How Much Strength do you need?

heavy_weight_lifting_image_title_ovyw1.jpgI’m kind of known as the physical training guy in my circle of tactically minded friends. I was a graduate assistant in the exercise physiology lab at my university and worked at a hospital human performance laboratory for five years. I have trained a number of people and have written a lot about training.

So, it might surprise you when I recommend weight training and cardiovascular training as supplemental to your main activity/endeavor/or sport.  You should do the minimum amount of weight training and cardiovascular training to get the desired adaptations. You then reduce training and maintain the attributes you gained through training. The majority of your time should be spent practicing your sport/endeavor.

Does general strength and cardiovascular conditioning carry over to sports? Yes, but it doesn’t supplant specifically training for your sport.

There is no way to know how strong you need to be for your endeavor. Even the oft quoted: 1.5 bodyweight bench press, 2 x squat, and 2.5 x deadlift, have no real basis in sport performance. Can Marcelo Garcia (A multiple time grappling world champion, including absolute champion) 2.5 imes his bodyweight for a one rep max deadlift? We don’t know because Garcia admittedly does not weight train. He is one of the best grapplers in the world, arguably one of the best grapplers of all time and he does NO supplemental training, he just trains BJJ.

There is no formula for how strong you need to be in a particular lift which translates to elite performance in non strength sports.

Legendary strength trainer Dan John, has the following standards:

Expected = Bodyweight bench press
Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press for 15 reps
Expected = 5 pullups
Game-changer = 15 pullups
Expected = Bodyweight to 150% bodyweight deadlift
Game-changer = Double-bodyweight deadlift
Expected = Bodyweight squat
Game-changer = Bodyweight squat for 15 reps
Loaded Carry
Expected = Farmer walk with total bodyweight (half per hand)
Game-changer =Bodyweight per hand
One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water

All of these standards could be met with a concentrated, consistent, basic, strength program.

There is not a linear relationship between strength and performance in any (non-pure strength) sport.

Years ago, I taught boxing for self defense at a seminar. There was an extremely huge powerlifter in the class. He was strong and he looked strong. He trained to maximize his one repetition maximal lift in the: Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift. He did not train to box. What do you think happened? He gassed in 30 seconds and eventually had to sit out the rest of the session. I was concerned he was going to pass out or force me to use my CPR skills…no joke.

Many conditioning coaches and strength trainers come from strength sports, powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, Track and Field or endurance sports. For most strength athletes, lifting heavy things is their sport. So lifting four to six days a week IS sport specific training.

Some trainers love to whip out platitudes like: “Strong people are harder to kill” and “An adult male weighs over 200 pounds”. Marcelo Garcia weighs well under 200 pounds and would display one tenth of the strength of an elite powerlifter but I guarantee Garcia would take the elite powerlifters back and choke him unconscious within seconds.

Skill makes you harder to kill, strength supports skill and supports your ability to drill and train more to develop that skill while reducing injuries.

So, how do we determine what to train to supplement our sport?

For the athlete, shooter, tactician, or multidisciplinary practitioner, the goal of strength training is to support our skill training. Because we are stronger we could squeeze out 200 reps of a technique drill rather than gassing at 50 reps. We are also healthier and more resistant to injury when stronger.

Like the physician’s Hippocratic Oath, strength training programs and trainers should “do no harm”.

You should never be injured from your supplemental training program.

This cuts out aggressive plyometrics, kipping pull ups, or other inherently fast, ballistic movements…like the full versions of the snatch and clean and jerk. Unless your sport involves kipping pull ups, jumping, or the full range Olympic Lifts, doing these exercises enhances risk. If you do not have a sport or side line your training for or you really like Olympic lifting, have at it, your training is your sport.

We need to be strong enough but not chase numbers. Injuries occur when athletes skate on the thin edge. Once we can squat 2 times body weight is there more crossover if we could squat 2.5 times body weight?

A more relevant question is “what do I have to do to go from a 2 times body weight max squat to a 2.5 times body weight max squat”? If that involves more squat work, bands, chains, and accessory work, you are just taking time away from skill training to hit a random number in a gym, to impress your training partners (who really couldn’t give a shit). The small injuries, sore legs, sore knees, etc. will make training your actual sport harder.

Dan John said: “The goal is to keep the goal the goal”.  I love that. If your goal is to be a better shooter, boxer, or grappler (or all of the above), keep that your goal, don’t get distracted by the 315 pound bench press.

How do you know if you’re strong enough? Get input from coaches, trainers, training partners, and your own self evaluation. My BJJ training partners have never told me I was weak. I don’t feel weak when rolling. At various times in my training and competition career I have felt gassed. When that occurred, I focused on cardiovascular conditioning and maintained my strength. If you are self aware and train with realistic pressure, you know.

One of the most common refrains after a Craig Douglas’, Extremely Close Quarters Concepts class (basically grappling with firearms) is: “I need to get in shape”! If we drill down we learn people hit or go over their anaerobic threshold, hit a wall, and cannot continue or can only continue at a much reduced power output.

This issue is actually a tad more complicated than just “getting in shape”. Skill breeds efficiency. The more efficient you are the less energy you expend. Experience breeds confidence. The more confident you are the less nervous you are and the better you could control your heart rate. The stronger you are the easier it is to move people using submaximal contractions (if you bench 250 moving around a 150 pound person is easier than if you bench 150). And, of course, the more conditioned you are, the better you are able to generate submaximal power for longer periods of time. We have to balance this with the time we spend actually doing our sport, working, and actually having a life!

I accomplish this by focusing on one attribute at a time while maintaining other attributes. I find three days a week of strength training using 2-5 reps, 3-5 sets, major compound lifts is perfect for building strength. I structure training is 8 week blocks changing the reps, sets, and working weight (as calculated by percentage of 1 rep max), every week.

So when building strength I would prescribe 3 days of lifting, one long cardiovascular session at a low heart rate, and one interval cardio session, usually 15 seconds hard followed by 45 seconds slow x 15 – 20 reps.

If I had to focus on another attribute, say anaerobic threshold, I would focus 4 times a week on cardiovascular training and maintain strength with two sessions a week. I find, at 53 years old, I could maintain or even build strength (albit slowly) with two short, intense, weight lifting sessions a week.

If I just wanted to cruise and train my sport hard, I would lift two times a week, do one long cardio session a week (1 – 1.5 hours, mixed modalities, usually at least 30 minutes of running outside), and one high intensity interval training session of about 15 minutes.

I will detail a lifting program in a future post.























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I had a fairly unusual mentor during my college years. Dr. Ed Thomas was a, I don’t know exactly how to put this, “movement enthusiast”.  If it involved physical movement, he was into it and studied it. Ed was also a hippie, donated a large percentage of his earnings to charity, embraced minimalism before it was trendy, living with with a futon and writing desk, one pair of shoes, and the minimal amount of clothing necessary to survive in northern Illinois. This was 1982 to about 1985.

Ed Thomas Indian Clubs

As a young man Ed was raised in a rough town in a rough neighborhood. Ed joined the Army and was a grunt on the Korean DMZ during the Pueblo Incident. After leaving the military, Ed choose to hitchhike around the country like Kwai Chang Caine (if you don’t know, look it up..Kung Fu was seminal to my growth). He left my college as a PhD and ended up teaching as a civilian for the U.S. Army. He and his coworkers, altered the physical training culture of the military.

Ed is the most open minded person I know. He encouraged me to be open minded and learn from everyone. He took me to a Hari Krishna gathering on campus to sample vegan (I don’t think vegan was a word in the ’80s but that food was vegan) food and hear what the cult members…I mean, “monks and monketts” had to say. He practiced Yoga, Thai Boxing (he recruited some of the first Thai Boxers to come to the United States to teach), Indian Clubs, weight lifting, cardiovascular training, inversion training, meditation, control of breathing, mind control, and more esoteric undertakings (some from yoga and other disciplines).

One time, I went to his office the day after I was involved in a bar fight. I was a little conflicted, and impressed with myself, that I used my martial arts to, let’s say, defeat a larger dumb ass. He gave me a disapproving look and told me the following story:

A Judo black belt is on a bus, in Tokyo, going to the Kodokan to train. He observes a very large, extremely, drunk man enter the bus and begin to bully a number of smaller people in the front of the bus. The black belt becomes angry and pictures how he is going to destroy the drunk idiot. As the black belt stands, he observes an older, frail, woman approach the drunkard and place her hand on his arm. The drunkard turns to her and they engage in a brief conversation. The drunkard sits down in on a bench seat, puts his face in his hands and begins to cry. Between sobs, the black belt hears the man tell the story of how the man just lost his wife and daughter. The older woman consoles him and the man becomes meek and apologies to everyone on the bus. The black belt realizes the real black belt on the bus is the older woman. When he enters the Kodokan to train, the black belt returns his black belt and dons a white belt.

