What a pillow can tell you about your mobility and other lessons from Dan John’s seminar.

Last Saturday I got the chance to attend a seminar by Dan John. Dan is one of the brightest strength coaches in the world and someone I have followed for a long time. When I found out he was just 4 hours away I jumped on the chance to see him present his training philosophy in person.

Dan is one of the guys who have stood the test of time in my book and one of the few guys I still follow in the fitness industry. His blog www.danjohn.net and his books Never Let Go, Intervention, Mass Made Simple and Easy Strength are gold mines of information and have had a big influence on my programs.

In fact, Dan was the inspiration for the video I shot on the benefits of loaded carries for BJJ, something I had been neglecting for way too long and make a huge impact on posture and performance.

So after driving the 4 hours and suffering through one of the noisiest nights ever in a hotel thanks to some out of control kids and a desk clerk who decided to keep the pool open until midnight I found myself sitting down in front of Dan waiting to write down some wisdom from the man himself.

IMG_20140329_141836_919Four pages of notes later (I’ve been to multi-day seminars that I didn’t come away with as many notes) I found myself looking forward to the 4 hour drive back to decompress my brain and think about it all. Here are some of the big takeaways I had from a lot of great insights…

If you need more than 1 pillow to get comfortable at night then you have some sort of joint mobility problem. This includes two pillows under your head or one pillow folded in half (I asked). After going home and trying to sleep with one pillow under my head I found that my neck felt better and the reason I needed two pillows was because I was using two pillows.

For everyone else, though, this is a good question to ask yourself and if you find that you need several pillows in strategic locations you need to do more mobility work.

People need to learn what “reasonable” workouts and diets are. The fitness industry is full of workouts and diets that are close to impossible to carry on long term and few people really understand what a reasonable workout should look like. The trick is find things that are effective but reasonable and repeatable long term.

– Finish the hunt. This came from the Gnolls Credo which is 1) Plan the hunt, 2) Hunt and 3) Discuss the hunt. The idea is to have a way to improve your approach but so many of us get lost at step 2. We get a great plan but we get a week or two into it and then we lose interest and start to tweak things or change things up.

The problem is that never lets us get to step 3 and we have nothing to really “discuss” and analyze. When there is no plan or we fail to execute the plan and “finish the hunt” we have no real way to improve our approach. For me planning the hunt is no problem but I need to be more consistent with finishing the hunt.

Strive for mastery. People need to understand that there will be plateaus in the process and that mastery falls in love with those plateaus. I love Dan’s emphasis on the word Mastery and how he encourages people to seek it on the path to strength and fitness.

I encourage the same thing from my clients because it is the only way to stay in love with the training process for a long time. Eventually you’ll run out of new exercises, training tools and routines and the only thing left is to go deeper into what you already know instead of seeking new things.

Focus on standards and gaps and let everything else come from playing your sport. You need to have some movement and strength standards you look for and the program should look to fill in the gaps. And since all sports emphasize some movements and patterns over others, making sure that you are addressing those things before more gaps appear is another goal of a strength training program.

For the record, Dan feels that deep squats and loaded carries are the key to taking care of a lot of the common standards and gaps issues we see with most people.

Lifting helps you learn how to play with the “tension knob”. For me this term was worth the price of admission because it sums up something I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain for a while. Most people have no control of their “tension knob” and can’t fine tune how hard their movement and technique is.

When you know how to better control your tension knob you can feel the tension in the technique and your opponent, allowing you to apply just the right amount of force so you maintain control without being too strong. This is a skill that you already possess and just need to learn how to apply it to the mats and the first step is using strength training to teach you how.

Getting your nutrition under control really boiled down to some simple steps. Start tracking your food to begin establishing some good habits, using that journal to help you establish more good habits or manipulate macro-nutrients and resorting to Black & White diets which are usually a bit extreme in some way for short term goals or to shock the system.

The quality of the food sources has much more to do with your results than anything else. You can eat one meal a day, six meals a day or anything in between and it can all work as long as you are focusing on quality. Don’t get hung up on specifics and feel free to experiment and find what works within the context of quality food choices.

Sometimes adding more more good stuff to your diet leaves less room for bad stuff. Focusing on what you should be adding in is a different mindset than what you should take out and may be a better approach for some people.

The sign of an authority is usually Less Equals More. They generally encourage that you use the minimum effective dosage. The goal of a program is not to figure out how much you can survive but how little you can do to see the best results. More isn’t better, better is better but this often gets lost in a world where seeing who can suffer the most often passes as “training”.

