Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Natural Wonders of Iceland Wrap-Up

Hi gang,

I want to finish up with the rest of my personal Icelandic saga. After the MaxBells Cert in Reykjavik, I was taken on the grand tour of the island. Just before leaving, I taught a BJJ seminar at the local MMA club, Mjolnir. Mjolnir, as you may recall, was the given name of Thor's hammer. The level of jiujitsu on the island is quite good and the students are apt pupils and we all had a great time.

Next on the list was another BJJ club, Fjolnir. After several hours of jiujitsu and watching the students spar, I gladly made some belt promotions. Now, it was time for some real fun to begin: Gudjon and Vala were taking me down on the-farm, Icelandic-style!

Gudjon loaded up the family, tents, and sleeping bags into the rig and off we went to the West Fjords...After a breakfast of dried fish and skyr, we were energized and took on a steep mountain hike. This is what Gudjon refers to as "...taking a walk down to see the creek--would you like to come along?" It looked easy enough from the bottom, but man, it was a lung/thigh burner up to the ridge. Of course we had to finish with the traditional Viking ice-water plunge, to bathe away the sweat.

Still feeling a little feisty afterwards, we were looking around for something to lift...since there were no weights or kettlebells at the farm, I decided to make like Milo of Croton and grab the newborn calf--just came into the world the night before--and perform some impromptu back squats. For those of you unfamiliar with the legend: Milo was a famous Greek wrestler whose daily off-season routine included lifting a calf...for four years straight! As the calf grew in size and heft, so did Milo's strength accordingly. It is said he carried that four-year old bull clear across the Olympic stadium, then killed, roasted and ate it before the spectators. Thus we have the first recorded instance of progressive resistance training. It'd be nice to take that sweet calf home and emulate Milo, but we had to roll out. Always more sights to see in Iceland.

The Icelandic sagas are full of magic and mystical beings: fairies, elves and trolls. We stopped and viewed a natural rock structure which legend held to be a troll who, bent on human destruction, overstayed his night vigil and was turned to stone by the morning sunlight...as they do. Many sights in Iceland are attached to wondrous legends like this. After camping out at Hollar, we experienced the white night, where the sun never actually sets, and it remains light all night long. Because parts of Iceland are within the Arctic Circle, at times around the summer solstice, while the Southern part of the island may get dark, areas in the North will remain light the entire 24-hours. It's an eery experience, getting up to take a pee in the night and it's still dusk out--break out your sleep mask and double up your melatonin!

After packing up the camp, it was off to the Pearl of the North: Akureyri, a beautiful little village on the edge of a fjord and popular with tourists. I presented another Body Weight training seminar for the local judo club, which was housed in the same gym as the local team handball and football clubs. It was here I introduced that beast: the 100-METER Power Wheel Challenge (which is approximately 9-yards more than the 100-yd Challenge for those who wish to try it without Googling first.)

There was one Viking lad able to complete the Challenge and you can see his video finish below. After the seminar, your Coach walked a couple kilometers back to the hotel when I realized I hadn't yet gotten in my own daily workout...a-ha! I espied an especially lovely playground: lots of monkey bars and over-sized wooden structures. There I performed the following:

A1) L-Seat Pull-Ups x 5
A2) One-Arm Push-Ups x 5 L/R
A3) Pistols x 10 L/R
A4) Hanging Leg Raise x 5
for 5 rounds, w/ 60-sec rest between rounds

After which I climbed a stationary pole, using just the arms from the L-Seat, using a thigh-squeeze (like climbing a rope) for several reps.

Followed up with a Monkey Bar Traverse for several laps across the horizontal ladder.

Finally, I felt I'd earned my dinner! It was strange that it was about 10PM yet it was still light out and there I was training in a public park.

Upon my return to Reykjavik, we did one last tour of Thingvellir, Gullfoss and the eponymous Geysir. The waterfalls of Gullfoss were spectacular, the sun created a rainbow in the mist and, inspired by the tremendous energy there, I knocked off some Dive Bomber push-ups, you can view the evidence below.

Check out that rift in Thingvellir, it's the gap between the North American and European land masses! I straddled that rift for some one-arm/one-leg push-ups. My upper body is in Europe while my lower urges were confined to North America.
Thingvellir is famous as the founding site of the world's oldest continuing parliament (930AD) where the Viking Chieftains came to render important decisions--hardly barbaric. It's easy to see why it's a sacred place. It's also home to a deep, clear water stream in a crevasse, where (legend has it) if you toss a coin and watch its descent to the very bottom, your wish will come true. To get down to this deep stream, there's a long flight of wooden steps. My Viking friends were feeling itchy, so I challenged them to the Maxwell Backwards Bear Crawl-Up-a-Flight-of-Stairs:

With your feet upwards and hands downwards, you crawl up the flight of stairs using the arms, pushing at a similar angle to a Shoulder or Incline Press.

