Written By Jose Rojas- CPT, CISSN, CSCS, SIS
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has been growing in popularity over the years with several tournaments and promotions spreading worldwide.
One of our biggest challenges as BJJ players is endurance as we roll.
Now, a true BJJ practitioner will say that the biggest challenge is skill and discipline, and of course, he is right.
You see, the main goal of BJJ A.K.A “a arte suave” or “the gentle art” is for the smaller person to defeat the brute using superior technique.
So, my approach is purely as a strength and conditioning coach, not a skills coach.
I believe the well-disciplined practitioner will always defeat the one relying on strength.
Strength being at the bottom of priorities, endurance is what I would like to focus on as your body needs to keep running through the bout, especially if you are closely matched and the bout goes on longer than expected.
It is never a desirable choice to leave the fight up to the judges, be it MMA or BJJ.
My mentor always told me that not every fighter is a good athlete, so when skills are not enough, we may have to rely on athleticism.
Physical Adaptations for BJJ
Before we get to programming of any sort, let’s understand some of the useful adaptations gained from endurance training.
I will spare you the dread of reviewing standard deviations and peer-reviewed studies,
I’ll get straight to the adaptations expected from endurance training without having to sit through and exercise physiology class.
I will list 4 useful adaptations for BJJ and briefly explain their practicality.
1. Cardiovascular Adaptation
Endurance training results in several changes in cardiovascular function, not to be confused with respiratory adaptations.
These changes may include increased maximal cardiac output (Q=stroke volume X heart rate), Increased stroke volume, reduced heart rate at rest and during submaximal exercise.
It is important to know that improved cardiovascular function will improve delivery of oxygen and the removal of waste.
2. Respiratory Adaptations
This one is somewhat tricky in the sense that the adaptation observed seems to be highly specific to that activity or upper and lower extremities.
For example, if your striking is heavily based on your upper extremities, and you decide to go toe to toe with a Tae Kwon Do fighter, your legs may gas out from striking significantly quicker than your arms would in throwing punches.
So as far as this adaptation goes, training specificity will play a larger role here, and you will have to know your own individual weakness to properly apply training.
The adaptations may include increased tidal volume and breathing frequency, which is important when fighting for a well-defended submission.
3. Neural Adaptations
In martial arts, mental performance plays large roles in many different situations, but for BJJ we are looking at cognitive function and, for lack of a better term, will power.
Nervous system adaptations play a significant role for BJJ as the efficiency is increased and fatigue of the contractile mechanism is delayed.
Once again this is important in either defending or pulling off a submission.
In addition to more efficient locomotion during the activity with lower energy expenditure, the mind is also at ease in the sense that it has less to worry about in performance and may focus on skill.
When your gas tank is full you’ll function better, in turn, may be more confident and clear-minded when attempting a submission or focus on the opponent in a match of human chess.
4. Muscular Adaptations
Muscular adaptations are straight forward, your muscular endurance will be much better, and that is all there is to it.
Increased muscular endurance allows for prolonged periods of contractions within the bout.
Simply put, you are less likely to lose a position or a submission due to muscles giving out.
Endurance Enhancing Workouts (2 Day plan)
Continuing to practice BJJ will be one of the most effective ways to increase your endurance, but let’s supplement and boost your endurance with a little training outside the mats.
I recommend adding the following workouts to your training 2 days out of the week.
So, assume you train BJJ 5 times a week, you should include the endurance training three times a week with a day of rest in between.
The rest only applies to the endurance training, you only need to rest from BJJ as needed.
Before you start looking for more elaborate things or crazy social media workouts to do, I want you to remember that we are training for a specific goal and not CrossFit.
If you take anything away from the blog, that it is not much complexity that gets you the results; it is consistency.
Apply the exercises given to those two days and feel free to mix and match.
Again, I would like to emphasize that it is consistency not complexity, so 45 minutes to an hour of hard work is much more effective than two hours of complex irrelevant movements.
I will group the exercises into two days, those exercises don’t necessarily have to be done on that specific day but should be completed in the training week.
It should go without saying that every training day should begin with a proper warm-up.
Also, remember that the goal is endurance, so yes, the volume will be high.
Hill Runs/Sprints X 10
Find a hill near you, if none are available then use a treadmill on an incline as a last resort.
