Goodbye to a dear friend…my first training journal.

As much as I hate to do it I have to say good-bye to a dear friend this week. This friend has been my constant companion on my BJJ journey for over a year and I’m really sad to see them go. Luckily, though, I already have another one to take their place.

The “friend” I am referring to is my Jiu-Jitsu Log training journal. As you can see it has been well used over the last 14 months of training and I can honestly say it has made a bigger impact on my BJJ than just about anything else.

I first read about the Jiu-Jitsu Log and the idea of keeping a training journal in the book Zen Jiu-Jitsu: How to Improve Your Game 100% in 30 Days. Like most white belts I was looking for any edge I could find to speed up my learning curve and this book was a gold mine of tips that I recommend to every new white belt I talk to.

Having nothing to do with techniques, it instead focused on the habits that would make the strongest foundation for you to learn techniques from. While I am simplifying things a lot, it broke down to 3 steps:

1) Figure out what you need to work on.

2) Develop a plan to drill and practice those techniques.

3) Keep a training journal to force you to be mindful about your practice.

The key to the whole thing was being mindful when you are rolling and drilling and while you could do it without it, the training journal makes the whole process so much easier.

For starters, if you know you are going to have to write something down in your journal you will start to pay a bit more attention when you train and drill. Sitting down and drawing a blank about what you worked on that day isn’t a good sign about your level of mindfulness.

Second, the act of writing some key points down about a technique you learned or some refinements you made to a technique you already knew will literally activate the brains subconscious memory. This means that you are able to impress the memory of those techniques and lessons deeper than if you didn’t write if down in a training journal.

The truth is that 5-10 minutes after class writing some things down in your journal is worth far more than an hour of watching techniques on YouTube. And that, my friend, is the key to speeding up your learning curve in BJJ.

Now, a quick word on what to look for in a journal. I personally feel that there is a lot of value in actually writing your notes in a journal rather than using an app on your phone and typing them in. Again, the brain makes a connection with the act of physical writing it doesn’t with typing and this is one case where low-tech trumps high-tech methods.

You can get a simple spiral bound note book and use it to keep track of:

– The date

– Who taught

– What drills you did

– The techniques you learned/ practiced

– Who else was in class (this is especially helpful in learning new people’s names)

As you can guess, I personally use and recommend The Jiu-Jitsu Journal. I have no affiliation with them, I just found their journal to be really easy to keep track of things and plus it just feels cool pulling out a journal made for BJJ.

Whatever you end up using, make sure you are keeping a training journal. I’ve logged almost every class, seminar and private lesson I did over the last year in this one and I plan on filling up this new one even faster.

So how about you? Do you keep a training journal and have any tips on using them or what to keep track of? I’d love to hear your thoughts, just leave a comment below this post.

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Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

BJJ Strength Training Systems

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A bold way to start 2014…are you in?

Alright, so 2014 is here and I’m sure you’ve made some sort of promise to yourself about your training and/ or nutrition program. I know that I sure have and that’s great, except I know that odds are very high we’ll never see them through unless we take some massive action.

Heading into the New Year we always hear people around us talking about what they want to accomplish in the next year. But here is the sad truth…most of those people will not make much progress on those goals.

The problem is that action is the only thing that brings results. Thinking about things doesn’t do it and neither does studying and learning more about it, “planning” your next move.

You have to act to see results.

But action is a tricky thing because it takes guts and the ability to be alright with making mistakes. It is so much easier to talk about what we would or want to do in the future than to actually act on them.

As my favorite 17th century Samurai would put it –

“The warrior attitude is very simple. Focus your mind on your goal, constantly strive for perfection and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked.” – Miyamoto Musashi

In other words, once you have a goal start taking action on it. Focus and commitment are easy words to say but putting them into action is a different story.

To do this it is very important that you don’t worry about doing everything “perfectly”. Figure it out as you go, making mistakes and seeing them as opportunities to learn.

And one of the best ways to do this is to commit to spending at least 20-30 minutes a day working towards your training goals for the next 28 days.

If you really want to see change then we need to take action on those goals and there is no better time to start than today.

At the end of the 28 days you’ll not only look and feel differently – not to mention rolling differently as well – but you’ll also have built some good habits and learned a lot about yourself and your body along the way.

This is one of the best ways to kick start your training program because it gets you into the habit of forcing yourself to make time to train. If you have to wake up a little earlier or turn off the TV a little sooner then you do it, no excuses.

You can’t make excuses, only work on finding solutions.

This puts you in a totally different mindset compared to the “we’ll see if I can find some time to train this week” mentality we usually take with our program. You start seeing opportunities to train when you can instead of obstacles to train like you think you should be training.

Like I tell my clients, there is optimal and then there is reality. In my experience this 28 Day Challenge is one of the best ways to learn how to deal with reality instead of stress over optimal.

Just to keep things simple I’d recommend shooting for 2-4 days of strength and conditioning and doing some mobility work on the other days. Whatever it is you choose to do you just need to punch the clock and put in your time each day.

So to help you with this challenge I’m giving you a free copy of the Accountability Log I’ve used with some of my clients in the past. It is a great way for you to see how you’re doing each week with your training goals plus, let’s face it – there is just something motivating about being able to check something off your list.

Click here to download the Accountability Log and instructions on how to use it.

Just remember that taking action can be a messy process and things often won’t go as planned. You may miss a few days over the course of the challenge but instead of worrying about how many you might miss because now isn’t the perfect time to start, think instead about how many you’ll miss if you don’t try.

Fortune favors the bold, my friend, and this 28 day Challenge is a bold way to start 2014.

I’d also like to mention that if you need a training program for this 28 Day Challenge the free 30 Day BJJ Bodyweight Workout Program would be perfect for you. With short, fun bodyweight only workouts it is exactly what you need to fit smart, effective strength training into your busy schedule.

That’s it for now, if you’re in for this 28 Day Challenge then post a comment below this blog post. I’ll be doing some check in posts over the course of the next 28 Days and we’ll see how many of us are still on track.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

BJJ Strength Training Systems

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Why being alright with sucking is the first step to learning how to do something right.

As a coach I’ve noticed a trend with people both in the gym and on the mats when it comes to learning something new. They seem to think that the once they’ve been shown something their first goal is to “do it right”.

Doing it “right” isn’t the goal, you’re goal is to do a little better each time.

However, people rarely go from learning something new to “doing it right”. Instead, they have to go through a period of sucking at it until they learn how to do it right.

And this is where most people get stuck.

They aren’t alright with sucking, which makes it tough to learn how to do it right. They figure that if they can’t do it perfectly right off the bat they may as well not even try.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that I was reminded of this the other day when helping a kid figure out how to balance on his knees on a stability ball.

There were a bunch of kids playing on them and I had shown him how to do it but he was really timid. When he tried it you could tell that his top priority was not falling off and looking like he didn’t know how to do it in front of everyone.

Once I told him that he’s going to fall off his first time so just get it out of the way he relaxed. He went for it, fell off, saw it wasn’t thay bad and within a few minuted was balancing like a pro.

And it all started with giving him permission to suck until he figured things out.

I also see when someone how to do a new exercise. In fact, this happens so much that I have a pre-planned speech that goes something like this…

“Don’t worry about doing it right. You have a lot of bad reps before you figure it out so just relax and get them out of the way.”

Whenever I say this you can see the tension leave their face. Once they know that sucking at it is part of the process and not an indictment on them as a person they can relax and let the learning begin.

In fact, even when you figure out how to do something right you’re goal should still be to look for ways that you can get better. This, in essence, says you’ll never have it figured out because you know you can always get better.

If you’re goal isn’t to hunt down how you suck at something but instead to rush to get it figured out and “do it right” then you’ll hit a point where you can’t progress. How can you improve when you’re trying to protect your ego instead of being honest with yourself about how you can improve?

So what does this mean for you?

Be bold when trying to learn a new exercise, workout routine or technique.