This story is not verbatim, the black belt might have been an Aikido black belt but in my memory it was Judo. I figure this is some common martial art lore to teach a point but I couldn’t find the story with a Google search, so I will attribute the story to Ed.

Ed always had stories like that. He once told me: “If you want it bad enough, a teacher will come”. I thought that was pretty cool but sorta thought it was bullshit.

It wasn’t.  A teacher always came my way when I needed one. In martial arts, SWAT, police work, Investigations, leadership, and tactics, a mentor appeared, almost like magic. Every one of them were elite operators and excellent instructors. Mike Knauff, Dan Inosanto, Bob James, Pete Negro, Dale Sayset, Jeff Neal, Carlson Gracie Jr., Craig Douglas and more. Close friends and colleagues, Cecil Burch, Paul Sharp, William Aprill, and Chris Fry still teach me something, pretty much every week.

Ed also believed you could learn from anyone or anything.

I see a ton of sniping on social media. People publicly going after instructors in the “training” industry. Personal attacks and flat out character assassination. I have nothing against an aggressive debrief of an event, operation, or a class. As a matter of fact, I flat out encourage it! The more truthful and comprehensive, the better.

Personal attacks have no place in the debrief process. Ed believed you could learn from anyone. The guru or the bum. If you treat everyone with respect, they will open up and may teach you something.

Don’t have a fixed dogma. The more entrenched you become, the harder it is for you to learn new things. Develop best practices, follow them, but be open to new information. My friend Claude Werner, an elite firearms trainer, once said to me “my understanding NOW…”. He was explaining trigger press. Trigger press is a pretty basic function of firearms training, yet Claude carefully used the word “now”. He left open the possibility his views might change in the future.

Large organizations are slow to move and hard to change.  Most traditional martial artists are also fixed or constrained within the boundaries of their art.

People who know me know I speak my mind. My mentors in martial arts, SWAT, and Investigations encouraged me to speak my mind.  In those environments, open, honest, raw communication were vital to the safety and effectiveness of the job.

This did not translate to career advancement. There were two distinct incidents where my directness negatively impacted my career advancement. So, use this advice with caution.

Be open to new information, always remain a good student, don’t enter a class with preconceived notions. If you take a class and the instructor teaches a technique or a process you do not agree with, embrace the process train the technique and do the work. After the class, after the reps, then critically evaluate the information and determine if you could extract any information.

The answers are usually contained within the process of DOING. Be openminded.

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Odysseus and the wind bag



BagofWinds_2.jpgOdysseus, King of Ithaca, and action hero in Homer’s poem, Iliad and Odyssey, teaches us something about attainment of goals.


According to Homer (I can’t verify this actually happened but is seems likely), ten years after the Trojan war (check out the movie Troy, it’s almost a documentary), Odysseus was had still not gone home and arrived at the floating island of Aeolia. The King of Aeolia, King Aeolos, was appointed by Zeus as “The Keeper of the Winds”. Odysseus and Aeolos became fast friends and after hanging around for a month, telling war stories, Aeolos gave Odysseus an ox-skin bag which contained all of the strong winds.

The calm and mild Zephyr wind was left out of the bag and Odysseus left Aeolia to calmly sail home to Ithaca. Odysseus left the bag of winds strapped to the boat but did not tell his men what was inside the bag. In retrospect this was a really bad idea.

Odysseus and his men sailed, actually rowed, for nine days and nights for Ithaca when in the distance, Odysseus saw land and the cooking fires of his people. Exhausted from sailing for 9 days straight and so close to home, Odysseus decided the journey was almost over, so he decided to nap.

While sleeping, Odysseus’ men decided to open the bag, thinking it might be treasure.

what's in the box.jpg

(It’s possible they did not see the movie Seven, thereby not knowing NOT to look in the box, or bag, whatever)

They open the bag, the winds escape and the boat gets blown almost back to where they started the 9 day rowing marathon.

Odysseus is pretty pissed and the crew rows back to Aeolia. King Aeolos is amazed the Odysseus screwed up a fairly simple task (getting home in calm winds) so he believes Odysseus is cursed by the gods and refuses to help with another bag of wind.

Odysseus and his merry crew then try to head back home and it doesn’t go so smoothly this time, ogres, blood suckers, witches, men turn into pigs, and a trip to the Underworld ensue.

So, where am I going with this?

Often, we get within sight of our goal and decide it’s good enough. We stop and then backtrack.

Trying to get under 10% bodyfat and see rippling abs? I have seen numerous people get within striking range after four months of hard work, call it good, and quit. Then rather than maintain and have a last go of it, they go back to their normal habits and gain all the fat back.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, students work hard for a belt promotion. After years of hard practice they are rewarded with a blue belt. Many then quit. The journey was hard, they accomplished something and the next step, purple belt, or the big step, black belt, seems so far away as to be unattainable. I know many perpetual blue belts. The quit, come back, quit, come back, in a never ending cycle.


  • Make a commitment to finish what you start.
  • Focus on the daily habits which lead you to your goal, engage the GRIND.
  • Focus on the day to day, do your dryfire, go to BJJ class, etc.
  • Be a professional and show up. You don’t have to be heroic every day but you do have to show up.
  • When you feel like quitting, you are close, ignore that voice in your head and continue to grind.
  • And, for God’s sake, don’t fall asleep and give your men an opportunity to open the wind bag!

Sponge bob bag of wind.gif



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Prevent The Number 1 Cause of Death



(Don’t be this guy, watch at your own risk)

What I failed to point out in my LSD training articles is, cardiovascular fitness and dietary control have protective benefits to the number one killer in the US:

Cardiovascular disease.

This is an easy win. Cardiovascular disease (which includes Heart Disease, Stroke and other Cardiovascular Diseases) is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 787,000 people in 2011.


Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. Every 60 seconds, someone dies from a heart disease-related event.

There are roughly 32,000 gun deaths per year in the United States. Of those, around 60% are suicides. About 3% are accidental deaths (between 700-800 deaths). About 34% of deaths (just over 11,000 in both 2010 and 2011) make up the remainder of gun deaths and are classified as homicides. According to FBI statistics, there were 12,664 homicides in the US in 2011.

12,664 homicides vs. 787,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease.

If you live in a safer area and don’t gang bang, your chances of being a homicide victim drop.

According to the Chicago Police Department almost 80% of gun related homicides are gang related. In 2015, 506 homicides occurred in the city of Chicago.

Approximately 106 homicides in Chicago, in 2015, could be classified as non-gang related homicides. 2.719 million people live in Chicago. Do the math.

It is important to prepare to not be the victim of a homicide. Train with your firearms. Train BJJ, boxing, MMA. Integrate these skills within a weapons based enviroment and pressure test.


If you prepare to protect yourself from violent death, it only makes sense to protect yourself from the most likely cause of death, cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association cardiovascular training significantly impacts rates of heart disease and significantly impacts survivability.  

Obesity is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. You control obesity through diet.

So, independent of the performance benefits of cardiovascular training, LSD training and dietary discipline has a significantly greater chance of saving your life than training with firearms and martial arts.




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Let’s Build a Cardio Base with LSD


In the first part of this article series (Part 1) I outlined why you need to incorporate Long Slow Distance (LSD) training into your training calendar. In this post I will detail exactly how to implement a cardiovascular base building program.


Ideally we would implement two eight week blocks of concentrated LSD training within a twelve month training year. For my own training I will complete a LSD block in January/February and in July/August. You could do a block of training once or twice a year.  More than that and you are filling six months or more of your yearly training with cardiovascular-centric training. Training sessions will be long and boring (for most sane people) so we want to go through these training blocks as few times a year as necessary.

Throughout the rest of the year, one day a week is dedicated to a long LSD session and two days are dedicated to other conditioning modalities. I complete a 60 – 90 minute session of LSD on Sundays and depending on what is on the competition horizon, I dedicate at least one 15-20 minute training session to some form of high intensity interval training and one session 15 – 20 minute session to VO2 MAX training or tempo training.


