Strength & Power.
Aerobic baseline conditioning.
Additional Anaerobic conditioning if recovery allows.
Set a challenge.
Set a time frame.
See to it that you temper yourself with one thousand days of practice, and refine yourself with ten thousand days of training.
– Miyamoto Musashi
Your sport or art should obviously be the primary component of these six practices. The key here is to understand that your athletic practice is the most important aspect of all your training. If you are interested in being a legitimate athlete then focus is genuinely required.
To quote coach extraordinaire, Dan John, “The goal is to keep the goal, the goal.”
If you have an element of your training or lifestyle that is interfering with your ability to train or perform your sport or art you have to decide what your focus is going to be.
You should be training or performing in your athletic practice 4 to 6 days a week.
Strength and Power Practice
The poor implementation of a strength and power practice is by far the largest and most common impediment in an athletes development.
Too many people consider the barbell a test of mettle rather than as a tool of training.
The goal of this practice is to become strong and powerful for the kind of athlete that you are and not in some kind of general or absolute sense. This means that roller derby skaters need to be strong compared to other skaters but not necessarily when compared to powerlifters or gymnasts.
The bottom line is that what you do in this practice should support – not hamper – what you do on the mat, field, track or ring.
Ideally your strength and power practice should be overseen by a knowledgeable and experienced strength coach. If a personal coach is not an option for you I recommend researching Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program or Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to the People program.
You should be implementing your strength and power practice 2 to 5 days a week.
People often act like proper nutrition is some kind of complicated black magic or quantum level science but unless you have a severe or rare metabolic disease nutrition can be boiled down to two simple rules.
1. Eat like a fucking adult.
2. Don’t kid yourself.
If you can do this you are already out performing 90% of the population.
Eat like a fucking adult.
Eat real food.
Real food doesn’t come out of a can, or a box or a bag. Real food goes off.
No one over the age of 12 really thinks that nutri grain is ironman food or that diet coke is a healthy choice.
Eat vegetables for health.
Eat meat for strength.
Eat carbs for recovery.
Don’t kid yourself.
You know that pizza and beer aren’t getting you closer to your goals.
And the problem is not that you should *never* consume pizza and beer. The problem is that you pretend that because you ordered a gluten free base and low carb beer that you are somehow still eating well when what you actually did was fuck up a perfectly good meal.
Repeated movement patterns take a toll and the more specific and intense your athletic practice the more specific and intense stress is placed upon your body.
If longevity in your sport and maintaining a pain free day to day life are among your goals (and they should be) then these issues should be addressed by maintaining a movement practice as a part of your schedule.
Stretch what is too tight, open what is too closed and stabilise what is too loose. This can be as simple as going through a mobility routine – like DeFranco’s Agile 8 – three or four times a week or beginning a full blown yoga practice.
A meditation practice is an incredibly powerful tool for improving all areas of your life especially your athletic performance.
We’ve all had those experiences of getting into the “zone” or hitting our “flow”. Matches or performances where time seems to slow down and our ability to think, move and react seems limitless. We recognise the advantage of this state but hardly anyone actually trains to deliberately enter into it.
As athletes we are obsessed with training our bodies but so few of us put the effort in to train our minds.
The “zone” is really nothing more than consistent mindfulness. The ability to remain in and focus on the present moment without distraction.
Regular meditative practices cause actual structural changes in the brain. Just ten minutes a day can improve your will power and decision making capabilities; increase your focus and decrease your stress.
Ten minutes a day, everyday.
Developing a meditation practice doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up sitting in the lotus position, wearing flowers and talking in the breathy, hushed tones of someone who just finished a three day yoga instructor course.
Your lifestyle practice is primarily about making sure you stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. By necessity training environments tend to be fairly insular and it’s easy to fall into the pattern of eat, sleep, train, repeat. While this makes for some neat tee shirts the reality is that it’s an expressway to injury and burnout.
The specifics of a happy and healthy lifestyle are unique to each person but there are few general principles that will always apply.
Get enough good quality sleep.
Have interests outside your athletic practice.
Spend time with people.
Spend time by yourself.
Spend time simply playing.
