Steve has our full attention. Note the handsome dude with the chrome dome at extreme lower right
The seminar was held at Higher Jiu Jitsu, in the City of Sydney PCYC. Hosted by John Smallios.
The three sides of the Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime triangle are:
Conditioning is mainly about increasing strength and mobility.
Health is about diet, breathing and recovery.
Steve is not a fan of learning strength and conditioning from younger people. If you are over 40, 50, 60, and they are not, they just don't know how older people operate and what they can take. Steve's tyraining gurus are or were older than him. Richard Wynette, Clarence Bass, Jack LaLanne.
For most hobbyists, people with jobs, families, etc., working on Jiu Jitsu skills 3-4 times a week is ideal.
With less than three times a week, you will not progress as quickly.
With five or more times a week, you run the risk of overtraining and injury.
If you are young and have excellent recovery ability, you may be able to train more often. If you are older, any extra sessions should be light drilling and light rolling.
In Steve's opinion, if you are out of breath, you are going too hard. He gets students to roll with a sip of water held in their mouths to ensure they breathe evenly through their noses. There are methods of breathing while rolling, and breathing exercises, which can increase your ability to perform well with less oxygen and avoiding getting out of breath which Steve discussed in earlier seminars (links at the bottom of this post).
The aim is to learn to wrestle using a minimum of tension. Steve mentioned how Royler Gracie in particular was so relaxed and so unused to tensing up his body that Steve had great difficulty teaching him the Turkish Getup with a kettlebell, a movement which requires the judicious use of muscular tension to complete well. Royler remarked that what Steve was trying to teach him was completely the opposite of what Rickson and his father Helio were trying to teach him to do.
You absolutely want to be as strong as possible. If two people are of equal skill level, the stronger of the two will have the advantage.
However, Steve quoted Helio Gracie as saying that the two hardest types of people to teach Jiu Jitsu to were the really strong guys, and people that are really smart.
The strong guys overpower everyone rather than learning to use efficient technique and leverage. Which works until they meet someone as strong or stronger than they are, or they get fatigued.
Smart people tend to fall victim to overthinking and analysis-paralysis. Too many "what if?"s.
Bigger and stronger guys should generally play from the bottom when rolling with smaller or weaker people. That way both can get something out of the exchange. A big guy that can roll light with smaller people is good to have around. Darko Zaric and Stuart Morton fall into this category and have helped my Jiu Jitsu a great deal.
For longevity in the sport, you need to do most of your rolling non-competitively. Some people really enjoy competition but no one says it is good for you long term. Do not allow people to stack you. Give up the submission or let them pass your guard instead. Do not fight unreasonably hard to avoid getting caught. If you are rolling with skilled partners you should expect to get caught. Allow yourself to take risks (not with your body!) and try new things, get caught now and then, and tap. Tapping is learning. Your training environment should be such that taking risks and trying unfamiliar things is encouraged, not punished.
As mentioned above, you absolutely want to become and remain as strong as you can. Most people will reach their peak level of strength after 3-4 years of regular, sensible strength training. Significant improvements after that are highly unlikely. However, people who have never strength trained before can make rapid and significant gains. Steve had one client in his eighties with significant mobility issues, whose strength he was able to pretty much quadruple, and was able to play golf again after about six months of strength work.
It is important to understand that we want to become stronger, but not to become strength athletes, with Olympic lifting, powerlifting, crossfit, etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with playing such sports, and we will definitely get stronger doing them, but if our focus is on becoming better at Jiu Jitsu such methods are too technical and with too high a risk of injury for us.
If we are training 3-4 times a week, Jiu Jitsu itself is a form of strength training. More than two strength sessions a week as well will probably be too much from which to recover properly. Two sessions a week may be too much for some people. You can still make gains with a single session per week.
When Steve was training Xande Ribeiro to fight Roger Gracie, Xande only did one strength session per week.
We are looking for the "minimum effective dose" to achieve the results we want. Unless we really enjoy exercise. But for most people, there is a difference between recreation (Jiu Jitsu) and exercise (strength training). WE should never get injured during exercise. WE might expect the occasionaal injury in our recreation (Jiu Jitsu).
Adaptation (strength gains) are directly related to the intensity of the exercise.
Intensity is related to time under load (also referred to as time under tension). We need to subject the muscles to load for between 30 to 90 seconds, with most people getting best results between 40 and 70 seconds. This is dependent on your muscle fibre type.
Form is very important. It is still possible to get strength gains with bad form, but the risk of injury is greatly increased.
