How Do You Know if You're Over-Training?

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Overtraining is a funny topic, because it’s so profoundly misunderstood. It’s misunderstood at levels that get people feeling like they’re lazy if they don’t train that day; or on the other end of the spectrum: feeling like their workout allows them to sit the rest of the week out in hopes that they "hit it hard enough already."  Neither are correct. That's more neurosis than simple objective feedback from your body.

I sometimes even hesitate to dwell on this topic in any sensationalist way because, while it's incredibly important, I never want to come off as the "told ya-so" disciplinarian parent, nor do I want to coddle and excuse what could simply be a lack of effort and discipline on the part of the trainee. Both outcomes are negative and lead to the athlete simply tuning out to what could be good advice.  So for the athletes and coaches reading this alike, I encourage you to be very aware of how to deal with overtraining in athletes and the signs of it, but trust that you have the knowledge, education and intuition when the problem arises. Don't stress; the stress is much worse.

Overtraining quite simply is the state you find yourself in after chronically overreaching in your training effort. Much can be mitigated by recovery efforts, but even the best laid recovery practices can’t outrun a body that can’t recover, adapt, and come back stronger.

I made mention a few weeks ago in my article on The Athlete of Over 30 Best Practices, that you should alter your training plans for the day if you’re feeling over-trained. But how do you know if you’re overtrained? Let’s discuss…

 

Did you over-reach in the past 2 days?

 

Overreaching in strength and conditioning circles refers to the temporary over-exertion of yourself to reach a certain short-term goal. Maybe it was you going the extra round in jiu jitsu (past your normal capacity), or having multiple consecutive two-a-days.

In the gym, it may mean that you went for your PR in a squat or deadlift in the past 48 hours. Maybe you had a two-a-day: sprints in the morning, strength training in the evening. The actual practice of this isn't "bad," but the chronic repeating of it can get you in trouble (why do you think so many programs have "de-load" weeks and times where you alter your volume and intensity?)

You can conceivably overreach for a number of sessions in a row to produce a desired training effect, but you’ll be in slippery territory if you do this unsupervised or chronically. Sometimes, high level athletes will overreach to achieve a certain goal. 

Whatever the case, you've dealt a slightly larger than normal blow to your nervous system that your body is recovering from and adapting to in order to come back stronger.  While this is happening, you’d be wise to move, but somewhere in the 60-70% total exertion/effort range max for the immediate 48-72 hours after. This could include longer duration cardio/running/biking, practicing your technique for your lifts by doing higher volume and low weight sets, drilling in jiu jitsu, etc.

To be clear, you are not overtrained at this point. However, if you chronically trained in this fashion, you’d probably be pushing into over-training territory. Precisely how much is a personal approximation and number, and is in part, measured by some of the small giveaways listed below. To figure it out first though, you must take an inventory of your body.

 

reflect, but don't get too "heady"

There are many reasons a mental malaise and brain fog can onset that are not a result of physical fatigue. Stress, distractions from work, life, family or otherwise, and simply not being present can easily disrupt your focus, and have physical manifestations. You’ll feel tired, cranky, or just physically drained.  Should you train on those days? That depends…

It’s hard to distinguish between this “attitude fatigue” and actual physical over-training.  A quick way to tell which is which is by thinking to your last 4 training sessions. Are you usually happy and enthusiastic to go and knock it out of the park? Then you may be actually in need of that extra rest day if you're feeling sludgy. Conversely, if you’re always hemming and hawing the whole way to the gym and don’t really get focused until your first set, then you’re probably simply psyching yourself out… in the bad way. In this case, training would probably be a good idea.

It simply comes down to being disciplined. You won’t always feel like training, but you should. Compliance and how much you show up and complete what’s outlined is what’s most important.

So if you’re certain it’s not an attitude fatigue incident, let’s explore these four clues:

 

Find a “benchmark exercise”

Everyone has an exercise they’re good at and simply have a higher aptitude in relation to other exercises. My personal one is the Farmer’s Walk. Besides simply being a strength and strength capacity building exercise, the Farmer’s Walk gives me a good indication to my balance that day, basic coordination, and how tense or tight I am feeling.  On most days, if I pick up a heavy kettle bell, dumbbell, or any thick-gripped implement, I feel ready to move with it. However, there’s some days where I am simply off and even grabbing a 16kg or 20kg kettle bell to do a simple warm-up is asking a lot. Moving is tough, coordination of my legs while walking is off (more on that below), and everything just feels heavier than it should.

Simply put, if an exercise is hard that you know should be easy, you may want to reconsider training that day. Take a longer warm-up, get into some harder working sets to see what happens, but don’t be surprised if you need to alter your workouts.

The same goes for combat sports, particularly grappling. If you’re feeling really sluggish and a lack of sharpness after 10-15 minutes of warming up and a few times through your favorite pass or sweep, you may want to stick to drilling that day.

Check your breathing

If you are sore, tight, stressed, or simply not having a good day, the chances that you are dysfunctionally breathing are quite high. You're probably breathing through your mouth, and/or possibly infrequently, and sighing and grunting a lot. If that's you, simply take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths and see what happens. I wager you'll find a lot more calm.

On the bright side of this practice, you'll have focused and altered your state in a very positive way for your training session. The relaxed demeanor and increased mobility of your tissue will allow you to fully utilize everything you have for the training session.

On the other side of the coin, if this still reveals some fatigue, you'll have taken the first step to putting your body in a "healing" state by blunting your sympathetic nervous system, and moving yourself into the parasympathetic realm, allowing your body to start healing better.

Grip strength

I notice amongst athletes and avid gym-goers alike, that grip strength is one of the first things to go as they approach overtraining and chronic overreaching territory. This observation is only valid of course, if people have a standard warm-up or some exercise that they’re used to using a heavy gripping effort for that we can compare it to session-to-session.  