1. Learn the broad strokes.
When you begin learning a new technique it’s easy to get lost in a virtual sea of detail and nuance. At this stage of the learning process don’t worry about these smaller details but instead focus on breaking the technique down into three to five key steps.
These key steps are your points of emphasis.
When you are practicing the technique be sure to pause at each of these points and really “lock” the step into place. Tighten up the step as much as possible making sure that each of your limbs, including your head, is where it is meant to be.
Which brings us to the next step…
2. Learn precisely where your legs, arms and head should be for each of these steps.
Whether we are cleaning our teeth, flicking a lightswitch or chopping onions the point of contact to our task is typically our hands. As such, whenever we interact with the world we tend to think about it in terms of what we are doing with our hands.
Complex tasks though – like nearly every technique found in Jiu Jitsu – are full body affairs.
It is especially important to train yourself to be specifically aware of the positioning of each of your legs and head. The positioning of your legs greatly influences your ability to use your hips and the position of your head reveals the alignment of your spine. Correct positioning of the hips and alignment of the spine maximises your ability to apply force while minimising effort.
3. Drill the technique against resistance.
Once you can move through the technique reasonably accurately and smoothly introduce some resistance to your repetitions. This doesn’t mean that you should jump straight to trying to execute the technique in full on rolling – you need to find a way of adding progressive resistance while performing specific repetitions.
There are many ways of doing this but there are two which are particularly effective and easy to do. The first is simply to have your partner start applying a very light amount of resistance and every time you successfully perform the technique apply more resistance on the next repetition. If they escape or defend the technique for a significant amount of time then they apply less resistance on the next repetition. The second is for your partner to start applying resistance at a particular stage of the technique; Start at the last step and, as you successfully finish the technique, work back towards the first step.
4. Add details.
Working the technique against some resistance should have provided you with some questions; Is there a particular stage or way in which you fail to finish the technique? Are you struggling to finish the technique against people of a particular size or rank?
Provided that you are still correctly executing each major step of the technique getting these questions answered – usually by asking someone more knowledgeable than yourself or through trial and error – will let you know which of the many smaller details to focus on.
5. Start trying the technique against progressively better and larger opponents in free rolling.
Start with small white belts and work towards successfully executing the technique on large black belts. Whenever you encounter a recurring problem go back to steps three and four.
If you can get to the point where you can successfully and regularly pull off the technique against brown and black belts while rolling you are very, very good at it.
But we’re talking about mastery.
Mastering a technique is something beyond very, very good. Mastery implies a level of understanding that exceeds technical detail and nuance.
6. Alter your perspective.
Looking at a technique the same way as everybody else is a sure fire way to limit potential – both yours and that of the technique itself.
Be aware of the typical patterns your mind falls into and try to break out through conscious effort.
Working on a sweep? Try thinking about how you would approach it as a throw or takedown.
A submission? Practice it like you would a position.
If you are genuinely on the road to mastery then by this stage odds are good that there is something you do in the execution of this technique that is different from how it is typically performed. Whether it is a new entry, a change of angle or a grip placed in a new location there is something that improves either the effectiveness of the efficiency of the technique and it’s now a case of recognising and defining what you do that is different and why.
The mark of a master is simplicity. The ability to take everything learnt over the previous seven steps and boil it down to three to five key points denotes genuine knowledge and understanding. This is the same as step one but with the key difference of the experience of the months and years you have spent studying, practicing and training.
These key points might be different from the ones you started with in step one or they might be the same but with a different emphasis.
A while back I republished a new and updated version of the popular article “The Best Supplements for General Health” where I focussed on discussing which supplements were useful in building a foundation of good overall health. They were simple vitamins, minerals and fats that help with immunity, energy levels and general well being.
This time around I want to look at some supplements that will help you get the most out of your training without breaking any laws or taking any undue health risks – nothing here will land you in jail or the hospital if you use them as described.
As always – It is important to note that I am not a doctor, and I don’t pretend to be one on the internet. If you are pregnant, have a chronic condition or are taking medication, you should consult a physician before commencing any supplementation regime.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branch Chain Amino Acids are made up Valine, Leucine and Iso-Leucine and can help promote muscle protein synthesis, increase muscle growth, regulate blood sugar levels and prevent muscle catabolism.
