Tag Archives: strength

Strength vs. Technique

Being stronger is better. Period. Anybody that tells you otherwise, doesn’t know anything about being strong or about being better. Strength is not just how hard you contract your muscles nor is it how big your muscles are. Strength is the productive application of force. Strength is force applied at the right place and at the right time to complete a task. If you cannot complete the task, then you are not strong enough. No amount of stepping on the pedal or turning the wheel will make your car go forward if there is no engine under the hood. The bigger the engine the faster the car goes. There is no real world situation where strength is a disadvantage. It’s not the only important thing but you should never pass up an opportunity to get stronger and avoid people that encourage you to do so as they are not to be trusted.

Jiujitsu guys love to give lip service to technique. And you see guys complain when they get tapped that the other guy was using too much strength and their technique was bad. A tap is a tap. In the real world we don’t tap just because someone used good technique. We tap because the move worked. Technique is merely the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. There are many many different techniques that can be used to accomplish the same task. When we rate a technique as good or bad what we are really looking at is the amount of energy expended to accomplish the same task. One technique is “better” than the other if it accomplishes the same task with less energy. Both good and bad techniques can be effective and accomplish the task, but the more efficient technique will lead to better results in the long run.

I want you to have strength and technique because both of these vectors point in the same direction. We have all faced the person who has limited technical ability but they make up for it with a lot of strength and they are tough opponents and can overcome very advanced practitioners just based on their size and strength. We have also faced some tiny black belt that seems very frail yet they are able to gradually break down our defenses and submit us. However, the most formidable opponents are the ones that are strong and technical.

To separate strength from technique is actually a fallacy and cannot be done. Strength and technique both point toward task accomplishment, i.e. getting the job done. An athlete that has good technique will appear stronger because the techniques they use will maximize the force they can apply to an opponent. Conversely, a stronger athlete can overcome technical deficiencies with their strength and pull off moves that a weaker athlete would not be able to.

Choose strength and use that strength to bolster your techniques.

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.

Second Best

I don’t think of myself as someone who possesses patience. I practice instant gratification.  It’s worked for me generally speaking, but I strive to be more patient and to embrace the struggle.  To play the long game has many advantages and there are just some things that can’t be rushed: like strength.  As crossfitters, we all strive to be stronger, but our bodies can only adapt so fast.  We don’t just go to 3 classes a week and suddenly squat 500lbs.  That kind of strength is hard-won.  I’m not suggesting we all strive to squat 500lbs, but I do think we all should put in the time and effort to grow stronger.  That means you need a commitment.  You need a habit.  You need motivation.  You need to do a lot of short-term efforts that will lead to long-term gains.

Like I said, I practice instant gratification and when I look at myself, I can say “I wish I’d been more patient. I wish I had been more diligent.  I wish I hadn’t sacrificed the long-term gain for the short-term satisfaction.”  Like someone that wished they had invested in the market when it was low.  But there’s an old Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”  I can’t change the past.  I can only make a better choice right now to go and lift some weights, to do some pull-ups and to get my heartrate up.  The second best time to invest your your strength is right now.