We usually notice this at the beginning of a workout when someone is going to pick up a dumbbell or kettle bell they’re used to handling for warm-up purposes, or if they go to hang from a bar. Invariably, when they’re a little overly fatigued, it feels heavier to them than it should.  This has a lot to do with your nervous system readiness, that is, how quickly your body and brain are communicating to execute what you’re asking of it. The physical therapists I work with often equate grip strength issues to core issues as well; so if you're overly sore and damaged through the torso, and your grip isn't up to snuff, then we may have a reduced training load on our hands.

I particularly like to do a shoulder warm-up series with kettle bells to warmup before workouts. On the days in which I am a little over-trained, I find myself a little slower to process the grip of the thick handles, and it simply feels more difficult than it should to work with 12 or 16kg. 

Balance

Tripping on the mats? Doing a farmers walk and having issues staying under center? Not unlike grip strength feeling weak, your balance and all the systems that dictate it (vestibular, etc) can be the first to go when your body is shuttling its resources elsewhere. Often times, it takes a set or two to get your body and balance in sync, but if it’s going past the initial warm-up, you’d benefit from scaling back that day.

 

PROGRESSION AND PERIODIZATION ARE REAL THINGS

I find there’s two ends of this spectrum: people who very obviously have a lot on their training plate and are feeling burned out, and people who train much less frequently, but still feel burned out.  Both individuals are making mistakes of programming and periodization.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re feeling a bit over-trained and it’s coming from just a few workouts per week. You should already be logging your exercise (if you take it seriously), so go back and see what your total number of workouts was in 1 month. Increase that number by roughly 10-15% the next month to help build your capacity. Secondly, heed the next bullet point (more on that below. Spoiler alert: improve your recovery habits).

However, maybe you’re the opposite; maybe you’re burning out and it’s because you’re training TOO much. Remember, give yourself 48 hours if necessary between strength training bouts, and don’t expect to be king of the ring/mats the day after a hard strength training session either.

 

Identify Your Recovery Errors

The best laid plans can be easily laid to waste if your recovery efforts are tainted. The tried and true advice of proper sleep, diet and stress management go a long way. If you feel like you do everything perfect, but are chronically stressed and subsequently, under-slept, you WILL suffer. There is no way around this and I see it ALL the time. Stress management can derail all your training efforts and increase your chance for injury, blunt your progress, and make you retain unwanted weight. This is not an exaggeration and it's something I deal with almost weekly with clients and athletes (I live and train in NYC, after all...).

 

don't worry...

The worst thing you can do is worry. Remember, all these markers and symptoms are objective feedback from your body that something is off. They aren't a statement of judgement about you as an athlete.

Start becoming more mindful of everything above and you'll give yourself a much deeper window into your recovery habits. If you are indeed overtrained, you will be able to diagnose and appropriately respond to keep yourself healthy. It bears repeating that the majority of people reading this article may not need this advice now, but being mindful of these things can actually enhance and help you train harder and smarter later, as you can proceed full speed ahead if you are covering the spread and having no ill effects. We didn't cover everything, because that could be a book in itself, but I hope this got you all thinking about the topic.

Be well,

Mark

 

ps- If you have any rituals or signs you notice in recognizing overtraining, leave a comment below.

 

Three Cues to Excel in the Deadlift

Most people who deadlift do so for the great strength and size-gaining benefits that accompany it. Packed in it though, is a great lesson on how to identify your center of gravity from a hinged or bent position. This has amazing benefits for the jiu jitsu fighter or anyone trying to improve their physical quality of life. Much has been written by masters of this lift, and it is one that has a lifetime's worth of detail and exploration. I consider it to be a real art and it is truly my favorite exercise. What follows are the most common cues and reminders I find myself giving when administering the deadlift.

 

Push the ground away

The most fundamentally misunderstood cue of the deadlift is that you somehow have to actively use your back to rip the bar from the ground and quite literally “pull.” I would absolutely call the deadlift a pulling lift, by virtue of it’s high demand on the posterior chain, but it’s an isometric “pull” from the upper body, with a lower body maximal effort from your posterior chain— effectively making it a “pulling motion.”

 

But a funny thing happens when we re-shift the emphasis a little: whenever I have someone who has difficulty deadlifting at a certain load, I cue them to think of their feet and imagine that on the upward portion (concentric phase) of the lift that they are pushing the ground away with their feet, while keeping the upper body rigid. Suddenly, muscles are properly cued that were underperforming earlier, their shoulders drop, traps pop, and they look like hinging perfection.  

 

It may be a pull, but you aren’t pulling with your upper body...

 

Expanding on the point above, the other massive deadlift miscue I see is that athletes will often look like they are trying to pull the bar off the ground with their back, and not using their legs to help at all until they stall with their back. Now, there is an unfolding and a bit of a pull with the back that does take place, but it must happen in conjunction with the legs “pushing you upwards” (as stated above). Moreover, those two things happening simultaneously must happen in a certain synchronicity to really effectively and expertly execute the deadlift.

RDL’s (Romanian Deadlifts) excluded, this is a huge mistake that could possibly end in injury, but more immediately, won’t do you any favors in truly reaping the benefits of the deadlift. 

Instead, take time to feel your lats, elevate your chest, brace your core, drop your shoulders, and take a few practice hinges holding this posture. This is how your upper body will remain as you deadlift. It is not a passive effort in the upper body, it’s quite active.

 

Sit on your heels

 

There’s so much of life that exists on our toes. Most sports, walking around town, and just about everything requires us to “lean in” a bit. This happens so much, that "leaning in" becomes how we are most comfortable balancing our bodies. Add to that the fact that shoes typically come with a heel (even minimalist sneakers sometimes), and you begin to see why people have trouble really getting in touch with being flat to the ground and sitting into their heels.

