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Old School Training – Khabib Nurmagomedov

If you are familiar with this blog, you have likely seen numerous examples of world class fighters who have thrived with a low-tech approach to training. I have intentionally highlighted fighters from all styles to demonstrate the effectiveness of such simplistic methods. An abbreviated list of athletes who have been featured before include Fedor Emelianenko, Buakaw Banchamek, Marcelo Garcia, Jack Dempsey, Ray Robinson, and countless others.

Khabib Nurmagomedov is yet another name that can be added to the list. He is a Russian mixed martial artist who is currently 21-0 as a professional. He is a multiple time Combat Sambo World Champion, a judo black belt, a NAGA grappling champion, and currently a lightweight fighter in the UFC.

If you have not heard of Khabib before, the compilation video below will provide a brief introduction.

As for Khabib’s training, he relies heavily on the sport and applies himself diligently with the basics. The ten minute video below captures some of the work that he performs throughout a training camp. Within the clip, you will not find anything fancy. Instead, you will see a world class fighter who trains in an environment that is as rudimentary as any.

You will see him running, shadow boxing, lifting stones, performing calisthenics, punching the mitts, and performing various partner drills. His training style is one that could be utilized almost anywhere. There is no dependence on high-tech equipment or the sophisticated programs that are so heavily marketed in today’s industry. Khabib’s training is not for show and is not performed with the intent to sell you on a particular methodology. His training is done for a single reason, which is to prepare him to fight at a world class level.

So much can be learned from Khabib’s example, as well as the others who have been featured before. First and foremost, if you are a fighter, the most important part of your training involves fighting. Whether sparring, drilling with partners, hitting the bags, or hitting the mitts, such work is physically taxing and vital to your development. The significance of supplemental work pales in comparison to that of your actual sport training.

As for all around conditioning, simplistic methods have stood the test of time for good reason. As Khabib and countless others have demonstrated, hard work with the basics is as effective as anything. You do not need a complex or elaborate program to condition yourself to fight. Intensity can be applied with almost anything, including nothing. Exercises such as swinging a sledge, running hills, and calisthenics have always been effective and always will. Such work can be performed almost anywhere and can be easily implemented alongside sport training without interference.

In summary, you do not need to be a fighter to benefit from Khabib Nurmagomedo’s example. If he can prepare to fight the best in the world with such simplistic methods, the average person can certainly get in shape with such methods as well. Don’t be fooled to believe that you need a complex program to condition yourself to thrive in the world around you. Apply yourself diligently with almost anything and the results will soon follow.

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Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it. – Bruce Lee

12 comments

Less Can Be More

In a recent post, I shared the story of a 45 year old man who has made tremendous progress in less than two years of calisthenic training. He has already achieved several advanced movements and is not far from performing many others. Clearly, this man’s approach to exercise has worked well for him. He is obviously working hard and has been consistent with his efforts. The results are impossible to deny.

Ironically, since sharing his story, I noticed several comments that suggested the man would make faster progress if he was weight training as well. And while I don’t wish to call out anyone specifically, I believe the general assumption that more work leads to more results is worthy of a discussion.

One of the problems with the online era is that we have access to more information than we will ever need. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of exercise variations that can be found with a quick search of the web. Therefore, it is not difficult or unusual to find movements that could potentially be useful.

Acquiring such knowledge is not problematic by itself. Potential problems can arise however as many athletes are already training to maximum capacity. Athletes who are training to be the best do not budget in extra reserves just in case they find a new routine that could be useful. The athlete is already pushing himself to the max. To stack pieces on top of a puzzle that is already full does not add value. Successful additions often require subtractions. If it is not feasible to subtract from your current workload, additions must be made in very small doses. Anything more will likely hinder, not enhance, the existing routine.

For instance, the man seen in the previous entry has obviously worked hard to achieve such fast and significant results. If he was to add a weight training program on top of his existing routine, something would need to give. Once again, it is not as if this man has budgeted in extra time to not only perform an additional routine, but also to recover from it.

And I say this not to suggest that weight training isn’t useful or to suggest that all hard working athletes follow a perfect program. Often times, there are additions or modifications that can be made to benefit the athlete. Such additions must be made carefully however. Just because an exercise or routine is potentially beneficial does not mean it will make sense for an already busy athlete.

