Training Intensity: Bus Bench, Park Bench

Bus Bench, Park Bench

I used to kill myself training as hard as I could as often as I could. I thought if I was going to be a black belt, I had to put the time in and I had to train with a high intensity. It was really hard on my body and I always felt beaten down. When I look back on it, I think I could’ve achieved a lot more with a lot less aches and pains along the way.

I was getting good results, but they weren’t THAT good. I mean, I’ve always thought of jiu-jitsu and martial arts as something I want to be doing into my senior years- so was killing myself everyday really the best approach to make progress and have longevity?

Jiu-Jitsu is a year round activity. There’s no off-season, and that can make programming the training a little more difficult because there has to be a greater focus on managing the intensity.

There is a strength coach I like a lot named Dan John who talks about “a year-round approach to reasonable training,” and he breaks it up into two categories- “bus bench” and “park bench” training.

With bus bench training, you’re expecting results. Just like how you expect the bus to arrive on time when you’re sitting at the bus stop.

Park bench training is looked at as more of an opportunity to explore and enjoy where you are on the path- no particular rush, no expectations for results to arrive at a set time. Just letting the time pass.

The key to long-term jiu-jitsu success is avoiding burnout and injuries, while still making meaningful progress. You can do this by spending the vast majority of your training time on the park bench. Enjoying the ride, making friends, getting exercise, learning a valuable skill, and having an opportunity for creative expression.

That may seem counterintuitive, but I had this confirmed for me by Master Carlos Machado who said his brother Rigan did a lot of cross-training with Russian wrestlers (who are considered some of the most skilled and scientific with their approach) and they were doing the same thing- spending the bulk of their training time on the park bench.

Master Machado said, they play 80% of the time and 20% of the time they’re training hard. Another way of putting it would be four lighter and more relaxed training sessions, one hard training session. That leaves plenty of time to physically recover in between the hard sessions, avoid injuries from overtraining, staying mentally fresh year round, and still develop a high level of skill.

In a separate blog I will expand on managing intensity for the long-term because I think it’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of training. For now though, just keep in mind that killing yourself (like I used to) isn’t going to lead to better long-term results when compared to taking that relaxed or playful approach with intensity ramping up occasionally.