The NSCA’s most recent Tactical Strength & Conditioning Report (Issue 32) has an article that discusses recent peer-reviewed research on “Extreme conditioning programs (ECPs)” which they define as Crossfit/P90X/Insanity type approaches.  What did they find?  Here are some key highlights in my opinion.

1) A military study of almost 1,400 soldiers found that “when comparing the injury rates of soldiers who participated and those who did not participate in ATAC (Advanced Tactical Athlete Conditioning)/ECPs, overall rates of injury were similar, though the ATAC/ECP group did exhibit a significantly greater increase in overuse injuries after the programs were initiated.”    This is one of the biggest drawbacks that I see, the potential for injury caused by failing form as you go flat-out trying to beat your own or someone else’s time, as well as overtraining potential.

2) Another study compared the anaerobic/aerobic power of ECP-trained individuals vs. those who use traditional resistance training (RT).  Results showed no significant differences in VO2 max or Wingate peak power.   The same lab also tested whether ECP-trained subjects differed from RT-trained subjects in one rep Bench press, back squat, medicine ball shot put, vertical jump and the Margaria-Kalamen power test.  There were no significant differences in performance between the ECP and RT subjects on any of these tests. 

3) Another study compared ECP-trained vs. RT-trained subjects on pushup, pull-up, T-test, and sit and reach.  There were no differences in performance on the pushup, T-test or sit and reach test.  ECPs did perform significantly more pull-ups than the RT, although the mean body mass of the ECP group was less than the RT group, which impacts such a test.

4) Another study compared the anaerobic step test and the Cooper 1.5mile run test between CrossFit trained subjects and subjects that followed a ‘traditional’ program recommended by ACSM.  There were no differences on the step test or the Cooper 1.5 mile run. 

Findings and Conclusion

There does not seem to be convincing evidence at this point that ECPs significantly improve aerobic power or VO2 max……The adaptations seen from ECPs appear to be broadly similar to those obtained from traditional RT, as no consistent differences in strength, power, and muscular endurance have been seen when ECP-trained subjects are compared to RT subjects.”

“From the limited evidence to date, it does not appear ECPs offer training benefits which cannot be acquired through more traditional training programs, such as resistance/cardiovascular/HITT training.  These more traditional training modes may also offer the potential for lower injury risk, yet result in the same training adaptations.”

 Can “extreme conditioning programs” work?  Sure they can.  And they may be perfect for certain populations or individuals.  But everyone should decide for themselves what they’re trying to accomplish and what they’re willing to risk if the same results can be achieved from less “extreme” programs.  No matter what you decide, get out there and train.

Some recent things that caught my fancy, you might like
24 Free Downloads from Gun Digest 
Ammo, ballistics, concealed carry – probably something here you can download and read during football games over the holidays.  Found HERE

A Roadmap for BJJ by Stephan Kesting
Being a non-grappler (at this time), I found the concept of “positional hierarchy” very interesting.  Can’t say that I’ve seen it laid out like that before, maybe I just
haven’t been actively studying it enough.  Found HERE 
Jason C. Brown, Top 5 KB for BJJ
Love Jason’s materials and approach to KBs, movement, and BJJ.   My favorite on this list is the “Gorilla Cleans” or alternating DB KB cleans.   These are a go-to exercise when you want to put the hurtin’ on.   YouTube video HERE

Infographic – Why grains are really the bane of a healthy existence 
With the increase in gluten-free interest in our household, and a general feeling that people have been brainwashed into a high carb diet for no good reason, I thought this infographic was cool.
8 Sprints 
Because it can never hurt to have another Sprint workout to try.  Found HERE

Only had time for a quick workout before dinner.  Just did a some Tabata style rope.  Three 4 minute rounds of rope patterns done in 20 sec on/10 sec off fashion.  Two minutes rest in between rounds.  Then a finisher in the back yard which consisted of:

     4 Burpee Pulls {burpees with a pullup on the “jump” portion}
     Farmer's Carry, two 70 lb. KBs, ~ 20 yds
     Lunges – back to the pullup bar

 Repeat for 4:00 min total

 I liked this finisher. Well rounded, push, pull, carry, squat, lunge.  All wholesome goodness.  Could have added a sandbag to the Lunges, but didn’t feel like messing
around with getting any more equipment out.   Could also add or substitute Bear Crawls, Crab Walks, or other Quadrapedal movements in place of the Lunges.  
There you have it. About 30 minutes total with a quick warm-up, 4 x 4:00 minute rounds, and rest periods.  Quick and dirty, then done.  

