What Have I Been Up To? Here’s a List

Since last count, I have written over 30 more blog posts for Inverted Gear. We also passed 200 White Belt Wednesday video. Below is a list of everything I’ve written, broken down by theme.

Daniel Bertina interviewed me for a short bio you can read here: Meet the Pandas – Biomechanical Jiu-Jitsu with Nerd Power – Matt ‘Aesopian’ Kirtley. I wrote about my experiences after 5 Years at Black Belt and I’m due to write about my sixth year any time now.

FRC, Stretching, and Mobility

These are a continuation of what I started in Jiu-Jitsu Will Destroy You If You Let It: How I Finally Started Fixing My Broken Body and Functional Range Conditioning and Kinstretch from the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Perspective. In the time since I wrote the original two posts, I have obtained the Functional Range Assessment certification.

Teaching and Learning Methods


How To Guides


Functional Range Conditioning and Kinstretch from the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Perspective

Near the end of 2016, I attended a 2-day Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) seminar at Physical Culture Gym in Largo, FL. You may recall FRC from my big post last year, Jiu-Jitsu Will Destroy You If You Let It: How I Finally Started Fixing My Broken Body. The seminar was lead by the head of Functional Anatomy Seminars, Dr. Andreo Spina (AKA Dre) with assistance from FRC instructors Dewey Nielsen and Michael Ranfone.

Since that seminar, I’ve been fortunate enough to practice under Kinstretch instructors Ryan Bruggeman and Michael Wille and be treated by FRC/FRA/FR trained Dr. Moses Bernard at Physical Culture, and train BJJ and talk FRC with FRC/FRA/FR/Kinstretch certified BJJ black belt Samantha Faulhaber at Gracie Philadelphia. (Kinstretch is a mobility practice based on FRC principles that can be run as group classes. FR is Functional Range Release which is for manual therapy. FRA is Functional Range Assessment.)

I won’t keep you in suspense. All of my experiences with FRC, Kinstretch and FR have been overwhelmingly positive. With joint injuries–both acute and chronic–being the main longevity problem for BJJ athletes, FRC is the perfect combo. It is a system of rehabbing damaged joints and increasing joint mobility (defined as strength and control throughout your flexibility). FRC is now my primary focus alongside BJJ, and I am working on applying it to myself everyday. Many others have reviewed FRC in great detail (you’ll find links to these below) so instead I’m going to share what I think jiu-jitseiros or BJJ coaches would care about.

#KINSTRETCH class @physicalculture_gym 🔻🔻🔻 #ControlYourself #DoANYTHING

A post shared by Dr. Andreo Spina (@drandreospina) on

Priority #1: Do you even have fully functioning joints? The primary goal of FRC is to get each joint working like a real joint. Can it go through its full range of motion? Do you have to involve other joints to “help out”? Is anything painful, crunchy, or pinchy? Are movements smooth and controlled or awkward and jerky? For example, if I tell you to raise your arm overhead then slowly reach back behind you (only moving from the shoulder joint) and you hike your shoulder up to your ear and twist your entire torso to pretend to be able to do it, you don’t have a real shoulder joint. You will be surprised how poorly your joints work once you get someone who has a strict eye for what’s right and wrong. FRC has a system for identifying mobility goals and specifically targeting them, instead of the “Uh, I dunno, do yoga?” advice BJJ guys give each other.

A little while back I shared this case of a swimmer with chronic impingement problems. The previous post showed the top (presentation) and middle (1 week into treatment) frame only. The third frame shows our progress approx 1 month in using basic Functional Range Release (FR)® and Functional Range Conditioning (FRC)® principles. The patient has been pain free for a while, but more important is the dramatic improvement in scapular mobility and control. ————— Articular INDEPENDENCE before articular INTERDEPENDENCE Far too often people are focused on training complex movement patterns before they even have the necessary independent joint functions needed to perform them. The patient below is a swimmer who presented with shoulder problems. It is obvious in the first frame that he lacks scapulo-thoracic dissociation (ie. His scapula and thoracic cage movements are coupled…which means he has no scapulo-thoracic joint so to speak). How then would he perform movements which require this articulation? Compensation. The patient is being managed with: 1. Functional Range Release (FR) to promote relative tissue motion, and to remold aberrant connective tissue resulting from the stress of the compensation patterns 2. Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) to create independent articular motion, build tissue resilience, and improve motor control ———————————- #FunctionalRangeRelease #FRrelease #FR #FunctionalRangeConditioning #FRC #FRCms #ControlYourself

A post shared by Dr. Andreo Spina (@drandreospina) on

Just because you can train an athletic attribute does not mean it’s good for you. At the seminar, wrestler’s neck bridge exercises were given as an example of how athletes need to make trade offs between long term health and short term injury prevention. Wrestlers have determined that the danger of harming their necks doing those bridges is less than the danger of what will happen when you’re forced into the position by an aggressive opponent. At the seminar, Dre joked that when he’s asked how to prevent baseball pitchers from getting torn rotator cuffs, team managers don’t like when his answer is to cancel the game. Humans aren’t meant to throw a ball 95mph 100 times in a day, but we made up sports where we need to. We invent sports and give ourselves reasons to do all kinds of strange things, and we find ways to get better at doing them, but that does not mean it is good for the human organism. Grabbing fully resisting humans by their jackets and tossing them around and trying to break each others’ joints every night falls into this realm.

