How To Improve Your Cardio For Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

We’ve all experienced it before. We’ve rolled two, three, four times in a row and found ourselves out of breath shortly after. It’s not that we haven’t been training. In fact, we find that it doesn’t matter how many times we train a week or how many strength and conditioning classes we do to alleviate our lack of cardio – sometimes, it just feels impossible to not feel breathless after a roll.

Before you give up completely on building up your cardio for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, here are some things you should consider:

  • Who did you just roll with?

If you rolled with someone higher ranked than you, or someone who outweighs you by at least 5 kilos, you’d be more likely to gas out than you would if you sparred with someone your size and level.
  • What did you do before training?

It has to be said but if you had a huge meal before training, you’re probably going to be out of breath when you spar. If you’ve just come from a strength and conditioning class or another BJJ/martial arts class, this could be a factor as well.
  • When was the last time you trained?

If you are one of those people who show up to training once or twice a week, then the likelihood of you building any kind of cardio will be very slim. If you’ve just come back from a long training hiatus, you might find yourself out of breath too.
  • What’s your lifestyle like?

This goes without saying but if you’re a regular smoker, your cardio will probably not be as great as it could be. It’s no secret that smoking affects your lungs – and if you can’t get them to work as well, you’ll probably struggle with rolling or even training BJJ.

If you’ve considered all the above and still find yourself struggling with building your cardio for BJJ, read on below and find out how you can improve your cardio for BJJ:

You should spar with training partners of different ranks/sizes

Sparring with training partners of different ranks and sizes is one of the easiest ways to build your cardio for BJJ. Not only will you be exposed to many different styles and games, you’ll also be more comfortable with adjusting your pace according to your opponent. And the more comfortable you are with sparring different opponents, the less likely you’d be to gas out.


You should know when to use your energy

The closed guard is one of the first guards you’ll learn in BJJ.

When you began training BJJ, you probably noticed that you would gas out easily after your first sparring session. As a beginner, you probably weren’t used to using techniques against someone who was resisting 100%. Your tendency was probably to use all the energy you possibly could (in any move that you do), which would tire anyone out.

The longer you train BJJ, the smarter you get about conserving your energy. You’ll know when to use power and when to flow. In fact, you’ll probably notice that it takes longer for you to get tired. If you aren’t at this level yet, perhaps you could work on being more aware of conserving your energy when you roll. For example, when you are drilling with a partner, use the appropriate amount of resistance. You could also try flow rolling with a partner to build both your arsenal of techniques as well as your cardio.


You should include more BJJ related cardio in your strength and conditioning workouts

BJJ Competition

Most BJJ competitors supplement their training with some form of strength and conditioning.

Ask any fitness professional and they’ll tell you that the easiest way to build cardio is to add sprints or do roadwork to increase endurance. Although this may work for other kinds of martial arts such as boxing or Muay Thai, BJJ requires a different kind of cardio. Unlike boxing or Muay Thai, BJJ rounds can go as long as 10 minutes per round (depending on your rank) and could, at times, start from a standing position. Thus, many BJJ competitors and World Champions such as Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles and Andre Galvao follow very BJJ specific strength and conditioning regimens.

For example, Cobrinha utilizes a lot of capoeira and pulling exercises that are very relevant to his style of BJJ. Andre Galvao will do Olympic weight lifting, focusing on strengthening his legs and back, which are very important for BJJ. Many BJJ athletes also use interval training because it is time efficient compared to other strength and conditioning routines. Through interval training, you can also improve your mobility and strength on top of your cardio.


You should fix your training schedule

BJJ Competition

The only way to improve in BJJ is by training regularly.

There’s no doubt about it, being consistent means you’re also building your cardio. When you train sporadically, you’d be more likely to gas out during sparring. Try to work on building a schedule that allows you to train 3 to 4 times a week, if not more. BJJ legend and World Champion Marcelo Garcia believes that training more BJJ helped him boost his cardio. “I put all of my energy into Jiu-jitsu because I don’t have to do anything (else). I don’t have to lift weights, I don’t have to jog. My (BJJ) if I want to improve on this. I don’t want to improve my running or swimming. I want to improve my Jiu-jitsu so I put all my energy into it,” says Marcelo.


You should do more reps

As a BJJ student, you’re probably familiar with the routine of doing hundreds of repetitions throughout a class. Not only will this help you familiarize yourself with the techniques, it will also make them instinctive. One simple way to increase your cardio for BJJ is to do more repetitions than required in class, provided that you perform them in the time allotted by your instructor. If you feel like you don’t have enough time, get a willing partner and drill with them before and after class and get your reps in.


You should take the warm up seriously

As a BJJ student, you shouldn’t waste any opportunity to work on your cardio. Many students disregard the warm-up, especially if the warm-up is technique basic and doesn’t require a lot of effort. In fact, many students warm-up half-heartedly and wait until drilling and sparring to use any kind of energy. Why not make the most of your training time and actually do the warm-up? The more effort you put into the warm-up, the more energy you’ll expend and eventually build.

If you’re interested in improving your cardio for BJJ, you must make the effort to work on it each training session. Whether its adding more training sessions to your repertoire, doing the warm-up, adding more repetitions, it’s up to you to try. Yes, it isn’t easy, but nothing (especially something BJJ related) is. By taking the initiative on working on your cardio, you’ll also work on developing the mental strength you’ll need to become a better martial artist.


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