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Athlete Profile: Greg Wootton

Guys, I’m excited to write up this athlete profile for professional Muay Thai fighter and former world champion Greg Wootton.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Greg over the last couple of months, as we have been doing strength and conditioning work together during a break from competition. He’s an excellent athlete with vast experience, interesting insight, and a very nice guy. I hope you’ll enjoy the lessons you can learn from what he has to say.

I’ve added my own comments in the blue writing.

Wootton-Muay-Thai-UK

 

Stats & Honours

Professional Muay Thai fighter

Light welterweight (63.5kg-65kg)

35 fights (31 wins, 4 losses, including a victory over Thailand’s most decorated champion Petboonchu FA group).

2 world titles

U.K. Ranked No.1, represented and medalled for England at world and European amateur championships.

 

Background

I trained at KO Gym my whole fighting career, but I’m now head coach at Stars Gym and UCL university club, and also coach fighters out of Bloodline gym. I have a 1st in Sport and Exercise Science from Roehampton University.

 

During your competitive years, what did a typical week in the gym look like?

A typical week in the gym consisted of two sessions a day, six days a week with Sundays off.

Training session were a mixture of:

  • Technical – pad/bag work, technique drills, light or hard sparring, clinch work.
  • Conditioning – Short runs, longer runs, skipping, shuttle runs.
  • In the last month or so before a fight, every session finished with 50 kicks each leg, 50 punch-kicks, 300 knees on the bag, 100 push-ups, and 300 ab exercises.

Active recovery on my rest day was Bikram yoga.

Looking back, I definitely used to overtrain sometimes. ‘The more the better’ is the pervading culture in Thailand and in many martial arts gyms. This now seems to be shifting to a smarter training approach.

The training Greg describes above is extremely taxing on the body. That volume and intensity of training can only be sustained for a couple of months at most (usually in the run up to a fight).

Trying to train like that all the time will result in injuries and burn out. A huge part of training is RECOVERY!

Did you do any strength and conditioning (as we now know it, strength work, etc)? Why do you think it has taken so long to catch on in fighting sports?

In nearly every session there were calisthenics of some sort (burpees, squats, press-ups, etc). We also used to do hard Tabata sprint work and circuit training.

Depending on how far we were from a fight, we’d also include things like:

  • Shadow boxing with weights, medicine ball slams, and hitting a tyre with a sledgehammer.
  • Walking lunges, clean and presses, kettlebell swings, pull-ups, hanging leg raises, ladder footwork drills and ab rollouts.

I didn’t do any traditional heavy lifting such as squats or deadlifts though. I was afraid of gaining muscle mass and struggling to make weight for fights.

In hindsight, I perhaps should have moved up in weight at some point and trained to get stronger at that weight.

S&C is now a part of fight sports thanks to the influence of top UFC competitors working with dedicated coaches. I think the reason this didn’t happen earlier is due to a lack of education about the benefits a proper S&C programme can bring, along with an ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ mentality.

Plus, the lack of money in Muay Thai makes it difficult for athletes to actually train with an S&C coach.

Pretty much all athletes at the top levels of sport are now doing some form of structured strength and conditioning. Skill alone is not enough anymore; it’s all about being stronger, faster, and more agile too.

A properly designed strength and conditioning programme can turn good fighters into formidable, menacing ones. 

He's definitely deadlifting now

He’s definitely deadlifting now

As a weight class athlete who needed to maintain a specific weight, how much of a problem was this for you? 

From my experience as a fighter, coach, and generally being around gyms, I’ve seen a lot of disordered eating habits.

By disordered eating, I mean binge eating, food deprivation, water loading, dehydration and all manner of crazy diets.

In any weight category sport, there is intense pressure to make weight. Under that pressure, and without proper education and care, athletes will push their bodies right to the limit.

What many people don’t realise is that the more we force our body in to a lower weight class, the more we damage it’s natural state of homeostasis. Our metabolism, electrolyte balance, digestive health, hydration levels etc, all get messed up.

After the ‘successful’ weight cut, the athlete has his fight and then ‘rewards’ himself by binge eating. With his metabolism in such a dire state, he regains weight quickly and easily. It now becomes a vicious cycle of diet, fight, binge, repeat. 

A lot of psychological damage also occurs during this cycle. It creates a very unhealthy relationship with food.

Average gym clients do the same, but usually on on a smaller scale. Train hard for a few weeks, go on holiday, fall off the wagon, come back, berate and punish themselves in the gym, fall off again, etc. It’s not a recipe for happiness.

I’m thinking of writing a few articles about this issue in sports and training, and have lots of suggestions of how to fix the problem.

Greg raises an excellent point with regards to ‘normal’ clients. Yo-yo diets and drastic weight loss rarely ever lead to good, long-lasting results. In fact, these diets can make you more likely to gain fat in the long run as they damage your metabolism.

You are a big believer in psychology – did you have any specific rituals/routines that you credit for helping your success as a fighter? 

100%. I believe psychology is important in all sports, and even more so in fight sports. Over the years I have picked up a lot of knowledge about how to train the mind. This started out to help me become a better fighter, but later became more about being a better person.

Here was my daily routine in training camp before fights:

I’d start the day with 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation shortly after waking up in the morning (check the ‘Headspace’ app for an introduction to meditation). I’d focus upon bodily sensations and breathing. This really set up my day, and I’d notice when I didn’t do it.

It brought me clarity, awareness, and made me more present, better equipped to deal with whatever was thrown at me (in the gym and in life!)

I’d then train, eat and read a bit. Reading something inspiring or educational is massively important. If you aren’t growing and improving, you get stale.

(‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed is a good book, dispelling the myth of talent, inspiring you to work hard and put the hours in. Malcom Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath’ is another inspiring book that changes the way you look at challenges and adversity, something sport is full of. Eckhart Tolle’s the ‘Power of Now’ also helps with staying present in life and at competition time.)

After that, I would often go to a lunchtime meditation class at the Buddhist centre near the gym. This was priceless for resting and recharging. It helped me deal with the anxiety and stress of competing.

