Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Steve Maxwell Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime Seminar 4th Feb 2017

The seminar was held at Higher Jiu Jitsu, Woolloomooloo PCYC. Thanks to John Smallios for the opportunity to act as host for a day at his club.

Steve reiterated the importance of training Jiu Jitsu as a "soft" art. Play, give up the hard rolls with full resistance, be especially careful of resisting the stack when someone is trying pass. Just let them pass and work defence.

Jiu Jitsu competition is fun and highly satisfying. But no one said it is good for your health.

Training Pyramid

I am not a graphic designer

The majority of your training should be spent on Jiu Jitsu technique (Base of the pyramid).
The next layer up is mobility training, flexibility training, postural drills, breathwork and other light work. Steve enjoys "Zen running" barefoot. at a pace where breathing is under control (you run "inside the breath" and there is zero trauma to joints or musculature. (There is a book called The Zen of Running that can download for free). This stuff can be done daily, and mobility work maybe several times a day.

At the top of the pyramid is strength training. This should be GPP (General Performance Preparation) rather than SPP (Specific Sports Preparation) and consist of simple movements which involve the reward of increased strength at minimal risk.

Olympic lifts, weighted squats on stability balls, etc. are examples of high risk movements. Some Crossfit style workouts which involve complex or highly technical movements done to the point of fatigue are to be avoided. Kipping pullups place too much stress on the tissues and joints.

Full speed sprints and some HIIT training may be too taxing for the older athlete.

You need a strength routine that works the Five Pillars of physical training:
  • Push (horizontal and vertical)
  • Pull (horizontal and vertical)
  • Hinge
  • Squat
  • Rotation / Antirotation
Plus ancillary exercises for the grip, feet, ankles, and neck.

You should be able to get a good strength workout in 20-30 minutes. If you are training Jiu Jitsu 3+ times a week, you only need 1-2 days a week of strength training. If only training Jiu Jitsu once or twice a week, more strength training may be appropriate.

Steve is a big fan of isometrics and has a related video on his site for sale.

If you are training hard at Jiu Jitsu, strength training more than once or twice a week as well will almost guarantee overtraining.

Example Weekly Schedule

Day 1 - Hard roll, strength training afterwards
Day 2 - Easy roll
Day 3 - Medium roll
Day 4  - Rest
Day 5 - Hard roll, strength training
Day 6 - Easy roll
Day 7 - Rest

You can do mobility and breathwork on rest days (and every day).

Different length cycles are possible, but a weekly one seems to suit most people.


Steve believes the only worthwhile kettlebell exercises for grapplers are the swing, and the Turkish Getup.

Steve claims that he gave Pavel Tsatsouline invented the "Simple and Sinister" workout (which is basically swings and TGU's) and gave it to Pavel over the phone. Pavel then wrote a book on it which is pretty popular.

Most kettlebell professionals concede that it was Steve that introduced the Turkish Getup to the kettlebell lexicon.

Sore Elbow Joints from Overgripping

Many grapplers get tennis or golfer's elbow from overgripping. You can avoid the muscular imbalance which is the cause of this by wrapping a rubber band around the fingers, expanding them away from each other, and bending the wrist back. Either do it for reps or as an isometric hold.

Recovery and injury treatment

Steve recommends a castor oil pack for injuries. Get two pans, one fitting inside the other. Water in the bottom pan, the pack (gauze, cloth, etc.) in the top pan with the castor oil. Heat the water on a low heat on the stove. The pack should be warm but not hot enough to burn, obviously. Apply the pack to the injured joint or muscle and cover it with cling wrap.

An Epsom salts bath is good for DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and general relaxation and healing. Cheap to obtain Epsom salts, put a LOT in the bath and soak.


Steve has some strong views on diet and its role in illness and its prevention. He is not a fan of doctors (his brother died as a result of medical mismanagement in his view) and believes that most good dietary and physical culture advice came from before the rise of Big Pharma.

