Guest post by Neil Adams MBE, an English judoka who won numerous Olympic and World Championship medals in judo representing Great Britain. Adams was the first British male to win a World title, and the first British male to simultaneously hold a world title and a European title. Other achievements include a gold medal at the 1981 World Judo Championships in Maastricht, the Netherlands, plus silver medals in the 1980 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games and the 1983 Judo World Championships. Adams was also five-time European Champion. On 20 September 2008 he was promoted to 8th Dan at the age of 49. He is famous for his ground game (ne waza) and his arm lock (that won him the world championship).
Adams has released a new series of Judo instructional entitled ‘Essential Judo‘ which is a revolutionary & highly detailed way of teaching the art of Judo.
This really is a specific guide that will take you through a variety of training methods that you can do to enhance the fitness levels required for Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Over the course of a long career I have been exposed to numerous training methods for Judo fitness that have helped me to win numerous medals along the way. I have also seen some really bad practices that have lead to player being injured. Whilst we have called this an Ultimate Guide for Exercising for Judo, no article can replace training with a coach. This article is packed with my views on supplementary fitness training for Judo, tips on how to get more from your training, common mistakes that people make when exercising for Judo, adapting training for children, along with equipment training, cardio, strength and even flexibility training.
However for now please enjoy this article on Judo and BJJ Excercises.
The Goal of Your Training
It is important to understand that any type of fitness training is specific. If you were a football player then it would be pointless to have an overly muscular upper body and likewise, if you are a rugby player, it would be silly running long distance every day. Your training has to meet the needs of your goals and in this case you wish to have better fitness for your grappling sport, be it Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling or Sambo. It’s as I always ask, Fit? Fit for what?
The aim is to add to your ability on the tatami and you will achieve this by focusing on by improving 5 key areas and these are:
Your training therefore should be designed to meet the needs of your personal schedule. After all, you may be competing in a few weeks so it is a very different to training for an event 3 months away. However, whenever you train, your aim should be to improve one of the above 5 areas. Some exercises may actually improve 2 or even 3 of those areas however all are required to become a fitter Judo player and you cannot over focus on any one area, balance must be achieved. If you focus on increasing your strength and ignore speed then you will become slow and your attacks will be easily countered. If you are really supple due to a great amount of stretching and you have ignored your stamina training then you will find you are out of gas after your first fight. Balance is the key for Judoka!
An Overview of Training
Judo is a sport that requires explosive weight movements and not just raw power. However, you need to train both. It is a mistake to train for raw power when you have a competition because of the damage you will do to your muscles and the recovery from such work takes time. Instead, during your competition months you need to train for explosive power with lighter weights by using explosive movements.
One of the neglected aspects in training is co-ordination of hands and feet, you see this a lot when people go to a gym. Their training has to be static because they are training for power and strength yet as we know in Judo we have different goals, we have to use strength in situations where our base is not stable, often we are even on one leg during throws.
For this reasons battle ropes offer a great method of training because you can make both huge improvements in strength and stamina yet also incorporate the feet. The battle belts that we use were designed specifically for Judo Dojos, Gyms and Personal Trainers because they are portable and they do not damage gym or dojo floors. The belts are quite possibly the best piece of training equipment you can buy because they are so easy to use, people who have tried them quickly realise that when you combine footwork with arm movements your fitness is tested in seconds and the risk of injury is very low when compared when traditional methods such as weights. They are also progressive, in their weight, which helps you complete your power & endurance goals without an increased chance of injury or the very fact that you can’t complete the set because you have to start too heavy. As you will see later on, I feel it is so important to have the correct weight for the task and for the number of repetitions you need for that task. We want you to succeed at every level and at every session with the feeling of pushing yourself more, ready to battle the next one, not battling the feeling of disheartenment instead.
The Use of Elastic Bands When Training for Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
The use of elastic bands for Judo and BJJ training has become a very popular activity and I have long been an advocate for using elastic bands for training. In the past I have even used inner tubes trying to get the desired effect. However, modern times have created a range of different options for bands
We see a variety of cheap versions that you can buy on the internet, however what people do not realise is that using the wrong type of band can actually do your Judo more harm than good! As in with any exercise, the form you have when using elastic bands is essential, because your muscle memory is incredibly important.
When we first started to develop our Uchikomi bands I made then into 2 weight categories (we also made a Junior version) and many of our customers have purchased the heavyweight bands (we call them pro) because they wished to have increased throwing strength. What can happen is that the bands are so powerful and strong that they pull your technique out of form or shape. It really is an incorrect method of thinking to believe that the stronger you are the more people you will throw. If this was the case every strong man athlete would win an Olympic gold medal!
