Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a lifetime / Mobility Conditioning for Jiu Jitsu and MMA seminar 6th February 2016

The seminar was held at Woolloomooloo PCYC. The Jiu Jitsu program there (Jiu Jitsu Commune) is run by John Smallios, a brown belt under Steve Maxwell. It's a good place to train, no politics, all welcome, not expensive.


I attended last year's seminar with the same title at the same place. While the title was the same, and there was common material presented, the emphases and the details of the subject matter were quite different.

Once again, we discussed breathing in detail.


Many people in the first world use clavicular breathing, using the top of the chest. The muscular associated with clavicular breathing is designed through evolution for emergencies only, at fight-or-flight time. Breathing this way increases adrenalin keeping one in a panicky, hypervigilant state, perhaps a reason why many tend to snap at minor transgressions in traffic and similar. Associated with adrenalin and this mental state is the stress hormone, cortisol. Prolonged hightened cortisol levels can lead to muscle wasting and fat retention, neither of which athletes, especially those in later years, want. You only use the top portion of your lungs, which is grossly inefficient and will lead to poor endurance and quick gassing.

The high incidence of clavicular breathing may be associated with the excessive sitting and limited movement opportunities presented by modern workplaces, and more importantly, school classrooms. "Sit down! Keep still! Be quiet!" Kids would be healthier up and running around.

The other types of breathing are intercostal (using the musculature around the rib cage) and diapragmatic (using the diagphragm and breathing into the bottom of the lungs).

Intercostal breathing is better than clavicular, but still not the ideal breathing pattern for humans.

All healthy babies come from the womb breathing with the diaphragm. It requires civilization and education to change the natural breathing patterns.

Muscular and mental tension and relaxation are closely associated with breathing. Breath governs tension. Tension restricts mobility and range of movement (ROM). Tension and poor mobility lead to injury and, over longer term, other health issues.

If you want to stay relaxed while practising Jiu Jitsu, avoid injury and gassing out on the mat, you need to get very familiar with diaphragmatic breathing.

We want to avoid invoking the Valsalva mechanism, a sort of spasmodic forced exhalation against a closed glottis, often betrayed by gasps or grunts as people try to lift weights that are too heavy or with poor form. This is a dysfunctional breathing pattern, and you are more or less going into a panic state here.

As most jiu jitsu people have found out, the sudden all-out explosive escape maneuver only works if you get it the first time. Your second and successive efforts after initial failure rapidly degenerate in effectiveness. The experienced practitioner will instead look to escape gradually with a series of smaller maneuvers. You gradually "corrode" their position bit by bit, as my instructor Anthony Lange says. Keep your breathing regular, stay relaxed and move smoothly and you will avoid panic, spazzing out and getting caught and/or injured. More on breathing patterns for exercise and sport below.

If you are lifting heavy weights or pursuing goals different to those involved in practising Jiu Jitsu or other physical endeavours to an advanced age, you may have to use different breathing patterns and violate some of the rules above. However, you should be doing this consciously (i.e. not with an involuntary Valsalva freakout) and realise that what your are doing might be impressive and what you want to achieve, but is not necessarily good for your health.

The Price of Adaptation

Pursuing any endeavor related to the body (e.g. hypertrophy, becoming a powerlifter, running ultramarathons, etc.) has a price attached. Becoming a world class bodybuilder or powerlifter usually results in a shorter life span. NFL American football players, the highest paid, biggest, strongest, fastest athletes in the world, have an average life expectancy of 64 years. Dan Gable, the greatest wrestler of all time, won Olympic gold and a multitude of other titles, trained like a demon, but at age 67 has had double hip replacements and is basically a cripple. Dan John, the world renowned strength coach, had a total hip replacement in his early fifties. John Danaher has had a hip replacement. Even everyone's legitimate Jiu Jitsu hero, Rickson Gracie, has eight herniated disks in his spine. There is a price to pay. Competition jiu jitsu attracts a price like everything else.

On the other hand living to an advanced age in good health having achieved nothing and done nothing is not necessarily all that great either.