Train in the ranges you can get injured or don’t be surprised when you get injured there. This is a controversial point because it leads to practices that would make any classically trained physical therapist cringe, like applying americana/kimura pressure to your own shoulder or straining the ACL/MCL on purpose. But if you agree with the science behind the principles of progressive adaptation and specificity (as explained in the FRC lectures), then how else could it work? Let’s state it simply: your body can’t improve its ability to handle something it never experiences. By gradually exposing yourself to that stress and giving the body a chance to adapt, you should gain resilience in that dangerous range. The trick is knowing the safest and effective ways to do this, and that is what FRC aims to do.

Elbow Flexion Eccentric Neutral Grooving [ENG] for BJJ ▪️ "Isolation exercises and bicep curls aren't functional" – This is one of those poor blanket statements that proposes to have the answer before the question is ever asked. If the goal is to thicken the tissues around the elbow in order to increase force absorption and minimize the injurious effects when the 'oh shit' positions happen, then bicep curls are ABSOLUTELY functional. Eccentrics in particular are a wonderful choice as they are the primo solution to increasing tendon strength. In BJJ we would always say the best defense for the arm bar (name the submission) is to not get caught in the arm bar…. wise and true but not realistic. It's going to happen. If you have greater tissue tolerance in that position, not only will that minimize the damage should an injury occur but it also buys you a bit more time to find an escape…. high level BJJ players will always tell you a millisecond can make all the difference. #functionalrangeconditioning #controlyourself #bjj #armbar #frc #functionalanatomyseminars #juijitsu #eccentrics

A post shared by Dewey Nielsen (@deweynielsen) on

BJJers are obsessive to the point of self-destruction. Dre trains BJJ and Dewey is a black belt. Once they found out I was a BJJ guy, they kept dropping advice for training BJJ athletes. A major one was to recognize that BJJ people will train endlessly without doing anything to counteract overuse injuries and crappy joints. You will have to intervene to get them to do correctives, otherwise you get 25-year olds with arthritic hands, elbows that can’t straighten, hips that are stuck permanently in flexion and external rotation, flat duck feet, constant lower back problems, necks that can’t turn, etc. Check out Samantha Faulhaber’s article Stop Glorifying Jiu-Jitsu Injuries.

FRC is not a “just do this one weird trick” mobility routine. Without access to the whole system (either through a seminar or a FRC practitioner), you’re going to struggle to cobble together a worthwhile FRC mobility program. That’s what I did for a while but didn’t feel like I was making gains. Going to the seminar doesn’t give you a simple plan to follow, because you’re mostly learning principles and it’s up to you to apply them. Learning FRC starts with a review of the relevant scientific research (stretching, injury prevention, connective tissue growth, motor neurons, cellular biology, etc.) to dispel myths and present the best evidence for what works. These guiding principles are used to build the framework that the FRC methods fit in to. You will, of course, also learn specific exercises that are common to FRC practice, but without the underlying concepts, it’s difficult to correctly apply them.

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

― Harrington Emerson

The best way to learn the complete FRC system is at a seminar. FRC is not explained in any single book or DVD. Without attending a seminar, the best you can do on your own is read articles like this one, browse through Instagram videos, and watch YouTube channels by FRC practitioners. After attending a FRC seminar, you gain access to resources like the private FRC Facebook group, the monthly FRC newsletter, and the members only section of the FRC website which contains the seminar lectures and many examples exercises.

Going to a FRC seminar is overkill unless you’re a fitness or health professional. At a seminar of over 50 people, I would guess most were chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, or CrossFit instructors–that is, people who make a living by improving other people’s health and performance. I found one strength and conditioning coach who was a purple belt (his telltale Shoyoroll hoodie gave him away), and one MMA fighter/trainer. If you are just looking for a way to add more mobility training to your workout, your best bet is working with a FRC mobility specialist or going to a Kinstretch class. If you have an interest in training others, then a FRC seminar is worth it. Whether you feel an obligation to maintain the long term health of your students as their BJJ instructor is up to you.

