Thursday, 31 March 2011

Good Luck to Wes Murch of Olympians MMA

One of my strength and conditioning clients, Wes Murch, is all set to fight at Recife Fighting Championship in Brazil where he'll be facing ex-UFC fighter Junior Assuncao.

All the very best of luck Wes!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Using Strength and Conditioning to Facilitate Skill Learning in Jiu Jitsu - Part 2

In part 1 of this article I discussed the goals of strength and conditioning for Jiu-Jitsu, and how it was vitally important to match the needs of any sport to its programming. In this article, I’d like to give you some practical applications of these concepts with example exercises that will develop the attributes required for effective skill learning. The exercises detailed here are by no means extensive but they will give you a great, albeit somewhat alternative, way to approach your strength and conditioning.

I still recommend that people have a strong foundation in the big lifts – squat, deadlift, press and the Olympic lifts.

We’ve already spoken about both range-of-motion (ROM) and multi-planar movement. To refresh your memory, ROM refers to the movement produced by any given joint, or collection of joints, and we need to encourage full ROM. Multi-planar movement refers to moving the body through multiple planes of motion, as would naturally occur in competition.

Exercises That Encourage Full Range-of-Motion Movement

The exercises recommended here will help to develop and maintain healthy range-of-motion and thus aid flexibility, application of power and agility.

  • Overhead Squat
The overhead squat is an exercise that promotes lower body and core strength and is the gateway to the Snatch – another excellent exercise. Besides this, it is impossible to do the exercise without a healthy range of motion – especially in the hips and shoulders.

It can be performed as a warm up/mobility exercise with a dowel/broomstick (as pictured below), or weighted with an Olympic bar or various other implements.

Hold the bar, with straight arms, above the head (roughly above the shoulder blades). Actively shrug the shoulders and then squat as normal – making sure to keep the chest high and heels down.

  • Snatch
If you have some proficiency in the Overhead Squat then the Snatch is a natural progression. One of the Olympic lifts (the other being the Clean and Jerk); it develops great power – especially in your ‘pulling’ muscles. A correctly performed Snatch requires full extension through the hip and shoulder, and this movement has great application to any athletic movement.

It is typically performed with an Olympic bar but also possible with dumbbells, kettlebells and other implements.

Start with a weight/bar on the ground. Holding onto the weight, explode powerfully upwards, extend fully at the hip and allow the bar to travel upwards and above your head to finish in the overhead squat position. The snatch is a very complex lift and you should speak to an Olympic lifting coach to learn it.

  • Windmill
The Windmill is an exercise designed to improve core strength while standing and is also great for developing shoulder stability. The benefit of improving core strength in the standing position is that it has a specific impact on techniques such as standing grappling, clinches and throws.

Its ability to develop flexibility under load is of great importance. Moving through a high degree of range of motion (ROM) while under tension produces greater real world flexibility than many other stretching methods.

Start with a weight in one hand, held overhead. Before you start this exercise turn your feet out at 45 degrees and slightly bend the knees. Using a smooth movement through the waist allow your body to bend down and reach towards the ground. This movement should come from the core and hips without using the knees.  Once you have touched the floor - or your body is parallel to the floor - return to the starting position with an upright torso.

In the pictures below I am performing the Windmill with a sandbag but the exercise can be done with any weighted implement.
Exercises That Increase Multi-Planar Proficiency

The exercises recommended here will help to improve your ability to move effectively through multiple movement planes. Our biggest concern is to try and reduce our sagittal (forwards and backwards) plane dominance. So we need to include strength and conditioning exercises that focus on movement and ‘stress’ in the Frontal (sideways) and Transverse (rotational) planes.

  • Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge is a lower body strengthening movement that will improve your ability to move laterally. It can be performed with bodyweight alone or with any weighted implement.

Stand with your feet parallel and take a big step sideways. As the foot lands, bend the knee (as you would in a squat). Allow the opposite leg to straighten; making sure that the foot stays flat.

  • Windmill

I know it has been included as a full ROM exercise but it is also a great multi-planar exercise. Frontal movement through the hip and rotation about the shoulder, hip and spine make this a worthy exercise.

  • Lateral Snatch/Landmine

The lateral snatch develops some of the similar benefits derived from the regular snatch but it is single handed and stresses the frontal plane. Any single handed exercise is useful as it will help to avoid any imbalances you may have. Whereas the ‘stress’ in a regular snatch will pull you forwards of backwards, the lateral snatch will force you to resist laterally.

