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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I’ll be in Flagstaff, AZ in a few weeks to teach a seminar at my friend Greg’s new school, The Jiu-Jitsu Club.
The seminar is on Sat, Nov 14, 2015. It will be 3 hours from 10am to 1pm, and be split 50/50 between gi and no-gi. I’ll be showing a lot of crucifix material by popular demand, but I’ve also got special techniques and concepts I’ve really been wanting to share. You can ask whatever you want at Q&A at the end.
Pre-register by calling (813) 540-1761. It’s only $40 if you pre-register, or $50 at the door. All affiliations and belts are welcome.
Message me if you’re in the area and maybe we can meet up outside the seminar too. I’ll be teaching the Thu morning class before the seminar, and probably the Mon morning and evening classes after the seminar too.
Over a year ago, I set out to review Kelly Starrett‘s book Becoming a Supple Leopard and its claims to “improve your athletic performance, extend your athletic career, treat stiffness and achy joints, and prevent and rehabilitate injuries.”
This is not that review. (Sorry to disappoint.)
Starrett came to my attention as the CrossFit coach on Youtube with good videos about stretching against resistance bands, smashing your butt with lacrosse balls, and the importance of deep squatting like you’re pooping in the woods. Supple Leopard is Starrett’s attempt to collect up all these tips and tricks into a systematic framework. My opinion on how well he did that will come at a later date.
What has delayed my review so long is the twisting rabbit hole I fell down once I began researching the science (and pseudoscience) of sports performance, physical therapy and especially pain neurology. Every time I think I finally had a handle on the topic, I find another study, another expert, another methodology that makes sense but contradicts the others.
The purpose of this post is not to try to sort out what is right or wrong (as if I could) but to share the most interesting talks and articles on pain science I’ve run across. These will be referenced when the real review comes out, but I’d like to get this out first.
Studying the material below, you’ll learn how our understanding of pain is very different than how it was traditionally taught, especially the neurological aspects of chronic or persistent pain. These forms the basis for the main criticisms I’ve seen of Starrett’s methods, or more accurately, all physical therapy that focuses solely on the body’s mechanical and tissue problems without addressing the neurological, psychological, and even social/cultural aspects of pain.
If you find some of the pain science hard to swallow–like how bad MRI’s are at predicting if a patient reports pain, the effectiveness of “fake” knee surgery, and how the biggest predictor of a back injury causing chronic pain is not severity of tissue damage–I don’t blame you. It is weird. Any time I learn more about the brain–and the brain is the key to understanding pain–the weirder it seems to get.
For a good explanation of how the understanding of pain and its treatment have evolved–and how much of what we were taught as “common knowledge” is wrong–I highly recommend Pain Education by BBoyScience.com.
Here are many of the videos, articles and podcasts about the neurology and psychology of pain that I found most educational: