1,000 Push-ups!

I’m now four weeks into my training program for the ATA Nationals Tournament.  One of the goals I set for myself was to work up to 1,000 push-ups a week.  It turns out that it didn’t take me 12 weeks to reach that mark.  I did it in four!  Last week I did 1,100 push-ups!  I worked up steadily from 400 on week one to 1,100 last week.  I’m pretty pleased with that, and I’m feeling stronger for it.

Why did I choose push-ups as part of my program?  Here are some good reasons to like push-ups:

  • They’re portable!  No equipment required and they require minimal space.  You can do them practically anywhere.
  • They’re a whole body work out. They work your chest, arms, shoulders and core.

In order to work up to my goal level I did a few simple things.

  • The first week I figured out how many push-ups I could do in a set before failure.  I started out around 50.
  • The first week, I did two sets / day, every other day.
  • Over the course of the next few weeks, I cranked up my set size from 50 to 65, to 70, to 75 and even sometimes up to 80.
  • Then I moved to more sets on more days.  Last week I did between 1 and 3 sets on all seven days.
Pretty quickly I’ve managed to move up to 1,000 for the week!  Now, there is nothing really magical about that number, but as a target it kept me motivated.  Now, I need to figure out another goal around push-ups so I can keep exploring this exercise for the rest of my training program.  I’ll post more updates on what I do with push-ups here over the coming weeks.

Week 3 Nationals Training Results

Well, week three of my 12 week training program was a rough one.  After feeling like I’d had a very strong week 2, the wheels came off a bit this week.  I trained all seven days in week two and went right on training the first day of this week.  No rest days!  By the last day of week 2 my legs were sore, but I decided to power on through.  My Monday morning, my legs were hamburger.  No training on Monday and it took me two days before I even felt human again.  Here’s my week 3 summary.

Here’s a table that shows how my first three weeks compare, and then I have a couple of charts that visually show some of the same data.

So, here’s a summary of how I did on key metrics:

  • Training hours – this was my lowest week so far.  I had to slow down the start of the week and then was traveling on Friday and Saturday.  That being said, I did make some really good progress on my Traditional Weapons form.  I’m getting that into really good competition shape.
  • Push-ups.  I moved from sets of 65 to sets of 75.  I’m near my original 1,000 / week goal.  I’ll be sure to pass that goal in week 4 and then will have to set a new goal!
  • Weight – My weight is pretty flat.  Any fluctuation here appears to be water weight.  I am starting to gain some strength and definition in my upper body, but I’m going to have to hit the weights harder if I want to see real progress there by the end of week 12.  I’m sticking pretty close to my diet plan, so I’m feeling OK about that.

Thanks again to all my virtual training partners out there.  I really appreciate the encouragement!

Evaluating Mike Dolce’s Living Lean Book

When I started designing my own Fighter’s Diet, one of the first things I looked into was Mike Dolce’s Three Weeks to Shredded.  I liked a lot of the ideas in Mike’s book, but it was really more of a weight cutting manual than an optimized diet for a fighter.  While there was a lot of good advice, it left me wanting more.

Late in 2011, Mike published a new book called Living Lean.  This book has a lot more of what I was looking for.  I get a ton of hits on my site for people googling the Dolce Diet, so I thought I’d add some info on Mike’s new book too.

There are three main sections to Living Lean:

Here’s what you’ll find in each section:

The biographical information is interesting and Mike tells some good stories.  While there is some entertainment value here, I think it’s really just to deeply establish Mike’s credibility in the area.  He doesn’t take the time to explain the science of what’s he’s doing — unlike many other diet books.  He’s pretty much making the claim that he knows what works and he’s going to share the secrets with you.  You don’t need to worry much about the “why” part because he’s an expert.  Given this, I can see why it’s important for him to set up this context.

In the diet section, Mike lays out some basic principles about eating good, whole food.  He doesn’t believe in calorie counting — which is good because I don’t either!  Instead, if you eat the right things the rest will take care of itself.  Next, you get a lesson in shopping for the right things. If you only buy good stuff then you’ll only be able to eat good stuff!  And finally, you get a set of meal plans and recipes.

