A Minimalist Approach to Strength Training for BJJ – Intro
This is a Strength training system created out of necessity, out of my own personal need to become Strong, Fast, Powerful and Agile while using nothing other than my own body. As it turned out, this is all I would need.
I spent most of my professional mixed martial arts career unable to afford to train in a gym. I barely had enough money to eat let alone pay for a monthly gym membership. My training was done mostly in friend’s garages, for many years in either my Mother or Father’s back garden, local parks using jungle gyms as pull up bars, as well as many other outdoor locations. When I was in each of these places I was a mad scientist in my laboratory brewing up new concoctions and experimenting with variations of exercises that I had heard about on the internet. It was trial and error figuring out which exercises provided the most significant strength results, whilst improving my endurance for fight training. Most of my sparring was either done outdoors or in my apartment using a few tatami jigsaw mats that I had been given as a Christmas or Birthday present.
As you can imagine this is certainly not the ideal way to train for Professional fights, but I made the best out of the situation as I was so incredibly hungry to do well in Mixed Martial Arts.
Along the way I had built a decent level of strength as I found out when I was able to sneak into a gym once per month. My brother in law worked in a local health club and so he would sneak me in once every few weeks and I would use the weights to test my main lifts.
By this time I was fighting for about 4 years and wasn’t really too sure what I would max out on the 3 big powerlifts the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. It turned out that even though I had very little experience with a barbell, I was actually lifting more than the National British Champion in Powerlifting for my weight division. In fact, my best Bench Press 1 rep max was higher than the British National Record! At 145lbs I had a 352lbs Bench Press, a 405lbs ass to ground squat as well as a 505lbs deadlift. Proof that you don’t need to lift weights to become a strong and powerful athlete. These were my heaviest lifts as I didn’t want to attempt more and risk injuring myself leading up to a competition, today these still stand as my best lifts.
Performing a 551lbs (250kg) Trap Bar Deadlift at 145lbs (66kg) in my Gym, Milton Keynes MMA 2011
For me strength and fitness training was simply a means to an end. I enjoyed strength training with an incredible passion, but at the end of the day I did it because it got me into shape for fights and my strength and speed gave me an edge over other fighters in my weight division. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much I was falling utterly in love with it. I enjoy experimenting with my body and trying new and interesting exercises, as it helps keep things fresh as the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life.
In any martial art, technique is paramount over everything else, especially in the cage. But the truth is when two fighters are equally or closely matched skill wise, the fitter, stronger and more explosive fighter will always come out on top. As the old saying goes, cardio is king so I learned very early on that I had to get in the best shape possible to stand the best chance of winning matches. Not only that but my style was very wrestling based, I did a lot of takedowns, suplexes and slams, techniques which require a lot of explosive power and speed, so I was always looking to build those attributes as much as possible. Obviously strength training was of great importance to me.
Performing a Powerbomb style slam in a Pro MMA fight, Brighton UK 2009
I began teaching MMA, Submission Wrestling and Personal training clients 5 years into my MMA career, as it’s my biggest passion to be able to share my knowledge and help others achieve their goals. As what is the point in learning everything I know about fitness, spending hours upon hours researching and gaining as much knowledge as I can on how the body works if not to share it with others. My biggest achievements and satisfactions in life have come from helping others achieve what their fitness goals, as when they do I also achieve it through them in my own little way. That in part is why I have written this book, to help people like yourself achieve, to inspire you to make a change and improve your life, health and body in a fun and enjoyable way.
After 4 years of teaching, in 2011 I was fortunate enough to be able to open my very own Martial Arts and Personal Training Gym or Studio if you like where I live in Milton Keynes. I was able to teach and train people every day, getting to do what I live for and love more than anything every day. I don’t know if you are fortunate enough to not only have found your passion, what you love to do and be able to do it every day and also do it as your job, but it’s pretty amazing I will tell you that. Sadly however, the gym eventually had to close and left me $20,000 in debt and in the same situation I started in. Without a gym and unable to afford to train or teach anywhere.
So again as I write this I am making the best of a bad situation and training harder than ever before with a relentless passion. And since I love teaching and helping others achieve more than anything in the world, it only makes sense to write this book and share with all of you what I have learnt over the last 10 years. I do not regret opening the gym at all as it was the most incredible experience of my life, I have never been so happy as I was then.