Mastery of fundamental movements trumps everything. If your program doesn’t include this component then you are really selling your results short. This is why mobility and strength training are important for BJJ since it is the best way to work on this component.

We also had some hands on sessions where I learned some great stretches and exercises to add to the toolbox. I’ll be shooting some videos later today of the Stick Windmill, which is a stretch that will really help those of you who struggle with the lateral hip movement needed for hip tosses.

All in all it was one of the best seminars I’ve attended and one of the few times I didn’t come away disappointed after meeting someone I really look up to in the fitness industry. So many times you find out that people aren’t who they seem to be when you meet them in person but Dan is the real deal.

IMG_20140329_152603_535If you get a chance to see him present I highly recommend it.

Oh, and I got this sweet beer koozie as well. Here I am putting it to good use after driving back home.

IMG_20140329_200638_525That’s it for now, if you have any questions or comments just leave a comment below this post. And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

BJJ Strength Training Systems

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Reader Q&A: How to avoid overtraining if you train BJJ 4-5 times a week.

I got this great question over the weekend from a blog reader who wanted some advice on balancing training BJJ 4-5 days a week with strength and conditioning training while avoiding overtraining. He also has to juggle family, a job and the fact that he is closing in on 40…things I am all too familiar with myself so I had some insights to share.

I thought this problem is probably something a lot of people face so I wanted to share my answer in case it can help someone else as well.

“Hi James,

I just stumbled across your website and am fascinated by what you talk about in your blog. I’ve been training bjj for 3.5 years and love it. I’ve done a lot of strength training over the years as well as HIIT for conditioning. For a time I was doing both when I’d train bjj M-W-F and workout T-TH-Sat. Now I am training BJJ almost every day M-F. I read your article about the fact that you can over train by doing both BJJ and strength/conditioning.

I’m 39 (married with 4 kids) and in better shape than most 29 yr olds…I haven’t done strength training for a few months but really want to get back into it….is that too much on my body train BJJ 4-5 days a week plus strength/condition? Also what would you recommend for recover supplements?

Thank you again!”


Sounds like we have a lot in common – closing in on 40, busy with family and kids and strong addiction to BJJ. Trying to balance that with strength and conditioning can be tough…unless you have the right perspective on it.

I want to first clarify something about that article – I was trying to point out that you can overtrain from focusing on cardio as you main form of training outside of BJJ. Strength training is different and something you should have in your program. Long cardio focused workouts are of those things you can add in if you have the time and ability to recover or if you don’t get to train BJJ very often but for guys like us it is a bit overrated.

I think some of the confusion stems from how strength training has been morphed into another type of cardio training. A lot of program use workouts that have you moving quickly and testing your cardio more than your strength.

At the end of your strength training workout you can do 5-10 minutes of some higher intensity cardio but don’t overdue it. Focus your time on mobility and strength with a little cardio on top instead of the other way around.

This is also why I like bodyweight training so much since it is a great way to get strong without putting a lot of wear and tear on the joints. If you haven’t signed up for the free 30 day BJJ bodyweight workout program be sure to check it out, it has some great mobility drills and bodyweight exercises in it. It also shows you how I structure workouts to focus strength and mobility while also fitting in some cardio training.

I think that everyone should be fitting in 2-3 strength training sessions each week along with 10-20 minutes of mobility work/ foam rolling each day. The more your train BJJ the more important this becomes to help offset the overuse patterns inherent to BJJ and to avoid the natural decrease in strength and muscle mass that comes with age.

As far as recovery supplements, I don’t recommend much. I think that the most important thing you can do is be taking at least 10 grams of fish oil each day. Besides all of the noted health benefits it also helps control internal inflammation that can contribute to joint soreness and pain as well as support testosterone levels.

A post-workout supplement is also good to use since it helps speed up the recovery process from training. Add in a greens powder if you don’t eat enough veges and a protein powder for convenience and you’re set for the most part. Most supplements are worthless and sold on hype and the placebo effect so just focus on getting good rest and eating well to help your recovery.

I also wanted to share an article I wrote on why I hate the term “strength training”. While you should check it out, in short I point out how it gives the false impression that simply putting up bigger numbers is the goal, which is the wrong focus. If you focus on improving the efficiency of your movement then your numbers will go up but if you focus on the numbers you can miss the chance to really improve your efficiency.

And it is that improved efficiency we are after since that is what helps us on the mat, not just better numbers in the gym.

Strength training is super important for guys like us and along with mobility training should be part of the bigger picture for how we train for BJJ. Hope this helps, let me know if you have any more questions about this or anything else related to off the mat training for BJJ.

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

BJJ Strength Training Systems

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