Training Intensity

There’s a time and place for everything

Time to paint a picture with the time machine.

In my late 20’s and throughout my 30’s I focused on doing a TON of weight training.

The “Iron bug” bit me before the “jiu-jitsu bug” had!

I had to have the moon and stars align like the Ultimate Warrior in order to go to the weight room and make sure my workout was adequately intense.


My mindset back then was, “I want the most return on my training as possible.” This meant using high-intensity training techniques, as much weight as I could possibly handle, and doing it “right” as quickly as possible.

I had a very long, daily, pre-workout ritual. It looked like this:

  1. Start brewing coffee. Full pot. Very strong.
  2. Crank up the music in the house. Heavy metal or……Dance Mix (it was the ’90’s!)
  3. Turn on the TV full blast. Simpsons reruns.
  4. Pull out the stack of FLEX magazines.
  5. Start drinking coffee. For 30-60 minutes.
  6. Visualize the entire workout in my head, over and over.
  7. Finally. Head to the gym.

End to end, this pre-workout process took at least an hour. Often longer. But it was basically already completed. It was like turning on the TV and hitting play on your favorite show – it was already a done deal.

Intensity of The Workouts 

Dorian Yates and before him, Mike Metzger (and before him Arthur Jones) were against the grain trainers/bodybuilders that promoted High Intensity Training.


The idea….hit the muscle with as much intensity as possible in one set. There is little need to do more than one set of the same exercises if you’ve “hit the nail with the hammer and it went in” (I’m paraphrasing here).

That one set, however, was NOT a typical set of 10 reps lifting (concentric focus only).

It was a BALLS OUT effort that required your brain and body to fire together with RELENTLESS INTENSITY until your MIND OVERTOOK YOUR BODY’s PERFORMANCE.

Here is an example set:

  • Do a few warm up sets (~2-4). Grease the groove. Get your mentality right. Weights ~75% 1RM.
  • STRENGTH training was 3-6 reps. SIZE was 6-12 reps.
  • GO!
  • LIFT and LOWER under control. EXPLODE on the way UP.
  • Have your partner help with 2-3 forced reps.
  • Then SLOWLY do 1-2 reps lowering the weight ONLY.

These sets could last well over a minute. I made some of my best GAINS in STRENGTH & SIZE with this training.

Why am I sharing this story?

Because there are lessons to learn that I’ve look back on now and use ALL THE TIME for creating success on and off the mat.

This style of training was GREAT for developing me in several areas:

  1. Setting daily goals (and longer term goals).
  2. Creating INTENSE focus and relentless pursuit towards goals (read DISCIPLINE).
  3. Learning to visualize and achieve things.
  4. Learning to work HARD and putting in ALL the work.
  5. Challenging myself to work beyond my current (perceived) capabilities (read Testing Your Limits)

I’ve discussed #4 before in my article 3 Tips to Sharpen Your Skills. Check it out.

If we practice with purpose to develop better training habits, we will perform better when it counts.  Sometimes,  that means taking your training to an uncomfortable level. Uncomfortable is a relative term, as what is hard for some trainees may be a warm-up for others.  Watch this video from Marcelo Garcia as he demonstrates this concept very well.

Use training intensity changes to test yourself and your limits at different times. You don’t need to do it every training session, but it is mandatory if you want to know what you are capable of.

There’s a time and place for everything. 



Blue Collar Grips

Do you want to have the strongest grip in your academy?

Use the tools of the trade of the blue collar worker.

The strongest grips I deal with are skilled laborers that work with their hands – plumbers, mechanics, electricians, construction workers, etc.

These folks expend an exceptional amount of effort using their hands, wrists, forearms, arm muscles, shoulders and back muscles.

This gives them an incredibly frustrating grip to deal with and a major advantage when trying to gain control of their opponent.

It doesn’t matter if they train in the GI or NOGI; they have a tool in their toolkit that most don’t possess.

Imagine this: When you establish grips, you gain a significant control advantage over your opponent. You’re now in possession of their ability to move out of your grasp.

