Technique Conquers All, Except Physics

Max Gedge

Strength and Conditioning, Coaching, Exercise Physiology, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


Technique Conquers All, Except Physics - Fitness, strength and conditioning, BJJ, skill development, bjj conditioning, functional strength, adaptation, brazilian jiu jitsu


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a highly technical, grappling-based martial art. The priority, for both student and instructor, is to become highly proficient in the techniques. Many martial arts purists prioritize technical skills training over physical conditioning. The purpose of this article is not to enter that debate.



Technique Conquers All

How do we define technique?


For our discussion, we will define BJJ technique as the ability to utilize leverage effectively to improve position or apply a submission. Leverage is the mechanical advantage, or power, gained by using a lever. So, proficient technique in BJJ means adeptly using levers to gain mechanical advantage over an opponent. This is not intended to be a physics or biomechanics text, but a basic understanding of these concepts demonstrates why strength is a crucial factor for us to consider.


With moderate BJJ experience, say a blue belt or above, you have already learned about technique and leverage. You have submitted hundreds of partners and been submitted yourself at least as often. You have also experienced a loss to someone stronger than you. Do not confuse bigger for stronger. That time a bigger brown belt beat you wasn’t due to strength; they are simply better with technique and leverage. I am talking about the times you lost to someone of a similar skill level, only because they are stronger.


Let’s Define Strength

Muscular strength is the ability to exert a force against external resistance. Remember, leverage is the ability to gain mechanical advantage or power by using a lever. Ask yourself, if your opponent is equally matched in technical ability, yet they can produce more force, who wins? The answer: your opponent strangles you!


Throw even the most technical BJJ black belt in the world into a match with a gorilla. Does this gorilla have an understanding of leverage? Hell no. Does this gorilla win? Hell yes!



Technique Conquers All, Except Physics.

Do not throw away your technical training in favor of only strength training. The benefits of technique cannot be overstated. But to become the best grappler you can be, you need to get stronger. Strength is the most important trainable physical attribute for a human being because it influences so many others. I use the analogy that strength is the cup that holds everything else.


Think about how we interact with the world each day, outside of BJJ. To move, we must produce force. Consider the other physical attributes associated with athletics. Speed is distance travelled per unit of time, basically how quickly something moves. Power is the ability to produce a maximal force in a short amount of time. A larger force produces more speed and power. Endurance is the ability to repeatedly exert a force. See a common theme? The ability to exert force is essential for human beings.



Now look back to BJJ. Is it necessary to produce maximal force? Yes. It’s necessary during a takedown, a sweep, and submissions, not to mention while frantically escaping a submission or a bad position. Becoming stronger simultaneously improves our power, endurance, and speed. Strength training must be the foundation of any effective physical training program for BJJ.



Getting BJJ Strong

While there are many different approaches to get strong, we must adhere to a few basic principles. Forget about sets, reps, and rest periods for now. Many coaches make the mistake of moving straight to laying out specifics. While these are the bread and butter of any program, first consider our goal. We want to get stronger. How does that happen?


Strength is an adaptation to a stimulus. When exposed to a stimulus or stress, in our case physical training, the body needs to recover. Recovery leads to a period of adaptation or overcompensation. In simple terms, the body grows stronger to meet the demands of the stimulus should it come again. However, in long absence of the stimulus, the body will respond by detraining, as it no longer needs to respond to that stimulus.


Think about times that you have run consistently. Over time, you can run further and faster. Now think about a time you’ve gone running after a long break. It feels noticeably slower and more difficult. We call this “unfit” or “out of shape,” but in physiological terms, our body is no longer prepared for the stimulus of running.


Technique Conquers All, Except Physics


It is possible to apply too much stimulus. After extreme training, your body may not be able to recover in a timely manner. Think about when you have done sudden intense exercise after a long period of inactivity. You’re sore, really sore, for a long time after. Perhaps so sore, that you’re unable to train again for some time, inhibiting the adaptation that comes from repeated exposure to a stimulus.


Consider the implications on a training program. We get stronger through systematic exposure to a strength training stimulus. Too much time between exposures risks detraining, while too much stimulus leads to inadequate recovery. Throw in BJJ training and this becomes even more complicated. A program from a magazine or Google search, without a BJJ context, is at best suboptimal, and at worst, a recipe for disaster.


Getting BJJ Fit

This principle also applies to conditioning training. To improve aerobic endurance or “cardio,” we must repeatedly expose ourselves to aerobic training, and progress it over time. This concept is critical to designing an effective training program, especially when our goal is sport performance.


It’s important to note that BJJ training itself can be a stimulus for the untrained athlete. Remember how out of breath you were after a few minutes of grappling in your first class? Now, only the most gruelling matches leave you physically exhausted. Consider this when designing a training program for new BJJ athletes. Athletes with a more solid BJJ training base no longer need to consider BJJ training itself a large stimulus.


Stay tuned for the next parts of this series for training programs and a step-by-step guide to become as strong as possible on and off the mats!

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