BJJ enthusiasts are obsessed with the idea of improving their success in the sport. In the hind regions of their brains are memories of individuals with athletic backgrounds having a distinct advantage on the mats. With these memories as motivation, BJJ students will try any physical activity that inspires visions of glory. Popular choices include cross fit, gymnastics, rock climbing, bodybuilding, powerlifting, functional training and olympic lifting. Unfortunately, instead of glory, the result of cross training in other sports is always more fatigue, more injury and greater poverty. Cross training, or the participation in a sport for the sake of improving another sport, sucks for many reasons. Chief amongst these reasons is lack of specificity, superfluous strain and disregard for individual needs.
Specificity is a term more BJJ students need to become familiar with.
Physical activities, are distinct because of their specialized muscular, metabolic and movement demands. These demands are far more specialized, or specific, then most people realize. For example, many BJJ students believe powerlifting or other basic strength training programs are valuable in regards to improving their strength on the mat. Unfortunately, these activities will give little return on invested effort. For starters, most lifting programs are based on muscular efforts which expose the core. Lifts like deadlifts, cleans, bench presses, overhead presses and squats result in the exposure of BJJ’s most valuable real estate – the space between our hips and armpits. BJJ fighters actually exert a lot of muscular effort trying to cover the core. We pull our knees to our chest to battle guard passers and we squeeze our elbows tight into our ribs to stop underhooks, chokes and arm attacks. The ability to squeeze our limbs towards our core is also critical for finishing chokes, armlocks and for controlling the back. Bodybuilders, power lifters, cross fitters and other strength training enthusiasts come to the dojo with great general strength and power but have gross deficiencies in regards to performance factors specific to BJJ.
Cross fit attracts many BJJ enthusiasts as it is a sport which values the development of a fuel tank which matches muscular horsepower.
Unfortunately, any return on invested effort would be minimal and likely masked by overtraining. While some BJJ students find the ten to fifteen minute WODs help with stamina, WODs are preceded by a variety of exercises which are specific to cross fit and not grappling. Additional hours of weekly training (with irrelevant exercises) is not desired by bodies already strained by full time BJJ training.
Yoga is another activity popular with BJJ students.
Most hope to become lethal contortionists with improved posture and recovery. Unfortunately, Yoga is dedicated to its poses and movements – not with BJJ positions and movement. My BJJ student John, joined a Yoga class in hopes of gaining more flexibility for his rubber guard and butterfly hooks. John soon discovered Yoga instructors are in the dark in regards to the guard game. Some yoga poses actually do stretch the specific muscles required for John’s BJJ ambitions but the class did not spend enough time focusing on them. Yoga has hundreds of other poses to prioritize. BJJ students will find it hard to address their posture and pain issues in a yoga class. Not everyone has the same posture type or the same issues. It is impossible to accommodate the needs of the individual in a large group.
Specificity guarantees that most sports and physical activities won’t match the demands of BJJ practice or competitions.
The primary reason people with a sporting history often excel at BJJ is that they are gifted athletes. They are naturally able to adapt to physical activity and have high movement intelligence. Some of us are not as naturally gifted and require more effort to excel at a sport. Supplement deficiencies in your ability to express energy with strength and conditioning. Strength and conditioning is not cross training. It is physical activity dedicated to improving a chosen sport and is not a sport itself. A strength and conditioning program for BJJ is designed to focus on BJJ muscles, BJJ energy systems and is customizable to the needs of the individual athlete. Find a strength and conditioning coach with extensive experience in BJJ. Attack your weaknesses from all angles!