I hope that some of you are sitting down, because I have a confession to make.  I’m experimenting with an upright form of accelerated locomotion.  As most of you know, I hate running. I find it boring, it makes my knees ache, and in my mind there are other ways to work on my aerobic capacity than to punish myself with running as a form of chronic cardio.  So unless I’m training for a Black Belt (been there, done that) or running from a Tiger (not lately, although there has been a suspicious looking raccoon staggering around our back yard), I don’t see the need to run.

Enter the Sprint.  There are more and more proponents of Sprinting as a form of cardio activity (see Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook, found here).  So although I’ve known I should be doing some sprinting, I always found an excuse not to. Until a couple weeks ago,
that is.  I decided that I would start to incorporate a sprint activity at least 1X/week into my other activities.  The local church across from our development has an open area next to it that is used for Pee Wee football.  It’s already laid out with ~ 60 yards of lines in 5 yd. increments.  So I just stop by, place an orange cone at the start line, another one 50 yds. out, and run the sprints.  I’m starting easy, 70-80% effort, 5-9 sprints, recovering while walking back to the start line.  So far, so good.  Will keep you posted as things progress.  And I’ll post a  few interesting links in the weeks to come.

{Note - just read an article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (26(1): 53-62, 2012) that compared High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to Repeated–Sprint Training for tennis players.   I know that doesn’t have any carry over to the Martial Arts (unless you’re going to whack someone with a racket), but there was a key finding.  They found that Repeated-Sprint Training (RST) might be a time efficient strategy in enhancing aerobic adaptations, given the lower training volume required by the RST compared with that of the HIIT.  “..from a practical point of view, desired adaptations (e.g., VO2 peak increases) can be obtained with a substantial reduction in exercise training time, allowing the players to spend more time on-court and optimizing technical and tactical skills.”  It’s the efficiency and providing more time to work on technical skills (strikes, locks, holds, weapons) that interests me from a Martial Arts perspective.}

I’ve always liked to include “Strongman” type exercises into my training.  Why?  3 reasons:

1) It takes place outside.  Any time that I can get out in nature and move around is a good thing.  Too much of our life is spent sitting in plastic/polymer contraptions, viewing electronic patterns, and being bombarded by incandescent/LEDs.  

2) It’s fun and potentially dangerous. What’s not to like about swinging sledge hammers, flipping big tires, pushing/pulling trucks, carrying/throwing logs, or carrying stones, sandbags or anvils?  Any of those are much more entertaining and manly than your average
Shake Weight.

3) It makes time fly.  I’ve never been thrilled trying to follow a“standard” protocol of X sets of bench, Y sets of rows, Z sets of squats in a gym full of chrome, ferns, and spandex (well, maybe the spandex is ok).  I just find it very boring and difficult to stay engaged.  Most strongman activities, although just as difficult (if not more so in some ways), I just find more interesting and engaging. 
A recent study (The Strength and Conditioning Practices of Strongman Competitors,
J Strength Cond Res 25(11): 3118-3128, 2011) puts it this way: “Strongman style training
modalities may have some advantages over traditional gym-based resistance training approaches.  For example, traditional gym-based training exercises are generally performed with 2 feet side by side and require the load to be moved in the vertical plane.  Strongman events represent functional movements in multiple planes and challenge the whole musculoskeletal system in terms of strength, stability, and physiological demands.” 
(I like my reasons better).  This study found that most Strongman competitors are following
traditional protocols to develop strength, power, and conditioning, and then added Strongman specific implements 1-2X/week.  Most popular events practiced were the  Farmer’s Walk, Log Press, Stones, and Tire flip.  
It’s not difficult to get started:

Buy a wheelbarrow and some sand.  Push it around for time and/or distance.         