I had the privilege of jumping out of bed every morning with bundles of energy and excitement knowing I got to go to work and train, teach and laugh with my friends at my ‘playground.’ Perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to open a gym once again, who knows. But for now, my job is here with you chaps in creating strong, powerful, explosive, fit, flexible and lean athletes through the tools I am giving you in this training system.
142kg Bench Press at 66kg bodyweight.
So the title of my upcoming book ‘The Gymless Body’ has accidently become two fold in a way. Originally I used to word Gymless to describe a way of training without needing to go the a gym with minimal equipment, but it also represents the loss of my own gym that I opened, and although I am no longer able to teach and train full time like I did, I will now get privilege of training many people through this book and this article series.
My own selfish reasons for training gymless aside, I knew that the material in this training system would be invaluable as a training aid to anyone looking to get into shape. This book contains the most effective bodyweight strength building exercises with use of zero equipment and typical items you will most likely have lying around at home. And I wish to share with you these methods in this series of articles.
First of all I want to address the ridiculous myth that many of you have probably heard before. ‘Bodyweight exercise doesn’t get you strong.’ If you agree with this, let me ask you. How is it that by just training with my bodyweight and a pull up bar that I was able to Bench press double my bodyweight, squat 2.5 times my bodyweight and deadlift over 3 times my bodyweight? I’ll tell you how. With effective bodyweight strength exercises and a hell of a lot of hard work and dedication. It can be done by anyone.
Those who say bodyweight training doesn’t get you strong are ignorant, narrow minded and limited by their own tiny imagination. It also just so happens that bodyweight strength training is also a hell of a lot more convenient than weightlifting, as you can perform bodyweight training literally anywhere in the world with no equipment. You can’t very well take an Olympic weightlifting set or powerlifting rack with you on vacation now can you, so what do you do? Well you have your own body, and that is all you need for a quick and intense vacation workout. Gym resistance machines and terrible fitness gadgets litter health clubs these days taking up space, these machines isolate the muscles of the body one at a time each exercise.
The body isn’t designed to be used this way, but instead it is designed to be used as a unit, as a whole, by incorporating as many muscles as possible into a movement or exercise. This is exactly what bodyweight exercises do, they use many muscles at once while also integrating the core postural muscles to maintain stability. Resistance machines also work in a fixed plane of motion that does not strengthen the joints or tendons, leaving them weak while the muscles being trained over power them, creating such a strength imbalance that creates great risk of injury to the joints.
To those who say bodyweight training doesn’t allow you to increase the difficulty of an exercise the way that one does by adding weight to a barbell, again this is ignorant and sadly caused by a poor education when it comes to proper training. There are many, many variations of Push Ups, Pull Ups, Abdominal and Core Movements as well as Lower body exercises! All of which differ in difficulty varying from very easy to requiring elite levels of strength ! You can also adjust the repetition tempo to increase difficulty, in most cases with myself and my clients making an exercise where I can perform 124 repetitions into an exercise which is so much more difficult that I can only perform 10 repetitions!
Now let me make it clear that I am not in any way saying that you should limit yourself to only bodyweight exercise. I recognize the benefits of training with tools such as barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells, these are some of many paths you can take to become strong and powerful. If you have access to a gym, dumbbells and barbells then I suggest you use them and supplement them with the tools I am giving you in this book.
The tools you use are not nearly as important as how you train, resistance is resistance at the end of the day. Your body doesn’t know the difference if you exert it with resistance by using weights, a kettlebell, resistance bands or a medicine ball. My personal favourite way to train from which I have experienced the best results and most significant strength gains has been bodyweight training.
Maximal Strength can be gained by lifting heavy weights on a barbell or dumbbell, just like it can be by performing challenging bodyweight exercises appropriate to your level of strength. None is any better than the other, but obviously bodyweight training is by far the more convenient of the two.
You do not need any equipment to become an elite athlete and become incredibly strong. This is why I have written this book, to show that there are far more convenient and effective methods than what 99% of people are currently doing with their workout routines in gyms.
