Steve Maxwell: Training Caused by the Fear of Death and Insecurity
By VAHVA Fitness on December 2nd. 2018
Interviewing Steve Maxwell, a true master of strength and conditioning. We will touch on the long term consequences of training and how most people's training is created by the fear of death and insecurity
Steve Maxwell is a strength and conditioning coach who has coached people like Joe Rogan and BJ Penn (a former UFC Welterweight and Lightweight champion). In addition to this, he is a former NCAA wrestler and a US Army veteran.
He is also a 6th degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (trained by the Gracie family) and was one of the first black belts in the USA. He also had one of the first BJJ schools in the Eastern block of USA.
For the last 12 years he has lived somewhat similar Nomadic life to us: traveling across the world and learning different training methods such as Systema (self-defense) and Qigong while hosting his seminars all over the world.
Maxwell has been into fitness for over 50 years and has worked as a fitness professional for over 40 years. He has acquired wisdom and perspective that a lot of people lack in the public sphere and in the fitness industry.
He has seen firsthand what different training methods can do you to your body having observed the fitness industry for DECADES. He has seen new trends come and go.
We just recently trained with the Taiwan's master of monkey kung fu who has immense knowledge in the Eastern training methods. Maxwell on other hand has seen everything the West has to offer.
Understand the Long Term Consequences of Training
Steve Maxwell's physique is the best epitome to his wisdom: at 66 years he is healthy and in an excellent shape with mobile and functional joints. He moves better than people half of his age.
Life is a long game and you want to stay healthy and active as long as you can. Having a healthy body will improve your quality of life like nothing else. The last thing you want to do is to purposefully destroy your body.
We recently visited Mystras in Sparta, Greece and it was one of the most breathtaking places we have ever visited.
We had to climb stairs for hours to go to the very top. Climbing up, an older gentleman passed us (a man in his early 60s) and he could barely walk the stairs DOWN. His hips, knees and spine were too stiff and damaged.
When you are older, you still want to enjoy life. You may want to go see beautiful sceneries like Mystras or start a new hobby like Latin dance.
You don't want to destroy your knees with powerlifting or elbows with modern calisthenics in your 20-30s to be a cripple for life. Yet, this is what a lot of people do.
What a lot of young people lack is perspective. They cannot see the long term consequence of their training methods.
In the beginning, we weren't aware of this either. When we were under 20 and in our early 20s, we did modern calisthenics until we started to develop chronic pains and aches in the joints of our body.
This was a turning point for us because we realized that our training method had to change and evolve. Since then, we have managed to cure our problems with proper training.
This is not easy to realize because if you look for advice, you will mostly hear idiots giving you advice such as "no pain no gain!" and referring you to people like Louie Simmons who has had multiple surgeries in nearly every joint of his body (not exaggerating...).
“Just know that there is a big picture and hopefully you will be living with this body for a long time. So if you do damage it doing crazy stuff you may have a long long painful existence your last 30-40 years.” - Steve Maxwell.
Steve Maxwell is a great example when it comes to having sustainable training for life and how you can still kick *** at a later age. Most of his contemporaries are done while Maxwell continues to live a vibrant life.
Jiang Yu Shan's master was also in an excellent shape at the age of 87. The oldest person doing our training programs is 83 years old George and he is also in a great shape but he has obviously done lots of things right for decades.
Drop the Ego and Train Smart
Our training in our early 20s was dominantly driven by insecurity and ego. We wanted to impress others with flashy stunts and wanted to feel better about ourselves.
Why? We lacked confidence.
We were in a constant hurry and didn't have any patience. We had to make quick progress and reach the new personal record in nearly every training session.
We thought that reaching the advanced skill like the one arm chin up or handstand will make us feel better about ourselves. We lifted too heavy too often because we had to validate our egos in every workout.
We wanted significance and thought that ego training was the way to do it.
This kind of training never made us feel better - only when we started to do universal strength training that actually had real transferability to real life, we started to feel better inside out.
Now in retrospect, this kind of ego training is the worst training that you can do. It not only produces worse effects than proper strength training but you are creating severe damage to your body that can last for a lifetime.
Steve Maxwell utilizes similar training principles to us because these principles are universal.
These principles include using mainly the bodyweight or light weights and understanding that form and time under tension are everything.
The weight doesn't matter because when you understand biomechanics, you can create a better stimulus with lighter weights and do it safely without creating any wear and tear.
There is nothing wrong about trying to look and feel your best. There is nothing wrong with skills either but you have to be smart and you must prioritize health over everything.
If you look at almost any style of training on the Internet, all of them prioritize either muscle size, heavy lifts or skills over everything. The people who train intelligently are far and few between.
Once health is gone, your performance will also be gone. Yet, most people constantly prioritize performance (or skill training) over health and in the end lose both.
Golden Tips from Steve Maxwell
In addition to discussing different training concepts with Maxwell, we also attended his training seminars on breathing and athletic performance for martial artists.
Here are some of the best tips we share with Steve Maxwell. The best thing was that we validated many of the beliefs we already had - we got confirmation that we are on the right track.
Don't Train like a "Strength Athlete" for Sports and Martial Arts
Gymnasts have amazingly strong upper bodies. Weightlifters have powerful legs. When you combine these two, you must get the ultimate body with transferable strength, right?