The mode of exercise is the brass tacks of what training equipment or modality are you going to use to train the heart and cardiovascular system. Fighters have traditionally gravitated to road work. There is nothing wrong with running/jogging and my personal opinion is I see more consistent and better gains with road work. But road work alone, especially during a LSD centric block of training could lead to injury or aggravate old injuries and beat up knees.

We want to mainly use the largest muscles of the body and the training should be rhythmic. Stationary Bicycle, rowing, running/jogging, heavy bag, jump rope, versa climber, Jacob’s ladder, elliptical trainer, rucking, etc.  Our goal in this training phase is to peg our heart rate at a specific number of beats per minute. Because some of the gains in VO2 MAX and stroke volume involve peripheral vascularization (actually growing blood vessels in muscle tissue) and changes in at the mitochondrial level, involving the arms in some way, at least some of the time, is preferable, especially if you use your arms in your sport.

To break up long sessions you could mix modes, ie.: 13 minute session of jump rope (4 X 3 minute rounds with 30 seconds rest between rounds), 15 minutes on the Air Dyne, 15 minutes on the treadmill, 13 minutes heavy bag (4 X 3 minute rounds with 30 seconds rest between rounds), and 20 minutes running/jogging outside. Mixing modalities also helps to lessen overuse injuries.

For shorter interval sessions I usually use the Air Dyne bike or C2 rower.


If left to their own devices, most athletes and regular people will train LSD too hard. Going for a run becomes a death race. Endurance trainers call these training sessions “junk miles”. They are junk miles because they are not hard enough to train VO2 MAX or anaerobic threshold and they are not easy enough to allow for full filling of the ventricles to allow a training response to enhance stroke volume.

We eliminate this “go by feel” training by training with a heart rate monitor.

I like the Polar “Bluetooth” heart rate monitor with the Polar soft strap. The soft strap allows for contact training (like sparring in BJJ) and the Bluetooth allows you to train without a watch. The monitor feeds straight to an app on your smartphone.


There are many methods to determine the ideal heart rate for LSD training. I’m going to suggest Dr. Phil Maffetone’s 180 formula.

180 – your age = your training heart rate or MAF

According to Maffetone, you should modify this number:


  1. “If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
  2. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
  3. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.
  4. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.”


So a 35 year old who has never trained LSD before would come up with the following training heart rate:

180 – 35 = 145 – 5 (see number 2 above) = 140

So our untrained 35 year old would peg their heart rate at 140 beats per minute for the entire LSD training session. I like to see the average HR on the Polar Training as close to 140 as possible. Will your heart rate go higher than 140 during a 3 minute round of jump rope? Possibly, but try to keep it around 140. Will the heart rate go lower than 140 during a 30 second “rest period” between rounds? Sure, it really doesn’t matter, just try to get the average heart rate at 140 and try to spend the majority of your training session at or around 140 BPM.


I don’t count sport specific training towards my cardiovascular training. So if I spar for 30 minutes, 3 times a week, that time is not counted as a cardiovascular training session. One exception is if you are in a “training camp” for an event. As we progress in the training camp our cardiovascular training becomes more specific to convert our general gains into specific gains.  Joel Jamieson at 8 Weeks Out, has excellent material regarding conditioning and specific conditioning for events.

I keep weight training simple, hard, and intense. I only recommend lifting two times a week during an LSD training cycle. We are looking to maintain strength, not enhance strength.  It’s possible to reduce strength specific training to one session and maintain a majority of strength but two sessions seems to be ideal.

Ideally, we would train strength and cardio on separate days. If we have to train them on the same days, ideally we would separate our training sessions by at least four hours. If you are a normal person, you may not be able to do that so, train cardio first and strength second. There is emerging science to back this recommendation up which has to do with muscle growth signaling. But if you don’t want to do train cardio first, then strength train first. I don’t think it’s a deal breaker either way.

A sample eight week program:

Weeks          Session 1                             Session 2                          Session 3

1                     LSD 30                                  LSD 20                              LSD 30

2                    LSD 40                                  LSD 30                              LSD 40

3                    LSD 50                                   LSD 40                              LSD 50

4                    LSD 60                                   LSD 50                              30:30 x 5

5                    LSD 70                                   LSD 30                              60:60 x 6

6                    LSD 80                                   LSD 60                              3:1 x 3 x 2

7                    LSD 90                                   LSD 60                              3:1 x 3 x 3

8                    LSD 90                                   LSD 70                               5:1 x 4

LSD: Choose a modality or mix of modalities and after a 5 minute warm up, keep your heart rate at MAF for the required time. Time is in minutes (60 = sixty minutes).

30:30s: Choose a modality and stick with it throughout the entire block of training. Go as hard as you can for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds. Complete the prescribed number of rounds.

60:60s: Sticking with the modality you choose for 30:30s, go as hard as you can sustain for 60 seconds; rest for 60 seconds for the prescribed number of rounds.

3:1 x rnds: Same modality as 30:30 and 60:60, 3 minutes as hard as you could sustain, 1 minute rest for three rounds. Rest for 3 minutes and repeat for the prescribed number of rounds.

This isn’t the only way to build a cardiovascular base but it will get the job done and allow for sport specific training and resistance training.

Day 2, 4, 6, and 7 are left blank for resistance training and sport specific training. Switch this up to fit your schedule but try not to put two days of cardiovascular training together.

This is not the time to be in a calorie deficit. This is not a fat loss program. I don’t believe in using exercise to create a calorie deficit for fat loss. You need to be at maintenance + estimated expenditure for this program. If you are losing weight, increase calories.

This program is specific to improving cardiovascular function. HIIT and sport specific training is layered on top of the base you build from this program.



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You need LSD

(This is a multiple part article regarding Long Slow Distance training for the combat athlete. I first published this article on a private message board in the summer of 2009. Parts of this post have been edited from the original).


You need to do LSD…not that kind of LSD, the long boring kind of LSD. Long Slow Distance training!


One of the most common comments we hear after a first time student completes a force on force evolution of training is: “I need to get in shape”. Working against a fully resisting human being, with the free will to do anything to win the battle, is an exhausting endeavor.

Vince Lombardi (or possibly George Patton) is credited with the quote “fatigue makes cowards of us all”.  Spend one evening watching UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) and you will observe what happens when an athlete crosses over his or her anaerobic threshold, for too long, and gasses. It looks like they are fighting in molasses, they dramatically slow down and cannot mount an offence, their defense crumbles.  They “gas”.

Gassing is a colloquial term for the failure of aerobic and anaerobic systems to keep up with the muscles demand for energy. When an athlete “gasses” their body essentially quits.

For the purposes of this blog post we’ll look at blood as the delivery system for oxygen. Oxygen is used by the muscles to produce energy. When we outwork our muscles ability to reproduce energy, we gas.

If the blood is an oxygen carrier, the heart is the pump which gets the blood to our muscles. The heart is a muscle with four chambers. The stronger the muscle and the bigger the chambers, the better…to a point.


There is a training method which enhances our bodies ability to pump more blood, extract more oxygen, and use that oxygen more effectively to produce energy.

This method of training has been vilified by trainers worldwide and has been blamed for muscle wasting and making athletes slow.

Since the 90s, interval training has been heralded as the be all end all conditioning modality. Interval training has its place within a training year but it must be layered on a large, efficient aerobic engine.

The method to get that engine is:

Long Slow Distance or LSD training.

There has been a resurgence of Western fighters doing roadwork (LSD) or longer bouts of aerobic exercise. I say Western fighters because Thai Boxers never stopped doing roadwork. It is a staple of their morning training. Thai Boxers don’t gas.

We are going to dig into what changes occur during LSD training and why these changes enhance enhance athletic performance for athletes who relay heavily on their aerobic systems (this includes self defense enthusiasts who train to fight).



The maximum volume of oxygen a person could use. Sometimes called maximal oxygen uptake. VO2 MAX is measured in ml/kg/min. VO2 MAX is genetically limited so thank or curse your ancestors. As a side because VO2 MAX is measured in ml/KG/min, if you lower the kg (that’s body weight, ideally body fat) you will increase MAX VO2.

Anaerobic Threshold / Lactate Threshold:

The point during exercise of increasing intensity at which blood lactate begins to accumulate above resting levels, where lactate clearance is no longer able to keep up with lactate production. During low intensity exercise, blood lactate remains at or near to resting levels. As exercise intensity increases there comes a break point where blood lactate levels rise sharply. Researchers in the past have suggested that this signifies a significant shift from predominantly aerobic metabolism to predominantly anaerobic energy production. (1)

For our purpose, aerobic energy production could go on for a very long time at lower level intensities. As intensity of the exercise increases, we cross a threshold where we exceed our ability to reproduce energy. Once we cross this threshold (anaerobic or lactate threshold) we have about 20 or so seconds until we cannot function effectively and have to slow down to recharge.


According to Wikipedia:

Stroke volume (SV) is the volume of blood pumped from one ventricle of the heart with each beat. It is calculated by subtracting the volume of blood in the ventricle at the end of a beat (called end-systolic volume) from the volume of blood just prior to the beat (called end-diastolic volume). The term stroke volume applies equally to both left and right ventricles of the heart. These two stroke volumes are generally equal, both approximately 70 ml in a healthy 70-kg man. 

Stroke volume is an important determinant of cardiac output, which is the product of stroke volume and heart rate. Because stroke volume decreases in certain conditions and disease states, stroke volume itself correlates with cardiac function“.

Slow rhythmic cardiovascular training increases the chamber size of the heart and increases the heart muscles ability to contract. This leads to an increase in stroke volume.

Stroke volume and cardiac muscle hypertrophy are importantly linked. Dilation of the heart chambers without the increase in muscle size leads to heart failure.

The muscle is physiologically set to produce “x” amount of contraction per cubic mm. Functional dilation of chamber size is always accompanied by a corresponding increase in muscle size in the healthy, enlarged heart.

To review, LSD training makes the heart chamber size bigger and the heart muscle stronger so the athlete could pump more oxygen rich blood to the working muscles.

The cardiovascular training effect is best elicited through LSD-type training. The physiological adaptations take several months, so you have to do the work to get the benefits.

The increase in stroke volume, due to training, is one of the hallmarks of this cardiovascular training effect.  LSD training has the following effects on the cardiovascular system:


  • Increase in ventricular stroke volume: being able to do the same work at a lower heart rate is more efficient and leaves extra headroom for higher workloads
  • Dilation of coronary arteries: larger conduits to supply blood to the heart muscle also provide higher capacity for work
  • Increase in pulmonary diffusion coefficient: the lungs become more permeable to gases, meaning that respiratory exchange allows more oxygen to enter the bloodstream per breath, and more CO2 to be removed. Increases in vital capacity (size limit of the lung) can also contribute to more gas exchange.


Another factor in stroke volume is the contractile ability of the heart muscle. If your heart can more fully empty the ventricle during a single ejection phase, your stroke volume will be proportionately higher. Larger ventricles (heart chambers) need more muscle to empty efficiently; it’s simply a law of physics.

The competence of heart valves is an important factor in the ability to pump more blood per beat. Many people have subclinical leakage in one or more valves, leading to less potential development of extreme athletic cardiac performance.

If we could increase stroke volume, we could increase the amount of oxygen the tissues could access, faster. Bigger heart ventricles (chambers) equal more blood pumped per beat, equals more O2 to the muscles, faster.

Muscle tissue in the legs, arms, and torso, also adapt to aerobic training. On the physiological side, trained muscle tissue is able to extract more oxygen from the blood supply and, combined with changes in the control of energy metabolism, has increased capacity for work.

This is one of the reasons we can’t just run/jog but need use all the muscles we use for our endeavors. We could do this by using rowers, Versaclimbers, Airdynes, or any other machine or modality which incorporates the arms.

My personal observation is running is the most efficient and effective way to enhance conditioning. So, running/jogging, should at least be a part of your LSD session unless your injury history precludes it.

To expand on specificity of cardiovascular training a tad. Having the big engine is fantastic and necessary. We can use general training to get the big engine. But, specific training is king; you need to convert the general adaptations to your sport.


We could work harder under our anaerobic threshold and not gas so fast. We also recover a hell of a lot quicker because we are getting more oxygen to the muscles.

But doesn’t all this endurance training turn all of our muscles into slow twitch fibers? Well, yeah, sort of, if all you do is endurance work. This is really an oversimplification, but it is adequate for our purposes.

You still need to train anaerobically and lift weights. We are trying to get a specific result here, which changes the size of the heart and the ability of the muscles to uptake oxygen.

Once we get that result, we don’t have to put in the same volume to keep the changes and could shift our training to address other weaknesses.

Can we estimate if our stroke volume is good enough for our fitness/martial arts endeavors? We could roughly estimate where our stroke volume is by taking our resting heart rate. The slower the resting heart rate, the better the stroke volume (in most cases, of course there are a hell of a lot of qualifiers here, but in general…waking resting heart rate, prior to caffeine, is a decent guideline). Go ahead and take your resting heart rate. For a fighter, it should be in the:

LOW 50s Beats Per Minute

Yep, in the low 50s. If you are higher than that, you need to work on this and here’s the bad news: LSD training, for 60 to 90 minutes, in a heart rate range of approximately 120 – 150 BPM, is the way to increase SV which will slow resting heart rate. These physiological changes are not going to happen with HIIT, sprints, Crossfit, etc.

Because you are keeping the heart rate slow in LSD training, you are increasing the filling time of the ventricles (heart chambers). The increase in filling time allows for an increase in blood volume and this actually stretches the chamber size, giving you bigger ventricles which pump more blood per beat.

Good news is that as long as the HR is above 120 and below 150 the method of exercise doesn’t really matter. In fact, it’s good to emulate your sport.

“But” you retort “fighting is an anaerobic sport!” Really, it’s all out effort all the time? Nope, it is not. Footwork, punching and kicking, holding a position on the ground, for 3 to 5 minutes is pretty aerobic. Plus, the aerobic system does not just shut off during high intensity bouts. Aerobic metabolism contributes to energy production even at high intensity. Fighting is mostly aerobic/alactic. Long periods of lighter activity with bursts of intense activity. Where fighting falls on a spectrum of purely aerobic to purely anaerobic (think marathon vs. olympic Weightlifting) depends on the type of fight and the rule set. Folkstyle wrestling is different from boxing and both are different from MMA and BJJ.

We need to develop the anaerobic system with high intensity intervals but that comes after we are maintaining a superior aerobic system. Anaerobic adaptations pretty much peak in THREE WEEKS! Go ahead and ask Dr. Tabata about that one.


So why not just do intervals?

The heart is a muscle, intervals increase the size of that muscle but don’t necessarily increase the actual size of the heart chambers. During interval training, the heart rate is so high, the chambers do not fully fill.

LSD training allows for full filling of the ventricles and like a balloon, the filling will stretch the chamber, increasing the volume of blood the ventricles could hold. This is why we need to do LSD for a long time, we are actually stretching the chamber size!

There is a time for interval training after a solid base of aerobic fitness is achieved.

Interval training is useful throughout the year and depending upon the demands of your chosen endeavor.

You will see maximal anaerobic adaptations through high intensity interval training (HIIT) within a month, so there is really no reason to pummel yourself with HIIT when you are not specifically training for an event.

Turns out, doing road work is not antiquated or stupid…possibly the great champions of the past, and the current Thai’s, were on to something. Sorry for the bad news.
The next article in this series will detail an exact eight week program to enhance aerobic function.


(1) Wilmore JH and Costill DL. (2005) Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

This post was an amalgamation of a blog post and several hundred responses and answers. Dr. Lee Aldridge was a valuable contributor to the post and some of his thoughts and statements are contained within the body of the post. 


Filed under Training



Repetitio mater studiorum est (Repetition is the mother of all learning).

“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” – Zig Zigler

Repetitio est mater studiorum (Repetition is the mother of studies).


(Photo Credit: Tom Kelly)

What happens when you learn a physical skill?

Learning, specifically learning a physical skill, involves enhancing the communication between the nerves and the brain. Your nerves speak to your brain through electrical impulses. The faster and more efficient the communication, the faster and more efficient the movement or series of movements.

Learning happens when new connections are made between brain nerve cells and those connections communicate electrical impulses faster.

A little neurobiology from Wikipedia (Neurons):


A neuron is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals. These signals between neurons occur via synapses, specialized connections with other cells. Neurons can connect to each other to form neural networks. Neurons are the core components of the brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system (CNS), and of the ganglia of the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Specialized types of neurons include: sensory neurons which respond to touch, sound, light and all other stimuli affecting the cells of the sensory organs that then send signals to the spinal cord and brain, motor neurons that receive signals from the brain and spinal cord to cause muscle contractions and affect glandular outputs, and interneurons which connect neurons to other neurons within the same region of the brain, or spinal cord in neural networks.


