Fighting Fit

Fighting Fit

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Keep your body performing and recovering at the highest level with these nutrition essentials.

Proper nutrition and supplement intake is key to optimizing performance and recovery. The quicker you can recover, the higher productivity you will experience in each workout. Consider these nutrition essentials to get the biggest return on your investment in the gym.

• Beta Alanine

Benefit: This non-essential amino acid helps increase muscle carnosine levels, which buffers hydrogen ions from building up to help prevent muscle fatigue.

Find it in: Beef, pork, fish and poultry contain carnosine, which will increase the availability of Beta Alanine through digestion. Beta Alanine is also found in a number of sports supplements.

Suggested intake: 1.5–3g/day.

• D-Ribose

Benefit: D-Ribose is a sugar that naturally occurs in the body that helps aid in the production of ATP (energy).

Find it in: Chicken, dairy, and almonds contain D-Ribose. It is also a popular ingredient in sports supplements.

Suggested intake: Up to 20g/day divided into multiples doses per day.

• L-Arginine

Benefit: L-Arginine helps assist in growth hormone release, promotes fat metabolism, and stimulates the release of nitric oxide (a vasodilator that helps drive more blood to working muscles).

Find it in: Red meat, fish, poultry, nuts, whole wheat, and dairy are good sources. L-Arginine is also found in many sports supplements.

Suggested intake: 2–10g/day.

• Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract

Benefit: Rhodiola helps increase the body’s resistance to physical stress. In addition, it may also help increase ATP levels in muscles.

Find it in: Rhodiola can be found as a stand-alone supplement or an ingredient in supplement mixes.

Suggested intake: 100–600mg/day of standardized extract.

• Resveratrol

Benefit: Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant that has been linked to cancer and heart disease prevention.

Find it in: Grapes (red or purple), peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries are good sources. Resveratrol can also be found in nutrition supplements.

Suggested intake: 50-100mg/day.

• L-Glutamine

Benefit: L-Glutamine helps assist in boosting your immune system and buffering lactic acid, which helps reduce muscle fatigue.

Find it in: Nuts, dairy, beef, egg whites, poultry, raw spinach, and yogurt have a good supply. L-Glutamine is also found in many sports supplements.

Suggested intake: Up to 30g/day divided into multiple doses.

• L-OKG (Onithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate)

Benefit: This amino acid helps prevent muscle breakdown as well as stimulating growth hormone release and nitric oxide (NO) release.

Find it in: The amino acids that comprise OKG can be found in red meat, fish, and poultry, but OKG itself is only available in a supplement.

Suggested intake: 5–10g/day.

• Tribulus Terrestris

Benefit: Tribulus helps increase testosterone levels, which can assist in building muscle, increasing fat loss, increasing strength, and expediting recovery.

Find it in: Tribulus can be found as a supplement.

Suggested intake: 250–1500mg/day.

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Adding these nutrition essentials can help you get the most out of each workout and enhance recovery. The faster you can recover, the more you can get out of tomorrow’s training session. Before you add any supplements to your daily regimen, consult your primary care physician.

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If you’re hitting the gym hard, make sure you strike the sugar balance.

1. Monosaccharides
Also known as simple sugars, monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, and galactose. All carbohydrates consumed in the diet are broken down into monosaccharides to be absorbed by the small intestine.

Glucose
Most carbohydrates are converted to glucose during digestion.
Travels via the bloodstream to all tissues in your body and will be readily converted to energy.
Glucose not used immediately will be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen (to be accessed during exercise for energy).
When your blood sugar is drawn at the doctor’s office, it’s measuring blood glucose.
It can sometimes be listed as dextrose on food labels.

Fructose
Naturally occurring sugar in fruits, vegetables, and honey.
Component of table sugar (sucrose) along with glucose.
Can be derived from sugarcane, sugar beets, and corn.
Converted into glucose by the liver prior to being used as fuel.
Plays a vital role in sports nutrition, albeit lesser discussed as much media dialogue is associated with its over-consumption by the general population and links to obesity and other chronic diseases.

