By now, many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners are struggling with how to maintain fitness and continue progressing in their BJJ training while facing extended social distancing and quarantine measures due to COVID-19. While the current situation is unfortunate (to put it mildly), we can still use this time to be productive in our fitness and Jiu Jitsu development.
Consider the Benefits of Taking a Break From Training
Particularly with older practitioners, our bodies tend to take a lot of abuse on the mats when we train regularly and hard. We simply grow accustomed to walking around with neck or back pain, and ibuprofen and CBD sometimes become a regular part of our diets and routines.
Taking this extended break from training gives our bodies a chance to heal from the constant pressure we put on them. Let’s treat this time as an opportunity to heal old wounds and let our bodies return to a (reasonably) normal state. Most of us tend to push ourselves harder than most, and this takes a toll physically. Our non-BJJ friends rarely understand when we discuss our joint pain and mobility issues, and they NEVER seem to understand when we show up a family gatherings with the occasional black eye, scratches on our faces, or bruises on our arms and legs.
We tend to forget what it’s like to not be in constant pain. Let’s first try to use this time as an opportunity to heal and to remember what it feels like to walk around without injuries.
Focus on Nutrition
This first one is obvious to most of us. As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, we tend to be more mindful of our nutrition than most, especially if we compete at all.
This time of social distancing is an excellent opportunity to develop new habits, or to fine tune existing habits. By having to avoid restaurants (unless you’re ordering take-away), we have much more control over the food we put in our bodies. It’s no secret how much excess butter and salt most restaurants use to flavor the food, and the portions are usually much too large anyway, particularly here in the United States.
By cooking at home, we have much more control over what we eat, and with a little bit of planning, we can use this time to dial in our nutrition. I’m currently social distancing with my girlfriend and her teenage son. While we do purchase some sweets for her son to enjoy (and we sometimes indulge too), we focus our meals on natural whole foods. Our meals generally consist of a large variety of fresh vegetables, some protein (we vary between animal protein, eggs, tofu, or quinoa), and a starch such as rice or noodles.
While we do indulge in some bread, my girlfriend has also been making homemade bread for us to enjoy. Again, this gives us much more control over the ingredients, and being homemade, it’s much more satisfying, which generally means we eat less of it.
For snacks and desserts, we always keep fruit, nuts, and some dried fruit around the house. While it’s easy to overdo the nuts and dried fruit, a shared sense of community prevents us from overindulging as we all realize that we need to share the snacks with everyone else.
When we feel food cravings during the day, we’ll often take a cup of water, coffee, or tea, and this usually satisfies the urge in addition to making us realize that we weren’t hungry after all. It’s certainly made me realize how much I eat simply out of boredom or habit. And all of the tea and water drinking has had the side benefit of ensuring that I’m well hydrated.
Strength and Mobility Training
I always do my strength and mobility training at home, so not much has changed for me. For those who are accustomed to doing their training at a gym, this post is going to save you a lot of money. In short, you don’t need that gym membership. You only need your BJJ academy membership. You can get just as good of a workout (or even better) in the comfort of your own home.
In a previous post, I wrote about how to build a home gym on a budget, and I stand by that information. I brought a bunch of equipment over to my girlfriend’s home and we’ve been using it every day. In short, all you need is a pull-up bar. You can address everything you need using bodyweight exercises. If you wish to expand the modalities you use, consider picking up a kettlebell. I use a 16kg kettlebell that I purchased online and it’s served me very well. I promise you that if you’ve not trained extensively with kettlebells before, you won’t outgrow a 16kg bell very quickly. There’s always another training regimen you can adopt which will push you in new ways without having to move up to a heavier bell. And according to StrongFirst training principles, it generally takes quite a bit of time to advance to the next heavier bell anyway.
A few excellent kettlebell training routines are:
I’ve been doing Simple & Sinister for several months, so it was time to switch to a new routine. I just started Dan John’s 10,000 Swing Challenge this past week and it’s been kicking my butt! I can tell that it’s going to take me about twice as long to complete as he suggests, but it’s okay; I’m getting a lot out of it and I’m confident that I’ll see improvement the next time I progress through the challenge.
I’m also a huge fan of bodyweight exercises. There are many amazing books by Al Kavadlo on bodyweight workouts and calisthenics training. However, even if you only did pushups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges, you’d be getting an amazing workout right there. Throw some burpees, planks, and animal movements into the mix and you’re all set.
Solo Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Drills
There’s no shortage of solo BJJ drills floating around online these days. It seems that every instructor has been posting regular drills and workouts on Instagram and Facebook, so I won’t even bother to outline here what other far more experienced have already been doing. I’ll just add that many of these solo drills can easily flow in and out of your body, calisthenics, and kettlebell training. As an example, consider the relationship between the technical standup and the Turkish Getup. When you drill one, you’re helping to improve your skill with the other.
Cross-Training With Other Martial Arts
I’ve heard it said that the only way to get better at BJJ is to train BJJ, but we live in unusual times which call for unusual measures. I’ve always wanted to work on my striking techniques, particularly to gain a better understanding of the BJJ self-defense curriculum. While we often train some striking in those classes, we rarely do so in a live situation or even going heavy with pads or bags.
My girlfriend is a skilled kickboxer who trains with Julio Arce at Tiger Schulmann’s Bayside, Queens location. I’ve always admired how skilled she is in the striking arts, and how solid her form is. During this time of social distancing, she’s been coaching me on some basic combinations, helping me to refine what I’ve learned in the BJJ self-defense curriculum as well as teaching me some other options. In addition to this, I’ve been teaching her some of the curriculum as well, and we’ve been comparing some defenses taught in BJJ vs kickboxing. It’s interesting to see what works and what doesn’t, as well as to try to understand what I could improve in order to better ensure that techniques I’ve learned will actually work. As an example, performing a defense against any type of kick against a training partner in the academy is much different when attempting the same defense against a non-compliant attacker who is also a trained kickboxer.
While not everyone might have the luxury of living with someone who also trains, there’s a lot to be learned from shadowboxing, doing some work on the heavy bag, or training a family member on how to properly hold the pads for you.
Watching Videos and Fight Breakdowns
This is an excellent time to learn from watching, and it seems that nearly every instructor is posting fight breakdowns. We’re often so eager to jump in and roll that we don’t always take the time to observe. It’s absolutely fascinating and illuminating to be able to watch a fight from 5, 10, or even 20 years ago of a world-class practitioner while listening to their commentary on their own performance.
While none of the above options are a substitute for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training with one’s teammates, we’ve got to work with what’s available to us right now. Now more than ever are we being made aware of the fact that BJJ is truly a team sport. This crisis is forcing us to come together in ways we never considered before. Perhaps some good will come out of this in the form of expanding our minds to ways we can continue to train and improve that will carry over to times when we’re too busy to train due to work or family commitments, travel, illness, or injury.
Let’s also use this time to express gratitude for the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, and let’s never forget the profound impact our training communities have on our lives.
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