Saturday, December 18, 2010

Strength and Conditioning for BJJ - Training Plan - Overview (part 4 of ?)

Just to refresh your memory on some of our opening assumptions:
  1. We are targeting the "average joe" athlete - jiu jitsu players who have a life and day job off the mats but still want to improve and be competitive. 
  2. If you are at the upper bounds of great on the previously posted assessments you should look into finding a strength and conditioning coach who can work with you 1-on-1 to continue to improve.
  3. 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 as much as we can year round and that low intensity flexibility work (such as light yoga) is recommended.
So how did you do? What should you do next? Whether you used my "benchmarks" or prefer to work with some other criteria we want to determine what should be emphasized in your training program based on your personal assessment and the following hierarchy:
Skill/Technique work >
     Basic Aerobic Capacity >
               Anaerobic Capacity >
                         Basic Strength >
                                   Power >       

A good training program will address all of these areas. What should change over time is the balance of work between the areas. Each step should be in the adequate to good range before the emphasis shifts to the next step. Your assessment should give you an indication of where you are (currently) and what type, and how much, of a particular type of training you should be including. Additionally, your training program over time needs to cycle through some sort of periodization (but that is a set of posts for another time).

I've included some (motivational) videos as examples of what training might look like within the different areas. You may be doing a lot of the same "exercises" at each level, but the volume (sets, reps) and intensity (weight, rest) change.

Skill/Technique Work
Skill and Technique work - hitting the mats - is job one. This should always constitute the lion's share of our training time. Find a good school and try to get there as often as you can. You may not be able to live at the gym, but if you want to be competitive you have to put in some mat time.

Basic Aerobic Capacity Emphasis
If you are not currently rating "adequate" on the cardio assessment, the priority of your training time off the mat should be spent on increasing your aerobic base. This is the foundation you need to hang everything else  off of. The emphasis here will be slightly longer, less intense workouts. Running, skipping rope, biking, rowing, and simple bodyweight exercises get the most time.

Anaerobic Capacity Emphasis
Once we have a decent aerobic base we want to maintain that base while increasing our anaerobic conditioning into the good range. We start including shorter more intense workouts. Sprints replace distance running, we use tabatas and other high intensity protocols on our activities, exercises become "heavier" and are put together into sets and rounds with only short rest intervals between. You will develop a love/hate relationship with the phrases "burpee," "kettlebell," "prowler," "next round," and "for time."


Basic Strength Emphasis
While maintaining our aerobic/anaerobic conditioning we start moving heavy things. There will be assistance exercises but an increasing proportion of our time should be spent doing basic multi-joint exercises: deadlifts, squats, presses, pullups, and rows. We are not talking about a bodybuilding routine here. It doesn't matter how you look (although as a byproduct of all the work you are doing you will be looking good). Exercises are targeted at overall functional strength AND sport specific strength with assistance exercises to keep you balanced and injury free. It should also be noted that if you are currently a big "weightlifter," your lift totals might actually go down as you bring up your aerobic and anaerobic conditioning - but you will be a better fighter.

Power Emphasis
Once we have a good strength base we can take moving heavy things and add moving heavy things quickly. Our strength exercises are combined with complimentary power movements in complexes - we might combine sets of squats and box jumps, presses and medicine ball throws, deadlifts and dumbell snatches. Olympic lifts might replace some of the basic strength lifts in our training plan and plyometric exercises increase.

In the next few posts in this series we will use some "case studies" to talk about tailoring a training program for individual needs.


  1. I like your fitness posts - they have some very good insight in them, especially for someone like me who is fairly new when it comes to specific workout techniques. I am training CrossFit right now and regardless of whether or not it's the "best" program for the sport I do, it's been very beneficial in teaching me how to perform a lot of the exercises (lifts in particular) that I had no idea how to do before.

  2. A few people have asked what my results were on the various assessments. Here ya go:
    6 minute burpee challenge - 50
    1 mile run - just under 6 minutes
    5 rounds of 6 minutes rolling - "Let's do a couple more rounds right now!"

    Basic Strength (all pulled from workouts in the last 2 months - pure max singles would be slightly higher):
    Deadlift - 285 1.72bodyweight
    Squat - 245 1.48bodyweight
    Bench - 225 1.36bodyweight
    Military Press 135 .81bodyweight

  3. update burpee challenge was 75 (not 50)

    @SkinnyD - crossfit is great for giving you a good base to work from (and teaching you the basic lifts as you noted). My only issue with it (other than cost) is that it is a little too random and doesn't account for the metcon you get from rolling - so I'm biased for a program that is more specific. That said, if you don't have a trainer that can work with you personally it is great - and if you want to emphasize strength a little more the crossfit football protocol is better.