Category Archives: Health and Conditioning

Health and Conditioning

MMA Defined

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about martial arts and it occurred to me that the term MMA is confusing to many people. Parents continue to put their kids into Tae Kwon Do and Karate schools in large numbers while many MMA schools have fewer students and have to diversify to stay in business. And, there is still the occasional debate pitting MMA versus Traditional Martial Arts.

I personally started with Tae Kwon Do over 30 years ago. I love martial arts and therefore I love Tae Kwon Do, but I learned (the hard way, which is sometimes the best way) that if you study just one discipline you are cheating yourself and not learning everything you will need going forward.

So, what is MMA? MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. To some this means the UFC, because the UFC has spent millions of dollars spreading their business to every corner of the world. This also means MMA is tightly associated with (sometimes brutal) cage fights. But MMA is much more than this.

MMA has been around for a long time–long before the epic 1993 contest that put the Gracie name on the map . Anytime a martial arts practitioner used techniques from more than one style, they were doing MMA. MMA includes striking (Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Wing Chun, etc.), grappling (Wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, etc.) and ground fighting (Wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, ground and pound, etc.), but the most important part of MMA is transitioning smoothly between and amongst these three areas and many styles.

So, that means that time you got in a fight and boxed with your opponent who then took you down and you choked him until he quit, you were doing MMA. The first person to have international fame using MMA was Bruce Lee. Although his striking was amazing, Lee was aware that he had to know more than just striking to win on the street. This is why Lee trained with people like Gene LaBell, and Lee was able to show some of what he knew about ground fighting in his movies.

One of my goals with this blog and my book is to help people to be more open minded about martial arts and fitness. For people to argue about MMA vs Traditional, or MMA vs Boxing, etc. is really a waste of time; MMA is traditional martial arts and MMA is boxing. MMA is learning Tae Kwon Do and Karate, but also learning grappling and ground fighting.

I cover this and much more in my book, Martial Arts For Everyone. Thanks and best of luck with your training.



Quads and Biceps

When I started weight training in the 1980’s we spent a lot of time working Quads and Biceps—lots of squats and curls (split 7’s, etc.). I notice in the gym today the same thing—lots of people do many sets of leg press, etc. and burn out sets of curls. It’s definitely important to work these areas, but I have learned after years of training and rehabilitating injuries that you can’t neglect the opposing and supporting muscles. Doing so creates imbalances in strength and flexibility and this leads to poor performance and injuries.

Today, my leg workout includes Stability Ball Dumbbell Squats (to protect back, knees and to decrease the trunk widening effect of regular squats), Leg Press and Leg Extension but also includes Seated Calf Raise, Calf Press using the Leg Press Machine, Bent Knee Flexion (for Hamstrings), Leg Curls (using prone and standing machines), Adductors and Abductors (using machines and cables) as well as mixing in TRX leg work. For the 4 to 6 sets I do for Quads I do 15 or more sets for the opposing and supporting leg muscles.

My arm workout has evolved over the years so that now I do minimal direct Biceps exercises compared to before. Biceps get so much work during Back exercises that I will usually limit Biceps Curls to 2 or 3 sets. I separate my workout into Push and Pull days so that I don’t work Biceps and Triceps on the same day to allow plenty of rest.

On Push days I do several sets for Triceps. Including the chest and shoulder exercises I do, my ratio is 3 to 2 for Triceps to Biceps exercises overall. Triceps make up a larger portion of the upper arm than Biceps, so it makes sense to spend more time on Triceps.

Whenever possible I do symmetrical work using dumbbells or using one leg at a time. I spend time after each workout stretching. I cover this and more in great detail with illustrations in my new book Martial Arts For Everyone.

Thanks and I will see you in the gym.

Stretching for MMA, Part V–Quadriceps Stretch

The order of stretching is important. After you have stretched your calves, glutes and hamstrings and have relaxed those muscles, you are ready to stretch your quadriceps. The side-lying stretch is good because you are in a resting position (not weight bearing).

Start by using one hand to secure your non-stretching leg (right hand to right leg or left hand to left leg). Use your other hand to grab your ankle/foot on your stretching leg. Move to the start position with your knees touching and activate your hamstrings to stretch. As your hamstrings can no longer move your leg, assist the stretch further (using your hand or a rope/towel/etc. if you cannot reach your ankle) and hold for 1 to 2 seconds.

Keep the rest of your body still during the stretch so that you isolate your quadriceps. Your non-stretching leg will have a tendency to try to move to make it easier, so hold that in place. Do 3 to 10 repetitions per set and repeat sets as needed. Stretch both sides equally so you don’t contribute to asymmetry.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in my upcoming book, Martial Arts for Everyone, which will be published very soon. Thanks.


