Jiu Jitsu for Fitness: How Grappling can Improve your Health

My high school had one of the best distance runners in the country. He was a state champion Cross Country runner and would have been state champ in track in at least one event (3200m) if it weren’t for some not-so divine intention—an early race trip and fall. He would later become an All-American several times over at UW-Whitewater during which time Fox Sports Wisconsin took notice and did a profile on him. They asked him what his secret was for machine-like endurance. “I don’t know. I just never get tired.”

He and I were running hills in late fall one year, and he muttered something about getting shape for wrestling. In shape? You just ran a 5k in 16 minutes. What the hell are you talking about?

“It’s different,” he said. “I’m not in wrestling shape yet.”

Jiu Jitsu, like wrestling, is one of the best ways to develop functional fitness—a combination of strength, explosion and aerobic threshold that has a laundry list of positives that go beyond the mat. 45 minutes of jiu-jitsu can burn almost 700 calories, which helped me fit into pants that I “outgrew” (read: “out-ate”) just a few months after I started training. Besides fitting into smaller clothes, my strength got better even though I was lifting less. My three-mile pace got faster despite only running once a week. More importantly, I started to enjoy working out again.

Part of the reason Jiu Jitsu is so effective for so many people is the built-in motivation it provides. It’s easy to coast through a workout when there’s no consequence. If you coast through a roll, you’ll get tapped over and over and over again. That reality tends to make makes cross-training—running, lifting, etc.—a lot more intense. Though the treadmill can get painfully dull, it becomes easier when you give it a purpose. Doing five-minute incline intervals at 8 mph doesn’t suck as bad if you’re worried about getting choked.  As a matter of fact, I recommend incorporating the fear of being choked into all running programs. Could you imagine training for a marathon and having to watch out for triangles? Wouldn’t that be exciting?

That’s not to say, however, that Jiu Jitsu is all smiles for your body. Black and blue aren’t just belt colors—you’ll pick up your share of bumps, bruises, stiffness and soreness. Hematoma auris—“Cauliflower Ear”—is a common condition in combat sports. It’s caused when the external portion of the ear suffers a blow and swells up. If the swelling is not managed in short order, it can become permanent. Some people see this as a badge of courage, while others see it as gross (though, I argue, even the best ears still look kind of gross—all bumpy and lumpy). In the 19th century, psychiatrists tried to link cauliflower ear to insanity. They were kind of right.

As with any contact sport, jiu-jitsu carries a risk of skin infections (e.g. ring worm). Neutral Ground, like most jiu-jitsu schools, makes sure its students watch their skin and stay off the mat if something develops (which is infrequent if you take care of your skin). Though standard soap, water and shampoo are great, a lot of grapplers recommend Defense Soap (defensesoap.com) which uses natural antifungal ingredients to keep skin healthy.

Even if you don’t think grappling is your thing, Neutral Ground also has a number of fitness classes that are non-contact and plenty of fun. Don’t be surprised when your curiosity gets the better of you, though. If you hang around the barber shop, you’re bound to get a haircut. If you train around the mats, you’re going to have a roll.

The Holidays are Over: My Soundtrack to Getting Back on the Mats

Between Christmas vacation and the hellish Polar Vortex that rendered everyone’s car motionless, I haven’t been to Jiu Jitsu or Core Cardio in almost three weeks.
While getting back to fitness after a long layoff is inevitably tough, it’s noticeably tougher for me without music. Besides motivation, music also drowns out the sounds of my groans and labored breathing—constant reminders of my own mortality and probably constant annoyances for everyone who just wants to swing kettlebells in peace.

Below are ten songs that get me ready to train, each for different reasons. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.

AC/DC: “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”

The battle anthem for beginners. This song was the first track on their first record you could by in America and you can really hear their growing pains. “Getting had, getting took, I tell ya folks: it’s harder than it looks.” If those aren’t Jiu Jitsu lyrics, what is?

Black Keys/Rza: “The Baddest Man Alive”

Confidence is critical when it comes to training because, even though you haven’t mastered anything yet, you have to know you will if you stick with it. This is also a great one to help you find that extra gear when rolling.

Funkadelic: “Get Off Your Ass and Jam”

If this doesn’t get you going, check your pulse. You might be a robot.

John Legend: “Who Did That to You?”

This was written specifically for the Django Unchained soundtrack, so you know it’s tailor made for getting down and handling business. Get ready to stand your ground.

Kendrick Lamar: “Backseat Freestyle”

On the surface, this is pure aggression. A layer down, it’s effortless flow. Exactly as it should be.

The Kinks: “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”

Even with a great team, Jiu Jitsu is a hyper-individual pursuit. Your training partners can help you become the best version of yourself, but it’s up to you to define those terms. You have to figure out what works for you, what doesn’t at the moment and then try to improve at everything.

Lupe Fiasco: “Kick, Push”

A lot of people like to train to real heavy stuff, but I’ve always preferred something with a good rhythm that I can tune into. I love this one for visualizing techniques while I’m on the treadmill. Way better than just staring at the wall.

MIA: “Bad Girls”

I don’t care if it has the word “Girls” in the title—this song will bring out your inner bad ass no matter what chromosomes you have. At least one writer called her song “Paper Planes” one of the top ten UFC Walkout songs of all time, but it’s a little played out for me at this point. Talk about a worthy replacement.