He also believes, that if your aim is to stay spry and mobile into advanced age, you need to find trainers who have actually done those same things successfully. The young trainers peddling supplements and the latest training protocols haven't had the experience of ageing to be able to provide good advice to older athletes.

He recommends two books for diet:

He also recommends the Soil and Health Library, which contains downloadable files of many old books on diet, longevity, and other subjects. Definitely worth checking out.

Postural Drills

The problems caused by sitting in a chair all day for work, and the muscular and postural imbalances caused by Jiu Jitsu are well documented in my notes on Steve's seminars in 2015 and 2016 (see end of this blog post).

We must take steps to rectify these potential postural issues and muscular imbalances.

To avoid kyphosis, "forward head" and inwardly rotated shoulders, we use the

Sphinx Posture

Lie prone (face down) on the mat. Position your forearms so you are supporting yourself on your  elbows, which are under your shoulders. Hands pointing forward. Lift the shoulders and head, insteps flat on the ground.

From here, nod the head up and down, leading with the eyes, not fast but through a full range of motion. Lengthen the spine, lift the head and turn it side to side, trying to see the feet behind you. It is OK for the movement to incorporate a slight hip twist and hip flexor stretch.

Stick Exercises

Get a stick, perhaps a broomstick, about 1.5 metres long.

Lie prone on your stomach, with the stick beneath you at right angles to the spine, stick at a level just below the nipples. Lift the head and shoulders, and try to "break" the stick across the chest, pulling the hands and elbows up and behind you. Pull isometrically for about ten seconds.

Now move the stick up to the throat. Set it just above the collarbones. Pull the elbows and hands down towards the feet as if doing a chin up, the collarbones holding the stick in place. Pull isometrically for about ten seconds.

Now more the stick up to the eyebrow area. Your arms should be more or less in an Americana position. Pull the hands and elbows up behind the head, trying to "break" the stick across the forehead. Pull isometrically for about ten seconds.

Now press the stick overhead in front of you as if performing an overhead press. Keep lifting the arms back and up, and pressing. Press isometrically for about ten seconds.

Now reverse the sequence. So the entire stick routine is: Chest, throat, eyebrows, overhead, eyebrows, throat,chest.

Keep lifting the head and shoulders. Try to keep your legs and insteps on the floor.


The Dand is commonly called the Hindu pushup. Steve no longer uses this term as he travels to Muslim countries, and in some cultures this might be offensive, like calling it a Christian pushup or a Muslim pushup.

The Dand is an old Indian name for this wrestling exercise.

The Dand

At the start let your head hang down. As you come through, run your nose and then your chest along the ground. Keep the elbows in, do not allow them to flare out to the sides. Think of lifting the head and upper back to straighten the arms rather than pushing with the triceps. There should be minimal stress on the shoulders if done correctly. Just return to the starting position with straight arms, rather than making it into a dive bomber pushup - here we are doing for postural (re)alignment more than as a strength exercise.

Note that it can be done on the knees, starting in yoga child pose. Knees apart or together. The toes should be curled under and engaged with the floor to perform the modified Dand.

Ten of these done slowly and completely is a pretty decent workout for the upper spine, rhomboids, teres major, etc.

Child pose. For our purposes with the modified Dand, the toes should be engaged.

A variant on this is moving between yoga's Upward and Downward dog postures - which is not unlike the Dand with arms kept straight. Great mobility drill for the spine.

Pelvic Tilts

This exercise helps straighten out an overly curved lumbar spine (lordosis).

Lie supine on the floor (face up). Bring the knees up so the legs are bent about 90 degrees, feet flat.
Contract the abs and flatten the lumbar spine to the floor. Relax and let the pelvis tilt toward the feet. Repeat, trying to lengthen and flatten the spine to the floor. Maybe twenty reps.

Try it with one leg extended and lying flat on the floor, then the other. Try to keep everything square to work anti-rotation as well.