Stretching for MMA, Part IV—Straight-leg Hamstring Stretch

Stretching for MMA, Part IV—Straight-leg Hamstring Stretch

Do the Bent-knee Hamstring Stretch first because it is easier to do than the Straight-leg. The Bent-knee variation relaxes tissue to prepare you for a deeper and more involved stretch. Remain in the supine position and straighten both of your legs. Rotate your non-stretching foot inward to stabilize your hips. Place the heel of your stretching leg on top of your other foot. This is the start position.

Keep both legs straight and your stretching foot dorsi-flexed (the opposite of pointing your toes), hold this position, exhale and activate your quadriceps to raise your stretching leg. Hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds and return to the start position. Use a rope or towel to assist if needed.

Do 3 to 10 repetitions per set and stretch both sides equally. Repeat sets as needed. This stretch gives a true measure of your hamstring flexibility. You may find at first that you cannot move your leg very high during this stretch. This is okay; you will increase your range the more you work on stretching.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in the second edition of my book, Focusing Martial Arts Power which will be published in the next few months. Thanks and look for part V, Quadriceps Stretch.

Stretching for MMA, Part III—Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch

Stretching for MMA, Part III—Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch


Once you have stretched your calves and glutes well, you are ready to do the first stretch for hamstrings. This is done supine (lying on your back) with your non-stretching leg bent and your foot flat on the floor for support. Your stretching leg is positioned with your upper leg at roughly a 90 degree angle in relation to your upper body (and the floor). Your lower leg is at a 90 degree angle in relation to your upper leg.

Snapshot 3 (12-6-2013 8-51 PM)

This is the start position. Keep your foot dorsi-flexed (the opposite of pointing your toes) in the same position, your upper leg still, and activate your quadriceps to raise your lower leg.

Snapshot 2 (12-6-2013 8-51 PM)

Hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds and return to the start position. If you find the stretch is too difficult, adjust your start position. Instead of starting at 90 degrees, start with your leg at 105 degrees or greater in relation to your upper body. Use a rope or towel to assist if needed.

If the stretch is too easy, decrease the angle of your upper leg in the starting position to 75 degrees.

Do 3 to 10 repetitions per set and stretch both sides equally. Repeat sets as needed.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in my book, Focusing Martial Arts Power, 2nd Edition, which I am working on now. Thanks and look for part IV, Straight-leg Hamstring Stretch.


Stretching for MMA, Part II-Glute Stretch

Hamstrings are a major area of injury for athletes. Healing this area quickly and/or preventing injury will keep you on the field. Previously I mentioned that utilizing a calf stretch first will help you to relax tissue so you can stretch your hamstrings. The next area to stretch is your glutes.

In my experience as a Stretch Therapist at Triangle Triggerpoint Therapy ( in Raleigh, NC, the area in the lower body that I see the most problems for people is the glutes. I think this is simply because it is not an area most people think about stretching. This can contribute to lower back pain and people “pulling” their hamstrings.

The glute stretch that will give you the best results is done from a supine position (lying on your back). Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor for support. Move your stretching leg so that it stays at a 90 degree angle but rotate at your knee to bring your foot and knee close enough to grab with your hands. This is the start position.

Breathe out and use your inner thigh muscles and hip flexors to activate into the stretch while supporting and assisting with your hands. Keep your lower leg level and in the same position during the stretch and only move your upper leg. This will isolate your glutes. Hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds and release.

Follow the technique illustrated on the Youtube video to perform 3 to 10 repetitions per set and stretch both sides equally. Repeat sets as needed.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in my book, Focusing Martial Arts Power, 2nd Edition, which I am working on now. Thanks and look for part III, Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch.


Stretching for MMA, Part I–Calf Stretch

Stretching for MMA, Part I-Calf Stretch

This is the first of several installments on stretching for MMA, specifically to improve your kicking ability. If you stretch well enough that head kicks are easy and fast you will also help with many other techniques (i.e. Rubber guard, etc.). The major areas where you have to improve flexibility are calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, adductors, abductors, hips and low back. I will start with calves because relaxing the tissue in your calf will make it easier to stretch your hamstring.

For this stretch, sit on the floor with your legs straight. It is better to sit during a stretch instead of stand because when you sit you are not weight bearing and you will be able to stretch and relax your muscles more easily.

Move your non-stretching leg so that your ankle rests above your knee on the stretching leg. This holds your stretching leg in place and keeps it from moving during the stretch.

Next, lean your upper body forward. Your tendency will be to back out of the leaned position during the stretch, so pay attention and remain leaned forward. This happens because the human body naturally tries to make things easier. Leaning forward helps you to isolate your calf and get more out of this stretch.

Tibialis Anterior is the muscle located in your shin area on the front of your lower leg. Breathe out and use this muscle to activate into the stretch, moving your toes toward your knee (decrease the angle of your foot in relation to your leg). Hold the stretch for about 1 to 2 seconds and release. Move your foot far enough out of the stretch (by pointing your toes) so that you can rest in between stretches.

This is also an effective way to use your calf to stretch your Tibialis Anterior.