Afterwards, it was back to the gym for more training. During the more monotonous parts, like long runs, I’d visualise scenes I wanted to come true. I’d talk to myself and repeat positive mantras about success to build my self belief, especially close to fights. That’s when doubts creep in and your spirit gets tested. (Read ‘The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind’ by Dr. Josef Murphy to learn about mantras and building belief.)

Often, I’d catch myself doing this this mental training and think I was nuts. It didn’t matter though. It worked.

This psychological training helps beyond fighting – with anxiety, fear, and the everyday stress of life. It gives you the tools to dig yourself out of depression and have better relationships (which is mostly what life is about). It can help you become a better, happier person.

What were some of the greatest lessons you learned during your career?

  • You can learn something from everyone and every experience, no matter how good or bad.
  • If you want to do something, you have the power to try to achieve it. No excuses. No one is responsible but you.
  • Most importantly – ‘Belief is the most powerful weapon we have’.

What drove you as an athlete?

This is a deep one.

I used to think that I was driven to be the best as a personal challenge, to see what I was capable of achieving. This is still true to some extent. Honestly though, after some time away from the sport, I realise I was striving for recognition and appreciation.

In my mind, if I achieved great things, my friends and family would praise and value me. Maybe I lacked this growing up. Maybe I simply didn’t like or accept myself without accomplishing great things like winning fights and world titles. It’s a mad one to admit to, and quite sad.

I’m now quite sceptical when I see other athletes pushing themselves to their limits. If they truly loved and accepted themselves, would they push themselves and their bodies to breaking point to win a fight or a race or match? I doubt it.

As humans, we all have work to do on ourselves, but athletes are more than likely broken in some way. Sport is sometimes a way to focus on something else and avoid trying to fix the real issue.

Look at how many fighters and athletes end successful careers and then suffer from depression. Without training to distract them, they can no longer seal over the cracks of the real problem.

I don’t mean to imply that sport isn’t healthy, but from my experiences, taking something to such an extreme could have a darker motivation than can be seen from the surface.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do different?

Short answer is nothing. No regrets. Every experience is a learning curve, and experiences shape us into the people we become.

However, I would have liked to have invested in myself more (if I could have afforded to). I would have paid a S&C coach for sessions and a program. I would have seen a nutritionist a lot earlier to help make weight for fights in a healthy way. I would have gone on more training camps abroad and gone to more seminars and talks.

Knowledge is power, and investing in yourself is never a waste if what you do is your passion.

Big up Mustafa for taking me up a level with his fresh, innovative practical training and for taking the time to do this article.

Check out my website : www.gregwootton.co.uk

Follow me on Instagram: @greg_wootton

Or check my Facebook athlete page: https://www.facebook.com/GregWoottonMT/

Get in touch for seminar info, personal training or advice at contact@gregwootton.co.uk

Thanks!

13 Exercises To Make You Punch Harder

At the end of the day, when it comes to athleticism, the equation goes something like this:

Improve (relative) strength + improve conditioning + master your sport

(Honourable mention goes out to maintaining and improving mobility).

Despite all the gimmicky stuff we see on Instagram, the strength part of this equation isn’t that difficult. Just get stronger with the basics:

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Split squats
  • Pull-ups
  • Swings
  • Press-ups
  • Military presses
  • Inverted rows
  • Farmers carries

These exercises will make you faster and more durable (provided you use good form, appropriate volume, and train your sport at the same time.)

However, there are some exercises that will complement the above and make you an even more violent striker.

In fact, they can be useful for pretty much any sport where twisting is required (throwing sports, football, tennis, kickboxing, golf.. the list goes on!)

Even if you’re just a regular guy after ‘abs like slabs’ (yuck), including the following will help you.

In striking sports, power comes from the rotation of the hips.

OBI

My client Obi in competition – note the turning of the back foot and hips to generate power

In fact, if you watched the David Haye vs Tony Bellew fight this weekend, once Haye’s back leg was gone, he could no longer throw his sledgehammer right hand. He couldn’t generate that powerful twisting motion.

From the hips, the force is transferred through a stiff, rigid core, into the shoulder, down the arm, where it finally connects with the unfortunate soul at the end of the punch.

This requires tremendous total body power and co-ordination. In particular, you need a strong pair of hips and mid-section.

A weak core cannot effectively transmit force through to it’s intended target!

Put simply, if you have a marshmellow mid section, I doubt you will punch very fast or hard.

Because of the twisting motion involved in punching, the obliques (muscles on the side of the abs) and hips need to be up to the job.

Simply doing planks and sit-ups won’t cut it – you need to train the rotational musculature involved in throwing the punch.

However, when it comes to rotational exercises, most people gravitate to exercises such as Russian twists that butcher their lower back.

Furthermore, when all you do is twist during sport training, it’s probably not a good idea to do it in the weight room too.

In fact, a good rule of thumb is to train the opposite motions of your sport in the weight room.

This is where anti-rotation exercises come in.

In these exercises, the aim is to actively fight against rotation or twisting of any kind. The core (particularly the obliques) and even the opposite glutes will fire up like crazy to keep the body square and the spine in a good position.

In plain English, you have to resist the twist!

Here we go..

One-arm swing

The swing.. need I say more? One of the most athletic movements you can ever do. Creates very powerful athletes.

By doing it with one-arm, you have to work hard to stay square, meaning you’re training anti-rotation. Resist the twist!

 

Offset loaded carries 

All the lateral (side) muscles of the core get fired up big time here. It’s a great one for improving the ability to twist, change direction quickly etc… plus you’ll get the benefit of grip and shoulder work. Stay tall and stay straight.

 

Single arm KB press

This is more anti-lateral flexion (lateral flexion = bending to the side) but still a tremendous exercise for a rock solid mid-section capable of delivering a knockout punch. Plus a great shoulder strengthener, obviously.

When you press the kettlebell, grip it like your life depends on it and squeeze your glutes, abs, and quads.

 

Single arm TRX row

Excellent one I got from Dan John. Upper back strength as well as tremendous core stimulation.