Have someone you know with access to forested land cut some trees of different diameters and lengths.  This might be easier if you live somewhere rural (like Central PA) than Manhattan. Carry them, throw them, squat with them.
Find some old tires.  Most shops will give them away for free.  Or friend your local farmer.  Car tires can be used for throwing.  Truck and tractor tires can be used for flipping, dragging, and/or hitting (with a sledge).
Take your vehicle(s) to an empty parking lot.  If you have a harness and rope, try towing a vehicle.  This is a lot of fun in a heart pounding kind of way.   Or without the harness, just push the vehicle for time/distance.  You can even create progressive overload by using
multiple vehicles of different sizes or by filling the vehicle with people/weights (this is where it’s nice to have skinny friends).
Buy one or two sledgehammers of different weights.  If you don’t have tires to hit (watch the rebound), take them out into the woods and hit a dead tree.  All of this feels better if you sing or hum any variation of the tune “John Henry”. 
Work on Farmer Carries with dumbbells, barbells, sandbags, KBs, suitcases, or any odd implement that you can find.  Time or distance.  
Buy some ornamental patio stones or paving blocks and carry them in different positions. 
Rocks/boulders can also be “obtained” from more rural areas, or better yet, go for a hike and pause frequently to try and pick up rocks/boulders you come across.  
I think that you’ll find if you get creative, you can have a lot of fun and get in some very functional training by incorporating these types of movements into your routine. You
may not end up on ESPN competing in the “World’s Strongest Man”competition, but it’s worth it none-the-less.

Just a quick one for today - link to a great message from Ross Enamait that relates to multiple areas. Not just fitness, but martial arts, careers, family etc.  Guess what? There are no fast, easy, painless solutions. 
Things take hard work and dedication, as well as time spent.  Even then there are no guarantees.  There are times when bad luck and trouble screw up all your well
intentioned efforts.  Life isn’t fair.  Get over it.

But, the reality is that if you want results, you have to work for them.  Often for a long
time.  That may be an unpopular message for many living in today’s instant gratification society.  But it’s a message that a lot of people need to hear, pay attention to, and live by.  If you already are, good for you. Continue on that critical path.  If you aren’t, then figure out why not, what’s holding you back, and commit to make a change & embrace the journey.  It’s time well spent.

Here’s one from Anthony Diluglio at the Art of Strength.  A “Ropes Gone Wild  Workout” that combines two of my favorite tools - KBs and ropes, and one of my favorite places - outside.  This one can cover it all – UB, LB, Core, posterior chain. 

All sorts of variations could be done using this as an “anchor”exercise.  Add in some BW sets.  Or have a 2nd KB at one end of the park, drag a KB away (forward or backward) as shown, then sprint back to the other KB and bang out some swings, C&P, snatch etc.  
You can do it for multiple timed sets to mimic your competition rounds (ex. BJJ, wrestling, boxing, MMA), for distance, or one long timed set (ex. as many sets/reps as you can get in 15 minutes). 
I’d suggest doing this one at a park, a beach, sand volleyball court or somewhere you don’t mind scuffing up the turf (neighbor’s yard after dark?).  Have fun.

There are lots of ways to “get in shape” and some of them work better than others for a chosen sport. But how do you know if what you’re doing is “working”?  A recent article in the Journal of Strength& Conditioning Research discusses the “Reliability and Construct Validity of the Karate-Specific Aerobic Test” (JS&CR, 26(12):3454-3460, 2012).    

This test (KSAT for short) is a sport-specific field test designed to evaluate aerobic performance of karate practitioners.  It consists of the following combination: Jab, Rear Roundhouse kick, Cross, Front Roundhouse kick – done 2X in 7 seconds.  The strikes are done with maximum power on a heavy bag.  After a rest interval the combination is repeated.  When the participant failed to complete the combination within 7 seconds twice, or when there were clear decreases in power, the “time to exhaustion”was recorded and represented the final result. The authors do not list the recovery time given between efforts, only that the recovery time progressively decreased to make the test more demanding.  If I was applying this test I’d use a 1:2 work/rest ratio and just keep the rest period fixed for simplicity.  As long as you’re consistent from test to test, it would be fine.  
I can see this being used as a test to get a baseline level for karate-specific fitness, and then being used later to evaluate progress.   Did my “time to exhaustion” increase or decrease?   If it got longer (better), then my conditioning program is having a positive effect.  If it didn’t, maybe I’m focusing on the wrong programming structure.   Sensei used to say “the best way to get in shape for karate is to do karate.”  We had a brown belt once that was trying to get in shape for a black belt test and thought he had to do more cardio, so he started running up to 12 miles at a time.  Unfortunately he was still gassed when hitting the bag, because they are two completely different energy and movement patterns. 

