Imagine sitting on the mats, watching a world-class professor discuss the finer points of attacking a submission during a transition from side control to the north-south position.
“In order to submit your opponent here, you need to…”
(pit pat pit pat)
Startled, you miss the detail and look behind you.
(pit pat pit pat)
There’s the newly minted two-stripe white belt right behind you, in a selfish indulgence of perhaps the most overrated “exercise” in modern fitness history. That incessant pitter patter as the instructor is teaching continues.
(pit pat pit pat)
The venerable “jumping jack.”
Full disclosure, anyone who has trained with me for an extended period of time understands my deep, deep loathing for this so-called warmup. Unlike a bridge or a hip escape, there is no functional application for a jumping jack in a jiu jitsu setting. No world champion in history has stated in an interview that it was jumping jacks that helped them get over the hump.
Proponents claim that it can help raise your heart rate; however, there are much more suitable and practical exercises that can serve the same purpose, like running, or perhaps my personal favorite a flow roll. I rarely see flow rolls incorporated as the primary method of warming up, but I hold it to be the most superior and practical use of the first few minutes of class. Flow rolls allow training partners to cycle through whatever positions they know, granting them the freedom to open up their game without fear of consequence. The name of the game is movement. Allow it and embrace it. Give and take. Jean Jacque Machado’s school often starts class with a flow roll. The headquarters in Tarzana, California is home to unsurprisingly some of the most technically sound practitioners in the game.
What about our beloved sit-up? I recently visited a functional rehabilitation specialist that debunked the functional application of a concentric contraction of your abdomen before jiu jitsu class with regard to lower back stabilization. He told me that the vast majority of our time in jiu jitsu puts our lower backs in flexion, seriously predisposing practitioners to chronic low back pain and disc herniations. A more practical abdominal exercise would be a plank, as it not only strengthens the abdominal musculature, it provides an isometric stabilization of the lower back.
Alas, jumping jacks and sit-ups are so ingrained in the warmups at certain schools that creating meaningful change would require overhauling their entire system.
Oftentimes you can tell the lineage of a school based strictly off of their warm-ups. Every Gracie Barra in the world and many former Gracie Barras conduct the same warm-up like clock work. Jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, triangle shots, bridges, hip escapes, and break falls are the norm. My experience at various CheckMat schools has been a classical warm-up of running laps around the mats, shuffling inward, outward, forward rolls down the mat, backward rolls, hip escapes, followed by drilling. During competition season, the drilling will commence from the beginning and set to a two minute timer per partner.
10th Planet Jiu Jitsu has a unique take on warm-ups. Warm-ups are in fact, a hard-wired part of their curriculum. It is the basis of their entire fundamentals class. The warm-ups consist of eight sets of 4 positional flows, 32 positional flows in total, divided by the day and staggered by the week. This way, every school in the world will be on the same schedule and students training twice a week on the same days, say a regular on Monday and Wednesday afternoon, will hit all 8 warmups within four weeks time.
Ralph Gracie’s school in San Francisco runs arguably the most brutal warm-up I’ve experienced. Kurt Osiander scoffs whenever people run late, thus it’s best to stay on his good side and bear it out. This means roughly thirty minutes of laps, mobility drills, wrestling shots, and ninja rolls around the mat. You’ll have completed a mini-camp before you learn any technique. Marcelo Garcia’s in New York is not much easier. Granted, I have never seen more beautiful forward shrimps in my life than in their warm-up lines.
Gracie Academy incorporates Helio Gracie self-defense moves as their warmup, much of it standing. This includes front choke defense, rear choke defense, dealing with bear hugs, collar grabs, haymaker punches, basically any realistic street-fight scenario and the principles with which one ought to be prepared to handle it.
Perhaps the lowest impact you’ll find is a few blocks down from Marcelos’ at Renzo Gracie’s in downtown Manhattan. John Danaher doesn’t run a formal warm-up as the prevailing belief is that the technical run through of the day’s technique ought to be enough to warm anyone up for rolling. One can hardly argue with the results. Students are encouraged to arrive early and warm-up as they see fit.
I had a back surgery a year and a half ago, so I slowly inched back to movement by engaging in flow rolls roughly a month out from surgery. I also modified my warmup to include certain extension exercises I have been taught in order to strengthen and stabilize my back. This means occasionally sitting out of the respective school’s warmup. I have abandoned jumping jacks altogether as the impact causes a sciatic-type pain to run up my leg. I have learned that in the grand scheme of things, warmups are an individual matter. Each jiu jitsu practitioner is unique, while they ought to embrace every opportunity to fully participate in the warmup of the school they are at, the very nature of the jiu jitsu journey dictates that one customize their approach to training as it suits them. If this truly is a lifetime journey, modifications are key. There’s no need to feel guilty about it.
Feel free to comment though if jumping jacks do anything for you. I would really like to know.
Arman Fathi is a guest contributor for the Jiu-Jitsu times. He is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Brown belt under the Redzovic family in Chicago. He is a recent transplant to Southern California and currently trains at CheckMat La Habra and Gracie University. He can be reached on Instagram @RealArmanHammer.