- Not really. These activities are super specific and will make you primarily good at these activities. You will get transfer but it's far from optimal and you will be wasting a lot of time on skill training.
Most training styles people do are actually not training methods at all but sports with a high involvement of skill. Modern calisthenics is a sport. Powerlifting is a sport. Gymnastics is a sport etc.
There is nothing wrong with sports but just don't make the mistake of thinking that the sport is good for health, posture or universal performance.
Steve Maxwell calls his style of training "general strength training". We call it "universal strength training". We don't train for the sake of training - we train to improve our health and performance in other activities outside of our workouts.
On Selection Bias and Survival Bias
According to Steve Maxwell, for every successful street workout athlete there are hundreds of others with broken elbows and shoulders. Yet, people only see the successful people as the shining examples of the training method.
People think that because they find examples of people who are successful, the training method must be good for everyone and it must produce similar results for others.
The gifted athletes who have the right body type for the sport, the right genetics and manage to "survive" the training will have success with the training style but almost everyone else can be harming themselves.
Most people fall into this bias where they think the exceptions make the rule when in reality real science doesn't work that way. We talked about this in the Skill vs. Strength Training article.
We want to make training for everyone - regardless of the body type, age or genetics. Proper training should dissolves boundaries, not create them.
You can only accomplish this if you drop the ego and start focusing on the right things (health, posture and performance) instead of the gimmicks.
Slow Training Works.
When we were doing ancient Qigong, Jiang Yu Shan used to say: "When you can do it slowly, you can do it fast".
Guess what Steve Maxwell said during his training seminar? Slow training will make you more explosive and powerful!
We are huge fans of slow tempo training simply because there doesn't exist a more sustainable and more effective way to develop the body.
We would consider explosive training only the icing on the cake AFTER you have built a strong foundation like we do in Phase 1 of Athlete 20XX.
Before you have laid the strong foundation, slow tempo training that strengthens the structure of the body will make you faster and more powerful than any other type of training.
Maxwell and Qigong have also introduced us to various forms of isometric training which we have become a huge fan of.
Isometric training is a massive part of ancient kung fu practices and Steve Maxwell also recommends isometrics for everyone.
Breathing is Essential for Health and Performance
We learned useful breathing methods from Maxwell which he has learned over the years from Yoga, Qigong and Systema.
Prior to Maxwell's seminar, we had learned some useful breathing techniques from Pilates (very good stuff there), Yoga and Qigong, but Maxwell's knowledge took this area to the next level.
“Take responsibility for your health with your breath. You are your own doctor.” - Steve Maxwell.
Surprisingly, he wasn't a huge fan of Wim Hof's style of breathing which is a variant of one Yoga style.
If you are looking for a quick tip to change your life, do this:
- stop chest breathing through your mouth, instead start belly breathing through your nose.
Western Medicine is HORRIBLE as a Preventive Medicine
Western medicine is the best for emergencies. Nothing comes even close. When you are in an emergency - go to the hospital and save your life.
Western medicine works for immediate problems but as a preventive medicine it's one of the worst because it doesn't solve problems, it merely masks them.
Moreover, when you mask one problem you often get a new one to fix. It's a loop where you become dependent on more and more substances.
When you go to a doctor and get a pill for a headache, you never solved the root cause - you only got rid off the headache. You want to solve the root problem and it often takes a bigger lifestyle change than just a quick pill.
We would consider this just intellectual laziness. A lot of the times Western medicine is a way to avoid your problems instead of directly dealing with them.
For many, Chinese traditional medicine is hard to understand because it often doesn't work in 20 minutes. Most ancient health practices are preventive in nature because in the ancient times they didn't have surgeries or steroid injections.
In the older times, you had to focus on preventing the illnesses and injuries because once you got the problem it was already too late. As a result, many of the practices evolved to a high level in this regard.
Steve Maxwell hasn't gone to a doctor for over 40 years, doesn't use any medication and is not planning to visit a doctor any time soon.
Everything is Connected - The Problem Often Isn't the Problem
99% of the videos you find on YouTube regarding postural fixes and joint fixes are complete BS that almost never work.
In the videos the people give you one gimmick exercise and expect the exercise to fix the problem. In reality, it's rarely that simple because everything is connected to everything and your body works as one unit.
Sometimes the solution to lower back pain is to strengthen the spine but a lot of the times your lower back pain can originate from your hips, legs or core.
Moreover, it may not even originate from any specific area - it can be a sum of many problems in the body.
In order to fix the body, you have to focus on structural balance and strengthening the body as a whole. You have to fix the entire body. Specific fixes will help but the solution must be more holistic to really make a lasting change.
Steve Maxwell shares our opinion with this one.
YOU Can Heal Your Body.
Our lives started to change when we started to take responsibility for our bodies. When we accepted that we have the power to fix our bodies without surgeries or special medicine.
We have had zero surgeries in our lives. Zero steroid injections. We don't use any medications, pills and barely any supplements (only occasional vitamin C or zinc when we are feeling sick).
Exercise, fasting and breathing are the best medicines for almost everything. Proper training doesn't just prevent injuries, it also cures them.
Steve Maxwell urges beginners to start with a good coach but also wants you to understand that you have the power to heal yourself and be the master of your own body.