The problem with being too far on your toes during the deadlift is that the average deadlifter will be unable to properly cue their gluteus maximus and sit back in a nice deep hinge during the lift.   This “toe stance” has the effect of making you more likely to tilt your pelvis forward/under (posteriorly), and thus, killing a true hinge. The reason this happens is because your body is trying to get "under center" to its strong point at your center of gravity. Long term, I have seen this improper deadlift form sideline lifters for a very long time, as it has the effect of adding up to a lot of unnecessary tightness and damage to the anterior hip muscles. Even though in the moment you may feel stronger or more stable in your “toe stance,” long term it will bottom out and you’ll stall. Besides, it’s not correct anyway! 

So, avoid this at all costs by not getting your ego up or progressing too fast. Take time to practice your perfect hinge position, do support exercises, and be sure that the balance is in your heels. You also should keep the bar extremely close to your shins (almost touching, and it's okay if it does sometimes). That's the true way you keep the bar "under center." You’ll know you’re doing it properly when you can feel your glutes and the rest of your posterior chain.

 

Closing Thoughts

I find these three cues to be the most economical in recommendations, and find myself repeating them the most in the gym. These tips are very much aimed at the new deadlifter, but are very good evaluation and reflection questions an experienced powerlifter can ask themselves as well.  I included a video I often share with clients for quick reminders while deadlifting in the gym (see above). 

 

Be well.

A Best Practices Guide for the Masters Athlete

IBJJF World Masters 3 Absolute Runner Up Jay Marist.  photo credit: Jay Marist

IBJJF World Masters 3 Absolute Runner Up Jay Marist.  photo credit: Jay Marist

Competition and logging long hours in the gym do not stop when you turn 30. There’s no better proof of that than the mats at your jiu jitsu school, CrossFit box, or obstacle races like Spartan. It’s why the over 30 crowd is increasingly well represented in the physical pursuits of many individual athletes.

The Masters athlete may be the fastest growing category of athlete and fitness enthusiast. Those reading this familiar with the term already know what I am referring to, but for the uninitiated:

The Masters divisions in many sports refers to the athlete who is generally over the age of 30, and wishes to compete at either an amateur or pro level of sport. Many sports like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, CrossFit or Powerlifting will further break this up into “Masters 1, Masters 2,” etc, based on further age brackets over 30.

Because of the increased popularity of sports and competitions in Brazilian jiu jitsu and CrossFit, and the age range running a wide spectrum, this phenomenon is really no surprise at all: people of all ages want to be healthy and compete to test their abilities. 

What concerns me though, is that all too often, we take the published advice of what’s advocated for professional athletes in their early-20’s and apply to the athlete over 30. Worse yet, is the master’s athlete trying to keep up with a 23-year old prospect banging out two-a-days at the gym.  The world is (sadly) not created equal for all, and in order to live out maximum glory on the mats or the floor of the box, we need to acknowledge where we are at in life, figure out where we can over-perform, where we currently underperform, and maximize our health.  

By no means am I recommending you use your age as an excuse. We need to get that out of the way right now: you are not to ever use your age as an excuse (or anything as an excuse really, who wants to hear excuses?). You simply need to acknowledge the reality of the hand you’re currently dealt and play the heck out of that hand. Crude analogies aside, let’s explore what I mean.

 

CONSIDER YOUR TRAINING AGE

One of the first assessments I make with all new clients, especially athletes, is their “training age.” By training age, I mean the amount of years they’ve been actively exerting their body physically in the gym and/or in sport. Depending on their “age,” the training recommendations for these individuals changes.

The younger your training age, the less overall work I need to do per session with you, as you stand to benefit a lot from less stimuli as it’s all new to you.  We strive for the least effective minimum dosage of training stimulus, in other words. Why?

 

  1. I want you to be fresh to practice and enjoy your sport. Your strength and conditioning should enhance that; it shouldn’t get in the way.
  2. Newcomers to strength and conditioning at any age also need to train a bit longer in basic movements before they possess the necessary technique to really push themselves maximally. Thus, newcomers often can train more frequently as they aren’t able to really hit or exert maximal effort yet. Newcomers train more often, but usually in the domain of technique, all while benefiting from adaptation because the threshold is so low.  

 

PHYSICALLY DEMANDING SPORTS HAVE A LONG ADAPTATION PERIOD TO increase 'WORK CAPACITY'

Are you trying to be a two-a-day champ at the jiu jitsu academy in your first three months? I would advise you don’t do that until your body becomes very familiar with the demands of the sport, how to recover from it, and until your body very realistically “hardens”. 

Your work capacity is something that needs to be built. This means that if you are a newcomer to the rigors of training that could be considered "all out" (or maximal): many master's age athletes need to give their bodies a minimum of 6 months just to adjust to a sustainable 2-3x per week sports training schedule.  You read that correctly: if you’re new, your max effort classes should be at 2-3 times per week if you’re a master’s athlete. 

The exception to this is if you’re used to 2-a-days from high school, college, and a well rounded fitness regimen. Other examples include athletes who don't work full time, can take the day to recover, relax, and practice other good recovery rituals.  If this describes you, then you will probably adjust just fine to doing hard physical activity every day, and eventually twice per day a few times per week pretty quickly. Your capacity is there, but you’ll want to work on your recovery.

For some who compete at the highest levels of the masters divisions, and are recent carry-overs from the Adult (under 30) divisions, then it’s more or less business as usual into your mid 30’s.  But what if you started jiu jitsu at 39, or older? What if your CrossFit regimen was the first real hard training in your life and didn’t really start until 44? You have to treat your body much, much differently, starting with the advice above.

 

RECOVERY IS A SKILL

Recovery is as much of a skill as strength and your sport. The body adapts physiologically to stress. Give the body time to recover, and it adapts to be that much more ready to take the rigor of what you previously asked of it. 

