Tag Archives: cardio

Best BJJ Competition Regimen: Strength, Conditioning, Technique, Rolling, Rest

rocky-in-russia-in-the-snowPeople learn, live, train differently. I’m not going to judge, but for me, the best regimen is just drilling and rolling, approximately twice as much drilling as rolling.

What do I do for strength and conditioning? It’s simple. Here’s my complete training regimen:

  • For technique learning: Drill slowly.
  • For “rest” days: Drill at a medium pace.
  • For conditioning: Drill quickly.
  • For strength: Drill moves that require lots of legs, hips, shoulders, core, back.
  • For rolling: Drill against an opponent who’s resisting at 100%.

When I say “drill”, I mean very specifically designed drills to improve aspects of my game that I’m working on for periods of several months. I don’t randomly switch drills around. I keep doing the same drills for months a time. I do drills with a partner, solo, and on a dummy. The latter two are extremely important because those can be done no matter where you are or what’s going on in your life. Meaning: there’s no excuse not to do it.

Again, when I say “drill”, I mean doing the same move thousands of times for years. My personality is much like that of the the chef in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi in that I enjoy exploring the tiniest details that make the same old simple thing work better. Work at it every day, over and over and over. And that kind of exploration can and should take a lifetime.

Breathing for Warriors

I went to a seminar on breathing (aka the breathing class) today. It was hosted by Osagame and run by Dr. Belisa Vranich (pictured left).

To me, some of the most interesting ideas that she touched on related to the “warriors” part of “breathing for warriors”. She often works with combat athletes on the physiological and psychological aspects of dealing with immense stress in competition through controlling breathing.

Since the audience of this class today ranged from zero martial arts experience to those that practiced jiu jitsu for 10+ years, I think Dr. Vranich adjusted to a slightly more general discussion and practice of breathing. So more than the many cool ideas she explained, the most important thing I took away is how important breathing is, and that breathing exercises have to become a daily part of my training.

Some Ideas on Breathing

She went over the basic anatomy of how we breath. From that, stemmed the discussion of using our diaphragm to get the most oxygen from every inhale: to breath with the whole body.

There are too many things to talk about here. The ideas are simple, but what makes them powerful is that most of us never think about it. We take breathing for granted. If in a tournament, I am driven to exhaustion and panic, I’ll blame poor cardio. While that’s partially true, getting control of breathing (this requires physical and mental practice) could’ve really helped make “bad cardio” less of a factor.

I will definitely write more about this subject in the future as I start practicing the various exercises she pointed me to. There is, of course, a close tie between meditation, breathing, and yoga. They help gain a better understanding of my mind and body. But at the end of the day, grappling is about kicking ass. The breathing just helps maintain focus and clean technique.

Combat Breathing

One of the cool things Dr. Vranich mentioned is “combat breathing” or “tactical breathing”. It’s a simple 4 count technique to gain control of your breathing after it speeds up due to intense activity or a stressful event.

So, in the world of grappling, it could be something you do between matches, or even in between aggressive exchanges. When I’m passing someone’s guard, I imagine that my heart rate must at times jam up against 200 rpm. And once I pass, I often get 3-10 seconds to regain my breathing and composure before going in aggressively for a submission. I don’t mean that I stall, but I think that a lot of the techniques I do from side control often require less energy than the chaotic process of passing guard.

Holding Your Breath for Time

At the start of the class, and again at the end, Dr. Vranich had us hold our breath for time. I’m sure there are many reasons for doing so, but for me it was fun because I’m competitive as hell. Surprisingly, I held my breath less than almost everyone else in the class, but I did improve a good amount after the long mediation session.

Matt (pictured left) beat almost everyone (probably to show off). I believe he was using performance enhancing drugs, but I can’t prove it yet 😉

In a way, not breathing made me more aware of how much my body needs oxygen, and how powerful this autonomic process is. It seems that gaining some control of it may pay off big in the competition.

PS: Thanks to Alma Qualli and everyone for putting this thing together.

Is Mat Time Always Better Than Strength and Conditioning?

Training, diet, lifestyle, it’s all a damn mystery. Every decade a new commonly-accepted wisdom comes out. The only thing I’m fairly certain of is that you need water and sleep, and even that seems to be optional for the tougher specimens of our species (aka collegiate wrestlers).

Anyway, I read an interview recently with someone big (I think Fabio Gurgel) where he said that strength and conditioning is never better than mat time (drilling, positional sparring, competition training). However, he continued to make the argument that you still should do strength and conditioning to prevent burning out mentally.

I like that philosophy. Strength and conditioning is the thing you do to spice up your relationship with jiu jitsu. At the end of the day, technique will conquer all, and you won’t learn technique running on a treadmill. But we are not robots, and can’t do the hard boring thing every time. We need to do the fun things as well.

Epilogue: Have you ever written something full of contradictions, and at the end you are not sure you agree with any of it? Well that’s what this blog post is for me. But I think the internal conflict I have on the subject represents something: the fact that it’s not easy to design the perfect training regimen under the constraints of real life and real mind.