Recent sport science theory has it that there is little difference in results between low reps with heavy weights, and higher reps with lighter weights. It is intensity and time under tension that produce the desired results. One set of an exercise to momentary muscular failure will give you nearly all of your possible gains.
If you perform sets to momentary muscular failure, there is little difference in gains from performing multiple sets. The difference percentage in gains between one set and five comes down to very low single digits.
You can obtain excellent results with low volume.
You should select exercises which work what Steve calls The Five Pillars:
Pushing should include both horizontal and vertical pushes (e.g. pushup, overhead press).
Pulling also should work through horizontal and vertical directions (e.g. rows, pullups).
Ancillary exercises are required for the neck, hands, abs, feet, and calves.
It is arguably more important to work the muscles *not* used in Jiu Jitsu as those we use constantly, to avoid muscular imbalances, shortening etc. which leave us vulnerable to injury.
In particular, we should work the expansion of the hands and fingers to balance all the gripping Jiu Jitsu involves. A rubber band looped around the fingers and thumb, or more specific equipment like the Hand-X-Band, can be used for this. Stever recommends doing such exercise after every Jiu Jitsu session.
Many people who have office jobs and sit all day can develop "gluteal amnesia" where their nervous system forgets how to properly activate the glutes during daily tasks, placing undue stress on their knees and lower back. For such people, specific glute activation exercises will be beneficial.
Hingeing are movements bending from the waist, like a deadlift or straight legged deadlift. These engage the glutes and hamstrings more than the quadriceps, whereas squatting movements engage the quadriceps more than the glutes.
Strength gains can come from using machines and isometrics as much as from so called "functional" training. Functional training only makes you good at the specific lifts you do. Steve related a story about how he and another wrestler type were able to lift a two hundred pound sandbag and place it over their shoulders, whereas two lifters (including Pavel Tsatsouline) who were also there, both of whom had 500 pound plus deadlifts, were unable to do it. Neither Steve or the wrestler could deadlift close to 500 pounds, but they could clean the sandbag. NFL gyms are full of machines.
Isolation exercises and isometrics are particularly good for working around and preventing injuries.
Strength increases are generated, not during the workout, but during the recovery period afterwards. To allow supercompensation (strength gains), most people require a recovery period of 48-72 hours. If you are training hard every day, you do not get that opportunity to recover and this to supercompensate.
Arnold Schwartzenegger was rumoured to spend around 24 hours a week in the gym when he was training at his peak. Around four hours a day, six days a week. Mike Mentzer was a worthy rival for Arnold, and was able to achieve similar results with only ninety minutes a week in the gym due to smarter training protocols. Dorian Yates is another legendary bodybuilder who was able to achieve stellar results with reduced training volume. Minimum effective dose. Us the rest of the time for skill training on the mat. Or enjoying the full richness of life.
As Steve demonstrated, it is possible to achieve a high intensity, full body workout in 25-30 minutes using only a chin up bar and a Jiu Jitsu belt, and mostly isometrics with some calisthenics.
It is not difficult to overtrain if one is doing both Jiu Jitsu and strength training regularly. The best way to determine if you are overtrained is to use your resting heart rate.
To determine your normal resting heart rate, when you wake up, stay in bed and take your pulse rate for one minute. There are plenty of mobile device apps that can do this for you. If you have to get up to take a whizz or whatever, lie back in bed and stay there for ten minutes before measuring your heart rate.
Do this for seven days, and calculate your average resting heart rate from that.
Check it every morning. If you resting heart rate is more than five beats per minute over your average, you are overtrained. Avoid strenuous activity that day. Relax, walk don't run, do some light drilling or very light rolling if you go to the gym. Wait until your heart rate settles down to normal before doing another hard workout or hard rolling.
The BOLT (Body Oxygen Level Test) is another method to establish whether you are overtrained. From rest, breathe normally, exhale and cover your mouth and pinch your nose. Hold the exhale until you feel a strong urge to breathe. A string urge to breathe, not until you are about to pass out. Average the interval that you can hold the exhale over seven days.
Test yourself in the morning. If you get a low BOLT duration, you are overtrained. Take it easy that day.
Some people are genetically gifted in various dimensions, be it strength, endurance, physiology, body type, etc. It is a huge mistake to try to emulate the training methods of your genetic superiors.
Large amounts of "cardio" training are not necessary. Endurance is highly activity specific. A seasoned marathon runner unskilled in Jiu Jitsu will not fare any better than any other beginner. Your cardio will come from Jiu Jitsu. And proper high intensity strength training will elevate your heart rate and breathing as much as any other activity. Long sessions of running, swimming and the like only stress your joints unnecessarily. Spend that time rolling if you want ot work your Jiu Jitsu endurance.