When different parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with each other, they send electrical impulses that travel down a cable called an axon. The axon communicates with other neurons in a chain. Firing a nerve impulse is like pushing over the first domino in a chain. This process repeats from neuron to neuron, until the nerve signals reach their destination.




Myelin is the white fatty substance which coats the axon.  Myelination is when the body coats the axon with more myelin. Myelin increases the speed of the electrical impulse by letting the impulse jump across the myelin sheath to the next axon. So those dominos are falling a lot faster.

For our purposes the bottom line is, the more myelin coating the axons the faster and more accurately we move. As children learn they lay down more myelin to make everyday processes easier.

Cells in the brain detect movements which are repeated (ie. practicing a handgun or knife draw stroke). By moving in a specific sequence, we trigger a pattern of electrical signals through our neurons. At first, these signals are weak and uncoordinated.

If an action is repeated enough, the brain cells then determine the very specific sequence of movements are important enough to the organism (you) to enhance the process. The brain cells will make the movement more efficient by producing a chemical which generates myelin around the specific axons which are being used during the performance of that movement, increasing the speed and strength of the signal.




Special communications channels in the nerve cells of our brains called NMDA receptors (N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor) produce associative learning by helping to make new connections.  Researchers have shown a protein called GAP-43 is activated by the NMDA receptor.  GAP-43 makes it easier for a cell to fire its neurotransmitter molecules. The NMDA receptors are needed to produce the receipt signal, the GAP-43 proteins to receive it.

Flooding GAP-43 with impulses gets nerve connections to form rapidly. Repeating the same combination of nerve signals over and over, activates GAP-43 again and again in the nerve cells that form that memory.

Neurobiology is out of my lane and I take full responsibility for anything I have misrepresented in the above description. But a basic understand allows us to begin to understand why accurate repetitive practice is so important.




Vince Lombardi has been credited with the quote: “Practice doesn’t make perfect, proper practice makes perfect”.

Myelination and NMDA/GAP-43 research begins to explain why quantity of a specific sequence of movements makes that movement more efficient and faster. There is no biological research which points to how many repetitions it takes to myelinate an axon or enhance GAP-43.

The research does show you will enhance the EXACT sequence you repeat. So if you have crappy technical instruction, do the movement wrong, or cut corners, you will default to movement errors. Practice makes permanent.

This is why it is vitally important to get a qualified instructor/coach to teach YOU the movement and correct YOUR errors, in the early stages of learning. we want to always groove the correct sequence of movements.  Once a wrong pathway is myelinated, it is very difficult to reprogram. So, be careful how you initially learn a movement and who you learn that movement from!

Myelination and NMDA/GAP-43 enhancement occur regardless of speed of movement! Interjecting fast repetitions of a movement to early in the learning process will lead to movement errors and those errors will be embedded in your system. Movement errors take a lot of work to erase. Especially when first learning a skill, practice that skill slowly, very slowly, like you are practicing Tai Chi. Make corrections early in the process, before myelination occurs. Slow practice allows you to see and feel faults, to correct course early, before your brain lays down myelin.

Once you can reproduce the correct movement slowly, you want to encourage myelination as quickly as possible. That means thousands of repetitions of the technically perfect movement.

It is helpful to break down a complex series of movements, like a pistol draw stroke, to their smallest pieces and practice the pieces individually.

For example, if we wanted to learn to draw a pistol from a holster and aim the pistol, we have to move our dominant hand to the pistol grip; establish a grip; release the pistol from the holster; move the pistol up a vertical plane away from our holster, up the body, and closer to our center line; move the pistol into either a retention position or into the horizontal line of presentation; extend the pistol along the horizontal line of presentation to full extension of our arms; have the sights come into our exact visual cone so we have to do minimal or no adjustment of sight picture and sight alignment.

That is an extremely complex series of movements!

As we initially progress through the series of movements in the draw stroke, we are going to make many errors. Early errors (say in gripping the pistol in the holster) will compound into errors later in the sequence (poor grip throws initial sight alignment or sight picture off). We then need to add corrections from an early sequential error into our repetition (initial grip is to low causing our sight picture to be too high, causing us to dip the muzzle of the pistol to compensate). If our grip is consistently off and we have to compensate in every repetition, that compensation will become part of our draw stroke. This is very bad!

To prevent this we could break down the draw stroke into stages and practice the stages. So in our above example we could just practice acquiring a proper grip when the pistol is in the holster. Our first 100 reps should be slow and controlled. We should correct any errors as early as possible. Get feedback from coaches and experienced individuals. Video yourself practicing and correct errors.

Once we could do technically perfect movement, we need to burn that movement out with thousands of repetitions.

When drilling a new move in BJJ, I will just drill the opening grip sequence for 100s reps and try to repeat this day after day, week after week.




Utilize dead spaces in your day to perform some technically perfect repetitions.

Everytime you go to the bathroom, draw the knife from your pocket 10 times.

When you stand from your computer, perform 20 perfect repetitions of pistol grip acquisition.

Every morning, right after getting out of bed do 30 perfect hip escapes.

Find the dead spaces and fill them with repetitions of a skill you want to acquire or enhance.

Do this EVERY DAY, no excuses.

Once you acquire the skill, own that skill, and prove it under realistic pressure, you can push the skill to maintenance but you still have to practice it, rep it, just not as much.

Let’s review and pull out the takeaways:


  1. Identify a skill we want to acquire.
  2. Identify and hire the most experienced and best instructor we can find, to teach us the skill and evaluate our progress.
  3. Practice the skill slowly and receive brutally honest feedback regarding errors. Catch and correct errors prior to performing reps to “groove” the movement.
  4. Use the feedback to eradicate movement errors in the sequence.
  5. Break the sequence of the movement into component parts.
  6. Practice the component parts slowly via repetition.
  7. Fit repetitions into the dead spaces within your day. Groove the movement into your nervous system.
  8. Gradually increase the speed of the repetition.
  9. Rep daily, no excuses.
  10. Practice the movement under ever increasing pressure, until you could replicate it, at will, under any intensity of pressure.
  11. Maintain the skill through less frequent practice.
  12. Identify another skill you wish to acquire.
  13. Repeat until you die.



Filed under Training


Why would we ever make the decision to hold onto, or pin, a potentially violent criminal? As a civilian, we have no responsibility to arrest or detain a criminal. To the contrary, as exposure increases, risk and danger increases.

To catch up, please read the first three parts of this series:


In Extremis Communication, Part 1


In Extremis Communication, Part 2


In Extremis Communication, Part 3


Exposure increases risk for the criminal and it increase risk for the armed citizen.

For the criminal, the less exposure, the less transfer of evidence, the less chance witnesses can observe the crime, and the faster they could get away.  More exposure equals more chance of getting caught. A criminal wants to get in and out as fast as they can. They want to get “paid” and get out. The more exposure (time) the greater chance something could go wrong.

The same is true for an armed citizen in an armed encounter. Pinning a subject in place, increases the time an armed citizen spends with a subject.

When I use the term “pinning in place” I mean, restricting the subject’s movement and directing them them into a position of extreme disadvantage. This does not mean we are physically pinning the subject with our bodies. A common police practice is to prone a suspect, face down on the ground. A prone suspect retains the ability to use their arms and legs and could propel themselves up or forward explosively. We want to restrict the subject’s ability to move explosively. Later in this article I will describe an effective method to pin a person.

Time spent focusing on one subject takes away from time spent securing yourself and loved ones and does not allow you to look for other potential threats within the environment. By necessity, we need to focus on the subject we can see and regularly scan our environment for additional threats.

Multitasking in dangerous environments is not ideal.  

As time passes, the criminal has more time to plan counter attacks or use threats or coercion to attempt to get out of the situation or turn the tables.

So why would we ever attempt to pin a criminal in place and not just move him out of our immediate environment (In Extremis Communication, Part 3 – Moving a subject at gunpoint)?

  1. When we visually clear the subject’s waistline we observe a firearm. By moving the subject we potentially give him/her time and distance to draw the firearm. Additionally, once the subject leaves our line of sight, they may arm themselves and circle back.
  2. The subject has penetrated into our environment far enough to bypass occupied areas or other innocent people and we would have to move the subject past them to get the subject out. Imagine moving a subject towards an exit portal only to have him jump into your daughter’s bedroom.
  3. For whatever reason you have decided moving the subject out of the area is dangerous. The exposure risk is less than the risk of moving the person.