Do 3 to 10 repetitions per set and stretch both sides equally. Repeat sets as needed.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in my book, Focusing Martial Arts Power, 2nd edition, which I am currently finishing. Thanks and look for Part II, Glute Stretch.


Abs of Cold Steel

I was thinking about my abs workout and suddenly remembered the unfortunate story of a friend of mine (lets call him, “House”) from basic training. During the four months we were at Fort Knox for basic, we spent a lot of time getting dogged out by Drill Sergeants. This included grass drills, long road marches with all of our gear, and of course push-ups—lots and lots of push-ups. I tried counting how many push-ups I did one day but stopped once I hit 1,000.

During one of these nice, relaxing days, my friend House injured his wrist. He pushed on (no pun intended) through the pain but eventually his wrist gave out. In mid-push-up he rolled over in pain. Luckily the Senior Drill Sgt was there to apply first aid. He grabbed House by his wrist and began shaking it while saying, “There’s nothing wrong with your wrist.” We stood quietly (and that wasn’t easy) as we watched his hand shaking back and forth while he yelled in agony until someone finally realized he actually did need medical attention. My memory is blurry, but I want to say he was diagnosed with a stress fracture.

A day or two later, he returned with a cast on his arm and a physician’s order for light duty with no push-ups. In theory, this should have made his life easier, but this was not the case. Every time I saw him over the next few weeks he was on the floor doing some kind of abs exercise; V-ups, air bike, leg raise, crunches, sit-ups—you name it. He must have had crazy abs after this ordeal. This continued until he was finally sent away to heal enough to repeat basic training (that’s right, he had to repeat basic training—that alone makes me cringe).

So, next time I am struggling through my abs exercises (or any other exercise) I will think of House and let that motivate me to work harder and keep going. Find a similar motivator you can use to push yourself to the next level and don’t forget to work those abs! See you in the gym.

Pain in the neck

I was walking out of the gym, and there were several young people sitting around waiting to be picked up. Each one of them was hunched over as if they had kyphosis, with their faces in their phones. The first thing I thought of was that we are going to have a whole generation of people with major neck, shoulder and back problems. I think this is already starting to manifest because I see too many young people coming in to get muscle relaxers and narcotic pain meds at my pharmacy.

The bad thing is, muscle relaxers and narcotic pain meds do nothing to correct the problem (NSAID’s do help with inflammation). They only mask symptoms while causing side effects and getting people addicted. Trust me when I say you want to save the road of medications and surgery as an absolute last resort because it is a dead end. You will get a much greater benefit from learning how to stretch as well as finding a great Neuromuscular Therapist or Deep Tissue Massage Therapist. We are very lucky in Raleigh, NC to have Triangle Trigger-point Therapy, where Teri Bellairs works her magic helping people.

As I have mentioned before, Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a great way to improve your flexibility while strengthening your muscles. It’s even better if you can find a partner who can assist you beyond your activating muscle’s limits. With AIS you hold each stretch for two seconds only, which is different from most other methods. If you don’t have a partner, you can use a rope, towel, martial arts belt or a wall to give you the extra stretch needed to release tension. Stretch periodically throughout the day for best results. The first chapter of my new book includes a detailed stretching regimen. Look for Focusing Martial Arts Power, 2nd edition later this year. Thanks.

Weight Training

I was in the gym yesterday, and overheard a conversation between a personal trainer and her client that prompted me to want to share some of my experience with weight training.

I began serious weight training in 1984 when I joined a gym as part of my family’s membership. I was excited because there was a lot of equipment and a lot of people to learn from. Whenever I saw someone, male or female, who had an impressive physique, I would ask them for some tips. I asked a lady what she did for legs, a guy what he did for lats, and another lady what she did for abs and so on. I worked out with several friends my age or older and we exchanged tips and ideas over the years as well as trying any new exercises we discovered. It was a great social environment but also a great learning experience.

Weight lifting has been a long time hobby and I have concentrated my work outs into exactly what I know works for me. I use a Push/Pull routine, doing Pushing exercises one day, Pulling exercises the next day, and then resting at least one day. I use this method because if you have a Chest day, the exercises work chest, shoulders and triceps. If you have a Back day, the exercises work back, shoulders and biceps. If you have a Shoulders day, the exercises work shoulders, chest and triceps. If you have an Arms day, the exercises work biceps and triceps but also back, chest and shoulders. This leads to over-training and takes away from your overall performance.

I work legs on my Push days and do about 16 sets in addition to the 12 sets I do for chest and triceps (plus I do about 6 sets for abs). I don’t do a lot of shoulder exercises because you work shoulders on almost every upper body exercise you do. Your shoulders either work directly or stabilize your arms while you work triceps and biceps. I also like to do a few sets for upper body, then do some abs, then do a few sets for legs so I keep blood flow even and I don’t take any breaks, to make the workout more like a cardio routine. I am including a copy of my exact workout routine as well as many more tips and guidelines in the second edition of my book FOCUSING MARTIAL ARTS POWER. which will be out later this year. Thanks and hope you are hitting the gym.