There is a saying that goes: “If you want to be good at BJJ, then you have to do more BJJ.” The same thing can be said about building stamina. You must push yourself and roll more to build your stamina and last longer without gassing out. There’s a line where you think you’re tired, and then there’s a point where you’re actually tired. In this article, we will talk about how to build your stamina for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Conditioning For BJJ
Grappling is a different type of beast. We commonly see excellent athletes from other sports crossing over to try BJJ, like strikers that spar for many non-stop rounds in the standup but get tired quickly when grappling on the ground.
John Danaher, one of the best modern grappling coaches in our sport, has spent time with people of unique backgrounds, including Olympic athletes. In one of his stories, John taught a former Olympic runner in his private classes. The runner, being in phenomenal shape and appearing fitter than most BJJ athletes will ever be, strictly ran consistently.
After learning the basic techniques, John and the runner sparred for a round. John allowed the runner to go to full mount. Almost immediately, the runner gets pinned in a bad position, hyperventilating and gasping for air as he tries to escape from the pin with his body shaking heavily.
This is not to compare BJJ practitioners against the untrained, but to summarize that it all comes down to the specificity of the training program. The Olympic runner was trained for running and is fitter than most recreational and even professional grapplers when it came to running.
This means that, as a general rule, to build excellent stamina for BJJ, you have to mainly train BJJ-specific movements and spar for more rounds.
Aside from training in BJJ, an excellent way to build your endurance and stamina for grappling is to do the classic grappling circuit exercises famously used by former UFC Champion Randy Couture.
It is a circuit of exercises requiring strict form with a barbell and a weight you can handle. It starts with the bent-over row, followed by the upright row, military press, good morning, split squat for the left and right leg, squat and push press, and straight-legged deadlift.
Performs 10 reps for each exercise except for the split squats, which are 8. Strive to complete 6 sets with 60-second rest in between sets. Do not put the bar down until you’re done with the exercises to work on your grip strength.
According to Chad Wesley Smith from the popular Juggernaut Training System Youtube Channel, there are three central energy systems that you have to develop to improve in BJJ: aerobic, alactic, and lactic capacity.
Aerobic capacity is your primary source of energy. It enhances all abilities in Jiu-Jitsu as it allows you to have more high-quality training, giving you the ability to roll longer, have more consecutive rolls, and recover better between the rounds and training sessions.
In general, rolling more is the most efficient way to build stamina but sometimes rolling hard and sparring more rounds isn’t always the answer. Consistent work is beneficial, of course, but too much work puts you in constant joint and muscular stress, which costs more than doing other types of aerobic capacity training off the mats.
If you feel you are getting beat up from constant rolling, especially if you are an older grappler, focusing on quantity may not be very helpful in the short term, at least until you develop more efficiency and durability on the mats. To develop aerobic capacity off the mats, do low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio and tempo interval/circuit exercises.
LISS cardio means doing exercises like long-distance running, bike rides, and swimming for extended durations at about 60-80% of your max heart rate for about 20-40 minutes. If you have more slow twitch muscle fibers, these workouts will work well for you.
You can do tempo interval exercises by starting with exercises like running, high knees, jump rope, riding the air bike, or rower for 30-45 seconds at about 70% effort. It is followed by low-level calisthenics exercises for a fixed number of repetitions like push-ups, core exercises like sit-ups, bird dogs for 20-30 repetitions, and then back to the LISS cardio exercise. Do this for about 20-40 minutes, ensuring that you keep your effort and output consistent throughout the session.
Alactic Capacity Training
Alactic is without the presence of lactic acid. Workouts are characterized by short, high-intensity bursts of exercises that mimic the direction, duration, and velocity of the movements of a match (like when you shoot for a takedown or scramble) and the capacity of how well you can repeat them. It is essential to first develop the power and explosiveness to do these exercises.
These exercises allow you to sustain high-level bursts repeatedly.
An alactic capacity circuit comprises pushing, pulling, jumping, and twisting movements like kettlebell squat jumps, clapping push-ups, rope rows, and Russian twists. Each exercise is done for 3-6 seconds of all-out effort with 10-20 second rest periods. Rest for 1-2 minutes before performing the next exercise.
Lactic Capacity Training
Lactic capacity is your ability to sustain high-level effort for an extended duration, like long scrambles in BJJ. It comprises 30-50 seconds of continuous high-level effort, with rests of 30 seconds after each exercise. It requires you to do exercises similar to alactic capacity training to allow you to work continuously.
An example circuit of exercises in this type of training is composed of movements like box jumps, followed by medicine ball push-ups, inverted rows, barbell twists, and the rowing machine to finish. Do this for 6-10 minutes, depending on the duration of your matches.
It is crucial for you to use your physical attributes efficiently in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Through consistent training and careful planning, you will learn when to use explosive movements and methodical rests, depending on where you are in a match. BJJ is more like a marathon, not a sprint, both on the mats and in getting up the ranks.
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