In this case the authors found that the KSAT showed differences in performance levels between National level and Regional level karateka.  National level athletes lasted 3 minutes longer in their time to exhaustion. The performance levels that they found
may not be indicative of what your students could/should do, but it would be straightforward to set some guidelines and expectations for different belt ranks, and even set minimum requirements for promotion to Black Belt. 

Free article over at the NSCA site outlines some different boxing protocols based on which energy system is being stressed (ex. Beginning of the fight, early stages, or longer
than a minute).  
Beginning of the fight (phosphagen system)
Work:Rest  of 1:12 –1:20
Ex. Hit for 10 seconds, Rest for 2minutes
90-100% of maximal power
Simple combinations, ex: jab, jab/cross, hook
Into the Tussle, longer than 15 seconds (glycolytic system)
Work:Rest of 1:3 – 1:5
Ex. Hit for 15 seconds, Rest for 45 seconds
75-90% of maximal power
Confrontation > 1 minute (glycolytic + oxidative systems)
Work:Rest of 1:3 – 1:4
Ex. Hit for 1- 3 minutes, Rest for 3-9 minutes
30-75% of maximal power

I find it a helpful reminder that there are different stages of a confrontations and that you also need to train the different energy systems in specific ways.   I seem to spend most of my time in the 2nd style of training.  During longer rest intervals (>3 minutes) I’ll keep moving, doing some dynamic stretching, practicing a form, specific technique, or weapons combination so that I’m being efficient and still getting something done that needs worked on, just not stressing the energy system.  But I’m not just sitting there checking my Smartphone.  

What is“Malibu”?  Even though it sounds like a Baywatch episode, it’s not (although how can anything with David Hasselhoff & Pamela Anderson be bad? Acting that fine only comes around once a generation).  Malibu is a whole body workout using ropes and calisthenics created by the folks over at  

How’s it work? 
Set your timer for 45 Sets: 30 seconds “on” (ropes) and 40 seconds off (calisthenics + rest)
They suggest rotating thru 3 different patterns for the rope waves – small alternating, small double, and small double 45 degree waves.  I’ve done it with up to 10 Martial Rope
patterns or as few as 2 to keep it simple (alternating vertical or double waves)

There are 3 different calisthenics – Pushups, 3-Count Mountain Climbers, and Burpees
In the first rest period, do 1 pushup. During the second rest period, do 2 pushups. Etc. 
Work your way up to 15 reps of the pushup, then in set 16, do 1 mountain climber during the rest period.  Then 2 mountain climbers.  And so on. IF you get to the 45th set and the 15 Burpees, you’ll be wishing you didn’t eat that Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Supersized fries for lunch.

You can check out a sample video and get a PDF of the workout here.

Why I like it:

It covers major muscle groups, UB, LB, explosive movements (burpee), and Cardio.

Other calisthenics can be added or substituted based on ability and/or interest levels.

It can be scaled according to how much time you have or your current fitness level.  If you
have less time, do fewer sets, and/or shorten the rope time. If you can’t do up to 15 reps of each exercise (which is 120 cumulative), just work up to 3, 5, 10 or whatever.  
You can adjust the feel/intensity by changing the order of the exercises.  For example, instead of doing all the pushups, then moving on to all MCs, then all Burpees, stagger the exercises.  In set 1 perform one pushup.  Set 2, one MC.  Set 3, one Burpee.  Set 4, two pushups.  Etc.   Or drop one exercise and pyramid reps up and down with just the Pushups and Burpees.  
It can be done with a partner.  Make the work set and “rest” set the same length, so while you’re swinging the rope, they’re doing the calisthenics and resting.  
Give it a try.  I think you’ll like it (when you’re done).