Category Archives: Strength and Conditioning

Supplemental training for BJJ

Consistency: Maintain the Basics and Always Look Forward!

We all have those friends and teammates whose mantra seems to be “It’s time for me to get back into shape/get back to training…and I am serious this time!” They start coming to the gym three or four days a week and start making some progress…But the commitment seems to wane quickly and they end up back where they started 3 months ago.

starting over

Martial arts and fitness are not in the list of activities that are like riding a bicycle. You can leave your bike in the garage all winter and still ride it in the spring with ease.  You stay out of the gym for the winter and you will have more than a little rust to shake off. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The loss of physical strength and stamina due to inactivity/inconsistency should be a huge motivator for people with health and fitness or martial arts goals. Studies show that it can take as little as 2 weeks for your conditioning levels to plunge on a number of fronts! A few months of little to no training can undo months and months of prior work. Workout sessions that once seemed easy end up being incredibly challenging and frustrating after just a short period of time off.
  2. Meanwhile, progression in a sport such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu requires consistent work and focus to learn, polish, and fix techniques. It takes consistent up-keep of your body control and basics in order to focus on new techniques and positions. Purple belts need to be able to recall white belt and blue belt basics with no problem in order to focus on something more advanced.

So you must ask yourself: Why start over and “start training hard” every 6 months when you can stay at a reasonable and consistent pace, gradually improving all the time? Why worry about getting your wind back when you could be focusing on that new body movement or trying a kettlebell swing with a heavier weight than last week? Why worry about having your body be able to do a perfect basic arm bar because you keep taking time off, when you could be improving your guard game with more advanced sweeps? It seems like a simple answer to me.

NEVER LOOK BACK; MAINTAIN THE BASICS SO YOU CAN ALWAYS BE LOOKING FORWARD! And, if you have been out for awhile, make sure your plan to come back can be maintained over the long-term, not just for a few short months!

Happy training!

The Jiu Jitsu Body

I spend a lot of time at the gym both watching and participating in Jiu jitsu classes here in Appleton. During these times, I hear a lot of discussion regarding body type and jiu jitsu. Even the kids in our BJJ program have realized that body type makes a huge difference. Many times the discussion is more of a complaint than anything…

big-man-small-man1“My legs are too long to fit the hook in”

“I am not strong enough to bump him”

“I am not flexible enough for this move”

“I can’t lock my guard/touch my knees to the floor in mount”

And then, there is the speculation that “That guy has the perfect jiu-jitsu body!”

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a perfect jiu-jitsu body. Every body type has its advantages. Tall and lean is great for the guard. They may not be big and strong, but small guys can ball up, move fast and fluidly, and take advantage of little spaces. Those that aren’t that naturally flexible tend to take up a strong pressure and passing games.  You must use what nature gave you and work with it! Not every move shown in class is going to be perfect for your game or be your #1 move; we all pick and choose. If you like to watch jiu jitsu videos, it may be a good idea to find someone that shares your body type!

That being said, remember that if you are frustrated with a certain technique or training partner, your body type may not be to blame! You may be missing details, a frame here or a hip movement there, or may need to modify your strategy…it’s probably something that your instructor can help you with!




Go with the Flow: Exercise Ball Cross-Training for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

There are a lot of different ways to cross train.  One tool that has changed my Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is the exercise ball (also called a stability ball). If you have never seen an exercise ball used for Gracie jiu-jitsu, check out this video (sorry for the weird music…the guy knows how to move, but may need some help with his soundtrack choices):


I love the exercise ball for jiu-jitsu because it teaches a lot of different principles.

1)      Balance and flow come from RELAXING the right parts of your body: If you are tense, you will lose your balance. The ball will “sweep” you. You need to relax the majority of your body and make minor adjustments to keep the main balance point. This is also helpful with your jiu-jitsu because it conserves energy and allows you to roll better longer.

2)      A lot of CONTROL comes from your HIPS: You control the ball with your hips. You determine the direction it can roll and the places it will stop. This is a great concept for top positions in BJJ: Your hips create pressures and barriers for your opponent when you are rolling!