I like Mike’s approach on the recipes.  While he doesn’t spend any time on the issues with grains, like you’ll get from Robb Wolf, he does offer gluten free options for all the recipes.  That’s simply a decision that’s left up to you (although many of the recipes are gluten free by default).  He also offers vegan options if you’re eating that way for moral reasons (I feel sorry for you, but that’s your call).  I’ve tried cooking some of the recipes and they’re generally easy to follow and tasty.  My favorite so far is the Chicken and Asparagus stir fry.  You can put this together in just 10 minutes if you have the (easy to find) ingredients on hand.

The last section is about exercise.  While it’s hard to substitute a book for time with a real strength and conditioning coach, Mike offers sound advice in this secion.  Some of the workouts are killer.  My favorite is the Fighter’s Treadmill Workout.  It gives you a ~30 minute interval training routine to get you the kind of endurance you’ll need for a MMA fight.  When you first try this workout it will bring you to your knees. If you can get through this without wanting to die then you’re ready!

So, is this book worth the investment?  The price per page is pretty steep.  At about $40 for a 160 page book it seems expensive when you compare to some other diet books.  However, would you even think twice about paying $40 for even just 30 minutes with a coach that has Mike’s qualifications?  I wouldn’t!  When you think about it that way, it’s a steal.

I’m working several of the Living Lean recipes and workout tips into my own program.  It think it’s worth checking out for yourself.

Week 2 Training Results

At the turn of the new year I kicked off my 12 week training program to get ready for the ATA Nationals tournament.  As part of that program, I’ve put together a system for tracking my progress.  You can read an overview of that (and see my week 1 results) here.

I’ve just completed week two of my program.  Here’s the quick summary of my week:

And here is how I stacked up this week vs. last week on my key metrics:

So, how did the week stack up?  Let’s look at the key elements:

  • Total Training Minutes – I feel really good about this.  I came in at just under 90 minutes / day.  Given that I have a full time job and a family, I’ll have a hard time keeping up that pace, but it felt really good this week.
  • Push-ups – One of my big goals with this is gaining strength and I have a goal to reach 1,000 push-ups a week.  This week I did nearly 600 which was up from 400 last week.  Last week I did sets of 50 at a time.  This week I did sets of 65 and eventually moved to sets of 70.  Making good progress here
  • Diet – The cheats column measures how many times I went off my Fighter’s Diet program.  I actually did great on my diet this week (right up until the 49er game today — I’ll see that on the scale tomorrow!).  One of the things I’ve had to focus on more is eating enough to match this level of training.  This week I ate more than I’m used to eating, but still lost weight.
  • Weight and body comp – I don’t have a goal to lose weight on this program.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I still have a few pounds of fat I wouldn’t mind shedding, but I really want to gain muscle.  This week and last week I lost weight.  However, I think it’s mostly been shedding water weight so far and my overall weight hasn’t moved much.  I’ll keep an eye on this.

Now, in terms of skills I need for the tournament, things are coming along.  For my Weapons Form event, I have a good knowledge of the form and I’m really working on cleaning it up.  For my Traditional Empty Hand form, this is going to require major work.  There are 81 moves in the form and I can get through about half of them now (and it doesn’t look great).  Lots more hours to put into that.  For Taekwondo sparring, I got some good work in this week.

For my IMS/MMA event, I need to find a way to get some focus here.  I’m having trouble finding good sparring partners for this and I only made MMA class once this week.  I’ve got to find a way to put in more here.

Thanks to all my virtual training partners out there who read my blog or comment on my twitter.  I really appreciate the encouragement.

New Martial Arts Goals

In 2010, the Little Ninja and I both worked hard to help her earn her black belt.  After we succeeded at that, 2011 was really where I focused on myself so I could do what was required to earn my own black belt.  That was a fabulous experience, but after getting my black belt confirmed in December, I now found myself without a short term goal.  Second degree black belt is a long way away, so I needed to look for something more immediate.

