Fitness

Jillian Michaels: How Martial Arts Took Her From Rock Bottom to The Biggest Loser!

Where You’ve Seen Her: The Biggest Loser
Martial Arts Experience: karate, muay Thai, akarui-do

As inspirational stories go, this one’s pretty remarkable. Start with a 5-foot-2-inch, 175-pound, 14-year-old girl who’s devoted to junk food and facing the emotional trauma of her parents’ impending divorce. Give the mother the foresight to enroll her daughter in a local karate dojo, hoping that maybe the sensei will straighten her out. Let the instructor’s cutting assessment of her constant snacking sink to her deepest sense of self and spark a permanent shift in behavior.

Give her a few years to establish herself as a serious force in personal physical transformation and voilà! You have fitness guru Jillian Michaels.

Just one look at her fitness training and martial arts background gives the impression that Michaels could be preparing for competition. Is she?

“No, but it’s very much like that,” Jillian Michaels says. “[I practice] a hybrid style, and it’s extraordinarily combative. I never wanted to compete because I didn’t want to get messed up. As much as I love the sport, I do not want my face bashed in.”

By the time Jillian Michaels was 29, she had her own sports-medicine business in Beverly Hills, California. That’s when one of her clients, an agent, told her about a reality show on the horizon. Titled The Biggest Loser, it could be the missing link in Michaels’ path to mainstream recognition and success, he said. Ironically, she wasn’t all that thrilled.

“My first reaction was disinterest,” Jillian Michaels admits. “But he convinced me to [audition], and they told me, ‘We’re going to give you six people and you’ll control their lives.’ I figured it’d be good for the gym. Cut to four years later, and I’m still doing it.” (Michaels left The Biggest Loser in 2014.)

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The exposure catapulted Michaels into a national spotlight, allowing her to publish books and DVDs, star in her own fitness show and pursue opportunities from vitamins to fresh-food delivery. Her latest book is Making the Cut, and she’s working on a diet book based on hormone balance.

Despite her fame, Jillian Michaels remains down to earth about her success. “You win some and lose some,” she says. “I heard that 95 percent of people who lose a large amount of weight will gain it back. That said, I think I’ve had a 50-percent success rate, but it’s obviously not just about diet and exercise; it’s hugely psychological. Why did they put the weight on in the first place? That’s their drug, that’s how they’re self-medicating and comforting themselves. These things are not healed in a couple of months. If they don’t understand the importance of continuing to do the emotional work, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll put all that weight back on.”

A supportive environment provides a big head start. Jillian Michaels discovered that when she took up karate.

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“The dojo was like a family to me,” she says. “You are the company you keep, so if you’re around healthy people who take care of themselves, people who are motivated and driven, that’s going to reflect on you. I had a studio full of brothers. I looked up to them and wanted to be like them, but they were extremely unforgiving. I was in a corner of the dojo getting side-kicked in the solar plexus again and again until I stopped crying. Crying isn’t bad, but you have to toughen up and get motivated — to stop being a victim, pull yourself together and fight your way out.

“[Martial arts training] gave me a sense of self and strength, but also a philosophy on how to live my life. It taught me about taking action and being aggressive in life and going after what you want. It’s given me the tools so that I can help other people do the same.”

Photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC Universal

A Martial Artist’s Guide to Hip Health: Know What Damages Them, How to Strengthen Them!

Martial arts training can place more stress on the hips than any other sport. Therefore, it’s crucial that all practitioners familiarize themselves with the most common types of hip injuries, as well as the causes, treatments and, most important, strategies for preventing them. Doing so not only will enhance your physical performance in the short term but also will ensure a healthy martial arts career that spans decades.

Dr. Robert Klapper, the clinical chief of orthopedic surgery at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, is an innovator in the field of joint care. The author of a book titled Heal Your Hips: How to Prevent Hip Surgery, he’s patented many new surgical instruments designed to perform hip arthroscopy and has successfully treated celebrity athletes such as basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain and former middleweight karate champion Chuck Norris.

“The martial arts are the No. 1 cause of injuries to the knee and hip, particularly amongst older athletes such as those in their 30s and 40s,” Klapper says. “I am seeing an epidemic of hip replacements, especially in those over 50.” He identifies the roundhouse kick as the most common culprit.

Photo by Peter Lueders

Those problems, along with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, are caused by the dislocation of the labrum, a crucial tissue within the joint capsule that’s housed in the pelvic bone. Attached to the capsule and labrum, which are closely tied to the meniscus in the joint, are the large muscles of the thigh and hip.

“When a person executes these [kicking] movements, particularly with great force, the labrum can be shifted or pulled out of place within the capsule if he does not possess a high level of muscular strength [and] flexibility or if he performs the movement incorrectly,” Klapper says. “This is the single greatest cause of martial arts hip injuries.”

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Recognizing the signs of injury is crucial, Klapper says. “Athletes come to me when they are having pain in or around their hips and point to one of three areas: their groin, their side hip area (the pocket) or their buttock. Groin pain means damage to the hip, the pocket means it is bursitis or tendonitis, and the buttock indicates the injury is to the lower spine.”