Don't be fooled by the 50 second video- this is actually over an hour of work in a time lapse. 🔻 My client John came in today and here's how we broke down our session- Priority one- use FRC principles to improve shoulder internal rotation. We spent about the first 20 minutes going over what he's been doing for homework, and then a little partner work to help the process. 🔻 We then spent about 35-40 minutes doing one-on-one KINSTRETCH work- focus on the rear leg in 90-90 to improve hip internal rotation- and then a brutal upper body series of infinity hovers followed by upper body hinge-work and end-range rotational in the quadruped position- all with the help of extra irradiation using a tennis ball. His shoulders were smoked by the end. 🔻 We finished the last 15 minutes of the session by discussing where he is experiencing some neurological tension and how he can use ISO-ramping with a tennis ball to slowly dissipate said tension. 🔻 Curious to learn more? Find a @kinstretch class near you. Kinstretch.com is now live and you can see who is in your area. No classes yet? Get some one-on-one attention by finding a FRC provider near you at functionalanatomyseminars.com 🔻 Thanks for always letting me film, John. Great work today. #HunterFitness #FRCms #FunctionalRangeConditioning #KINSTRETCH #controlyourself #doANYTHING @drandreospina

A post shared by Hunter Cook (@hunterfitness) on

A lot of what’s going on isn’t visible to the naked eye. There is a world of difference between copying FRC exercises from Instagram videos and being coached by a FRC mobility specialist. Working with Dre and Dewey reminded me of the times I’ve learned “invisible jiu-jitsu” from black belts in the Rickson lineage. Beforehand, you’re thinking “That looks too simple, there can’t be too much to it.” Then you experience it and you realize “Oh, wow, that’s not at all like what I was doing it.” Examples of these “unseen” FRC skills are: generating internal tension, dissociating one joint or muscle from another, maintaining slow diaphragmatic breathing, creating abdominal pressure, resisting yourself throughout a motion, ramping up and down isometric contractions, and focusing your attention into a specific point in a muscle. Without being able to feel that, you can be confused why someone is struggling when they are hardly moving during FRC training.

Your best introduction to FRC is CARs. The bread and butter of FRC is Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs), a practice of taking joints through their fullest range of motion, slowly and with control. A joint-by-joint CARs routine is taught as a daily morning routine. Here are two example CARs routines, both (coincidentally) filmed by Philly-based BJJ black belts:

Jiu-Jitsu Player’s Morning CARs Routine by Samantha Faulhaber

Mobility in an alley Josh Vogel AKA Sloth

You can perform CARs at different levels of intensity, depending on your goals. Morning CARs is low intensity, just waking up the joints and telling the body “Hey, look at all the range of motion I want you to maintain.” Higher levels of irradiation (generating tension throughout your body) can be used to gain new ranges of motion.

How I apply FRC to my BJJ training:

  • Maintain a steady CARs routine. My morning full body CARs is mandatory. Ever time I take a break from work throughout the day, I hit a few joints with CARs, especially hips because of all the sitting at a desk. Before BJJ training is another round of CARs, with extra ones thrown in between rounds of sparring.
  • Work on my FRC homework everyday. With guidance from the FRC experts I’ve train with, I have my own list of things to work on. Here’s what it looks like: internal hip rotation (from neutral, flexion, and extension), hip extension, internal knee rotation, foot “shortening” (intrinsic muscles), spinal segmentation (especially lumbar), thoracic rotation, and scapular control. The exact routine I do is personalized but applies the appropriate methods from the FRC toolbox like PAIL/RAIL, PAL/RAL, ENG, isometric ramping, etc. (These terms are explained in the “more resources” links below.)
  • Incorporate FRC into how I teach BJJ. Just by following my warm-ups, my students are now performing CARs and other basic FRC practices. After training, I will stay to work on my personal FRC homework but I’m happy to have students join me and try it out. In FRC there is a big emphasis on the concept of “movement prerequisites”–making sure your athletes have the mobility to control themselves throughout the ranges you are going to demand of them. In BJJ we ask people to many unusual things with their body, but we take little responsibility for the negative effects it can have. FRC allows you to balance this out.

I understand I did not explain many of the technical aspects of FRC so you may still be scratching your head about how you even “do FRC,” so I’ll leave you with this closing advice and links to where you can learn more:

If you want to apply FRC to yourself:

  • Do CARs every morning. The videos and links I shared here are enough to get started. The most common mistake is doing CARs too fast and loose. Go slower and tighter than feels natural.
  • Work with a FRC mobility specialist. The FRC system goes far beyond CARs. A FRC mobility specialist will be able to guide you through the harder stuff. You can piece some of it together from Instagram videos and blog posts, but I can’t overstate how big of a difference it makes to work with an experienced FRC practitioner. Think about the backyard grapplers who try to learn BJJ from YouTube. It’s like that. Get someone who knows what they’re doing to show you what’s up. Check the “Find a Provider” map on the FRC website.
  • Visit a FR practitioner if you have serious joint problems. Functional Range Release is the system as applied to manual therapy. Even with the seminar experience and access to the official FRC resources, I was having trouble making improvement in problem areas until was treated with FR. You can find health professionals to perform FR on you through the “Find a Provider” map.
  • Attend Kinstretch classes. This is my main recommendation, if you have access to it. Kinstretch classes pack the most punch for your time and money. Check the “Find a Provider” map on Kinstretch.com, but be warned that few places offer it outside of a some major US cities.