3)      Mistakes happen, but you can MITIGATE the consequences if you FLOW: Tensing up and holding onto a bad position or base will get you swept or subbed. If I relax and counterbalance the mistake I may be able to salvage the position, deter my opponent’s game plan, or go to the next best position. I need to flow instead of panic.

Get started! There are a lot of videos out there to give you some ideas of where to start. You can also just start experimenting on your own, even if it is just starting with basic balancing positions (butt, stomach, knees). Have fun!

Habits Aren’t Just For Nuns

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

Jim Ryan

Some say getting started is the hardest part when it comes to training or achieving fitness goals; but I think that once you have a goal and some motivation, it is a straightforward task to get a plan and get started (especially if you have a good set of coaches, trainers, teammates, etc.!). The hard part is maintaining your plan once the excitement of a new endeavor has faded or once your initial goal has been achieved. Once you decide to be a year-round athlete or decide it’s time to just “be in shape”, creating good training habits is essential.

I consider good training habits to be a sort of momentum that I keep by maintaining a consistent training schedule. It can be as simple as three days on, two days off. I personally train BJJ Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, with strength and conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday and Sunday are my rest/recovery days. If you keep a framework to your training schedule, it is simple for your body and brain to sustain a training baseline, or minimum that you will be doing each week, so that your technique or strength or conditioning is at least maintained throughout the year. When you have a baseline, it is easy to ramp up the training by increasing the intensity of your workout or adding sessions throughout the week once you have an imminent goal, like a tournament or fight.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people train hard for a tournament or a fight, then drop off the face of the earth for two or three weeks or until they have a new tournament or fight coming up. I watch these guys struggle to progress in their technique and their conditioning; it’s as though they are starting from square one each time.  They come back feeling out of shape, tired, out of the loop, rusty, and having to work hard just to get back to a level where they can really start to work for their fight.  Or, they come back and wonder why that guy they used to beat up on seems so much better now.

Other times, “life just gets in the way”. People have long work hours and families and social schedules. One week off turns into two and three and, soon, it is easy to feel discouraged and give up when that first class back is so much harder than you remember.

I’m not saying that you can never go on vacation or that missing practice for your kid’s piano recital is a bad thing. But I will say that the more you stay consistent (just showing up!), the more you will steadily progress and the easier it is to maintain in the long run for both your body and your brain.

Cross Training for BJJ

What should I be doing when I am not in jiu-jitsu class?

When you are looking to be in great shape, one of the most important things is to get a variety of different workouts that work different muscle groups and functions. Jiu-jitsu is great in that it has the potential to work muscle endurance, explosive muscle movement, flexibility and cardio. However, sometimes it is good to pick up the intensity in some of those categories…Here are some of my favorite cross-training activities for BJJ:

Cardio: Swimming

Some people prefer to run or use the exercise bike, but because my knees are not in the greatest shape, swimming is my favorite way to boost my cardio fast. It is easy on the joints and not too taxing on your muscles on your “off days”. I swim for 25-35 minutes at a time, doing a mix of swimming laps, using the kickboard, running front and back…and just moving, moving, moving to work your heart and lungs!

Flexibility and Static Strength: Yoga

Yoga is a great activity for BJJ for a few reasons. Yoga is great for increasing flexibility (think: great guard work and flow) and your static strength for holding positions. Yoga is also great for learning to control your breath! If you can’t make it to a yoga class and still want to increase your flexibility, spend 15-20 minutes after BJJ class doing static stretching and breathing…Make sure that you are already warm! Never stretch cold!

Muscle Endurance/Explosive Movement:

For this, use a combination of body weight exercises and resistance training (using weights, resistance bands, medicine balls, etc)…Just come to Team Conditioning at Team FVGC ;) But, generally we pick 6 exercises that work different muscle groups to get a full body workout. For muscle endurance use low weight and high reps. For more explosive movement, do less reps but make sure you either have resistance or are exploding through the movement (e.g. for each burpie you do, jump as high as you can, rather than doing more burpies with small jumps). I personally don’t use a lot of traditional weight lifting. My “heavy lifting” ends up being rolling guys bigger than I am. For cross-training, I focus on controlled, functional movement.

Happy training!