What you do next is entirely up to you.

This goes for guard passing, initiating and controlling the clinch, and executing takedowns, sweeps and submission holds.

What can we learn?

Add manual labor-based tools and workouts to your program.
Do them consistently year round. The benefits accumulate over time.

img_9479Here is a sample grip-focused workout to give you an idea of what to perform. Add this to the end of a Strength Training or grappling session to exhaust your grips.

1. 1 minute Sledgehammer Swings into Tire (16# sledge). Alternate every 10 swings.

2. 1 minute Fingertip Farmer’s Carry (45# plates)

3. Rest 30-60 seconds.

Repeat for 5 Rounds

More to come on GRIP training for GRAPPLING.

Triple Down on Your Strengths

The “A” Game 

I am a fan of doing what you are good at. We hear a lot of advice on working on our weaknesses, particularly as it pertains to Strength Training and Jiujitsu. I agree with those concepts too – but you need a game-plan to implement this.

With JiuJitsu, you need to develop your “A-Game” on Offense. That means having a go to move(s) and chain of techniques that allow you to get to the best control or submission options you have the highest percentage to achieve. To keep it simple, I recommend having a submission on every joint in the body (wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle) and develop your techniques around getting into and around those offensive techniques. You may not be able to work on all of these at the same time, but one at a time is a realistic goal to start. For your defense, that is a slightly different animal, in that, you need to know many different attacks in order to develop the defense to them. That said, it may be a better use of your time to study concepts related to defensive postures, distance management and framing maneuvers in order to find the common thread that binds the defensive successes all together. Having holes in your defense, especially if you complete, is a no-go.

Watch this video by Gary Vaynerchuk. He is one of the few people on the internet that puts out motivational material aimed at helping people start doing what they should be doing that makes them happy and “triple down” on them.

Jiujitsu Training

What are some ways you can triple down on you? One way is to develop an “A” game for the position that you are most dominant. Most White/Blue Belts begin to have “go-to” moves that they use all the time from each position.  Instead of thinking that you need 20 moves from one position, make the moves, maybe 1-2, super-sharp and continue to work them.

In the clip below, Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan ponder on Marcelo Garcia’s game after Joe mentions that Marcelo “does not “believe” in arm-in chokes” or the kimura because “it’s a strong man’s move”.

As you watch the clip, what emerges is the idea that if you only work on a few things that you polish over and over again and make them as error-free as possible, you may be better off than someone who works on numerous things without fully mastering any of them.

Strength Training

For Strength Training, when starting out, I believe you should pick exercises that you are naturally better at. For example, if you pick the Deadlift for total body strength, you should spend time finding which variation works best for you. This means finding the grip (i.e., mixed grip, overhand grip, snatch grip, etc.) and stance (sumo, conventional, etc.) that allow you to use the most weight with proper technique and then go “balls to the wall” to work that “A-game” move for as long as you can until you coax as much out of it (in terms of progressive overload).

At some point when your technique begins to display weaknesses, you will want to focus on bringing them up. This can be over years of training. In order to maximize this in your continued growth within the technique, you need to work on the weaknesses in your game/technique (i.e., accessory/auxiliary movements) to strengthen your “A-game” technique chain.

Try tripling down on your strengths and keeping the “A-game” concept in mind and let me know how it works for you.

3 Resistance Band Drills For Grappling

I’ve used resistance bands for training for over a dozen years. The right bands can add a lot of value to your training program.

They are a very affordable alternative when compared to a complete weight set, durable, portable, and versatile.

You can perform nearly every exercise with bands that you can perform in the gym, with some creativity and modification.

Iron Woody Fitness resistance bands are by far the best bands I have ever used. I do not have any endorsement deals with this company. This is simply my experience. Try it for yourself and you’ll find out.

Drill for Skill

With JiuJitsu and other grappling based movements, we have many ways to move that are not common to other exercises.  Therefore, drilling these movements is a useful and necessary ingredient in your overall success as a practitioner of the arts.

In the videos below, I will demonstrate how I use bands to train:

  1. The Wrestlers Shot
  2. Maintaining Positional Control
  3. Neck and Guard Posture Maintenance

I’ve a big fan of drilling. If you’ve read my articles, you know that every workout and training session I perform is reviewed as a set of drills. I’ve created a product around this concept called DRILLSKILL.

Solo drilling is a way to turbo-charge your results. You may not always have the luxury of a training partner to drill with, being creative with your solo drills becomes paramount to your development.

Overall, drill by yourself, drill with a partner, drill with multiple partners….it all helps you reach your goals faster.

In this video, I demonstrate a few of my favorite video uses for bands: the wrestler’s shot and positional control maintenance.


Here is another example using bands to improve the quality of neck training.

The first drill includes a guard posture drill where you resist the tension of the band throughout your neck and body as if your posture were being compromised in the Closed Guard.

The second is a brief demo of resisting the tension from the side, making your entire body resist the tension and posture-breakdown caused by the bands.  In this manner, neck training becomes much more “functional” as a result, rather than isolating the muscles of the neck.

Add bands to a few basic drills and you will notice the difference in your performance on the mat.

Strength Training 201: 3 Tools to SMASH Through Strength Barriers

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)

  • With progressive overload, plateauing is inevitable. You can not continue to add weight to a bar, forever, to infinity.
  • Strength is a skill.  Your body can adapt and become more technically efficient at lifting and handling weights using proper mechanics.
  • Coaxing additional strength gains doesn’t happen as a result of hitting a plateau and your body magically adapts.  It happens by adding different tools and techniques to target positional, functional, or movement pattern deficiencies to shore up weaknesses and improve motor-unit recruitment.
  • These techniques tax your central nervous system (CNS). Rotate them into and out of your program to focus on weaknesses or breaking through strength plateaus.
  • If you are new to strength training, read this first.
  • Being strong is hard work. Don’t take any shortcuts with the tools you use or your mindset. “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man!”



3 Toolbox Additions

Let’s get right to it. The following tools can be used to get your strength to the next level.  As a byproduct, you will be making faster muscle contractions as well, so you will become more explosive as a result.

  1. Isometrics: Get up and go over to the nearest door jam, and try to push against it with all of your might for 5 seconds.  I’ll wait.  Pretty hard, right?  Now continue doing that experimenting with different positions, ranges in a range of motion, and you have a comprehensive workout tool.

An isometric muscle contraction is a static muscle contraction; the muscle contracts, but there is no movement at the joint. This generally occurs during one of two situations. The first situation is called, “overcoming” isometric contraction. This is when the muscle contracts against an immovable object; think pushing against a wall as hard as you can. The second situation is referred to as “yielding” isometric contraction. This is where something is held in place, even though it could be moved. In other words, you are applying the exact amount of force necessary to counteract the resistance. Think of wall sits or holding a crunch. There is comprehensive research available to review that majorally concludes that isometrics training has positive transfer to strength improvements, among other positive benefits such as fat loss and health improvements.

How to implement?

  • Identify areas you would like to improve, like the bottom position of the bench press, or the lockout of a Deadlift, Squat, Press, etc.
  • You can target specifically those ranges using isometrics in those positions using various methods. Having access to a squat rack with pins to press against is a valuable asset.  Set the pins to just at or below the location of your weakness. Starting with no more than the bars weight, begin hold forceful contractions of 3-5 seconds over multiple sets.
  • For strength gains, accumulate enough time to target the area completely; 30-60 seconds of 3-5 second contractions is enough to stimulate those pathways.
  • Target several areas of the body to complete a full body workout.

Grappling Application

There isn’t a position in Jiu-Jitsu that doesn’t challenge your isometric strength, offensively or defensively. While there will be carry over strength benefits from using a barbell and other isometric tool applications, here are a few quick tips for grapplers:

  1. Try performing isometric squeezes on a ball or your leg to improve your strangling strength.
  2. Squeeze the daylights out of a physioball to improve your bear-hug/takedown abilities.
  3. Use a thick resistance band to work isometric positions, such as your guard posture.
  4. Try clasping your hands together around a pinky ball to improve your isometric grip strength. Use a variety of grips to challenge your hands, wrists, and fingers.


2.Dead-Stop LiftsWant to make any lift instantly more challenging?  Try picking up or pressing your weight from a complete dead-stop, from the bottom position of the movement.  You eliminate the stretch-reflex that helps you rebound and use kinetic energy during the normal eccentric (lowering) and concentric (raising) muscular actions.

How to Implement?

  • Evaluate your program and target a few lifts that you can start with the concentric only portion.
  • While Olympic lifts could fall into this category, think compound movements.
  • If you can replace a few lifts with an Odd Object, I highly recommend it. Strongman-type movements like Stone lifts and Tire flips are good implements into your program to add a whole new challenge and implement the dead-stop.

These days, I rotate this application into my program quite frequently. Deadlifts, Zercher Squats, and one-arm dumbbell rows are both performed from dead-stop starting positions.  This requires me to generate force at an exceptional rate improving my ability to generate high velocities and move loads quickly from a dead-zero starting point.

Grappling Application

Jiu-Jitsu requires quick movements and adjustments to resistance on a dime, similar to dead-stop mechanics.

  1. Lifting a 200# sandbag off the ground and onto your shoulder is also a challenge you won’t soon forget.
  2. There is simply no way to generate any momentum or inertia. You must be brutally strong to get that weight up.
  3. Think of the bag as your opponent, or enemy, or friend you’re rescuing from a burning building…you get the drift.
  4. Get that bag up to your shoulder, or at least up to your chest level.
  5. Build your own sandbag.  It’s easy and cheap.

I’m waiting…

3.Dynamic Effort Method: This method is used to increase the rate of force development. However, it’s done by moving light to moderate loads as quickly as possible. Most workouts consist of 8-12 sets of 1-3 reps using a weight equal to 50-80 percent of your 1RM, with short rest periods (30-60 seconds).

Your sole focus should be on moving the weight as fast as possible. To be fast, you need to train fast. Try using a (3-0-x), (2-0-x), or (1-0-x) tempo, meaning you lower the weight anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds, no pause, and you move the weight up as quickly as possible. Experiment with these ranges and add what works for you.

How to Implement?

  • These work best with the compound, multi-joint movements. Traditionally, through the Westside Barbell method, you would train dynamic effort twice a week in a four workout per week program (alternating a maximal strength day with a dynamic strength day).  Focus on the Squat, Deadlift, and Press movements, and implement this technique. You can perform this with almost any compound exercise to train your ability to generate velocity and power.  The big 3 movements will allow you to first-hand see how effective the technique can be.  It’s not uncommon to boost your 1RM on these lifts substantially after implementing this technique.

Grappling Application

You’ll reap carry-over performance on the mat if you just use the big 3 lifts.  That should be your primary focus.  If you want to try to implement this technique in a grappling-based program, you can consider the following:

  1. Locate training partners that are heavier than you, lighter than you (that move quickly) and are your size.  Use the attributes of these training partners to work different aspects of this method.
  2. I prefer to roll and drill with the heaviest partners first, while fresh.  Practice your “A Game” sweeps, submissions, and escapes.  You will likely be facing the most resistance from this partner.  Make sure to also practice your top pressure in control positions with an opponent that is larger than you. That means full, side, and rear mount retention.
  3. Evaluate your ability to execute the technique under full resistance drilling or live-rolling, as time progresses.
  4. Perform these drills while you are fresh. That way you can more accurately gauge improvements in your speed.

If you don’t have the mental capacity to be obsessed with what you’re trying to get….then you’re never gonna get it. 