The point is not that your shouldn't strive for greatness in a sport or discipline that you love. The point is to understand that there will be a price, and that the way you play sport or train may need to change as you get older if you wish to continue it into advanced years. And to make those decisions consciously, having considered all the facts.

Check your breathing style

Just stand up straight and have a partner lightly place their fingertips on your clavicles (collarbones). Breathe normally without trying to change the way you breathe. Your partner should not press hard, as that may disrupt your normal breath. If you are breathing diaphragmatically your partner should not be able to feel your clavicles move. If your clavicles move up and down, your breathing is clavicular.

To test for intercostal breathing, your partner should place their fingertips on the side of your ribs.

To test for diaphragmatic breathing, your partner stands to your side and touches around your belly button at the front and a palm on the back at the same height. If you are breathing well diaphragmatically your partner should feel your stomach move in and out with each breath, but also some expansion around the lower ribs at the back ("breathing into the back").

Learning and practice of diaphragmatic breathing

Lie on your back and place a light object on your stomach - a shoe, mobile phone or notebook are all fine. Relax and breathe deeply without straining so that you inhalations cause the object to move up and down with the cadence of your breath.

Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor in a straight line so you can rest your forehead on them with good neck alignment.

As you breath in pretend you have a bladder beneath your stomach and push it into the floor using your stomach with each inhalation. Stay relaxed. Just move your stomach. "Crocodile breathing".

In Steve's experience some women may have difficulty with this as they are taught to pull their stomachs in in an effort not to appear or feel fat.

Pilates teaches breathing similar to this, and do many exercises where the abdominals are contracted but the diaphragmatic breath is still performed by "breathing into the back", expanding the rear rib cage. Pilates was a niche training systems for dancers before it became generally popular, and dancers are very conscious of keeping a "line" in their body which predicates holding the abs in according to Steve. After an injury I had a very good physio with a Pilates backgroung who took me through many rehab exercises where I was contracting my abs but breathing into my back. In Steve's opinion this is not the best way to breathe. But it has its uses - knowing how to breath into the back will be useful if a 100 kilogram guy has knee ride driving his patella into your solar plexus.

Measuring your breathing efficiency and progress

Count the number of breaths you take in one minute. Just breathe normally, no trying to set particular numbers or anything. Less than 10 is pretty good. Rickson and some yogis breathe about 3-4 times per minute. If you're breathing around 20 you shouldn't be doing any hard workouts like Jiu Jitsu.

The control pause - breathe normally, then after an exhalation pinch your nose with your thumb and index finger of one hand with the palm over your mouth. Time how long it takes before you feel a significant urge to breathe, often accompanied by an involuntary contraction of the muscles around the throat. Most people are around 20 seconds, Steve's qigong teacher who attended the seminar managed 60 seconds. Freedivers and others who do extensive work on breath holding may get up to 90 seconds and beyond.

Breathing training

Steve advocates the Buteyko method ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buteyko_method ) and recommends the book Breatheology ( http://www.amazon.com/Breatheology-Stig-Avall-Severinsen/dp/1928649343 ). 

He did not really go into breathing training in detail in this seminar. However it was pretty well covered in the seminar last year (http://andrewn23-myma.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/steve-maxwells-jiu-jitsu-for-life.html). A free Youtube video of some Russian methods is included.

He also has a Breathing Control Workout video on his site (http://maxwellsc.com/breathing-control-workout.cfm) for USD $9.95.

Roll in Jiu Jitsu carrying aa sip of water in your mouth, to learn to breathe through the nose, using the diaphragm, and how to stay relaxed.

Shaking, shivering, turning

These are a sequence of exercises designed to help relax and reinvigorate the body. They are based on the Pilates derivatives gyrotonics and gyrokinetics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyrotonic).

Stand relaxed. Let your arms and shoulders go limp.

Shake by rhythmically and quickly bending your knees slightly, maybe a couple of times per second. Let your arms hands and fingers go limp and be shaken by the movement. Let shoulders, head, neck everything go loose and relax and be shaken out by the movement on the quads.