 

Single arm DB bench press

Similar to the above, but this time it’s the dumbbell press. This is probably my new favourite.

You will feel this BIG TIME in the opposite side of the abs, plus the opposite glute.

 

Renegade row

Another all star anti-rotation exercise, with the added benefit of upper back work. Key is to stiffen up the abs, squeeze the glutes, and pull slowly.

 

Plank shoulder touch

Simple but not easy. I see this done wrong all the time. Go slowly!

 

Pallof variations

One of the kings of anti-rotation exercises. Core, shoulder and hips. You can use a cable machine or buy the very versatile resistance band.

 

Plank with band row

This is a more advanced move. Keep your legs locked out and don’t tilt. Increasing the pull of the band will make it more difficult. Tremendous movement.

That’s it guys

Catch you on the next one

 

 

 

 

Why We Train Like Athletes (Video discussion)

Here’s a discussion I had with a friend about why we enjoy training to be athletic. Hope you enjoy it.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6pznHZMvdI[/embedyt]

Also, I just want to clarify something that I didn’t in the video:

Lifting heavy does not make you tight or stiff! Heavy lifting is an extremely important part of being an effective athlete for a number of reasons (if done in the right way).

Doing strictly bodybuilding, on the other hand, is not conducive to being a great athlete (although some bodybuilding methods can be useful).

Further to the above, here are some specific strategies you can use to stay athletic.

  • Do a thorough warm-up to focus on mobility and any restrictions you have (for example, tight hips or shoulders). Incorporate movements such as the Turkish Get-Up for total body mobility & stability (see video of Max Shank doing the get-up below).

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dx2rM1FSgE[/embedyt]

  • At the conclusion of your warm-up, do some kind of explosive movement – a jump, throw, or sprint, depending on what you’re training that day. This fires up the nervous system and gets the faster twitch muscle fibres going, as well as raising your energy levels before the first heavy lift. Below are some examples of explosive movements.
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xpTr3BD9iI[/embedyt] [embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fki3hcui78[/embedyt] [embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJQLkiYpsEY[/embedyt]
  • Make compound movements the foundation of your training. We’re talking squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and bench (depends). If your joints can handle it, do some work in the 3-6 rep range on these lifts.
  • Don’t bother with machines as much – stick to free weights and bodyweight movements. Utilise a variety of different tools for your accessory work (kettlebells, sandbags, dumbbells, sled etc).
  • Really hammer the posterior chain to stay strong and healthy. Athletes focus on this area because it not only makes you a more menacing opponent, but it also keeps you healthy (less lower back pain, better posture, etc.
  • Focus on full body or upper/lower body splits. This way you integrate more muscle groups into a workout and get them moving synergistically.
  • Sprint! Either on a separate day or before/after an upper body session. They keep you lean and powerful.
  • Include some lateral movements in your training – cossack squats, sideways farmers walks, side shuffles, change of direction sprints. Anybody who plays sports need to go in different directions, not simply straight forward or back.
  • Do your conditioning (both aerobic and anaerobic, explosive conditioning). One of the best ways to feel old is to get out of breath walking up the stairs. Aim for the stamina of a horse, rather than a pig.
  • Include some loaded sled pushing/pulling and carrying (farmer’s walks). Both beast exercises that will improve total body strength and conditioning.

Why ‘Slow Cardio’ Is So Important

The more I learn about fitness game, the more I realise I don’t know.

Conditioning is one of those things I used to have a very strong opinion on (how stupid I was). “The only way is high intensity intervals! Anything less is ineffective. Got to train like an athlete!” (Ironically, training like an athlete requires you to train many different attributes, not just one).

Thankfully, I no longer subscribe to this all-or-nothing mindset. I’ve learned that the strategy needed depends on the person and the situation.

But it’s ‘#grindmode’ 2016, and when the only tool wielded by fitness people seems to be a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. We beat ourselves into the ground with insanely high volume 5-6 days a week.

And we still don’t see abs.

This continues for months, until the person gives up, or finally seeks a different path.

Like Albert Einstein said:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So why have I changed my opinion? Why is this relevant to you guys?

Strength and conditioning expert Joel Jamieson wrote the excellent book ‘Ultimate MMA conditioning’. This book completely changed my mindset on conditioning.

Most of you reading this are not MMA or combat athletes. You’re training to look good, and possibly perform well in whatever sport you may be doing. You also (hopefully) care about being strong and having decent stamina. In other words, you want to be powerful in all aspects. This way of looking at conditioning can help you with that.

Now before we go deeper, let’s do a basic breakdown of the energy systems we use during exercise.

Aerobic – pretty much any activity that lasts for more than 2 minutes uses the aerobic system as it’s primary source of energy. One example would be long distance running.

Anaerobic glycolytic – this system works from about 10 seconds up to roughly 2 minutes. It would be highly active during a 400 m race, for example.

Anaerobic alactic – this energy system is dominant up to about 10 seconds – think a 60 m sprint, 1 rep max powerlift, or high jump.

Some sports require a mix of all three energy systems (such as football and boxing).

Now picture this scenario.

A guy says ‘I want to lose weight and get fit to run a race/compete in sport etc’. So he begins doing 3-6 ‘high intensity’ cardio workouts every week. Burpees, box jumps, medicine ball slams, Antony Joshua’s latest youtube workout, you name it..

He makes some gains. His stamina is better. He’s losing fat and looking better too. Result..

But wait.

After a couple of months, everything comes to a steaming halt.

Fitness stops improving. His joints hurt. He feels tired all the time. Fat even starts creeping back on.

He just can’t seem to make progress.

What gives?

There is an explanation.

Let’s take the famous study by Japanese researcher Dr Tabata (which I heard about in a recent Joel Jamieson interview). Subjects were separated into two groups, one that used tabata training (very high intensity), and one that that used aerobic exercise. Their changes in fitness were then compared.

This study is often cited by proponents of high intensity exercise, but fails to miss some very important details.