Sprint up the hill and jog back down.
If you decide not to use hills or treadmills, sprint outside of your gym keeping the same 10 repetition count.
Stationary Bike Ergometer X 6
Adjust the bike seat to fit your measurements.
Keep the bike difficulty moderate, unless it is a fan resistance bike.
Pedal at easy speed for 10 seconds, then 10 seconds all-out sprint. Repeat this 6 times.
Zercher Squat 3 X 12/30-sec rest
position the barbell at elbow height on the rack.
Approach the bar and place it in the crease of your elbows with your forearms parallel keeping the fists balled up and tight, almost as if simulating a double leg takedown on the bar.
With the bar in the crease of your elbows, step away from the rack, adjust feet width and angles accordingly to your usual squatting form.
Perform a squat, keeping the chest up, core tight, imagine spreading the floor apart with your feet and sit back with the hips.
Light cardio 20-30 minutes of low-intensity steady-state
This one is quite simple and can be to your choosing.
Some examples include running, swimming, rowing ergometer, jump rope, stair master, or elliptical.
Farmer’s Walk 2 X 5 minutes/90-second rest
Grab moderately heavyweights, around 30%-40% of your weight.
Pick a straight path to walk back and forth, about 10 meters or so.
Keeping the chest up, core tight, head in neutral position, and shoulders retracted; begin to walk back and forth for 5 minutes.
It is expected to drop the weight due to the duration, so shake it off, pick the weights up and keep moving.
Prowler Push Sprints X 8/45-second rest
load the prowler with moderate weight.
Use a straight path about 15-25 meters or whatever is available.
Keeping the core tight and chest up, push the prowler as fast as you can.
Kettlebell Swings (Russian style) 3 X 12 30 second rest
Using moderate weight pick a single kettlebell.
Stand shoulder-width apart with arms holding the kettlebell between the thighs.
Slightly bend the knees, bring the hips back, keeping the chest up and back neutral.
Thrusting with the hips, use the momentum to lift the kettlebell to shoulder height (going above the shoulders is the American method) and repeat at a moderate to high pace.
Light Cardio 20-30 minutes of low-intensity steady-state:
Refer to day one for light cardio examples.
Guidelines and Tools for Your Endurance Goals
In addition to the workouts I will also provide some guidelines and tips below:
NSCA Guidelines for Resistance Training
Age predicted maximum heart rate (APMHR)= 220-age.
Heart rate reserve (HRR)= APMHR-resting heart rate (RHR)
Target heart rate (THR)= (HRR X exercise intensity) + RHR
Do this calculation twice to determine target heart rate range (THRR)
Example: A 30-year-old athlete with an RHR of 60bpm is exercising at an intensity of 60%-70%.
APMHR = 220-30= 190bpm
RHR = 60bpm
HRR = 190-60= 130bpm
Lowest number of THRR (60%). = (130 X 0.60) + 60= 138bpm
Highest number of THRR (80%). = (130 X 0.70) + 60= 151bpm
Target heart rate will depend on the intensity you are looking to work at, I personally like the 60%-80% THRR for endurance and appropriate intensities.
The 4 Week Plan and The Long Run
The exercises above are my recommendation for building up endurance, but the same workload may be applied to similar movements.
Continue these for a total of 4 weeks, with a gradual increase in intensity.
The exercises did not have specific weight because those are relative to the individual, but the weight will increase as your progress to increase the intensity.
In the second week, you may try adding plates to the prowler, maybe you may increase the distance covered in the sprints or decrease the time the distance is completed.
The key is a gradual progression, while 4 weeks may seem like a short time, it is much better to set short term goals that are easily measured.
Luckily for something like BJJ you be able to notice the results based on your rolls
Supplementation with ergogenic aids will also have a positive impact on your endurance so that may be a good option to supplement your current routine and boost those adaptations.
Once again, I must express how important it is to know that it is not complexity that creates the adaptation but it is consistency.
Ask yourself, what is the point of adding numerous variety and different complex movements in a four-week period?
It is great that you are able to properly do a variety of movements, but how will you adapt if you are constantly changing the stimulus before the body has time to create an adaptation.
In addition to consistency in the endurance training, all this is under the assumption that you are actively training BJJ.