Steve runs some, but only to keep up the skill of running into advanced age. And he runs at a pace which does not outstrip his breathing. Mostly he walks.
One of the benefits of Jiu Jitsu is that it can be adapted to almost any body type.
You should breath smoothly, inhaling through the nose, while exercising (and while doing Jiu Jitsu). Grunting, gasping, groaning are all indications of poor breathing patterns, emulating the Valsalva sync. Such breathing, particularly in the upper chest, emulates panic and dumps cortisol into the system. Work with weight and at a level which does not require you to breathe in such a fashion.
Keep a happy face, do not grimace. Smile. If you need more oxygen, do burst breathing, short breaths into the diaphragm.
A protocol and exercises for a short but intense predominantly isometric workout appears below.
Diet and Health
(Diet is a highly contentious subject. Steve's opinions occasionally conflict with various governmental guidelines and other dietary philosophies. Don't take any exception you take to any of this up with the writer, please)
Steve follows dietary principles detailed in a book called Toxemia Explained, by Dr John Tilden.
Dental health is important for overall health. Gum disease is an indication of dietary problems.
Briefly, it consists of food combining principles not dissimilar to the Gracie Diet. You should have fruit based meals, protein based meals, and starched based meals, not combining the food groups, especially not combining starches and protein in the same meal. Fruit and veg can be combined with most things. you can eat LOTS of fruit.
Weight control is largely a matter of calories. Caloric restriction is king for weight loss, burning fat through exercise does not work nearly as well and tires you out. Steve often cuts the starch down or out of his diet if he feels he is getting a little pudgy.
Indications of a good diet include:
- You are trim and not fat
- You do not get sick often
- Teeth and gums are in good condition
- You do not fart a lot, and when you do they are not obscenely stinky
- No diarrhoea
- No constipation
- Clear skin
- High energy levels
- No bad breath
- Healthy libido
If this isn't working, you may need to fast and/or experiment by eliminating certain foods from your diet for a while.
Steve fasts regularly. Just water. Do not train hard, and preferably do not work or travel, while fasting.
An overly acidic diet can lead to sore muscles and joints. It is possible to test your urine with litmus paper to check acidity.
Protein and other supplements, including multivitamins, are generally unnecessary. Human metabolism is not well enough understood to fully understand how the many various micronutrients in natural occurring foods work with the main vitamins and minerals appearing in various pills.
There is nothing wrong with moderate doses of tea or coffee. Steve prefers Yerba Mate to coffee.
A small amount of baking soda taken in water can decrease your sensitivity to carbon dioxide, and increase your ability to utilise oxygen and hold your breath.
Steve also advocates the occasional colonic irrigation.
Steve has some great information on breath and breathing drills, most of which he covered in early Sydney seminars - links below.
Example Strength Training Workout
Only equipment required is a chin up bar or similar, and a Jiu Jitsu belt. Exercises are mostly isometrics, with some calisthenics.
For isometric exercises, find a position around the midpoint of the movement you are trying to emulate. You will be exerting force for 90 seconds, as follows:
- The first 30 seconds at 50% intensity
- The next thirty seconds at 70% intensity
- The final 30 seconds at 100% intensity. If you are working against the belt, try to break the belt. For the final 10 seconds of that last 30, give it everything you have left
For calisthenics like pushups or pull ups, You want to try to keep the muscular contraction going throughout the exercise, including the turnaround (changing from raising to lowering, and vice versa). This means you do the exercise SLOWLY, maybe a four count down and a four count back up. Do not go to a dead hang for your pull ups or a lockout for pushups, keep tension on the muscle all the time. No bouncing or ballistic movements. If you cannot do another rep, try to stop in the flexed position for as long as possible, and then lower yourself slowly. If you have not reached muscular failure after ninety seconds of sustained slow movements, find a way to make the exercise more difficult next time.
Pull ups - very slowly up and down. No dead hang at the bottom, keep tension on the muscles the whole time, Concentrate on maximum tension on the muscles of the upper back.
Stanley Tam, black belt from China and Steve's Qigong teacher, showing considerable strength in the pullups
Pushups - very slow, no lockout at the top, constant muscular contraction throughout the set.
Stan doing pushups
Wall squats - face the wall, as close as possible. Palms facing the wall. Try to go straight down and back up, slowly. Not lockout at the top, no rest at the bottom. Continuous muscular tension. Go to 90 seconds or failure.
