WHY IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO TRAIN LIKE A BJJ CHAMPION
We roll with Marek Polnik, BJJ trainer at Third Space City and World Championships competitor
On the mat, everyone is equal. In recent years BJJ has exploded in popularity as celebrities and city workers alike look to train hard and release stress. There’s a reason the biggest companies in the world like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn offer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training as a free perk. They recognise that it helps you to solve difficult situations under pressure, because there’s no pressure compared to someone trying to choke you out. When you find a way out of these difficult situations it’s been proven that new motor neuron pathways are being developed, and chemicals are being released that can aid in calming anxiety, helping you to become sharper and better at dealing with stress.
But you needn’t have been practicing since you were a pre-teen to benefit. Here Third Space sits down with Polnik to find out what it really takes to reach the top.
When did you start doing Jiu-Jitsu?
I started late, at around 27. Like anyone who leaps before they look, I got a serious wake-up call. I was easily overwhelmed by smaller, weaker opponents! I was strong, yet I couldn’t come close to beating people with incredible technique. Technique then became an obsession for me.
What’s your background in martial arts?
After nine years of training and competing at competitions including the World Championships, I’m a brown belt, and hope to soon get a promotion to black.
Did you do other martial arts before 27?
No, I was just really into fitness and regular weight training. I grew up in the bodybuilding era in Poland. That exposure gave me the bug to get bigger.
That’s a huge achievement to start at 27 and get to this level…
But Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone, regardless of your age. You can start really late. I have a student who is 63, he is a blue belt and really tough. I see it as a lifestyle choice that involves mobility, flexibility, strength, endurance and encourages you to eat better and sleep better.
Outside of rolling on the mat, what kind of additional training do you do to strengthen your Jiu-Jitsu practise?
Everyone has different needs, but for me I need to work most on what I call my ‘gas tank’. I build my aerobic base by doing a mixture of longer recovery runs on a Sunday, at a lower heart rate, then FARTLEK training during the week. From there I move onto developing an anaerobic base, which includes sprints on the rowing machine; 100m, 200m, 300m, 400m, as quickly as I can with 60 seconds recovery between each. And in my last stage of training the sprints are very short and intense; 20-30 second sprints, to simulate the intensity on the mat. It’s so important to first get that aerobic base so that you don’t gas out. Quick recovery is invaluable between bouts at a tournament where you may fight several times over a few days.
I still do two strength training sessions per week; at this stage I’m working on highly explosive movements to improve my acceleration. The focus is on a variety of jumps, medicine ball throws and some elements of Olympic lifting.
Does mobility play a part in training, too?
Yes, I always have tight shoulders, so that’s my priority. After each session I spend 15 minutes working on static stretching. And at the beginning of each session, to warm up we do different animal flows that aid mobility; forward rolls, backward rolls, some Spiderman walks and hip rotations are my go-to.
How many times do you train a week?
Six days a week. In Jiu-Jitsu specifically, I train 2-4 hours per day; that’s a mixture of lighter sessions, working on form and technique, and harder sessions mixing drills with intense sparring. I then fill out my week with two strength training sessions, and three conditioning sessions.
How has your diet changed since you started high-level Jiu-Jitsu?
The diet for Jiu-Jitsu is no different to that of athletes in other sports; we observe macro principles, ensuring we get enough protein. I get my fibre from a range of colourful vegetables. I look for quality sources of carbohydrates, such as brown rice and sweet potatoes. However, I don’t mind a cheeky desert here and there.
What about dropping weight in the lead up to a competition?
I do intermittent fasting because it helps to curb my cravings. I prefer large meals that satiate me. I’m very hungry in the evening after a long day of training and working, so I try to push breakfast back to 11am and finish my last meal at 7pm, I maintain a 14-16 hour window of fasting to keep overall calories low, but still eat three satiating meals every day. It’s about finding a strategy that fits your schedule.
And finally, do you have a signature move when you get to a competition?
My signature move is probably the triangle choke, which you apply with your legs. Basically your legs are wrapped around your opponent’s shoulders with one of their arms trapped between the legs along with their head. Then you squeeze your legs together so that the opponent’s arm presses against their own neck until they choke themselves. I like this move particularly because if it doesn’t work, there are a couple of other great options to move into which are very effective. It’s a versatile position. My first trainer used to catch me in this move all the time, which is how I ended up with these lovely cauliflower ears!