We’ve been conditioned by the fitness world to believe that every workout should be as intense as possible. That philosophy often carries over into sports. If you’re not going 100% you’re not training hard enough. But is that the optimal way to progress? Should we leave BJJ class totally exhausted?
Here’s Firas Zahabi, one of the premier MMA coaches in the world:
Let’s say I go to Jiu Jitsu 3 times per week and spar 15 rounds. You only go twice a week and spar 10, but you kill yourself. You push yourself to your max, to the point where you can only recover enough to train twice a week. At the end of the week I’ve sill done 15 rounds and you’ve only done 10. At the end of the year I will have done much more training than you. Much more volume.
The real question is how much training can we pack into a week? To maximize that we don’t want to train until we’re feeling beat up. We don’t want to red-line the body. With fighters we only do that during training camp, for a finite period of time, to get a little more from the system. But in the long run, training that way will get you less. It’s too taxing to the system. If you train that way all the time, by the time you get good at Jiu Jitsu you’ll be broken up.
The goal with training is to enter a state of flow. What is flow? It’s where there is enough difficulty so you’re not bored, but not so much that you feel anxiety or beat up. When I go in the practice room I’m trying to create flow. I’m trying to have fun. Training should be addictive. If training were addictive everyone would do it and everyone would be fit. But people go too hard. They go until they are exhausted and their body is beat up. And then they try to convince themselves to do it again tomorrow. That requires tremendous mental energy. It shouldn’t be that way. Training should be a pulling force. You should want to go train. It should be fun. If it’s not fun you won’t do a lot of it. And you’ll never reach mastery. How do you make training fun? You find the flow state: Not too hard and not too easy.
I train Jiu Jitsu five days a week and I’m in my 50s. The only reason I’m able to do that is because I don’t crush it every day. I go about 70% of my max, with a few red-lines here and there. Some days I just go through the motions. To train that way means I must accept that my effectiveness won’t be stellar every day, as measured by my ability to submit my opponents, or by my ability to avoid the tap. But, I’m on the mat, putting in a high volume of consistent training.
Over time, volume pays off far more than training harder but less often because increased volume produces non-linear results. What I mean is this: If you double the volume of your training, you won’t progress twice as fast, you’ll progress more than twice as fast. Triple the volume and you’ll progress five or six times as fast. Progress increases exponentially as volume increases.
I first discovered this back when I was a musician in my youth. I found that if I practiced six to eight hours a day consistently my progress was almost freakishly fast. I had days where I would make huge leaps, seemingly from one moment to the next, as if a portal to a higher level simply opened. My progress was exponentially faster than when I put in only a couple hours a day. This is how some Jiu Jitsu prodigies are able to earn their black belt in only a few years. And I guarantee they are not training to failure every day.
So if you’re always feeling thrashed after training, consider dialing the intensity down. Keep it playful, as Ryron Gracie likes to say. Find your flow; not too hard, not too easy. Try to leave class energized, hungry to get back at it tomorrow.
Do you want to get really good at Jiu Jitsu? Then find your flow and train a lot. Remember, the key to mastery is consistency, not intensity.