first blog entry ever, I posted a video of George St. Pierre. In the video, you can see him doing gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, and plyometrics. For many sports, especially MMA, the best course of action is to pick and choose aspects of each of these training styles to create a program unique to YOUR sport!

Steal snatches from Olympic lifting for power. Mix in some heavy bench from powerlifting for strength. Flip a tire like a strongman for in your conditioning routine. Use thrusters like a CrossFitter and watch your anaerobic capacity skyrocket. Be creative and mix it up! #allgo

In my last post I tackled the terms ‘strength’ and ‘power’. In this post, I will be dealing with conditioning. In the fitness world, there are several different meanings of the word ‘conditioning’. In the bodybuilding world, conditioning often refers to how lean a competitor is, how much muscle tone he/she displays, etc. When I say ‘conditioning’, I am referring to ‘endurance’. Conditioning, as I understand it, especially in the context of MMA, deals with your ability to avoid fatigue.

I believe it is important when discussing conditioning to distinguish between strategy vs. capacity. Off and on, I have been doing boxing, kickboxing, and MMA sparring for about 2 years. Whenever I spar with someone who is new to it, they get tired. This is almost always the case. Sometimes, this person has poor conditioning. Other times, this person has a poor strategy as relates to their energy expenditure. I’ve seen people who show almost no fatigue hitting the pads for 3 minutes suck wind and back-pedal a minute into a sparring round. Do they have poor conditioning? No. They are simply not used to the situation. Perhaps they are not breathing properly, or perhaps they are doing a lot of unnecessary movement because they are nervous. One of the things that implementing some Crossfit techniques in my conditioning has taught me is the importance of strategy as relates to conditioning. The bigger you are, the more important this is. Even MMA cardio machines like Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz (who are both smaller athletes) use strategy as relates to their conditioning. You will periodically see Cruz take a set back from his opponent, take a big breath, and then charge back in. Strategy is important as relates to conditioning and fatigue.

Earlier I referred to conditioning as endurance. Between the use of the ‘E’ word and the picture at the top of this post, you may think I am taking about aerobic endurance, or running, or cardio. Chances are the image of a triathlete came into your mind. With that in mind, let’s define some terms…

1) Aerobic – requiring oxygen. Aerobic exercise has a longer duration than anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise requires the use of type 1 muscle fibers. (For a reminder of the three types of muscle fibers, see last post). Jogging at a steady pace for a half hour, even a quick one, is aerobic exercise.

2) Anaerobic – without oxygen. When you are in an anaerobic state, your body uses other sources of fuel, like glycogen. Anaerobic exercise is shorter in duration than aerobic. The types of muscle fibers we use in anaerobic exercise are type 2A and 2B.

3) VO2 Max – your body’s capacity to use oxygen. As your physical fitness increases, your body gets more efficient at using oxygen. Tito Ortiz has done many training camps in elevation. Elevation means your body is getting less oxygen. If you train at elevation, your body becomes more efficient at using what little oxygen it gets. This is the same reason why firefighters train in gas masks.

And now for the myths…

1) If you want to get better cardio for MMA, you should go for runs.

No. A non-championship MMA fight (depending on the organization) is 3×5 min rounds, and much of the demand on your body is anaerobic. Doing a half hour run, which is aerobic, will help very little. Unless by runs you mean sprints. Because sprints are awesome. Sprints are also anaerobic.

2) If you want to have a healthy heart, you should do ‘cardio’.

Doing circuit training which focuses on anaerobic conditioning will increase your VO2 max and cardiovascular capacity much faster than aerobic exercise will. Not only that, anaerobic training will increase your aerobic capacity a lot more than aerobic training will increase your anaerobic capacity. Running 5k 6 days a week won’t help your time if you are attempting to squat 50% of your 1RM for 100 reps as quickly as possible, but doing that squat workout will certainly help you run 5k. Personally, I was able to run a half marathon in October without running since early July strictly due to the anaerobic conditioning work I have been doing.

3) Doing a lot of aerobic work won’t effect your strength and power.

Okay, I don’t know many people who would actually suggest this, but I wanted to work it in. Guess what happened to my snatch the week after I ran that 21k? It plummeted! Know why? Because, among other things, my body was used to using the type 1 endurance muscle fibers. When I went back to single snatches, my type 2B fibers felt, for lack of a more technical term, asleep. Extended aerobic training will have negative effects on strength and power.

4) Heavy squats are anaerobic. If you do those, your anaerobic conditioning will improve.

Wrong again. I pick on powerlifters a lot, so I will pick on Olympic lifters for a change. I have a good friend and fitness mentor who is just an Olympic lifter. When I say just, what I mean is that he Olympic lifts for the sake of Olympic lifting, whereas I Olympic lift for the sake of sport specific training. Because he in an Olympic lifter, most of his sets have between 1 and 3 reps. This is anaerobic. As a result, he is much stronger and more powerful than I am. At a bodyweight of approximately 20# less than me, his 1RM front squat is about 60# higher than mine. His snatch eclipses mine by a whopping 45#. The other day we each did 50 x 95# thrusters for time. My time was almost half of his. Strength and power training will improve your anaerobic conditioning a bit, but to get good anaerobic conditioning you have to work on anaerobic conditioning.