Major Competitions Help Me Ask Tough Questions

I’m quickly realizing why competing at large events such as Worlds is great for my development as a jiu jitsu player. In the last month, I was often struck by the thought that “holy crap, I’m going to have to fight in a division of 120+ guys very soon” and “holy crap, is this guard pass going to work on everyone?” and “holy crap, am I doing the right things to improve my cardio?”

I’ve been asking a lot of tough questions of myself, both big and small. Everything from “why am I doing jiu jitsu” to “where do I most prefer to grip on a toreando pass”. Just like deadlines help me be more productive at work, major competitions help me ask the tough questions of my training, technique, and general approach.

You don’t have to be honest with yourself when you’re training, but when you’re competing, your opponents will force reality onto you. They will reveal the holes in your game, in your mental fortitude, in your strategy. There is no hiding from the truth on the competition mat.

So with the Worlds lurking in the near future, I’ve already become a much better and smarter jiu jitsu guy. I have a lot of changes planned for my training over the summer that will make me much better. Of course, I’m not changing anything in now in the weeks leading up to Worlds, but I’m planning a lot of things for afterwards.

Plus, all the big names in jiu jitsu are putting out interviews and videos of things they are doing to prepare for Worlds. All these resources make my planning for the future that much easier. For example, check out a fun and intense cardio session with some BJJ killers like Andre Galvao, Rafa Mendes, Gui Mendes, etc:

There are a bunch of little changes I am going to implement after Worlds. But the big one is definitely more drilling. I already drill a lot, but I’m planning to take it to another level over the summer. I want to have flawless fundamentals and that requires tens of thousands of reps.

My Experience at the 2012 US Grappling Diamond State Games

I competed at the US Grappling Diamond State Games today. Won gold in both my weight division and the absolute division. Overall, the tournament was run very well, as usual. There was a good amount of white and blue belts, but what was cool is there was a ton of purple and brown belts as well.

Also, the free shirt you get when you pre-register was great this time. It was black with simple white and red text. Simple is best, when it comes to shirts, in my view.

Some Quick Self Analysis

I got tired in my very last match, and was mad at myself for stopping hunting for a submission with 2 minutes left. I was up by 3 points, and was on my opponents back, able to go for a bow and arrow, and literally thought: “Lex, you write many glorious blogs about always working to finish, and here you are, no matches left for the day, only 2 minutes left on the clock, clear opening for a submission, and you’re holding the position just because you want to wind down the clock a bit.” There was no excuse to not go all out for the submission.

When you are winning by 3 points and are on top, it’s actually a great place to be, because you can open up, take risks, and if you get swept, you are still winning. I knew all that, but I was literally too tired. I ended up going for the submission with 30 seconds left, and almost getting it, but I already failed myself at the goal of never quitting.

More and more, I’m starting to see losing and winning as meaningless, and the more important goal of never quitting as the real thing I want to work towards as a competitor.

This is a whole lot of whining, but I wanted to share my inner experience. I really do think that you grow most as a person in overcoming the moments when you want to quit, and don’t. Go to your limit, no matter what that is, and push beyond it.

I’m doing two more tournaments before Worlds, with the goal of pushing the pace, and never quitting the hunt for submission after establishing a dominant position.

Some U.S. Grappling Rules to Remember

As a side note, the refs and organizers did a great job of running the tournament efficiently, but it was clear that some coaches, spectators, and competitors (including myself) did not know the rules as well as they might.  So here are two rules where I saw some mistakes on the part of competitors:

1. For gi division, kneebars, toe holds, and bicep/calf slicers are legal for brown and black belts only. For no-gi division, however, kneebars are okay for everyone.

2. If you do a big judo throw, but end up on bottom, that’s 2 points for the other guy. I’m still not 100% clear on the details of this rule, but it seems that if you want to get 2 points, you better end up on top (and show control for 3 seconds).

As always, I have to thank Andrew SmithChrissy Linzy, and many others for running a good tournament. Also, thanks to Eric Silverman and Steve Bowers for coaching me, and Jimmy Cerra for solid ref’ing and a good sense of humor about it.

Don’t Watch the Clock

When I competed at the NY Open this weekend, I was twice caught in a realization that I was winning and that there was very little time left in the match. I didn’t start stalling but I was distinctly aware of the thought that I don’t need to score any more points. “Don’t take risks” I thought. What that amounted to was “don’t do anything”.

Depending on your personality, the pressure to win can be counter-productive in the long term, and for me, it very much is. Let me explain…

Looking back at the matches I lost over the last two years, I lost because I didn’t want to “take risks” or (more clearly) I didn’t believe in my technique. That mindset leads to a lot of wins by 2 points, by 3 points, by 5 points. At the brown and black belt level, that’s a solid performance. At the blue belt level, to me, that’s an embarrassment. The good guys in my division submit everyone (including other good guys), except for the 1 or 2 people with whom they have a close war. That’s who I want to strive to be.

When I’m up by 2 points, I want to strive for 2, 3, 4 more points. I want to work for the submission, even if that means I lose the match. Because if I am content to win by 2, I will never develop into the kind of competitor I want to be on the mat.