Being bold doesn’t mean being stupid and taking unnecessary risks. It means doing the best you can, knowing that you won’t do it “right” and not caring about how you look doing it wrong.

Applied to your riding and training this mindset will save you a lot of stress and open you to possible solutions you’d never see if you’re not alright with sucking. Besides, no ones is perfect which is why we are constantly pursuing it.

Doing it “right” isn’t the goal, you’re goal is to do a little better each time.

“Men are not perfect in any aspect of their lives, no matter the amount of time, effort and energy that they put into their search for perfection. The virtue of perfection is that it is always just beyond a man’s reach. This is good. If perfection were attainable it would have no value – there would be no reason to pursue it”. – Miyamoto Musashi from The Book of 5 Rings

So how do you feel about sucking at something? Are you alright with it, embracing it as part of the learning process or do you find yourself avoiding it? I’d love to hear your thoughts, post a comment below to let me know what you think.

And if you liked this post please click one of the Share or Like buttons below to help me spread the word.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

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The Internal-External Intensity Continuum: Which side does the “hard” come from in your workouts?

One of the more common responses I get to the early phases of my programs is that they look too easy, especially for those who have some strength training experience under their belt. For someone who has built up to doing 50+ push ups at a time (although I have yet to see 50 perfect push ups from anyone) only doing 5-20 reps seems like an insult to their pecs. Surely they should do more, right?

Go heavy and hard or go home is the battle cry for thousands of well meaning BJJ athletes limping their way to the gym or “boot camp”, never realizing that there is another side to the strength coin that is needed to complete and round out their strength.

Not so fast…I am not impressed when someone tells me that they are not challenged by an “easy” exercise. In fact, when I hear this I know that true strength has eluded that person since strength consists of the ability to not only make heavy weights feel light but also the ability to make your light weights feel heavy.

You should be able to do 50 reps and be able to wear yourself out in 5 reps. When you can make 5 bodyweight reps feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done then you truly have control of your ability to produce tension, which is the root of strength. If you are always relying on the load or the number of reps to tell you how strong to be then you don’t really own your strength.

This leads us to the Internal-External Intensity Continuum. This is something I made up one day while trying to explain this concept to a guy who trained at my facility. In a nutshell, it explains where the “hard” is coming from during an exercise or workout.

If you are Internally producing the Intensity – like getting really tight and staying that way during bodyweight squats – then you are purposefully producing more tension than you need to in order to complete the movement.

If you are Externally producing the Intensity – like doing a max effort lift or amount of reps – then the load is causing the body to reflexively produce tension in response to it.

You want every workout to be “hard”, you just don’t need or want to be going to the External side of the Intensity Continuum every time you train. Being able to benefit from the Internal side will round out your strength and support the other side of the spectrum.

This explains how you can have a “hard” workout without training balls-to-the-wall every time you hit the gym. When I tell BJJ athlete that they should walk out of the gym during week 1 of a new program knowing that they could do more the old bodybuilding mindset starts to creep in – how can you get results if you don’t max out every time you train?

Notice, though, that I didn’t say that the workout should be easy; you should simply not max out how much weight and how many reps you can do. If you don’t have the ability to internally produce more tension than the weight or reps call for then this sounds ridiculous, however, for those who have learned the art of strength this makes total sense.

For example, during my current training phase I have a workout that calls for me to do 3 sets of 8 reps on the deadlift. I wanted to use week 1 to set up the next 2 weeks and so I didn’t want to go too heavy or I would not leave myself anywhere to go. So, I used conservative weights and built up to doing 185 pounds on the last set.

During week 2 I built up to 205 pounds and then in week 3 I hit 225 pounds for 8 reps, which was my max effort – I walked out knowing I couldn’t have done 1 more good rep. While a bit off topic, I’m going to finish the cycle with 3 sets of 5 reps with 205 pounds to back off a bit after my peak effort.