Athletes and trainers must recognize that there will always be useful exercises that do not make sense to perform at a given time. To drive home this point, I often relate exercise selection to clothes. Just because you own several nice shirts does not mean it makes sense to wear them all at once. And certain clothes may not match each other. Your favorite pair of pants may not match your favorite shirt. As much as you like both items, it doesn’t make sense to wear them together.

In many ways, the same logic can be applied to exercise. Over the years, I have worked with almost every imaginable training tool and style. I have worked with bodyweight exercise, free weights, odd objects, and more. There are quality movements that I have performed with each. I don’t work with everything at the same time though. I use the surplus of information to provide options in the future if and when necessary. If I attempted to include every useful exercise I’ve ever performed within a single routine, I would run myself into the ground.

In summary, there will always be useful exercises that don’t make sense for you to perform. If you wish to add something that is new, different, or intense, be sure to make the transition gradual. Do not force the body to take on more work than it can handle. If the addition truly is as valuable as you believe it to be, there is a good chance you will need to remove something to make room for it.

Less can be more.

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The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity. – Douglas Horton

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Age vs. Calisthenics

The video below comes from a 45 year old man who contacted me last week about a recent article. It was within that entry where I discussed the importance of patience and consistency. The man seen below subscribes to a similar philosophy. He recognizes that true fitness does not entail a 30 day transformation, but instead is a lifelong journey.

He mentioned that he has only trained with calisthenics for two years. He opted for this style of exercise because it is fun yet difficult, and can be performed almost anywhere. He continued by stating that it may take over three years to achieve a full planche that will last but a few seconds. He is not intimidated by the challenge, but instead welcomes it. He truly embraces the grind.

In his own words,

The joy of this process is the constant battle with myself and this growth is the true reward…

Based on what can be seen above, there is no denying his growth. What this 40+ year old man has accomplished in less than 2 years of calisthenic training is incredible. He has literally surpassed countless fitness professionals who make a living out of marketing much more complex programs to the masses. And he did so without any elaborate equipment. The bulk of his routine does not require anything but the ground or a bar. He has become his own gym. He could go anywhere in the world and achieve a quality workout.

It is this type of story that truly deserves more universal attention. If we ever wish to develop a more healthy and active population, we need to stop complicating the simple task of exercise. So while some may grow tired of me preaching the potential of simplicity, I would rather be a broken record than one that blurts out nonsense and deception. I could scream all day about simplicity and consistency and I’d still be a faint whisper in an industry that is built around meaningless noise. More and more fitness professionals seem to be less concerned with health and fitness and instead focused solely on dollars and cents.

Fortunately, there are still some who are able to see through the deception. The man above is as good an example as any. He is an inspiration on many levels. Not only has he defied age, he has done so with nothing but his own body. His training success is not dependent on anything but his own willingness to get up and move. He alone accepts the responsibility of what he will or will not become. His future lies solely in his own hands.

Many in this world could learn and benefit from this man’s example.

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A man is not old as long as he is seeking something. – Jean Rostand

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Bodyweight Tricep Extension Variations

Earlier this week, I posted a few photos to Instagram which highlighted two variations of a bodyweight tricep extension. You can see below how I perform the exercise with manila ropes and sledgehammers. The ropes add a grip challenge to the movement while the sledgehammers provide instability. These two variations are much more difficult than the more commonly seen bar and bench versions. Even a suspension trainer proves less challenging than the ropes and sledgehammers for this particular exercise.

One reason that I wanted to share these images was to continue a theme that I highlighted in a recent entry (see here). As mentioned previously, the best forms of variety are often subtle. For instance, performing this exercise from sledgehammers as opposed to a bench may look similar but the challenge is entirely different. When first attempting this exercise from hammers, it is not uncommon for the body to shake uncontrollably as it struggles to maintain stability. And while the triceps are certainly targeted, there is much more to the movement. For example, many are surprised at the secondary core challenge. I have seen several strong athletes humbled by what appears to be a relatively basic bodyweight movement.

Using myself as an example, I have performed bodyweight tricep extensions for many years now. I first demonstrated the exercise online over 10 years ago. It was a favorite of mine then and it remains a favorite now. There are variations to this movement that I will never outgrow. Such variations continue to prove both challenging and beneficial.

Yet despite what I consider a tremendous exercise, it has never captured much attention. The rope variation has actually been included within a few of my recent compilations. You can see a brief example at the 3:23 mark here. Since creating that video, I’ve received comments about almost every exercise included except the tricep extensions.

It is one of those movements that isn’t exciting to see and whose difficulty is impossible to comprehend without trying. The reality however is that this exercise remains one of the more challenging movements within my arsenal. I have had days where I felt like a beast after doing dips with 225 pounds attached, only to be destroyed by two sledgehammers in the corner a few minutes later.

The take home lesson therefore is simple. Exercise quality has nothing to do with flash and visual appeal. As discussed recently, many of the best movements appear quite basic. Contrary to what social media may suggest, training effectiveness is not based on how many onlookers you attract. I will take substance over flash any day.

If you are looking for a strength movement that is easy to learn yet difficult to perform, this exercise is certainly worthy of consideration. It is always nice to have effective exercises that can be performed almost anywhere with minimal equipment. As a trainer, it is also nice to have exercises that are devoid of steep learning curves. There are no elaborate skills that must be mastered before attempting this movement.

And for the beginners in the crowd, the exercise can be made much more feasible by altering the starting point. Simply start from a higher position on the rope (or a suspension trainer). It may take some experimenting initially, but you should be able to find an angle where you can perform quality repetitions. As your strength increases, you can gradually lower your starting position. In time, you can progress by adding a weighted vest and/or working with a more difficult variation such as the sledgehammers.

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Many an opportunity is lost because a man is out looking for four-leaf clovers.

5 comments

Realistic Expectations

Following my last post, I received a variety of comments and questions. Much of the feedback touched on beginner gains and realistic expectations. For instance, several readers attempted to counter my entry by stating that they had in fact made rapid gains as a beginner.

I will start by saying it is great to read about early improvements, but I’ll add that I am not suggesting otherwise. On the contrary, a beginner is able to make faster gains than he will at any other point in his life. When you enter the weight room for the first time, you could almost look at a barbell and gain strength. Anyone who transitions from a life of inactivity to one of deliberate and repeated physical exertion is naturally going to improve.

I preach a message of patience and consistency not to suggest that you won’t make early gains, but instead for encouragement once your rate of improvement declines. No one continues to improve at the same rate indefinitely. If we did, we would all continue to set new world records. The reality is that it is much easier to gain strength when you are weak. Once you have developed a moderate level of strength, it becomes much more difficult to continually improve. An already strong athlete who is training to become stronger must be patient.

Anyone who has trained for any amount of time has hit a sticking point that was difficult to surpass. In the words of the late, great Mel Siff,

The inevitable reaching of a ‘sticking point’ in training is one of the single most frustrating experiences in the life of any athlete. It may lead to loss of form, loss of interest, decrease in motivation, the unnecessary or premature reliance on anabolic substances, an endless search for plausible ergogenic aids, injury or even the end of one’s sporting career.

Rather than pretending that such barriers do not exist, I would rather be brutally honest from the onset. There is no viable reason to deceive a knowledge seeking adult who wishes to better himself physically. Since when did deception become a motivational tool?

Perhaps I am in the minority, but I do not consider it discouraging to uncover the truth. Isn’t that what we are after? Beginners should never be fooled to believe that dramatic results are a few weeks away. Yes, they will make early gains, but let’s be realistic when discussing the extent of those gains.

Isn’t it more discouraging to start with unrealistic expectations and then find out otherwise as the weeks and months pass? If the fitness industry ever wishes to legitimize itself, the first step is to eliminate the deceptive marketing campaigns. You will be hard pressed to find any other industry with such a misleading marketing style. A used car salesmen won’t tell you that his vehicles can fly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nutritional supplement that promises human levitation.

In summary, I encourage you to defy the odds. Don’t train to be average. Strive to reach levels that go beyond what is realistic, but don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected. Significant results take time. There are no shortcuts. Training shouldn’t be viewed as a sprint. It is a continuous journey with many potholes along the way. There is no reason to panic and assume something is wrong just because you’ve hit an obstacle or temporarily stalled. The best of the best have bad days and hit sticking points that can be physically and mentally taxing. It’s all part of the process. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Rather than pretending that there isn’t a challenge ahead, let’s prepare for it each and every day. When the time comes that you hit an obstacle, you will be better prepared if you knew it was coming. And when that sticking point rears its ugly head, realize that it will not stand up to the test of time. That is when patience and consistency truly come into play. If you stay on track and continue to grind, the obstacle will eventually fall. You just can’t lose focus and start hopping from one program to the next. Be patient. Be diligent. Learn to embrace the grind. Welcome it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

That is how real results are earned.

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The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. – William Arthur Ward

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