If you want to learn the FRC system to practice on others:

  • Find a FRC seminar to go to. The best way to learn all of this is still the formal approach of attending a seminar. Check the “Become a Provider” page of FunctionalAnatomySeminars.com for seminar listings.
  • Be prepared to learn a lot of jargon. The FRC system terminology is heavy with abbreviations and acronyms. I know this is off-putting to people who feel like it’s just rebranding existing stretching techniques, but in the end you’ll appreciate being able to be specific about what you are doing. You’ll also spot borrowed BJJ terms like “rear naked choke grip”, “kimura” stretches, and more.
  • Brush up on your anatomy and physiology. Coming into FRC without a background in medicine or even athletic training, I was out of my depth in some of the more technical lectures, especially when it got into the cellular biology. Thankfully, I know how to use Google and Wikipedia so I got up to speed. You should be fine if you actually went to school for this stuff.
  • Understand the limits of what you can and cannot do. Before you go putting your hands on someone, know the legal limits of how much you can touch and manipulate clients. As BJJers, we’re used to grabbing people in all kinds of nasty ways, but once you start touching people for medical reasons, you need your paperwork in order.

More FRC seminar reviews and resources:

For a good introduction to FRC and Kinstretch from the main man himself, read Dr. Andreo Spina on How to Improve Your Mobility Each Time You Work Out.

Here are links to in-depth reviews by people with better credentials than myself:

Everything tagged “FRC” on the Post Competitive Training Insights blog is worth reading. The author Chris Ruffolo also runs the very good/r/StartMoving subreddit.

More Andreo Spina:

More Dewey Neilsen:

Also check out head FRC instructors Hunter Cook and Dana John Heimbecker and the official Kinstretch Instagram.

Evolution of Effective Training Systems – Dr. Andreo Spina on Onnit’s Total Human Optimization Podcast

Dr. Andreo Spina on Re-Learning to Use Your Body (Functional Range Conditioning Interview) – GMB Podcast


If you’ve missed me, check Panda Nation

Updates to Aesopian.com has been glacial slow in recent years, but that’s not to say I haven’t been busy. Since the beginning of 2016, I have written over 20 articles for the Inverted Gear blog, created over 65 (and counting) White Belt Wednesday videos with Hillary and Nelson, and I may or may not have been a crazed Adidas-wearing panda ninja that chased Nelson around his house with a katana. One of my blog posts even resulted in this t-shirt becoming a real thing:


The purpose of this post is to catalog all that activity in one place.

White Belt Questions, Black Belt Answers:

Solo Drills: Horizontal Movements

My posts to the Inverted Gear Blog:

  1. You Learn Even on the Bad Days
  2. 5 Ways to Take Ownership of Your Progress Today –
  3. How to Fully Develop Your Grappling Gameplan
  4. Building Your Gameplan Around Combo Attacks
  5. The Best Way to Learn from Instructionals
  6. 5 Tips to Keep You on the Long Road to Black Belt and Beyond
  7. Surviving the First Year of BJJ: A Crash Course for White Belts
  8. Advice for Newbie White Belts and Anxious Blue Belts
  9. Getting Through the Blue and Purple Belt Growing Pains
  10. What It Means to be a Brown Belt and How to Make Progress Towards Black
  11. 10 Ways to Improve Your BJJ While Off the Mats
  12. 5 Simple Tips for Fixing Your Wrecked Body
  13. What Drives Success in BJJ
  14. Finding the Right BJJ School for You
  15. How to Teach for Maximum Knowledge Retention
  16. Adventures in Reaping Land: A Review of Reilly Bodycomb’s Rdojo Camp
  17. The Four Corners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  18. Becoming a BJJ Houdini
  19. The Black Belt Secret to Jiu-Jitsu Excuses
  20. Are you playing to win or just not lose?

More content is always in the works, so follow Inverted Gear to get it while it’s hot.


Seminar footage added to Mastering the Crucifix


Have you ever heard of a BJJ instructional suddenly gaining 2 hours of bonus content at no extra cost? Now you have.

We’ve added 2 hours of new seminar footage to Mastering the Crucifix. One seminar is gi, the other no-gi. Artechoke customers who already own MTC can access the bonus content here (you must be logged in):

Don’t own it yet? You can buy Mastering the Crucifix or save money by bundling it with Jeff Rockwell’s Sit-Up Escape System. Get 10% using coupon code RELAUNCH.

The digital nature of Artechoke’s cloud instructionals let’s us do cool things like this. I have a few more additions I plan to make to Mastering the Crucifix later this year.

Let’s take a minute to talk about how cool this is. We’re doing things with BJJ publishing that haven’t been done before.