Stan's wife Lulu (Tianmo Zhu) showing excellent form in the wall squat
Isometric Squat - Squat leaning against a wall so the thighs are approximately horizontal. Belt is wrapped around your waist, the ends placed under your feet so you cannot move upwards. Try to straighten up against the resistance of the belt - 30 seconds at 50% effort, another 30 seconds at 70% effort, the last 30 seconds 100% effort, try to break the belt. Last ten seconds, give it whatever you have left in the tank. Keep your head up, happy face regular breathing. Use the burst breathing if necessary in the final stages. This is a killer. Be careful standing up out of this position as your quads should be fried.
Isometric Squat by Stan
Isometric Zercher Deadlift - Tie the ends of the belt together so you have a big loop. Stand inside the belt with both feet on it. you are bent over, knees bent, raise your forearms and hold the belt in the crooks of your elbows. Take your feet further apart or close together to riase or lower the top of the belt loop. Back should be approximately horizontal. Try to raise up against the resistance of the belt, keep the back straight, head up, happy face, controlled breathing. The same 30-30-30 second protocol as for the Isometric Squat. This is a hingeing movement targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Be careful with your posture.
Isometric Zercher Deadlift. Apologies for photo quality. Stan is holding the belt in the crooks of his elbows.
Isometric Glute Raise - wrap the belt once around your waist from the back. Lie on your back and place the ends of the belt under your heels. The length of the belt should be short enough to stop you doing a complete bridge. Flex your toes toward your shins (dorsiflexion) so you are on your heels. Drive your heels into the mat and bridge up against the belt, clenching the glutes, with the same 30-30-30 protocol. Works well to correct gluteal amnesia and to develop a killer bridge and hip movement.
Lulu demonstrates the Isometric Glute Raise
Isometric Lateral Raise - belt under the feet, hands holding the belt so the arms point down about 45 degrees (though you could try other angles as well). Loop the belt around the hands so the grip is not the limiting factor. 30-30-30 protocol, happy face, control the breath.
Isometric Lateral Raise - could do front or rear as well
Isometric Guard Situp - Lie on the floor with your butt up against the wall. Allow your legs to fall outwards. Sit up so your shoulders are off the floor and lift your torso, pushing with your palms against the wall. 30-30-30, happy face, breathe.
Other exercises are demonstrated below, each using the same 30-30-30 protocol, happy face, breathe.
Isometric Neck Extension on Sphinx posture. Stan is lying on his stomachwith his legs stretched out behind. You should try and push your elbows into the ground as well. If you don't have a partner, tie the belt around a suitable immovable object.
Isometric guard situp variation demonstrated by Tetsu. Elbows and knees together, try and lift hips and shoulders off the floor. Do not pull too hard on the neck and try and keep a good distance between chin and chest.
Isometric chin up hang. Go for time. Steve is keeping Lulu honest. If you can't hold it up any longer try to lower as slowly as possible. Good for the grip as well as the arms and back.
Another Isometric Guard Situp variation. Try to touch the wall, keep distance between chin and chest.
Isometric Seated Row
Isometric Overhead Press
Note that these are example exercises. you can make up your own. You can use door jambs, walls, or other immovable objects to provide isometric resistance. Steve has a video and ebook on his website (maxwellsc.com) if you need more exercise suggestions or more detailed info.
You do not have to and should not do all these exercise in one session. Choose one exercise using each of the five pillars mentioned above (push, pull, hinge, squat, rotate) and ancillary exercises. Include a horizontal and vertical push, and a horizontal and vertical pull. If you take each exercise to failure or use the 30-30-30 protocol, you should not need multiple exercises per body part, nor should you need multiple sets.
Your muscles should be exhausted and you should be breathing fairly hard if you put in the maximum effort here. This and Jiu Jitsu should be enough cardio for you. You should be able to complete quite a comprehensive and taxing workout in less than 30 minutes.
The 30-30-30 protocol for isometrics makes it almost impossible to injure yourself.
The only real issue with isometrics and partial movement is that they may shorten the muscle over time unless countermeasures are taken, so make sure you are doing a good amount of mobility work to off set this. Good joint health demands that you do that anyway.
The links below are to earlier seminars I took with Steve, in which he went onto much more detail about the practical rather than theoretical side of his systems. The breathing drills and philosophy in particular are indispensable. The 2015 seminar writeup is IMO the most informative, but I include the others as they do contain other valuable information.
Steve also has video of footage from the 2015 seminar and related footage available on his website, maxwellsc.com.
Books mentioned by Steve in the seminar: