If you want to improve your ability to impose your will on your opponent then getting stronger should be a priority. If you want to remain injury free while you train hard then getting stronger should be a priority. And if you want to keep your performance levels high as you get older then getting stronger should be a big priority.
Lessons from an 8 years old’s belt test about Focused Practice, the Grind and what it takes to be great…
A few weeks back my little girl Shilo had her first belt test in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She’s been really dedicated since starting and has picked it up really quickly. Plus we have a lot of fun “wrassle frassling” with each other as we practice at home.
In BJJ you actually have to show that you know a few things to earn your next level belt, which I think is really cool in a world of McDojo’s that give out stripes at every class and hand out belts for just showing up. They’re not fanatical about things being perfect but the kids do need to show that they’ve paid attention and can apply some basic techniques.
To prepare we practiced every day of the week leading up to her test. She didn’t want to practice some days and I’m ashamed to admit I bribed her with a popsicle once but she logged the focused practice time to learn the test.
Now, I don’t mean to brag but all that practice paid off and she nailed the test. She ended up testing by herself as the whole class watched and she never flinched, going through the techniques before the coach was even done explaining what to do in some cases. She was done quickly and showed a lot of confidence during the test thanks to how well she knew it.
So, what’s the point besides being a thinly veiled chance to brag about my little girl? There is an important lesson in there for all of us…
Focused practice can be a grind but it is needed to be great.
In fact, that was the question I asked Shilo before we decided to practice every day – do you want to be average or do you want to be great? Like a lot of people she answered “great” but found it tough to stick to it once the initial fun factor wore off and the grind set in.
Luckily she had me to help keep her motivated in various ways but we don’t have a parent telling us what to do for our own good anymore. This means we have to rely on ourselves and our own internal motivation.
For me, just knowing that it is normal to not find every training session a super fun experience helps a lot. I think we get brainwashed with the whole “do what you want/ makes you feel good” mentality into thinking that if it isn’t fun it isn’t worth doing.
It also helps to know that it isn’t the most people with the most talent for a sport that end up being great, it is the people with the best talent for practicing that sport. Being able to find the mindset that will get you through the grind is what guarantees your success in anything.
So don’t be afraid of the grind and learn to embrace it. Everyone who has achieved any lasting success will tell you that it pays off big time over the long run. Just knowing that you need to do this one simple thing will put you on the right path to achieving your goals.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that I tell myself when I need to change my mindset for a training session…
“If you continue in this simple practice every day, you will obtain some wonderful power.” – Shunryu Suzuki
If you have some lessons about the Focused Practice or Grind it takes to be great please post a comment below. Also, if you liked this post please take a second to click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word.
Until next time…
One of the more common responses I get to the early phases of my programs is that they look too easy, especially for those who have some strength training experience under their belt. For someone who has built up to doing 50+ push ups at a time (although I have yet to see 50 perfect push ups from anyone) only doing 5-20 reps seems like an insult to their pecs. Surely they should do more, right?
Go heavy and hard or go home is the battle cry for thousands of well meaning BJJ athletes limping their way to the gym or “boot camp”, never realizing that there is another side to the strength coin that is needed to complete and round out their strength.
Not so fast…I am not impressed when someone tells me that they are not challenged by an “easy” exercise. In fact, when I hear this I know that true strength has eluded that person since strength consists of the ability to not only make heavy weights feel light but also the ability to make your light weights feel heavy.
You should be able to do 50 reps and be able to wear yourself out in 5 reps. When you can make 5 bodyweight reps feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done then you truly have control of your ability to produce tension, which is the root of strength. If you are always relying on the load or the number of reps to tell you how strong to be then you don’t really own your strength.
This leads us to the Internal-External Intensity Continuum. This is something I made up one day while trying to explain this concept to a guy who trained at my facility. In a nutshell, it explains where the “hard” is coming from during an exercise or workout.
If you are Internally producing the Intensity – like getting really tight and staying that way during bodyweight squats – then you are purposefully producing more tension than you need to in order to complete the movement.
If you are Externally producing the Intensity – like doing a max effort lift or amount of reps – then the load is causing the body to reflexively produce tension in response to it.
You want every workout to be “hard”, you just don’t need or want to be going to the External side of the Intensity Continuum every time you train. Being able to benefit from the Internal side will round out your strength and support the other side of the spectrum.
This explains how you can have a “hard” workout without training balls-to-the-wall every time you hit the gym. When I tell BJJ athlete that they should walk out of the gym during week 1 of a new program knowing that they could do more the old bodybuilding mindset starts to creep in – how can you get results if you don’t max out every time you train?
Notice, though, that I didn’t say that the workout should be easy; you should simply not max out how much weight and how many reps you can do. If you don’t have the ability to internally produce more tension than the weight or reps call for then this sounds ridiculous, however, for those who have learned the art of strength this makes total sense.
For example, during my current training phase I have a workout that calls for me to do 3 sets of 8 reps on the deadlift. I wanted to use week 1 to set up the next 2 weeks and so I didn’t want to go too heavy or I would not leave myself anywhere to go. So, I used conservative weights and built up to doing 185 pounds on the last set.
During week 2 I built up to 205 pounds and then in week 3 I hit 225 pounds for 8 reps, which was my max effort – I walked out knowing I couldn’t have done 1 more good rep. While a bit off topic, I’m going to finish the cycle with 3 sets of 5 reps with 205 pounds to back off a bit after my peak effort.
The point is that if you look at the weight progression (185 pounds to 225 pounds) my week 1 effort looks easy – its 40 pounds less than my max weight. However, I can tell you that week 1 was not easy (I was there). Week 1 was more on the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum, Week 2 was in the middle and Week 3 was on the External Side of it, making every week “hard” in its own way.
This concept also applies to training phases and plans. You have to spend some phases focusing more on the Internal Side and some on the External side of the Intensity Continuum.
This is why the early phases in my workout programs confuse some people – my programs advance from Internal Intensity focused phases to External Intensity focused phases and since they have never been told the value of working on the Internal side of the continuum it makes no sense.
Unfortunately, our training culture seems to have largely forgotten and dismissed the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum. Go heavy and hard or go home is the battle cry for thousands of well meaning BJJ athletes limping their way to the gym or “boot camp”, never realizing that there is another side to the strength coin that is needed to complete and round out their strength.
So if you have an “easy” workout then take that as a chance to work on the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum, not as a chance to breeze through it and tell yourself how super fit you are.
For a lot of people it will be very humbling to realize how little body and tension control they really have. But with focused practice it will come pretty quickly.
Make sure that you have a balance of Internal and External Intensity focused exercises, workouts and phases in your overall program. True strength demands a balance between the two sides of the Intensity Continuum so make sure you respect and practice them both.
If you have any questions about this article please post them below and I’ll get to it ASAP. Also, if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons to help spread the word.
Until next time…
Deadlift Dynamite is a book I read earlier this year going over all things deadlifting. Written by Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton, it is a detailed look at perhaps the most important exercise you can do as a BJJ athlete.
In case you don’t know, Pavel is the guy behind the modern day kettlebell movement and is one of the brightest guys in strength training. Andy is the only guy in the world to deadlift over 1000 pounds (1008 to be exact) and has also squatted over 1200 pounds.
Put them together and you have two guys who have forgotten more about getting stronger than most of us will ever know. Have them write a book and you have, well, Deadlift Dynamite.
Despite the deadlift being front and center, the book actually goes into all three Powerlifts – the squat, bench and deadlift – in great detail. In it Pavel and Andy give you tools to help you learn the movements and tips to get more strength out of them as well.
For example, they provide some great stretches, mobility drills and corrective exercises to help groove the movement patterns used by each exercise. They also teach you how to generate maximum tension in the right areas to create a stronger, more stable platform to move from, which greatly improves you strength and safety.
They also go over principles to helps you best integrate the squat, deadlift and bench press into your program. Among them are…
– Keeping your reps per set to less than 5
– Never training to failure unless testing your limits in competition
– Cycling your loads so you that you start “light” and build up over the course of 6-12 weeks to a new personal best.
Andy also goes into his personal workout program, which is a lot simpler than you probably think. In fact, that was one of the things they emphasized a lot in the book – no fancy approach can replace hard work, patience and attention to detail. Getting stronger is a marathon, not a sprint, and doggedly focusing on the basics for a long period of time is still the key to getting there.
All in all I really liked Deadlift Dynamite. While I don’t use a lot of bench pressing in my programs and the powerlifting focused workouts aren’t exactly what I’d recommend for someone getting 3+ days a week in on the mats, getting stronger in the the deadlift and squat are keys to a BJJ athlete’s success.
If you struggle with the deadlift or squat then the progressions covered in the book will really help speed up your learning curve. Even if you have them down pretty good you’ll still get something from the advanced tips to help you squeeze a little more tension and strength out of them. I’ve got those two lifts down pretty good and I got some great tips out of it.
I’ve often said that a BJJ athlete needs to be able to do a 1.5 – 2 X bodyweight deadlift and I know that a lot of you reading this can’t do that just yet. When you do everything else you do on the mat will seem much easier and you’ll have much more core and grip strength to put into your rolling.
If you haven’t reached that goal yet then check out Deadlift Dynamite, it is sure to give you a big boost on your way there.
While the Squat and the Closed Guard in BJJ might not seem to have a lot in common the two do share the same fundamental movement pattern – the ability to maintain a strong core and move your legs with your strong, flexible hips.