Sunday, November 28, 2010

Strength and Conditioning for BJJ - Assessment - Cardio (part 2 of ?)

"Fatigue can defeat us all. Worse even than the loss of technical proficiency is the simple inability to continue..."

I didn't want to use the word cardio because it only captures half of the conditioning equation. In this series of posts cardio = conditioning - I am referring to both cardiovascular/respiratory endurance - The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen and stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.

Conditioning can be increased by both aerobic and anaerobic activities. Efforts at moderate to high power lasting less than several minutes are anaerobic and efforts at low power and lasting in excess of several minutes are aerobic. (examples: sprints from 100 up to 800 meters are largely anaerobic - longer distances from 1,500 meters up are largely aerobic)

Now on to the cardio assessment. You may be incredibly fit for some activities, such as running a marathon, and be reduced to a mass of quivering jelly when rolling on the mats. The type of cardio training you need most IS sport specific. Basketball, football, wrestling, soccer, volleyball, etc. all benefit the most from anaerobic training. Long distance and ultra endurance running, cross country skiing, and 1500+ meter swimming are sports that benefit from primarily aerobic training. Guess which one you need most for BJJ? That's right anaerobic endurance is the foundation of a great BJJ fighter.

An anaerobic assessment benchmark that matches well with BJJ is somewhat difficult. VO2max testing is expensive - the easy tests of treadmill running and 5-10K race times aren't a good carryover to BJJ. The random "workouts" from sources like Crossfit and other areas of the internet are hard to classify easily. Here are a few of the ones I use when trying to get a general idea of someone's anaerobic foundation (these are quick and dirty for the average Joe and can be done at home and the next time you hit the mats).

Test 1: 6 minute burpee challenge
Since this is a "timed" test form will probably not be perfect, but the chest should almost hit the ground on the pushup phase and the end jump should at least clear a few inches.
Results: 50 (adequate), 75 (good), 100 (you are a beast)

Test 2: 1 mile run
Not a sprint, not a trot - you should push hard enough to not want to do this again anytime soon (i.e. have a strong desire to, but try not to - puke).
Results: 7 minutes (adequate), 6 minutes (good), sub 6 (great)

Test 3: 5 rounds of 6 minutes rolling (30 second rest between rounds)
This is the most subjective, because you can easily stall and sandbag, but the intent is for you to roll 5 hard 6 minute rounds against individuals close to your size/skill level. Taking it too easy will be revealed by you getting tapped multiple times during a round or staying in bad positions. Starting from the feet is preferred.
Results: self evaluation = "I can survive this a couple of times a week" (adequate), "I can easily do this several times a week" (good), "Let's do a couple more rounds right now!" (great)

OK, so what does this tell us? Well I have good news and bad news. The good news is that if you are in the good to great range you can definitely mix your training up to include some serious strength work. The bad news is, just like skill work and flexibility - we should be doing cardio/conditioning all year. If you fall into the adequate range (or are not quite there yet), don't worry - YOU CAN GET THERE - this benchmark simply tells us that your priority should be additional conditioning work before trying to add significant strength work.

A few notes before we close:
1. The results "numbers" are ball park estimates. A 200+ lbs. fighter will not be able to do as many burpees or run as fast as the 145 lbs. fighter.

2. These figures are for the athlete who is serious and wants to be competitive but has a job (and a partial life) outside of BJJ.

3. These numbers are what I would like to see for someone between 25-35 years of age.

4. We can get a little more technical and say that your heart rate after each of these tests should be heading back under 100 bpm at the 2 minute mark and getting close to or under 80 bpm at the 5 minute mark (pretty close to full recovery). How quickly you recover is one of the key indicators of how conditioned you are - if you want to get more serious, buy a heart rate monitor.

5. You may think these benchmarks suck. If you have some other "quick and dirty" tests and results that an average Joe can do without a lot of expense or equipment that are better - post them in the comments section.

(next post in this series - Basic Strength Assessment)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Knees - Love the Ones You Have

I tweaked my knee (yet again) on Saturday during competition team training working takedowns against a much larger training partner - someone I would never willingly try to takedown directly, but sometimes you have to try to defy the laws of physics just to make sure they are still there (they are).

Since knee injuries are common among BJJ players and one of the most feared injuries, I thought I would share this video. I firmly believe that knowledge is power, but I would feel better if I knew the inside of my knee was reinforced with titanium and steel bands (oh well).