Take hold of one end of an Olympic bar. Explode upwards in one powerful snatch movement so that the bar ends up above the head. The opposite end will remain on the floor, running parallel to your feet.

How Do I Include These In My Programming?

If you are not currently performing these exercises as part of your strength and conditioning programme then add them. Building proficiency in these movements is stage 1. With new movements like this, treat them as you would a skill element – encourage rest periods and high quality technique.

When you have developed a level of proficiency then you can add them to your regular programming as:

  • Strength exercises (e.g. 5x5)
  • Fight specific conditioning sessions (a mix of exercises with minimal rest periods at high intensity)
  • Warm-up/mobility elements (e.g. prior to a skills session)

I hope you have enjoyed this alternative take on strength and conditioning for Jiu-Jitsu. I always view strength and conditioning as a tool for success and I think this is a useful way to construct your programming. Look at weaknesses and put elements in place to combat them. If you are interested in working with me then please get in touch.

This article was originally published on

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Using Strength and Conditioning to Facilitate Skill Learning in Jiu Jitsu - Part 1

Strength and conditioning is a subject that divides opinion in Martial Arts, MMA and especially Jiu-Jitsu. Most people tend to think of skill learning (technique practice/sparring/rolling) as one thing, and strength and conditioning as something entirely different. Common practice is to use strength and conditioning as an external intervention to a physical problem:

“I need more strength”
“I need more speed”
“I need more agility”

Thus, most strength and conditioning programmes become constructed around these goals. And this, I believe, is where one of the fundamental problems stems from. If there was a more linear relationship between strength and conditioning and skill learning then I think not only would more people follow a strength and conditioning programme, but we’d also see great improvements in performance as a whole.

Furthermore, a strength and conditioning programme that was implicitly designed to facilitate skill learning would help to eradicate the disparity between the mainstream concepts of ‘fitness’ and skill. We would begin to see training methods that develop organically to suit the current needs of athletes.

What Is the Goal of Strength and Conditioning?

I think that the strength and conditioning programme should be developed with one primary goal in mind – to improve your abilities as an athlete/fighter. It’s clear that skill practice makes you a better jiu-jitsu player over and above strength and conditioning. So, it makes sense to base your programming around the goal of maximising your ability to practice jiu-jitsu more effectively. This seems like a fairly complicated way of saying:

“Use strength and conditioning to allow you to train harder”

For me, strength and conditioning is about putting an athlete in the best position to maximise their skill training. So a good strength and conditioning programme is really just the starting point to achieving great success. Rather than just focusing on some arbitrary activity – “I lift weights to get stronger” – it’s important to consider the outcome of all of the individual elements of the programming.   

Are you training to get better at strength and conditioning or Jiu-Jitsu?

What Physical Attributes Aid Skill Learning In Jiu-Jitsu?

While we might accept that developing a strength and conditioning programme around these concepts is valuable, catering for this is not an easy task. One size certainly doesn’t fit all in this example.

For the purposes of this article I am going to focus on what I believe to be two of the most important physical attributes for skill learning – multi planar movement and range of motion (ROM).

When developing our programme it is important to consider the desired outcome – we need to match the programme to the sport. Rather than speaking in simple terms such as “strength”, “speed” and “endurance” I’d like you to consider the way you move during Jiu-Jitsu. While it is difficult to quantify all of the techniques, we should probably all agree that Jiu-Jitsu is an activity in which you are required to move in all directions. In biomechanics we call this multi-planar – or moving the body through multiple planes of motion. These are loosely classified as Sagittal (forwards and backwards), Frontal (sideways) and Transverse (rotational). Sprinters, as another example, operate almost exclusively in the Sagittal Plane.

So, it follows, that we need a strength and conditioning programme that develops your ability to move effectively in multiple planes. The issue with many resistance exercises is that they work in the sagittal plane but not in the frontal or transverse plane. So perhaps basing your routine on the bench press, squat and deadlift isn’t necessarily the best thing for you. Develop proficiency at moving sideways and rotating and you can expect to see and improvement in skills that require this movement.

Range of motion is a term used to describe the movement produced by any given joint, or collection of joints. For the purposes of sporting performance (in most cases) we need to encourage a full range of motion for all of our exercises. Why? Because the ability to move effectively through a full range of motion has great parallels in athletic movement. You can think about this as the ability to move into or out of positions, escape submissions, apply force from a variety of angles or apply more force generally. We can all think of someone with reduced range of motion – they normally slouch and struggle to move with any agility.