It’s a simple concept that goes astray too often, and I don’t necessarily blame the misunderstanding and straying. It’s poorly understood what it means to be truly recovered.  

From a strength and conditioning perspective for the masters athlete: keep in mind that two maximal workouts per 7 day period is sufficient for most to see progress, and consequently, enough to fatigue you at the deepest neurological level. This is especially true of the amateur athlete who has to work full time, has a few nights per week of compromised sleep, commitments with family, etc.  

This doesn’t mean you can’t train jiu jitsu, or hit the gym more than 2 days per week, it simply means you need to periodize, or scale, your training on a weekly basis: 2 hard days of rolling and 2 skill & technique based days, for instance. 

What’s a simple way to know if you’re recovered? You should use your ability to move through the ranges of what’s planned that day as your first indicator. Is soreness keeping you from achieving a perfect hinge? If so, then you may need to re-arrange your workout days. After a few minutes of warm-up, is that guard pass feeling really shaky? Consider resting or reorganizing your sport training that day. 

 

RECOVERY IS AS IMPORTANT AS TRAINING

It just needs to be prioritized. Reduce stress, sleep better, and eat well 85%-90% of the time, and you will largely take care of the recovery spread. It also is immensely important that you make time for yourself. Schedule 30 minutes as frequently in a week as you can to simply be alone. If this includes your own meditation, breathing or mindfulness practice, you'll be bringing yourself to an even better place in your recovery efforts.  I've written much on this topic and will continue to, so keep an eye out for that.  Consider also adding "me time" and meditation time through things like Morning and Evening Rituals.

 

Periodization of your training and strength/conditioning program is a must.

Periodization refers to the planning and mapping involved in creating an effective workout program. Programming for athletes, especially master’s athletes, is much different than creating workouts for the average gym goer. If you practice your sport and pair that with the same routine you’ve been using for years in the gym, then you need a drastic change. Without doing so, you may be affecting your durability and performance.

You need to carefully and progressively increase your workload without overdoing it for too long and too often. Hitting it 100% every day is simply not going to cut it.

Program design is one area of fitness and strength training that is simply too personal and complex to ever write a one size fits all solution to. As such, the best solution is to seek out a skilled strength coach or trainer who understands periodization and programming for athletes. Together, you can work on a program and work together over a period of time to maximize results. The art and science of programming is where great coaches shine, as they’ve spent years and degree-worthy amounts of study on learning how to maximize performance. This is exactly the crux of my Online Training program, as this is exactly what we do with that service: periodized training programs. Check it out the services page to see if it’d be right for you.

 

Movement quality and Motor Control is equally important as training

 

For ease of discussion, I’ll break this into two camps:

If you have a long history of being involved with the sport you find yourself pursuing in your Master’s life, then you’d be wise to spend at least half your time on your strength and conditioning, body maintenance, and wellness habits.  Why? You already have a great many hours logged, reps performed, and the brain-body patterning that are required to be great at what you do. Your time is better spent making sure you’re still able to do it indefinitely. The athlete I’m describing here is often highest risk for overtraining on the mats, or kicking it in high gear too often.

If you’re very new to the sport you find yourself in (ie: under 4 years in), and already over the age of 35, then your time needs to be spent doing that sport, perfecting your movement and technique, and on your recovery habits. Don’t get confused though, you absolutely must keep up some schedule of strength and conditioning, but it should be on something that keeps you feeling fresh, loose and prepared to get back sports. Don't embark on a new program to increase your 1RM the same month you start jiu jitsu. Give it a few months to all come together and build up to it.

Moreover, strive for movement and technical fluidity and control over the ability to quickly get through something, or literally "surviving" class and/or a workout.

 

IF YOU DROP THAT WEIGHT FOR COMPETITION, YOU MAY NEVER GET IT BACK

At the risk of sounding sensationalist, I do think it’s important to point out that weight management becomes an issue for men and women as they get older. I’m not referring to eating too much or too little, but rather, bone density issues for menopausal women and the lean muscle maintenance of men over 40 that can be a real issue. 

The athlete over 40 who wishes to cut extreme amounts of weight does so inevitably at the expense of lean tissue. Estimates by reputable sources like the NSCA report that anything over 1% of total body mass loss per week is going to be more than just fat loss: it's also muscle and water. That can be consequential for a man over 40, or the woman who has a lot of lean muscle from years of training.  

The exception to this of course, is if you’re overweight or obese and you have fat to lose. If you have difficulty gaining muscle, or find yourself experiencing muscle loss, then a drastic weight cut is not your friend. Add to the fact that most people do this process rather crudely, without professional help. Be advised, drastic weight loss can affect an individual’s body at hormonal levels that can start to wreak havoc longer term if mismanaged or done too aggressively and frequently.

I’ll often hear from people who have a longer history in their sport say something to the effect of “I don’t understand, I used to be able to cut to this weight just fine.” The unsexy truth is that it’s different to manipulate your weight when you’re at a certain age, and we are always changing physically. Things change, and your practices need to also.

 

CONCLUSION

This all could apply to any athlete at any age, but it becomes especially important when you're on the other side of 30. Much of what I discussed above is geared at the grappler/martial artist, and the masters athlete who competes at weight class sports. Much of this also can be applied to the competitive CrossFit athlete too, because they are often interested in multiple physical pursuits outside the box, and finding time for it all is a task. Regardless, the point still stands that you must acknowledge that the life of an athlete has a progression, as all things do in life, and to not acknowledge that comes at your own detriment. For some, these truths may be hard to swallow, but they are recommendations meant to keep you pursuing the sports for as long as you desire, and never being forced off the mats.  Long story short: take your time, and train smart to train hard.

There Are Two Ways to Lose Weight

I would characterize a lot of what I do as weight management.

Weight loss goals can vary. For some of my clients, the goal of losing weight is to better their life and health, whereas I have others who do so for sport. I even have people who want to gain weight, usually because they want to be stronger or for aesthetic purposes.

For those who are looking to lose weight for their health, or who may just be looking for a big change in their fitness, there is an important distinction one must understand:

There’s a difference between dieting and losing weight as a lifestyle change, and dieting and losing weight aggressively for a goal. The time tables vary greatly, as do the speed of results, but both are equally valid approaches. I say this upfront because you must go into your weight loss with the right expectations.

Lifestyle Changes

The "weight loss as a lifestyle change” idea gets thrown around all too often without proper context. I do believe we should always aspire to be doing better in our everyday life and it should be reflected in our actions. But to lose weight progressively as a result of a lifestyle change is much different than planning a short term weight loss where the goal is purely changing the number on the scale.

With this approach, I won’t be asking you to very strictly measure your food. Instead, I’ll give you strategies to help you become mindful of your portions, we’ll keep a food diary (at first), but I won’t necessarily recommend calorie/macronutrient counting, or even weighing all of your food. I want you to learn bigger concepts, and to learn to read how your body feels. This takes time and longer term, you will become a better person for it. In the short term, however, it’s important to have your expectations aligned with the reality of dieting this way.

These are realities to losing weight this way:

·  It sometimes means slower weight loss for those already at a healthy weight. Those who are overweight will lose weight quickly at first, but it will eventually be a bit more measured.

·  You will inevitably hit plateaus, and they may last a while. You will have to do work to figure out how to overcome these plateaus.

·  You have very low risk of ever rebounding to your old weight.

·  You will create new healthy lifestyle habits, improving not only your overall physical health, but also your mental health and quality of life.

 

Aggressive Plans

You’ll always move more quickly with shorter term weight loss plans (or “diets”) simply because the parameters of the plan are a bit more aggressive in nature. They mean to accomplish a very clearly defined goal that is tied to numbers or some measurable performance marker.  

They are profoundly effective. I am of course speaking only to safe, responsible programs here, and nothing that is drug induced or depriving in a dangerous way.

What are some of the reasons you’d lose weight like this? You’d be trying to do any of the following on a shorter timeline:

·  You’re trying to “reset” your body and clean the palate. Some would call it a “cleanse,” but it’s really just a fresh start.

·  You’re trying to lose a stubborn amount of weight.

·  You’re trying to “transform” your physical appearance quickly.

·  You’re trying to lose weight for performance reasons.

·  You find that you just do well with a disciplined, strict approach.

When losing weight this way, you’ll have to measure what you take in, be it portions, calories, macronutrients. Whatever the metric is, it must be measured. This isn’t always the case for “lifestyle changes,” and it’s the reason why aggressively dieting works the way it does.

 

It’s important to know that this is not always meant to be permanent. The idea of permanence is flawed anyway, but the real key is that these plans get you to where you want to be and from there, you can manage. I don’t think most people would care to spend their life measuring everything on a food scale or traveling with measuring cups. That’s why these plans should not be something you do “forever.” Most people WILL burn out eventually. It’s the reason people "yo-yo" when going off a temporary weight loss plan or “diet”: they may have pushed themselves too hard and tried to maintain an impossible standard.

Here are some realities to losing weight this way:

·  You’ll move much more quickly in the direction of your goals.

·  There will be more sacrifice.

·  You’ll learn a tremendous amount about yourself and grow mentally.


Overall, neither one of these plans is inherently more difficult than the other as it ends up being very personal. I would wager that lifestyle changes are a little more difficult to make depending on your level of malleability, but they exponentially increase in ease and happiness as you go through your everyday life.

The main reason I took time to write this is because I want to make sure everyone understands what they're getting into whenever they choose the path that they do to lose weight. Like I said, there's nothing wrong with either one, but they all present unique challenges. 

If you have any experiences to share, I encourage you to comment below or send me a message sometime. I always like hearing the journey of others. 

Be well,

Mark

Weight Cutting for Jiu Jitsu: Alex Ecklin's EBI7 Weight Cut

Weight cuts, especially for jiu jitsu competitions, are a weird thing. Many (though this is changing in some competitions) have same day weigh-ins, often minutes before you start your fight. As you could imagine, this has helped to eliminate the extreme cuts you see in most MMA organizations, who weigh in days before. For same-day competitions I strongly advise people to think of the process as an aggressive “weight loss” rather than a “cut,” because in reality, you’re not doing a true "cut" in weight the week of.  

If you’re more strategic, you can maintain a weight very close to the actual division all year-round. This was the case for Alex Ecklin, a Vitor Shaolin black belt and co-owner of the school Masterskya Brooklyn. Alex fought and competed in the Eddie Bravo Invitational 7 (EBI7), as well as EBI 1. He asked me to handle his nutrition for his EBI7 fight against Baret Yoshida. No strength and conditioning, just nutrition coaching. 

Alex's Profile

Alex's diet overall consisted of quality food in a good quantity. He’d always look to eat lunch at a place like Whole Foods, or lean towards home-cooked meals when possible. This was good. The two things we had to address were:

  • What exactly to eat (and how to combine it)

  • When to eat it

The mistake most athletes make is that they either eat too much or way too little. Combat athletes tend to be more measured, or lean toward eating too little, mostly due to years of habitually eating light to make weight. Alex’s intake was close to where I would have wanted it to be anyway.

The tournament was for featherweights (145lbs), but Alex has a history of competing at even lower weight classes (135lbs).  His "walking around weight" was very close to 145lbs (plus or minus 5-6lbs on any given day). On top of that, EBI weighs in the day before the tournament, so we had a lot of wiggle room. As we only had to lose about 5-6lbs, which in truth is quite easy, we didn't have to worry so much about losing significant weight and could instead maximize his performance through the right nutrition. So for him, this wasn’t really a cut, but more of a “nutritional upgrade:” He wanted to feel better while training and in everyday life and fix what he felt was a randomness in his eating habits and nutrition. So that’s where we started, and what we accomplished.  

THE PLAN

Alex is an impressive athlete and the quintessential martial artist. The thing about working with the highest levels of athletes is that their attention to detail and drive is unmatched. When I gave Alex his plan, he snapped right to it, and understood and took to heart everything I shared with him from our initial conversation.

The highlights of our plan:

  • No “bad combinations” of food that were digestively burdensome, aka: Eat Simple

  • No eating too late

  • Adopting a schedule of eating around his teaching and training schedule


What do each mean?

Eat Simple

Eating simple is profoundly important. You need to make things easy for your body - and generally the more simple the meal, the easier it’ll be to digest. Without going into too much depth (because the topic deserves volumes), any effective nutrition and health system that I’ve encountered has echoed the idea that your plate at any given meal should not be complicated. Generally if there are over 3-4 different types of food, it’s too much.

Alex had a pretty good handle on this to start, but we brought some mindfulness to it so his meals made sense: one centered around protein, another around something more starchy and dense for energy, and another of just fruit. We didn't mix, and we didn't snack (that will happen sometimes, but we managed them).

No Eating Late

Whether you’re on an intermittent fasting diet or any weight loss plan, you shouldn’t be eating too close to bedtime, and especially not things that are too energy dense (ie: carbohydrates). In Alex’s case, we didn’t eat too late and had a cut off of at least 2 hours before bedtime. It’s a pretty simple rule that we didn't have too many issues with, but late night classes sometimes created problems. In this event, we tried to have him eat before the later trainings or classes, but afterwards was acceptable sometimes- we just let the scale and his overall feeling/performance be the guide. 

Scheduling

It was as simple as it sounded; if we could get Alex eating a few hours before bed, not too soon before training, the right mix of nutrients post-training and eliminate snacking, we'd be successful. 

That's the key here, you have to be in tune with your body and you have to talk to each other... a lot. For this, we had to let "feeling" be a guide, and this is the core of a good coaching relationship: the athlete has to feel comfortable sharing everything, but the coach has to create that environment in the first place. Then, and only then, can the coach be the coach. At that point, my job is to interpret what they're saying and know the right call to make. Scheduling when to eat in this sense, becomes more of an art.

It's important to me to empower the person I'm working with: you need to teach them how to care for themselves, be self-reliant, and to trust what they're feeling. Both Alex and I made that our mission, and in truth, because he was such a fast learner, I had to do very little. He immediately learned to trust what he was feeling and went with it. Sometimes all we need is positive affirmation in that direction, and we're off to the races. 

In Conclusion

 

Alex was on weight at least a week before the weigh-ins, so the last part of his journey to EBI from a nutritional standpoint was just maintenance. We stayed the course, with some minor alterations throughout his travels out to LA, and stayed light in the days before the official weigh-in, which he hit with ease.

If I could sum it up in one sentence: less was more, simple was better. Everything we did was simple. We literally and figuratively, cut the fat. There's a lot of advice on supplements and strange foods out there, but that stuff only is relevant if you have a good baseline. 

I hope this gave you all some idea and some positive support in handling your weight cuts responsibly and treating it like a pro. Again, I can't reiterate enough how encouraged I was to see a professional athlete shy away from barbaric methods and cuts of old and really take an optimized and measured approach. 

If you ever want to discuss weight cuts, nutrition plans for your performance optimization, feel free to check this page out or contact me!

Be well,

Mark

My Nightly Rituals for Better Sleep, Recovery, Mood and Health

About a year ago, I wrote about something that really resonated with a lot of people on my morning rituals. In many ways, it was years in the making and continues to be my practice to this day.

What about the end of my day, though (or the end of your day)? It’s equally important, as it sets you up for what is hopefully restful sleep, which is profoundly important in recovering from your training, the stress of the day, and keeping you healthy.

I believe that “winding down” is very personal, that is to say, things that relax me, may agitate you, which will create a lousy type of alertness. Thus, you should use this as a guide to give you ideas and a “jumping off” point in which you can create your own.

Here are my night time rituals, or how I end every day:

Stop working on anything 2 hours before bed (minimum)

Admittedly, it took a while for me to do this, but it is of note because I love my work and how I spend my days and professional life. For me, it’s not a stressor to be working on training programs, but if I take myself too deep into the evening doing so, I will have a very hard time shutting off my “problem-solving brain” and be very alert and awake. I won’t be unhappy, just not in a restful state, so to avoid it, I make sure I stop all real work around 2 hours before I go to sleep. I fill the rest of my evening with things that tune me down a bit: reading, laying down/relaxing, talking with my girlfriend, and watching old re-runs of the Office. ;-)

Imagine for a moment that you are the opposite: you’re stressed by work, angry you have to do the task you need to, and that it’s taking you so long. Now you have to go to sleep. Not a great state of mind...

A light-to-moderate movement ritual

I like walks in the evening, but a few nights a week, I’ll get a little more aggressive and go to a local rock climbing wall in the traditional “dinner hours" and do some climbing. It has a relaxing effect on me. It’s the opposite of traditional working out, jiu jitsu or anything full-contact, so it’s a nice reprise. Moving at the end of the day like this feels right in a way that's hard for me to quantify. I find I need it before I shut down for the day. Sometimes I’ll do yoga during these hours as well.

Walking during sunset is a powerful way to reset your circadian rhythm- the colors in the evening sunset help signal to your body that the end of the day is near, and you can start "shutting down" for the day. I highly recommend when you travel, that you spend as much time in the evenings outdoors as possible. 