Marshal is a writer who loves books, but he’s also forwarding-thinking and sees that the future of publishing isn’t made from dead trees. Some time I’ll make him talk about his work to implement a digital distribution model for college textbooks. He was working on ways reduce textbook prices and save college students from being ripped off like they are today.

3-D Jiu-Jitsu was Marshal’s proof of concept. He wanted to know if people would “get” what he’s trying to do. Explaining what makes this different than traditional BJJ instructionals has always been our biggest challenge. Is it a book, a DVD, a BJJ subscription site, a digital download?

The truth is that it’s almost all of those things, but no one exactly. It’s a hybrid. Each component is familiar, but one one else has done it quite like this. That sometimes makes it hard to explain. But when we put it into people’s hands and in front of their eyes, they always go “Wow, this is great! Why didn’t anyone else think of this?”

Today I went through all of Mastering the Crucifix and added up the run time for all its videos. If we released those on DVDs, it would be over 3:30 hours long. Most companies would have split that across 4-6 discs, call it “The Crucifix Trap System: The Black Belt’s Secret to Punishing Any Opponent with Crippling Submissions” and pushed for $175 pre-orders . The price needs to be that inflated so they can pay the 50% affiliate fee to guys who hype it on social media and e-mail lists.

If we published it as a paper book, it would be as big as anything Victory Belt put on book shelves, back when they were into martial arts instead of CrossFit.

If it was in the app store, we’d have to split it into six separate $30 apps to get around the file size limits, like BudoVideos does with their DVDs.

The point I’m making is the Mastering the Crucifix is a big product by any traditional standard, and we went to the trouble of combining all of them in a new way, even adding multi-angle looped demonstrations not seen anywhere else.

Now we’re almost doubling the size of an instructional at no extra cost, basically because I thought “Hey, this would be cool to share.”

I hope you think it’s cool too. Tell a friend if you do.

Remember, Artechoke members have access to the private Artechoke Open Mat group Facebook to ask questions and get answers from authors like me. Find the link in the sidebar after logging in.


Jiu-Jitsu Will Destroy You If You Let It: How I Finally Started Fixing My Broken Body

Anatomy of a Black Belt

Everyone who does BJJ is eventually plagued with injuries. What’s the solution? While I have no magic bullet, if you do the research and put in the work, you can feel and move better. Here is the best advice I’ve found, all in one place.

This is a really long post, and more research has gone into this than anything else on my site, but here’s the 1-minute version if you’re in a hurry:

Quick Advice

  1. Find a physical therapist who understands how to work with athletes. Don’t settle for out-dated methodologies or programs meant for old folks. Go to a therapist who wants to get you back on the mats.
  2. Spend more time moving around and less time sitting. Step away from your desk as often as you can. Go for walks. Set reminders to stretch. Find ways to stand or kneel and take different poses at your desk.
  3. Follow a well-rounded strength and conditioning routine with a focus on improving your health. This could mean doing kettlebells, weightlifting, calisthenics, yoga, or whatever combination makes sense for your body and lifestyle.
  4. Whatever you do, understand how BJJ (and your everyday habits and job) will overwork certain muscles and postures and under-develop others. Be sure you’re balancing those out.
  5. Learn some mobility exercises and prehab tricks for your problem spots. You can go low tech with a $3 lacrosse ball or get mobility gadgets like Rumble Rollers and RAD Roller kits.

In my latest post to the Inverted Gear blog, I said that injuries are likely the main reason people quit BJJ. Even if that not totally accurate, pain will make any other reason to quit easier to listen to. This got people asking “So what is your advice to stay healthy and avoid injury?” That’s what you’ll read below.

This is not an ultimate guide to strength and conditioning for athletic performance in BJJ. We will be talking about many exercise routines and looking at the work of strength coaches, but the focus is restoring health to the joints using basic exercises. I can’t make big promises about resolving pain issues, because pain is a very complicated issue, as I wrote about in The Weird Science Pain and the Brain. I can say this has helped me to resolve many aches and pains and feel better able to withstand the stress of doing BJJ.

The world of strength, fitness, and human performance is vast and sprawling. An expert or guru is around every corner to sell you their secrets. Trying to find “the best” program can send you down many rabbit holes. What are you trying to accomplish? You’ve got strength and conditioning coaches like Joel Jamieson and Martin Rooney. Maybe you want to do gymnastics-based programs with handstands and muscle-ups like GMB and Gymnastic Bodies. You could explore Olympic and powerlifting through Kabuki or Juggernaut. You can get into “movement culture” through MovNat or Ido Portal, who taught us and Conor McGregor all about playing touch butt in the park and dodging pool noodles.

All of those could be good programs, but our goal here is finding the most straight-forward advice for injury rehab/prehab and staying healthy enough to enjoy doing BJJ. Let’s start with what helped me most:

Physical Therapy with a FMS Based Physical Therapist

Back when I was a purple belt, I suffered my worst injury, a lower back injury that still gives me trouble. The exact moment it happened is still clear to me. I was sparring with a bigger partner. I was mounted, but I managed to throw my foot up on the hip like you do for heelhook entries. I pushed him away and he pushed back. I felt a series of snaps in my lower back and felt a flash of white hot pain. I frantically tapped out and laid on the mats in agony for a few minutes.

