Finding My Sweet Spot For BJJ Training Intensity

For the past month or so I’ve been given the opportunity to come to the gym on Friday mornings for two hours of BJJ training. For the first hour, you get to drill exactly what you want for a four minute round before switching and being the uke for 4 minutes. It’s a great chance to get in lots of reps and, for me, start the process of smoothing out some techniques.

Don’t get too jealous though. This class starts at 5 am, and you need to have a reliable partner about your size lined up and ready to participate. I quickly learned that I need to come into this session with a written plan of exactly what I want to drill for the day. The plan needs to include some warmup drills, then cover the stuff I’ve been focusing on, and ending with some things that are a stretch for me but that I want to work towards long-term.

The first week I showed up with zero plan–I wasn’t aware that we were choosing our own adventure for the drilling portion. As a result, I ended up committing myself to drills that were more fitness/conditioning (more like warmups) than focusing on specific techniques. The more tired I got, the harder it was to think of anything other than a cardio drill. I had zero energy left when we got to the hour of rolling. Smashed.

Oh, yeah. And this was after going kinda hard in a Thursday night class just a few hours before. The invite didn’t come until after that class.

“Want to do this again in 8 hours?”

I’m grateful for the extra mat time, but it presents a problem. Those extra 2 hours of training each week falls on what I’ve been using as a rest day, so it’s been throwing a kink into what was starting to gel into a reasonably regular running schedule. And I haven’t been motivated to swim at all.

So…wah wah wah. I have to figure out how to juggle all this stuff.

Something I’ve been focusing on lately is looking for the sweet spot for training intensity and frequency. It’s something I had to deal with in triathlon and, to a lesser extent, running as well. What is the correct intensity for this workout that will be productive while allowing me to do tomorrow’s workout as well? But it’s a little easier in those sports–just slap on a heart rate monitor and stay in Zone 2 for most of your workouts, then bump up to Zone 4 for intervals and speed work.

There are lots of books and articles that guide you through this out there. Easy.

But how can I gauge and manage intensity when there’s another person involved in the workout and I can’t wear a heart rate monitor?

I’m getting better at going on feel during drills and spreading my effort level over the round, but I’m having a really tough time controlling my effort level when there’s someone with more skill (or weight, or youth, or speed) trying to murder me with their bare hands.

And I’m torn on what is actually optimal. Should I be avoiding the “fun hard” feeling you get in Zone 3 when you’re running/cycling, or is that where I should be training since these are basically 4-6 minute intervals with a 1 minute rest in between? I mean, if I was doing 4 minute intervals in running, that would be ~1k in distance, and I think I’d end up in something around Zone 3 for that.

Then there’s the variance in effort throughout the round. Instead of a steady state effort, BJJ ends up being a series of explosive movements and isometric efforts, and that is highly variant depending on the opponent. If I’m rolling with another big guy, we’re much more likely to get stuck in a semi-static struggle for space than if I’m rolling with a smaller lady who is flipping around and attacking me like a spider monkey.

I’m beginning to think what I should be aiming for is a target effort level over the entire session. There’s just too much out of my control to try to chunk the effort. And I should err on the side of caution and leave each training session with plenty in the tank instead of using it all up. That way I still have tomorrow to look forward too.

Firas Zihabi talked about this with Joe Rogan. The way to get good is spend more time on the mats. And the way to spend more time on the mats is to always be healthy and energetic enough to come back and train again.

It’s all about volume.

But it’s tough when you have a good roll going with an evenly matched opponent and he asks at the bell, “You wanna keep going?”

Am I supposed to say no to that? That’s the discipline.

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