We all know that technique is what makes a judo throw successful when combined with Kuzushi. So why would a person use elastic bands off the internet that could actually damage your Judo? Muscle memory is very important, so you need to train the exact same movements that you would use for the throw and this means being able to rotate without getting pulled out of shape or backwards. If you are unable to rotate fully, then you are going to ingrain a ‘half turn’ into your Judo that won’t throw anyone.
The second aspect is of course the grips.
We know of a lot of elastic bands that don’t have Gi style grips at the end of the bands, whilst many people believe saving a few pounds may be worth it, in the long run you are again damaging your Judo because your hands and wrists are training in a way that is totally different than what you will do in a Judo contest.
So whilst elastic band training is amazingly effective, by purchasing bands that have a totally different design purpose, you can cause harm to your Judo and even injury with poor form. For this reason we developed 3 types of Uchikomi band, each with Gi grips at the ends and a full instructional DVD showing you exactly how to use them.
Body Weight Training
Body weight training can be an excellent training tool especially for children. It is, of course, easy to use bodyweight training in a dojo because you have the space to do so and also there are a large range of exercises you can do with the body to create fatigue. The simple press up itself can be varied from hands shoulder width apart, hands wide apart and of course hands close, the list of variations is endless.
You can also use swiss balls or medicine balls to add variety. The simple swiss ball can be used in a range of exercises from sit ups to press ups where you can increase the intensity depending on where the legs are either on the ball or floor placement.
Outside of the dojo in the gym you can also use pull ups, assisted pull ups and hanging knee raises and so many more variations. Many parks and playgrounds now have equipment installed for functional training like this and is a great way to get outdoors as well.
Bodyweight training is a low cost method of training that I have used on numerous occasions.
Circuit Training For Judo Fitness
One of the most effective ways to increase fitness is to use circuit training. For Judo your circuit training should focus on pulling actions and explosive movements.
Squats are a great way to develop explosive leg strength however there have become an over obsession to develop a deep squat or full squat in the belief that this is a great way to improve your seoi nage.
This is not the case, the Seoi Nage is not a deep squat because the explosion is forward and not upward. This is key to developing a better Seoi. You don’t just have to do a lot of deep squats and put strain on the Knee joints, instead do a half squat and you will get the exact same results with less long-term wear and tear damage.
Another issue with circuit training is the type of weights you use for muscular endurance. People want to lift far too heavy, far too often and again this can be a problem if you are training for endurance and not raw power. It is all too easy to train with the heavy weights and not train for the endurance you will require in a long Judo match. If you cant complete the number of reps you have decided on then you need to lower your weights so you can. When it comes to endurance, this is essential.
Let’s Get Training
So after listening to my views on training lets get stuck in and give you some examples of how to train.
The pyramid circuit is a very effective method of training because you lower the reps with each session but you also increase the weight.
An example is start with a weight you can do 30 reps with and compete a circuit of exercises with that weight (make your weight specific for each piece of equipment you use, ie. Your leg exercises might require heavier weights then your lat pull downs etc).
The next set will then be 25 reps with a heavier weight
The next set will be 20 reps with a heavier weight
And finally move onto 15 reps, again with a heavier weight.
Once again the key here is form, along with repetition, because your goal is muscular endurance and not body beautiful. If you cant complete the set with those weights you need to lower the weights and possibly look to drop the starter weight for the next circuit you do.
Developing a Great Judo Fitness Circuit
The aim of the circuit is to replicate the competition day so you will be training for 5 x 5 minute rounds. (Might want to throw in some 7-8 minutes for Golden scores simulations. I used to do this with the Belgian Team. They knew they were coming but just not when!) The aim is also to set up a circuit so that each body part has time to recover, for example from legs got to arms, from arms to back.
Don’t make the circuit so you are training the same body part twice in a row.
Here is a list of potential exercises you can use in a circuit:
Dumb bell curls, lat pull downs, half squats, versa climber, versa pulls, sit ups, crunches, tricep extensions, upright rows, bench press, you should also be using uchikomi bands and battle belts as part of your circuit.
The list is not exhaustive and there are a lot of exercises out there you can use but your aim is to develop a circuit that works all the major muscle groups.
Versa Climber and Versa Pulley
You may have noticed that I have talked about 2 different types of equipment that you may not be familiar with however I will try and share my views on both.
The versapulley is a very different type of exercise equipment which is fantastic and very different type of training equipment. It is a system based on a gyro so basically the more you pull the harder it resists and there a range of different versions you can buy.
According to their own description:
“The Versapulley is a weightless exercise machine, which offers a versatile strength and conditioning workout, limited only by the user’s imagination.
It is extremely simple to use. The rope is pulled away from the machine in any direction, using any one of a series of handle or belt attachments, triggering the resistance – which builds strength and conditions muscle in the user. The harder the rope is pulled, the harder the machine pulls it back when the rope retracts, working additional muscle groups and making workouts twice as efficient.
