Steve Maxwell at EA: training for longevity
When Jozef Frucek visited our facility in september for a Fighting Monkey workshop, he talked a little about "training experts."
In short he said, that our real experts in movement are, NOT fit 20 year olds, but:
- Kids between 1 and 3,5 years old, because they show you what real basic movements are that we all should be able to do
- Older people who still move well, as they've probably done some good things over their life to keep their movement ability
So doing my homework, I started observing kids moving around and interrogating well-moving seniors.
I also right away thought of Steve Maxwell, as he is one of the older (by age he's 63, by looks he looks much better than most 40 year olds) guys in the movement & training scene. As a short intro: Steve was the first American to teach kettlebell classes in the US, the first certified Gracie Jiu Jitsu teacher in the US, he's owned a facility for 16 years, trains pro athletes,... What's really cool about his life right now is that he actually does not own a home but travels non-stop around the world to teach.
Last weekend Steve visited our facility for a weekend workshop about mobility, conditioning and bodyweight training. He also generously shared tips about what his strategies are for recovery, nutrition, longevity, and his thoughts on the supplementation market. But what I was most interested in, is what he recommends to NOT do: what his training mistakes were throughout his life and how he changed his practice over the years.
What I enjoyed most about Steve's visit, is that from his decades of experience, he had the ability to simplify: to separate real fundamentals from wasting time.
Here are couple of lessons I learned from Steve:
- Steve's philosophy on training, especially when you are in a sport was pretty straight forward:
"Do Bodyweight training to get better at doing other stuff, not better at exercise."
Coming from many years of being on the BJJ mat all day, Steve tried to keep his other training as short, low-skill and efficient as possible so he could spend most of his time training for his BJJ-skills.
- Isometrics! One of the lessons that keeps coming back is that isometrics are one of the safest and most efficient ways to train through strength and mobility (flexibility + control) plateaus. At the Functional Range Conditioning seminar we hosted in september this was emphasized numerous times by Dr Andreo Spina, who states that isometrics should come before eccentric work when exploring/grooving new movements, especially in a post-injury situation. Steve was a big believer in this as well and he used isometrics extensively as a training method when he doesn't have training tools during his travels. When in doubt, start with isometrics.
- Your weak neck, grip and feet are holding you back! Steve showed us some amazing drills he learned from the Gracie Academy to training the neck, grip and feet/toes. Especially his "Corset"-type work for the neck really struck me as amazing tools for teachers in the movement culture as almost everybody I know has pain in his neck because of working at a desk, driving the car for many hours, and using smartphones,... If no one is going to stop doing this, then maybe it's time we adapt training to the reality of our clients and just get them superstrong necks? (yes, after they've got the mobility to work there of course)
- Time Under Tension. Most of the training we did was based on time under tension instead of sets and reps. This was a fresh breath. You need to understand where Steve is coming from when he advises working at least 40 seconds in a movement. He's tried it all and now finds that this method suits him the best. I'm not saying it is the best in every context ("it depends" is always the appropriate answer) but at age 63 Steve seemed to be doing pretty well with this, safely keeping up training his whole body under this method.
- What is the best training equipment? In a kind of Dan John-style way ("everything works for 6 weeks"), Steve answered this question in a very Kenny Powers type way that had our whole group laughing with his sense of humor and perspective:
"Whether it's a sandbag, a bucket full of horse shit, a bucket of water, dumbbells, sandbags, kettlebells or f*cking machines,... it doesn't matter.
Your body doesn't know."
And then Steve proceeded by sharing numerous examples of many systems working when based on sounds principles.
- Basics. Basics. Basics. Become amazing at the basics before you look further. Really squeeze them out until there's no juice left. Steve spent a lot of time detailing how to do a push up. We work with a lot of kids at EA and not one of them does a push up correctly in the beginning. Knowing that a lot of coaches use push ups as a punishment during training drills, it's probably smart to first teach them to do it correctly before doing hundreds of irregular compensation push ups.
- Training inspiration and variety: borrow from other disciplines. Steve observed rock climbers for training methodologies for grip and pulling work, shared BJJ tools for neck and jaw work, bodybuilders stories for training methods, ... this man has an enormous toolbox AND has the perspective to work with.
- Super simple recovery benchmarks: How do you know if you should train today or not? Go hard or go easy? Talking a lot about East-German research Steve narrowed down a couple of things to look at every morning like 'sense of joy' and for men 'morning wood.' More is better doesn't seem to work when longevity is the goal. And if longevity is not the goal, then at least realize what you're putting at risk when you're waking up irritated everyday, sore day after day, wide fluctuations in morning heart rate, appetite, libido, ...
Zatsiorsky put it like this: "Train as often as possible while being as fresh as possible."
- One last cool thing that shows Steve is in this for the longevity-ride: he frequently organizes his training camps on the island of Ikaria (Greece), one of the blue zones (places in the world where most 90+ year olds live).
Thank you so much Steve Maxwell for sharing your lessons, mistakes, your realness, energy and perspective!