We have already covered how to


  1. Order the subject to stop movement:  DON’T MOVE.
  2. Order the subject to move his hands away from his waistline:  HANDS UP.
  3. Order the subject to turn away from you one step at a time. You stop them when they are facing away from you: WHEN I TELL YOU TO MOVE, I WANT YOU TO START TURNING ONE STEP AT A TIME. MOVE.
  4. Expose waistline and impair subject’s vision: REACH BACK AND GRAB THE COLLAR OF YOUR SHIRT, NOW PULL THE SHIRT OVER YOUR HEAD.
  5. Visually clear the subject’s entire waistline:  WHEN I TELL YOU TO MOVE, I WANT YOU. TO TURN AROUND, SLOWLY, ONE STEP AT A TIME…DO IT NOW.
  6. Direct the subject to move the subject, in a circle, 540 degrees so the subject stops facing away from you.

And, how to move them.


  1. “I am going to move you to the door and let you run. If you do not follow my instructions or attempt to turn around and hurt me or my family, I will shoot you.  When I tell you to, I want you to move one step at a time”.  
  2. “Step forward one step, do it now”.
  3. “Step forward one step, etc.”


  1. Pick an appropriate place to pin the subject. You may need to move the subject from where you had them stop.  Move them one step at a time until they are in the exact place you want to pin them.
  2. If the subject is not facing away from you have them face away from you one step at a time:


Subject is told: Don’t Move and ordered to put his hands up.  He is then ordered to raise his hands even further.  Notice that in this picture Matt’s hands are up but we still can’t see his waistline. Now turn the person away from you by having them move one step at a time.


The subject is now ordered to grab the  back collar of his shirt with both hands (front view for clarity).


And, pull the shirt over his head:


Now we have a clear view of the subject’s waistline.

We then order the subject to turn, one step at a time, 540 degrees, so when he stops, he is facing away from us.



The decision is now made to either move the subject or pin them in place.
If we decide to pin in place, we order the subject to get down on one knee. Then the other knee:

We now order him to cross his ankles:


Each step in this process progressively restricts the subject’s ability to move.

We order the subject to sit back on his ankles.

We now order the subject to bend over and put his head on the floor:


(I am not responsible for Matt’s choice of rash guard! He had just completed training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and is apparently very comfortable with bold colors).

The subject’s movement is fully restricted. You are behind him and can observe him fully. His visual field is obscured.

If the police have not been called or you are alone, this would be the time to call, while still covering the subject with your firearm. Follow proper protocols for a police response and exactly and calmly explain the circumstances.

You have three choices when faced with a potentially dangerous threat, when you have a firearm in hand and the subject complies to your initial order to stop moving:

  1. Shoot to stop the subject from potentially injuring or killing you or others.
  2. Move the subject out of the area, essentially letting them escape.
  3. Pin the subject in place.

All tactics, techniques, and procedures should be trained extensively and ultimately under live, full contact, resistance.



Filed under Managing the Don't Shoot Yet, Tactical Communication



Photo Credit: Pasion (sic) Project

I want to talk about a subject most people don’t understand. It is the key to success, in any endeavor. It takes no talent, minimal IQ or EQ, all it takes is relentlessness.

I have been teaching martial arts since 1982. My typical student, about 90% of students, would show up for class twice a week and do nothing in between. This necessitated going over material for review and slow progress.

The students who progressed the fastest were not the natural athletes or even the brilliant thinkers. They were the ones who worked on the material on “their time”.  They worked the basics more than the average student.

The real high achievers obsessed with grinding out a movement. They performed rep after rep until it was grooved into their nervous system. THIS is the secret to elite performance. Find ways to get reps in. Most people will not do this, they get bored, they feel they “have it” after 10 reps, they keep glancing at the clock in anticipation of the “fun” part of class…the sparring.

A story Ron Balicki and I often tell is about a time we were training in my wooden floor, Chicago, apartment. We were grinders. I threw Ron, onto the hardwood floor, probably 50 times. Enough to have a neighbor knock on my door and yell at us to stop throwing around a “medicine ball”!

We all like instant gratification, I like it too. It’s nice to want something and get it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen with skill development. With BJJ, fighting, and shooting, I constantly see students checking their basics. I could see the wheels turning in their heads; “foot goes here, grab this…what comes next”?  Even advanced students miss or skip over important steps in a technique, under pressure.

Our skilled opponents will immediately take advantage of our technique lapses and errors.

Our goal is to make fundamental movements and concepts automatic and then refine and maintain those fundamentals.

New BJJ students often ask me “how do I get better”, my answer is always “mat time”. There is a linear progression between mat time and skill level.  Same goes with shooting: dry fire. This has to be consistent practice, hence, the GRIND.

The grinding has to happen with every endeavor we are involved with, if we want to obtain more than a casual level of skill. The more you grind technique, the better you become.

When I was learning to interrogate suspects, I had the uniform troopers call back to Investigations when they made minor drug arrests. I would go up to the processing room and conduct a 15-20 minute interrogation, no stress, if I got the person to confess, it’s all good; if not, no big deal. I learned a ton during these sessions. Mostly, how to perform the mechanical aspects of interrogation by rote so I could evaluate suspects responses and body language. It also helped to lower my nervousness. Interrogation became routine. New detectives get flustered and constantly check questions or are thinking about what to ask instead of evaluating the suspect and his/her answers. The only way to overcome this is to train – grind – do it alot.

Most, if not all, shooting errors occur because of a breakdown in fundamentals, sight alignment, sight picture, grip, and trigger press. Literally the things we learn in shooting class number 1. We see students in “advanced” classes making consistent errors with fundamentals.

Reping fundamentals is not fun, it is not cool, but fundamentals are called fundamentals for a reason. Fundamentals need to be ingrained prior to building advanced skills. Fundamentals also need to be maintained and refined throughout your career.

Fundamentals need to be practiced with no pressure and then they need to be performed under gradually increasing amounts of training pressure and stress. Ultimately, the training should progress to exposure to “real world” testing. In an ideal world, this real world exposure would begin gradually, sometimes this is not possible but it is preferable.

When my drug unit was training a new agent for dynamic search warrant service, we would always put him or her on perimeter until we had a chance to evaluate them under stress and they had a chance to acclimate to the perceived chaos, noise, and potential danger of a search warrant service. They would then progress to the back of the entry team. With enough real world reps, constructive feedback via brutally honest debriefings, and training designed to work on weak fundamentals the agent would progress to the front of the line.

Here’s the easy roadmap to excellence in any endeavor:


  1. Obtain expert technique instruction. Ask questions and receive feedback until you understand the technique enough to break it into component pieces.
  2. Breakdown your endeavor to it’s basic fundamentals and component pieces.
  3. Commit to a specific number of reps of the fundamentals or components of the fundamentals, every day. Link this daily practice to an already established habit, if possible.
  4. Practice daily, no breaks.
  5. Be focused and relentless with your practice. Don’t let concentration wander.
  6. At first, practice the technique slowly, with no pressure.  Over time build speed and pressure.
  7. Obtain feedback from coaches, experts, or visual feedback from video recording.
  8. Ruthlessly evaluate technique, progress, and feedback and attack weaknesses.
  9. Repeat the above practice…forever.


Clearly, when we are integrating a new technique, we should laser focus on all of the elements of that technique and grind technique work. High performers will grind out hundreds of reps daily while learning a new technique; fewer reps when maintaining a skill.

Grinding takes no talent above the ability to overcome boredom. If you don’t have time to focus a training session on drilling, just get 15 reps in a day.  15 reps a day equals 105 reps a week, 420 reps a month, and 5040 reps a year.

Elite performance is linked to your ability to grind away day after day, year after year.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Point Driven Fat Loss

The obligatory fat loss article for the new year.  Happy 2016, I hope everyone has a great and productive year!

For this article, I am going to stray away from Managing the Don’t Shoot Yet and discuss losing fat with diet. Many of my friends don’t know my college degree is in exercise physiology. I co-ran the human performance laboratory at Northern Illinois University as a graduate assistant (in 1985) and worked at a human performance testing hospital facility for three years.  During that time I tested thousands of people and provided exercise and nutrition, advice, and feedback.

This is a copy of a post I wrote on a private message board in 2011. You will notice this information is becoming more mainstream these days, but in 2011 there were only three main proponents of this method, Brad Pilon (Eat Stop Eat), Martin Berkhan (Leangains), and the granddaddy of this method Ori Hofmekler (The Warrior Diet). I do not know any of them and have not communicated with them, by any means, but I admire their work.

