Is Your BJJ Training Plateau In Your Head?
Could Your Mindset Be Standing In Your Way?
The term "training plateau" is typically understood as the slowdown or leveling off of one's progress, improvement or gains. The human body has an amazing ability to adapt to stress applied to it with the goal of becoming more and more efficient in the process.
If we look at a simple strength training exercise such as the bench press as an example. The stress put on our bodies as we perform bench presses is created from a combination of the weight we are trying to lift, the number of repetitions we are working to complete, and both the number of sets of repetitions and the rest interval between sets.
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If someone were to consistently bench press the same weight, for the same number of reps and sets, all while maintaining the same rest intervals day after day, eventually strength gains and any change to the composition of the muscles will begin to level off as the body adapts and becomes more efficient.
Depending on the goals of the athlete who is working the bench press, he or she will work to progressively increase the weight they are trying to bench press and perhaps change the number of repetitions and sets, to shake up the overall load they are putting on their body. Because of this progression, the body is constantly working to grow and become stronger in order to eventually become more efficient. By repeating this process over and over, gains in strength, endurance, and muscular size can be stimulated.
Gains and improvement in BJJ is not quite this simple to track and create. There are probably as many measuring sticks for BJJ gains as there are practitioners. Can improvement be defined as adding the knowledge of more jiu jitsu moves to your repertoire? Probably. What about being able to tap a higher belt? Maybe. The list can go on and on.
But just as inevitable as death and taxes, the idea that you're going through a BJJ plateau will strike you at some point on the way to your black belt and even beyond.
In his new mindset release, The Road to Black Belt and Beyond, Tom DeBlass argues that there is no such thing as a BJJ plateau. In his view, our tendency to constantly be comparing ourselves to others can often make it feel like we are not getting better. The reality is that if you are showing up and working hard in your classes and following your coach's advice, you can't help but be improving. The problem is that all of your teammates and training partners are also improving themselves. The constant progress by those who are consistent with their training can give a practitioner the feeling or appearance that they are not progressing.
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Unlike the bench press example where there are only a few different elements to adjust to create increased workload, in our BJJ progress as a whole can be impacted in many, many ways. Let's look at some ways we can address the BJJ plateau, even if it may be simply our perception that we are not improving.
Define the BJJ problem
The first step to making positive steps towards improvement is to understand what the problem is. Let's say perhaps that you feel that your BJJ conditioning is plateauing because you find yourself gassing during rounds or unable to increase the overall length and intensity of your live training sessions. Or maybe you have noticed your training partners seem to be getting stronger, while you're not.
Another common appearance of that dreaded plateau can be more specifically associated with positions or particular techniques. During our jiu jitsu journey, it is common to gravitate to particular positions or styles of BJJ games. Over time, we can sometimes feel that we've reached the limit in that particular game or we may feel that a certain position will not be a useful part of our toolbox.
Write It Down and Make a Plan
Once you've determined what you believe the issue is with the plateau, it's time to write it down and solidify it clearly in your mind. Simply walking around saying "I'm not getting any better" doesn't really mean much. But writing down that cardio is your issue or my half guard has stagnated is much more specific and clear as a problem. Vague issues are hard to make changes to, whereas a specific, clear and focused problem doesn't look as scary when you write it down.
Now that you have the issue outlined, it's time to start taking action as soon as you possibly can. If gassing during rounds is an issue, start adding some extra conditioning before and after your normal BJJ classes. If you find yourself taking rounds off during live training, immediately stop taking rounds off to push your cardio to the limits and force your body to begin adapting.
Bernardo Faria has stated in interviews that one his favorite things to do to get his cardio ready before competitions was to roll with fresh opponents for a handful of rounds above and beyond the normal training time. This extra 20-30 minutes of live training is not easy, but the dividends that will come from this extra work will be well worth it.
One of the best ways to improve a particular position is to focus on another aspect of it or to completely focus on something different. For instance, if you play a lot of bottom half guard and feel that the position is stagnating for you, perhaps you should switch it up and begin working the top half guard position. Another option would be to take some time and focus on your leg lock game for a change. Both of these options serve to give your brain a chance to break away from what it had been stressing about and instead focus on something completely new.
Not only will this take your mind off the bottom half guard "stagnation" you are feeling, but it will also improve another element of your game that can then lead to some fresh ideas or insights that you can apply to your bottom half guard game. Perhaps you've never seen the potential for leg locks to be applied from bottom half guard and now here you are, entering leg locks from the bottom half guard that you felt was plateauing.
The bottom line is that whether a plateau is real or simply your perception when comparing yourself to others, it's still something that must addressed. Just like we can't bench press the same weight for the same reps and sets and hope to see any progress beyond a certain point, we can't simply just keep doing what we're doing when we feel like we've hit the plateau, real or perceived. Things must change to inspire growth.
First we must isolate the issue and then write it down and get to work. Once that is done, you may be surprised at how fast the plateau begins to disappear.
For more on how to get your mindset right for the long Road to Black Belt and Beyond, you will serve yourself well to get Tom DeBlass' latest instructional by the same name. You can get your copy here! The system comes complete with almost 3 hours of advice about plateaus, competition, training, and many more. The set also includes a 40 page E Book and audio files that you can listen to at any time. Get it here!