You can also work the posture by standing against a wall, feet held slightly away from the wall and knees bent, working to extend the spine, flattening both the curves at the neck (back of the head and shoulders on the wall) and lower back (shoulder blades and pelvis) against the wall.

Dead Bug

This is mainly an exercise for the abdominals.

Start supine, lying on your back, arms extended upward, hips and knees bent at 90 degrees with feet in the air.

Move your straight right arm and left heel (leg staying bent) towards the floor, keeping the lumbar spine flattened to the floor and bottom of the pelvis titled upward. Come back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

A more advanced version has you straightening the leg horizontally with the heel held off the floor. Once again keep the spine flattened to the floor. Do not sacrifice good form for the ego boost of performing a more difficult version of the exercise poorly.

Advanced version of Dead Bug

Glute Exercises

Many people have developed "gluteal amnesia", where the glutes are underutilised as the expense of the lower back and quads, which can lead to knee and lower back issues. These exercises wake up the glutes and set back on the right path.

Glute/ham raise - Lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, heels about a hand's length from the buttocks. Dorsiflex your ankles so your toes are off the floor. Lift your hips up so you are on your heels and shoulders. Squeeze your glutes together and feel them activate.

Glute march - from the raised position, lift one knee up toward the ceiling so you are resting on one heel and your shoulders. Keep you hips up and glutes clenched. Slowly change legs and repeat.

Reverse Bridge - lie prone (face down) on the mat. Forehead rests on your hands. Bend your knees so your shins are vertical. Now contract the glutes to push the feet upward and raise the knees off the mat.

Bird Dog and Raised Bird Dog

The basic bird dog posture has you on your hands and knees, head up, back flat, arms straight. Lift your left arm straight out in front and lift and straighten your right leg behind. Do not allow the pelvis to rotate - keep it horizontal. Perform both sides

Bird Dog

An intermediate version has you performing this with only the left knee, and not the foot on the ground. you can perform this on a flat bench across the breadth of the bench, not the length. Bring the hand and knee closer together to make it harder.

The raised bird dog is much harder. This time curl the toes under and come up off your knee onto the hand and toes. The raised knee should only be a couple of inches max off the floor. Now raise the left arm and right leg without compromising your alignment or lifting the left knee any higher or lower.

Hamstring raise from knees with feet held

It is difficult to find suitable bodyweight exercises for hingeing.

The kettlebell swing is such an exercise, but of course it is weighted.

This raise is one such hingeing exercise.

Kneel down, on your toes. A partner holds your heels and keeps your feet pressed to the floor.

Lean forward slightly at the knees, then slowly bend at the waist and lower your head to the floor. Come back up again. This should place a significant isometric load on your hamstrings.

Supposedly it should be possible to lower down to a flat position and back up without bending at the waist and using the hamstrings to lower and raise oneself, but for me at least that seems a long way off, if it is in fact possible. The waist bending one was way hard enough.

The further you lean forward at the start, the harder the exercise becomes.

You could use a belt tied around a bench or table to hold your feet if you can't use a partner.

Steve and Stan demonstrate

Rickson's Neck Exercises

Rickson Gracie was renowned for having a very strong and well developed neck.

Lie supine (face up) on the mat. Bend the knees, feet flat on the mat and allow the knees to fall out to the side like for butterfly guard. Engage the abs and lift the shoulders slightly off the mat. Move the head back and forth, providing isometric yielding resistance with one or both hands as you lift the head forward and up off the mat. Tilt the head sideways, and rotate it, providing the same sort of isometric resistance with the hands. Reps.

Lie face down (prone). Place your fingers of both hands on the back of your head. Lift the head off the mat, providing isometric resistance with the fingers. Reps.

Stan is not facepalming here. He is doing Rickson's neck drills

Links to earlier Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime Seminars

Each of the seminars linked to below and this one contain significant amounts of information that are not in the others. Reviewing them is strongly encouraged.


Stanley Tam, Chinese Black Belt and Qigong Master, and myself

Always a privilege

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks for the review Andrew! Looks like some solid material once again.