Since I can't bionically improve the inside, I will be rolling in a nice steel reinforced brace for a few weeks. Not comfortable but much better than surgery. Be strong - train safe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Strength and Conditioning for BJJ - Assessment (part 1 of ?)

(alternative series title - "You Can't Do It All or Maybe You Can If You Do It Right.")

Should I just concentrate on skill work? What about cardio? Am I too weak? How strong is strong enough? What about power and explosiveness, when am I supposed to train that? Should I do Yoga or some other form of flexibility work? What should I be doing/not doing for rest and recovery? Where the @#$% am I supposed to find time to do all this?

Most of us are not professional athletes who can dedicate our entire day to training. In order to maximize the benefits of our limited training time we need to train hard but we also need to train smart. Training smart means doing the right things at the right times at the right volume/intensity.

So just how do we determine what all this "right stuff" is. I don't think anyone has figured out ALL the right stuff, but fortunately, there is a wealth of data and research in athletic performance that we can appropriate for BJJ that will let us postulate some general rules of thumb. When we combine these general rules with observation of what is consistently working in the grappling and MMA communities we can map out some suggestions for a training program that may not have ALL the answers but will be a significant leap beyond "Just Do It."

The first step in developing a good training program is to determine where you currently are - only then can you can make logical decisions on what should come next. We do this by performing an Assessment. An assessment helps to determine your individual needs. Some players gas early, other players may get manhandled and pushed around, and others lose matches because their skills are not up to par, alternatively the super-technical guy may be continuously fighting injuries because of strength deficits/imbalances. Even though we are all athletes in the same sport we are not all at the same place on our journey. We need to determine at an individual level what we need most to advance to the next level.

This is where I am going to suggest a few "rules of thumb" for determining where you are. First, the nature of our sport means that we are ALWAYS going to put skill/technique work at the top of the list and work it year round (no true off season). Second, low intensity flexibility work (such as light yoga) is almost always good for recovery and is recommended - that said everyone has varying levels of base flexibility that can be improved with regular stretching but BJJ in general does not require you to be able to do the splits or put your leg behind your head.

This leaves us with the big 3 training variables: Cardio, Basic Strength, and Explosive Power.

(next post in this series - Cardio Assessment)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quote of the Moment - Be Hard My Friends

"Be hard my friends. How do you get hard? You train hard - and if you train hard, you'll not only be hard, you'll be hard to beat."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Wrapup -Takedowns

Finished a "perfect" week of training my backside off with two hours of No Gi Friday night (the culmination of  Wheeee!...Ow! That's Going to Leave a Mark) . The session, after warm-ups, was spent entirely on drilling and then sparring takedowns. Just takedowns. Did I mention that we worked a few takedowns? All worked at a pace that would be pretty grueling for 20 minutes, much less two hours, but I'm not bitter ;-).

The first technique we worked on was a knee tap from neutral over-underhooks. Mechanically it is very simple - you drop your overhook hand to the outside of you opponents knee while at the same time driving up and across with your underhook. Your arms are driving across your body, one high, one low and your bodyweight is driving through your underhook (kind of like an Aikido tenchi nage - heaven and earth throw but with real world grips and pressure). The key to success with this technique is timing. Your opponent has the same initial grips, so you have to set it up by pulling with your overhook to expose the knee you want - works well during a pummel war. 

The next technique drilled was a fast lateral drop starting again from neutral over-underhooks. You step back and pull on your overhook side to get your opponent to step forward and put his weight on that foot. You immediately step with your opposite foot (underhook side) to the outside of his same side foot and as you lift up with your underhook, pull down with your overhook, start to rotate perpendicular to his hips and slide your overhook side leg across his body to block his instep. You continue rotating as you drop your overhook side hip to the mat pulling your opponent over your blocking leg into a shoulder roll. Because of your over /underhooks you follow and control his roll and come up into top side control. This is a "sacrifice throw" - you hit the mat before he does and pull him over your blocking leg - as such, if you don't have good control with your over/underhooks and get his shoulders turning toward the mat before you drop you will be pulling him on top of you. It looks a lot like this with less emphasis on the back arch and more emphasis on the blocking leg to make the technique more effective against a larger opponent you would not be able to lift.

Last drill was a little work from the head tie-up, shrugging off the arm on the neck into a russian 2-on-1, countering with a step back and pull gaining head control and working from there.