Note: A shallow, wide stair works especially well for this, steeper stairs are still good, just a lot harder.

The surprise this exercise holds for the participant is the intense abdominal involvement. Vala and Gudjon proved their Viking mettle by making it up to the top. After reaching the top, there was approximately a kilometer's worth of hike up a steep, rocky hill back to the car park...I had Gudjon carry his older son and Vala carried the younger one upon their backs while racing each other uphill. Both arrived winded but happy with their exertions. This is a terrific example of using your environment, including kids as ballast, for very productive, impromptu workouts. Between the backwards bear crawl up the stairs and the piggy-back carry up the incline, every muscle was brought into play, with bonus intense cardio goodness.

My last day, en route to the airport, I presented another Body Weight Seminar at a local fitness center. Then it was off to the Blue Lagoon, a natural hot springs/spa in the midst of a lava field. The hydro-therapy was so relaxing that the flight to Boston was no big deal, time literally flew by. It was so nice to see my little "house-car" there in the economy parking lot and later that evening I discovered a great little hidey-hole in which to spend the night along the many piers of Boston Harbor.

The next morning was up and at 'em for a private workout in a playground across the street from a Whole Foods Market. After buying some shaving cream I think I freaked out a couple locals by stripping down and shaving up in the men's room. I'm guessing it was the chest and armpit action that got them down. Hey, when you live in a van, you take your shaves where you can get them. I don't use the on board water supply unless I have to.

After my client's session on the playground, I then put my assistant through her paces with the 16s. She paid with a pound of flesh, at least. Finally, I grabbed my kettlebell and headed to the adjacent basketball court. This playground was built on a historic site, which was a fort during the Revolutionary War. I tore into that workout like as if being chased by Redcoats:

1) Rope Skip
w/Lifeline Weighted Speed Rope
10 min: 30-sec on/30-sec off

2) Maxwell Kettlebell Mobility Series
an original program of weighted joint-mobility utilizing the kettlebell

3) The Omelet
(slightly shorter than usual because of the rope skip)
1-min per side of the following movements:
a) one-arm swing
b) judo pulls
c) snatches
d) one-arm jerks
e) one-arm long cycle
f) circular cleans

Surrounding the court was a low wall, just below knee-height. I did 6 rounds of One-Leg Box Jumps in which, balancing upon a single leg, I'd jump to the top of the wall, jump down again, only to rebound back up. I did sets of 10, which were approximately 17-sec. Then I'd rest the reminder of the minute and do the opposite leg. This is a tremendous exercise for building explosive "springiness" in the leg and ferreting out any imbalances between the left and right sides.

As much as I enjoyed Iceland, it felt good to be back, living my vagabond life in my House-Car. Next stop: Philadelphia PA. Come by and say hello as we prepare for the upcoming Philly MaxBells Certification.

If you're in or around Ireland (or just want to go!) contact Dave Hedges of Wild Geese Martial Arts, in glorious Dublin, if you want to see me there.
Email: dave@wildgeesema.com

Thursday, August 21, 2008

MaxBells in Iceland...and Beyond

On an especially beautiful Icelandic weekend, 8 & 9 August, the fourth Maxbells Teacher Certification was held in Reykjavik. The response was overwhelming! The students left glowing testimonials:

* What I liked the most was how it was organized. Steve is the best teacher I've had in fitness and he explained and talked us through it all. The course was fantastic and filled every expectation I had...and more. - Hilmar Arnarson

* What I liked the most was how detailed the workouts were, they were very well explained and every question about them was answered. A very strong and hard seminar--loved it. Kettlebells rock and Steve Maxwell is a
f**king tough guy. - Haraldur Oli

* I liked that we didn't beat the basics to death. I loved the joint mobility and Steve's knowledge of the body and anatomy and his ability to teach people who have no idea about what's inside the body and how it moves (or should) the way it does. Top-notch training from one of the world's best coaches. - Chad Keilen
The MaxBells Certification is the new kid on the block: it's where teachers come to learn. Unlike other certifications, which primarily work with technique and improving one's personal skill, the MaxBells Certification prepares you to teach and become a leader in the classroom or on the training floor. All aspects of goal-setting, the client interview, workout construction, teaching styles, classroom organization and that paramount, client retention, are fully covered. AMaxBells Certification graduate takes leave from the seminar with confidence, because the course provides the exact tools he or she needs to succeed as a teacher of group or private kettlebell classes. Actually, the people who gain the most are those coming in from the other certifying bodies--the RKCs and AKCs--this course fills in the sizable gaps left between. I've recently expanded my material and covered two full days of kettlebell goodness in Reykjavik. If you're interested in becoming a kettlebell instructor, look no further. If you're already using kettlebells as a coach, teacher or trainer, this course will greatly benefit you. Everyone leaves with a tremendous amount of knowledge ready to be put into action and new, original ideas.

