Tag Archives: BJJ

Joint Preparation: Wrists and Forearms

Joint Preparation is strengthening the connective tissues around the joints: the tendons and ligaments. This is different than strengthening the muscles. Muscle tissues regenerate in about 90 days, connective tissue takes closer to 210 days to regenerate. Connective tissue has one-tenth the metabolic rate of muscle that means it takes 10 times longer to heal when it’s injured. The reason I prioritize joint preparation is because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), by its nature, is based on causing trauma to the joints (armlocks, leglocks and neck cranks), therefore, strengthening connective tissue is a priority if one is to have longevity in the sport. Since it takes a really long time to regenerate connective tissue you need to prepare your joints consistently over a long period of time.

If you look at sports injuries in general, they tend to occur at end range of the joint where the muscles, tendons and ligaments are stretched to their fullest and are therefore their weakest. So joint preparation is basically end range strengthening and conditioning. This can look like weighted stretching or may take the form of various exercises that move the joints through full ranges of motion. By gradually loading the tissues at end range we can condition them to be stronger and more resilient in those positions.

In this article, I will take you through some of my favorite things to do to condition my wrists and forearms. Doing these will help your wrists stay strong and healthy over the years of doing BJJ.

Forearm Blast
This series of exercises will warm up your hands and forearms better than any other exercise I have ever done. There are five exercises that I show on this video. You begin with your arms straight out in front of you and you extend your wrists like you are pushing against a heavy door. Stretch you fingers as long and wide as you can and then make a tight fist while keeping your wrist bent back. Repeat this as fast as you can while trying to extend and flex your fingers as much as you can. Go as long as you can manage. You want to work towards being able to go for a minute. Then repeat this with your wrist flexed and your fingers pointing down at the floor. Now it gets more interesting, bend your elbows 90 degrees like you are a T-Rex and repeat the two variations (fingers up and fingers down). Lastly, with your elbows bent quickly flip your hands over, palms up and palms down, as fast as you can. This works the supination and pronation of the forearm. This whole sequence should take you less than 5 minutes. At first your forearms will feel swollen and tight like Popeye, but then after a minute the hands and wrists will feel really warm and loose. You are probably wondering if the burning sensation in your forearms is normal and healthy. Yeah, kind of. You have many muscles in your forearms that are encased in fascia and all those muscles should be able to slide and glide against each other and move independently. When we do these exercises we become aware that we do not have as much slide and glide as we should. The friction between these surfaces causes a lot of heat. Doing the joint preparation and assisted recovery (my next blog post) will help and you will soon notice that you can go longer and longer with this exercise.

Forearm Blast from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Wrist Stretches
Now that you are warmed up, we can stretch the wrists a little. These stretches are good to help increase some range of motion and also to start loading the joints with a little bit of weight. The four stretches I show on video can all be done from the knees and do not take very long. I recommend doing 10 gentle pulses into each stretch and then holding the last rep for 30 seconds.

Forearm Blast: Part 2 from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Wrist Push-Ups
These wrist push-ups are extremely challenging, but they will build very strong wrists that can withstand a lot of abuse. I recommend starting these standing up against the wall and only doing 1 hand at a time initially (The other hand was just doing a regular pushup. Don’t try to do 1-arm wrist pushups, you fucking savage!). That is how I learned them. Eventually, I was able to do them with both hands simultaneously standing at the wall, then I started doing them from my knees on the floor with one hand and then eventually with both hands. I was at the point where I could do them from my toes, but then I hurt my wrist and had to start back from square one. Even though these exercises didn’t prevent me from getting injured, by scaling back to very light versions of these, I was able to get my wrist back to 100% in a very short period of time. Work up to 5 sets of 5 of each variation. Start with the standing variations first before going to your knees. Also do not be in a hurry. These exercises are for the connective tissues that take a long time to regenerate. You will not see huge wrist muscles all of a sudden. You have to be patient and even if you think the variation is too easy, make sure you can do 5 sets of 5 with perfect form before trying to advance. Even if you stayed at the easiest variation and did them once a week for a year, in a year you wrists would be much stronger and healthier.

Forearm Blast: Part 3 from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Training for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Taking twelve years away from Brazilian jiu-jitsu (“BJJ”) was not good for my skills on the mat.  However, I used that time to do a lot of training and coaching and worked with thousands of athletes around the world teaching CrossFit, kettlebells, weightlifting, mobility and gymnastics seminars.  While it could be said that I’ve dabbled in too many fields, I like to think that doing everything from yoga to strongman training has given me a lot of perspective when it comes to training.  As the saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  I find that yoga teachers think that yoga is what’s missing from everyone’s training and weightlifters think that everyone needs to get stronger and lift more weight.  Most blackbelts and people who have achieved success at something tend to advocate for whatever worked for them.  It’s only natural.  So when I lay out the things that I think are most important to BJJ athletes to help their training, I imagine my viewpoint might go against what other people have said. And that’s okay.  I am just here to help.

Coming back to the mat after 12 years, it’s taken me a few months to get back to my former level but I feel like I’m there.  In some ways I’m better than I was 12 years ago and in some ways I still have a lot of the same bad habits that I have to work to undo.  But what is important to remember is that now, at 46 years of age, I am in better shape than I was at 34 and I am smarter about taking care of my body.  So while I am an old purple belt and am not some world champion blackbelt or a CrossFit Games athlete, I have a lot of experience and time under tension. I also have a lot of training injuries that I’ve worked through so my recommendations come from a place of experience with an eye toward longevity.

Most blackbelts will tell you that if you want to be good at BJJ, you need more time on the mat. In order for you to log more training hours, you need to be healthy and injury free.  In order to stay strong and healthy what you do off the mat is extremely important.  Most blogs and magazine articles are concerned with optimal training: getting stronger, faster and being generally more awesome all the time.  This thinking is essential for young competitors. That is not who my advice is aimed at (although younger athletes will do well to heed this advice).  My experience is that you can take a 20-something male and throw a ton of training at them (both good and bad) and they will still continue to improve and get better.  Furthermore, younger people can train through injuries just because they’re young and (think/believe) they’re invincible.  I want to talk to the 30-, 40- and 50-year old BJJ athletes that are already starting to feel the wear and tear of training and advancing age.  Time is a precious resource and the older you get, the less likely you are going to be pursuing a professional jiu-jitsu career, so efficiency and longevity are more important than creating an optimal program.  For example, if you wanted to optimize your strength (i.e. get really strong, really fast), you might lift three to five days per week and follow some complicated periodized program and do a lot of complicated exercises.  However, lifting once or twice a week and sticking with 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 big exercises and going as heavy as you can for that day will give you almost all the general strength benefits that you need for BJJ without sucking up a lot of valuable time and energy.

For myself and my athletes I first consider that training time is limited and so our training off the mat has to be efficient and effective.  There are a lot of things that we could do, but there are a few things that we must do.  There are four areas that need to be addressed and trained and if you give them the proper weight and allot adequate time for them it will help you stay strong and injury free and allow you to enjoy your time in the dojo.

The four elements are Joint Preparation, Assisted Recovery, Conditioning, and Strength.   I listed them in what I consider their order of importance.  Furthermore, these four elements have some overlap so the lines can be blurred sometimes.  So doing joint preparation can also make you stronger and help your cardio. For example, doing heavy farmers carries (holding a very heavy dumbell/kettlebell in each hand and walking for distance or time) is not only a form of strength training, but it is also a conditioning workout because your heart will beat out of your chest.  Furthermore, it strengthens the grip as well as the connective tissues in the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  Therefore, choosing exercises that have some crossover can be very efficient if you are short on time.  Of course, it goes without saying, that nutrition is probably the most important weapon in your arsenal with regards to health and longevity, so while you read this eat a fucking salad!

I will go into greater detail in future blog posts on how to properly prepare your joints, ideas for recovery and, of course, strength and conditioning.  Meanwhile, keep training and getting better.

Back On The Mats, Part 2

Coming back to jiu-jitsu after such a long time has been wonderful for me. Training jiu-jitsu gives me so much purpose. Knowing that I will be tested every time I get on the mats is extremely motivating and inspiring. Resuming my quest to get my black belt is exciting. This time I have a greater appreciation of the goal but I also have more patience ironically. At 45 years old, I should be more impatient about getting my black belt but I have more trust in the process. I’m excited to spend the next 5 to 10 years chasing that blackbelt.

Back On The Mats

Back when I was in Law School in Boston, I was woefully out of shape. I started going to the gym every day with some buddies and it felt great. After a while I started getting bored and was thinking that I should try to do some martial arts. My friend and I were walking around a video rental place and he comes over with this video and says, “Watch this guy. This is what you want to do.” That video was the first UFC and that guy was Royce Gracie. That changed my life. The year was 1996.

After I finished law school in 1997, I moved back to New York City to take the bar and begin working at a small record label, TVT Records, and start training at the Renzo Gracie Academy. Back then it was the Gracie/Kukuk Academy and there I got to roll with Renzo, Craig, Matt & Nick Serra, Rodrigo Gracie, Ricardo and Flavio Almeida, John Danaher, Gene Dunn and many, many other people that went on to get black belts, fight professionally and open their own schools.

From 1997 until around 2004 jiu-jitsu dominated my life. I definitely got into other things like yoga and CrossFit during that time, but I always considered myself a jiu-jitsu guy that did other things. I had this belief that I could never open an academy because I’m not Brazilian and my name isn’t “Gracie” and I didn’t really compete that much. However, I really loved teaching. That’s how come I really embraced teaching yoga and then CrossFit because it satisfied my need to be a teacher. I felt there was more opportunity in yoga and CrossFit for me to earn a living than there was in BJJ. Also I found that I was injured a lot from BJJ and yoga and CrossFit were much safer.

I was a blue belt for about 6 years and then I finally received my purple belt. The thing I liked about Renzo’s system was that it was obvious when you were ready for a promotion but he still wouldn’t give it to you until it was a little overdue. I knew many purple belts that were dominant against purple, brown and black belts. I knew many blue belts that would be high level purple belts at other schools. Renzo made people wait. It was such an honor to receive my purple belt from him.

One my deepest regrets is not continuing to train over the last decade. I am so grateful every day that I decided to start training again. I feel reborn.