The sparring rounds consisted of getting the takedown and then right back on your feet. Concentrated on working the "techniques of the day," so a lot work on controlling the clinch and working for the takedown from neutral over-underhooks (a lot of pummeling going on). Got a good feeling for the new techniques timing and set-up wise against full resistance. Noticed that when you are in the neutral over/underhook clinch if your opponent has his feet back and is "leaning in" to the clinch, the lateral drop works well. When he has his feet and balance more centered it makes it easier to reach his knee with the first technique.

When not working from the clinch, had decent success with a snatch single leg and using an arm drag both for a takedown directly and to set up a side or back clinch to takedown.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wheeee!.........Ow! That's Going to Leave a Mark

It has been a wonderful week of Jiu Jitsu and training. Great heavy workouts, great additional strength and conditioning work, great classes (multiples each day), and did I mention rolling? Lots and lots of rolling. Rolling before class, rolling after class, and being the last person off the mat each night.

The result of all this creamy Jiu Jitsu goodness? I can barely move. I need a massage, a chiropractic adjustment, some ibuprofen, and a cold beverage. I would handle items 3 and 4 myself, but I can't move. Seriously, I sat down and my entire body has frozen. This post would have been up hours ago but I'm having to type with my tongue.

Allright, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit.  There are no major injuries, just lots and lots of deep bruises and other assorted micro-trauma from all the rolling coupled with deep muscle fatigue and serious central nervous system overload.

In my delirium  I'm grinning like an idiot at how much I have to pay attention to keep our great group of upcoming whitebelts off my back (you give them an inch and they are all over you) and how hard the "death matches" are amongst the upper belts (in a good way).

And I still have Friday's no-gi class tomorrow to survive, which is good because I don't think I could put on a gi and tie my belt - I can't wait :-).

My friends and relatives considered putting me in an institution but they knew that within a week I'd be running Jiu Jitsu classes from all the rubber rooms. I'm sure I could stop anytime, but who wants to :-).

Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming ... WOW! What a ride!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wrestling in BJJ

I have been thinking about wrestling and BJJ a good bit since my post on American Jiu Jitsu a couple of weeks ago.

To me wrestling and BJJ aren't two separate things - they are both grappling. Where I train we have a weekly class that is just takedowns (as well as working them in other classes throughout the week). Sometimes the takedown of the day could be classified as more wrestling sometimes more judo oriented, but to deny that there is a ton of overlap between the two is just plain silly.

What also strikes me as silly is to think that these takedowns are not a part of BJJ. In BJJ we like to claim that most fights end up on the ground (true) - but they usually wind up on the ground because somebody A took somebody B down (not because somebody B pulled guard). To think that a BJJ player wants to be the guy on the bottom in this scenario is ridiculous. In a fight you almost always want to be on top and be the aggressor (unless you are disengaging to run away).

So in my mind takedowns and takedown defense are an inherent part of BJJ regardless of how pure or old school somebody's BJJ is.  And thinking that incorporating wrestling is a new idea because of wrestlers currently making a good showing in MMA tells me that a lot of folks out there (students and teachers both) don't know about the history of their art. The "old guard" of BJJ practitioners always thought BJJ was the "best fight" (and they proved it on the mat/in the ring but they never thought it was the "only fight"). If something worked they were all over trying to understand it - both to defend against it and to use it themselves.

I love this quote from Renzo about how Rolls especially liked to color outside the lines - "Rolls (...) was the guy who actually completely changed jiu jitsu in Brazil. He started training a lot of wrestling, a lot of judo, he started training Sambo, and he was able to incorporate all that into jiu jitsu. He was the one responsible for all the evolution we have today. He was the pioneer of all that change."

If there is a test for a "true" BJJ school it should be "are they open to continuously learning and innovating, committed to the idea of understanding what works," OR "are they closed to new ideas - thinking that they must be inferior because they weren't invented here." You guess which answer is correct (you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right :-)).

Hopefully BJJ will continue to evolve based on what gets the job done (rather than devolve into another McDojo martial art).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse

I've been spending all my time preparing for the zombie apocalypse when what I should have really been training for is how to defeat the ever growing threat from the menace of PIXELS!!!

Who knows, maybe my mispent youth at the arcade will one day save the planet.

Of course I'm still going to continue training jiu jitsu because I have yet to submit someone with this technique from side control:

So all the hoards of pixeloids are safe until I get this down (along with a few hundred other techniques).