And there you have it. Conditioning explained. Below I have included two articles by Charles Poliquin which closely relate to this post. If you want to learn a bit more about the science behind conditioning, or the effect on body fat, check them out.

Hopefully these two posts have given you a better understanding of strength, power, aerobic conditioning, and anaerobic conditioning. This will help to streamline your training. Beware of spreading your body too thin. If you try to improve at everything at once, you will overtrain, and your results will be poor. Think about what you need to improve on most, and focus on that. Work hard, and work smart! #allgo

All too often in the fitness industry, and in sports, words are used interchangeably with little regard for their actual meaning. Ever heard someone say “Just crushed some heavy bench. Power is really getting up there!”? In this post, I want to define two terms which are often confused: strength and power. The definitions which I will offer are not perfect, but will give you a basic understanding of the difference between the two.

Strength – the ability to generate force against a maximal load. The term ‘maximal’ is important here. Strength is about lifting the heaviest thing you can. A good way to test your overall strength is finding your 1RM for the back squat.

Power – the love child of speed and strength. While strength is only concerned with the force produced, power is concerned with the speed in which that force is produced. If two lifters both have a 1RM back squat of 200#, they are equally strong. However, if it takes lifter ‘A’ three seconds to lift the weight out of the bottom position of the squat, and lifter ‘B’ half a second, lifter ‘B’ is the more powerful of the two because he displaced the same load in less time. A good way to test your overall power is finding your 1RM for the clean.

And now for the myths…

1) Doing relatively high rep sets (8, 10, etc) will improve strength.

Doing 4 sets of 8 will improve your strength the same way exercising once a week will improve your fitness. Maybe a bit, at the beginning, but generally this will not help. Strength, as defined earlier, is the ability to generate force against maximal load. If you can lift it 8 times, it’s not maximal. When training for pure strength, keep your rep range between 1 and 3 per set.

2) I want to become more powerful, so I should powerlift.

I seem to have dumped on powerlifters in every post so far. For the record, I don’t hate powerlifting, but it is important to understand it more as a sport in itself and than a sport-specific training method. More on that another time. Any high-level athletic trainer will tell you that the term ‘powerlifting’ is a bit of a misnomer. Powerlifters don’t really care how quickly they lift a weight as long as they lift it. What does that sound like to you? Strength. Powerlifting should really be called strength-lifting. If you want to become more powerful, Olympic lift.

3) If you become stronger, you automatically become more powerful.

Yes and no, but mostly no. As a general rule, if you compare Olympic lifters and powerlifters, the Olympic lifters will be more powerful and the powerlifters will be stronger. (Obviously this may not be the case if you are comparing a 5’2’’ Olympic lifter and a 6’2’’ powerlifter, but you understand what I’m getting at). Yes, Olympic lifters are also strong and powerlifters are also powerful, but for the most part that statement holds true. Olympic lifters train to be powerful and powerlifters train to be strong. Each training methodology will help you create both power and strength, but depending on your goals, one is more appropriate.

At the gym where I Olympic lift, there is a large powerlifting population. There is one powerlifter who I have seen squat 455# for reps who has recently decided to start Olympic lifting. Even with all that strength, his snatch is achingly slow. My back squat is nowhere near his, but I can snatch 150# a heck of a lot faster. Strength does not necessarily equal power.

4) Doing high rep sets of typical power exercises like cleans and box jumps will increase power.

I have a similar response to the myth that I did to the last one. This will likely increase your power a tiny bit, but not much. We have three types of muscle fiber in our bodies. Type 1, type 2A, and type 2B. Type 1 muscle fibers are the ‘endurance’ fibers. They last a while. Successful marathon runners have a high concentration of type 1 fibers in their bodies.

Type 2A fibers are intermediate. There is some debate regarding how long it takes them to burn out, but you can estimate that they will start to fade after approximately 1-2 minutes of activity. Type 2B fibers are the strength and power fibers. Their contractions create short bursts of power, but burn out very quickly, literally within seconds. Let’s say you are going to do 100 jump squats. Good power builder right? WRONG! I’m going to assume that if you are human, 100 full bodyweight jump squats will take you at least a minute. What muscle fibers are you using if you are doing a minute long activity? The answer is, for the most part, type 2A.

Try this exercise. Do a 30 second ‘sprint’. Start as quickly as you can and maintain that pace for 30 seconds. You will not be able to do it. You will likely feel a switch flip somewhere between 5 and 15 seconds where you start to slow down. That’s your type 2B fibers dying. They did their work, and helped you explode at the beginning, but they cannot help you as you approach the 20 second mark of your sprint.

All that is to say, if you do high rep power movements, you are training your type 2A and 1 fibers, not the type 2B fibers which really make you powerful.

5) If I want to get stronger or more powerful, I need to put on a ton of mass.

