You scrambler, yes you! Firstly Happy new year! Secondly you are into your old school grappling aren’t you? Of course you are, names like Frank Gotch, Billy Robinson, Karl Gotch, Masahiko Kimura should be familiar to you. If not I suggest you Wikipedia these names and come back. Wrestling and physical culture have always gone hand in hand, wrestlers and free fighters of the old days carried a reputation for their prowess in the gym and on the mats. At some point in martial arts the two divorced each other and we wandered through a wilderness where weightlifting was bad, worse yet would make you slow and gas like a flatulent hippo. Its now 2013 and we are under-going a physical culture renaissance. Suddenly everyone is kettlebelling, olympiclifting and TRXing, functional training-ing, armflailing and it’s topped off with the internet, a fitness resource so vast it has more pages dedicated to the subject than Gangnam Style has views on youtube.
While this isn’t bad, it often leads to a scenario of athletes and trainees who have read too much, seen too much and subsequently try to do too much. Something gets lost, everyone does a lot and winds up showing very little for it. I get emails from eager grapplers and mma fighters asking me to look at their program and what I see often is just a lot of “stuff”. A program chock full of exercises and modalities matched by a periodisation scheme only MIT grads can understand (or the exact opposite, no plan at all). I’ve mentioned before often when a program has a lot of volume we see intensity plummet, this is why apart from the untrained circuits often don’t yield much of a strength or power improvement. And yet often trainees stop and admire their currentness, the fact they are doing “X and Y” because it is current or trendy, assaulted by the power of choice these are also the people that program hop like mad and then complain about their general lack of strength or athleticism.
Coming back to our old school grapplers, I want to tell you about one in particular that I draw great inspiration from. Georg Hackenschmidt was a strongman and professional wrestler known as the Russian lion, he was one of the greatest whom ever lived. President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a proponent of physical culture and exercise (not to mention early adopter of judo and jiujitsu), proclaimed, “If I wasn’t president of the United States, I would like to be George Hackenschmidt.” Hackenschmidt at the time had access to traditional Barbells and Dumbells, no racks, benches or machines. In the book “The way to live” written back in 1908 many of the things that Hackenschmidt talks about are considered modern, cutting edge things today. The fundamentals have not changed in 110 years.
To borrow Jim Wendlers analysis of hackenschimdts writings “before you begin a workout session, perform a general warm-up including full mobility work; always eat moderately and drink plenty of water; that bodyweight exercises are good but they won’t get you strong; always use full range of movement when exercising; and rarely go to failure on any set.” Startlingly this is surprisingly modern in approach.
Hackenschimdt was also an advocate of heavy lifting.
“For it is only by exercising with heavy weights that any man can hope to develop really great strength.”
“it is quite impossible to improve strong muscle groups, as, for instance, the hip muscles, with light-weight exercises.”
Hackenschmidt suggested that jump rope and gymnastics could be added to the plan, but his overall approach was that of heavy lifting. He also advocated running “Run as much as you can and as often as you can, and whenever you come across a hill, run up it. This will force you to inhale deep breaths and will also accustom you to breathe through your nose. Besides the chest and lung development resulting there-from you will soon appreciate the benefits which your leg muscles will derive”. Hill sprints anyone? It need not be any more complicated.
Keep in mind this was all before the discipline of sports science, before even the bench press (everyone did floor presses), before racks/stands, machines, creatine, protein powders and even before performance enhancing drugs. It is sad that athletes like Hackenschimdt and his teachings are being lost to the mists of time. Very little in strength and conditioning for grappling, honestly, has not been done before.
This is an ongoing series of articles from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through.