I’ve been tinkering with this post for a long time, apologies for the tardiness. I thought I was busy. Then we had a daughter. And I really thought I was busy. Then we got pregnant and had another daughter, and I’m no longer busy, I just never stop!
Each year lived is a milestone of sorts I guess, but this year has been of particular significance to me. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has an interesting perspective on the number 42. It may or may not be the answer to the Universe, but this has certainly been an age of answers for me.
It’s hard to believe, but NorCal Strength & Conditioning celebrated its 10th anniversary in business on my b-day back in January of this year. On the one hand it feels like time has gone by in a blink, on the other, this process does not feel a day less than 20 years in the making! Whatever the case, this piece from the best movie ever made (Grosse Point Blank, in case you were unclear on that) encapsulates my feelings on this milestone:
I want to take a moment and say thank you to one of my mentors, Coach Greg Glassman. Yes, lots of water under the bridge, but Greg played a key role in helping me figure out what the heck I wanted to do with my life. When I opened NorCal (then CrossFit NorCal…the 4th CrossFit affiliate in the world) I was also contemplating a graduate degree in biochem or toxicology, running a Capoeira group (where I met Nicki incidentally) and trying to be the best athlete I could be. At dinner after the grand opening, Coach Glassman was talking to me and said the following: “Robby, you can be the Capoeira Kid, get a Phd, or you can run a successful gym. But you can do only ONE of these, not all of them.” This was said with no malice, and ironically, no weight one way or the other. Greg was simply relating the fact that it’s tough to be successful in one endeavor at a time, almost a guarantee of mediocrity or ruin if one does not focus on a singular activity (at least until that task is completed). I thought about this a good bit and I realized I enjoyed running that gym more than anything I’d ever done in my life. I could teach, research, train and also practice my own goofy form of “performance art” doing the job of a strength coach. The rest, as they say, is history. So, I wanted to take a minute to thank Coach Glassman for his help and guidance early in my career as a gym owner.
My food and training
Apologies if this is a bit self indulgent talking about how my training and food have altered over time, but I get a lot of questions surrounding these topics. I’ll look at the training piece first, the food second. The two have really worked in synchrony as I’ve tried to figure out not only how to optimize my performance, but also work to keep me as productive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
I’ve been in love with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for a loooong time. How long? Well, I should have a 10th degree black-belt at this point, but although I was exposed to BJJ many years ago, I’ve seldom had more than a week or two of instruction at any given stint and have gone literally 5 or more years between doing any type of organized training. I finally tracked down both a fantastic Coach and school in Kelley Farrell and Conviction MMA. I’ve been pretty consistent (2-3 classes per week for a bit over about 18 months), and last July I was awarded my blue belt (or my plan of washing my white belt with my blue Gi finally paid dividends!). I’ve been making pretty good progress, hitting 2-3 group classes per week, while also getting in a private lesson here and there if possible. AT 42 I’ve had to learn how to really listen to my body, and on those days when I’m not feeling great, I don’t train. Even on my good days I try to pace, use technique, and “leave some gas in the tank.” These strategies have helped a lot, but I am still often knackered after a hard session. This has encouraged (forced?) me to take a VERY minimalist approach to my peripheral strength and conditioning activities. (As of Sagan’s arrival I’ve only hit 2 classes in the past 6 weeks)
My strength work has consisted of 2 days per week of generally low volume, periodized, barbell and rudimentary gymnastics work. I’ll give you a general outline and then fill in details on how I’ve modified things over. My BJJ has generally happened on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with an occasional private on another day, or perhaps in place of a group class. My strength work has occurred on Sunday and Wednesday, while I have fiddled with doing a bit of low level cardio (ala-Joel Jameson’s “RoadWork 2..0”) perhaps one other day.
My strength work has looked like this:
Warm-up & Mobility**
Squat or lunge variant
Vertical press, Vertical Pull (Press + Chins for example)
Abs & low back (low back 3/1 volume of abs)
BJJ specific mobility
Warm up & Mobility
Deadlift, Olympic lift (mainly PC or HPC) or Hip bridge variant
Horizontal press, Horizontal pull (bench or dips + rows or body rows for example)
Abs & low back (low back 3/1 volume to abs)
BJJ specific mobility***
So, a few things to keep in mind here:
-I’m really busy
-I’m getting kinda “high mileage”
-Related to above, my recovery is the limiting factor in making progress
-My S&C needs to support, not detract from my on-the-mat efforts.
To this end I have generally kept my volume pretty low, with my relative intensity (%1-rep max) relatively high, in the 80-90% range for the most part). Here’s a few ways that I’ve sliced and diced that:
If you coach people In an S&C format and are not familiar with the Prilepin’s chart…Well, let’s fix that deficiency, ok tiger?
Week 1 – 5×3 @80%
Week 2 – 5×2@85%
Week 3 – 6X1@90%
Week 4 – De-load (2×3 @70%)
Week 5 -Test max on new movements
Change movements a bit, start over. This worked pretty well but it requires some calculator work to get your percentages. I’m lazy, I’ve been doing gym based lifting since I was 13, so this stuff gets tiring quickly. I was talking with John Welbourn about this and he constructed a simple, Bulgarian inspired template that looked pretty close to the following:
Find a “max” (anywhere from 1-5 reps) Reduce load 10-20%, hit your volume work based off the Prilepin chart. For example, I might hit 245lbs x2 on the bar dip (175 lbs BW+ 70lbs of external load) then reduce that by ~20% (I’d just round that up to 250 lbs, which makes 20% about 50 lbs ). So my work sets should be about 195-200lbs. I have a 35lb KB that works well in my harness set-up, so I’ll just run with that and get some volume work by doing say 5×2 on the dip with a total load of about 205Lbs. Scientific? Precise? Not super-duper, but it’s a plan, and I’m making progress both in the gym and while grappling.
A couple of caveats here to understand how this works:
-My “max” is an “un-aroused” FAST rep (or reps). By un-aroused I mean I’m not listening to Township Rebellion, pacing the gym and sniffing ammonia ampules before the lift. I maintain a pretty placid effect, I do my abdominal bracing and all that, but it’s not a massively stressful effort. An important feature of doing all that correctly is making sure that your bar or movement speed is FAST. The raising portion of my squat for example is less than a second, I don’t grind and you’d not even really notice a sticking point. Down under control then ZIP! The bar goes up. Now, is this a “true” max? No, of course not, but you cannot max at that level all the time without cooking yourself (even the WestSide Barbell guys are not doing competition style “maxing” on a daily basis). What I’m doing is moving a relatively heavy load based on my recovery and ability THAT DAY. If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll go a bit heavier. If I spent the previous day rolling with a 240lb, 26 year old police officer, I might be a bit knackered, and gym efforts will reflect this. I really like this approach and made good gains while staying fresh. I weigh between 170-175 and my top end back squat ranged from 315-365. Not massive weight, but keep in mind that weight is moving FAST. There is a reality that, if I’m getting my ass kicked on the mat, it’s due to a lack of technique and experience, not strength or power, so this is plenty heavy for my purposes.
A few important points:
-The above is perhaps a note on intensity; this is a note on volume. The bottom end of the Prilepin chart is NOT a lot of work, but it is plenty for me. As I mentioned before, I have lifted weights for more than 20 years and I’m reasonably fast twitch. Combine a long training history with the ability to turn things on explosively, and you have an easy recipe for over-training. If you are newer to lifting, not fast twitch, or just a better human being than I am, then perhaps you could roll 5 days per week AND be at the top end of the Prilepin chart with regards to volume. This cavemen, cannot!
-Why do any strength work at all? I keep the low volume strength work in the mix as I feel it provides a bit of “armor plating” that I’d not have if I “just rolled” all the time. There are some people like Marcello Garcia who do little if any peripheral S&C and they are phenomenal; other folks have a program not significantly different from mine. The most important part of combatives practice is doing that activity, but developing attributes such as strength, power or flexibility can certainly be beneficial so long as you keep the emphasis in the right places.
I’ve followed some kind of a two-day split like this for almost two years. Again, I have liked it, but as things have gotten busier with the certification (more on that later), and we get closer to WolfCub#2’s arrival (now past!), I’m going to shift to hitting my workouts “on the fly.” I’ve talked about this a bit on the podcast, but I’m going to have 2 different movement days that I alternate between. I’ll set a timer while I’m working at my snazzy standing work station, and when my 30-40 min work bolus is up, I’ll run up to the garage and do a quick circuit of the movements I’ve described above. Part of this is to get more work done, part is after talking with Dan Pardi I think spreading activity throughout the day might confer some health benefits. And finally, I’m just bored as hell lifting weights alone in my often chilly-ass-gym. When I get blocks of time to do something I want to run around with Zoe, go to BJJ, do some bow hunting near the house. Just about ANYTHING besides spending a solid hour in my gym alone. So, I’ll give folks an update on that in a few months. –Update on this: Zoe now trains with me most mornings. She plays on the rings, climbs around on ropes and practices OL’s and squats with a wooden dowel. It is fun as hell and she claps for me when I lift something and says “Dada, that’s REALLY heavy!” Oddly enough, I like lifting again!
If one wanted to take a long term approach with the two templates described above one could use the low-volume Prilepin plan for 3-4 weeks, then do a 4 week accumulation block (increase volume, maintain relative intensity…perhaps in the 75-85% range) then use the Bulgarian approach for a 2-3 week intensification block. Every 4th week cut volume in half as a de-load week. I think one could ride that pony for a long, long time.
Given that I’m time crunched I have to be selective about what I throw into my training. When I look at the demands of BJJ I see a lot of problems with kyphosis of the shoulders (rounding forwards) and serious ab/hipflexor dominance. To address these problems I’ve incorporated the following:
1- 3 to 1 back/hip extension work vs. ab/trunk flexion work
2- Dislocates, both weighted and un-weighted, supinated and pronated (hat tip to Coach Sommer of Gymnastics Bodies for these)
This first video is an exact visual description of how NOT to do this exercise:
Start with a light weight (or just a dowel) and work at a rep scheme of 10-12, perhaps 3-5 sets amidst your other dynamic warm-up. Slowly, walk your hands closer as your mobility allows. Your posture should not change front to back, it should not be “grindy” nor should you look like you are giving birth, like the chap in the above video. Once you have worked your hands pretty close to shoulder width, add some weight. If you want to start with 5-10lbs, and can accomplish that load with good form, but wide hands, no problem. The loading will remarkably strengthen the shoulders. The point is to work slowly, without pain. Here is an option for strengthening that hard to train shoulder-extension movement:
Coach Sommer has some young gymnasts that do dislocates with hands shoulder width and get this…a 45lb bar! Trust me, this will do miracles for your shoulders and posture so long as you keep your ego in check and do not turn this into a competition.
3- Skin the Cats
Carl Paoli demonstrates a great STC in this video, he also provides a nice series of progressions:
A key feature of the STC is that the palms are FULLY supinated, placing enormous load on the biceps tendon. Many people can do STC’s or back levers without full shoulder external rotation. It looks kinda cool, but is a dead end with regards to development and will not open the thoracic region at all like proper form. If these are new to you, get a coach and/or follow the progressions conservatively. I’ve seen one person suffer a sterno-clavicular separation jumping into these with inadequate progression.
4- Back bends. As I said above, BJJ tends to make folks kyphotic (rounded forward). All of these mobility exercises tend to undo that process. Perhaps my best diagnostic tool for gauging shoulder mobility and thoracic health is the back bend. This young lady actually has a nice progression in the video BUT she appears to be relying on low back hypermobility and actually is lacking some shoulder girdle/thoracic mobility as I will show in the next video:
Notice in this video that the individuals’ back is in extension, but not to the degree of the young lady above. Instead, this person is able to fully open the shoulders:
I like the progression of the first video but if you search around there are lots of ways to incorporate the backbend into your program. Wall-walks are a great example. I’d like to see more shoulder opening than in this video, but you should get the idea:
Along this line, but controversial in rehab circles, is the wrestlers bridge. Clearly you could seriously damage yourself with these. But, if you are doing some kind of grappling or combat sports I have a sneaky suspicion that strengthening the neck in a controlled, progressive manner MIGHT mitigate injury risk. Crazy, I know.
I’m pretty confident this work will mitigate and reverse the kyphotic effects of BJJ. I think it will injury proof the elbows, neck and interestingly, the low back. This work is introduced to specifically unwind what grappling does to my body. Additional mobility work includes foam-rolling, and your usual stretching activities. I DO implement these in a different way: I stretch between sets of strength work. I know the literature says it will decrease my maximum force output, but I’ve done this for years and I “like” both the time efficiency and effects. When I was powerlifting I could front and side split cold. I did front and side splits between my squatting and dead lifting. Maybe this will fracture the space-time continuum, or perhaps it will help you integrate your mobility AND your strength. I can only front split cold now as I’ve not worked stretching with my strength work for a long time. I’ve reincorporated this practice due to time constraints and I still like the effects.
My warm-ups are pretty general. Arm circles, trunk twists, skipping, bounding, etc. Just trying to get my core temp up and get things moving. Once I get the general work out of the way I will work on some neuro-activation activities. For the lower body I will use things like snapdowns:
Or kneeling squat jumps:
I’m not actually a fan of adding weight to this exercise, I prefer to progress the height that I’m jumping up to. For upper body I will do plyo-push-ups for pressing and straight arm ball-slams for pulling. Remember this is activation and warm-up. Reps are low (1-3) sets may be high (5-10) and tempo of movement is FAST.
My workouts usually progress from general warm-up, dynamic mobility, neuro-activation movements, speed-strength movements (o-lifts), strength, then conditioning if I’m doing any that day.
I have fought doing “cardio” since birth. I like stomping around hiking, doing sports, hunting, etc, but just getting out and running or hanging out on a concept 2 rower for an hour has seemed like Dante’s 7th layer of Hell. In talking to Joel Jameson however, I realized that “perhaps” some of my recovery problems with BJJ “might” be a lack of development of that pesky “aerobic engine.” To that end I’ve implemented a bit of Joel’s RoadWork 2.0 and shockingly: as my basic aerobic conditioning has improved, my anaerobic activity goes better AND I recover faster. I’m lazy, I’m a moron, but I also used to be able to flat-foot dunk a tennis-ball, so the ‘aerobic” stuff is really not in my wheelhouse! I have used a variety of strategies for the RW2.0 including the concept 2 rower, Schwinn airdyne, some outdoor running, jump rope, etc. I have also mixed some bodyweight circuit type stuff into this just trying to keep the intensity at more of an aerobic vs anaerobic pace. All in all I’d say this has been good for me, although I must admit BORING. When the weather permits I try to get out and hike and do a bit of hill sprints (the area around my house is either “up” or “down”…you need to be a detective to find more than 50 yard of flat earth around here) I’m at a point where I’d rather do stuff that is “fun” even if it does not optimize my BJJ game. I want to be competitive, but I have a limited tolerance for doing things I flat dislike, even if it is going to help my rolling. 20 min of hill sprints with a long rest period may not help my BJJ as much as an hour of jogging, jump rope or airdyne, but I actually “like” the hill sprints and do not want to shoot myself while doing them.
I almost don’t want to write about my chow as the Orthodox Paleoites and Low Carb Jihadis always come knocking. Questions are welcome, however, bold unsubstantiated claims will be deleted. Quasi-religious missives will get a banned IP.
I’m THAT burned out on the food warz. But I feel the need for some kind of exculpatory clause, s0 here it is:
I see zero controversy starting with some kind of an anti-inflammatory “paleo” type diet. Do it strict if you do not feel well. Do it religiously if you have a serious illness. Play with carb intake. If you are really active, particularly in glycogen demanding sports, I think you will need a decent amount of carbs. Some endurance types may be able to make a largely ketogenic approach work. Folks with a variety of illnesses could greatly benefit from a ketogenic approach. Right tool, right job.
My own eating has seen a dramatic increase in carb intake. Up from 75-150g/day to as high as 400g on a really frisky training day. I tend to stick a big whack (100g+) in the post workout meal. I stick with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and some white rice occasionally. My performance is good, I’m pretty lean (pic below). But it was not an easy transition. The first couple of months of eating higher carb I would frequently experience vision changes after eating. I never did track my blood sugar, but…that ain’t good.
Here are the things that really helped:
1- Post workout carb feeding. I try to match carb intake and relative volume and training, be that weights or BJJ. A long, difficult grappling session will see up to 150g of carbs in the PWO window. A low volume weight session might see only 50g.
2- Resistant starch. Richard has really cracked open the RS topic for the paleo scene, check out his primer on that.
The RS + Prescript Assist has been incredible for both my digestion and my glycemic control. That link above provides some proposed mechanisms on euglycemia, inflammation etc.
3- Donating blood. One factor that can cause inflammation and consequently impaired insulin sensitivity is excess iron. I was at the high end of “normal” on iron, ferritin and a few other related markers so I started donating blood. Anthony Colpo wrote about this on his blog, which is largely what got this on my radar. I have not had a follow-up yet to see how/if levels have changed, but the literature is pretty clear on expected rate of iron removal with a given schedule. I’ve played with cycling protein as low as .25g/lb bw/day to as high as 1.0g/lb bw. I’ve done this both on training and non-training days and I kinda like it. One of the big upsides of fasting and ketosis is cellular autophagy and protein recycling. I’m under enough stress that fasting is not really in the cards for me (other then I do tend to eat about 5pm, then not again until 9 or 10 am…so 15-16 hrs is built into the schedule) but ramping protein intake up and down has been interesting and a bit liberating. As to fat intake I’ve not really been adding much fat to meals. I’ll have some bacon, I’ll maybe put a bit of butter on some sweet potato, but whereas in the past I would consciously add nuts, coconut oil, etc to meals. I Just stick with the fat that comes from the meat I eat.
Risk Assessment and Certification
Just a short bit about this as I’ll have comprehensive blog post coming soon on this topic. We are in beta testing for the nutrition cert and that is going well. My original goal with this program was to have essentially a clone of myself…or damn close to it. Ambitious? Yep. Realistic? Nope. The first couple of folks we put through the original cert material nearly cried. And these were REALLY sharp folks in the ancestral health scene. So, in working with Shanti and Ethan at Specialty health we turned this whole thing on it’s head. The cert starts off general, relatively easy, with a good dose of practical implementation. As folks progress through the program they will eventually work through some pretty tough material, but for the initial levels, we need folks to show they understand this basic evolutionary medicine model and in particular, have a solid understanding of metabolic syndrome and basic lipidology. Even though we’ve tried to streamline that material, the lipidology will make some folks toes curl! I do not have pricing yet, but this stuff will not break the bank and will be similar to other programs. We will have both individual and facility certifications. Certified facilities will be eligible for City Zero to seek out contracts (police, military, fire and corporations) on their behalf. We are still finishing up details on all this…trust me, I’ll let y’all know as soon as we are done! This whole cert has dramatically transformed in that originally it was going to be my take on the evomedicine gig. Now, we have about 10 people contributing material and it will dovetail into the risk assessment program. Venn diagrams and flow-charts to follow! It is so much more, so much better than what I had in mind originally. It’s just been a bastard getting it all done.
I’m on the board of directors of a Savory Institute hub that went outside of Reno. We managed to get funding secured, got Abbey and Spencer to Africa to train with the Savory folks and now we are working to reverse the man-made desert that is northern Nevada. This area has been dry for a very long time, but it was not long ago that it was productive grassland. Hopefully, we are taking some steps to reverse all of that.
Sagan Rose Wolf
July 30th of this year we added the 2nd wolf cub to our clan, Sagan Rose Wolf. We REALLY thought we were having a boy. We were wrong! She is a joy and doing great. Zoe is a fantastic big sister and I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to do work that I enjoy, that matters (I hope!) and to have this amazing family.
Hopefully you’ve found some of this helpful or interesting. I planned on getting this up days after my 42nd b-day but I’m only 9-ish months late! I’m excited for the projects that are underway. I feel self-conscious saying this but I think this stuff will change the world. Having kids makes one think about legacy. Growing older forces one to think about time left in the hour-glass and how that is going to get spent. Sharing milestones like some of the important things I’ve been up to in this 42nd year on Earth helps me to feel connected and accountable. Thanks to everyone for the continued help, support and belief in this process.
I do think I’ll lie and say I’m 42 for a couple of years though! If it’s the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, why mess with that?