While the emphasis is on learning teaching, already existing kettlebell skills are refined, an instructor-candidate must exhibit a high standard of competency in order to become certified. Certificates will not be issued to candidates unable to demonstrate this competency .

At the end of the course, on the last page of our manual, everyone is requested to answer three questions:

  1. What did you like about the course?
  2. What didn't you like about the course?
  3. What will you tell others about the course?

The answers from four certifications have proven to me I'm teaching the right stuff. Come to the cert and judge for yourself! I hope to be to welcome you to the next Maxbells Certification Sunday 21 September at Maxercise in Philadelphia. Contact Alma at the Maxercise front desk (215.928.1374
) if you'd like to register, or email maxercise@gmail.com

This is my last East Coast certification for the 2008! I'll be making my way out west, via in Cleveland, Ireland(!), Toronto and Portland, then down to the SF Bay area, so if you want to get together, email me and let's get together for some memorable times. It all depends on what you consider fun...

Cleveland OH 11/12 October/KB Basics + BJJ
Ireland tba
Toronto 1/2 November/BJJ + Conditioning weekend
Portland 9 November/MaxBells Cert

More about Iceland! The Icelanders proved to be star students: incredibly attentive, courteous, and always enthusiastic. The Icelandic public education system is second-to-none and every participant, at least grammatically, had better English skills than most North Americans! I so enjoyed working out those Vikings! My hosts, Gudjon Swannson and his enchanting (and wildly strong) wife, Vala Mork,
Iceland's Kettlebell QUEEN--a true Valkyrie--were flawless. Every detail of organization, venue and set-up (not to mention hospitality) was superb. Gudjon has a most-enviable strength-to-weight ratio and an unstoppable physical prowess all wrapped up beneath the demeanor of a wise Viking chieftain.

I've always identified as part Viking and felt quite at home on this beautiful island.

For those who can't make the upcoming Philly cert, I'll be presenting a Level 1 Kettlebell Workshop
Saturday 13 September in San Jose CA at Frank Shamrock's gym. It's going to be a terrific time, the house is full, but we'll make some room if you're motivated to acquire the basics.

What You Will Learn at the Level 1 Kettlebell Workshop

  • Why the One-Arm Clean & Jerk may be the ultimate strength-endurance and cardio exercise
  • How to use kettlebell training to improve mobility and athleticism
  • The most overlooked attributes in physical training
  • Four workouts from the DVD: Cruel and Unusual 2
  • The Maxwell 300 series, Spartan-style kettlebell workout
  • How to balance the shoulder girdle with pull-up power
  • Kettlebell complexes:
  • Get-up and Go
  • Between Heaven and Hell
  • Kettlebells for fat-loss and extreme muscular definition
  • The Omelette for superior cardio conditioning
  • Circular movements with kettlebells, for total core-conditioning
  • Kettlebell workout construction and design
  • Recovery and restoration techniques
  • Hormonal balance and control for youthful vigor
If I say so myself, just reading over the above, it's going to be one hell of a day! You are guaranteed satisfaction with the material...here's what people have generously written so far:
    • I'd like to mention how extremely pleased I am with your coaching. Your unrelenting focus on my weakest links shows me the true value of having a coach, of having an experienced guide leading me each step of the way. I'm only now beginning to understand that it really is "how you put it together." - John Bendorf

    • Just wanted to express my thanks for your seminar this weekend. I am sore beyond belief, but that's good! Thanks for taking the time for personal instruction and answering my training questions. The seminar and yourself are very motivational. I came away from the seminar with a very changed perspective on fitness. - Sonny Ritscher

    • I have trained with several coaches in the past, including a former strength coach of a pro football team, and while a few were excellent, I've had the best results under your guidance-thanks for all your help. - Steven Fink, MD

Enjoy the clip of the Reverse Turkish Get-Up--look at those Vikings go!

In Strength & Health,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fearless Feats of Manhood in the Iceland Fjords

My return to Iceland has been very exciting. I love this rustic, bucolic wonderland! The true land of fire and ice...and all the water element in between. Even though its culture dates back to ancient times, the terrain and its eco-system are very young. Coming from the U.S., it's fascinating to have cold, fresh-tasting tap water and be able to freely drink from any mountain stream without fear.

