Now that we’re into the winter months COVID cases are ramping up in most places. The pandemic continues to make training difficult for most people. If you’re having trouble getting any jiu jitsu training in, and are looking for workouts to keep yourself in shape, have you looked into getting a heavy bag?
Benefits of Heavy Bag Workouts
We all know how difficult it is to get a cardio workout that carries over to jiu jitsu without actually rolling, but engaging in a heavy bag workout can help cross that bridge. This isn’t an article covering top-game drills for the heavy bag, those are of course very beneficial. Rather this article will discuss boxing workouts to help increase your cardio and endurance for jiu jitsu.
Heavy bags offer numerous benefits:
Enhance aerobic fitness in a way similar to rolling. More steady-stream methods of cardio like running lead to a consistence cadence with steady breathing. Conversely, training on a heavy bag causes rapid and varied breathing, similar to a fight
Improves arm and shoulder strength and endurance. This will help to strengthen your yoke and help your frames for jiu jitsu
You’ll learn timing, and how to properly throw a punch
Your hands will get stronger from multiple repetitions of hitting the bag. You will develop “heavy hands”
You’ll develop good leg/hip mechanics if you perform proper footwork
With COVID numbers on the uptick and closures beginning again it’s a good time to revisit jiu jitsu conditioning when you can’t get on the mat.
I spent a few months of the pandemic working the StrongLifts program, which yielded some nice results. I was able to increase my strength in all of the major lifts, most noticeably on my deadlifts.
This program did equate to improvements in jiu jitsu. When I was able to train again my muscles didn’t fatigue quite as fast as they had in the past. This was a major win as I hadn’t trained jiu jitsu in many months during the initial pandemic shut down.
I still wasn’t happy with the results though. My cardio was still awful. I gassed out quickly on my first rolls, my heart rate skyrocketed, and I wanted to tap out from simply not being able to breath.
This really concerned me. If I couldn’t maintain some semblance of “fighting shape”, even when I couldn’t train jiu jitsu, then what use would jiu jitsu be if I were to get into a real self defense situation?
In the struggle for increasing mat performance I am always tinkering with my workout routines. It seems that a constant struggle is balancing jiu jitsu training with complementary workouts. I know that the common adage is that if you only have enough time to do one workout, then it should always be jiu jitsu. But I find that I really do better in training if I do some additional workouts off the mats.
The big struggle for me has been learning how much and what type of ancillary training to do, so that the additional workouts don’t burn me out too much. I used to lift heavy weights using the stronglifts program but I found that it left me overly tired when hitting the mats. I also found that the strength I was gaining from lifting heavy didn’t exactly transfer to the mats.
It seems to me that once you reach a certain level of “strong” that being much stronger is not generally going to help jiu jitsu. That’s not to say that if you’re sparring with someone much stronger than you that it won’t be more of a struggle to deal with their attacks, but I think if you have a baseline of strength then that will take you far in jiu jitsu.
I find that having muscular endurance is much more important than having an over-abundance of strength when rolling. I feel like I can more easily leg press someone if I’m attempting something like an airplane sweep than I can keeping my legs under me when attempting to pass the guard of a strong guard player. My legs simply get tired out trying to scramble around their guard for too long of a time.
It’s the loss of muscular endurance that signals the beginning of the end for me in rolling. My goal is to be able to roll round after round without having my muscles give out from exhaustion (easier said than done for sure). So I’ve been tweaking my workouts to get there, and I’ve found the following routine to be the most helpful so far.
I’ve had some nagging issues with my bicep and forearm on my left arm, and recently messed up my knee from getting caught in a heel hook. None of these issues are healing as fast as I’d like. I went to see the doctor and his best advice was to rest and let it heal. I probably need to see a good sports doctor, someone who can give me some exercises to speed up the recovery, but for now I’ll rely on Doctor Google.
I have been trying some of the stuff I’ve seen online for recovering from tendon/muscle strain. These include stretches, and using foam rollers to really get into the tissue. I’ve had some success with that, but still the pain is lingering. It’s been months for the bicep/forearm issue, and about 5 weeks for the knee.
I was talking with a friend at the place I train jiu jitsu about this. He was previously a power lifter, and had some lingering issues in the past as well. He recommended trying Voodoo Floss. I’d never heard of Voodoo Floss before, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Voodoo Floss works by compression. You wrap it relatively tightly around any affected area, and do range of motion exercises for that area, for a period of around 2 minutes (you don’t want to overdue it, due to the vascular occlusion that occurs). When you are done with the exercises and you release the band the theory is that all the blood rushes back to the area, bringing more nutrients to the injury than before. There may be some additional benefits due to “fascial tearing”, which I guess is the layers of tissue sliding on each other while compressed. From everything I’ve read online their seems to not really be any good scientific research of what’s actually going on. The results are mostly based on anecdotal evidence, but I’m willing to give it a shot to see if it helps.
After one session of doing range of motion exercises with the Voodoo Floss there was an improvement in my bicep, it felt “released” and no pain at all after that. Success! I did the same with my forearm and knee, and did not get immediate results, but will continue to do work with those areas and see what works.
Here are a couple of videos I watched to get an idea of how to use the Voodoo Floss:
Dialing in nutrition is important for any athlete, and since jiu jitsu is such a physically demanding sport, your diet will determine your performance.
Protein seems to be one of those dietary sources we just can’t get enough of. I know, I’ve heard the arguments that we over-inflate the importance of protein, and that it’s likely that many of us get the necessary amount of protein in our diet without giving it any special consideration. But I find that I just feel better when I eat more animal-based protein. It boosts my energy, clears my brain fog and gives me more endurance. I also tend to recover from workouts better and grow stronger if I eat more protein.
