Fighting Fit

Fighting Fit

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Neglecting your non-glamour muscles is a recipe for injury.

Stronger muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back can help decrease your chance of injury, but these muscles are often overlooked in favor of bigger biceps and pecs. Even though athletes recognize that possessing a strong neck, shoulders, and back are critical to better posture and injury prevention, few fighters train these areas regularly. Since many of the muscles addressed in this circuit (rotator cuff, quadratus lumborum, sternocleidomastoids) are small and often underworked, begin training these areas conservatively. Use slow, controlled tempos, and don’t jerk or bounce in any of the positions. Don’t forget to warm up before beginning the circuit. Perform each exercise consecutively. Repeat for three total circuits.

Incline Dumbbell Cleans

Swiss Ball Leans


INCLINE DUMBBELL CLEANS

Emphasis: Mid and upper back (rhomboids,
traps, rotator cuff, erectors).

Begin lying on your chest on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand. In the first movement, shrug your upper back. In the second movement, rotate your arms forward until they become parallel with your head. Lower under control.

Repeat for 12 reps.

SWISS BALL FORWARD AND BACKWARD LEANS

Emphasis: Anterior and posterior neck muscles (traps, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, levator scapulae).

Place a Swiss ball against the wall. For forward leans, place your forehead against the ball. For backward leans, place the back of your head against the ball. In both exercises, lean your weight into the ball to increase the resistance.

Hold each position for 10 breaths.

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As essential as regular grocery runs are to a fighter’s quest for optimal nutrition, they’re kind of a pain. Between trying to go on your lunch break when you’re pressed for time or after an evening workout when you’re starving and exhausted, it’s time and energy out of your already busy day. To make things a little easier while navigating the aisles, get into the habit of stocking up on nutrient-dense, sports nutrition staples. With your fridge, freezer, and pantry stocked, you should always be able to make a tasty, nutrient-rich meal or snack.

 

FRIDGE

 

Organic Eggs

 

Eggs are the perfect breakfast protein, but they also make a quick, healthy snack. Hard boil eggs to slice over salads or have breakfast for dinner every once in a while with a mixed veggie omelet.

 

Pre Cut/Pre Washed Veggies

 

From bag salads to baby carrots and sugar snap peas, there are many cleaned, chopped, and ready-to-eat veggies available these days, making it nearly impossible to find excuses not to eat fresh vegetables.

 

Hummus

 

Made traditionally with chickpeas, tahini (paste of ground sesame seeds), olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, this delicious spread boasts veggie-based protein, fiber, and healthy fat, making it perfect as a dip for raw vegetables.

 

Plain Greek Style Yogurt

 

With its dessert-like taste and texture, you almost forget it’s low in sugar and high in protein. Add some fresh berries and stevia to taste as needed.

 

Organic Chocolate Milk

 

Your childhood favorite has gotten a second chance to shine as some recent research has shown chocolate milk to be just as effective as traditional carb/protein-based recovery sports drinks. Reach for organic milk to avoid consuming hormones and antibiotics possibly found in the conventional versions.

 

Natural Peanut Butter or Almond Butter

 

Natural nut butters are free of preservatives and must be kept in the fridge. They’re a great combination of plant-based protein and healthy fat to spread on whole grain toast or crackers for a quick, balanced snack.

 

Fresh Fruit

 

Fruits such as apples, pears, oranges, and grapefruits have a lower glycemic index to keep blood sugar stabilized, while providing the health benefits of naturally occurring vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.

 

 

Individually Frozen Organic Chicken Breasts

 

Organic chicken has fewer toxins and less fat, and individual chicken breasts are easier to defrost for a fast, low-fat protein addition to any meal.

 

Fish Fillets

 

Get your protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids  in fish such as wild salmon, Atlantic mackerel, and trout. Defrost and season with lemon, sea salt, pepper, and herbs of choice.

 

Grass-Fed Bison Patties

 

Leaner than beef, bison cooks faster while providing protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is touted as immune enhancing and metabolic boosting.

 

Frozen Veggies

 

For a quick steam or stir fry, you can’t beat a bag of frozen veggies, which contain many more nutrients than their canned counterparts. Frozen veggies can be seasoned with lemon juice, a little olive oil, garlic, or any fresh herbs of choice.

 

Frozen Berries

 

From raspberries to blueberries and blackberries, these antioxidant-rich staples are perfect blended in your protein smoothies or topped on your favorite low-fat yogurt.

 

Soy-Free Veggie Burgers

 

Wanna go meatless every now and then, but worried about the negative effects of soy on thyroid and hormones? Check out Amy’s Organic Sonoma Burger (quinoa, walnut, and veggie based).

 

Frozen Herbs

 

Processed just hours after harvesting to better retain flavor and nutrients, frozen herbs aren’t quite on par with the fresh stuff, but they are far better than the dried versions that have been sitting in your cabinets for years.

 

Healthy Frozen Meals

 

Instead of a frozen pizza, check out Organic Bistro Whole Life Meals. Sporting ingredients such as all natural chicken, wild salmon, organic brown rice, and organic veggies and herbs, these higher protein and lower sodium meals are a huge upgrade compared to traditional frozen dinners.

 

PANTRY

 

Steel-Cut Oats

 

Oats are perfect as part of a fast, filling breakfast. Avoid the overly processed instant oats, and take the 20 minutes to prepare the real stuff, which has a lower glycemic index.

 

Whey Protein

 

The ultimate staple of most athletes, whey protein is smooth in texture, fast ingesting, and has the perfect amino blend for muscle building, strength, and recovery.

 

Brown Rice and Quinoa

 

These two pantry favorites supply complex carbs, with quinoa also having a little extra protein. Quinoa cooks faster than brown rice, but investing in a rice cooker makes the process a little easier.

 

Canned Black Beans

 

These inexpensive and versatile beans can be quickly rinsed and added to soups, salads, and salsas for an extra punch of protein, complex carbs, and fiber.

 

Canned Tomatoes

 

Tomatoes can add flavor to rice and bean dishes or any main entrée. They’re also chocked full of lycopene, a carotenoid with antioxidant benefits.

 

Shelf Stable Milk Alternatives

 

Products such as Blue Diamond’s unsweetened Almond Breeze and Turtle Mountain’s So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk beverages are tasty low calorie (40-50 calories) and low carb (1-2 grams) milk alternatives.

 

Almonds

 

With healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant flavonoids, this immune enhancing and cardiovascular protective nut is a great grab and-go snack.

 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

This monounsaturated healthy fat with myriad cardiovascular and antioxidant benefits is great for light sautéing, drizzling over veggies, or as part of homemade salad dressings.

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Some of your best defensive moves may be in your kitchen in the form of immune-supportive foods.

Flavor Boost Your ImmunityThe cooler temperatures of autumn signal the beginning of the dreaded cold and fl u season. Missed workouts, lengthy doctor’s appointments, constant trips to the pharmacy, and chronic coughs can take a toll on your training. However, you can keep the bad bugs at bay by increasing your intake of immune boosting foods.

Vitamin C, beta-carotene, probiotics (good bacteria), and zinc have been touted as fierce fighters of colds and flu. Supplemental forms are available and can be useful especially for extra reinforcements when you feel weak—but for day-to-day maintenance, strive to get these nutrients via your diet by reaching for these healthy foods.

Grass-Fed Beef (zinc)
Grass-fed cows yield beef with more immune enhancing CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), beta-carotene, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids versus grain-fed animals. Beef also ups your intake of zinc, which aids in the production of white blood cells that help fight infections. Use beef in your favorite chili recipe or as a protein-packed burger patty topped with sliced veggies. Zinc has become a popular ingredient in cold-fighting lozenges, but be aware of how many you use when illness strikes, as too much zinc (over 75mg per day) can inhibit immune function.

Red Bell Peppers (vitamin C)
Red bell peppers actually contain approximately double the vitamin C of oranges, while bringing a hearty dose of immune supportive beta-carotene and lycopene to your plate. Vitamin C helps maintain healthy skin (part of your body’s first line of defense), increases white blood cell and antibody production, and possibly decreases the length and severity of cold symptoms. In raw form, sweet peppers can be chopped and added to mixed green salads or tuna salad, or sliced and dipped in hummus. Sautéed with other cold and flu busters, including free-radical fighting onions and mushrooms, red peppers can create flavorful bases for many dinner entrees.

Yogurt/Kefir (probiotics)
Yogurt and kefi r contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) that act like little soldiers patrolling your GI tract. When you don’t have enough good bacteria in your system, the bad guys can fl ourish, leading to an increased susceptibly to illness and disease. Approximately 70–80 percent of your immune system is based in your gut, so keeping a large number of friendly bacteria is an absolute must for optimal immune function. Consuming organic, plain Greek yogurt or coconut milk-based cultured beverages are delicious ways to do so. Probiotics are available in supplement form in most health foods stores if you do not consume dairy or dairy alternatives.

Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Carrots (beta-carotene)
Infection-fighting beta-carotene is definitely in season. Cooler weather and the availability of seasonal produce beg you to get in your kitchen and start whipping up autumn dishes. Your body also converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, another strong immune enhancer. Too much vitamin A, however, can be toxic, so consuming foods with beta-carotene and letting your body regulate the conversion is a safer way to do things versus taking vitamin A supplements. Roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash make great side dishes when seasoned with cinnamon, paprika, or cumin. To avoid dealing with a whole pumpkin (cutting, deseeding), use organic canned pumpkin, and add it to smoothies and yogurt.

Garlic, Tumeric (allicin, curcumin)
Not only do herbs and spices add amazing flavor to any dish you prepare, they also add a good kick in the pants to any cold or flu bug lurking in their path. Garlic’s infection-fighting active ingredient allicin can be given much of the credit for garlic’s immune-enhancing powers. Most beneficial in its fresh form (skip the dried powder that’s been sitting in your cabinet for months), it can be added to almost any type of cuisine. Turmeric, which is commonly found in curry powders and can be added to rice, quinoa, and lentils, has immune-enhancing abilities due to its powerful antioxidant curcumin. Using other flavorful herbs and spices, including black pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves, will also add to your immuneenhancing repertoire.

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Superfoods for an MMA fighter prolong endurance and work capacity, help with muscle recovery and growth, and help prevent injury, which ultimately helps in and out of the cage. Here are 10 essential foods you need to add to your diet to help with your fight preparation.

1. WHEY PROTEIN – Naturally found in milk, but more popularly known as a nutritional supplement, whey protein has high concentrations of essential amino acids and BCAAs, which are important for muscle repair and growth. It also helps improve overall muscle strength over a long period of use. It is rapidly absorbed (better than soy and animal proteins) into the body, which makes it ideal after your workouts. Someone training MMA should consume 20 to 60 grams per day. Add it to shakes, oatmeal/cereals, or waffle/pancake mixes.

2. SWEET POTATOES – Yes, the ugly, weird orange-looking root you see in the grocery store that you often pass up is one superfood that you want in your diet. This complex carbohydrate that is low in sugar and high in antioxidants/anti-inflammatory properties will help with your post-workout recovery and energize your next training session. These potatoes are better than your traditional kind, and they offer significant amounts of vitamin C, fiber, and many B vitamins.

3. FLAXSEEDS – Often found in your local health food store as flaxseed oil or ground flax meal, flaxseed is the Anderson Silva of omega-3 fats as it has twice that of salmon and cod liver oil. It contains not only essential fats, but highly digestible proteins and fiber. It also has anti-inflammatory/antioxidant properties that will help with muscle recovery and joint and muscle pains—which is much needed after those three-per-day trainings! One to 3 tablespoons per day is effective. Throw it in your shakes, cereals, or salads, or just have it plain.

4. COCONUT OIL – Despite what you have heard or read, coconut oil is good for you. Coconut oil is high in mediumchain triglycerides (MCTs), which are easily digestible and help increase your metabolic rate, allowing you to burn fat more efficiently during your MMA workouts. It has the ability to boost endurance, increase energy levels, and increase overall athletic performance. Coconut oil is another food that supports muscle healing and repair due to its antioxidant properties. Cook with it like you would any other oil.

5. OATMEAL – Many of you already have this easy and convenient food in your diet, but I thought I might remind you how good of a food it really is. There are many types of oatmeal, but steel-cut oats would be the best choice. This type of oat is closest to its natural form, which means slower digestion and prolonged energy for MMA training. In addition to being good for sustaining energy levels, oatmeal is packed full of fiber, which prevents fat from being stored, and amino acids, which help with muscle recovery.

6. TURKEY – It isn’t just for the holidays anymore! Turkey is not only low in fat, it is packed full of nutrients like B6, B12, niacin, zinc, and selenium, which help produce energy, increase metabolism, and improve the immune system. Carnosine is another nutrient found in turkey meat. This type of protein allows athletes to train harder, which is what is needed when you talk about MMA training. So pick some up on your next visit to the store.

7. QUINOA (KEEN-WAH) – Considered the most nutritious grain in the world, it has more protein than any other grain, it is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, and it contains adequate amounts of healthy fats and other vitamins/minerals. It is a complete protein like any meat or egg, which means it has muscle-building properties. It is great to add to your post-training meal to speed up recovery or when you’re cutting weight and monitoring your carbohydrate intake. Use it like you would any rice or pasta.

8. ACAI (AH-SIGH-EE) – Often found here in the United States as a juice or a nutritional supplement, this unique berry is very potent in many antioxidants (more than any other berry), which helps relieve muscle damage after a long day of training. Acai also helps sustain energy during your workouts with its blend of healthy fats, vitamin/ minerals, and fiber. It also improves circulation, sleep, and digestion. This berry is tasty and would provide an added benefit in your diet.

9. SOY – This high-quality plant protein that is rich in vitamins/ minerals and plenty of fiber and omega-3s has been shown to increase the body’s fat-burning capabilities; increase growth-hormone production for muscle growth and strength; and suppress food cravings and appetite. One to two servings per day (one serving equals 1 cup soy milk, ½ cup edamame beans, ½ cup tofu, or ½ cup soy nuts) is recommended for these added benefits.

10. LOW-FAT YOGURT – This nutritional powerhouse is packed full of nutrients. It contains calcium, which plays an important role in muscle contraction, preventing muscle spasms/cramps, as well as reducing muscle fatigue during exercise. Rich in vitamin B12, yogurt will help with energy production for longer-lasting training bouts. The carbs in yogurt are also great to replenish energy and aid in recovery post-training. Try 8 ounces with some fruit about an hour before your workout for a boost or 30 minutes post-training for a recovery snack.

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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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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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Your body is an extremely malleable machine. It will get bigger, stronger and faster, but only if you force it to do so. Most people make great gains in their first month of training, but then everything comes to a screeching halt.

What happens? In most cases, you’ve forgotten to put a progression plan in place. You must make your body do more work over time. The simplest way to do it is to add more weight to the bar. But that method only works for a few weeks at a time. Your body remembers and adapts to specific muscle actions and stops making progress.

Another problem with simply adding weight to your lifts is that it can be hard on your joints and recovery. Since fighters have to expend so much energy on other activities like boxing, jiu-jitsu and wrestling, it makes sense to use progression plans that don’t depend on adding weight to one’s lifts.

Three of my most successful progression plans are accomplished by manipulating the sets, reps or rest periods. You don’t need to constantly add weight to build a more powerful fighting physique. Here’s a basic overview of each progression.

REP PROGRESSION:

Add a repetition to each set with the same weight as the previous workout. Let’s say you did 5 sets of 5 reps with 300 pounds for the deadlift on Monday. When your next workout rolls around, you’ll do 5 sets of 6 reps with the same weight. Goal: to build size with a secondary emphasis on strength.

SET PROGRESSION:

Add a set to each exercise while using the same weight as the previous workout. If you did 5 sets of 5 reps with 300 pounds for the deadlift on Monday, you’ll do 6 sets of 5 reps with the same weight for the next workout. Goal: to build strength with a secondary emphasis on size.

REST PROGRESSION:

Decrease the rest period between each set, while using the same weight as the previous workout. Let’s say you rested 60 seconds between each set of the deadlift on Monday. You’ll rest 55 seconds between each set for the next workout. Goal: to boost your overall conditioning and build fighting strength.

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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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Your metabolism is the sum of all the various reactions in your body that burn calories for energy. Your caloric needs are based on your resting metabolic rate and your level of daily physical activity. The resting or “basal” metabolic rate is simply the calories your body needs to exist everyday. Unfortunately, metabolism slows down by 2% to 5% each decade after you hit 40 years of age. Thankfully, there are ways to ensure that your body maintains its status as an efficient calorie burning machine.

 

5. EAT AT LEAST EVERY FOUR HOURS.

 

Eating on a set schedule of smaller meals/snacks every three to four hours keeps your metabolism active. It takes a lot of effort for your body to digest and process food, so you burn a small amount of calories every time you eat. About 10% of your total calorie intake is spent on digestion.

 

When calories are burned as you digest food, your body produces heat. This is called the thermic effect of food. Instead of eating two to three large meals, split up your eating schedule to approximately six smaller portions of food each day to capitalize on the thermic effect.

 

4. EAT BREAKFAST EVERYDAY, IDEALLY WITHIN AN HOUR OF WAKING UP.

 

Your metabolism slows down while you’re sleeping. Taking the time to eat a healthy breakfast starts your body’s calorie burning power. If you’re pressed for time in the mornings, try keeping peanut butter and fruit sandwiches in your fridge to grab on your way out. Eating breakfast also reduces the chance of binging at lunch.

 

3. EAT AT LEAST 1,000 CALORIES EACH DAY.

 

If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to cut back on calories. Keep in mind that reducing your intake too much will cause your metabolism to slow. When you don’t eat enough, your body goes into conservation mode as a protective mechanism. So, if you’re cutting calories, don’t go overboard.

 

2. EAT PROTEIN WITH EVERY MEAL.

 

While carbs, fat, and protein all contribute to the thermic effect, protein is known to give the best metabolic boost. Skinless poultry, fish, tofu, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy are all good choices to add to meals and snacks.

 

1. BALANCE STRENGTH TRAINING WITH CARDIOVASCULAR TRAINING.

 

A solid amount of calorie burning is devoted to the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue, so strength training has long been established as a means of maintaining an active metabolism. However, don’t forget that cardiovascular aerobic training also produces an after-burn just like resistance work. While the boost in metabolism doesn’t last quite as long as a session in the weight room, it’s definitely worth the effort. Give your system every advantage by making the time to fit in aerobic training at least four to five times per week.

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The core row is one of the best exercises to build strength and size in the upper back. Strong lats and rhomboids are important for fighters because they help boost punching power and improve shoulder health.

Fighters also need a super strong core. The hardest strikers have the strongest cores. A floor crunch, however, won’t cut it for a combat athlete because it only activates part of the core. Abdominal muscles fire most intensely when you are off your back. Research by spinal experts has demonstrated that the core is most active when it resists movement at the spine (an isometric contraction).

An ideal way to train your upper back is with an exercise that also challenges your core—specifically, an exercise that forces your core muscles to fire isometrically.

The core row has been a mainstay in my strength training programs for years. It’s simply one of the best exercises any fighter can do.

PERFORMING THE CORE ROW

1. Get in a push-up position with your hands wrapped around two moderately heavy dumbbells. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width.

2. Brace your abs tight, as if someone were about to punch you in the stomach.

3. Row with your right arm, without letting your hips shift to the left.

4. Row with your left arm, without letting your hips shift to the right.

STAY CONNECTED

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