Jiu-Jitsu is a physically demanding hobby and having the conditioning to outlast your opponents will take you to the next level. Conditioning is an important aspect when it comes to improving your performance. Ever notice (in any sport) that the more tired you get the sloppier you become? Jiu-Jitsu is no different and we all know what the outcome of sloppy technique is! While conditioning is not a substitute for good technique, it is beneficial to complement Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training.
After my second class and tapping because I was out of breath I realized I needed to work on my conditioning (cardio and muscle endurance). After that class, I went on the mission to find the best conditioning exercises that would directly improve my Jiu-Jitsu endurance. For the past year, I put these exercises to the test and they all passed and gave me results fast.
The five best conditioning workouts for Jiu-Jitsu (other than doing more Jiu-Jitsu) are:
- Sandbag workout
- Air Bike
The criteria I used for choosing the best conditioning exercises were:
- Intensity must be variable
- Must recruit muscles in the entire body
- Minimal impact on joints and tendons
- They had to improve cardio and muscle conditioning
Swimming is considered one of the best conditioning workouts for almost every sport. It provides a low impact, cardiovascular workout that recruits muscles in the entire body, while also forcing controlled breathing. If there is one exercise you should incorporate into your workout routine, it’s swimming.
The resistance of the water is about 12 times the level of air resistance, which means you’ll be getting a workout too. Swimming builds the legs, back, shoulders, core, and arms! It’s essentially a low impact, full-body workout, providing intense cardio benefits. You’ll also notice that your ankles and shoulders will become more flexible after adding swimming to your routine.
I found swimming to be an excellent cardio workout for Jiu-Jitsu because it forces me to control my breathing while exerting myself. In Jiu-Jitsu there are times that your opponent will be smothering you and you’re only able to get short, small breathes in. Swimming allows you to be prepared for these moments and train for them.
As your head is face down in the water you are unable to breathe until you finish your stroke. There are times you will breathe every second stroke, every third, or maybe go every 5 strokes. Training yourself to take a breath at different strokes can give you different results!
Pool, Lake, Or Ocean?
Swimming can be done either in a pool, lake, or ocean. Most pools will have a lifeguard so you will not need a partner for when you want to go swimming. The downside of swimming at a lake or ocean is that it can be dangerous to go alone. Some lakes have lifeguards at them while others do not.
Lakes are safer than oceans (for the most part) as they do not typically have currents or riptides. Use caution while swimming in the ocean as there can be many currents and riptides that can cause you to drift very far from the shore.
Benefits Of Swimming For Jiu-Jitsu
- Low impact
- Intense cardiovascular workout
- Full-body muscle recruitment
- Forces controlled breathing
- Increased shoulder and ankle flexibility
Sandbag workouts are a great way to build strength and muscle endurance. They offer an unbalanced load that forces your body to work more with each movement. This awkward, unbalanced load helps mimic the movement and resistance of an opponent while grappling.
During a sandbag workout, you’ll be lifting, carrying, and throwing weight around – all the while having the weight shifts around inside the sandbag. The weight needed for most sandbag workouts is typically lower than what you would use when doing a more conventional workout. This is because the dynamic weight is much more taxing on the body, much like grappling. Meaning, it will give a fantastic cardio workout too!
I found that adding sandbag training into my workout routine allowed me to use more of my strength when I needed it without gassing myself out. Escaping tricky side-control pressure became much easier after sandbag training. Pushing an opponent to one side to create space to shrimp doesn’t tire me out like it used to!
One major benefit of sandbag training is that you can make your own sandbag for very cheap and train anywhere. If you’re tight on money or don’t like the gym atmosphere, definitely try sandbag training. Not only does it have a great carryover to Jiu-Jitsu, but it also provides dynamic, practical workouts that will get you in shape.
Free Sandbag Workout App.
One of my favorite apps for getting sandbag workouts is by Brute Force. Brute Force has a free app that is available in the Apple and Google Play store. They offer three workouts of the day (WOD) that you’re able to track directly on the app. As well as offering challenges or events every so often. I own one of their sandbags as well and they are very high quality, although, they can be pricey. Here is a link to download or view the app on the Brute Force website.
Benefits Of Sandbag Training For Jiu-Jitsu
- Dynamic weight
- Functional strength training
- Builds muscle endurance and cardio
- Cheap way to train
- Able to train anywhere
Yoga is an exercise that should be incorporated into any sport or life for that matter. It provides body awareness, breath control, improved flexibility, strength, balance, and calmness. Doesn’t that sound like a dream for Jiu-Jitsu? The improved flexibility alone is worth incorporating Yoga to improve your Jiu-Jitsu. And if you didn’t think Yoga could get intense, try P90X Yoga!
Flexibility allows the body to get into positions that it normally wouldn’t be able to. These positions can offer different submissions, transitions, sweeps or guards (like the rubber guard). More importantly, flexibility helps reduce the risk of injury.
