Training Handicaps

Train without using your strengths to improve your weaknesses.

A great strategy to get the most out of your preparation is to find ways to set handicaps for yourself in training. This means you are intentionally putting yourself at a disadvantage. This is done with the intent to enhance the mental and physical results of the training. Professional athletes and trainers have been using this strategy in their various fields since the dawn of sport. This can be done several ways: mental handicaps, physical handicaps, and through tools.

Mental handicaps

Mental handicaps improve the learning of techniques and strategies necessary to be successful. These handicaps are placed to accelerate the learning and information retention process of your training.

A common handicap grapplers use in training is starting in an unfavorable position, such as a deep submission or a position without your guard. The more time you spend in a bad position, the more experience you will gain in learning the defenses for said position.

Another example of a mental handicap can be observed in the clip below.

Rob Biernacki mentions a strategy he does in training with this technique. At 6:36 of the video, he talks about using one hand to finish the submission instead of two in training. He does this intentionally to place himself at a disadvantage by denying himself the use of his other hand, and will attempt to finish with one hand instead of two. This is to perfect the intricacies of the technique in the finishing stages, to the point where genuine breaking mechanics can be achieved with only one hand. This means that the lock will be even more powerful when the second hand is called upon to finish the submission in a real competition.

Targeted sparring:
Perhaps the most well-known mental handicap is targeted sparring. Almost all academies use targeted sparring in some shape or form. Targeted sparring involves changing the goals of your sparring session to increase gains in a particular area.

Examples of targeted sparring include:

  • You must retain your guard without using grips. This requires you to use guard retention movements such as bridging or hip escapes.
  • The roll ends as soon as someone establishes dominant grips. This requires you to master the engagement phase.
  • You start from a dominant position such as mount or side control, and the roll ends when your opponent escapes.
  • You must roll without utilizing your favorite sweeps and submissions.

Physical handicaps

In Jiu Jitsu, a great physical handicap would be to refuse to rest between rounds, or to take on multiple fresh training partners in succession without rest. This is done to replicate the energy exertion, exhaustion, and discomfort of elite-level competition. Physical handicaps are designed to cultivate growth from discomfort. Athletes who embrace the feeling of discomfort usually acquire a higher tolerance for exhaustion and stress, giving them a competitive edge on game day.

Athletes at the highest level will almost always have a strength and conditioning program as a part of their regular training schedule. This type of training will improve your cardiovascular strength, lung capacity, muscular growth, recovery time, mental toughness, and overall endurance. By adding a strength and conditioning routine to your training schedule, you will be a well conditioned athlete.

Tools used for handicaps

Another way you can enhance your results in training is by incorporating tools into your training. These tools usually add restrictions or difficulty to particular exercises or movements relative to the athlete’s sport. Here are a few examples:

  • Resistance bands
  • Weight sleds
  • Weight vests
  • Balance boards
  • Air deprivation masks
  • Oxygen trainers
  • Any device which makes training more difficult with the intention to improve performance.