The point is that if you look at the weight progression (185 pounds to 225 pounds) my week 1 effort looks easy – its 40 pounds less than my max weight. However, I can tell you that week 1 was not easy (I was there). Week 1 was more on the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum, Week 2 was in the middle and Week 3 was on the External Side of it, making every week “hard” in its own way.

This concept also applies to training phases and plans. You have to spend some phases focusing more on the Internal Side and some on the External side of the Intensity Continuum.

This is why the early phases in my workout programs confuse some people – my programs advance from Internal Intensity focused phases to External Intensity focused phases and since they have never been told the value of working on the Internal side of the continuum it makes no sense.

Unfortunately, our training culture seems to have largely forgotten and dismissed the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum. Go heavy and hard or go home is the battle cry for thousands of well meaning BJJ athletes limping their way to the gym or “boot camp”, never realizing that there is another side to the strength coin that is needed to complete and round out their strength.

So if you have an “easy” workout then take that as a chance to work on the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum, not as a chance to breeze through it and tell yourself how super fit you are.

For a lot of people it will be very humbling to realize how little body and tension control they really have. But with focused practice it will come pretty quickly.

Make sure that you have a balance of Internal and External Intensity focused exercises, workouts and phases in your overall program. True strength demands a balance between the two sides of the Intensity Continuum so make sure you respect and practice them both.

If you have any questions about this article please post them below and I’ll get to it ASAP. Also, 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

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Naked Warrior revisited – Single Limb Training for Injuries

One of the more common questions I get asked is about what to do while recovering from an injury. While some injuries are harder to work around than others, the most common injuries from BJJ are to the arms and legs and so finding ways to keep strong without all 4 of them is necessary from time to time.

My basic advice for training with an injured arm or leg is to train everything else as hard as you can. The idea of backing off of everything else so you don’t develop a big strength imbalance isn’t the way to go for two reasons.

First, there is significant evidence of a neurological “carryover” from training the non-injured side. What this means is that if you injured your left arm, for example, but kept training the right arm as hard as you could the left arm would lose less strength than if you did nothing at all.

Second, it will speed up your recovery once you’re all healed up. While you’ll want to back off a bit to let the weaker side catch up, it will catch up much faster.Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 11.45.22 AM

The irony of all of this is that I’ve been nursing an old elbow injury that flared up a month ago and I’ve had to spend a lot of training time following this advice. What I found was that the simplest and best program for me was the Naked Warrior.

The Naked Warrior is one of Pavel Tsatsouline’s many fine training books and centers on only 2 exercises – the single arm push up and the single leg squat a.k.a. pistol squat.

At first this seems like a pretty hard-core approach for someone nursing an injury but once you realize that you can scale the exercises back it makes perfect sense.

This approach allows you to train all of the other limbs hard without a lot of wear and tear from weighted exercises. I tried to lift “normal” for a few weeks just using my left arm and found that after a while I started to feel the stress of all the misloaded lower body exercises and my non-injured arm was starting to feel the stress as well.

After thinking about how I could stay strong (sets in the 3-5 range) without causing some other sort of overuse injury in the process. That’s when it hit me…the single arm push up and squat would be the perfect solution.

So, for the last week I started doing 2 sets of 5 reps every day as my strength training. I’ve had to modify things a bit by using a bar set up in my rack so I can do an elevated single arm push up and I’ve been using the TRX straps to help me maintain good posture on the single leg squats but even then I can already tell my body likes this approach much better.

It’s been tough for an exercise geek like me to stick with just two exercises but I know that it is good to do every once in a while. Plus, I’m going to get really good at my single arm push ups and single leg squats, two exercises I know are important but I just don’t spend enough time on.

This brings me to me final point, which is that with the right perspective even an injury can be a positive experience for you if you stay receptive to opportunities. Hopefully you never have to but if you do find yourself facing an injury to an arm or leg look at it as a chance to work on your strength, Naked Warrior style.

That’s it for now, if you have any questions about how to apply this approach or any tips you’ve found helpful in overcoming injuries please post a comment below. Also, if you liked this article please click one of the Share of Like buttons below to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

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