Oasis: “Roll with It”

“You’ve gotta roll with it. You’ve gotta take your time.” Translation: “Flow like water.”

The Smiths: “You Just Haven’t Earned it Yet, Baby”

The Smiths are most famous for making crybaby music (which I love without shame), so this is a good one for the ride home after an hour of getting tapped by high-level grapplers. It’s important to remember that the best guys and girls weren’t born that way—they worked at it. You’ll get there too if you work as hard as they did.

Selecting A Fitness Gym

Happy New Year!!

Congratulations! You have made the resolution to start exercising! But where should you start? If you have already decided a fitness gym is for you ,hopefully this blog will help you with key points to consider when choosing the right gym for you!


MOTIVATION: The first thing you may want to figure out is, what motivates you?  Why are you wanting to workout?. What are you looking for in a workout ? What are your goals? Your main goal could be anything from losing weight to  improving your overall fitness to improving in a sport, Maybe your motivation is to try that one thing you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t.  You know that dance class you’ve always wanted to try but were afraid to do? Do it!  trust me if its something that interests you, you are more likely to stick with it! Discuss your motivations with your potential gym or fitness instructor to see if they will be able to help you reach your goals

Choosing the right gym for you will make you reach your goals faster.If are you social and like others to workout with you or help push you in a class, a gym with group exercise classes may be for you. If you rather workout on your own and don’t need all the bells and whistles, then a smaller gym with just exercise equipment may be for you. Do you prefer one on one attention? then search for gyms that offer personal training or private lessons. If you are a person who needs constant change a larger gym which offers a lot more variety may be for you.The examples of motivations are endless.  Whatever your motivations are, ask yourself, will this gym help me obtain my goals?

LOCATION and HOURS: These two considerations are probably the most important things you will want to think about. Location, Location, Location! you may have heard this chant before when it comes to real estate, The same holds true for your gym .Location  is a huge factor when choosing a gym.The general rule is closer the better.Of course don’t settle for a gym that doesn’t work for you because its in your back yard, however the further you are away from your gym, the easier it is to talk yourself out of going on days you are tired or in bad weather or after a long day at work etc etc…(we’ve all been there !) The more you talk yourself out of going, the more you skip and soon enough you find yourself not going altogether. The same thing can be said for the hours of the gym. you may have found the perfect gym, but if it doesn’t work with your personal schedule, you’ll never go, so check the hours carefully! If you have a set schedule this is easy, if your schedule is constantly changing try for a gym that is open 24 hours or has something offered both day and night.

TYPES OF EXERCISES AND AMENITIES OFFERED:  This goes hand in hand with motivation. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t ? do you like to dance? Maybe find a dance class or a dance fitness class. Did you just watch that MMA fight and think ” Hey!  I want to do that!” Find a kickboxing class or Martial arts dojo. If you don’t want to train for a specific sport, but want the same physical and mental benefits find a gym that offers cardio versions of these classes. (for example cardio kickboxing)

Gyms can offer anywhere  from simple  free weights to offering classes, exercise equipment, juice bars ,spas, basketball courts,tracks and pools. They can also  be for very specific audiences  like offering just yoga or dance or martial art focused workouts. Find out what motivates you  and what you can  see yourself doing a year from now. If the thought of walking on a treadmill for an hour is unbearable then don’t join a gym that only has treadmills. Sounds simple but many people join a gym because its the one their friend joined and although its an awesome idea to workout with a friend sometime what works for your friend may not be what works for you. Your gym should suit your personality!

COST: One of the most common questions asked is how much does it cost?  Typically the more extras a gym has the more you will pay. Some gyms have a straight membership fee with classes included.Others charge extra for classes or personal training to keep the basic membership costs down. Gym costs can  run anywhere from free (yes i said free!) to hundreds of dollars. Some gyms have advertised prices and some don’t and if they do have an advertised price, ask what this price includes! Don’t be afraid to call or stop in, most gyms are very happy to give you a free tour! (and if they aren’t, run!!!!)

The majority of  gyms rely on memberships. Sometimes signing up for a longer term membership (2 years versus 1 year) will discount the monthly price.  Find out if your place of employment offers a discount for gym memberships. Many companies offer a wellness credit to help with your membership but may be specific to certain gyms. Memberships are excellent for the type of person who likes to workout often.

Other places may use a punch card system. A sort of pay as you go option. This option is usually better for those who may not want to or  be able to commit to a yearly membership or work out as often. Some places offer sessions, for example a 6 week class for a set price. Some places may have tiered or packaged memberships ( basic, silver, gold or something to that effect )these types of memberships increase in price as more options are included, kind of like your cable bill.

If you have found a gym but the price seems overwhelming ask about possibilities of reducing your membership fees. Some ways of doing this may be by asking if they are hiring for tasks such as washing towels or front desk support in exchange for a free or reduced membership. Do you have instructor training  or another service you think you can offer in trade?  It never hurts to ask if you can teach a class or two or maybe even write for their website!  Many gym owners will work with you to keep you as a member!

You are now ready to grab your water bottle and towel! Now you are ready to take that all important first step into a gym!  Hopefully you have more of an idea as to how to find the  fitness gym thats right for you. Don’t be afraid to do your homework and  shop around! A gym is a well deserved commitment that you are making to yourself!. Make sure it suits your lifestyle, your schedule, your needs and your personality!

Here’s to achieving your fitness goals in 2014!!