Galactose
Component of milk sugar (lactose) along with glucose.
Less sweet than glucose or fructose.
Component of antigens found on red blood cells that establish blood types.

2. Disaccharides
When monosaccharide molecules join together, they form disaccharides, including sucrose, maltose, and lactose.

Sucrose
Equal parts glucose and fructose.
Commonly known as table sugar.
Once consumed, it’s split into glucose and fructose via sucrose (enzyme).
Found in the stems of sugarcane and roots of sugar beets.
Major sweetening element in confections and desserts.
Has been replaced by high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in many areas of the food industry, especially sodas and junk foods. HFCS is typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose. It’s made my milling corn into corn starch, turning that corn starch into corn syrup (mostly glucose), and then turning some of that glucose into fructose (through the use of enzymes).

Maltose
Formed from two units of glucose during digestion of starch via the enzyme amylase.
Less sweet than glucose, fructose, or sucrose
Also known as malt sugar.

Lactose
Naturally occurring milk sugar.
Made up of glucose and galactose.
Broken down via the enzyme lactase.
Those with lactose intolerance have insufficient levels of lactase.

Peak Performance

When it comes to lazy days on the sofa, sugar should be considered your foe. When it comes to energy and exercise, your body will make friends with the sweet stuff, specifically certain members of the monosaccharide clan. With galactose being poorly oxidized for energy during activity, you’re left with glucose and fructose to provide fuel to your working muscles.

To get from the gut to the bloodstream, you’ll need protein transporters to deliver sugars to needed tissues. Glucose and fructose use different transporters, allowing for greater carbohydrate uptake when consumed together (using the same transporter would cause it to become over saturated, negatively affecting how much and how fast the sugars can be absorbed and utilized as energy).

A combined glucose- and fructose-based sports drink or gel formulation (optimal ratio 2:1) will have a more positive effect on performance than just glucose or fructose alone. This preferred ratio has also been shown to increase gastric emptying (rate at which contents leave the stomach), decrease GI distress, spare stored glycogen, and decrease perceived exertion (all positives).

Looking for sports nutrition products containing this glucose and fructose blend? Check out Gatorade 02 Perform and PowerBar Performance Energy Blasts.

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With the help of Blackzilian teammate Michael Johnson, Eddie Alvarez demonstrates one of his favorite combos in the cage—the crossover.

The crossover is only used on opponents who stand and counter with you. If you engage, and your opponent moves away, the crossover can’t be used. However, if you engage, and your opponent stands his ground and punches with you, the crossover is a great move to utilize.

1) Michael and I square off in orthodox stances.

2) Using the back of my glove, I push my left jab into Michael’s left eye to block his vision. This is the setup.

3) I’ve closed the distance with my initial jab, and Michael is still engaging.

4) As I push my left jab into Michael’s left eye for the second time, I step with my left foot to the outside of Michael’s left foot.

5) I pivot on my left foot and begin to bring my right foot all the way around in a counterclockwise motion so that I am perpendicular to Michael.

6) I continue the crossover by going into my crouched stance in one fluid motion.

7) I’ve created an angle so that I am outside Michael’s range in case he throws a strike.

8) I throw a left hook to Michael’s body.

9) I throw a left uppercut to Michael’s chin.

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Strengthen your core for KO power.

Strength and conditioning coach Brian Harris keeps his stable of fighters at American Top Team—including Brad Pickett, Mike Brown, and Will Brooks—in peak fighting shape by incorporating exercises that build muscular endurance in the core. For this installment, Brian explains three exercises he used to get Bellator lightweight Will Brooks prepared for his TKO-win over Chris Leyva at Bellator 97.

Dumbbell Push Press
Emphasis: upper body, core, legs
Reps: 20 / Sets: 3
Begin with a dumbbell resting on your shoulder. Slightly hinge at your hips and bend your knees. Drive your arm upward and lock your elbow. End the movement at full extension with your biceps by your ear. Complete 10 reps on each arm.

Core Rotation with Cable
Emphasis: core in a rotating pattern
Reps: 20 / Sets: 3
Begin in an athletic base with your knees bent and chest up. Keeping your head straight, rotate the handle of the cable machine from one side to the other, while pivoting on your inside foot. Keeping your elbows locked out makes the exercise more difficult. Pull quickly, with a three-second negative back to the starting position. Complete 10 reps on each side.

Stability Ball Hip Curl
Emphasis: core/hip flexors
Reps: 20 / Sets: 3
Begin in a pushup position with your feet elevated on a stability ball. Maintain a tight core while keeping the ball balanced. Slowly bring you knees to your chest. Return to the starting position.

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Stay fueled and hydrated for maximum performance and recovery with a “meal plan of attack.”

This meal plan is designed for two-a-day workouts (6 a.m. and 6 p.m.). Each meal/snack is well-balanced to boost energy, performance, and recovery, with approximately 40–55 percent of the calories from carbohydrates (C), 15–30 percent calories from protein (P), and 15–30 percent calories from fat (F).

5 A.M.
Pre-Workout Fuel

Power Smoothie

• 1 scoop carbohydrate/protein powder supplement (this will have a higher amount of carbohydrate than protein) • ¼ scoop protein powder • 1 tbsp. peanut butter • ¼ cup frozen blueberries • ½ banana
Blend together with water and ice.

Info: 307 calories, 45% C, 26% P, 29% F

8 a.m.
Breakfast
Oatmeal & Eggs

• ¾ cup dry oats • ½ cup almond milk • 1 egg • 2 egg whites

Info: 354 calories, 48% C, 26% P, 26% F

10:30 a.m.
Brunch
Yogurt & Fruit

• 1 apple • 1 tbsp. peanut butter • 1 small container plain Greek yogurt

Info: 256 calories, 47% C, 26% P, 27% F

1 p.m.
Lunch
Turkey/Avocado/Tomato/Sandwich

• 2 slices whole grain bread • 2 oz. turkey • 1 slice cheese • 1 slice avocado • 1 slice tomato

Info: 408 calories, 46% C, 22% P, 32% F

3 p.m.
Snack
Yogurt & Almonds

• 1 small container raspberry Greek yogurt • 8-10 almonds

Info: 189 calories, 47% C, 31% P, 22% F

5:30 p.m.
Pre-Workout Fuel
Power Smoothie

• 1 scoop carbohydrate/protein powder supplement (this will have a higher amount of carbohydrate than protein) • 1 tbsp. peanut butter • ½ cup frozen strawberries • ½ banana
Blend together with water and ice.

Info: 277 calories, 49% C, 21% P, 30% F

8 p.m.
Dinner
Turkey/Avocado Pasta

• 2 oz. pasta • 2 oz. lean ground turkey • 3 cups field greens/baby spinach • 2 oz. avocado • 2 tbsp. parmesan cheese • ¼ cup pasta sauce
Note: consume dinner within 30-45 minutes of your workout.

Info: 450 calories, 46% C, 27% P, 27% F

This meal plan totals 2,395 calories. Use this plan as your template and adjust slightly as needed to meet your exact needs and goals. If you only work out once a day, omit one of the pre-training fuel sources. On rest days, omit both pre-training fuel sources. In addition, consume 16-20 ounces of water immediately upon waking and 16-20 ounces of water with every meal/snack.

Optional Add-ON
Antioxidant Blast
Fruit & Veggie Blend

• 1 large carrot • 1 small apple, cored • 1 cup collard greens
Using a high-powered blender like the 2hp Omega 2500, blend to a liquid with 6-10 ounces of water. This is not a meal or snack—rather, this is in addition to a meal or snack. This will provide your body with a high amount of powerful antioxidants. Consume this 1-2 times per day.