A few weeks back, I came up with the idea of going to the ATA Nationals Tournament.  I’ve competed in some smaller tournaments, but nothing like this.  This is a big tournament, and I’ll have to compete in a higher division now than I have in the past — since I have my black belt now.  I talked to the Little Ninja about it and she loved the idea of taking a trip to Vegas with her dad.  So, we have 12 weeks from the start of the year to get ready.  We just finished the first week of training.

The Little Ninja is planning to compete in traditional forms, traditional weapons (with a Bo Staff form) and XMA Weapons (with her Kamas).  For her, I’m really only worried about getting her to put in the training hours on technique.  If she does just that, she’ll do great.  For my own training, I need to be more aggressive.

I’m planning to compete in Traditional Forms, Traditional Weapons and Taekwondo Sparring.  I’ve done all these events at small tournaments before, but I’m also planning to push myself.  The ATA has been introducing a new Integrated Martial Arts System (IMS) that uses TKD’s striking and adds submissions and takedowns.  This is really MMA fighting (with more restrictions and safety gear than the UFC).  I’m planning to train to compete in IMS at nationals.  For this I need to up my game a lot!

I’ve started by putting together a format to track my progress over the 12 weeks leading up to the tournament.  I just finished week 1, and I’m going to try to peak my training at week 11 (a week prior to the actual tourney).  Here’s what I’m tracking:

  • Minutes of traditional Taekwondo training/sparring
  • Minutes of MMA training/sparring
  • Minutes of fitness training outside martial arts (includes: gym time, weights, running, intervals, etc)
  • Push ups – I can do these anywhere and I’m setting a goal to work up to at least doing 1,000 a week
  • Adherence to my Fighter’s Diet program (I mark down each cheat meal so I don’t have too many)
  • Weight and body fat percentage.  I don’t really want to loose weight, but instead want to drive up my muscle mass without also gaining fat.  I’ve never tried to actually gain weight before so this will be new!

Here are my entries for this week.  I’ll be posting these once a week to help keep me honest.  I appreciate any feedback, suggestions or encouragement.  If you’re reading this then consider yourself one of my virtual training partners!  I appreciate your help!

So, this week I trained just over 1 hour per day (including all seven days of the week), did 400 pushups (not counting any from my regular martial arts classes), and had one cheat meal (the fries my friend ordered looked just too good!).  Oover the course of the week I weighed in on average at 143.5 lbs with 14.8% body fat (calculated using my fancy new scale).  Let’s see how next week compares!

Book Review: The Talent Code

You know that guy you train with who is so fast it makes your head spin when you spar with him?  He must simply have been lucky enough to be born fast, right?  Wrong!  Excellence in martial arts, just like playing an instrument or playing baseball is a skill, and skills follow a universal set of rules for how you excel.  In his book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, author Daniel Coyle describes the science behind talent acquisition and how you can use this knowledge to become that guy who’s faster and better than everyone else.

In his book Coyle says, “Every human skill, whether it’s playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse — basically, a signal traveling through a circuit.”  He then goes on to describe how your nervous system responds to this by building a substance called myelin, “When we fire our circuits in the right way — when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note — our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.”

He goes on to describe the process that world-class individuals use to get better.  It’s called Deep Practice.  “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways– operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes– makes you smarter.  Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors and correct them — as you would if you were walking up an ice covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go — end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.”  So, yes it is going to be hard.  But, you can do it.  Anyone can do it.  There are no Luke Skywalkers, people who posses special abilities at birth that the rest of us can’t replicate!

So, here’s the bottom line.

  • Every type of movement, and everything you think and feel is a precise set electric signal traveling through a chain of neuronal connections
  • Neural connections strengthen and are wrapped in myelin to increases signal strength, speed and accuracy
  • The more you fire a circuit, the more it becomes optimized, and the stronger, faster and more fluent your movements and thoughts become

So, how much better is a finely tuned set of neural connections than a new set?  A lot faster!  In martial arts terms, we’re not talking just a little bit faster.  Think about Neo-in-The-Matrix-faster as your guide!  Coyle gives us this reference, “Neural traffic that ones trundled along at two miles an hour can, with myelin’s help, accelerate to two hundred miles and hour.  The refractory time (the wait required between one signal and the next) decreases by a factor of 30.  The increased speed and decreased refractory time combine to boost overall information-processing capability by 3,000 times.”

So, bottom line, what do you need to do in order to become that guy who’s faster than everyone at your school?  You need to practice!  You need to practice hard!  You need to focus on your task at hand when you practice!  Time alone won’t do it.  This final quote from Coyle seems to sum it up for me, “Struggle is not optional — it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.”

You should check out this book.

The Power of One-on-One Coaching

Last week I was lucky. I made it the lunch-time, adults-only Taekwondo class at my school , but I was the only one who did — other than the instructor. That meant I got an hour of totally customized, private training.  I had a few private sessions over the past couple of years and they’re always special.

When I have a true one-on-one lesson, I don’t have to follow the “class planner” and work on what everyone else is doing. The instructor knows me. He sees me every week, and he knows what I’m good at and what I’m not. At one private session I had 6 months ago, we spent almost the entire time on my side-kick. My side-kick was kind of broken, but I didn’t even know it.  However, with 45 minutes of dedicated attention and a number of drills to focus on it the instructor fixed months of bad habits I’d developed.

At last week’s private lesson, we spent 15 minutes working on the form I’ll need to show at my next grading. The instructor showed me things to focus on that we’d never get to in a class full of kids — which describes most of the classes at my school.

I’ve recently been enjoying the HBO series Game of Thrones.  It’s a fun swords and sorcery piece with great charters. My favorite character is Arya, a 9 year-old noble-born girl who is something of a tomboy. After it becomes clear his family is in danger, her father agrees to let Arya learn to handle a sword.  The clip below from the third episode shows Arya’s first lesson. It’s a great example of the power of one-on-one coaching. Watch how engaged she is. He is totally focused on her and she senses that. If you’re a martial arts teacher, when was the last time you had a session like this with one of your students?

Interval Training for Martial Arts

If you watch UFC fights on TV, you’ll somtimes hear announcer Joe Rogan exclaim, “Uh oh, he’s gassed!” This means that one of the fighters is showing signs he’s out of breath. This is usually followed shortly thereafter by the gassed fighter being knocked out or submitted. Being in better shape is clearly a huge advantage in the UFC.

However, this clearly isn’t only for UFC fighters. Earlier this year I started to notice the same thing in my Taekwondo training. At the start of a sparring class I felt strong, but 20 to 30 minutes in, I was gassed. I might win my first match, but by #2 or #3 my guard had dropped, so I wasn’t protecting my head, and I couldn’t kick high or fast. I was a sitting duck, and I decided I had to do something about it.  I’ve been quite successful so far.

The first thing you might think of when you need to “get in shape” is running. Marathon runners run for miles and don’t get gassed, do they? Well, you’ll want to be careful about adopting that kind of static endurance training if what you’re training for is a fight. Marathons take hours. A fight is over in minutes (or less!). A fighter needs the ability to turn on maximum effort for a short burst, then recover and go again. This is where Interval Training comes in.

Interval Training involves exercises where you push yourself to peak exertion, hold that for an amount of time, scale back to a lower level of exertion and then push again. Repeat. You can see this illustrated in the chart above. This type of training allows you to train harder at max exertion than you could with something like a consistent running pace — as a marathoner does. A marathoner doesn’t have a high peak exertion level.  They operate at a low/medium level for the entire event. In a fight, you have to be able to turn on your full capacity to push the offensive or escape from an attack.

I’ve added Interval Training to my program in two ways.  One way is using the “Interval” programsetting on the elliptical machine at the gym.  It automatically cycles between a hard setting and an easy setting.  This let’s me push myself to the absolute limit for a full minute, driving my heart rate up above 170 bpm, and then ease back to a level where I can recover.  I can then get my heart rate back down 130 bpm and catch my breath in time to crank it up again.  This is great for simulating the cadence of a fight.

