How To Optimize Your Conditioning Program
One of the biggest problems I see in gyms in general is a fundamental lack of understanding about what “working out” really is.
Training is Stress
Simply put, training is STRESS and your body doesn’t differentiate between types of stress in its response. Generally speaking, your body doesn’t know the difference between fighting for your life, having an argument with your girlfriend or boyfriend, getting nervous before delivering a speech, or getting angry at some driver who just cut you off on the road.
Yes, there may be a difference in the intensity or duration of the stress, BUT your body responds with the same cascade of hormones (namely cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine) to all these events.
Why is this important? Because if you want to get in better shape or better at jiujitsu, managing stress is ultimately what you are going to have to do to accomplish this goal.
We’re martial artists and athletes and we LOVE to train. We get HIGH off of it. Literally speaking if you understand what happens hormonally and in your brain after intense exercise. Most of us think that MORE and HARDER is BETTER. That’s great. We’re a mentally tough bunch. However, training is only one part of the puzzle.
Results = Recovery
As I stated before, training is stress. It actually breaks you down (otherwise known as catabolism). So what is the part that gets you better? The part that allows you do be more explosive during a grappling match. Or keeps you from gassing out?
One word: RECOVERY.
Recovery is the part that gives you the results. If you aren’t improving (provided you have a good program, of course) you aren’t recovering. Period.
Here is an awesome graphic of what we are talking about:
As you can see in the picture, all training results in fatigue and your work capacity decreasing below your baseline levels. If you trained properly, you will have the most significant increase in performance if you wait the appropriate amount of time until you train again. However, if your training was too easy (yeah right, not for grapplers) or was too hard, or you train again too soon or wait too long, you won’t get results or will go backwards.
Simple concept but the art is balancing this stimulus-> adaptation-> recovery for your individual abilities. A difficult task to say the least!
However, you do have feedback available to you so that you make better training decisions. For instance, are you getting weaker or hitting a plateau in your rolling endurance? Is your strength increasing? How is your endurance? When do you gas out? Are you getting injured? Later in the article, I’ll show you ways to monitor your progress. If you’re not making progress, you probably aren’t training as effectively as you could be. In fact, you may be over-training.
I don’t want to give the impression that you can keep improving on all aspects of conditioning forever but most people that I see are far away from maximizing their performance potential. So how do we improve? Train smarter.
How to Train Smarter:
Focus on one area of conditioning for a 4-6 week period of time then change it. Also test performance before and after each 4-6 weeks to make sure you have improved. Example: endurance 4-6 weeks-> strength 4-6 weeks -> power 4-6 weeks -> power-endurance 4-6 weeks
Take time off or a DE-load week . Every 3 weeks or so, take a week off of intense training. Example: work on techniques but no sparring, only do 2 sets instead of 3 or 4 for strength training or intervals, do recovery aerobic work, use rehab or corrective exercises for your injuries or just take off training completely and keep active.
Use monitoring to track your training progress.
Let’s face it, most people are just guessing when it comes to whether their training is working or not.
The best way to make sure your training is giving your results is to monitor your training progress. This can get complicated and expensive but here are a few ways that you can start tracking your progress:
Nervous system –
Track your nervous system’s response to training with something called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Going into what HRV is and how it works is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that it measures your stress levels through variations in your heartbeat’s rhythm. It takes a little dedication to use it but it can be extremely invaluable in determining how hard to push your training and when to back off. I personally use Bioforce HRV from www.8weeksout.com. There’s a ton of info on it there.
Aerobic conditioning –
Resting heart rate is a simple test to tell how good of shape your aerobic system is. Take it every morning when you get up with a heart rate monitor. If your resting heart rate is in the 50’s or lower, you’re probably in excellent aerobic shape. If it’s in the 70’s or higher, you should focus on adding more aerobic training in your conditioning. If your resting heart rate is low then starts getting higher over time, you may be on your way to over-training and it’s time to back off or get a better conditioning regimen.
A great way to measure your strength levels is to a 5 rep max. You simply warm up then do sets of 5 reps adding weight each set until you find the maximum weight you can lift 5 times with GOOD TECHNIQUE. Rest 3-5 minutes of rest in between each set. Also, avoid going to failure. My favorite exercises to test this are:
weighted pull up
Don’t do silly “functional training” exercises to assess strength levels. Nobody cares how much weight you can lift while standing on a BOSU ball.
Word of caution: This is advanced. If you don’t have good technique on these exercises, then don’t do them with heavy weights until you learn proper technique. Get proper instruction. If you’re an advanced lifter, you can also use 3 rep max tests instead of 5. I personally don’t like 1 rep max tests because the risk is too high and it’s not as relevant for grapplers or MMA athletes.
Power-endurance is your ability to explode repeatedly. Some simple tests for this are:
AMRAP pushups. Perform as many pushups as possible. Time yourself and count how many you get. STOP when you lose your explosiveness or your technique.
AMRAP pull-ups. Perform as many pull-ups as possible. If you can’t do many pull ups, then use a pull-down machine. Time yourself and count how many you get. Keep track of the weight as well if you use the pull-down machine. STOP when you lose your explosiveness or your technique.
1 minute sprint. This will give you a measure of lower body power-endurance. I personally like to use the exercise bike for this but you can use anything where you can track your resistance (if it’s a cardio machine) and how far you go. You can also run on a track or use another machine like a Versaclimber. Sprint for 1 minute and track how far you go and what resistance you use.
Working out is only one part of the training effect. Recovery is what actually makes you stronger and able to perform at a new level. Balancing the workout:recovery ratio is what will yield consistent progress for your conditioning.
Monitoring your training and tracking your results is important to determine if your conditioning routine is actually working or not. If you’re not assessing, then you are guessing.
Use HRV to track overall training and lifestyle stress and make adjustments to your weekly workouts according to your HRV reading. It will take the guess work out of why you felt so good (or bad as the case may be) in a given workout or grappling session.
Focus on specific areas for 4-6 weeks at a time. Test your performance before and after each 4-6 week training block to ensure you improved in the areas you worked on. For example your resting heart rate should get lower after an aerobic endurance conditioning routine or you should have an increased 5 rep max.
BY: Ted Ryce
Ted Ryce is a brown belt with two stripes in Brazilian Jiujitsu under Daniel Valverde in Miami, Florida. He is a professional personal trainer with over 13 years of experience specializing in the areas of Sports Performance and Medical Exercise Programs. For more information visit: www.RyceFitness.com