For many years, I always went back and forth with how I advise clients and athletes to treat their movement at the end of the day. I’m not the biggest fan of late night workouts, because of the cortisol dump happening at a time when you typically want it gone, but I do believe that you should move around a little in the hours before you sleep. As I said, I'm sometimes at a rock climbing gym in the evening, so it's a bit of a double-edged sword. I’d cut it off 2 hours before sleep, regardless.

A Warm Shower

At different times of year, and at different times of the day, I find warm or cold exposure to be equally relaxing. In general however, a warm shower at the end of the day will help relax me a bit, loosening my muscles up, and generally just feels good. 

Aroma or Sound Therapy

I have a recent preference and fondness of aromatherapy- something about the right scent will change my mood immediately, and helps me relax, if it’s the right scent. Often times, I find we aren’t so conscious of our sense of smell unless we’re smelling something awful, so it’s nice to get a refreshing blast of something pleasant.

You may find that a white-noise machine, or some ambient sounds help you relax all the same. If you live in a noisy area, or are around droning, awful sound all day, some nice music may do the trick. There’s also a number of apps that have hundreds of sounds to choose from. 

f.lux on your phone/laptop. Better yet, ditch it all 90 minutes before sleep.

There’s a number of apps out these days that kill the blue-light and overall brightness of all the “screens” in your life. I find too much screen-time to be way too alerting to the senses. In fact, if I'm really drowsy in the morning, I'll read a few Instagram posts to wake me up, it always does the trick. So the opposite holds- don't be getting in text conversations too late in the day or scrolling compulsively through social media before you sleep.

Set your alarm for the next morning ahead of time. Do whatever you need to do to cut the phone or laptop off 90 minutes before bed.

 

Making Your Own Nightly Rituals

It's really all about finding what relaxes you and turns off what I call "the problem solving brain." That "brain" will always keep you awake and alert, and while important, also needs its rest. 

Experiment, and like anything, evolve what you currently do. Naturally, we tend to evolve things anyway, but bring some mindfulness to it, and you'll be sleeping like a baby in no time.

 

If you have any great nightly rituals, leave a comment below, I'd love to hear it!

-Mark

The Only 3 Pieces of Equipment You Need to Workout

I make a bold claim, I know. The only strength and conditioning tools you’ll ever need.

Need is the word of importance here.

You can certainly use more. And I sometimes do.

You certainly may need more for some lofty goals. But more often that not, you probably don’t. 

So what follows is what I find myself working with to keep myself in shape and strong about 90% of the time. That other 10%? Well, it’s not really required (spoiler alert: kettlebells). 

 

1. Gloves  

I wear gloves often because I workout in places not always meant to be “worked out” in: outdoors, basements, hotel hallways, stairwells. It’s good to protect your hands, but besides that, you actually open up a whole multitude of training possibilities when you can grip things safely.

 

An unflattering, but good example of the gloves I use frequently.

An unflattering, but good example of the gloves I use frequently.

So no, if your pride is at stake, it has nothing to do with “helping my grip,” or “cheating,” and has everything to do with expanding possibilities. Tree branch pull ups? Check. Crawling on weird surfaces that may or may not cut up your hands? Check. Being able to grab things for deadlifting, shouldering, or just hurling otherwise? You got that too!

 

My favorites are nothing fancy- things you can grab at any hardware store or Home Depot: Nitrile gloves, fitted pretty well, and ones that have some stick when it comes to wet surfaces (pull-ups in the rain are a real thing!). 

 

2. Suspension device

The hardest thing to do when traveling or working in a place with no pull-up bar, is quite literally pulling. I could crawl, push-up, squat and do a whole multitude of “pushing” variations until I’m passed out in a corner, but what about my posterior? What about the pull? It’s a must— especially for the modern human, and even more essential for the combat athlete. 

Suspension devices allow me to create a pulling aparratus in any environment. A way to pull up, horizontal row, and just about anything I can dream up. I even use it for isometric holds in non-pulling motions and movements. 

My own version is home-made: some rope from REI (or Home Depot… can’t remember!), PVC custom cut to my specs, and a few knots, and I have the most portable and dynamic suspension device on the market. 

 

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If you just packed #’s 1 and 2 in your bag daily, you’d be able to workout anywhere. Maybe I should have called this the only two pieces of equipment you’ll ever need. So with that in mind… an honorable showing...

 

3. A Jump Rope

If you pair a jump rope between any calisthenic exercise you can think of, you have yourself the ultimate high intensity workout. You could just run, but I often am not in the mood for that. 

There's a multitude of large claims out there about jumping rope as it relates to a whole host of benefits (calorie burn among them), but I really find it the most difficult thing to push some longer duration cardio, and really help build some agility. How many of you who workout ever specifically look at and train your agility? This is a really nice way to include it.

 

In Conclusion...

 

I hope you find this useful.

I also hope it challenges notions of how you think you must train, or what you think you need to train with.

Creativity, knowledge, intent. That’s all you need to achieve any result and body goal you seek. 

In fact, you really need none of this, but sometimes we can only be so "Spartan" with our bodyweight, and a little spice never hurts.  

 

If you enjoyed this, I encourage you to go and check out my Be Strong Training Package, and in 5 weeks, you'll learn the in's and out's of getting extremely strong from using just these tools (or none at all).

 - Mark

 

Travel Training Log: Reykjavik, Iceland

In August 2016, I was lucky enough to deepen my education of kettlebells and self-defense in Iceland with Steve Maxwell, where we conducted seminars and teacher trainings at the world famous Mjolnir Mixed Martial Arts in Reykjavik. There, I assisted Steve in his certification of Mjolnir’s training staff on kettlebell instruction and had the pleasure of training with some of the country's best instructors and combat athletes (and, not to mention, all around awesome people). 