The other way I’m adding Interval Training is running through hilly terrain.  Running on a flat surface is good for endurance training, but running through hills allows me to push to exhaustion while ascending and then recover during a descent period.

With these additions to my program, I find that I am never gassed during a typical Taekwondo sparring class.  Better yet, last week I competed in a regional ATA tournament.  I had to fight 3 sparring matches in rapid succession with different opponents. While I pushed hard in all of them, and worked up quite a sweat, I never felt gassed and that kind of endurance was a big factor in how well I placed. Adding 20-40 minutes of Interval Training to my program ~3 days a week has made a huge difference. You shoud give it a try.

Do you have any experiences with Interval Training for martial arts?  If so, please share them here.  Do you have any good ways you use Interval training in your program?

The Wavemaster

There is one training aid that all martial artists should have, and that is a punching bag.  Maybe you have a good spot to hang a heavy bag, but if you don’t then the Wavemaster by Century is a great way to go.

After months of thinking about it, I finally went out and got one myself.  The Taekwondo school where I study has several of the Wavemaster XXL models, but I decided to go with the smaller, easier to manage original model.  It’s working out great so far.

If you have never used a Wavemaster before the concept is simple, there is a large, plastic, hollow base and a padded cylinder on top.  As shipped, the whole thing is quite light and easily managed by one person.  However, when you fill the base with water or sand it becomes quite heavy and stable.  The padding on the cylinder is thick and comfortable for punching or kicking.  Also, the height of the cylinder is adjustable.  My 6-year-old daughter easily kicks against the low setting, and at the top setting I can practice head-level Taekwondo kicks.

Below you can check out a short video I shot after getting it set up in the back yard.  Here I only have the base about 3/4 full with water so I’d have some more give.  If you want it more solid you can fill it all the way, or even switch to sand for filler.

Now, I can talk all about the technical specs on this thing, but what you have to understand is it is just really fun to have around!  The other day I heard a ruckus in the back yard and caught my 8-year-old daughter and her friends pounding on it (see pics).  The had so much fun that after 10 minutes they decided they needed to dress up in “super hero” costumes and pound on it some more — I love the costumes they constructed.


If you don’t have something like this at home yet, you have to go get one!

American Shaolin

When you were younger, did you ever dream of moving to a far-off land and studying martial arts with some of the world’s most legendary fighters?  While I did dream of such adventures, I never had the courage to actually do it.  However, Matthew Polly did.  He dropped out of Princeton and moved to the inner China to study Kung Fu with the Shaolin monks.  The book American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks and the Legend of the Iron Crotch is the tale of his true adventure.

You see, when he was in high-school, he created a list of what’s wrong with himself.  It included:

  1. Ignorant
  2. Cowardly
  3. Still a boy/not a man
  4. Unattractive to the opposite sex
  5. Spiritually confused

After attending Princeton for a couple of years he felt he could finally cross #1 off his list.  However, that still left him with the other four.  Somehow, he got the idea in his head he could fix the rest by moving to China to study Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple, so that’s just what he did!

The book details his adventures in finding the temple, not an easy task in pre-Google Maps China (the events in the book take place in the early 90s), and then training with the Monks.  While living at the Shaolin Temple, he studies Sanda, or Chinese Kickboxing.

The book is full of fun adventures, including his run in with a master of Iron Crotch Kung Fu — one of his funniest and most amazing stories. However, it’s worth noting one lesson that I took away from the book.  Polly talks about learning to “eat bitter.”  This has nothing to do with food.  It’s about training hard and sacrificing to do it.  He had no real martial arts training before moving to China at age twenty — and he wasn’t very athletic. However, with two years of hard, hard training he had developed in a very credible fighter and was able to compete at the highest levels of his sport.  If he can do it, so can you!

I strongly recommend this book.  It’s a great adventure, and a fun read.

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