Evaluating a New Student’s Warm-Ups Helps the Newbie and the Instructor

Forward rolls. The upa. Backward rolls. The elbow-knee escape. Standing up in base. Armbar and triangle hip lifts. These are all those basic moves that comprise the standard warm-ups in untold numbers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools. Many good reasons exist for drilling these moves and drilling them again and again. To develop a pronounced level of skill, critical primary movements must become second nature and ingrained in touch-response reflex actions.

Of course, no one starts out performing any moves with exceptional precision and perfect timing. Years of repetitions and continual effort are necessary to refine and perfect execution. For new students, particularly ones without an athletic background, the performance of these movements presents a number of challenges, which is to be expected.

Also to be expected would be an instructor paying careful attention to how the student handles these new movements and warm-ups. Warm-ups are helpfully revealing. An instructor can tweak an approach to training a new student based on an assessment after watching the newcomer repeat the basic exercises.

One drawback exists with starting a class or an intro lesson by repeating basic movements and drills. School members who’ve been training for some time end up going through the motions without taking the warm-ups too seriously. Newbies can’t fall into this attitude because they’ve never performed the moves before. Instructors, however, can sometimes go on autopilot when teaching the same warm-ups for the umpteenth time.  School owners really have to avoid this trap when putting a new student through basic drills. Paying careful attention to the warm-ups has a lot of benefit for an instructor.

Borrowing From Personal Training

Taking a page out of a personal trainer’s manual, basic movement warm-ups create a valuable opportunity for an instructor to make an assessment of the newbie’s skills, strengths, and weaknesses. With a clearer understanding of the new student’s innate talents and deficiencies, it becomes easier to integrate the student into the training environment while decreasing the risk of unnecessary sprains and injuries. Doing so also helps the instructor draw up a decent road map to train the new member of the team more productively.

When someone signs up for personal training sessions, experienced fitness trainers know they should never make any assumptions about the client’s strength, endurance, or overall conditioning. No matter how inexperienced a person may be or, at the other end of the spectrum, how long the person has been living an active lifestyle, the first steps of any exercise program should be based on a trainer’s first hand evaluation of what the client can actually do.

If a person can stand on one leg for 30 seconds without wavering, he or she clearly has good balance. Anyone struggling to keep from falling has balance issues. All is revealed with a simple physical test. Additional small tests are valuable for both the trainer and the client. Gauging endurance is possible to requesting a client perform his/her maximum number of push-ups. Upper body strength can be measured by seeing how well the client lifts light or moderate weight on a shoulder press.

All of the information gleaned from these basic fitness tests has value. Gaining proper insight into the students strength, balance, cardio, and endurance allows for better planning out a workout session. The client won’t be tasked with exercises that are neither too strenuous nor too easy. Over time, attributes will be built up and the client’s workouts will become more challenging and structured. There’s no (good) reason to rush things.

Drawing from the Warm-Ups

In a jiu-jitsu class, the basic movements usually performed in a warm-up can do a lot more than just get the body and muscles prepped and primed for reps and rolling. Again, the movements are an open book as to what to expect from the new student. Subtle and not-so-subtle indicators of physical attributes and coordination should not be overlooked.

If a student performs forwards or backwards rolls and he/she is going sideways or spinning out, this tells the instructor a lot. The person is not exactly precise with his/her movements and has yet to develop a better understanding of how to distribute weight in motion. Performing an upa in combination with going to the knees takes some time to perform smoothly. How “un-smooth” the person is dictates a lot about the person’s coordination, balance, and flexibility. Someone who repeatedly falls over when going to the knees would benefit from drills that help with balance. Anyone with poor flexibility would benefit from drills designed to help increase range of motion.

None of these examples of “bad technique” are really all that bad. They simply are reflective of limitations a newbie is going to have on the mat. With the proper commitment, consistency, and training, significant improvements are a given. Since results take time, the instructor has to make decisions about ways to ensure the learning environment is positive on and from day one.

Something as absolutely simple as matching an uncoordinated person with an experienced and patient training partner willing to assist newbies has rewards. The new student feels more welcome thanks to working with the right training partner. Conversely, if the person displays a tremendous amount of natural athletic ability, there is no reason to totally sandbag him/her with a plodding class. The person can be matched up with someone who is more competitive and able to pace things a little faster for the new-but-gifted student.

By making a careful assessment of the warm-up exercises, matching the newcomer with the right partner is easier and more productive.

A Self-Serving Benefit

Proper evaluations start things out on the right path for the newcomer. While being an accommodating and good instructor is one reason to institute a positive introductory experience, self-interest plays a roll. New students are valuable because there is no guarantee any school is going to consistently draw in other new members. New students also replace those previously consistent students who have departed. A good intro to the school supports better retention. Better retention keeps the school afloat.

Evaluating warm-ups may seem like a little thing but, in business, little things usually count for a lot.


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