Info: 77 cals, 96% C, 4% P, 0% F

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Bars and shakes are great in a pinch, but there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to natural sources of quality protein.

Protein aids in the building, repair, and maintenance of lean muscle tissue. Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three principal macronutrients. These nutrients provide calories (energy), and are needed by the body in large quantities (compared to micronutrients like vitamins and minerals needed in smaller amounts).

The minimal daily requirement for the average person (not active) is 0.36 grams (g) of protein per pound (lb) of body weight. Athletes, however, need more protein than the average couch potato, so those involved in endurance-based sports need approximately 0.55 to 0.64 g/lb daily. Those involved in strength-based activities will require approximately 0.55 to 0.77 g/lb. Since fighters train in both of these realms, meeting somewhere in the middle around 0.68 g/lb body weight is a good template. If you do the math, a 175-pound fighter with a well-rounded training schedule will require approximately 119 grams of protein daily. While that sounds like a lot, when you break it down over three meals and a couple of snacks, it’s not excessive when you have these natural sources to choose from.

Beef
Tip: Organic, grass-fed beef has higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, metabolic boosting CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin E (compared to conventionally fed/raised beef).

3oz Beef (93% lean ground)
Protein: 21g
Calories: 145
Fat: 6.8g

Eggs
Tip: Buy organic eggs to ensure that the chickens were raised in a cage-free environment on organic feed and were not given antibiotics or hormones.

1 Large Egg
Protein: 6g
Calories: 70
Fat: 5g

Salmon
Tip: Go wild (versus farm-raised) when it comes to this fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acid, as farm-raised may contain up to 10 times more toxins, including PCBs and mercury.

4oz Wild Salmon
Protein: 29g
Calories: 206
Fat: 6.8g

Bison
Tip: Like grass-fed beef, grass-fed bison will be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, CLA, and antioxidants, as well as protein, B vitamins, iron, and selenium.

3oz Grass-Fed Ground Bison
Protein: 21g
Calories: 150
Fat: 7.3g

Turkey
Tip: Ground turkey is a great lean protein source that easily lends itself to everyday entrees such as burgers, chili, and meatloaf.

4oz Turkey Breast
Protein: 28g
Calories: 121
Fat: 1g

Chicken
Tip: When you’re looking for the leanest of the lean, skinless breasts are the way to go. However, skinless thighs are usually quite a bit cheaper and not that much higher on the calorie scale, so when pennies need to be pinched, thighs are also a good choice.

4oz Chicken Breast
Protein: 35g
Calories: 170
Fat: 3g

4oz Chicken Thigh
Protein: 32g
Calories: 200
Fat: 8g

Tempeh (cooked/fermented soy)
Tip: Tempeh is much healthier than tofu due to the fermentation process that negates the effects regular soy can have on thyroid and hormone balance.
4oz Organic Tempeh
Protein: 20g
Calories: 220
Fat: 8.5g

Advanced Protein
Sometimes you don’t have time to cook a chicken breast. For a quick protein boost when you’re in a hurry, try Xyience’s new Advanced Protein Complex, with 25g of protein, 2g of fat, and 125 calories per scoop. You can get a two-pound canister at xyience.com for $25.97.

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As the new striking coach for Team Alpha Male, former UFC fighter Duane “Bang” Ludwig has come out of the gate firing. Three of his Team Alpha Male fighters (Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, and TJ Dillashaw) earned knockouts on the UFC on Fox 7 card, while Urijah Faber’s crisp striking helped him earn a submission win at the TUF 17 Finale.

With more than 50 kickboxing bouts and 30 MMA fights under his belt, Ludwig knows a thing or two about the striking game, and his BANG Muay Thai affiliate gyms (www.303kickboxing.com) are popping up all over the country. “The team is doing all the hard work,” says Ludwig. “BMT is just helping them become even more badass ninjas.”

This month, Ludwig and Team Alpha Male bantamweight TJ Dillashaw show readers a combo from the BMT System. Follow closely, as BANG Muay Thai has its own terminology. Leave it to Ludwig to create his own codes.

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1) Duane and TJ square off in orthodox stances.

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2) TJ begins his BANG Muay Thai “3-Shake-Fit In” combo by throwing a left jab. The goal is to get your opponent’s attention by attacking upstairs. It’s important to keep your feet in sync with your hands.

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3) TJ throws a right cross, while protecting his chin with his left hand.
4) TJ finishes his initial combo with a left hook.
5) TJ changes levels and begins his “shake” (shaking his head to the outside) and “fit in” (stepping with his left leg to the outside of Duane’s right leg for a fake shot). Now TJ’s head is to the outside and “off the tracks,” which keeps Duane from connecting with a cross or overhand.

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6) As Duane’s hands drop to counter/defend the shot, TJ drives forward in a southpaw stance, as if he is finishing the double-leg takedown.
7) TJ explodes upward and throws a left cross.
8) TJ finishes the combo by throwing a right hook.

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Optional Double-Leg Finish

If Duane doesn’t counter/defend the shot correctly in #6, TJ can finish the double-leg by cutting the angle and driving Duane 45 degrees to end up in mount or side control.

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UFC batamweight Raphael Assunção shows readers two exercises that help him power through opponents.

A powerful, explosive body is crucial in MMA. Throw a punch, defend a takedown, shoot a single, land a head kick—all these movements require power and speed to be effective. Try to take your opponent down slowly—and without any power behind it—and you’ll be face first on the canvas. It’s important to include effective strength training exercises that will improve full-body power development and transfer successfully to the cage.

The goal of this month’s circuit is to increase force production by developing power from the ground up. The more force you can produce and push into the ground, the more force the ground will “push back” into you, thus creating a more explosive movement (good ol’ Isaac Newton’s Third Law). Full-body movements that emphasize the lower body will produce optimal results. Two exercises that don’t require any special equipment and will help you accomplish these goals are the Weighted Box Jump and the Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch.

SINGLE-ARM DUMBBELL SNATCH

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To execute the Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch, all you need is a dumbbell (or kettlebell). Begin by grabbing the weight off the ground. Keep you knees and hips bent, and focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the drill. To initiate the movement, lift the weight in an explosive fashion, as if you were trying to throw the dumbbell straight above your head. Be sure to push your feet into the ground as you drive your hips into extension, causing a slight jump. Allow the momentum of this explosive lower-body movement to “carry” the dumbbell upward. The arm is more of a guide, ensuring the weight stays close to your body. As the weight passes shoulder height, quickly lower your body under the weight by dropping your hips and slightly bending your knees. Complete the movement by standing up tall and fully extending your arm. Slowly lower the weight back down, and repeat. Be sure not to “arm the exercise,” as this will defeat the purpose of the movement.

Perform 6-8 reps on each arm, 4-5 sets.

WEIGHTED BOX JUMP

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To perform the Weighted Box Jump, you will need something sturdy and safe to jump on, such as a plyo box, and a relatively light weight, such as a 10-pound medicine ball. Begin about 12 inches in front of the box with your feet hip-width distance apart. To initiate the movement, bend your knees and hips into a 1/4 squat position, bring the ball down to waist level, and explode up by extending your ankles, knees, and hips. You will dynamically throw your arms out in front of you at the same time. Focus on landing soft and absorb into the landing using your muscles, not just your joints. Be sure to step down one foot at a time, as most box jump injuries occur when athletes jump down off the box.

Perform 6-8 reps, 4-5 sets.

Doug Balzarini

Doug is a trainer, coach, and owner of DB Strength. He has produced MMA strength-specific DVDs, offers workshops, and has coached on The Ultimate Fighter. As the strength coach for Alliance MMA, he has worked with UFC Champ Dominick Cruz, Bellator Champ Michael Chandler, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, and Alexander Gustafsson. Visit www.dbstrength.com for more info.

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UFC middleweight Dan Hardy uses yoga to take his training to an enlightened level.

Just over a year ago, I began a steady and consistent practice of Bikram yoga. The 90-minute beginning class consists of 26 postures, each performed twice and held for up to 60 seconds. The room is a stifling 105 degrees, with 40 percent humidity, which is much too hot for someone born in a country that gets five days of sun each year (but I do love the British summertime). There is only one thing that would keep me going back into that room over and over: the benefits seen and felt almost immediately in my training camp. This was the first time I had introduced training sessions into a fight preparation that were dedicated entirely to recovery and physical wellbeing.

This particular practice was derived from a selection of traditional Hatha yoga postures. It was Bikram Choudhury who formulated this approach to the practice, before his moral and ethical devolution once his brand was established and he became famous and wealthy. I had tried a few different types of yoga throughout my martial arts career in my endless and seemingly impossible quest for flexibility. Bikram yoga was new to me—I had not heard of it until my friend and coach Alder Hampel suggested it to help with my leg dexterity for jiu-jitsu. We did two sessions (one week apart), and I spent a good portion of the class lying on my mat trying to stop my limbs and abdominal muscles from cramping.

My brief experience had been thrown in the draw with all other yoga that didn’t seem to fit with my training camp. It wasn’t until I spent a couple of weeks in Peru that it came to mind again, and I felt an immediate pull to start back upon returning to Las Vegas. I think I may have left a chunk of my ego in the Amazon because I no longer cared if the 80-year-old woman on the mat next to me was kicking my ass, while I was sitting in a sweaty mess on my sodden towel. Finally, at age 30, I had committed myself to getting flexible, before my joints started to creak when I got out of bed in the morning.

The first few weeks were tough, and I occasionally had to leave the room to let nausea pass or take a few minutes off to stretch out a cramped muscle. Eventually, my diet adjusted, and I knew that the three-hour window before class started was a water-only time. I noticed right away that certain foods couldn’t be eaten on days when I practiced, so they eventually became excluded all together. I was craving a lot more fresh food, fruits and vegetables, and less animal products. I was adding salts to my water and keeping a constant watch on the volume I was drinking. I began to find my rhythm, feeling hydrated throughout the class even after sweating an average of seven pounds each session. I was able to focus on my physical improvements, keeping a mental note of my capabilities in each posture.

BECOMING THE YOGI

image descFrom years of keeping my chin tucked, I had developed a slight forward head posture, which made it uncomfortable to sit for long periods or sleep on my back. With the strong focus on back bending throughout the series, my posture began correcting itself. As you can see in Half-Moon Backbend (Photo A), my spine flexibility is starting to improve, allowing me to look at the wall behind me. This was impossible 12 months ago. The key for all of these postures is the movement into them—it has to be gentle and mindful. In Half-Moon Backbend there should always be a lifting out of the waist to elongate the spine. I still have a very ridged mid-spine, so I put my mind in that part of my body during the stretch and try to relax into the posture a little more.

Aside from the flexibility gains, I found that the stability in my knees and ankles improved. For a posture like Standing Head-to-Knee (Photo B), flexibility in your hamstrings is not enough. Entering into the position, you have to extend your leg, while keeping the standing leg locked, then round your back and bend your arms down to place your forehead high on the knee. Although the contracted quadriceps on the standing leg does most of the work, there are a lot of supporting muscles holding steady to prevent any sideways movement in the joints. I enjoy visualizing my standing foot as a magnet that I cannot separate from my magnetic yoga mat, focusing on driving down into the ground and using that energy exchange to root myself.

This is a fairly recent posture for me, as I struggled a lot with balance when I began rounding my back and stretching forward. There is also an emphasis on pulling the toes back toward the head and keeping the extended leg locked. The advancement of this position is removing the hands from the foot whilst keeping the forehead on the knee. It was this posture that taught me about the value of a meditative state during practice. I found that if I wasn’t mindful of my breathing and focus, my balance would only hold a few seconds once my leg was extended. With a calm and focused approach, I can hold fairly comfortably for much longer. Think of being mindful as filling the stretched or unstable body part with your mind. Be present in that space within yourself and learn to support in with your focus.

image descTree Pose (Photo C) and Triangle Pose (Photos D) have been very useful in opening up my hip muscles. I always think of these as the “guard” muscles—the ones that have to do so much work to control an opponent in your guard. All of the grappling arts demand strong and powerful hips, but the danger is that it can lead to a tightening of those muscles if they aren’t stretched a lot. My hip flexors have been tight from years of kicking and kneeing, even to the point where sitting cross-legged can be uncomfortable.

Tree Pose (Photo C) is much more gentle and didn’t take too long to improve my front and inner hip muscles (adductor brevis and longus, pectineus, and iliopsoas). I started by holding my foot high on my thigh and driving my hips forward, until my flexibility allowed me to remove my grip without the foot slipping at all. Once I have my balance and my foot is high on my thigh and my hands are in prayer, I role my hips forward and lengthen my spine like a child trying to appear taller than they really are. The following posture in the series is toe stand, which I am still struggling with. It is basically the same posture except the base leg is bent so it seems like you are sitting on your heel.

Triangle Pose (Photo D) opens up the whole body, from the foot of my straight leg to the hip and glutes of my supporting leg. The simultaneous upward and downward reaching elongates the muscles in the torso and creates a twisting stretch that lengthens the hip flexors and adductors.

image descPhotos E, F, and G are some of the advanced 84-posture series, most of which are a real challenge for me at the moment. Finger Stand (Photo E)—and thanks to Bruce Lee I did hundreds of fingertip pushups over the years—is fairly comfortable for me. Keeping your legs locked and strong makes a huge difference here. After that, the effort is predominantly in the core, keeping the whole body tight and the legs raised.

Peacock (Photo F) requires more core strength and muscular endurance than flexibility, whereas Upward Stretching (Photo G) requires good core strength, but also a fair amount of suppleness in your hamstrings. I found that this posture needed less effort from contracted muscles as my hamstring flexibility increased.

Fortunately, the popularity of yoga is widespread now, and in many cases there are several options of styles and studios. I enjoy the Bikram style because I feel it’s a little easier to stretch in the heat. Other styles of yoga aren’t quite as uncomfortable but will still be very beneficial. If you can’t get to a class, there is a wealth of information online to draw from. Try taking a few minutes each day to stretch out and reconnect with yourself. Even if it’s just some basic stretches, be gentle and explore your body’s capabilities. For me, yoga is about awareness of self, appreciation of the vehicle you have for this human experience, and understanding the potential and adaptability of the body. After these practice sessions, I feel lighter, motivated, and focused. I have been a lot more productive, healthier, and felt more alive than ever before.

Heating Up

I know that a lot of people, particularly at the start of their practice, will find the heat to be too much. One of the flaws in Mr. Bikram’s attitude toward teaching, and something that has been passed on to some teachers, is this ego about the heat of the room. The benefits of the heat are that your body will naturally be more supple and it will be easier to stretch to your maximum in the postures. However, if you find that the heat is causing you to spend a lot of time on your mat feeling nauseated, then it is counterproductive. Ask the teachers at the studio where the cooler spots in the room are. Your practice will only improve if you can do the practice. If you are unlucky enough to find yourself with a heat miser for a teacher, use the cooler spot or find a studio with less ego.