Being a BJJ bum with no health insurance at the time, I didn’t see a doctor or get treatment. I treated” it with bed rest and taking it easy for a few weeks. But from then on, about every 6 months I would get another flair up and need to quit training for a few weeks.

Years later, when I had the money and health insurance to see doctors, I still had a hard time getting treatment that helped. Clinical doctors couldn’t see why I’d think my hip was causing my back pain. They’d send me to a physical therapist who treated me like a car crash victim and give me “core” exercises meant for fragile old ladies. I remember laying there doing 2 inch leg raises while thinking “You do realize I pick people up on the ends of my feet and toss them around, right?” Simple treatments like that may have their uses, but it did nothing for me.

The big change came when I had the luck of working with a younger physical therapist while my regular one was on vacation. This PT was following modern research and took the attitude of “let’s get you back to training.” She knew what BJJ was and was a competitive athlete herself, having done track and field in college and now Olympic lifting. She put me on a very proactive routine that didn’t treat me as fragile.

She also immediately saw the connection between my hip problems and my back pain. My injury gave me snapping hip syndrome, which is when a tendon catches against the head of the femur and “snaps” (sometimes audibly) during hip flexion and internal/external rotation. While this never quite hurt, it didn’t feel right, and it started the moment I had my major injury. This continued for years until my physical therapist went hands on to massage the psoas-iliacus back to where it’s supposed to be.

She got me on a more active rehab exercise routine using single leg Romanian deadlifts, banded bridges, couch stretch, and various other exercises specific to my problems. Your therapist should come up with a program custom to you.

From X-rays and MRI’s, I now know that I have femoral acetabular impingement, which is to say the head of the femur is larger than it should be, causing it to contact the hip socket too much, especially during hip flexion. This limits my internal hip rotation and causes lower back pain. It only took seeing 4 doctors before I got referred to a hip specialist who could correctly diagnosis this.

Through my PT, I got turned on to the Functional Movement Screen, and through that to Gray Cook, Brett Jones, Mark Cheng, and Tracy and Mark Reifkind, all of whom you should Google and check out. They also all lead me towards kettlebells.

Pavel’s Simple & Sinister Kettlebell Program

Early in 2015, I listened to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Pavel, the famous kettlebell guru. I’d first heard of Pavel back in the early 2000’s, but I disregarded him then because his Soviet marketing shtick didn’t appeal to me. “Comrade, I show you KGB Cold War kettlebell secret!” But Pavel came across as very intelligent and no-nonsense on Ferriss’ podcast, and a lot of what he said about training for health and fitness made sense. That got me to look into his new organization, StrongFirst, and while they still wear cargo pants and overuse “Comrade!”, their branding is less cheesy and they put out a very good information on strength training.

Pavel offers a kettlebell program called Simple & Sinister that basically consists of these five exercises:

  1. Goblet squats
  2. Halos
  3. Knee-squeeze bridges
  4. Kettlebell swings
  5. Turkish get-ups

This is the workout I’ve followed for most of the past year and I have enjoyed good results from it. It is a minimalist workout that doesn’t require any equipment beyond one or two kettlebells and doesn’t take more than 30 minute. It isn’t optimized for any one person or sport, but it’s not trying to be (and you can easily add to it).

Learning to do everything from an e-book wasn’t easy. The two DVDs that have helped me the most were”Kettlebells from the Ground Up” and “Kettlebells from the Center Dynami,” both by Grey Cook and Brett Jones.

Dan John’s Basic Human Movements

Through StrongFirst, FMS, and William Wayland (more on him below), I kept running across strength coach Dan John. He has since become one of my favorite guys in the strength and conditioning world for his friendly, no-nonsense approach. He gets credited with popularizing the goblet squat.

Dan writes and speaks about the five basic human movements. He gives them as:

  1. Push
  2. Pull
  3. Hinge
  4. Squat
  5. Loaded carry

Per a recent lecture Dan gave, that list may have expanded to include static holds and presses. Other coaches add movements like rotation, counter-rotation, lunges, brachiation (swinging arm to arm like a monkey), etc. to that that list too. Whatever list you go by, it gives you a good measure to judge your programming by. Are you doing all of these basic things? If not, you can make a big improvement by simply adding whichever one you’re missing.

The loaded carries in particular have been a great addition. They require zero technical proficiency beyond “pick up something heavy and walk around with it.” Try ending your BJJ training sessions with these if you’re not into doing a full workout.

Dan has many good articles between his website DanJohn.net, as well as T-Nation, and the StrongFirst blog. You should sign up for his weekly newsletter too.