Animal-based protein can be expensive and hard to find for a snack. Ever since experimenting with the carnivore diet, I’ve been trying to find easy snack ideas that include animal-based protein.
Protein snacks are actually relatively plentiful. Where I live, there are a few grocery stores that carry a pretty good selection of beef jerky, so that’s a good start.
Well, I made it through 6 days of eating (mostly) only meat. I had one cheat about 3 days in, I ate some oatmeal with honey and banana in the afternoon because I was going to have a long session of jiu jitsu training later that evening, and wanted to make sure I had energy to roll. I had another cheat last night, when my family wanted to go out for pizza. Man, I love pizza. That pizza was delicious. The best pizza of my life.
So here I am on day 7, reflecting on the past weeks experiment. One thing I learned a few days in is that I grossly under prepared for the amount of food I was going to need for the week. The meat I bought on Sunday was gone by Tuesday. So back to the store I went, several times. Part of this week-long trial run on the carnivore diet was to learn how to get by day to day in regards to meal prep. I’ve learned that the way I am currently approaching meal prep is EXPENSIVE. I’ve blown my grocery budget for the week, I’m on day 7, and I’m out of meat again. Clearly I need to learn some cost cutting moves if this is to be sustainable over the long haul. I’ve joined a Facebook carnivore group, and have asked questions about how to budget for a carnivore diet, and the general consensus is to eat more ground beef (less steak if money is a concern, after all ground beef is ground steak), and to do some shopping at Costco or Sam’s Club, where meat can be bought in bulk. As for now I’m going to have take a break from a pure carnivore diet, simply because I don’t want to go spend any more money on meat, I’ll just eat what the rest of my family is eating for the remainder of the week.
The carnivore diet has been flooding my social media feed as of late. Everyone from Joe Rogan to Jordan Peterson, Shawn Baker and a pantheon of athletes are all trying the diet hoping to gain energy, reduce inflammation and improve athletic performance. I had a very good friend of mine who attempted to get me to try the carnivore diet a few years back, but at the time I wasn’t ready to take the leap. He talked about how the switch to eating just meat helped him heal up some gut issues he was having, and as an added benefit he also dropped a significant amount of weight. His story was compelling but I just wasn’t ready to give up all the food that I enjoyed. But as I got further along in my jiu jitsu practice I started to realize that I needed to make some lifestyle changes if I was going to have the energy to roll as often as I wanted to roll. I started by changing my sleeping habits, I became more strict about when I went to bed. I also changed what I ate, and when I ate. Intermittent fasting (along with bullet proof coffee) helped me to have more energy and also helped fix some gut issues I was having. I also became a lot stricter about the quality of my food, really focusing on eating more meat, vegetables and less low quality carbs. All of these changes greatly improved my jiu jitsu.
I have been following Dr. Shawn Baker’s twitter feed for a while, at the recommendation of my friend. Dr. Baker has been exploring the carnivore diet for some time, with amazing results. He is an athlete in his 50’s, who holds many strength records, including 1st place Texas Strongest Man, and 5th place USA Strongest Man. He attributes his athletic prowess to the carnivore diet. This piqued my interest. I’m still trying to dial in my nutrition, and suffering from exhaustion more often than I think I should, and if this diet helped Dr. Baker with his athletic goals, maybe it can help me with mine. One thing I’ve been interested in seeing is his lab work, to see if eating only meat has had any negative effect on his cholesterol or reveal any other potential issues. It’s one thing to see a boost in athletic performance, but if it comes at the cost of causing harm in other aspects of your health then it’s not worth it. Dr. Baker was a guest on Robb Wolf’s podcast, in which they discussed his lab results, and they look pretty good. This has given me the confidence to try this diet myself.
Wim Hof is somewhat of a medical phenomenon. He is an extreme athlete from the Netherlands who holds 26 world records and is best known for his ability to perform well in extreme cold temperatures. He holds the record for the longest ice bath, he has climbed Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro wearing nothing other than shorts and shoes, completed a full marathon above the arctic circle in Finland (again, in shorts), and boasts countless other physical feats in extreme weather conditions.
Wim Hof travels the world giving seminars on his unique method of training for these challenges. Known as the “Wim Hof Method“, it is a combination of cold exposure and breathing exercises aimed at building brown adipose tissue, reducing fat and inflammation, fortifying the immune system and raising oxygen levels for more energy and reduced stress.
Lately I’ve been having a lot of aching pain in my right knee. I thought I had injured it, maybe waited too long to tap to a heel hook, or hurt it drilling take downs. It would start aching, I would dial back the intensity on the mats, it would get better, then as soon as I started ramping up the intensity it would start aching again. A few nights back I woke up in the middle of the night with my knee, quad and hip aching so bad that I couldn’t get back to sleep.
I had talked to some guys in class about this, and a couple of them had similar issues at one point in their training. The general consensus was that the issue may not be in the knee, but rather in the IT Band and/or tightness in the hips. Recommendations included using foam rollers and looking up Kelly Starrett mobility videos.
So I looked up some vids, bought a foam roller, took a night off of jiu jitsu and worked on loosening up my hips and quads.
Recently at class our instructor had us drilling technique to improve our double leg takedowns. The drills were focused on improving the penetration step, so that was the area we focused on more so than actually finishing the takedown (though we did get to that by the end of class). It was a grueling workout that caused my legs to burn in a way they haven’t in a long time. At our school we have pretty lengthy mat space, which means that as we did our penetration shots down the mat we were able to get LOTS of repetitions.