– CT Fletcher

Strength Training 101: Only The Strong Survive

If you are a competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) athlete or practitioner, you’ve probably realized that, technique being equal, the difference between winning and losing, or surviving, can often come down to who is the STRONGER athlete.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)

  • Lift progressively heavier weights or achieve more reps with your best weight to get stronger, every time you train. The 2.5lb plates are your best friend.
  • Focus on compound movements with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells.
  • Use odd objects as a “fun” way to train your body from head to toe. (Sandbags, Logs, Stones, People, etc.)
  • Keep metabolic conditioning in your program to aid in making your strength “honest”.
  • Keep body weight movements in your program to aid making your strength “mat-transferable”.
  • Use Olympic Lifts and Isometrics as a way to challenge the rate of force production.
  • Get enough healthy nutrition and sleep. It’s the glue to make it all stick together.

Fundamentals: “White Belt” Focus

Before my BJJ journey started, I had several years of strength training experience under my belt. I’ve never been a competitive bodybuilder or powerlifter.  I’ve flirted with 2.5 – 3 times body weight lifts in the Squat and Deadlift and was often the strongest person in the gyms I frequented. This isn’t meant to toot my horn, rather to show you that I’ve always taken strength training serious, as a way of testing my human potential and making myself a better version of me.

When I was introduced to BJJ, my strength was a challenge for many.


Rather, I tired and got tapped just like everyone does when they start.



During my Blue Belt years, in the absence of solid technique, my strength often saved me from being completely choked out, submitted or swept by the better technician. This only solidified my thought that if I could focus my BJJ training on learning the mechanics and concepts, and focus my strength training on getting stronger, faster, and tougher with basic grappling fundamentals, I would have a one-two punch that would be powerful to contend with. It has been the pillar of my program since then and will always be.

Why? Because being weak sucks.  If you can become stronger by lifting weights, why not do it? Plus lifting heavy things is primal and helps you live longer (examples here and here).

Pouring the Concrete

There are numerous types of strength qualities that need to be developed to be a well-rounded athlete.  I’m going to keep the focus of this article to what to do if you have a white belt level understanding of strength training.

There are many great strength coaches (black belt level) out there that I recommend you spend time researching. I’ve weeded through and tried many of these coaches advice in my own program over the last dozen years or more.  In no particular order, Jim Wendler, Ross Enamait, and Louie Simmons, all have useful perspectives to offer you in your quest to become a stronger version of you.

There are common themes to these folks work. When starting out:

  1. You need to lift heavier weights to become stronger (progressive overload).
  2. You need to follow the KISS principle.
  3. You need to be willing to work hard.
  4. Consistency is key.
  5. Slow and steady progress is the approach if you want your gains to be forever.
  6. You need to eat quality food and nutrients.
  7. You need adequate rest and recovery.


In the weight room, your focus should be on Maximal Strength.  This means adding weight to the bar, or adding reps to your previous best amount of reps (within the target rep ranges for strength).

Also, your program should not take away from your other technical work related to BJJ. You need to be smart about your program construction and not focusing in on too many goals at once.

I recommend that if you are already training in BJJ three (3) times a week or more, you need to evaluate the rest of your program to determine how many quality strength training sessions you should include, and whether you need to exclude other things that will take away from your main focus areas.

There is no one-sized fits all answer to this, because your rest, recovery, nutrition, stress levels, etc., all pay a part in how much you can and should take on.


I’ve compiled the best programs through my years programming that I’ve used to introduce and transition people to total-body training for their sport.

Strength Training 101 is designed with three primary objectives in mind:
1. To help transition you from traditional body part/bodybuilding style workouts to more comprehensive, total body training.
2. To improve total-body strength, mechanics, and performance all of which are vital to athletic performance.
3. Prepare your body for more rigorous training protocols that are designed to improve Sports Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP).



Once you have introduced your body to the rigor of total-body training, you can begin incorporating more advanced techniques into your training arsenal. You will need to graduate to more Sports-Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) to evolve your training to meet the demands of your specific sport (e.g., explosive and mat-endurance for Jiujitsu, etc.).

This is what I created the DRILLSKILL Workout Program for.  When you’re ready to move onto this program, the foundation article for the program is here.

Get after it! Make 2018 the year you get STRONG!