Kelly Starrett’s Becoming a Supple Leopard and Mobility WOD

By now I expect most grapplers to know about CrossFit coach Kelly Starrett, either through his book Becoming a Supple Leopard or his popular Mobility WOD YouTube channel. Odds are good that if you look up a treatment for a sports injury on YouTube, you’ll find Kelly showing how to stretch or smash or roll it out.

One of the worst flair ups of my back pain happened a week before I was scheduled to teach a seminar. While practicing a simple move, my back suddenly went into excruciating spasms that made it hard to even breath. This went on for a few days, and nothing I tried helped. I could hardly even stand up or walk.

While laying in bed feeling sad for myself, I remembered months earlier seeing a friend grinding around on a lacrosse ball. He’s a CrossFit coach and he had mentioned he did that because of Supple Leopard. I went out and picked up a lacrosse ball from Sports Authority. It turned out to be was the best $3 I ever spent. Rolling it against my back did nothing, but I felt immediate relief from rolling the front of my hip joint. The change was dramatic, and I’ve never felt faster relief to a more painful back problem before or since.

Other coaches will argue over certain rules Kelly gives for body alignment (like foot placement in the squat), and he may have accidentally got guys spending too much time foam rolling instead of really working out, but if you need a way to “mobilize” or work on a grissley joint, he has enough mobility exercises to fill Mary Poppin’s bottomless handbag.

To learn more, you can find literally hundreds of videos of Kelly teaching mobility with a Google search. He also has two newer books, Deskbound and Ready to Run, that give health and mobility advice to office workers and runners, respectively.

For more mobility and prehab routines designed specifically for BJJ, check out Order & Progress and download their free e-book. Joe DeFranco’s Limber 11 mobility routine is worth trying out too.

Dr. Stuart McGill’s Core Exercises

“The core” is the most over-used term in fitness and physical therapy. Most people I’ve talked to assume a “strong core” means having six-pack abs. That’s not it. A more complete and accurate definition includes every muscle that helps stabilize your spine, from your neck down to your butt, front and back, left and right, and internally. How to train and strengthen the core is also a something most people are doing wrong. This is where I turn to Dr. Stuart McGill.

McGill literally wrote the textbook on spinal rehab and has worked with top athletes in the Olympics, powerlifting, BJJ and MMA. Most of the other experts listed here refer to McGill’s research when talking about the spine.

If you have a low back problem, McGill’s book Back Mechanic is the best purchase you can make. Having read his two two other big books — Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance — I can say they are extremely comprehensive, but very dry and dense. Only pick those up if you’re a medical professional or a serious sports trainer.

Per McGill’s research, I now do these four exercises everyday:

  1. Curl up
  2. Side plank
  3. Bird dog
  4. Stir the pot

All of those are shown in the video above, and you can find many more explanations of each on YouTube. The first three are what McGill calls “the non-negotiables” because everyone should do them.

This YouTube playlist has more valuable advice and talks from McGill. You should also read this two part interview on T-Nation (his opinions on CrossFit are entertaining too). You can also listen to him speak on many podcasts.

William Wayland’s Advice for Grapplers

William Wayland introduced me to these two important terms: 1) upper and lower crossed syndromes (explained here), and 2) fuckaboutitis (explained here).


William has written many great posts for the Scramblog, all of which I wish I had followed the advice of sooner:

Steve Maxwell’s Mobility and Corrective Exercises

Steve Maxwell has been a major figure in both the BJJ and fitness worlds for decades. He was Royce’s fitness coach for the first UFC’s, and he was arguably the first guy doing kettlebells in the US. Even Pavel credits Steve with bringing the Turkish get-up and halo to kettlebell culture. These days Steve is probably known best for his mobility workshops, but he’s done every strength and conditioning method under the sun. I got to experience this firsthand when I attended one of his joint mobility seminars, where we spent 4 hours running through a variety of mobility and strength training methodologies. I even got to hold his original hand-welded stainless steel kettlebells, courtesy of their custodian, Jason C. Brown.


In a blog post about the history of kettlebells, Steve points out that pure kettlebell programs lack two key movements: vertical pulling and horizontal pushing. He also gives very easy fixes for this: pull ups, push ups, and dips.

Steve has many fitness products including DVDs and digital downloads. His older World Martial Arts DVD set Encyclopedia of Joint Mobility is extremely comprehensive, but at 3 hours long, it will be information overload for most. I’d stick with his more recent downloadable videos through his website. I enjoyed Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime: The Corrective & Balancing Workouts and still use much of it. At his seminar, Steve recommended Universal Mobility, which is cheap at only $15.

Perhaps the best advice I’ve got from Steve was that BJJ on its own is going to be so taxing on your mind and body that any strength and conditioning training you do needs to be simple and focus on basics.

Jason C. Brown’s Kettlebell Workouts for BJJ

While venturing into the world of kettlebells, I often turn to Jason C. Brown, a long-time advocate for kettlebells for BJJ. He’s who I’m holding Steve’s kettlebells with in the photo above.