The test subjects who did the Tabata training saw very quick initial gains in fitness – but this stopped after three weeks. The people who did the aerobic training protocol continued improving fitness markers far past three weeks.

This is a very important point that people seem to ignore.

The overall potential for aerobic system development is far greater than that of the anaerobic system (which has a much smaller margin).

Before worrying about high intensity exercise, it should be a priority to improve your aerobic fitness.

A strong aerobic base allows you to recover better between sessions, as well as between bouts of high intensity activity.

So when you do have your high intensity sessions, you will actually be able to work harder, thus getting better results.

Think of your aerobic system as the base of a pyramid. Explosive, anaerobic type activities are at the summit. A wider base means a higher peak.

You cannot achieve peak fitness without first having a well developed aerobic system.

If all you do are killer circuits, you are robbing yourself of progress.

This is not to mention the numerous life-giving benefits that aerobic exercise offers (high and low intensity conditioning actually affect your heart in different ways, which is why it’s important to do both).

Among the benefits of aerobic exercise are:

Improved life expectancy (due to effects on inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk)
Better mood
Memory and ability to learn are enhanced (if you’re interested, ‘Spark‘ is an excellent book that goes in depth about the impact exercise has on your brain).
Brings your nervous system back down to a more relaxed state (‘parasympathetic’ state).

I now incorporate at least 2-3 short, low intensity conditioning sessions per week (in addition to 3-4 days weight training, and either football or sprints).

When I say short, I keep these aerobic workouts to 10 – 20 minutes usually. Just enough to work up a little sweat and get my heart rate up. (If you are an athlete, you need to be doing more than this, according to Jamieson’s book. At least 30 minutes as a minimum).

And though I once feared that ‘slow’ cardio would hurt my athleticism, it hasn’t. I PB’d in 20 meter sprints just this last weekend.

As a coach I’ve messed up a lot of times. I’ve ‘killed’ my clients with ‘savage’ conditioning sessions, thinking I was turning them into thoroughbreds. In reality, better long term results in fitness and body composition would have come from more aerobic work early on.

Although high intensity sessions are much quicker, sometimes you just have to get tough and do the work required for success.

10-20 minutes at the end of a weight training session, or 10-30 minutes in between heavy training days is all we’re really looking for here. This does not have to be in the gym. It can be any light activity that makes you sweat.
Just grab a heart rate monitor and keep yourself in the zone of 120-150. Resist the temptation to go harder.

Here’s an example of an aerobic ‘recovery’ workout you can do on your day off from from hard weight training:

Keep heart rate in 120-150 range throughout work.

1a) Sled push x 2
1b) Press-up x 5-10

2a) Sled push x 2
2b) Reverse lunges x 8 / leg

3a) Rowing machine x 2 minutes
3b) TRX row x 8

4a) Rowing Machine x 2 minutes
4b) Glute bridge x 10

You can do whatever you want as long as you stay in the heart rate zone specified and keep the exercises reasonable.

Hope that helps guys

Feel free to message me if you have any questions.

Mustafa

Busting Fitness Myths

You have to go hard every single session.

Training hard all the time is impossible for all but the most elite athletes who have excellent sleep, special nutrition plans, and the perfect training regime.

For ‘normal’ people, going hard all the time may be contributing to busted-up joints, constant illness, stubborn belly fat, and lack of progress. Sometimes, you just need to cut the number of hard training sessions and chill. Strategically plan easy workouts and deload weeks to stay fresh and avoid burnout.

You have to squat ass to grass.

Man, not everybody is an Olympic lifter. God has blessed us with different body types, we have different injury histories etc. Some people will never be able to squat safely past parallel. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure at life. Find the depth and style of squat that works for you and try your hardest to improve it (this doesn’t mean you can skip legs, my friend).

Thinking you have to max out every week to get stronger on the big lifts.

You don’t have to push every set to the limit. You can make solid gains working at a lower percentage of your maximum. Save the all-out, gut busting efforts for testing/peaking days. If you don’t, your central nervous system is going to take a battering and your next few days of lifting will probably suck.

The only way to lose weight is to do high intensity circuits all the time.

Again, refer to the first point. Doing crazy circuits might improve your fitness for a few weeks, but you’ll soon hit a wall – not burning fat or getting any fitter. Crazy circuits are a spice, not the main ingredient.

The only way to lose weight is to do slow steady state runs all the time.

These guys are the opposite of the ones above. It’s weird, many people seem to believe that they only have two options: ultra-insane workouts, or slow, one hour treadmill slogs. Doing this steady state running all the time doesn’t seem to achieve much apart from destroying people’s knees and making them skinny-fat.

You have to count calories to burn fat or build muscle.

You don’t.

Precision Nutrition has an excellent guide on how to manage your weight and physique using just your hands. Counting calories can be useful when starting out, or if you are a physique competitor.

Who really wants to spend the rest of their lives calculating their macros on an app?

Eat protein and veg at every meal, drink water until your urine is clear, and you have a good starting point.

You can get the same results as your favourite athlete/fitness personality/celebrity by doing their routine.

The reality is, many of these people are born with great genetics, get paid to work out, and are taking performance enhancing drugs. Instagram is rife with this kind of thing – people with amazing bodies (many of whom are clearly taking gear), selling their ‘exclusive training and nutrition plans’. Nine times out of ten, you won’t recreate their results. Run your own race.

Heavy weights make you slow.

Heavy weight training improves your ability to recruit the powerful fast twitch muscle fibers needed for explosive activities. Faster running, higher jumping, harder throwing.

To lose weight, you should do high reps if you want to lose weight.

Don’t get me wrong, doing high rep sets with little rest can induce a metabolic effect, but you certainly do not have to do only do high reps when trying to cut fat. You can lift heavy, in low rep ranges, and still lose weight – the determining factor is your diet.

Smart diet = fat loss. Poor diet = despair.

You have to go low carb to lose weight.

Again, this is simply one of the tools in the fat loss box – not the only one. I myself recommend this for certain clients with a lot of fat to lose, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

You can reduce fat in specific areas of the body via training.

No matter how often fitness professionals address this myth, it doesn’t seem to go away. Fat on your body is like an onion skin. To lose this fat, you have to peel the whole layer of skin off. You cannot simply reduce fat in one area specifically. Crunches won’t reduce stomach fat. Neither will kickbacks for the triceps. A good diet and the right amount of conditioning and lifting will.

You have to eat 6 small meals a day (to lose weight &/or build muscle).

This does work. It also doesn’t work. Again, it depends on the person. The final determinant of what your body looks like is calories in and calories out (along with the quality of those calories). How many meals you eat depends on your preference.

You don’t need to do cardio.

This is not only lazy and misguided, but it’s also dangerous. The heart is literally what makes our heart beat. We want it to function optimally. Having abs doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy. You must include some kind of aerobic training in your life. You don’t have to become the treadmill guy/girl above, but you need to move and get a sweat on every so often.

Working your heart and lungs regularly has numerous benefits, including a sharper brain, better mood, and less risk of chronic diseases (the book Spark is a great read if you’re interested in reading more about this).

You don’t need to do the basics forever.

Sure, you can and should switch things up for variety and progression. But you will never outgrow the basics. Deadlift, squat, press, pull, carry, push (sled etc) will never go out of style.

Fancy shit should not be the meat and potatoes of your workout – save that for when the serious work is done. Any time I become a fancy Dan, I quickly realise how important the classics are as my strength and physique start changing for the worse. The basic movements work, and always will.

6 exercises to improve your squat and deadlift

If you don’t already deadlift or squat, don’t even read this article – find a barbell and start doing so immediately.

I kind of lied with the title. I’m not here to specifically talk about the squat and deadlift. Rather, I’m here to talk about my fave topic, the posterior chain (aka the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. You could probably chuck the upper back in there too).

You may be rolling your eyes about now, but if any of the following sound appealing, keep reading:

  • you want a stronger squat

  • you want a stronger deadlift

  • you want to run faster

  • you want to jump higher

  • you want to potentially improve lower back or knee pain

  • you want better posture

  • you want to finally get rid of chicken legs

Thought so.

In a nutshell, the posterior chain is vital for being athletic, powerful, and healthy.

Coaches in sports and athletics have always seen the posterior chain as a priority, while many weekend warriors have spent years avoiding it. After all, why do a Romanian deadlift when you can bench instead? We’ve all been guilty of it at some stage.

Often times, my job as a coach is simply to get people training the body parts they don’t do alone. In most cases, that means a tonne of upper back and posterior chain work.

Predictably, after a few months of training, many of my male clients report that their trousers feel tighter due to muscle growth in the glutes and thighs. No more skinny jeans (thank God for that…).

So how do we go about getting the good stuff listed above?

Let me show you.

If you have trained for a while, you probably know most of these exercises already. The list is by no means definitive, and different people react differently to different exercises. Try them out and see which ones work. If it’s a good fit, keep it. If not, replace it.

(In no particular order.)

Kettlebell swing

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T02vPCybApM[/embedyt]

One of the best of all. Higher jump, stronger & better shaped glutes, and when done for a higher reps, an excellent fat burner. Do them!

Romanian deadlift

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwpFA1Q7des[/embedyt]

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln2PzsFQbhE[/embedyt]

The Romanian Deadlift (aka the RDL), not only builds strength and mass of the hamstrings, but also gives a great dynamic stretch, potentially improving hamstring flexibility mobility.

Glute bridge

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm6MlaJ6GLA[/embedyt]

Many people don’t even know how to squeeze their glutes. This is a problem, as the glutes are the largest muscle group in the body. If you don’t know how to activate them, you’re probably not as strong and athletic as you could be.

The glute bridge is a good place to start for most people as it teaches you how to activate these powerful muscles. Adding a band around the knees makes the contraction at the top of the movement even more intense, really helping you feel the squeeze.

Do not just thrust your hips into the air. At the top, squeeze HARD (it should feel uncomfortable).

Once you get good at the bridge, you can advance it by elevating your upper body to increase the range of motion.

You can do these before deadlifts &/or squats to ‘wake up’ your glutes, and it’s also a great exercise in and of itself.

Back extension

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opxPm35a-Mk[/embedyt]

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSksrJVMKRo[/embedyt]

Such an under-rated (and badly butchered) exercise.

The spinal erector muscles in the lower back help keep your torso upright and in good posture. One of the activities in the Spartan Race was the ‘Bucket Brigade’, where you fill up a huge bucket with soil and carry it for 0.5 km (or more). My lower back was absolutely screaming by the end of it. Definitely should have done more back extensions beforehand.

As with many exercises, you need to be deliberate with what you’re doing, rather than just swinging up and down. Flex the glutes hard at the top position (just as you would at the top of a deadlift), and do not over-extend your back.

You will feel an intense burn in the hams, glutes, and lower back. Adding weight makes this even more brutal.

Bulgarian split squats

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEiwuk0xu9M[/embedyt]

(Please note – in the video above, I’m doing one and a half rep Bulgarian split squats. You don’t need to do the half rep in the normal version.)

Man. This is probably the most horrible one on the list. But as you probably now know, the sh*ttiest exercises are usually the best.

While these are great for the quads, they really hammer the glutes too. Prepare to swear badly after each set.

(Note: Not everyone should do these off a high bench – it’s perfectly fine to reduce the height if needed.)

Swiss ball curl

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drWPCyHsZ1w[/embedyt]

While this may look like a ‘girly’ movement, trust me, it’s much harder than it looks. It’s something you would do more towards the end of a workout, once the heavier stuff done is out of the way. A solid addition to your arsenal, especially as it doesn’t cause much joint stress at all.

I hope you enjoyed this guys. Better get training (unless you want to look like Hank from King Of The Hill).

tumblr_lsgeqrqkwd1qcdcwn

Are You Doing Your Bodyweight Exercises Correctly?

What’s up guys,

Now those who train with me know I keep things pretty strict when it comes to exercise technique. I don’t like rounded lower backs, slouched posture, or arched backs all in the name of adding extra weight to the bar.

The fact is, quality reps always trump garbage reps.

Quality reps engage the right muscles, make you stronger throughout the lift, and bulletproof your body against injury. Crappy reps don’t target the correct muscles, don’t improve your strength much, and give you a one-way to ticket to Snap City.

There’s nothing worse than seeing someone do half-squats or trying to press a weight that’s clearly too heavy for them. This is what’s known as ego lifting – guys trying to fool themselves (and Instagram =/) into thinking they can lift heavier weights than they’re capable of.

Ego lifting doesn’t get you anywhere.

(Note: there is a time and a place for form that is less than perfect, such as during very heavy lifting. That’s cool, as long as you have a good foundation of strength and technique to begin with.)

I’m especially a stickler for good form when it comes to the basic bodyweight movements, such as press-ups, pull-ups, and inverted rows. If you don’t have good form with these staples, it’s unlikely you’ll be any better when it comes to moving heavy weight.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a seminar aimed at personal trainers.

During the breaks, the hosts ran a competition for the max amount of press-ups and pull-ups, with a prize for the winner.

Well guess what?

Barely anyone used a full range of motion. Pretty much every rep was choppy at best. None of the officiators said anything either.

The average score in the room was probably 50-70 press-ups, and 30-40+ pull-ups.

To put this number into context, potential Royal Marines have to do 16 strict pull-ups and 60 press-ups to earn maximum points during recruitment testing.

Wait, whut?

(Yeah, I know a lot of them may have been doing the reps however necessary to get the prize, but it would have been interesting to see the average numbers if the officiators enforced strict form.)

Before we move on, here’s what a few of the best coaches in the world have to say about bodyweight training.

Jason Ferruggia

Not everyone needs to or should lift a barbell, but bodyweight exercises are essential. I’ve used them to rapidly transform the bodies of professional athletes, models and entertainers. One of the many things I love about them is they can be done anywhere at any time.

Jim Smith

Many men don’t realize that serious muscle and strength can be built with just bodyweight exercises.  Not only that, bodyweight only workouts can be high intensity and done in quick training sessions throughout the week. They’re free, improve movement, and improve relative strength.

Zach Evan-Esh

MOST guys use bodyweight training ineffectively and inefficiently. – You CAN pack on muscle with bodyweight training. You CAN develop serious strength & power as well as burn fat through bodyweight only training.

Bodyweight exercises work a whole lot of muscle at once, so we need to get it right.

For instance, during a press-up, you are (or should be) engaging your shoulders, arms, chest, back, abs, glutes, and quads.

So with the above in mind, below is a brief run-through of three classic bodyweight movements – the pull-up, press-up, and inverted row. Hopefully it will help tighten up your form so you get the best out of these old dependables of strength training.

1) Press-up

To make it easier: put a medicine ball underneath your chest and touch the ball, then press back up.

To make it harder: elevate your feet or wear a weighted vest.

2) Pull-up

To make it easier: use elastic bands to assist you at the bottom of the movement.
To make it harder: add weight with a weighted vest or dip belt.

3) Inverted row

To make it easier: bend your legs or raise the height of the bar.
To make it harder: elevate your feet on a box/bench, or add a weighted vest.

Hope this helps guys.

Bodyweight exercises always can and should be a part of your training regime. Just make sure you’re doing them properly!

Mustafa

8 Things I Learned From The Spartan Race

So it’s a week after I ran the Spartan Sprint in Windsor. I’ve never been a fan of running unless it’s on a football pitch or a 100m track, plus I was worried I’d lose too much weight.

In the end, it was an absolute blast and I learned a lot about training in the process.

Read on for more.

 

1) Train with a team

Out of everything I’ve learned, this stands out as the most important – the importance of a team (just make sure it’s the right one.)

Training with a group of strong-willed individuals will take the energy and intensity of your own work to the next level.

I always used to train solo, partly because I like doing things on my own, and partly because I rarely meet others with a similar training philosophy.

In the past year however, I’ve been lucky enough to find a good number of people who share that philosophy, who love to train hard, and are great guys too. Whether it’s sprinting, lifting, or ‘Spartan’ style training, the sessions are always a blast,

For the Spartan Race, I had three very motivated guys alongside me. Every session was fiyah! Fun, enjoyable, but gritty, hard work. Nobody wanted to give up or wuss out. I gave everything I had to keep up with the others in certain areas, and vice versa. Our last training session before the race was one of the most intense I’ve done in a long time.

Be very selective about who you align yourself with. Only train with people with whom who you can go to war.

 

2) Get comfortable being uncomfortable

The Spartan Race is not ‘comfortable’. It was rainy, cold, and we had to wade through mud, slime, and ravines full of stinging nettles. Near the end of the race, some kind of wooden branch stabbed the sole of my foot, and it still seems to be embedded there (I must get it removed).

I tried to ensure our training sessions were as hard or harder than anything we would encounter on race day. We took all comforts away.

– An air-conditioned, carpeted gym is comfortable. Being outdoors is not. So we ran outdoors.
– Using chalk is comfortable. So we stopped using chalk (chalk improves grip).
– Taking long rests in between sets of big compound lifts is comfortable. So we started doing other exercises in between.
– Lifting heavy weights at the beginning of a session is comfortable. Lifting them at the end is not. So we did hard fartlek style sprints first, and did the heavy lifting later.
– Carrying a nice soft sandbag in the gym is comfortable. Carrying a huge log with sharp and awkward edges all over is not. So we carried mothaf*cking logs!
– Using a treadmill to run is comfortable. Running up a hill is not. So we got out and ran up hills.

You get the picture.

Spartan Race or not, do things that shake you up. (Please note, the aim is not to puke or be ‘hardcore’. All the above were done while ensuring good technique.)

 

3) You can always do more

No matter how tired you are or how bad it burns, you can always do one more. Just that little bit more.

One more rep, one more burpee, one more minute of holding those kettlebells.

Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body. Talk to yourself positively and never give up.

(Again, the exception is if your technique is poor or has completely broken down, putting you at risk of injury. If that’s the case, STOP.)

 

4) Carry, carry, carry

Loaded carries are one of the most primal, brutally effective ways of training. Excellent for building a strong, cut Spartan physique.

Depending on what variation you do, they develop a crushing grip, plus strength and endurance in the arms, shoulders, upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

On the rare occasion you see people doing them in commercial gyms, they’re using weights that are far too light. Either up the weight, or up the distance.

If you go for distance, you’ll develop more endurance in the muscles and lungs. If you go for weight, you’ll build up more strength and muscle.

In the race itself, we had to carry logs, buckets, and sandbags for up to a one kilometre at a time. My arms and lower back were absolutely screaming (got a nice pump though :)).

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I very often use some type of farmer’s carry as a finisher to my strength training sessions.

Here are some variations for you guys to use:

Sandbag zercher carry

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoerYK7HY-8[/embedyt]

Sandbag fireman carry

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvpZrQSsWnk[/embedyt]

Sandbag Bearhug carry

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N1e0pP4sJo[/embedyt]

Farmer’s walk

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiR7VlnoSI0[/embedyt]

Trap bar walk

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3Ftk7Q6zp8[/embedyt]

 

5) Have a focus

Train for an event. I’ve said this before, but having a goal makes your training way more powerful.

Writing this a week after the race, my training sessions have definitely calmed down. The focus and intensity just isn’t there. Until I figure out a new goal, I’ll probably be coasting a little bit, because there isn’t a ‘why’ to my training.

 

6) Do more endurance training!

Cross training and being an all-round athlete is a great feeling. Knowing that you can run long, sprint hard, lift heavy, and do it for two hours a pop is cool.

I train for life. Life isn’t just a short sprint or a max effort squat. It’s being able to handle yourself in different situations. There’s nothing worse than playing football or climbing a hill and breathing like Big Pun (rip). It sucks. It makes you feel weak.

Unless you’re competing or trying to conquer a specific performance goal, we should all be doing more conditioning and ‘endurance’ type work.

To improve my base level of endurance, I did an easy ‘aerobic capacity’ session every other day. I wore a monitor and kept my heart rate between 120-150 bpm. I used the sled, bodyweight exercises (such as press-ups, squats, lunges, inverted rows), and various ‘cardio’ machines for about 30 minutes.

I had no problem running the race, and in retrospect, I should have sprinted harder in between obstacles. Because I had no concept of what a 5k felt like, I was conservative with how hard I ran.

 

7) You won’t lose all your muscle

One of the reasons I was initially reluctant to do the race was because I was scared of losing muscle. I already have to fight for the muscle I have, so I was reluctant to lose 10 kg again (like I did when I was boxing).

I ended up losing about 1 kg, and it was probably fat anyway. My upper back seems bigger (from so much pulling and carrying presumably). The other guys reported their arms, legs and glutes growing, while stomach fat disappeared.

We were lifting heavy and eating healthy. We ran, crawled, carried, lifted, and pulled heavy things. All of us were happy with our results. If you want to lose weight, Spartan style training is perfect for you.

If you don’t want that, just keep the calories up and add a very small amount of traditional lifting to maintain muscle size (although I didn’t).

 

8) Burpees suck.. but they’re good for you

We all have exercises we despise – zercher squats and burpees immediately spring to mind.

Burpees are the penalty for failing an obstacle in the Spartan Race, so it made sense to start practicing them in case (I had to do them for two obstacles).

I have never liked burpees and I never will, but I respect them.

Throughout training, myself and the Spartan boys committed to doing 30 every day (whether we had trained that day or not).

Imagine you did 30 burpees everyday? How would that change your body?

It’s not just because of burpees, but one of our team members, Pete, achieved great results in just 6 weeks while training for the race.

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Another team member, Aidan lost 5% body and is leaner than he has been in a long time. All due to dedication and respecting the process of training, sleeping, and eating.

Stay strong Spartans. Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!

If you want to carve a Spartan physique and have the will to succeed, please fill in the following:

–> http://bit.ly/29XNQSQ

Mustafa

P.S. Here’s a little video of Spartan sprint highlights (from the perspective of Pete). Unfortunately the video cut out half way through so we didn’t get some of the coolest parts of the race, but there’s still some good stuff here anyway.

4 Spartan exercises you need to start doing

Definition of spartan – “showing or characterized by austerity or a lack of comfort or luxury”

As many of you who follow me on Instagram may know, I’m training for a Spartan race. I always said I’d never do it (mostly because I was scared of losing weight), but here I am.

As it turns out, I’m having the most fun training ever.

I’m doing the race with two of my clients (who are now friends), as well as another close friend of mine.

The group aspect of training is extremely motivating and competitive, and has extracted another level of beast out of me. The sessions are very tough, but mentally, I feel stronger than ever, because I’m working with a team for a common cause.

In a Spartan race, you have to run, jump, crawl, pick up & carry heavy objects, climb up a rope, pull yourself over a wall etc. I’m a big proponent of being strong and being able to use that strength (‘functional’ as some refer to it). That’s why it appeals to me so much.

What use are powder puff muscles if you can’t climb up a rope or run more than a mile?

We are not cavemen anymore, but we still have cavemen instincts. We must nurture these instincts to stay human.

I was discussing training with a friend the other day, and we both boiled our training down to wanting one thing – we want to feel like warriors.

Why do people sign up for dangerous obstacle course races or for white collar boxing matches, knowing they could get knocked out cold?

Because they want to feel like warriors.

With that said, today I want to talk about spartan training. How to achieve simplicity in your workouts.

During my prep for the race, I’ve switched up my training a little.

Gone are many of the smaller, ‘luxury’ exercises – curls, rear delt flyes etc (they are definitely still important, but not right this moment).

I’ve replaced them with basic, primal exercises. Basic, primal exercises work. They burn fat. They build muscle. They hurt. They’ve been around forever because they work.

Below is a list of basic, spartan exercises you can re-introduce to your regime and really kick your workouts up a notch.

  • Swap shrugs for… Farmers Walks

I hate shrugs (although I do like incline shrugs). I just don’t feel them and have never really noticed much growth from the standing version. Why bother when I can just do a heavy farmer’s walk with it’s whole plethora of benefits?

They forge a crushing grip

They fix your posture (making you look taller and opening up your chest)

They build up your traps, abs, lower back, quads, and glutes. I attribute some very good upper back growth to these.

They can be used for conditioning (aka to get lean).

They are raw in every sense!

  •  Swap lat pulldowns for.. pull-ups.

There is a time and a place for lat pulldowns (it’s not in a Spartan race). Every healthy adult male should be able to bust out at least five dead hang pull-ups (females should try to get at least one). The ability to pull yourself up over a bar is an excellent indicator of your pound-for-pound, relative strength.

Don’t get it twisted, pull-ups are hard (especially well-executed ones). This is why you don’t see many people bothering with them.

Stick with this basic, classic exercise which builds cobra lats and strong biceps. They’re known as the ‘upper body squat’ for a reason.

  • Swap crunches for.. crawls

Crawls are used by martial artists (such as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners) for many reasons, one being that they improve ability to get into different positions that we usually find difficult (because of tight muscles etc). They also build shoulder and core strength, and really work the legs.

So dispense with the 100s of situps a day (which is probably just giving you a hunchback) and start crawling.

 

  • Swap leg extensions for.. sled pushes/drags.

Pulling and pushing a heavy sled is one of the weapons of the spartan. There are so many ways to use it (as you can see below), but it’s guaranteed to lift your heart rate into the stratosphere (potential fat loss), as well as building quad and glute strength.

Any exercise that builds strength and burns fat simultaneously is a winner in my book. It’s primal as hell – no fancy machine or elaborate technique needed (you don’t even need a sled – you can use a tyre, sandbags etc).

Keep it old school and do the work.

The Busy Professionals Guide To Getting Fit

Pretty much everybody over the age of 30 in London is stressed.

In my former life as a pharmacist (shudder), I worked in many of London’s financial districts. It was mind boggling how many busy professionals were taking anxiety and depression pills (a disproportionately high number compared to other areas I’d worked in).

Go to any metropolitan area in the world and you’ll find the same thing – highly strung professionals yapping into a head-set with a briefcase in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

We are surrounded by distractions 24/7. Our phones ping with Whatsapp messages, emails, and notifications all day. It’s ceaseless.

However, evidence is emerging that this is no good for our health. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin breaks it down in his book ‘The Organized Mind‘ – checking our phones all the time keeps us in a constant state of ‘alert’.

Our brains become overstimulated, resulting in an increase of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is a ‘stress hormone’, while adrenaline is the famous ‘fight or flight’ hormone. These hormones are not supposed to remain in our bodies all day long and can cause health problems when they do.

Though it would be difficult to go back to a life without smartphones, I sometimes wish we would. But such is life, and without the technological advancements our world has made I wouldn’t be here writing this to you.

So now that I’ve acknowledged how busy and distracted we all are, I’d like to know if you’ve ever said the following…

‘I’m too busy to train’.

‘I’m too tired after work’.

‘I don’t want to spend my life in the gym’.

In essence… the old ‘I’m too busy’ chestnut.

I get it. I’ve certainly said it. Some of my best clients said it before they started training with me.

The last thing you want after a long day at work is to drag yourself to the human zoo (aka your local gym) and spend 1-2 hours of your evening there. That idea is horrible to me too, and I love training.

(By the way, training doesn’t have to take place in a gym).

Speaking for myself (as well as all of you), I waste at least 30 minutes every day checking Facebook, liking videos, and doing basically nothing. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve tried to get work done and ended up watching a video of monkeys racing bears on a bicycle (true story) or some other obscure nonsense.

Now I’m sure all of you know about the benefits of exercise, nature’s tonic to many of life’s ills.

If you work hard enough, it will make you more productive, better focused, and improve how you look in your business (and birthday) suit.

So what if you could get the above benefits in just 30 minutes?

You can.

If you’re busy with a career and/or family, you have limited time to train.

You must make every minute count. Leave your phone in your locker, get in, hit it hard, get out.

I’ve recently cut down my training sessions time to the shortest time possible. It’s been a breath of fresh air getting in and out the gym so quickly. The workouts are intense and I feel great after.

Here’s the breakdown of a typical 30 minute session.

  • Dynamic warm-up (Star jumps, skipping rope etc) (5 mins)

  • Strength circuit (Strength exercises done in a circuit ) (10-15 mins)

  • Cardio or conditioning finisher (battle ropes, sled sprints etc) (5-8 mins)

  • Cool down (2-5 minutes)

If you follow the above template, I guarantee you will leave the gym feeling smoked (in a good way).. and it only took 30 minutes.

In these uber quick sessions, I suggest you train the whole body or split each session into ‘upper’ or ‘lower’ body.

Don’t bother with the usual chest, arms, abs sessions like most people do. Splitting it in the way I described above is far more efficient when you only have a short amount of time.

You’ll use whole body movements such as press-ups, squats, kettlebell swings, push-presses. These classic movements burn calories and build lean muscle.

The video below shows a workout following the above template.

In this particular session I’m doing an upper body workout with a bit of additional ‘core’ work. You can replace the core work with conditioning if you feel you have extra fat that needs to go.

Both men and women can benefit from this workout. Go as heavy as you can for the specified number of reps (ensuring good form throughout). Stick to the rest periods.

Do 3-6 cycles of the following, leaving about 30 seconds max between each exercise.

1a) Press-up x 8-10 reps

1b) Kettlebell row x 8-12 each arm

1c) Band curl x 12-20 reps

1d) Renegade row x 5 each arm

You can get a mini-band here.

The above workout is just an example – you can switch things up to fit your experience, fitness level etc.

Don’t complicate things. Get in there and get after it. You’ll feel a lot better for it.

For any questions or coaching enquiries, please email me on mustafa@jumpliftsprint.com.