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Off-Mat Conditioning | Now’s the Time!

Remember Jiu-Jitsu class before COVID? Of course you do. It was glorious. You’d get to class about 20 minutes early, find a corner of the mat to move around a little — maybe work a new sequence with one of your favorite training partners, flow through a little yoga to get loose, or hit the foam roller and lacrosse ball if you really needed that warm-up before the warm-up.

Class time itself meant a good 15 to 20 minute session of bodyweight exercise, calisthenics and plyometrics. Who doesn’t love doing that snakewalk all the way down the mat, or throwing combos until your shoulders screamed for mercy? Your heart was pumping, lungs were trying to open up, muscles were cooking.

That good warm-up would be workout enough for most folks, but then it was time to learn some new technique, rep moves, and then get another solid 20 minutes or so of situational/positional drilling. And after that hour passed — the 20 minutes of warming up, 20 minutes of instruction, and 20 minutes of practice — it was time for the best time: sparring. Usually you could count on a half-hour at least. Good, intense, technical rolls, five six-minute rounds, or maybe three 10-minute rounds, whatever the coach was feeling.

You got to work your game with someone less skilled than you, you had a great back-and-forth battle with a buddy right about at your level, and then you had a brown or black belt murder you for awhile, learning more and more with every passing minute.

This was where real growth happened. You got to work your game with someone less skilled than you, you had a great back-and-forth battle with a buddy right about at your level, and then you had a brown or black belt murder you for awhile, learning more and more with every passing minute. And if you were lucky, you hung around for open mat after class ended and kept right on rolling. It was two hours or more of celebration in motion, it was physically demanding, mentally challenging — everything that is beautifully addictive about the fighting arts.

And right now, that’s all gone. Some schools are still closed outright. Some like Capital are offering limited-attendance classes where there’s no contact, you’re doing body-movement drills or working with dummies. Everyone has a mask on, and the room smells more like hand sanitizer than it does like sweat. Class now has a distinctly different level of energy and intensity. There’s still plenty to learn, and working side-control transitions while kneeling on a suitcase pad, flow-rolling around on a yoga ball, or practicing foot-sweeps and drop seos with a 100lb dummy is definitely going to keep the edge on your game — but that deep level of content and fatigue we’re used to feeling after a long training session is harder to come by these days.

The good news is that you can get that feeling back — some of it anyway — and it’s on you to make it happen. Classes right now tend to be shorter, technique focused, and lack the favorite ingredient of being able to train with a living, resisting partner. That means the workout itself packs less of a proverbial punch. Well, guess who has the power to pick up the slack in that department? That’s right, you do.

Point blank: Get serious about your off-mat conditioning. Dust off the dumbbells in the back of your closet. Dig the jump rope out from the bottom of your gear bag. Lace up those old running shoes and get on the road. If class itself isn’t giving you the level of workout you’re used to, then it’s time to re-dedicate yourself to getting back into and staying in fighting shape. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

Capital has always prided itself on being a team-first school — a place where people can pursue individual goals, but with a strong, supportive community amplifying and complementing anyone’s dedication.

One of the things that draws people to training Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, boxing, Muay Thai, etc. is that you can’t really do it in isolation. You need training partners. You need a team. Capital has always prided itself on being a team-first school — a place where people can pursue individual goals, but with a strong, supportive community amplifying and complementing anyone’s dedication. In many ways, it’s harder to access that energy right now. We can’t rumble with the people who became so much more than classmates or even training partners, but who we now consider among our closest friends. We all counted on that collective energy to get us to class and fuel our efforts to improve. Who among us hasn’t peeled him or herself off the couch, thinking they were going to dog class but then realized they’d be letting down their crew if they didn’t show up? That’s what keeps us in the game, keeps us getting better — and the better we get, the better our teammates get.

Here’s the thing: you can still access that mindset and apply it to your individual efforts to stay in shape and build your skill. Frame your thoughts in terms of how everything you do — your exercise routines, your diet, your sleep schedule — will improve your fighting skill. This pandemic is going to pass at some point. Nobody wants to get back in the ring or step on the mat knowing they are going to be sucking wind. Coming up with and committing to an off-mat conditioning routine will go a long way toward getting you back in the game once we can all resume training the ways we know and love. Push yourself. Make promises to your training partners — and keep them. Life right now should be about burpees, battle ropes, and bagwork — or whatever you can do on your own that gets you to that state of crazy misery any good fighter loves to push past. Most people who plink around a garden-variety health club don’t know what it’s like to approach that limit. Any of us who have had to endure round after round of solid sparring, or thrown themselves into a two-hour Saturday shark tank know there’s no better feeling than making it through, and being ready to come back the next day and do it all again.

You can create that — if not the exact scenario at least the feeling. Find the time. Make the time. Come back just as good or better than you were when all this nonsense started. You owe it to your art, to your team, and to yourself.

Article By Jay Ferrari

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