What’s needed: A supreme confidence that my cardio and guts is tougher than my opponent’s.

How to achieve it: Push myself past the limit of exhaustion often though training, through running, through anything. In other words, refuse to quit. It’s easy to say, hard to do. But I can say that I’ve begun seriously working on it, and will be ready for Worlds.

Hey, IBJJF, Why So Blue?

I’m not sure if this has always been the case, but it certainly seems that the blue belt divisions at IBJJF tournaments are exploding in size.

The Pan Jiu Jitsu Championship is this week. My division (if I were competing) is smaller than usual with 77 people. The divisions below have 126 and 98 people, respectively.

These are not your “regular” blue belts either. If you competed at an IBJJF tournament, you know that the people that show up to these tournaments are often experienced competitors, many of whom really do have a legitimate shot at gold. So to medal in a division of that size with that level of opponents, you can’t make a single mistake. It’s all about focus, incredible cardio, and technique.

I’m pretty sure that my “A game” vs the “A game” of the top guys provides too much possibility for losing. The real way to win all those matches, every time, is by dictating the pace and position in the match so that I am the only one playing my A game and my opponent is scrambling to catch up.

Good luck to the 3000 people competing at Pans this week.

By the way, when I say “good luck”, I don’t mean “you’re going to need luck to win any of your matches”. It’s just a nice polite way of saying “best wishes”. If you want to come away with the gold, actual luck has to be taken out of the equation.

Old School Jiu Jitsu: “You’re My Boy, Blue”

I registered for the IBJJF Chicago Open today and paused for a moment when I saw a note that said I can register for the Masters division if I was born in 1982 or before. I’m just one year away from that.

I have been casually following the winners of IBJJF events (Pans, Worlds, Europeans, Chicago, New York, etc) in the blue belt middleweight division (which is my current division). The people that place (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) without exception that I could find are all in the 18 to 21 year old range.

It’s a reflection of a lot of factors, but in my experience the difference between 18 and 28 can be boiled down to cardio and agility. Whether justified or not, I kind of feel like Clint Eastwood. These young kids might have their tricks, but I got my old school basics. They can run around all they want, but eventually I’ll wear them down with heavy fundamentals and pure guts.

By the way, I’m kidding with this post. 28 is by no means old. I will say though that I think one of the big things that gets in the way as an amateur BJJ’er like myself gets older is the responsibilities I have off the mat. I try not to let work kill me too much, but on many days (like today) it really takes away from my training.

But I draw inspiration from the warriors that never stop fighting, like Blue from Old School. You’re my boy, Blue…

Back Against the Wall: Overcoming Cardio Limits

I’m learning a lot about myself in the last couple years about how I best can summon the will to “survive” physical challenges. One of the things I learned is that I’m much better at overcoming in the quiet of my own mind. So, for example, for me, a 20 minute 3-mile run is about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It requires being in extreme discomfort for about 15 minutes (the first 5 minutes are manageable). But I accomplished it several times last Spring and Summer. On the other hand, I seem to be incapable of doing the same on the mat in grappling with lots of people around me, coach yelling, uncertainty of what the goal and time are, and many other factors coming into play.

In the latter case, I feel like my back is up against the wall and every second in that state wears on me mentally until I start quitting a little, and once I start doing that, it’s over. I’m not sure I’m explaining any of this well enough, or whether people experience similar things. Of course, I’m becoming a better and better grappler, so I find myself put to the test less and less cardio-wise which in one sense is good, but in another I know that there will always be guys especially in competition that will push me to a place where all I want to do is quit. I can overcome that when I’m alone on a hard run, but I still can’t do the same on the mat.

Jared told me a while ago that it’s something I have to find inside myself: the will to overcome the exhaustion, the fear, the uncertainty. It all sounds awfully dramatic. It’s not, in the larger scheme of things. But I find the same situation plays itself out in the rest of my life in my work, in my reading, etc.

I’m not sure why my mind takes on challenges much better in isolation, but perhaps the key to my success in competition (and in the rest of my life) is in finding the kind of focus that is equivalent to isolation.

PS: I mean isolation in a positive productive sense (as in distraction-free, flow state) not in the melancholy existentialist philosophy sense.

Tabata Method for Judo and BJJ

The Tabata Method is just another one of many ways to do a “high-intensity interval training” workout. The “method” is do something at a crazy pace for 20 seconds then 10 seconds of rest (or something at a light pace), repeat for 4 minutes.

I tried it with an interval timer for 6 minutes (the approximate length of a judo / bjj match). I did four such “matches” (with about 5 minutes of rest in between). It doesn’t sound like much but it was real tough especially given that I softened up a bit in the last month of long days behind the computer.

For the first “match”, I did burpees. For the second, 32 kg kettlebell swings. For the third, I alternated between chin-ups and clap push-ups. For the fourth, I did seoi nage fits with bands. The last “match” was the toughest, given that my legs started giving out at the 2 minute mark. I kept imagining that I’m trying to pass a tough guard.

Anyway, it’s not a fun work out, but definitely a good way to help keep the cardio up and mentally toughen up a bit.