22 Sept 2010

A bit of S and C

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...

Excuses, excuses.
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!

Easy peasy
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.

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Unknown said...

Haha! Shame I missed your first S&C class dude, sounds like a good one as well :-) More important things that weekend with my new nephew though. Hope to see you down there again soon

SkinnyD said...

Woohoo! Now you get to look forward to doing this all over again...while you are still tired from the first class! Overcoming the hump of physical conditioning is the worst. Once you've been going for a while it's not bad, though, but in my opinion it never gets easy.

Zen Mojo said...

Seymour - great to see you joining the ranks of the enlightened. BJJ may be all about "technique" but a little extra muscle and a little extra gas make the technique so much easier (and fun). I've been blogging about it a little recently too.

Good luck and keep at it. Just like hitting the mat as much as you can, pretty soon you'll be grinning like an idiot at the thought of another round of burpees or sandbag carries.

slideyfoot said...

Interesting: not something I've ever considered doing, so good to get a non-fitness obsessive perspective. ;)

Although I'm still more than happy to stick with BJJ for fitness. Besides being lazy, my biggest reason for not bothering with fitness work outside of BJJ class is that I don't find it enjoyable.

I used to go to the gym, but it gets boring really quickly. Hence why BJJ is so great: bit of fitness in the process of training/sparring/drilling, but always something new to keep my interest, even if it's just a new aspect of a technique I've been doing for years.

Of course, I'm not a competitor, which as ever makes a difference. I'm guessing fitness becomes way more important if you want to compete and win, given that it would be annoying to lose because your body failed you rather than technique.

Man, I really have built up a mental block on terms like 'win' and 'lose' - feels somehow unclean to type them... ;p

Meerkatsu said...

Goodness! I really should write more about s&c judging from your excellent comments guys, thanks a lot!

@Dale - family always comes first imo. I realised I needed to fit in some s&c and Sat am is perfect for my lifestyle, so no excuses. I will see you next Sat morning LOL!

@SkinnyD - thanks, I know exactly what you mean, but hopefully I can look at the bigger picture and see my body and health improving each time ...and benefit from the results by smashing at tournament time!!!

@Zen Mojo - yes, I was in denial. It's a Gracie thing I guess. My first few years training was with a Royler Gracie black belt and every session, technique was emphasised over strength and of course this is true to some extent, but against ones peers on the mat, I agree, a bit of extra Ooomph really helps. I shall check out your blog articles right now!

@Slidey - heh don't worry mate, I'm not about the join the ranks of the fitness first obsessed. Just trying to add a little extra spice to my development. However yes my goal is to at least do a lot better come the English Open in Novemember. I'm approaching it from three angles - s&c for fitness, normal classes for technique, maybe, maybe some mental conditioning too. I'm investigating a couple of offers to have some NLP. I'm dubious about its scientific merits but then again I've not tried it so it would be churlish of me to criticise it without taking part first. We'll see. Depends on my free time.

Big Phil said...

yeah man, all good. I've recently started a S&C Class as well. I'm looking forward to see what I'm like by the Europeans

fenix said...

That, my friend, was a really classy description :-) ROFL!

Ah, it brings back memories of my six week comp preparation in Feb/March this year. An hour of S&C following two hours of full on pre-comp BJJ training. We didn't use implements, but there were enough bodyweight exercises going to leave everyone wrecked. Oh yeah, plenty of pain and exhaustion and a few days to get over it...

But like you said, it feels great afterwards, despite being tired and after a few weeks you really feel the difference. I learned a lot about my body and found I was capably of going far beyond what I thought were my limits. For example, I was astonished to learn that I could recover from hard interval training by way of a brisk five minute jog. Me, who used to fade after a two minute jog alone!

But now, I've found that as my techique improves and I waste less energy on muscling and holding my breath in BJJ, my fitness level is dropping. So your post is a timely reminder to get off my lazy arse and put in a bit extra :-)

I have a mini gym and could workout in there. But I'm one of the people who work much harder with a pushy coach looking over my shoulder. Or at least have someone else present so my competitive nature eggs me on.

Anyway, good on you, and may you have lots more enjoyable (not to mention sweaty!) sessions of S&C.

Meerkatsu said...

Hehe @Phil, good luck training for the Euros, it's a biggie and by all accounts, an awesome experience. My time I think will come not next year, but year after. We'll see. I wanted to really get bedded in to my purple belt before attempting the Euros.

@cy, thanks man, glad you enjoyed the write up. At the moment, focus towards the comp in November is driving me. I'm the same, I need a stick wielded by a scary muscly guy in order to get the motivation to do s&c. I'll see if I can continue this after november, I'd like to certainly.

Anonymous said...

"That's right folks, the painful truth: BJJ does not get you fit."
Nooooooooo! I joined BJJ to get fit! :) Actually, for me it has definitely helped because I was so out of shape.

But, I already have a plan for getting in better shape, though now that's FOR bjj :) Step one: yoga. Increase flexibility to +5. Step two: strength training. Increase strength by one full ability point.

Not sure if I'll add running to that list, as I HATE RUNNING. IT'S THE DEVIL. But I do recognize it will help.

Once again, great article!

Meerkatsu said...

Running IS the devil, I hate it too.

What I've noticed is that s&c sessions are geared for the hard, fast, short bursts of energy typical in a BJJ fight. Running certainly helps with overall fitness but some argue if you want to run for BJJ, then a series of short sprints, preferably up a hill, would prove more useful. That's what they say, I wouldn't know as I don't run ;)

Junior Familia said...

cant do any techniques without gas!
glad to see your doing S&C to supplement your bjj!
ive been at it now for a few months in preperation for the worlds and pan ams in march and june..
gotta train like the pros!

hope to see more of the s^c activities seymour!



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