He recommends that anyone who experiences pain or soreness in that area immediately consult a physician. “Athletes wait too long to seek help for a potential injury because of the no-pain-no-gain ethic of some martial arts,” he says. “Successfully treating your body is about listening to it on a daily basis, not waiting for it to shout.”

Photo by Robert Reiff

Perhaps more important than recognizing the symptoms is implementing a plan of action that will enable you to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Klapper endorses the following strategies:

•     Control your weight and body-fat levels.

•     Maintain appropriate strength and flexibility for your activities.

•     Avoid running and other hard, repetitive-impact movements.

•     Engage in balance training such as tai chi chuan, especially if you’re older.

•     Take a vitamin C supplement because it’s the main antioxidant responsible for joint health.

•     Try recumbent biking and water workouts to improve your conditioning.

“Water workouts are of particular benefit not only in preventing hip injuries but in treating them, as well,” Klapper says. “Warm water, up to about navel height, affords an opportunity for your joints to be almost weightless, and it provides many unique angles and loads of resistance.”

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Finally, consider how well your art matches your physiology. “If you have a joint and bone structure that is not well-suited to the sport, the joints will begin to deteriorate much sooner and at a greater rate,” Klapper warns. If that’s the case, you may want to switch to a gentler style.

Pat Pollock is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, personal trainer and Thai-boxing instructor.

Learn the Secret of Faster and Stronger Strikes

What if someone pulled you aside one day and told you that it’s not your muscles that determine how quickly and powerfully you can hit, but the quality of your nervous system? What if that same person also told you that it’s what your nervous system is not doing that is the key?

Research has shown that the first sign of a rapid movement may actually be a decrease in muscle activity rather than an increase. This little-known phenomenon is called the “pre-movement silent period,” and it can enable you to strike faster and stronger.

One of the qualities of expert martial artists is the ability to throw a punch or kick without warning. From a ready position, they explode into motion. The attack is so sudden and smooth that it seems to materialize out of thin air.

When novices attack, it’s a different story. Their motion can be seen a mile away — mainly because they perform a large counter-movement, or windup, before the technique. The purpose of this counter-movement is to allow the primary muscles to start activating well before the attack actually begins. When the forward motion is initiated, the muscles are already in a high state of excitation, producing a powerful attack.

The counter-movement is a natural mechanism designed to produce a quick and forceful action. However, that’s a disadvantage in the martial arts because it telegraphs the movement. It takes a fair amount of practice to be able to launch an attack with only forward motion, and it’s even harder to make the same attack a powerful one.

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Fortunately, the human body is a remarkable machine that’s capable of adapting to virtually any conditions that are imposed on it. When you attack without the benefit of a counter-movement, you can compensate by using the pre-movement silent period.

To better understand the pre-movement silent period, it’s useful to examine a punch in a typical sparring session and determine what your muscles are doing. When you face your opponent in a ready stance, your muscles are in a state of mild contraction to fight the effects of gravity. A balance is struck: Too much tension will fatigue you and slow you down, and too little tension will allow your arms to drop.

So there you are with your hands up and ready to attack or defend at a moment’s notice. As you begin, you notice that your opponent has inadvertently let his guard drop. Never one to miss an opportunity, you decide that you’ll punch as hard and as fast as you can. Your brain sends the signal down your spinal cord, through your motor neurons and finally to your individual muscle fibers. However, what happens next may not be what you’d expect.

During the switch from posture to rapid motion, your muscles can actually turn off or stop contracting. The “silence” lasts for only about a tenth of a second, but it causes your muscle fibers to contract all at once, rather than in a graduated fashion. This synchronization is important because it produces a large initial muscle twitch, which facilitates the rapid production of force. The end effect is your fist being catapulted toward the target with great force — and without having been telegraphed.

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According to research, the pre-movement silent period doesn’t occur each and every time. Generally, it occurs only during movements that are maximal efforts and that don’t involve very heavy loads. In addition, it has been found to occur more often in athletes who are highly skilled.

There’s evidence that the pre-movement silent period is a learned skill, as people who had been trained to produce it were able to increase its rate of occurrence. More important, it’s been shown that people who are the most successful in learning to produce the pre-movement silent period tend to demonstrate the greatest gains in limb speed.

Currently, the physiological mechanisms behind the appearance of a pre-movement silent period are unclear, and their specific effects on performance are still being investigated. Nevertheless, the next time you practice in the dojo, take a moment — a moment of silence, if you will — and think about what your muscles may or may not be doing.

(Photos by Rick Hustead)

Christopher Hasson is a martial artist and a biomechanics researcher in the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

How to Stay Motivated in Your Martial Arts and Fitness Training

“Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.”

— Theodore N. Vail

Using half his speed, the coach threw a jab at the student’s face. Without flinching, the student parried the punch. “Good!” the coach said. “Let’s try again. I’m going to pick up the pace a little.”

