Fighting Fit

Fighting Fit

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Fueling your body is the key to unleashing your maximum performance and recovery.

Over the past few years, kale has become the edible darling of nutritionists, fitness professionals, and certified health nuts. With its versatility and off-the-charts nutrient profile, kale deserves all the “Hail to the Kale” recognition.

image descKale is a member of the Brassica oleracea species, along with other well-known members broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and collard greens. With darker, curlier, more textured appearance than lettuce, its superstar powers certainly don’t stem from its looks. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties it brings to the table, however, make it gorgeous on the inside.

There are many varieties out there, but the two most commonly found in your produce section tend to be curly kale, with its ruffled leaves, deep green color, and bright peppery to bitter flavors (best for kale chips); and dinosaur or Tuscan kale, with its narrower blue-green leaves and slightly sweeter, more delicate taste (great for a steamed or sautéed side dish). When making your pick, look for deeply colored leaves without signs of yellowing, browning, wilting, or holes. Bunches with smaller sized leaves also tend to yield tender and mild-tasting finished dishes.

On the Kale Trail

The nutrient content and health benefits of this low-calorie, high-fiber vegetable are impressive. Kale boasts significant levels of iron, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium (actually better absorbed by your body than from dairy milk), vitamin B6, antioxidant carotenoids and flavanoids (lutein, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and quercetin), and a strong group of natural anti-cancer compounds. Thanks to this arsenal of nutrients, kale has the ability to kick inflammation to the curb while supporting your cardiovascular system, liver detoxification pathways, bone health, vision, and immune function.

The easiest way to use kale is by simply throwing it into smoothies, fresh juices, and salads. You can also steam kale as a side dish at dinner or make oven-roasted kale chips for a snack. Raw kale can take some getting used to, as even the sweeter varieties can be tough and bitter. One way around this, as strange as it sounds, is the kale massage. With or without olive oil—and with the fibrous stems removed—grab bunches with both hands and rub together. A few minutes into this eco-friendly, deep-tissue rubdown, the leaves will begin to appear darker, smaller, and silkier in texture, as well as less bitter in taste.

Quick and easy

Cooking ideas include sautéed kale with fresh minced garlic or braised with chopped apples. Add kale to your scrambled eggs and omelets, hearty soups, bean and quinoa bowls, or as a veggie side with your favorite baked chicken and sweet potato dishes. You’ll be krazy for kale in no time.

Kale & Apple Sauté

Ingredients:
1 bunch kale of choice, washed, stems removed, chopped
1 pound apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 sweet or red onion, chopped
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions:
Heat oil in sauté pan. Add onions, and cook until tender (4 minutes). Add apples, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook until apples are just tender (4 minutes). Stir kale into pan. Cook covered until kale is tender (3 minutes).

Pack a Punch
Can’t always get your daily does of kale and all of its nutritional benefits? Six Star Vitamin Sport Pack features more than 100 percent of the suggested daily values of vitamins C and E, as well as vitamin B6, riboflavin, selenium, manganese, and thiamin. Plus, Vitamin Sport Pack provides a good source of calcium, zinc, magnesium, and many other vitamins and minerals.

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Vitamin K is responsible for proper blood clotting. If you’re on blood thinners, please consult your doctor before adding kale or other vitamin K rich foods to your diet, as they can interfere with your medication.

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By Doug Balzarini

Bodyweight movements are effective and efficient exercise options, especially for MMA athletes. In a sport with weight classes, the goal of the strength coach is to help the athlete become as strong as possible for their respective weight class. We aren’t trying to add a lot of mass to their frame—we are improving their relative strength. Bodyweight exercises are a great way to accomplish that.

Benefits of bodyweight exercises include:

-No equipment necessary
-No gym needed—they can be done anywhere, anytime
-Easy to progress or regress depending on your ability
-Can be put together in a circuit for a great workout

Busy schedules and lack of time are common excuses that keep people from fitting in their workouts. Follow this bodyweight-only routine to get in, get results, and get on with your day.

1. Unilateral Lower Body Exercise: ROLLING PISTOL SQUAT
My favorite strength exercises for the lower body are the bilateral (2 legs at the same time) squat and deadlift. However, I feel that it’s imperative to incorporate single leg training into your routine as well. Correcting imbalances, challenging core stability, and improving coordination is just a short list of unilateral training benefits. While there are multiple pistol variations, I like this advanced version for my MMA athletes.

1. Begin in a seated position with your elbows between your knees.

2. Start the movement by driving through your heels and rolling back onto your shoulders.

3. Next, explosively reverse the movement by pushing your hands into the ground and throwing your legs forward. Use this momentum to come up to a standing position on one foot.

4. Use the momentum but keep the movement controlled throughout the exercise.

5. Pause at the top and then slowly go back down into the rolling position to repeat the movement. Perform reps on one leg for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

*****

2. Upper Body Exercise: PUSHUP WITH ROTATION
Pushups are one of the most effective exercises you can perform, and there are countless variations. This one involves a “sit through” drill that is a popular grappling movement.

1. Perform a traditional pushup. On the way back up, rotate your torso and sweep one leg underneath your body, extending it out on the opposite side. I make sure to cue my MMA athletes to keep their top elbow tight to the ribs at this point of the movement.

2.Pull the leg back through and return to the top of the pushup position. Repeat the pushup and perform the sit through drill on the opposite side. Alternate sides for 30 seconds before moving to movement number three.

*****

3. Explosive Full Body Exercise: POP-UPS
Many folks think this is a lower body movement. Just try to perform it without using your arms—convinced yet? This is truly a full-body exercise that requires the coordination and sequencing of the upper and lower body working together.

1. Assume a tall, bilateral kneeling position.

2. Drive your arms up and bring your butt down to your heels.

3. Explode up by extending your hips and driving with your arms.

4. Land softly on the balls of your feet with one foot forward, a neutral spine, and your hands up. Repeat the movement 30-60 seconds while swithing lead legs.

*****

4. Active Recovery Exercise: PLANK WITH ROTATION
I’m not a fan of wasting time during workouts. After you finish a set, do you watch the TV, check your phone, or maybe the girls on the elliptical? You’re at the gym to get better, so why not be efficient and utilize your time wisely? “Active recovery” movements are a perfect use of your time, and planks fit the bill. This particular variation includes a hip drop to slightly increase the challenge.

1. Begin in a traditional plank position with your elbows under your shoulders, your spine in a neutral position, and your toes tucked.

2. In a controlled fashion, slowly rotate your torso and drop one hip toward the ground.

3. Return to the neutral position and continue the movement on the other side.

4. Continue to alternate sides for up to 60 seconds.

*****

Method To The Madness
You should always have a gameplan while training. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Workouts don’t need to be complex programs with percentages and variable tempos to be effective. Alternate between lower body and upper body movements, and put your recovery movement at the end. Here’s a quick recap of this 4-movement circuit that will target your entire body, build strength, and challenge your conditioning.

Workout
1. Pistol: 60 seconds (30 seconds per leg)
2. Pushups: 30 seconds
3. Pop Ups: 60 seconds
4. Planks: 60 seconds

Perform these movements in order, and then rest for 60-120 seconds (or until your heart rate reaches 120 BPM if you have a heart rate monitor). Start with 3 rounds and work yourself up to 5 total rounds. Include a quality dynamic warm-up before the circuit and a proper cool down after, and you’ll be in and out in 45 minutes. Train hard, train smart, and become better, faster, and stronger.

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About Doug
Doug Balzarini is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength & conditioning coach for Alliance MMA, where he works with UFC Champ Dominick Cruz, Bellator Champ Mike Chandler, as well as Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, and more. He has produced 2 DVD projects and was recently a coach on The Ultimate Fighter TV show. Visit www.DBStrength.com for more information.

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Don’t play the fool with your diet this April.

Every day is April Fools’ Day for many food companies clamoring for your business. With clever marketing, they can trick you into thinking you’re eating something far more healthy than you really are. Don’t allow this to become a detriment to your health. If something seems too good to be true, do some research before making it a part of your daily routine, and watch out for these four common fooling foods.

Gluten-Free Bread

Fooled

If it’s gluten-free, it has to be healthy, right? Wrong, and gluten-free bread isn’t the only culprit. Over the past few years, the variety of gluten-free products has increased, including bagels, donuts, and pizza. The gluten-free label sure does make it sound healthy, but commercially produced gluten-free breads and cookies are not made by magically mashing up brown rice and baking it with olive oil and cinnamon. Overly processed, nutrient-deficient, high-glycemic index flours and additives such as white rice flour and white potato starch are typically frontrunners in the mix. A steady diet of items like this can lead you down an unwanted path of blood sugar issues, weight gain, and inflammation.

Fueled

image descNaturally gluten-free foods such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans, and brown rice have always been clean food choices and should continue to be your primary carbohydrate sources, along with fresh fruits and veggies. However, if you need that piece of toast sitting beside your organic eggs, choose 100-percent sprouted-grain breads. Food For Life’s Ezekiel breads are never processed into flour. True whole grains, with all their fiber and nutrients, are soaked and sprouted in water, and then slowly mashed and mixed into dough to be baked in small batches. If you are truly gluten sensitive or avoiding gluten for other reasons, the Ezekiel breads won’t be safe for you as they do contain wheat (albeit sprouted). Your best bet is consuming gluten-free foods in their whole form or making your own gluten-free breads from nutrient-dense, lower-glycemic index coconut and almond flours.

Almond and Coconut Milk Yogurts

Fooled

If almond and coconut milks are low-sugar alternatives to dairy milk, then the almond and coconut milk yogurts must be healthy and low in sugar too, right? Nope. image descMost yogurts do seem like a smart choice with all those friendly probiotics (healthy bacteria needed for GI health and immune function), and unsweetened/original almond and coconut milks are top alternatives to cow’s milk, but their yogurts aren’t quite up to snuff. Fruit flavored coconut milk yogurts can have more than 21 grams of sugar per 6 ounces (25 grams of carbs total). The plain yogurt may be better with 7-12 grams of sugar (18 grams of carbs total), but protein ranges from 0-2 grams. Almond milk yogurt’s numbers are quite similar, with a slight bump in protein at about 6 grams, as some are infused with a few grams of vegan pea protein.

Fueled

If cow’s milk is agreeable with your stomach, choose plain organic Greek yogurt with its 4-6 grams of sugar and a whopping 17 grams of protein per 6 ounces. Goat and sheep’s milk may be easier to digest if cow’s milk is questionable. Goat milk can taste a little strong in flavor to some people, but sheep’s milk yogurt is mild and closer to cow’s milk in taste. With only 3 grams of sugar and 10 grams of protein per 6 ounces, plain sheep’s yogurt from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company is a great alternative if cow’s milk yogurt is making you bloated and gassy, but you don’t want to go for the sugary alternatives. If all animal dairy is off limits, get your probiotics via supplement form or go for the live cultures found in the plain coconut milk by So Delicious.

Veggie Chips

Fooled

image descVeggie chips…they’re pretty much dried vegetables in a bag, right? Definitely wrong. White potato is a vegetable, so should we start considering a tube of Pringles multiple vegetable servings? Not a chance. Even though veggie chips may contain some spinach or tomato (most likely in a processed powder form), they’re predominantly still white potato based. Worse yet, 90 percent of “chips” in most grocery stores—even in health food stores—contain that all too common dangerous mix of soy, corn, safflower, and/or sunflower oils. Even those nutritionally angelic sounding sweet potato chips are culprits of sporting these bad oils. Soy and corn will most likely be genetically modified—if not organic—and all are considered very unstable (turning rancid) at higher cooking temperatures.

Fueled

If you want veggies in a bag, you should really just buy some carrots, celery, bell peppers, and broccoli, give them a wash and chop, and pack them in a baggie along with hummus for dipping. Other optimal options include using a dehydrator and making your own true veggie chips. No dehydrator? Kale chips can be made in the oven with coconut oil, salt, and pepper. Store bought kale chips are okay, too, just be careful of those with lots of additives. For an occasional splurge of actual potato chips, look into companies using only healthy, heat-stable oils like Honest Potato Chips (coconut oil) and Good Health Natural Foods (avocado oil).

Fruit Juice

Fooled

As natural as it sounds, fruit juice is not something that should be part of your regular diet. With approximately 27 grams of carbs per 8 ounces (24 grams coming from sugar), it’s got pretty much the same sugar and carbohydrate content as 8 ounces of soda. Don’t be fooled by anything in that long grocery aisle filled with endless flavors of brightly colored sugar bombs. image descThe “100 percent fruit juice” label won’t even help you here. Both the 100 percent juice and “cocktail” version with added sugars and sweeteners give you few nutrients.

Fueled

If you want 100 percent fruit, eat a piece of fruit. You can also throw fruit in a juicer along with organic greens. If you want a quick-grab beverage without all the sugar, hit the health food store and stock up on coconut water. Coconuts are technically classified as a fruit, so you’ll still be reaching for a “fruit juice,” but one with far more health benefits. Coconut water comes from the low-calorie, naturally fat- and cholesterol-free clear liquid of young, green coconuts (not to be confused with the high fat/calorie thick textured canned coconut milk). Boasting the potassium of more than four bananas, coconut water contains all five essential electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium). It will not only leave you refreshed with its light, sweet flavor, but it will also replace electrolytes lost during workouts and help keep muscle cramps at bay. Its sodium content is a little lower than your typical sports drinks, but it’s nothing a sprinkle of sea salt can’t fix on particularly heavy training days when sodium losses may be higher.

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By Luke Rockhold // Photos by Paul Thatcher

Luke Rockhold gets his blood pumping with “Crazy” Bob Cook’s four-station circuit at American Kickboxing Academy.

This circuit consists of one minute on the Airdyne bike, then one minute on one of three drills (hitting focus mitts, ground-and-pound body bag, and Russian twists). We go back and forth—bike, drill, bike, drill—for 30 minutes as hard as we can. It’s the most brutal workout ever. It’s more brutal than any fight. We do this circuit three days a week for six weeks straight. The whole time, our coach Bob Cook is watching us—yelling at us to go harder. He’s called “Crazy” Bob Cook for a reason.

Airdyne Intervals – 1 Minute

Keep the airdyne at 85rpm or higher. It will be in the 90s closer to fight time. Go as hard as you can.

Pad Work – 1 Minute

Work on different combinations, including body shots. Focus on your footwork.

Ground-and-Pound – 1 Minute
Rain down punches and elbows. Switch between side guard, half guard, and mount.

Weighted Russian Twists – 1 Minute

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet pinching a body bag. With both hands, hold the sides of a weight plate. Brace your core, and rotate your torso to the right as far as you can. Reverse your movement and twist to the left as far as you can.

fitness

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nutrition

From capsules and tablets to gels and powders, an athlete’s countertop can look more like a pharmacy than a kitchen. To sort through the insanity, we’ve got a breakdown of the 10 supplements than can help you reach your fitness goals of maintaining optimal health, building muscle, and decreasing inflammation.

1. Protein Powder
Protein powders are about as common as water bottles in the athletic world. Whey protein isolate is the top choice, as it’s complete, tastes good, is easily ingested, and has the perfect amino blend for muscle building, strength, and recovery. This smooth textured powder has also been shown to help keep you healthy by boosting immune function via its ability to increase glutathione (master antioxidant) at the cellular level. It can act as a quick protein source at breakfast in the form of a smoothie when there’s no time to make eggs or lean turkey sausage, and it’s a vital part of proper workout recovery fuel. Within 30 minutes after training, strive for 0.5 grams of carbs per pound (or 1.1 grams of carbs per kilogram) of body weight, along with 20-40 grams of protein for strength-training sessions, or 15-25 grams of protein for cardio-based sessions.
Not able to use whey protein due to milk sensitivities or other issues? Eating organic, lean meat is a great source of protein, with approximately 7 grams of protein in every ounce. For a nondairy-based protein powder, choose a plant-based product (non-soy) made from peas, rice, or seeds, such as Vega Sport or Sunwarrior, with 17 to 26 grams of protein per 1 scoop serving.

2. Electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals that break into small electrically charged particles (ions) when dissolved in water. Among the most important are sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. These help maintain your body’s proper fluid balance, pH balance, transmission of nerve impulses, and muscle contractions. Hydration status, cognitive function, and muscle movement would not be maintained at optimal levels throughout tough training sessions without the aid of electrolytes.
Of the top five mentioned, sodium, potassium, and chloride are the primary electrolytes lost through sweat. Sodium is typically the front runner and most important to replace, as it aids in optimal fluid balance, muscle cramp reduction, and thirst stimulation—all critical components of athletic performance.
When intense training lasts more than one hour or is performed in extreme heat, most of your fluid intake (especially during and after activity) should be in the form of a well-formulated sports drink containing electrolytes. It is okay to alternate between a sports drink and filtered water. Gatorade, PowerBar, Ultima, and Vega Sport are among a number of brands making electrolyte replacement powders and drinks that can be found in most health food stores.

3. Multivitamin
You don’t need a multivitamin with mega doses, especially as a health conscious, clean-eating machine—a basic one is just fine. The form your vitamin comes in, however, should be far from basic. Skip the tightly bound, cheap, synthetic, poorly utilized tablets, and go for an optimally absorbed liquid like Intramax or Organic Life Vitamins. Most well-made capsules and powders are also superior to tablets on the absorption scale. Multivitamins are a great nutrient backup for busy days when your eating isn’t up to snuff—and are one of the best general health and wellness products you can take each day.
As far as mimicking a multi in the form of food, eating a balanced diet is key. Lean proteins such as chicken and fish, carbohydrates like green vegetables, quinoa, and sweet potatoes, and healthy fats including raw nuts and avocados should all be consumed regularly.

4. Probiotics
Approximately 70-80 percent of your immune function is based in the gut. Probiotics are good bacteria that patrol your GI tract, keeping your flora in proper balance. There are about 500 species of bacteria, good and bad, roaming around down there. Keeping the number of good guys (probiotics) flourishing is essential to staying healthy.
You do not need to take probiotics daily for the rest of your life, but upping the amount during cold and flu season or at the onset of a bug, during and/or after taking antibiotics, and during times of intense training can definitely benefit your health and decrease your number of sick days and doctor’s visits.
Probiotics can be found in well-absorbed capsule and powder form in most health food stores, or they can be taken via food in the forms of yogurt and kefir.

5. Creatine
Creatine is a natural substance found in the body as a component of skeletal muscle. It’s used to produce phosphocreatine, a precursor to the energy molecule known as adenosine triphosphate (better known as ATP). In theory, the more creatine available, the more phosphocreatine produced, the more energy you’ll have through workouts, and the longer it takes for fatigue to set in. This allows for longer, stronger, and overall better training sessions. Supplementation touts enhanced recovery, increased lean body mass, and improved performance—specifically in brief, intense, high-power output exercises (resistance/strength training, sprinting).
Several creatine dosing regimens have been used and studied, some with loading doses of 20 grams per day for a few days. Effective maintenance doses seem to hover around 2-5 grams per day. Side effects can include weight (fluid) gain, muscle cramping, nausea, and GI disturbance, so be sure to stay hydrated and alert your healthcare practitioner if any symptoms arise.

6. Glutamine
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your body. It’s considered conditionally essential, and our body produces its own. In certain situations, however, your body may not be able to keep up with the demand. Glutamine levels tend to plummet during frequent and intense training periods, and lower levels can inhibit strength, endurance, energy, and immune function. Glutamine supplementation can bring anti-catabolic and immune-enhancing benefits to combat these exercise-induced problems.
Glutamine is found in food sources, such as chicken, beef, fish, and red cabbage, but it is easily destroyed during cooking. To compensate, many athletes choose supplements of 5 to 10 grams per day. Glutamine also plays a role in the health and integrity of the GI tract, acting as fuel for the cells that line the small intestine—your very important defenders against toxins, allergens, and disease-causing microorganisms.

7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids/Fish Oil
The proven anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3 fatty acids make them vital to an athlete’s routine. Boasting a slew of other benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease, and improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and cognitive function, these polyunsaturated fatty acids do more than reduce joint pain.
There is quite a long list of hard-to-pronounce words when it comes to naming all the Omega-3s. With regards to nutritional importance, the three heavy hitters include alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), with EPA and DHA showing more benefits in the areas listed above compared to ALA.
Some of the most potent foods sources of EPA and DHA include salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna. To reduce the consumption of fish contaminated with mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), the best source is wild caught salmon. If salmon doesn’t float your boat, there are myriad fish oil supplements on the market. Choose wisely and look for trusted companies that have a verified process to purify the oils and remove toxins, and make sure your supplement lists a breakdown of EPA and DHA (versus just listing total Omega-3 content).

8. Nitric Oxide (NO) /Arginine
The amino acid L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide (NO), which is a potent vasodilator (a substance that widens blood vessels, increases blood flow, and decreases blood pressure). NO/Arginine supplements are typically taken for their advertised benefits of delivering more nutrients to muscles, leading to longer, stronger workouts and faster recovery times. Research supporting these claims is sporadic, but many athletes report that they notice substantial results.
Related studies that test nitrate-rich beetroot juice seem to be more promising. The dietary nitrate found in beets/beetroot juice is reduced to nitrite via certain bacteria on the tongue’s surface, and then further reduced to nitric oxide. This source of nitric oxide has shown improved performance via increased mean power outputs, decreased oxygen consumption, increased time to exhaustion, and lower perceived exertion ratings.

9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another immune enhancer that can keep you in the gym (and off a couch surrounded by cold meds and tissues). This is a fat-soluble vitamin your body produces on its own with exposure to sunlight. During winter months or in regularly cold and overcast climates, natural vitamin D levels are depleted. There are very few vitamin D rich foods (cod liver oil, wild salmon, mackerel), and people cannot make up for a vitamin D deficiency through diet alone. Supplementation in a gel cap or liquid-based D3 is optimal and is typically advised. Adequate Intake (AI) recommendations are 200-400IUs daily for most of the population, but many researchers studying immune function and athletic performance are suggesting 2000IUs daily as a therapeutic dose. Because vitamin D is fat soluble and can become toxic at high levels, be sure to get your levels checked first.

10. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are a group of essential amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, that your body uses to build proteins, with muscles having a particularly high content. The term “branched-chain” refers to their molecular structure. The best food sources of BCAAs include red meat, dairy products, chicken, fish, eggs, and whey protein.
Supplementation is proposed to increase protein synthesis, postpone fatigue, decrease muscle damage and breakdown, boost the immune system, and inhibit muscle glycogen degradation (glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate and primary fuel used by muscles). BCAAs are typically taken before and after workouts.

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// By Jonathan Chaimberg

Time to Get Midieval

Former Canadian national wrestler Jonathan Chaimberg is a renowned strength coach to many professional athletes in the NHL, MLB, and UFC. In addition, Chaimberg has developed strength programs for some of the UFC’s most elite fighters, including Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald, Rashad Evans, Mike Ricci, and Kenny Florian at his Adrenaline Performance Center in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This month, Jonathan gives readers the run-down on a program he developed for Rory MacDonald and Mike Ricci that we like to call the “Torture Circuit.”

Warm-Up

Elastic Band Ladder Walk

The elastic band ladder walk is great for glute activation. Perform this as a warm-up to activate a very neglected lower body muscle group.

Put an elastic band around both your knees and ankles. Walk the ladder four times, twice forward and twice backward.

Torture Circuit
Perform the six exercises in the circuit without resting in between. Once complete, rest for two minutes. Perform five circuits.

TRX Inverted Row Push With Elevated Feet

Weighted chin-ups are a great vertical pulling exercise, but inverted rows are my favorite exercise for pulling horizontally, which is crucial in building strong pulling muscles and a solid back. You can increase the difficulty by wearing a weighted vest. You’ll feel the difference in your grappling and clinch work. It’s also a great way to prevent shoulder injuries.

With your arms fully extended, hold two TRX straps, with your feet elevated and your knees bent. Extend your knees until your body is prone. Keeping your elbows in, pull yourself up until your chest hits the strap handles. Lower yourself back down. Bend your knees and return to the starting position. Perform 10 reps.

Single-Leg Deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is ideal for building your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. The exercise is difficult, without the danger of loading too much weight and risking injury, which is common in the standard deadlift. Since MMA takes place on one leg in reality, it’s a great way to build functional strength, without worrying about straining your lower back with too much weight.

Hold a kettlebell in your left hand. Bending slightly with your left knee, perform a deadlift by bending at the hip and extending your right leg behind you for balance. Continue lowering the kettlebell until your chest is parallel to the ground. Return to the upright position. For an added challenge, hold a kettlebell in both hands. Perform 10 reps, and switch sides.

TRX Jackknife

This is one of my favorite movements for building a bulletproof core. The TXR jackknife is challenging, and it is key for building a solid core and preventing lower back injuries.

Put your feet into TRX straps and get into a plank position. Perform a reverse crunch, bringing your knees to your chest. Extend your legs to the starting position. Perform 10 reps.

Medicine Ball Chest Pass

This exercise builds explosive pushing power. It’s also reactive and involves an eccentric load followed by a burst of concentric force. I love using this exercise alone or complexed (following a bench or dumbbell press to build superior power endurance).

With a partner standing over you who is holding a medicine ball, lie flat on your back, knees bent, and feet on the floor. As your partner drops the ball to your chest, catch it. Exploding with your arms, push-throw the medicine ball back to your partner.
Perform six reps.

Medicine Ball Slam

Ball slams are a great upper-body power movement. Just like with the medicine ball chest pass, it can be utilize by itself or complexed (following chin-ups).

Hold a medicine ball with both hands, as you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise the medicine ball above your head, and extend your body vertically. Slam the medicine ball to the floor as your knees bend and your heels touch the ground. Catch the ball with both hands on the bounce. Perform 6 reps.

Sled Push

This is my all-time favorite exercise. It builds power, strength, and endurance, depending on how you load the sled and set the course. Either way, no training is complete with a good sled routine. You can load the sled heavy to build power and strength, or load it lighter to work on speed and muscular endurance.

Take an athletic posture, leaning into the sled with your arms fully extended and grasping the handles. Push the sled as fast as possible, focusing on extending your hips and knees to strengthen your posterior chain. Load the sled heavy, and work on short, explosive power. Push for 10 yards, up and back. Load the sled lighter, and work on endurance. Push for 20 yards, up and back.

Test Your Limits

10-10 Treadmill Challenge

I like to use the 10-10 treadmill challenge for testing anaerobic threshold. It’s easy to set up, but hard to do.

Put a treadmill on 10 mph and 10 degree incline. Run for as long as you can without touching the handles. The test ends when you cannot stay on the treadmill. Perform every two weeks.
Average: 75-90 seconds
Above Average: 90-120 seconds
Elite: 120-150 seconds
+150 seconds: Take up 400 meter running, because you are unreal.

THE SIX STAR SPECIAL

Get your morning kicked-started like Rory MacDonald.

1 scoop Six Star Vanilla Cream Whey Protein
1 banana
10 oz. almond milk
1 tbs. peanut butter
1 tsp. honey
4 ice cubes

Mix all the ingredients in a blender. Hit the power. Drink it down.

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Submission wizard Mario Sperry is a reckoning force on the mat. The grappling legend is an ADCC World Champion and PRIDE veteran. Now, Sperry is the head coach of Team Blackzilian, which boasts a stable of top fighters, including Rashad Evans, Alistair Overeem, Vitor Belfort, and Eddie Alvarez. With the help of assistant coach and BJJ black belt Flavius Virginio da Silva, Sperry shows readers how to set up and finish his heel hook submission. Keep in mind that this is a dangerous submission to practice, so don’t torque with any force or you could cause knee or ankle damage.

1) Mario is on top, looking to ground-and-pound Flavius, who is using a knee shield (a form of half-guard) and protecting his face. By using a knee shield, Flavius can keep Mario at a distance and avoid getting hit with heavy strikes.

2) Mario changes attacks and begins controlling Flavius’ top (left) leg with his arms.

3) Mario pressures Flavius’ top leg with his chest, driving it toward Flavius’ head and closing the distance.

4) Mario drops his left knee to the ground, while using a windshield-wiper motion to pin Flavius’ bottom (right) leg to the mat with his shin.

5) Having fully controlled Flavius’ top and bottom legs, Mario is now ready to attack the top leg. Mario lays back to his left side, while pinching his knees together. Flavius’ top leg is now under Mario’s right arm.

6) Mario brings his right leg over Flavius’ top leg, which keeps Flavius’s leg bent and prohibits him from rolling.

7) Mario reaches back with his right arm and hooks Flavius’ heel in the crook of his elbow. It is important that Mario keeps Flavius’ foot trapped in his armpit.

8) To finish the submission, Mario grips his palms together and applies pressure to Flavius’ knee by twisting back and to the left.

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Gluten has been called all kinds of names, both good and bad. But what rap does it deserve? And, as an athlete, should it be a part of your daily diet?

A combination of the proteins gliaden and glutenin, gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, spelt, bulgur, and kamut, as well as all products made from those grains. Gluten is a protein that people with celiac disease (an autoimmune disease causing the lining of the small intestine to become inflamed) need to completely avoid to keep symptoms such as nutrient malabsorption, unhealthy weight loss, diarrhea, severe stomach cramping, pain, and bloating at bay.

Gluten gets around. Where there’s wheat flour (breads, bagels, muffins, pastas, crackers, etc.), there’s gluten. Order a deli sandwich on healthy looking dark rye, there’s gluten. Thickeners (typically some form of wheat) possibly in your salad dressing or BBQ sauce, there’s gluten there. The fillers found in many canned soups and frozen meals—gluten again. Organic 12-grain bread and cheapo white-as-white-can-be wonder bread—gluten and gluten. Oats are on the fence, as they may be contaminated with gluten during growing and processing unless carefully handled (certified gluten-free oats should be safe).

Many people, from your average Joes to Olympic athletes, credit their newfound gluten-free lifestyles with amazing positive changes in overall health and performance. Improvements in digestion, GI disturbances, weight, energy, mood, cardiovascular health, skin/acne, joint pain, inflammation, and exercise recovery are among the many benefits often cited. Most of these individuals do not suffer from celiac disease but feel they are “gluten sensitive” or “gluten intolerant.” They won’t show positive testing markers or damaged intestinal lining that comes with the official diagnosis of celiac disease, but they feel significantly better without gluten in their diets. And on the re-introduction of gluten, negative symptoms return quickly.

If any of the following sound all too familiar, and you’ve tried other options to no avail, try eliminating gluten for a month and track your improvements.

– Are you sore after training much longer than you should be, or used to be?
– Are you suffering from increased joint pain in general?
– Are your energy levels not up to snuff?
– Are you getting injured more often or do you take longer to heal?
– Do you experience upset stomach, bloating, or skin irritation after eating?
– Is it getting harder to maintain an optimal weight?
– Are you suffering from chronic headaches?

Going gluten-free as an athlete doesn’t mean your carbohydrate consumption (and pre- and post-workout fueling) needs to suffer or that you have to buy expensive “gluten-free products.” There are plenty of whole, unprocessed, gluten-free, carbohydrate-rich foods to keep you on the upswing. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, and gluten-free oats are among the best choices, with fresh fruits and veggies making the cut as well. Other gluten-free foods (albeit not as nutrient dense or commonly found) include white rice, white potato, corn, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, sorghum, tapioca, and teff.

Also on the gluten-free menu are animal proteins—unbreaded and organic when possible (chicken, eggs, beef, turkey, bison, lamb, fish)—and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive and coconut oils, avocadoes). Dairy products, such as high-protein Greek yogurts, whey protein powders, and cheeses are typically gluten-free.
Even though there are many gluten-free products available, including breads, bagels, muffins, and pizza, you’re always better off with whole, unprocessed, unpackaged foods. Trading regular pizza for gluten-free pizza or gluten-free brownies instead of regular brownies may give you some minor relief of symptoms, but trading one junk food for another will not significantly help you in the long run.

Gluten Gourmet
Here are a few dietary suggestions that can help you plan gluten-free meals.

Breakfast
• Whey protein and berry smoothie
• Garden veggie omelet with baked sweet potato home fries
• Chicken sausage with gluten-free oatmeal
• Greek yogurt and quinoa

Lunch & Dinner
• Grilled chicken salad or chicken salad over greens
• Homemade lentil soup or turkey chili over quinoa
• Wild salmon with brown rice and asparagus
• Bunless bison burger patties with baked sweet potato and veggies
• Grass-fed ground beef sautéed with onions, peppers, and diced tomato over basmati brown rice

Snack Choices
• Raw veggies and hummus
• Dehydrated veggie chips with sliced avocado or homemade guacamole
• Nut or flax crackers with almond butter
• Fresh fruit and nuts

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Follow these six guidelines to keep training injuries at bay.

Over the past year, the UFC has faced an increasing number of cancelled fights due to injury. For the first time in its history, injuries forced the UFC to cancel an entire show (UFC 151), and the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Not only do cancellations rob fans of seeing some major fights, they can be disastrous for the fighters themselves. Fighters miss out on paychecks that many of them need to pay their bills. They also have to go through the painful and time consuming process of rehabbing their injuries before they can step back into the cage. Many fighters choose to fight through the injuries due to pride, or the fact that they can’t afford to miss a fight. Whatever their reason may be, the end result is usually a loss.

Even after an injury has fully healed, it can still haunt a fighter for the rest of his or her career, flaring up on random occasions and costing them valuable training time. Even worse, once the chain of injuries begins, it’s often only a matter of time before one injury leads to another. A fighter can go from having one nagging injury to several, which may require a larger recovery period and longer downtime.

While it’s easy to chalk up these injuries to the unavoidable, brutal nature of the sport, the truth is that a lot of the injuries can be prevented with the right approach to training. There are no doubts that injuries can and do happen in every sport, but the difference in having to withdraw from a fight and simply missing a day or two of training can be huge.

Injuries can be avoided by gaining adequate training knowledge and by listening to your body, as opposed to fighting against it. To be successful in combat sports, fighters have to be well-rounded athletes with a diverse skill set, which means they can’t afford to spend time dealing with one injury after another.

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To avoid injuries and stay in the gym training, follow these six simple keys.

#1: Choose the Right Training Partners

In a grueling sport like MMA, where most combat athletes train five to six days a week for hours on end, having the right training partners can make all the difference in the world. Good training partners can help you hone your skills, prepare you for an upcoming fight, and help you become a more complete fighter, whereas the wrong ones can just as easily hurt your career and leave you injured.
Without question, the vast majority of injuries in MMA occur during training. Far too often, contact injuries happen during high intensity drills or sparring because of poor technique and/or a lack of control. Drilling or sparring with a partner who has bad technique or lacks control can be a recipe for disaster.

Every gym has at least one guy who always throws everything harder than necessary and treats every training session like it’s a fight for the belt. If you value your health and want a long career in the sport, these are the training partners that should generally be avoided. Instead, look for the athletes who are focused on getting better, have good control and technique, and understand that you get better by training smart, not just by throwing every punch, kick, and knee as hard as you can.

#2 Improve Your Conditioning

Many fighters tend to only consider the importance of conditioning when getting ready for a fight, but conditioning is also an important component of injury prevention. When you consider how many more injuries occur when you’re fatigued than when you’re fresh, it’s apparent why being in good shape matters.

Not only does having a high level of conditioning mean that you can train more due to faster recovery times, but it will also help you avoid the injuries that often accompany fatigue. You don’t need to be in peak fight shape year-round, but it pays to maintain a solid level of conditioning even if you don’t have a fight on the books.

When working to improve conditioning without a scheduled fight, choose general conditioning exercises that are low impact to help you stay injury free. Exercises like riding the bike, swimming, jumping rope, and rowing are all great ways to get in some extra conditioning work without putting too much additional stress on your body. When you start getting ready for a fight, you can make the switch to more fight specific conditioning exercises and increase the amount of contact. Outside of that, keep your conditioning general and low impact to avoid unnecessary setbacks.

#3 Monitor Your Training

If there’s one simple thing that you can do that will make a huge difference in keeping healthy and injury free, it’s monitoring your training. This can be as simple as wearing a heart rate monitor to see how your training heart rates compare to normal, or as sophisticated as using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) technology to monitor your fatigue and fitness levels over time.

At the very minimum, it’s important to keep a training log to track your training volume and keep notes on your performance, fitness, and nutrition. This allows you to more clearly see the warning signs of overtraining and that your fitness and skill levels are improving. Tracking things such as morning resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, strength levels in various exercises, and body weight can provide extremely valuable information that you can use to fine-tune your training to get more out of it.

If you’re getting ready for a fight, monitoring your training is also important because it allows you to compare progress from one fight camp to the next and helps you make sure you’re on track. Depending on your weight class, you’ll also want to keep close track of your weight throughout camp and fight week so that over time you can improve your weight cutting strategy and get it completely dialed in. Without any form of monitoring, it’s too easy to repeat the same mistakes over and over again and end up overtrained and injured.

#4 Minimize Stress

Making sure to minimize stress outside the gym may be one of the least obvious ways to avoid injuries in the gym, but without question, it’s also one of the most important. Whether it’s the physical stress of training or the mental stress of life, both have an impact on the body.

Stress outside of the gym, either from work, family, or finances, can compound with the stress of training and set you up for injury because it changes how your body functions.

Imagine if you lived next to an annoying neighbor who blasted loud music at all hours of the day. Sooner or later, you’d make sure all your windows were closed and you may even consider building a fence to block the noise out. Your body does something very similar when faced with too much stress—it goes into a protective mode to avoid even more stress. This is problematic because it becomes less responsive to the demands of training—the muscles can’t produce as much force, hormone levels aren’t where they should be, and the nervous system doesn’t function as well.

These changes can leave you much more vulnerable to injury because the body is unable to respond in the way it should to the demands of training. The next thing you know, you’re left with a serious muscle injury that will keep you out of gym. The bottom line is that everything you do outside of the gym can have a serious impact on your chances of injury inside the gym, so it’s important to minimize stress as much as possible and take some extra time to relax.

#5: Eat the Right Foods

Most people understand that nutrition is important, but when it comes to injuries, it’s one of the most overlooked areas, even though it can have a huge impact on your training and injury prevention. In sports that require high-volume training, such as MMA, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and kickboxing, nutrition is key, not only because it is vital that your body gets all the nutrients it needs to recover, but also because chronically depleted glycogen levels are likely one of the triggers that send the body into an overtrained state.

If you don’t take in enough calories to consistently restock your muscles’ stored glycogen after workouts, you can quickly become fatigued and find yourself in an overtrained state where the chances of injury increase. If you’re training twice a day, this takes on even more importance, as your performance in the second workout of the day depends on your ability to refuel and replenish glycogen stores.

For most combat athletes, a well-balanced diet that provides enough total calories, grams of proteins, carbohydrates, and essential fats is the best way to go. If any of these macronutrients are lacking, recovery slows down, fatigue increases, and muscles and joints become more susceptible to injury.

#6: Train High/Low

Although the High/Low training system was originally developed for sprinters by the late Charlie Francis, it’s equally applicable and effective for combat sports training. At the heart of the High/Low training system is the principle that the best results come from training either at the highest intensities or at the lowest ones, while the middle ground should be avoided.

Training days are thus separated into high or low days, with generally no more than three high days per week and at least one low day separating each of them. The high training days are when you’ll want to do high intensity drills and sparring, and the low days are when you can work on improving your technique and skill development.

Taking this simple approach is an effective injury prevention strategy because it ensures that your body is ready to push the limit on the hardest training days, reducing the likelyhood of injury. Conventional training strategies that consist of too many days of maximum effort often lead to fatigue across the training week because there is not enough time to recover. Because you’ll get more out of your hard training days and have a chance to work on skills and technique on the low days, the High/Low training system is extremely effective for avoiding injuries and for becoming a better fighter in general.

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Even the big boys take time to stretch.

Although studies about the benefits of stretching are mixed, one of the biggest perks of stretching may be the actual enjoyment of the ritual—a few minutes dedicated to yourself to clear your mind and get your blood flowing.

Before Alistair Overeem puts on his sparring gear, he puts his muscles (and there are a lot of them) through this quick, full-body warm-up. Give it a try before you hit the heavy bag—just don’t expect to have Overeem’s physique when you’re finished.

1. NECK TURN

Stand up straight with your hands clasped behind your back. Rotate your neck horizontally 90 degrees to the right.

Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat the movement to your left.

2. NECK TILT

Stand up straight with your hands clasped behind your back. Tilt your neck vertically 45 degrees to the right.

Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat the movement to your left.

3. SIDE FLEX

Stand with your feet double-shoulder-width apart, with your right arm completely extended to the side and your left arm bent 90 degree above your head. Rotate to the right until your right arm is parallel with your right thigh and your left arm is fully extended above your head.

Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat the movement to your left.

4. ELBOW THROW

Stand with your knees slightly bent and your elbows parallel to the floor. Pivot back and forth on your feet in a continuous motion as you rotate your upper and lower body for 30 seconds.

5. SQUAT FLEX

Stand with your right leg extended and your left thigh parallel to the floor, while maintaining an upper-body flexing pose. Pivot back and forth on your feet in a continuous motion as you rotate your upper and lower body for 30 seconds.

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