The ability to move freely translates easily into skill learning. An athlete who is primed for this will always excel. 

What Does This Mean For My Strength & Conditioning?

Look closely at your technical ability/skill and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you struggle with certain skills – both in learning them and progressing with them?
  • Which areas of skill learning do you excel at?

Once you have an appreciation for your own skill level, you can start to look at building a strength and conditioning programme to support this. Try to develop the programme to attain proficiency in certain movement patterns/planes. If there are skills that you struggle with, examine whether you have physical deficiencies that can be eradicated to assist in this process.

  • Are certain muscles tight?
  • Do you have a lack of stability in certain positions?
  • Do you feel weak in certain movements?

Working out where your areas of skill excellence are is also vital. It will help to govern your fight strategy and preparation.

I’d like to finish by saying that it’s always important to look at training from different angles – especially strength and conditioning. By bucking the trend of following mainstream trends you may just propel yourself to a higher level of performance.

This article was originally published on

The 10000 Hour Rule

“In Hamburg we had to play for eight hours”

The Beatles

This weeks article is a partial book review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. You might think that a book written by an intellectual has little relevance in the world of strength and conditioning for MMA but read on…


The book attempts to look at the study of success. What makes some people successful when others fail?

In chapter 2, Gladwell attempts to answer the question:

“Is there such a thing as innate talent?”

Most people would say yes. And common thought is that there are always people who stand out as ‘naturally gifted’. We are guilty of classing these people as phenomenal and freaks of nature but how much of a role does innate talent really play. Not as much as we once thought it would seem.

Gladwell gives the example of a study done in the early 90’s by K. Anders Ericsson at two colleagues at Berlins elite Academy of Music. The musicians were categorised by their current level of skill: potential world class, good and those who would probably just teach. What they found was that the potential world class musicians had a total of around 10000 hours practice behind them, the good musicians around 8000 hours and those that would probably just teach had around 4000 hours practice. This was apparent across the board.

So, the best musicians didn’t just magically attain this level. They worked much harder than everyone else. At some point they decided, or were encouraged, to become better.

The Beatles

The following is an excerpt from Outliers:

The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr –came to the United States in February of 1964, starting the so-called British Invasion of the American music scene and putting out a string of hit records that transformed the face of popular music.

The first interesting thing about the Beatles for our purpose is how long they had already been together by the time they reached the United States. Lennon and McCartney first started playing together in 1957, seven years prior to landing in America.

In 1960, while they were still just a struggling High School rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany.

“Hamburg in those days did not have rock-and-roll music clubs. It had strip clubs,” says Phillip Norman, who wrote the Beatles biography Shout! “There was one particular club owner called Bruno, who was originally a fairground showman. He had the idea of bringing in rock groups to play in various clubs. They had this formula. It was a huge non stop show, hour after hour, with a lot of people lurching in and the other lot lurching out. And the bands would play all time to catch to catch the passing traffic. In an American redlight district they would call it a non stop striptease.

“Many of the bands that played in Hamburg were from Liverpool”, Norman went on. “It was an accident. Bruno went to London to look for bands. But he happened to meet an entrepreneur from Liverpool in Soho who was down in London by pure chance. And he arranged to send some bands over. That’s how the connection was established. And eventually the Beatles made a connection not just with Bruno but with other club owners as well. They kept going back because they got a lot of alcohol and a lot of sex”.

And what was so special about Hamburg? It wasn’t that it paid well. It didn’t. Or that the acoustics were fantastic. They weren’t. Or that the audiences were savvy and appreciative. They were anything but. It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.

Here is John Lennon, in an interview after the Beatles disbanded, talking about the band’s performances at a strip club called the Indra:

We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with the experience of playing all night long. It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over.

In Liverpool, we’d only ever done one hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.

Eight hours?

Here is Pete Best, the Beatles’ drummer at the time:

“Once the news got out about that we were making a show, the club started packing them in. We played seven nights a week. At first we played almost non stop till twelve-thirty, when it closed, but as we got better the crowds stayed till two most mornings.”

Seven days a week?

The Beatles ended up travelling to Hamburg five times between 1960 and the end of 1962. On the first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. On their third trip, they played 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two Hamburg gigs, in November and December of 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated 1200 times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.

So What Can We Learn From This?

The stories presented in Outliers demonstrate that talent is nothing without preparation and that the exceptional among us are prepared to do more than everyone else to succeed.

Have you put in your 10000 hours of training?

To find out more about this fascinating book, get your copy here:

If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.

Originally published on BritMMA