Bodybuilders do weight training to put on size. This is their main goal, although they are also concerned with symmetry, bodyfat, etc. Ever seen a bodybuilder work out? Ever counted the number of reps he does in a set? Usually, it’s somewhere around 10. Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, tends to occur most when your rep range per set is somewhere between 9 and 12. This is a GROSS generalization, but fairly accurate. Will lifting heavy things for 5 sets of 2 add some size to you? Yes, a bit, but not much. You can train for strength without putting on a lot of size.


For the record, you can train strength and power in the same day. Start your workout with cleans for power, and then move on to front squats for strength. This is a common pattern for Olympic lifters. Strength and power do not need to be isolated from each other, but it is important to understand what they are and how they are different.

And there you have it. Strength and power explained, and myths debunked. Are you working on strength, power, or both today? #allgo

Heavy Deadlifts for MMA?

Posted: November 22, 2012 in Fitness
Tags: , ,

Deadlifts are an awesome exercise for strength and posterior chain development, but where do they fit into strength training for MMA? I would suggest avoiding heavy deadlifting in your MMA strength program. Here’s why.
1) Heavy Deadlifts are hard on the CNS. In a recently published article on TNation (link included at the bottom for you keeners), Bret Contreras details John Broz’ philosophy on squats. In short, Broz suggests you should max out on them everyday. There is a section in this article on John Broz’ Powerlifting methodology. Among other things, it states in this section that you should max out your deadlift every 6-8 weeks. Why? Because deadlifts require a lot more neural drive than squats. Increased neural drive requirement means more of a chance of injury, and a higher likelihood of overtraining. Given that deadlifts and squats are both great strength builders, but you can squat heavy a lot more frequently than you should deadlift heavy, ditch the heavy deadlifts.

In addition to this, think about the fact that many MMA fighters have multiple training sessions in a day, sometimes with little break. How many of you have rolled and then tried to lift immediately afterwards? Trying to deadlift heavy when you are that fatigued is a recipe for lumbar destruction.

2) You will get enough posterior chain development from heavy Olympic lifts. Every MMA fighter should do Olympic lifts. When I say ‘Olympic Lifts’, I am referring to the snatch and the clean (I will get into jerks another time). If you cannot do Olympic lifts, you probably shouldn’t be training to fight. Olympic lifts, like deadlifts, involve a heavy pull off the floor. The benefit of Olympic lifts over deadlifts is that the former teaches the body to generate power, while the latter is more of a slow strength movement. But Ben, isn’t the deadlift a POWERlifting movement? Yes, it is. BUT, Olympic lifters ironically have greater capacity to generate power than powerlifters. Don’t believe me? Get a powerlifter and an Olympic lifter of roughly the same weight and build to compare vertical jumps. Most likely, the powerlifter will get crushed. Long story short, both the movement pattern and the muscles used in deadlifts can be covered by heavy Olympic lifting, specifically snatching.

3) Heavy deadlifts aren’t as applicable to MMA as you think. “But I want to be able to pick guys up and slam them!” you might say. Well, most of us have seen the infamous video of Rampage Jackson putting Arona to sleep with a huge slam. If you haven’t, check it out below, because it’s pretty cool.

Yes, this could happen, and yes, deadlifting might help you to do it. However, this situation is pretty unlikely. Take a look at the next video. This is a fairly standard double-leg takedown variation.

Look at the body mechanics of the instructor after he has shot in, secured the legs, and gotten back to his feet. Sure, he is about to lift his partner and drive him forward, but does that movement look like a deadlift to you? It shouldn’t. He’s not pulling his partner off the floor like you do when you deadlift. He is driving forward. Also, the partner’s torso is in front of the instructors torso, not below the instructors torso. Anyone see where I’m going? If you want explosive takedowns where you pick your opponents up, try ditching the heavy deadlift for a few of these bad boys.

The front squat much more closely mimics the mechanics of an explosive takedown than a deadlift. Plus, like the back squat, your CNS won’t get super fatigued if you front squat heavy multiple times a week.

Are there cases where deadlifting can be used in MMA training? Absolutely!! The deadlift is a great movement. Just because it is not necessarily the best option for MMA strength training doesn’t mean it’s lousy, and should be done away with. Here are two scenarios where a deadlift could be effectively implemented in an MMA strength program.

1) You are going up in weight and need to add strength and mass. Sure, squats will do this, but if a 135er told me he wanted to go up to 155, one of the FIRST things I would get him to do would be heavy deadlifting. Picking up heavy things off the ground makes you stronger. Period.

2) You want to do a little posterior chain remedial work for knee health and to balance all the squatting and Olympic lifting you have done which has built you sturdy quads but left your hamstrings somewhat underdeveloped. In this case, there are tons of great variations you can do. Snatch grip deadlifts. Snatch grip rack pulls. Romanian deadlifts. Single leg variations. The list goes on and on. HOWEVER, do not do these movements heavy. A good way to injure yourself is by trying to do heavy RDL’s after an hour plus of squatting and Olympic lifting. Besides, you don’t need to go heavy to get the remedial effect you are searching for here.

And there you have it. Are heavy deadlifts bad if you are an MMA fighter? No. But, there are better things you could be doing. Now go do some heavy front squats. #allgo