Friday 8 August I led an outdoor training, ocean side. The weather was ideal: cool and dry. After suffering the Philadelphia swelter, the temperatures here have been a genuine balm.

What an honor to introduce the Vikings to the pleasures of the slosh pipe! For those of you unfamiliar with the slosh pipe, it's a 10' hollow PVC pipe filled 2/3 with water, about 38 lbs. The struggle is in keeping the pipe perfectly balanced, using your body's stabilizer muscles. As the water rushes from one end of the pipe to the other, it's nearly impossible to control. It's the ultimate in core training.
I was quickly reminded how much Icelanders love a good physical challenge and will bleed from the eyes before allowing themselves to be bested. The group of lads in attendance were an assortment of police special ops and martial artists. Events included shouldering a stone for reps; cleaning and overhead pressing a stone; stone-carrying for distance, slosh pipe carry/run for time; an overhead military slosh pipe press for reps and a horizontal ladder for number of rungs completed in two minutes (the contest was held at old outdoor police obstacle course).

As if all this weren't enough, the boys wanted an additional workout. I put them through one of my infamous sandbag workouts. I'd brought 10 of Josh Henkins fantastic sandbags with me, arriving an hour before the event with my gracious hosts, Vala and Gudjon, plus my GF, and filled the bags with beach stones. These Iceland stones make an especially nice fill and are much less messy than sand.
The sandbags have been extremely popular and any trepidation I'd had about selling them off was unfounded, since every bag was claimed that first night.

Although stone lifting has been a long tradition with the Norse and other island peoples, most of the attendees were unaware of how or what to do it. I was very pleased and proud to re-introduce my friends to this heritage action. They took to it like Icelandic dogs to a mutton bone--it's still in the genetic blueprint for sure. There's something very raw and primal about lifting a heavy stone. Barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells are made for lifting, stones are not. Stones want to resist being lofted and carried, hence give the greater satisfaction. True warriors the world over will instantly understand this.

I also hung Lifeline Jungle Gyms off the horizontal ladder for rounds of body weight rows and Atomic Push-Ups. The Jungle Gym is an incredibly versatile piece of equipment, which allows you to do dozens of exercises. It's like a gym in your pocket...or are you just happy to see me? After the exercise circuit, we finished with one last contest: Who Can Slam the Sledge Hammer for 100 Strikes on the Old Tire? For time. The inexperienced among us found this more demanding than imagined...This was an entirely appropriate event, since the hammer is a symbol of Thor, the mightiest of the ancient gods. The hammer of Thor, Mjolnir, was the most fearsome weapon in the Norse pantheon. It's also the name of the local BJJ/MMA Gym, which hosted me.
Wait...before leaving the beauty of the fjords, there was one last task, which was to strip off our clothes and take a chilling open water plunge. For the locals, this was no big thing but I've grown accustomed to the soft California sunshine--time to man up!
With water temps in the 50s, the Coach's swim was brief...but some of those guys just sat out there chatting and even swam a few laps.

My first event here in Iceland, the outdoor training seminar, was a huge success and a lot of fun besides. I had some big tough Norsemen laid out on the ground, totally happy afterwards from their exertions. Little did they know what was coming over the next two days with the MaxBells Kettlebell Certification...




Q: ...On a topic off the road,much talk about greatest athletes with the Olympics in full swing... talk that Michael Phelps is among the greatest,... with your vast experience as an athletic competitor,coach and trainer,can you say who is/are the 5 greatest athletes all-time...? (you cant include me because of you are my coach.)


Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete...in the pool.

Lance Armstrong is the greatest athlete...on the bike.

Saulo Ribeiro is the greatest athlete in BJJ & submission wrestling...BUT their greatness extends only to their specific sports. Out of the pool, Michael Phelps is a known spazz and, by his own admission, clumsy, uncoordinated and accident-prone. Lance Armstrong off the bike is a beginner like any other, certainly not particularly balanced or strong. In fact, your pull-up power is greater than his.
If you're looking for all-around great athletes, look at decathletes and the pentathlon, which is shooting, fencing, riding, cross-country running and swimming.
On any given day, a Navy SEAL or Army Ranger is compelled to do amazing feats of strength and endurance. In the combative world.you have MMA practitioners who routinely box, do Muay Thai, wrestle and jiu-jitsu.
For my money, if you want the greatest athletes, being a specialist doesn't apply. Probably the greatest athletes I know are the dogs down the street.

Yours in Strength & Health,


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Training for BJJ and MMA

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, "What kind of workout should I be doing for MMA or BJJ?" This same question, of course, could apply to any sport.

Sometimes you'll see magazine articles by strength coaches outlining workout programs for various sports and martial arts but I have a problem with this cookie-cutter approach: these programs end up being one-size-fits-all...but-me!

Creating workout programs is as much an art as it is science. Before slapping numbers into arbitrary sets and reps on paper you have to know something about the athletes with whom you're working because, in many cases, the wrong exercise prescription can do more harm than good. Martial arts and grappling are especially strenuous activities and the people who participate in them tend to be extremists already prone to falling into the dreaded overtraining. Participation in these arts provide, for the most part, the specific conditioning needed for same, i.e., if you want to be a good grappler, you've got to grapple; if you want to be a good boxer, you've got to box, etc. The smart strength coach analyzes his athlete to find the chinks in his armor. For example, if I have a BJJ player demonstrating better-than-average flexibility, with good muscular endurance, but lacking strength, it makes no sense to put him on a yoga-based conditioning program or endurance training. What makes sense is to bring his absolute strength up as high as possible. By the same token, if I have a fighter with great strength but no gas, and worse, tight connective tissue, I'm going to put him on an endurance-building program and work on freeing up his joints and increasing his mobility. This is how it's done, and following a program from a magazine may not suit your particular set of weaknesses. I want to work to the athlete's weakness--not his strengths--and no two athletes should have the same exact program (unless they happen to be twins.)

I'm going to give you another example: a program I created for myself. I've been in Philly for the past month, training at Maxercise in BJJ and submission wrestling. The workouts have been brutal. Lots of sparring and live drills. In the team practice sessions, there are times when everyone in the room has placed in the top 3 in the world, in their respective categories--we're talking about some truly elite training. As a 55-year old athlete, training with these kids takes a toll and I must be very careful in the way I add supplementary training. I noticed my shoulders and elbows were bothering me, in fact, both my shoulders were tweaked. I decided to create a program that would be shoulder-strengthening while simultaneously mobilizing, brief in time, without overtaxing my recovery and still allow me to practice the basic kettlebell skills needed for my upcoming seminars. Here's the prgram I settled on, which met my specific weaknesses:

1) Screw Press aka Bent Press
*this is an old-time lift that really hits the upper torso and works the shoulder at an odd angle you might just find yourself in when training BJJ. It's the only press I know that thoroughly works and stimulates the lats, which are major shoulder stabilizers.

2) Clubbell 3-Movement Kinetic Chain:
a) shield cast
b) mill
c) 45-degree angle lockout
*this kinetic chain puts your wrist, elbow and shoulder into all the submissions you might find yourself in during a jiu-jitsu match, thus strengthening the tendons and muscles at odd angles and producing freedom of motion, as well as strength.

3) One-Arm Long-Cycle Clean and Press
*this adds a whole-body element of conditioning. It's shoulder/arm intensive but with repeated, explosive leg drive, thus providing an overall metabolic effect.

None of these exercises are especially strenuous, when compared to double-kettlebell drills, so they don't interfere with my recovery from the heavy, live-grappling sessions. They specifically mobilize and strengthen my joints where I need it and allow me to recover from a heavy training schedule. In other words, this workout is basically a form of active recovery.

The sister workout is a heavy, low-rep, strength-based workout consisting of two movements:

1) a super-slow reverse Turkish Get-Up
* a standing, one-arm clean and press, then very s-l-o-w-l-y lying down, taking an entire minute to get down on the floor, then getting back up, taking a moment to pause in each position.

Included in this super-slow get-up were a side-plank and, once in the recline, an arm-bar.

One repetition of the entire exercise, using the 24 kg, took 2 minutes.

I super-set this with a set of:

2) Weighted Pull-Ups
* done slowly from a dead hang with a 10-second pause at the top with the throat over the bar.
I alternated these two exercises for three sets of each.

When I finished, I felt refreshed and recharged. My shoulders felt worked from every possible angle and I felt what I can only describe as a healing circulation of blood flow through the joints. I didn't need any more endurance work (I'd already had it with over an hour of live training, including takedowns and throws) so doing swings, snatches, and so forth would have been redundant. In weeks previous, I'd been doing sprints and stair sprints but the sudden increase in BJJ volume and live matches also made that type of training unneeded.

This is how I also analyze each of my personal training clients. In my next blog, I'll share how I analyzed my own son, world-class BJJ fighter Zak Maxwell, and the specific program with which he currently trains.

Yours in Strength & Health,
Coach Steve