There are plenty of pumped up steroid junkies who lift weights only to get big and claim that they are strong, when in fact they are not. Sure they look big and powerful, but can their bodies actually perform as well as they look? Many Bodybuilders today are nowhere near as strong as Powerlifters half their size for example. How many bodybuilders can perform 1 arm push ups, 1 arm chin ups, Pistol Squats and Triple clap push ups with perfect form? Very, very few. In the 1970s Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in a Documentary named Pumping Iron and ever since then Bodybuilding training has been all the rage. It has even been the go to type of training for many athletes, even though this is possibly the worst kind of training an athlete can do and can make them slower and less agile. Bodybuilding is NOT strength and conditioning training, it has no place in an athlete’s routine.
To make an exercise more difficult you can change the lever, take the limbs out further apart or closer together. You can change the tempo of the exercise, in a variety of ways and pause at various points in the movements. Perform the exercise using just one limb, for example 1 arm pull ups instead of pull ups.
There are plenty of reasons not to use a gym and opt for bodyweight training at home or exercising outdoors. Many people as I mentioned simply can’t afford a gym membership, with bills to pay it all quickly adds up and training at home costs you nothing.
Waiting for equipment can also be a pain, personally it drives me insane. You end up wasting so much time and end up spending more time waiting for someone to hurry up and get off of the equipment you are waiting for than actually training.
Gyms are packed full of useless machines that are pretty much useless, that offer nothing in terms of training stability and don’t strengthen the tendons and joints leading to a great risk of injury when your muscles become far stronger than they should be in comparison to your joints. Machines suck and are not worth your time.
Free weights or machines? This topic has been debated to death in fitness circles. I’d like to stress that all of your training should be done with free weights such as barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells or bodyweight exercises and not fixed resistance machines. They may look space aged and more appealing as it is easier to simply sit down and let the machine do half the work for you but aside from these machines being boring as hell to use, they also have a few major drawbacks.
To obtain proper functional strength and avoid injury, stay away from these machines. The require no stabilization from the core muscles and do not strengthen tendons or ligaments the way that free weights do, raising the risk of injury significantly. These machines stabilize the eight for you and provide no carry over to sport and other athletic activities what so ever.
You will probably find you have hardly any space in which to train also, as the Gym is probably filled with tons of useless machines that are easy to use and offer little benefits to your training. You’ll probably be bumping elbows in a busy gym which quickly becomes annoying. Get outside to train and you’ll have all the space you need.
It’s a pain travelling to the gym in the first place, you waste time driving or walking there and when you finally do arrive parking is usually terrible. If you train at home you have already arrived at your gym.
Gyms are like hospitals, they literally breed germs and disease. The equipment doesn’t get wiped down and cleaned very often and members constantly sweat, cough, sneeze and sometimes even bleed everywhere.
Those listed above and I’m sure for many more reasons, some people just do not want to go to a gym and enjoy training outdoors or in the comfort of their own home. And you can do so with great athletic success.
Short demonstration of Strength and speed. Sure to get the girls attention in a bar.
Bodyweight strength training has been used for thousands for years, how do you think Gladiators and the original Olympians used to train? There were no Bench Presses or Squat racks back then. Just look at some of the marble statues created in Ancient Greece, the physiques of these statues put some bodybuilders of today to shame. They had no equipment back then but it didn’t stop them getting into great shape. Your body is the most technologically advanced piece of fitness equipment ever created, and you can take it with you anywhere you go unlike a gym or set of weights. People of all fitness levels can enjoy making use of the training methods in this book, no matter how unfit or elite you may think you are.
When using full body compound free weights exercises, your core and joints are used to help stabilize the weight, strengthening those all-important ab muscles but also they get far better results than machines ever could. Stay away from these fixed path resistance machines as they will serve only to increase the risk of you hurting yourself in the long run. If you come to rely on these machines stabilizing the weight for you, when you go to lift something heavy out of the gym, go to run fast or try to lift free weights you could very easily wind up hurting yourself.
In the upcoming articles in this series that will be posted over the next few days and weeks, I am going to show you the Minimalist way to become strong and powerful for any Combat sport, with no equipment needed whatsoever. Not all of us are lucky to have access to gym equipment, but we all have at our disposal, the greatest piece of fitness equipment ever made, your own Body.
Lets start building, some hurting bombs.