Do You Rely Too Much on Strength?

Move beyond your traditional view of strength to train technique, strategy, and efficiency.

“Don’t use strength” is something you hear a lot in Brazilian jiu jitsu. While it is commonly taken as a golden rule, I interpret it more as a training method used to develop certain skills, not as an absolute law. The value of this concept is not in diminishing the development of strength, speed, or other physical attributes, but in highlighting efficiency principles. It’s a useful tool for those looking to improve the technical aspect of any practice and to become more efficient in their movement.

It is impossible to completely separate attribute from technique completely. When we say “don’t use strength” we really mean to temporarily minimize the use of attributes like strength, explosiveness, or unusual flexibility or mobility to highlight other skills. In Brazilian jiu jitsu, if you don’t rely on your normal physical attributes, you are forced to solve your problems with sharp timing, intelligent body weight placement, sensitivity to movement, and devious strategy.

Sharpen Your Attributes

Efficiency is one of the core principles in MovNat, and I think this concept of “not using strength” is an excellent way to train this principle. Think beyond the traditional notion of strength by trying to apply it broadly as a de-emphasizing of physical attributes. How would you crawl if you lacked strength and speed? How would you climb a tree if you had limited range of motion or strength? How would you lift and carry a heavy stone?

Like in jiu jitsu, you are tasked to solve certain problems with limited resources, so you have to focus on technical precision, timing, and clever strategy to make things happen. Sometimes you use tools to enhance your technique or momentum from a leg or an arm to sit up rather than the tension of your torso.

This is a form of constraints-based practice to develop the purest technique possible by taking away attributes. It is similar to removing a limb from play to simulate injury in training or closing your eyes to develop sensitivity of touch in certain situations. Later, when you reintroduce your attributes you have a broader and sharper set of tools to solve problems with.

If you had a broken arm, could you still climb a tree? [Photo courtesy of Pixabay]

Putting Concept Into Practice

When I teach this concept, I ask my students to perform their skills as if they are an 80-year-old with the flu. Naturally this is an exaggeration, but it gets the point across. It is also helpful to include an external task or situation to add context to the practice. In MovNat training, put something in a tree and ask your student to retrieve it, or transport a heavy log from point “A” to point “B” 10 times. Allow for as much creativity as needed to accomplish the task.

You will find yourself experimenting with improved body alignments, distributing your body weight in specific ways, using your limbs to generate momentum, timing the sequence of your body movements, and paying special attention to the placement of your points of contact with the tree and leveraging your body to achieve the goal in the most efficient way.

In addition, this type of training allows you to train longer during the hot summer months. I can’t speak for the weather across the globe, but here in Philly it gets hot as hell. When it’s hot and you are tired, it helps to have efficient ways to train, rather than burning up all your energy in short bursts, particularly if you want to work to improve your skills.

The final and most obvious benefit to developing an efficient practice is that it is something you can sustain in old age, through injury, and in times where attributes don’t do the job or when they simply no longer exist. One of the lessons I take to heart daily from my older training partners in jiu jitsu is when speed starts to leave and timing slows down, cunning is still a fine and potent weapon.

Not only is this an important concept for our own practice as we advance through life, it also gives us a better sense of how to approach these skills when we teach others. I have always believed strongly that Brazilian jiu jitsu is for everyone, not just the young and fit. I feel the same way about the skills I have learned in MovNat. Practicing this way can help you better understand the issues people who may have fewer attributes face and perform better than people who rely too much on their superior attributes.

Challenge Yourself

So here is my challenge to you for this month: Find three ways to climb a tree, three ways to lift and carry something or someone, and three ways to put something heavy over a ten-foot wall, all with minimal use of strength, speed, or energy expenditure. How would you do it if you were an 80-year-old with the flu? To make it more fun, post your solutions to Instagram or facebook and tag them with the hashtag #howwouldyoudoit.

Let’s see what you come up with!

Train with awareness and move with precision:

Be Silent to Be Efficient