22 Sep 2010
If you are anything like me, then I hazard a guess that anything other than grappling classes are not really high on the personal agenda. Strength and conditioning (s&c) classes have been offered as part of our academy timetable for a long time but I avoided them. I considered s&c part of the same world where gym fitness junkies inhabit sweaty rooms stuffed with vein popping muscley folk - who do things like push benches, squat lifts or pumping, or whatever they call stuff like that. I, on the other hand, was a jiu-jitsu purist - for me, the purity of technique was all that was needed. S&c, or so I thought, was for meat heads.
But I was ignoring the obvious that was staring, no wheezing at me in the face. I was getting lazy - lazy in my jiu-jitsu. I would spar, hold guard, play with lapels and spin around a bit, but I was not probing, exploring, experimenting. Why? Because I was, I am, completely unfit. And it was killing my game.
That's right folks, the painful truth: BJJ does not get you fit. My fitter, stronger peers were passing me by. I did not want to turn up at another comp only to tap because I was gassing. And so, tentatively, last week, I arrived at my first ever S&C class. And this is what happened...
Before describing the session, I want to list a few reasons why, in over seven years of training, I have never attended a single s&c class:
1. The hours were bad for me - this is true. S&c class was at 7pm and I could only make 8pm classes each evening. The fact that s&c was also available on Saturdays was conveniently ignored.
2. It costs extra - true, I only paid for BJJ classes in my monthly dues. But when my instructor changed the structure to make the monthlies all-inclusive, that excuse went out the window.
3. I didn't need it - complete and utter denial on my part.
Hop, skip and jumping
So I turned up last Saturday morning and the s&c trainer, Andrew Marshall's first words upon seeing my sorry ass show up was 'f**k me!' I scanned around to see if I was the only first timer. I was.
We started off by skipping for half an hour. Skipped! I have never skipped ever. I think I managed about 20 consecutive skips before tripping and starting again. Five minutes in, my lungs forgot to work. Ten minutes in, I lost all sense of coordination. 15 minutes, my mind went numb and dizzy. Timer...phew! Skipping, it was clear to me, was not just for schoolgirls.
"Okay guys it's 10 o'clock now, we'll start the session properly now" yelled Andrew.
What you mean properly? What was all that skipping about then? Andrew explained that the session did start at 9:30 but in the past, most folk rolled in around 10am, so he just makes the early birder skip until everyone turned up. Damn!
Once everyone had arrived. Andrew warmed us up with a load of dynamic stretching and joint mobility exercises. Stuff like lying on your belly and lifting opposite limbs in the air. This was easy, I could do limb lifting, and smugly smirked to myself. Next we lunged, skipped and hopped across the mat in various permutations, some of which frankly would look a bit silly to the outside onlooker. My thighs were beginning to burn, the smug smirk was replaced by a grimace.
From easy, peasy to effing hard
Breather time..pant...pant..sweat...drip. Okay this was not too bad, I can do stretchy, lungey, skippy things. But oh god, what are those?
Andrew set up various 'stations'. Each one had something heavy to lift, pull, or jump over. Each exercise looked childishly simple to do. Each exercise would reduce all of us to childish wimpers and sobbing. It was brutal. Here's the list of exercises:
1. Medicine ball - pick up, lift above head, chuck down with all yor might onto the crash pad, pick it up as it rises, continue the movement, repeat. Result - death by arm torture.
2. Barbell lift and turn - One gigantic weight on the end of a barbell, the other end wedging into the floor. Lift high above the head, swing to one side, lift it back over to the other side. Result: assassination of the entire upper body.
3. Elastic band pulls - elastic band attached to wall, stand back to the point at which it can stretch no more, then pull rapidly in all directions. Result - murder of the arms and humiliation as the elastic pinged me forward into the wall.
4. Sandbag lift - deadlift up a sandbag, go down on one knee, then flat on back, then get up turkish get-up stylee, drop the bag on floor and repeat. Result - huge embarassment as I could only do two.
5. Hopping over a punch bag - result: death of legs.
Each set lasted 90 seconds. It was 90 seconds of torture. Fellow coaches arrived to yell at us. I think it was encouragement, but who knows? It could have been insults. We did this for four rounds. Maybe it was a hundred? It felt like a thousand.
Andrew looked at our puny bodies, lying on the mat panting and whimpering. He ordered us to get our shoes on. We did as we were told. He handed out pairs of kettle bells and made us walk with them up and down the car park outside. Farmer's Walk they called it. More like death by heavy shopping bags.
So there you go. My first ever s&c class. I felt hugely relieved afterwards but also incredibly elated. I had overcome an aspect of my training that I had strenuously avoided. But I did it, and I genuinely felt amazing afterwards. Sure my body ached for days, but already I'm thinking just how much my jiu-jitsu was going to improve out of my elevated fitness. If your gym incorporates a specific strength and conditioning program, what are you waiting for? Don't do what I did and wait seven years. Go pump!
Strength and conditioning classes are run morning,noon and evening, six days a week at the Mill Hill Combat & Conditioning Academy, Mill Hill, London.
Photos were taken from a different s&c class.