When your body is flexible your joints and muscles will have less pressure put on them, especially when grappling in BJJ. The more flexible you are, the more your joints can perform the motions you require them to do. Flexibility will help your joints move through their full range of motion which in turn allows your muscles to work more effectively.
Next is body awareness. Practicing Yoga you are moving your body into positions that it is not familiar with or are hard to hold. Jiu-Jitsu is all about putting your body in certain positions that are used to leverage your opponent. Yoga allows for better body awareness and control. You’ll be able to use those same skills in BJJ when learning new techniques or mastering ones you already know.
Strength And Balance
Building strength and balance is also a great benefit of Yoga. Yoga may not get you benching 315lbs but your core will become strong. The static holds that are performed in Yoga are going to build your core strength very quickly. A strong core will allow your body to adapt quickly to sudden, quick changes of direction. Building a strong core will allow it to fight both the speed and the resistance of the opponent’s movement.
Breathing Control And Calmness
Finally, learning how to control your breathing and maintain calmness will directly translate to Jiu-Jitsu. With this in mind, when you’re near the end of your gas tank and your opponent mounts you it’s important to know how to stay calm and maintain your breathing. Learning to control your breathing, in general, will prevent you from even getting to the gassed out stage! Ever find your self holding your breath after trying to sweep your opponent? Yoga will help teach you to maintain and control your breathing so this doesn’t happen.
Benefits Of Yoga For Jiu-Jitsu
- Body control and awareness
- Breath control
- Improved flexibility
- Static strength and balance
The air bike provides an excellent method of building cardio in a safe, low impact manner. It is a great tool for high intensity, interval training (HIIT). The air bike’s benefit over a regular bike is that it has unlimited wind resistance meaning it can be adapted to any workout.
I found the air bike to be good for Jiu-Jitsu because it recruits muscles in the entire body while giving a very intense cardio workout. Depending on where you emphasize you can target muscles that need to be worked on whether it’s the legs, pushing, or pulling.
An air bike offers a great cardio workout while giving your chest, arms, shoulders, back, and legs a workout! The ability to incorporate your arms by pushing, pulling or a combination of both will give your entire upper body a workout.
Naturally, biking will work the entire leg without the impact that running produces. Meaning, the bike is great for if you have a rolled ankle or a quad or hip flexor strain.
Benefits Of The Air Bike For Jiu-Jitsu
- Improved cardio
- Muscle endurance for the entire upper and lower body
- Fantastic HIIT workout machine
Rowing is a great cardio exercise that works the entire body. Compared to other typical cardio exercises like running or cycling, rowing provides a great range of muscle recruitment. Furthermore, the action of rowing puts minimal stress on joints.
I found the row useful for Jiu-Jitsu because it provides a great cardio workout while working on muscle endurance for the legs and pulling motions. Leg endurance is always needed for grappling, trying to take down your opponent, or squeezing them. Additionally, whether I am standing up or have my opponent in my guard, I am constantly pulling and tugging at them to set them off-balanced. Having the muscle stamina to do this for long periods is made easy by the row.
The catch portion of the row (this is when your legs initialize the movement by essentially leg pressing) works the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
The catch also requires stabilization, meaning your core is activated. Without a strong core, your body will start to collapse while rowing.
The final pull of the row works the arms and back. Biceps, triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles help complete the motion.
Overall the row provides a complete cardio and muscle endurance workout that does not stress the joints. It can be done as a long endurance training, HIIT, or in sets. I like training it as 3-5 sets of 3-5 minutes. I vary the intensity throughout the set or change the type of intensity done for each set.
Benefits Of Rowing For Jiu-Jitsu
- Improved cardio
- Improved muscle endurance, especially for pulling opponents
- Strengths and conditions muscles in the entire body.
- Easy on the joints
After a year of testing out conditioning exercises, these were the 5 most impactful exercises that directly improved my Jiu-Jitsu during rolling. I found that doing conditioning twice a week gave me the best outcome in terms of results, recovery, and time investment.
I highly suggest trying all five exercises to find what works best for you, swimming, sandbag workout, yoga, air bike, rowing. Don’t be afraid to do multiple conditioning exercises as switching it up can improve your cardio and muscle endurance even quicker!
Once a week was still noticeable; however, getting proficient at the new exercise and learning what worked best for me took longer than I wanted. Training three times a week gave fantastic results except getting to the gym to do direct strength training became difficult and recovery was much harder to maintain. Doing conditioning four times a week was too much for me to handle when including a full-time job, social life, 3-4 Jiu-Jitsu classes, and strength training 1-2 times a week.
My primary conditioning workout became swimming, but my conditioning workout schedule may look something as follows. This way I get to optimize my swimming while switching in different cardio workouts to maximize results. Maybe the air bike gives you a better workout, just replace swimming with an air bike and air bike with swimming! The key is to find what works best for you!
|Week||Exercise – Day 1||Exercise – Day 2|