What follows is a little diary of my time there and how I found myself training, working out, and discovering ways to stay healthy and happy. If you are planning a trip to Reykjavik, I hope you find this useful and a good blueprint of where to start with your own adventure. 

 

NOTE:  Due to our packed schedule, I admittedly didn't travel much outside Reykjavik's city limits. Iceland is known for much more than the area around Reykjavik, so I will have to wait until future visits to explore that and comment. 

 

Workshops and Seminars

The photo above was taken during one of our Kettlebell Basics seminars that was open to the public. We were demonstrating a corrective exercise that helps deepen your squat in case you were curious. In the past year-plus, I've logged dozens of hours teaching kettlebells, many of them with Steve. I always am thankful for the opportunity to teach,  and especially with Steve, as he is truly one of the pioneers of kettlebell training in North America as we know it.  Unless you've attended his workshops in recent years, it is not widely known that he could very well be considered a modern innovator as well, adapting a lot of "hard style" kettlebell training to be more friendly and useful for longevity and to people of all ages and abilities. 

To me, kettlebell training is emblematic of my belief that there are two ways you should master movement of your body:

  1. Expending maximum energy and tapping the nervous system for physiological, strength, and health benefits,
  2. Learning to move with efficiency, in an effort to preserve energy and maintain full control of the breath. 

Kettlebells are really an example of #2 (most of the time, more on that below). I like to call a lot of kettlebell training "weighted mobility." Many movements are great mobility rituals on their own, mostly due to the "archetype" of the movements actually coming from a variety of sources: yoga, old military combat preparation, etc. Adding the resistance of the kettlebell adds a new dimension, giving you a bit of a strength advantage and gain within those ranges, while also changing the dynamic of the workout to train #1 above, as well. It's why martial artists and fighters gravitate toward them as a training tool; there's an intuitive feeling of benefit and efficiency in training with them that is integral to understand in order to be a successful fighter.

Many of those we trained with at Mjolnir have interest in combat sports outside of simply strength training alone, and it's not surprising that we had such a large crowd any time the topic turned to kettlebells. Outside of the combat crowd & teachers certified, our general public kettlebell seminar was well attended, and people from all walks of life came in, with a surprising amount of baseline knowledge. You'll have no problem finding kettlebell training in Iceland, between Mjolnir, and Kettlebell Iceland's Vala & Gudjon Svannson


The Great Outdoors

While there, I got to "flex" with my other favorite training style, bodyweight training. Iceland has impressive natural landscapes and provides some awesome terrain for minimalism and nature-gifted pull-up bars. So we obviously found ourselves outdoors quite a bit.  

In what became a unique full day seminar, Steve conducted an outdoor training workshop, where we utilized everything available to us and every form of training from walking and running breathing exercises, boulder/stone shouldering, pull up & push up ladders and all manner of physical contests. 

I think people often get a little bit overwhelmed or try to do too much when it comes to outdoor training. Some get anxiety from the lack of equipment, but this is a huge misconception, as you can use nearly anything to serve as resistance. For instance: you can deadlift, carry or squat with large stones. If the “strong man” in you doesn’t feel like answering the call, your best friend is really your own body; crawling, squatting, pull ups, push-ups, and much more can be done in an endless amount of set/rep schemes and tempos (time under load), to give you a great workout.

 

Jiu Jitsu

Anytime I am traveling I get especially excited when I can get on the mats (which is pretty often, thankfully!). Thanks to recent popularity brought on by the success of top UFC contender Gunnar Nelson, the combat sports community is alive and well in Iceland. 


And wow, it's also very safe to say, the Icelandic are some of the most naturally strong people I've ever had the pleasure of sharing the mats with. Steve conducted his world famous self-defense seminars in Gracie Jiu Jitsu fashion with a huge group at Mjolnir that I was lucky enough to attend. You can see from the photo that we had quite a crowd. 

If you're looking to train jiu jitsu in Iceland, you'll have a very easy time finding a partner. 



Going to Reykjavik? Here's How I Would Train...

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While we had access to a more than a few adequate gyms, I found myself almost always opting to go outdoors. Whenever the weather permits, this is usually where I go anyway, and encourage everyone else to go as well. Iceland is known for its spectacular scenery, and around Reykjavik (and beyond), they're well aware of it. You may be a little hard pressed to find a pull-up bar, which is why we made one ourselves on multiple occasions, but this is still where I'd spend the bulk of my time when looking to sweat. 

I'd also chiefly take advantage of the clean air and go hiking. Along the way, stop and do your favorite calisthenics. 

My favorite workout, and the one I find myself most often doing while traveling is pull-up ladders. This is mostly because I'm usually with Steve or other friends, and it's a very social way to get a very large number of reps in (and with good form!). You can do just about any exercise with this repetition/set fashion. It's also no coincidence this is the perfect workout to do during a hike through one of the many parks, trails or unexplored landscapes. 

As was mentioned above, if you're looking for a gym, or kettlebells, Iceland has no shortage. The culture is into fitness, and you can very quickly look-up a gym or place to drop in for the day. My own recommendation would be to contact Mjolnir, or Gudjon & Vala Svannson, the top kettlebell instructors in Iceland (who were also gracious guides and companions to me while I was there). I, of course must recommend the instructors Steve and I worked with at Mjolnir as well! 

Overall, I'd say that if you aren't from Iceland, and you took the time to stop there, you're probably into the outdoors. So skip what you'd normally do, challenge yourself to a new outdoor workout and adventure, and just enjoy the hike. 

-Mark

 

If you enjoyed this, I'd appreciate if you took a visit to my Facebook page or sign up for the mailing list, and feel free to tell me in the comments below what you thought of your time training in Iceland!

I'd like to thank Mjolnir MMA and their awesome photographers for the great photos, which you can find more of on their Facebook page and website.

-Mark