The new-age question every athlete faces is how to gain an advantage, any advantage, to be more competitive in your sport? There has been a crazy amount of research going into improving athletes for specific sports. However, it has not included grappling or fighting arts as much as other sports. Of course, football, basketball, soccer, and the likes are much more interesting given the revenue they create. That said, most people training BJJ are not professionals anyway, so there’s no need really to train as the UFC fighters do. Instead, you should just pick something that will help you achieve your BJJ fitness goals. Plain and simple.
BJJ fitness is easy – be able to roll without fatigue becoming too much of a factor on how you perform. In all honesty, it is not that hard to figure out. The issues emerge when people try to emulate professional fighters, or other athletes, who have individually tailored programs and a bunch of folks measuring things. Forget about it. Even if you’re a professional grappler, it’s not really conceivable. What you can do is pick a discipline, or two, that will align with your BJJ fitness goals and will help you develop the athletic qualities you need for Bette performance on the mats.
What Is BJJ Fitness?
BJJ fitness as a term is not something we see often. It is my opinion, though, that it fits perfectly and we should use it more. Why? Well, all that strength and conditioning mumbo jumbo sounds really fancy but mostly confuses people more than it helps them. After all, we live in the age of information. There’s a term in psychology called the paradox of choice. According to it, the more choices people have, the more they stress instead of being happy about it. And today, there are more training modalities and routines one can count, let alone hope to learn in a lifetime.
The goal of anyone training grappling is to grapple. Here’s the first truth about BJJ fitness – nothing will help you unless you roll and train often. Remember the first few times you rolled? You gassed out in seconds with a higher belt, regardless of your fitness background or current shape. I’ve seen folks that are in Spartan race shape, and yet, they can’t get through a 5-minute roll with a tiny purple belt. The first rule of BJJ fitness is to do BJJ, and by that, I mean roll as much as you can for as many days a week as possible.
On a more specific note, BJ Fitness s all about you being able to roll without getting tired. As easy as that sounds there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There are different energy systems that kick in at different times, different muscle fiber requirements, flexibility requirements, and some unique dexterity needed in order to make a grappler perform to the best of their athletic abilities. For the everyday person, this is too much to consider. Instead, they usually turn to one of the popular fitness options looking to get in better shape. And that is perfect, as long as you pick the right one for your specific needs and goals.
What Are Your Options?
First and foremost no two people are the same. Secondly, no two rolls or matches in Jiu-Jitsu are going to be the same. That means that unlike a track and field athlete, for example, who has to only prepare for one type of exertion, you can’t know how a roll is going to unfold. That means that it is not about becoming stronger in certain areas of BJJ fitness, but rather removing any weaknesses you might have. Well, at first anyway. Later on, you can focus more on developing certain strengths.
Before I go into the types o fitness activities you can do to improve your BJJ, I’ll just say that all that functional fitness stuff where you hang from a pull-up bar holding your Gi while try to mimic spider guard on resistance bands won’t do you any good. Just like in BJJ, stick to the basics – proven methods of fitness that develop specific athletic abilities.
Probably the first thing you should look into, and not for the reasons you think. Yoga is not something ladies do in their pastime. It is not just a way to stretch your muscles. Yoga helps you develop an insane amount of control over your body, especially in isometric terms, which is hugely important for Jiu-Jitsu. Moreover, it will teach you to breathe and calm yourself when under stress and in weird positions. AS far as BJJ fitness goes, I’d recommend everyone to start with Yoga as soon as they begin rolling.
Good for: Breathing control, dexterity, practical flexibility, and body awareness. Breathing under stress has to be the most important lesson a grappling beginner can learn from doing Yoga.
Drawbacks: No external resistance means you can’t develop strength in a way that you could with other means of fitness.
The gold standard for most, when it comes to developing strength. I tend to disagree, but more on that later. As a matter of fact, weightlifting has its place in BJJ fitness. The paradox of choice applies here though, with plenty of different forms of weightlifting available. Should you do bodybuilding style workouts, powerlifting, strongman training, CrossFit, kettlebells, etc.? There’s no right answer for everyone. All of these help, and you should find the weightlifting activity you enjoy the most.
In terms of what weightlifting brings to the table, the answer is easy – strength and power. Depending on what is your weakness, and what quality you need to train, you can quickly turn into a BJJ Hulk if train right.
Good for: Developing strength and explosiveness. In the odd case, you need to put on muscle as well, nothing beats weightlifting workouts.
Drawbacks: Hardly any cardio component, so be sure to have a decent gas tank before addressing strength. Also, it takes a lot of time to recover properly from lifting heavy weights, which is hard to achieve when you’re grappling several times a week.
Undoubtedly, the number one activity you can do to help your Jiu-Jitsu. This Olympic sport is the definition of athleticism, with gymnasts being able to adapt to just about anything within minutes. In terms of BJJ fitness, and the ever-changing demands of rolls, this sounds like something picture-perfect for grapplers. Furthermore, gymnastics can teach you different qualities depending on which areas of it you choose to focus on. From body awareness to unbelievable amounts of strength, with no recovery impediments along the way.
Good for: Extreme body control and awareness in mechanically inferior positions. Simultaneously develops strength, explosiveness, cardio, flexibility, mobility and any and all athletic qualities a grappler might need.
Drawbacks: It takes a long time to learn the basics, and start developing connective tissue which is much more useful than muscle tissue. By long time, I mean 2-3 years until you start noticing real improvements in technique and performance.
We all like to dip into water the first chance we get. Well, most of us. Have you ever tried really swimming, though? I mean real, competitive-style swimming? There are insane amounts of technique to it, and similarly to grappling, no other means of fitness training can prepare you for it. However, when it comes to BJJ fitness, swimming offers a way to develop the best ever gas tank while keeping all your already abused joints stress-free.
Good for: Training in water means you give your body a rest from gravity. Swimming is great for the joints and tendons, and it develops killer cardio that is second to none.
Drawbacks: As easy as it is on your joints, swimming can be hard and does require a lot of time to recover, particularly if you’re not used to it. Moreover, similarly to gymnastics, you need to learn massive amounts of technique if you really want to get the most out of it.
While it may seem like there’s no real benefit of training striking when you’re a grappler, nothing can be further from the truth. Striking or MMA training will help you not only with overall BJJ fitness but also with coordination and timing. There are similar demands in all combat sports, and striking has an explosive component to it that is repetitive in nature, something we don’t see in grappling. As such it is a great way of developing overall fitness in a setting similar to that of Jiu-Jitsu.
Good for: Developing hand-eye coordination and fighting rhythm. These area qualities no there means of fitness can help you develop. Moreover, you get to work on “fighting fitness”, or in other words, a gas tank specific for fighting needs.
Drawbacks: A lot of impact. It doesn’t matter whether you’re striking a bag or doing sparring, you’re going to place lots of additional stress on your joints. Not to mention the potential for injury.
Of course, there are not the only options for developing and improving your BJJ fitness. They are, however, really accessible all around the world, and everyone can sing up for each and every one of them. Plus, as you get better at certain qualities you can switch, or even try to figure out hybrid training by using multiple fitness options. As long as you focus on removing weaknesses first, and do not overwork yourself, you’ll see big improvement n how long and how hard you can roll.