BCAAs are also an excellent way of managing appetite during weight cuts as your liver can convert 8g – 12g of BCAAs into just enough blood glucose to alleviate cravings without slowing fat loss.
Some people also experience a reduction in fatigue while supplementing with BCAAs but the jury is still out on whether this is a placebo or a genuine physiological effect. At the time of writing most journals and text books refer to this as a reduction in “perceived fatigue”.
While research does seem to indicate that Leucine is the most beneficial of the three, clinical trials have found no advantage to either isolating or increasing the ratio of the acid in the supplement so you are probably best off consuming a balanced ratio.
A dose of 10g to 30g depending on your size and activity levels is pretty standard. Branch Chain Amino Acids are best consumed before or during training and quantities larger than 10g should be split into two or three doses for maximum effect.
Creatine helps regenerate a molecule called Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) which is what your body uses for energy in practically every physical process from muscle contraction to cellular regeneration. Basically, whenever an ATP molecule is ‘used’ it loses a phosphate becoming Adenosine Di-Phosphate (ADP) which cannot be used as a fuel source unless it is converted back into ATP. This is where Creatine comes to the rescue – by donating its phosphate group to the ADP, Creatine reforms it back into ATP refilling your body’s energy stores. Supplementing your body’s own Creatine allows this process to go on for longer that it would otherwise enabling you to train longer and harder.
Also, as Creatine itself is also a fuel source for short duration, high intensity anaerobic activities (like weightlifting and sprinting) supplementation can result in performance increases.
If potential weight gain is not a concern for you I would recommend taking 5g in the morning before any training and 5g in the evening before you go to sleep. If you participate in a sport where weight has to be factored into the equation just take the 5g in the morning.
At this dose Creatine must be taken daily for two to four weeks before it is likely that you will see the full benefit. You can speed up this process by starting with a loading phase where you ingest 20g daily for five days before dialling back to the recommended daily dose of 10g but this can cause gastro intestinal distress in some people.
Finally, I would recommend cycling off Creatine for one week every six weeks or so and for one full month every year. Supplementing Creatine will increase your body’s natural stores for a short period but after a while your body will get used to receiving this extra Creatine and down regulate its own production as a result. Regularly cycling off Creatine for short periods of time will help mitigate this effect.
These days more and more people are over fed but under nourished and the thing missing from the majority of athletes’ diets is sufficient protein. While bodybuilding magazines tend to recommend a daily protein intake somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5g per kilo of bodyweight, studies and experience indicate somewhere between 1.2g and 1.7g is probably sufficient unless your goal is to put on substantial amounts of mass.
While it’s nearly always better to get your protein from whole foods like meat and eggs the sheer convenience of a protein shake makes it an easy way to ensure you are consuming sufficient protein.
There are a couple of important things to look out for when purchasing protein powder. First, when you are drinking a protein shake you want to be taking in protein and not a bunch of sugar so try to find a brand that has at least 22g of protein and less than 5g of carbohydrate per 30g serving.
Secondly there is the type of protein to consider. While there are a bunch of different types, blends and brands they generally fall into one of three categories.
Whey Protein Isolate or Whey Protein Concentrate: Whey protein is a fast acting protein whose rapid absorption causes the blood’s amino acid levels to rise extremely quickly making it an ideal post training supplement. While there are differences between Isolate and Concentrate if you follow the above recommendation regarding purity they are basically minimised to the point of non-existence.
Casein: Casein protein is slow acting and its effects long lasting making it better suited to being a meal replacement than for post training recovery. During periods of training where significant mass gain is the goal a Casein protein shake before bed can aid in muscle growth and recovery.
Plant Based: These are best used if you have a dairy intolerance and cannot make use of either of the above options. While there are many, many, many types of plant based protein powders I would recommend finding a blend of rice and pea; it has a fairly neutral taste and two combined covers the shortfall found in just taking either one individually.
There you have it. No magic or secret pills with guarantees of “XtremE” gains in a shockingly short amount of time just three simple supplements which, if used correctly, should help you train a little harder, recover a little faster and perform a little better.