If you want to steal one thing from Jason, my vote is for the half kneeling clean to twisting press from the video above. Then swipe his 1.5 stance for swings and cleans. Your hips will thank you. Go check out his Bamboo Blog too.

Dr. Andreo Spina’s FRC

Most recently, I’ve been getting into the work of Dr. Andreo Spina, the man behind Functional Anatomy Seminars. Spina loves his acronyms and registered trademarks, and his system is build around a host of them: FR, FRC, FAP, TTT, CAR, PAIL, RAIL, IsoMP… Once you wrap your head around the jargon, the joint mobility system he lays out is very comprehensive and effective.

In particular, check out controlled articular rotations (CARs), a method keeping joints healthy and moving well. The best guides to those (that I can find without digging through hundreds of 15 second Instagram clips or going to a $1000 seminar) are Philly BJJ black belt Josh Vogel’s “Mobility in an alley” video paired with these two articles:

You can learn a lot digging through Spina’s YouTube and Instagram too. Try Googling whatever terms he uses to find people who have written reviews of his seminars with more explanations.

There you have it. That’s my list of the people and practices that have helped me the most. To put it all together, here’s what my routine looks like now:

  • Starting every day with light movement, usually Dr. Spina’s CAR’s routine and Steve Maxwell exercises.
  • Performing McGill’s “Big 3 non-negotiable” core exercises everyday (bird dog, side plank and curl up). I now start my BJJ classes with those too.
  • Doing Pavel’s Simple & Sinister kettlebell program, with push-ups and pull-ups added thanks to Steve Maxwell’s advice.
  • My phone is set to remind me to get up and move every hour so I don’t fall into a trance at my computer. I do exercises like squats, push ups, rubber band pull-aparts, or more CAR’s.
  • Spending as much time barefoot as possible, including when I walk my dog, even if that makes me look like the neighborhood weirdo. (Don’t worry, I wash my feet before BJJ.)
  • Rolling around on lacrosse balls and other mobility gizmos to hit my problem spots.

The biggest challenge is just picking a starting point and sticking to it. Start doing something simple and add to it as you go. Anyone I wrote about above will get you going in the right direction.


Register for Mastering the Gi Crucifix Seminar in Chicago on Fri, June 10


Mastering the Gi Crucifix Seminar
at Chicago Martial Arts

Friday, June 10th, 2016
6:30 to 9:30pm

In this 3-hour Mastering the Gi Crucifix Seminar you will learn:

  • How to incorporate the crucifix position into your back attack gameplan
  • Crucifix setups and submissions that are unique to gi grappling
  • The timing and awareness to achieve the crucifix against a skilled grappler
  • Positional recovery skills to make troubleshooting easier as you learn the new positions
  • Core grappling concepts you can apply across the rest of your game

Pre-register: $40 – Click here to sign up for Mastering the Gi Crucifix (via PayPal)
At the door: $50

Location and Directions: 

Chicago Martial Arts
151 South Pfingsten Road, Suite E and F, Deerfield, IL 60015
Directions on Google Maps

Don’t forget the following day I’ll be teaching a NO-GI Mastering the Crucifix seminar at 10th Planet Chicago. You can save $10 by registering for both seminars: Click here to register for GI and NO-GI.


Mastering the No-Gi Crucifix Seminar – Sat, Jun 11 at 10th Planet Chicago – Register Now


Mastering the No-Gi Crucifix Seminar
at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu Chicago

Saturday, June 11th, 2016
Noon to 3pm

Open to all styles, schools and affiliations!

Matt “Aesopian” Kirtley has built a reputation as a BJJ black belt for his highly-detailed technical instruction and simple explanations of even seemingly complex concepts. Matt has spent years developing his knowledge of the crucifix position, going as far as to release Mastering the Crucifix, the most comprehensive instructional available on the topic.

This 3-hour Mastering the No-Gi Crucifix Seminar will focus on:

  • Crucifix entries, setups and transitions from the top or bottom.
  • Key concepts to control and maintain the various crucifix positions.
  • The essential no-gi crucifix submissions, including the one-handed rear naked choke.
  • Demystifying the rolling reverse omoplata (AKA Yadviga) so anyone can do it.
  • Drills and games to quickly develop skills in all the crucifix positions and submissions.

This seminar is appropriate for beginners or advanced grapplers. All students will get one-on-one attention from Matt and a chance to ask anything during a Q&A.

Pre-register: $40 – Click here to sign up (via PayPal)
At the door: $50


10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu Chicago
6154 W Higgins Ave, Chicago, IL 60630


Are you making excuses or making progress?

Two new posts written by yours truly are up on the Inverted Gear blog. I’m proud of both and you should check them out:

I’ll be at Reilly Bodycomb’s 3-day Rdojo sambo camp in NJ this weekend along with Nelson and Hillary from Inverted Gear, so you can expect a write-up on that experience in the near future!