This article is very long. It violates every bit of advice my friends gave me regarding length of blog posts, people reading on cell phones and whatnot. You don’t have to read all of this, the first half or less is more than enough information to effectively begin to lose fat.

This information has been effective for a multitude of people. Anytime I travel to train at least one person comes up to me and thanks me for the information.  Most of the people have lost fat and kept it off.

Enough with the preamble, here’s the content of the forum post, slightly modified:

This is a post about a subject that seems controversial and frankly extremely confusing. Diets, nutrition, Paleo, Zone, high carb, low carb, iso caloric, meal timing, post workout nutrition, supplements, what are we supposed to do about nutrition? Of all the “physical” disciplines nutrition is the toughest. It is the toughest because we have to deal with it 24 hours a day, every day of our lives. We have unlimited choices of what to eat and we can eat almost anything, any time of the day. I am going to make this as simple as I can, not easy, but simple. I am going to dot point this for simplicities sake. Most people pay attention to their nutrition because they want to lose fat. People who say they want to do it for health are, for the most part, lying. You don’t have to buy a pamphlet, just read the dot points and implement…simple in theory, hard in practice.

  • BMR is lower than you think and similar for people of the same height. I am 6’0” and my BMR is about 1800 kilo-calories (kcal). If YOU are 6’ your BMR is approximately 1800 kcal.
  • BMR is mostly composed of organ function. Muscle contributes about 5 calories per pound. That’s a hell of a lot less than bro science would lead you to believe.
  • Unless you are juiced, you don’t have 40 pounds of actual muscle mass above the average dude or dudette. If you did, you would burn 200 more kcals than the average dude or dudette…200 calories, that’s NOTHING!
  • You don’t burn as many calories exercising as you think you do. Heart rate monitors and exercise machines are wildly inaccurate when it comes to calories burned. They also don’t account for the calories you would have burned doing something else, like watching TV or just surviving.
  • Don’t even worry about exercise calories. Use cardio to develop conditioning, not lose fat.
  • Afterburn, increased calorie burn after intense exercise, is largely bullshit.
  • Thermic effect of food is true (eating protein uses more calories than carbs and fat to digest) but the difference is so small, that it doesn’t really matter.
  • There are a ton of theories of why we get fat: insulin, trans fats, fat, etc. They are THEORIES. Here’s one…you’ve been eating too much.
  • The laws of thermodynamics actually friggin work.
  • All successful diets control calories, they just don’t say they do. EATING LESS FOOD ALWAYS WORKS.
  • Basically every health marker improves as you lose fat, regardless of method. If you are in a caloric deficit, your body will use it’s fat stores to make up the energy deficit. If you are in a caloric surplus, your body will store the excess energy (regardless if it’s from fat, carbs, or protein) as FAT, if you are in energy balance (calories in = calories out) you will maintain weight.
  • Metabolism is not affected by not eating, until you are DAYS into a fast. Ethiopian type starvation effects metabolism because organs and muscle tissue are damaged and lost.
  • You don’t have to eat every 4 hours to stoke your metabolism. This is complete and utter bullshit. You will not lose muscle if you don’t eat.
  • Muscles “grow” because of SAID (specific adaptation to imposed demands) not because you are eating protein. .8 grams per pound of body weight is a good start.
  • After juvenile muscle growth…every pound of muscle is a pain in the ass to develop.
  • Five pounds of muscle makes a huge visual impact…so does 5 pounds of fat. If you lift weights while dieting, you will not lose muscle mass.
  • You have to be a lot lighter than you think to be ripped. Bodybuilders take about 1000 pictures the day of their show (photo studios are set up backstage, by supplement companies to facilitate this). They take the pictures because they can only keep that ripped look for mere hours. They will use those photos for a year (or longer). That ripped, bodybuilder look, is very transient. Using them as inspiration for what you could actually look like, day to day, is delusional.

Let’s filter all this stuff into a workable action plan:

  • Eat less on a weekly basis. How much you eat under your BMR will determine how fast you will lose fat. I could include exercise calories, but don’t.
  • You can use 2 – 24 hour fast a week to lower weekly calories. This allows me to eat more when I’m not fasting and still stay in a weekly deficit. Some of you Nancy boys don’t want to fast…ok, just find other ways to eat less.
  • You can also just not eat for 6 – 8 hours after you wake up. I do this, I don’t eat breakfast.  I have black coffee with stevia (a packet of Truvia), ice water, and a diet soft drink or two, until I eat my first meal between 12pm and 1pm.  I work out in the morning.
  • An average daily deficit of 500 calories is fairly doable. That gives you 1300 calories a day to work with. If I fast 2 times a week, I could up the calories on non-fasting days.  If I don’t eat breakfast, I spread the meals over two large meals (lunch and dinner) and 1 snack.
  • You could skip meals to compensate for excess. Have a few drinks a burger and fries on Saturday night…don’t eat breakfast and have a very light lunch on Sunday.
  • You could eat 5 small meals a day…but it kind of sucks and makes you look like a tool carrying around a cooler everywhere you go. Don’t overcompensate before or after a fast, just eat normally.
  • Breakfast is important…if you’re 8 years old and go to school. If you are an adult, you don’t HAVE to have breakfast, unless your mom makes you.
  • Look for ways to cut calories but still have foods you like. This is where lower calorie versions of food help, like frozen yogurt, low fat cheeses, etc.  Remember, you could eat the “regular” version of these foods, just account for the extra calories.
  • You want to eat paleo, zone, south beach…go for it. If you eat 5000 calories of cheese, eggs, and beef, you’re gonna get fat, you still have to control for calories.
  • 8 ounces of Coke is 100 calories…8 ounces! Friggin stop drinking this shit, on a daily basis, multiple times. Once in awhile, ok.
  • You are not a special snowflake, if your calories are low and you are not losing weight…lower them some more. Food calorie information is screwed up. Portion sizes are screwed up. We underestimate how much we eat. We under report how much we eat.
  • Drink coffee, tea, and water, chew gum to deal with hunger between meals or during a fast. Oh, and man up, seriously man (or woman) the F up…losing fat is not fun, you’re gonna be hungry and irritable. It’s simple, not easy. Anybody who says it’s easy is lying to you.
  • Special foods are bullshit. Fat burning supplements are bullshit. When you see a list of “5 superfoods to eat to lose fat”, understand this is predatory marketing. You lose fat by not eating food, not eating special foods.
  • For a week or so measure your food and use calorie counting software. You are going to be surprised at how little you should eat, especially if you are having 5 – 7 meals a day.
  • If I put a gun to your head and told you, you had to lose 8 pounds in two weeks or I blow a hole in your head, would you eat a specific mixture of macronutrients or…just not friggin eat at all? See, it’s pretty simple.
  • Use the scale, mirror, and clothing size to determine if you are on track. The scale will lie due to water weight fluctuations, make sure you are trending down. If not…lower calories.  Weigh yourself every day to observe trends and intervene when the trend goes in the wrong direction.
  • I used to eat nuts (almonds, walnuts, you know good fat profile nuts) and wondered why I had a hard time losing fat. Look at the calories in a handful of nuts. Keep them for maintenance.
  • Supplement with D, fish oil (or krill oil), creatine (if you want to) and vitamin K2.
  • You could pretty much eat anything. It is more filling to eat meats, vegetables and fruits, but I eat a few hard pretzels almost every night. I also have ice cream and alcohol on a weekly basis. Somehow the inflammation has not killed me or shown up in any health markers.
  • This is for fat loss. If you want to eat only for “health” restrict yourself to only eating grass fed, organic, paleo, blah, blah, blah…you will eventually break and go crazy and I will find it amusing. Seriously, you want to be so dogmatic that you will not eat a piece of your kids birthday cake, you want to be “that guy”, have at it…you were warned.
  • THIS IS HARD. Two pounds a week is brutal. Having a goal, like a wedding or better yet a BJJ or other weight class sport competition will give you the motivation to not make an ass of yourself.
  • See, the hard thing about this is having the discipline to lower the amount of food you shove in your mouth and deal with being hungry. Looking at this as a week long problem, rather than a day by day problem, helps. It allows me to compensate for indulgences. For Thanksgiving, I ate anything I wanted…but only during dinner. I did not eat breakfast or lunch, I fasted the next day. Going out to drink, don’t eat until you go out, now you could drink all your calories and get really wasted.
  • If you are celiac, have issues with lactose, or are allergic to foods, don’t eat them. Seriously, if you don’t have grain issues…a piece of toast or oatmeal is not evil.
  • I don’t want to argue theories here. I really don’t care and have read Good Calories, Bad Calories, the Zone, Atkins, The South Beach Diet, The Anabolic Diet, Body Opus, etc. etc. I have tried pretty much every diet for fat loss and performance. I also have a degree in exercise physiology, which I ignored in lieu of bro science, and have taken Master’s level nutrition courses. I’ve come back to the realization the whole scientific evidence thing is pretty valid.
  • If you calculate out the calories in a typical Zone, paleo, Protein Power, or Atkins, diet, you will find the calories run towards a deficit for most people. If you want a structured diet, follow one of them. I like paleo. I think it’s unrealistic, dogmatic, and amusing that some of the paleo dudes sell bars and protein powders. but whatever, it might change your life and you too could join the cult. If you have questions, please fire away. If you want to post studies and argue that a calorie is not a calorie and that human physiology is not as simple as calorie in calorie out…frankly, I don’t want to go there. If you are interested in this…Google it, there are thousands of Internet flame wars going on regarding this very subject. I am not arguing health, I am talking about fat loss. You will naturally find eating meats, vegetables, and fruits will be more filling and nutrient dense.
  • Extreme contest prep and weight cutting are completely different subjects which has been covered in another post. They involve water manipulation, low carbs (to manipulate water), and playing with super-hydration and sodium.

Some added content from answers to various questions on the post:

  • I haven’t touched on the physiological issues regarding weight loss, but outlined the mechanical issues.
  • Some people gain weight as psychological armor. I have seen many sexually abused girls become clinically obese. It’s so bad that when I see an obese teen, I automatically think sexual or physical abuse. Psychological issues are way outside my lane and should be dealt with, by a professional, prior to working on physical issues. Women or men who have been diagnosed, at any time of their lives, with anorexia or bulimia, should not be fasting.
  • When a person makes the decision to lose fat. It’s a mechanical issue. Control calories under BMR any way you can.
  • Body for Life is crap. It’s 5 small meals per day…buy my MRPs. It is unsustainable, if it was sustainable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If you are currently not happy with your fat status, every “diet” you have been on has been unsustainable for you (this is not a specific you, it is a general you).
  • May be I need to clarify something. It is NOT EASY TO LOSE FAT. It is not easy for me or anyone I know. I feel hunger. I want to destroy a bag of chips. I feel hunger pangs. I get irritable. I have seen grown MMA fighters cry due to a cutting diet. I have seen lean high school state wrestling champions cry like babies, because they are low calorie:
  • In most admirable endeavors your ability to sustain suffering will determine your success. Hard shit is hard, because…it sucks.
  • When someone tells me “it must be nice to be naturally lean.” I want to punch them in the face and say “Yah, if natural includes consistent dietary discipline, working out, at an intensity level you have never experienced, 7 days a week, and researching optimization, then you’re right…it’s easy.”
  • I’ve never had an uncontrollable physical addiction. The jury is out as to sugar being actually physically addictive to humans (it appears to be in rats). Caffeine is physically addictive. I guess the first step is admitting you have a problem, then you have to want to change. After that I got nothing.
  • A meal replacement shake has approximately 250 calories…two a day is an extra 500 calories. Replace the shake with a regular coffee and half and half 10 total calories. Diet coke…zero calories. Water…zero calories. Nothing…zero calories.
  • When losing fat it’s about calories consumed vs. calories expended. You are on a high fat diet, because your body is pulling from your fat stores to generate energy to meet your body’s demands.
  • Don’t worry about healthy or not healthy. Don’t worry about having protein at every meal. Don’t follow the dogma you have been pushed for the last 15 years.
  • If you have an issue with gout, well then don’t eat shit that sets gout off. If you have an issue with carbs (celiac), don’t eat carbs. If you cannot handle milk, don’t friggin drink it. But don’t let other people’s crusades suck you in. Don’t demonize foods. Soda is not inherently good or bad. Trans fats or high fructose corn syrup is not evil. Too much of it equals too many calories.
  • This is not a diet. Eat whatever you want, eat less weekly and you will lose fat. Really understand this and you will never read another diet article or book again.
  • CHEAT DAYS, once again, cheating implies you are restricting something. I don’t restrict foods, I don’t believe foods are good or bad. I think TOO MUCH FOOD is bad, if you don’t want to be fat. If you don’t care, then no problem. If you want to lose fat and maintain it, then this is the way to do it and still enjoy an occasional coke or piece of cake or pasta.
  • So, as we restrict calories, do we lose MUSCLE. For people who are on a low calorie diet AND WHO DON’T LIFT, there is a danger of actual muscle loss. If we maintain protein at, at least, .8g/lb and lift…there is no evidence of muscle loss in healthy humans on a low calorie diet. Will LEAN MASS go down, absolutely! Remember lean mass is everything but fat, including water retained in the muscles.
  • Now let’s flip this around a little. Anyone here broken an arm? Does the muscle shrink because of lack of use…hell yeah. So now you are permanently walking around with a shrunken arm, right? One gun is friggin huge, the other a little girly arm? Nope…after a few months out of the cast, the broken arms muscle mass went right back up to it’s old, huge gun, size. So worst case, if you lose a minor amount of muscle, dieting down (which you won’t, but for sake of argument let’s pretend you will)…you will gain it back rather quickly.
  • Now if you are so calorie restricted that you can’t lift…now we have a problem. If you are a vegan and don’t lift…you have more problems than I can deal with.
  • Just a cholesterol number is not precise enough. Your total cholesterol number may be high because your HDL number is off the charts (mine was 76 last time it was tested) a high HDL is very good. Additionally there are two kinds of LDLs…small LDL = bad and potentially atherogenic, big or “fluffy” LDL which are good (google fluffy LDL for a crap load of info). These could be tested, and I would prior to taking any medicine, which may have pretty bad side effects. There is a book: “The Cholesterol Myth” which makes the claim the whole hate cholesterol thing is bad science. Here are the claims:
  • Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance vital to the cells of all mammals. There are no such things as good or bad cholesterol, but mental stress, physical activity and change of body weight may influence the level of blood cholesterol. A high cholesterol is not dangerous by itself, but may reflect an unhealthy condition, or it may be totally innocent.
  • A high blood cholesterol is said to promote atherosclerosis and thus also coronary heart disease. But many studies have shown that people whose blood cholesterol is low become just as atherosclerotic as people whose cholesterol is high.
  • Your body produces three to four times more cholesterol than you eat. The production of cholesterol increases when you eat little cholesterol and decreases when you eat much. This explains why the ”prudent” diet can not lower cholesterol more than on average a few per cent.
  • There is no evidence that too much animal fat and cholesterol in the diet promotes atherosclerosis or heart attacks. For instance, more than twenty studies have shown that people who have had a heart attack haven’t eaten more fat of any kind than other people, and degree of atherosclerosis at autopsy is unrelated with the diet.
  • The only effective way to lower cholesterol is with drugs, but neither heart mortality or total mortality have been improved with drugs the effect of which is cholesterol-lowering only. On the contrary, these drugs are dangerous to your health and may shorten your life.
  • The new cholesterol-lowering drugs, the statins, do prevent cardiovascular disease, but this is due to other mechanisms than cholesterol-lowering. Unfortunately, they also stimulate cancer in rodents, disturb the functions of the muscles, the heart and the brain and pregnant women taking statins may give birth to children with malformations more severe than those seen after thalidomide.
  • Many of these facts have been presented in scientific journals and books for decades but are rarely told to the public by the proponents of the diet-heart idea.
  • The reason why laymen, doctors and most scientists have been misled is because opposing and disagreeing results are systematically ignored or misquoted in the scientific press.
  • I present this information not to encourage you NOT to lower your cholesterol, but to tell you to do your research prior to any intervention (dietary or not).
  • There is evidence a lower carb diet increases the incidence of fluffy LDL and raises HDL. LSD Cardio training increases HDL. Fish oil is good.
  • Bottom line is realize the goal is not to lower cholesterol, the goal is to prevent cardiovascular disease. The fact you are lean now would indicate to me your high cholesterol is due to genetic factors (ie. your body is producing higher cholesterol, you are not getting it from your food). I assume you don’t smoke. What’s your family history regarding cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes?
  • Granted, I am not a doctor and would never give or contradict medical advice, I think your diet plan will be fine. If it was me, I would research this until I became a layman expert, I would then take an active role in my treatment, or lack of treatment.


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