And thanks to the patented MV2 technology, the forces involved are entirely user-defined, meaning that the harder the rope is pulled, the heavier the ‘weight’ will feel. The Versapulley is even safe for use by children, if they’re properly supervised.”
It enables you to pull from all different direction and it is great to improve that pulling action that Judoka require for the sport and you can rotate around completely for the seoi nage type of throwing action. I use one in my home gym and have found it to be simply brilliant.
You may be more familiar with the Versaclimber- it has been a staple part of any gym for the last 20 years and is a fantastic piece of equipment because it gets the arms and legs working together to simulate a climbing motion. I work in 5 minute explosive bursts on it and it will soon help improve your fitness. It was developed in 1981 to help NASA to train astronauts and since has been used to rehabilitate injured soldiers, train Judoka and other top athletes.
I will be the first to say that I used to run far too much in my Judo career. Running can cause injury and you certainly need the right type of running on the right type of surface.
I would certainly say you need to run for only 3 to 5 miles at the most for Judo Fitness and avoid pavement running if you can. If you have no choice but to run on concrete then you need to invest in a really good pair of shoes.
My personal favourites are the bike and also the concept 2 rowing machine.
If I was to choose which is best for exercise for the Judo player then it would certainly be the concept 2 rower. The versa climber is as stated an excellent tool as well however it is very physically demanding on the arms and legs
I would suggest that the Judo player needs to do at least 40 minutes Cardio every day, this may be in the form of interval training, speed training or long distances however you need to avoid running over long distances.
If I was to rank the 3 best types of cardio exercises for Judo then it would be as follows:
1. Concept 2 Rower
2. Running- The right kind
Strength Training for Judo
As previously stated strength training is a requirement for Judoka as one of the essential elements of your programme.
I use the following exercises:
lat pull downs
bent over pulls
Exercises for Judo players are not necessarily all about lifting huge weights, as we know there are different types of strength.
One of the best items of equipment you can buy is the medicine ball. It is cheap, versatile and can be used in so many ways. It is also great for circuits and developing plyometric strength. Boxers have been using it for years (see the first Rocky films!!!) and they can be stored away easily and last a long time.
I haven’t had much experience with Kettlebells or the Bulgarian Bag, however, with the work I have done, these are great pieces of kit that when used correctly can have massive benefits for the functionality of your training. It can also alleviate boredom, as it’s always best to have some variety just to give the body a bit of a wake up shake.
You need to be flexible for Judo and you need to be flexible for life! When I was competing I would spend at least 30 minutes a day stretching in what I call a gymnastic stretching routine. I would hold the stretches for 30 seconds and I would say that I need to do more stretching now as I am getting older.
Judoka need to plan these sessions into your weekly plans, if not your daily plans as it is the single most effective way to guard against injury and create fitness longevity.
Don’t, I repeat, don’t neglect your flexibility training.
The final aspect of training we are to look at is the metal aspect. This is important for coaches to realise and learn more about because youngsters develop at different paces.
For example you could have a youngster who is physically very strong and developed and looks like a man, he may even have a beard! However beneath this, the case may be that the mental development is that of younger teenager.
The pressures of competing and training may end up being too much for them, so just because they look like a fully grown adult (the same applies for girls/females), it does not mean that they are ready to be trained like one.
Now I personally was slow to develop physically but I was mentally very strong. I was able to handle the pressures of training and competing even though I wasn’t as strong as other males my age. It is up to the coach to gauge their students and support them.
Training for Children
Bodyweight training is good idea for children but not until they reach 10 or 12 years of age, the body of a child is still developing. In fact, I am a huge advocate of play! Our kids don’t play enough. It’s funny how now as adults we find our way back to the playground equipment framing it as functional training. I might be so bold as to state that maybe we have missed this sort of play but for fear of looking a little foolish, we have to package it in an adult way.
I say let a kid be a kid.
The muscles will develop, the bones will work the way they are meant to, and it will give them that much needed outlet to get rid of today’s stresses and over stimulisations that today’s kids are exposed to.
If you are in a gym or dojo environment, assess the exercises and training intensity, to see if they are unable to cope adapt the training. Remember everyone is different.
It is impossible for us to write everything down about exercising for Judo in one article however I feel that you will have picked up some tips to maximise your own levels of training. Like anything, you need to plan your training and make it a study. I have talked before about training diaries and again suggest that you get one.
So if you are just going to the gym and lifting a few weights or running 10 miles each day and wondering why your Judo fitness isn’t improving, I hope that this article has given you some clues on how you can get more from your training.
Until next time,
Neil Adams MBE