Food for Thought

Since beginning yoga, I primarily avoid dairy, pork, processed foods, and fast food. I usually have one animal product each week, but only in the evening, and never before practice. The last time I ate fast food was January 2. I ate lemon chicken from a Chinese takeout, and in my next yoga session (which wasn’t for another week because of travel), I lay on my mat for most of class feeling nauseous and reliving every bite of that meal.

I’ve developed some kind of new internal sense that tells me what is and isn’t welcome in my diet. I don’t even crave that stuff any more. I know that the immediate gratification is not worth the stress it puts on my body. 

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Catching your zzz’s is crucial to your health and athletic performance, but how seriously are you taking your sleep regimen?

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You eat healthfully, train with the best, stay up-to-date on the newest workouts, and search out the latest and greatest supplements. You can most likely get away with a few hours less sleep every once in a while without much of a negative effect on your athletic performance—but regular interruption will start to work against you…and fast.

Often overlooked as part of a serious training routine, proper sleep can give you the edge that all athletes are looking for. Aim for 7-9 hours per night, although everyone is different, and you’ll need to experiment to see how much sleep is right for you. When ignored, not getting enough sleep can be a detriment to even the most well-trained fighter.

Summer is a tough time of year for sleep. Days are longer, social gatherings are on the upswing, and there is just more to do. Even though August marks the last full month of summer fun, hot summer nights extend a little later in the year. Don’t let your social calendar run you ragged. It takes dedication and willpower to regularly eat clean and train hard. Don’t let something as easy as sleep trip you up.

Other than the obvious pitfalls of inadequate sleep—including increased fatigue, reduced reflexes, and trouble with concentration and decision-making—what else happens when you elude the sandman?

Sleep deprivation has been shown to:
• increase levels of cortisol
• decrease glycogen synthesis
• decrease activity of human growth hormone
• increase your rating of perceived exertion
• decrease aerobic endurance
• create imbalances in ghrelin and leptin (hormones that regulate hunger and fullness)

What does all of this mean to an athlete? Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It should be naturally highest in the morning and lowest in the late evening. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response and can increase during times of stress—all kinds of stress, such as work or emotional/relationship stress, stressful events (from sitting in traffic to bodily injury/trauma), high-volume training, and lack of sleep. The problem isn’t cortisol itself, but when it becomes chronically elevated all the time. As an athlete, there’s no way around the rise in cortisol in response to intense exercise, but people who are well trained and fueled will adapt over time. Unfortunately, you can’t control traffic jams or your boss’ whims, but you do have control over your sleep schedule.

Cortisol is catabolic, and chronically elevated levels can start to break down tissue, inhibiting muscle growth and repair. It can also lead to suppressed immune function, as well as decreased insulin sensitivity, which can eventually cause a wide range of problems, including increased storage of body fat, high blood pressure, and kidney issues.

Decreased glycogen synthesis with decreased sleep? You don’t want that. Glycogen is the storage form of the carbohydrate glucose, the main source of energy for athletes. In addition, inadequate sleep can cause a nose dive in your aerobic endurance required for long hours in the gym, as well decreased activity of human growth hormone and testosterone, which is needed for muscle growth and repair.

On top of all that bad news, your sense of perceived exertion during training sessions and competition will increase, and your hunger/fullness hormones (ghrelin and leptin) will be in disarray, causing many athletes to overeat. This is especially dangerous late at night, because most late-night snacking is not broccoli and carrots.

So put the ice cream down and go to bed. Training is hard. Eating grilled chicken and veggies while your friends are downing pizza and beer is hard. Sleeping is easy. Don’t undo all your hard work by skimping on sleep.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep on a regular basis, try:
• Keeping your bedroom dark by using blackout curtains
• Drinking chamomile/sleepy-time decaf herbals teas before bed
• Cutting caffeine after your morning cup of coffee (or all together)
• No heavy meals, alcohol, television, or use of electronic devices (tablets, lap tops, etc.) before bed

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