The student smiled and nodded confidently. The coach threw a jab at three-quarters speed, but this time, the student wasn’t fast enough. The coach pulled the punch, his fist just barely touching the student’s face.

The coach frowned. “OK, let’s do it again,” he said. “Remember that I’m going to do it faster. Try to react quicker.” The student smiled, again with confidence, but the coach ended up having to pull his punch.

“I guess I can’t go any faster,” the student said apologetically.

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The coach proceeded to throw the punch at one-quarter speed, but the student barely managed to parry it. “One more,” the coach said. This time, the blow was even slower, and again the student barely managed to block it.

The student shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just not that fast, I guess,” he said sheepishly.

“Wait,” the coach said. The student wondered, Wait for what?

Without emotion, the coach walked to the gear locker and slipped on a pair of boxing gloves. He approached the student and threw several fast punches. The student’s smile faded.

“OK, we’ll do it again,” the coach said.

“But why are you — what are the gloves for?” the student asked.

“So you don’t get hurt too badly if a punch gets through,” the coach replied nonchalantly. “I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to hit you in the head.”

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The student’s eyes bulged, but before he could say another word, a punch flashed at him half speed. The student blocked the strike with ease. “Again!” the coach ordered as he threw several more strikes in rapid succession. The wide-eyed young man blocked each one.

“Again!” This time, the punches were almost full speed, but the student blocked each one even though his technique was a little sloppy. Nevertheless, his movements had developed a new vitality. There was energy and spirit in each parry.

The coach stopped, stepped back and grinned. “OK, that’s enough for now,” he said.

Somewhat bewildered, the student returned the grin and stared at his coach’s back while he walked away. He couldn’t see the smile forming on his coach’s face.

***

Morne Swanepoel

I’ve been training since 1976. The martial arts have been my profession and way of life since the early 1990s. During that time, I’ve often been asked how a person can stay motivated. How does a student get up every morning and jump into his or her training routine? How does a practitioner avoid becoming part of the majority, the people who give up before reaching their goal?

“Difficulties should act as a tonic. They should spur us to greater exertion.” — B.C. Forbes

If someone asks me what a martial artist ought to devote the most time to, I always say training. Train more than you sleep. I attribute my ability to keep on training, decade after decade, to Mister Mo.

Mister Mo is motivation. Mister Mo means no retreat, no surrender — no retreat from hard work, no surrender to laziness or sloppy form.

Mister Mo should be the most important person in your life, even more so than your teacher or your classmates. It’s good to have an end to journey toward, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.

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Mister Mo is the one who urges you to attend class when you’d rather stay home and watch television. He’s inside you when you do the extra kick, punch or takedown. He wipes the sweat from your eyes so you can crank out a dozen more reps of that technique that’s been so difficult. He keeps you training month after month, year after year. He drives you to face your physical and mental limitations. He forces you to confront laziness, failures and the fear of success. He makes you walk the endless path of the martial arts. He encourages you to push yourself to your limit and beyond. He helps you tune out the pain as you drive yourself to victory over yourself.

“A desire can overcome all objections and obstacles.” — Gunderson

Teachers can open …

MMA Workouts Video: Airborne Lunges From Scott Sonnon’s Ultimate Conditioning Program for Kickers

MMA workouts expert Scott Sonnon takes John Wolf through airborne lunges in an excerpt from his DVD Ultimate Conditioning Volume 3: Kickers, published by Black Belt magazine.

In addition to serving as the U.S. National Sambo Team coach and a top-level referee, Scott Sonnon is a multi-sport national and international champion. As the first American to study behind the Iron Curtain with the USSR’s national and Olympic coaches, he earned the Honourable Master of Sport diploma.

In the 1990s, Scott Sonnon was appointed chairman for establishing the rule structure for sambo’s mixed-martial arts competition. Scott Sonnon has trained Alberto Crane, Elvis Sinosic, Jorge Rivera and Egan Inoue.

Scott Sonnon has also worked as a training adviser for the National Law Enforcement and Security Institute, the U.S. Army Combatives School, Italian counterterrorism units, Australian law-enforcement personnel, Russian and Israeli special forces, the Norwegian military security forces, and the Office of Air and Marine.

In his Ultimate Conditioning DVD series, Scott Sonnon takes viewers through a series of progressively difficult workouts using plyometric boxes, sandbags, kettlebells, medicine balls, body weight and Sonnon’s proprietary Clubbell® to improve strength, endurance and overall skills.

In this excerpt from Ultimate Conditioning — Volume 3: Kickers, Scott Sonnon takes colleague John Wolf through an exercise called the airborne lunge.

MMA WORKOUTS VIDEO
Scott Sonnon Instructs You on Airborne Lunges as Part of a Conditioning Program for Better Kicking


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MMA Workouts 101: How to Start an MMA Conditioning Program for
More Effective MMA Techniques and Self-Defense Moves


Related Martial Arts Books, E-Books,
DVDs and Video Downloads

Ultimate Conditioning — Volume 1: Strikers

Ultimate Conditioning — Volume 2: Ground Fighters

Ultimate Conditioning — Volume 3: Kickers

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