Shiver by ... shivering. The shivering movement is much faster. Get the legs, arms, shoulders, everything into it, trying to progressively relax.

Turn - rotate the torso from side to side, the arms are limp and are whipped around like spaghetti by the movement.

These movements work well before training to loosen up, between rounds of exercises or rolling during training, or after training to relax. The effect are similar to those obtained standing on one of the vibrating platforms you find in some gyms.

Breathing patterns with movement

Anatomically based breathing (or was it anatomically related breathing?) - exhale when the body compresses, inhale when it extends. So - exhale when hinging at the waist, inhale when coming up and arching back. Or a 2 count - exhale when hinging, to inhale at the top, exhale when arching (a smaller compression), inhale coming back through vertical.

Performance Breathing - for stronger exertions one breathes out with the exertion, e.g. exhaling while performing a pushup.

Burst breathing - for longer, sustained efforts where a movement or contraction lasts longer than a single breath, use fast breaths into the diaphragm through the nose, and out with a popping sound with the lips through the mouth. Also a good breathing pattern for recovery after oxygen debt from rolling or other exercise.

Exhalation while stretching - take yourself close to a maximal stretch, then contract the muscles you wish to stretch while inhaling or burst breathing, then exhale, with a sigh or "Ahhh" sound and let all your muscles relax, seeing if you can eke out a bit more stretch at the same time. Repeat. PNF stretching, but the importance of breath to releasing tension is emphasised.

Tension restricts mobility and range of movement (ROM). Breathing is the key to lowering tension and increasing mobility and ROM.

Walking massage

Lie on the floor face down, head turned to one side. Relax. Your (shoeless) partner gently steps onto your feet, kneading and massaging the soft tissue with his feet, then moves up to the calves. Then hamstrings and glutes. Stay off the joints, only step on the soft tissue. Your partner can move on to the back, taking care to step only on the muscles next to the spine and not the spine itself. and gently on the neck, even the muscles around the temples. Then triceps, forearms, hands and fingers. The walker can support themselves on a wall or piece of furniture if they feel they may have difficulty with balance,

The massagee should try and relax with the pressure, keep their breathing regular, feel for the spots that are sensitive and try to allow the pressure to help them relax and release.

You can also do this on the front of the body, quads , biceps, etc. Steve told a story about sharing a hotel room with Jeff Monson. Jeff would get Steve to actually walk on his stomach as it helped relieve his back pain. Restrictions and obstruction of free movement of your internal organs may also be prejudicial to your health, and perhaps alleviated by such massage.

Mind and body

Body structure, alignment and mobility are a reflection of your state of mind and thoughts.

Neck issues may result from an inflexibility of thought and a closed mind and attitude.

Shoulder issues from a sense of onerous responsibility.

Heart problems may indicate problems with expression of love, or anger.

Knee problems may come from a fear of aging and moving forward, stubbornness

Back problems may come from feeling unsupported

Pelvis -  lack of creative self expression, jammed up, related to sex and procreation

Spinal health and flexibility is a primary concern for free movement into advanced years.

Resting heart rate and overtraining

Overtraining is not uncommon amongst committed jiu jitsu players who also do additional strength and conditioning.

The best indicator of overtraining is a variation on the resting heart rate.

To determine you resting heart rate, count your heart beats for one minute upon waking first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Count for the full minute rather than taking it for a short period and calculating from there. Do that for seven days and take the average.

Check your heart rate every morning thereafter. If your heart rate is five beats per minute higher than this average, you are likely overtrained. Do not do any hard exercise (rolling, running, lifting weights etc.) this day. Just walk, work your mobility and breathing.

Getting a cold, constant muscle soreness and niggling injuries are also indications of overtraining. No hard work for you today.

Drills and exercises for postural problems

Drill to fix kyphosis ("forward head"), a common problem for jiu jitsu players and office workers alike, were covered in detail in my notes for last year's course. These include head nods and head turns from the Sphinx posture, and baby rolling.

Lordosis is an exaggerated curve in the lumbar spine. Check first by standing back against a wall, with heels and shoulders touching. Measure the lumbar curve by seeing how far the back curve away from the wall.

To fix lordosis, lie on your back on a flat surface, no pillow. Try to flatten your lumbar spine to the floor by tilting the pelvis and engaging the abs. Try to flatten and elongate your neck to the mat at the same time. Do this for a minute or so. Check against the wall again, and you should find some reduction in the lumbar curve.

The drills for fixing kyphosis and lordosis are not a one-shot deal. They need to be performed regularly, up to several times per day.

Twisting Reach Exercise for opening the chest and shoulder

Lie on your side. Bend your hips and knees at 90 degrees as if sitting in an imaginary chair. Your bottom elbow should be slightly in front of your torso so you are not lying on it. Breathe out, reach up and over behind you towards the floor with the straight top arm,  turning your head up and over to look behind you, leading with the eyes. The upper torso can turn with the movement but both knees should remain together and on the floor. Move slowly, breathe and relax into the stretch of the shoulder, chest, and rib areas. Stay there for a period and perform several times each side.

Your attitude to your sport and supplementary exercise

In many sports, injuries are inevitable, jiu jitsu being only one such. There is however no reason for exercise, strength and conditioning to injure you. Your exercise program should be safe and should build you up, not trash you. Olympic lifting is a sport and is highly technical. A jiu jitsu athlete does not need to do Olympic lifting - the technical demands mean that the risks of injury outweigh the likely benefits. Explosive exercises do not develop explosiveness. The same benefits come from slow careful and deliberate weight training without the associated risks of fast ballistic movements. One cannot selectively recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, the musculature and nervous system are no so fine tuned. Many training programs and methodologies will work, but some are more effective and less risky than others.

Jiu Jitsu is the Arte Suave, the gentle art. We should be learning to move with a minimum of tension. Steve told a story about trying to teach Royler Gracie some kettlebell exercises; Royler was a difficult study because he had great difficulty introducing the necessary tension throughout his body to move the kettlebells properly. Royler said something along the lines of "this is trying to teach me to do the exact opposite of what Jiu Jitsu does".

Much has been made of Rickson, and his breathing and movement training. Steve witnessed him wrestling and tapping out over 70 seminar participants in a row, including military personnel and professional athletes, without ever appearing out of breath.

Steve also advocated the use of a "ten second rule" espoused by a Hawaiian Rickson student, where if when rolling you have had hold of a grip on an arm, collar etc. without sweeping, submitting or improving your position somehow, release it and move on to  something else. As you get older, you need to stop fighting tooth and nail to keep a position, stop your guard from being passed, etc. If the pressure is too much, just let it go and work defense. Tap early, tap often. Breathe, Exhale. Relax.


The seminar I attended a year ago was heavy on drills and exercise and light on theory. This was the opposite. You can buy the videos from Steve's site of the material from last year's seminar plus additional information fairly cheaply, if the particular mix was not to your liking. My notes from the seminar last year are available. Steve has quite a few videos available, at pretty good prices in the video instructionals market. There's also a load of free stuff he provides on YouTube, some of which I linked to in my notes on the previous seminar. 


I continue to find Steve and his material highly interesting and inspirational.


Rob Macfarlane said...

Great article Andrew, I started BJJ in the last month at 43 and I found this article a massive help, pretty much all of it is hitting the nail on the head for me, especially that around breathing, the Ten Second rule is a good one too, I can attempt to strength things for minutes and leave myself exhausted after, thanks again for sharing and I look forward to reading a few of your other articles.

Andrew Nerlich said...

Thanks Rob. Steve's back here in early February 2017, I'll actually be guest hosting his JJ4L seminar then, as his usual rep John Smallios is having his bucks party that day. I'll write that one up as well, and also attend and blog about his *Gracie Jiu Jitsu: Core Concepts* and *Integrated Breathing* seminars.

Anonymous said...

Hi, just wanted to mention, I liked this article. It was funny.

Keep on posting!