Here’s the question everyone wants answered before they start training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: should I get into shape before beginning BJJ?
The short answer: NO!
Kinda straight forward, isn’t it?
But, it’s true.
That’s why, in this post, I’m going to share with you my BJJ journey and why you don’t need to worry about getting into shape before beginning.
Let’s jump in.
A Personal Journey
When I began my BJJ journey in January of 2019, I weighed over 300 pounds. I had bad inflammation in my joints, and I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to catch my breath.
I hated going to a regular gym to walk on a treadmill or lift weights. Notice, I said walk on a treadmill instead of run. The thought of running at my size made me cringe with additional joint pain.
I’ve alway found working out painfully boring.
Nevertheless, I would watch mixed-martial arts fighting on television and think about how amazing it would be to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But, like most people, I never thought I could do something so physically demanding unless I got into better shape first.
Eventually, after reading on the internet about how jiu jitsu is a great workout, I decided to at least give it a try.
So, I signed up for a three class trial.
Here are the lessons I quickly learned.
Lesson #1. Don’t Quit
When I stepped on the mat for my very first class, I was insecure about my weight and lack of athletic ability. Most of the guys appeared to be in much better shape, or at least they didn’t appear overweight.
When we started warmups with a light jog around the mats, the guys lapped me several times. When they began two-line drills with front rolls, I remained lost and confused.
I couldn’t breath, or so I kept telling myself.
I wanted to quit.
And then, the coach approached me. I thought he was going to berate me for my lack of conditioning. I thought he would look down on me because of my overweight, out of shape condition.
Instead, he encouraged me.
He told me to relax, breath, and complete the drills at a comfortable pace for me. He encouraged me to keep moving, to keep trying.
You see, my coach taught me a valuable lesson that day.
Keep going, don’t quit, and you’ll be in the best shape of your life. He promised me and I believed him.
After the first class, I didn’t really believe my body could hold up. In an hour class, I didn’t think I could do the warmup, the drilling, and the 3 rounds of 5 minute sparring sessions.
But, I kept going and I didn’t quit.
I discovered the warmups getting easier, the drilling getting more fun, and my sparring time increasing.
Now, I complete the hour long class without worrying about whether I can make it through the whole class. Your body adjusts to the rigorous workout of BJJ. You’ll find yourself getting into shape with relative ease as you put in more class time.
No matter how hard you find the first few classes. No matter how out of shape you feel.
Just remember, don’t quit.
Lesson #2. Even Wrestlers Suck Wind
Here’s what surprised me the most when I began Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Amateur wrestlers struggled with their conditioning just like I struggled. Don’t get me wrong, they could run the mats and complete the drills without needing to stop to catch their breath.
But, wrestlers often gassed out when they sparred.
Here’s why it surprised me so much.
Wrestlers are conditioned for the rigors of pushing and pulling. They are used to the pressure of another person lying on top of them. They are conditioned for quick, explosive movements. And finally, they understand the grind.
So, how’s it possible for wrestlers to struggle with their conditioning in jiu jitsu?
It’s because jiu jitsu techniques prevent wrestlers from being able to use their power, quickness, explosion, and raw strength.
When a wrestler is in an uncomfortable position and they don’t know a BJJ technique for escaping, they usually revert to their wrestling training. Most wrestlers use strength and explosion to get out, but BJJ uses leverage and positioning to counteract the wrestlers explosive power.
That’s why, a one hundred and thirty pound female with no wrestling experience can choke out a two hundred pound male wrestler. I’ve seen it happen.
Often, Brazilian jiu jitsu frustrates a wrestler. As a result, the wrestler expends a large amount of energy for little gain, tiring them out. Wrestlers are usually just as out of shape as most non-wrestlers during a BJJ sparring session.
So, when people tell you to get into shape before beginning BJJ, remind them, even wrestlers suck wind when they’re sparring.
Lesson #3. Principles Save You
Because of my size, the instructors often paired me up with one of the blue belts. When I first started, I could barely make it through half a five minute round with the blue belt.
Not because he submitted me (which he often did and still does), but because I couldn’t catch my breath.
The amount of pressure he applied when we rolled made it nearly impossible for me to breath. I’d take small sips of breath whenever he adjusted position, but no matter what I did couldn’t create enough space to breath.
Until I learned how to create space using BJJ principles. Using frames, leverage, and positioning to create space allowed me to reduce some of the pressure and catch my breath.
Now, I’m able to complete a five minute round with the blue belt and go into the next round ready to roll.
Don’t get me wrong, the blue belt still submits me, but at least I’m not tapping because I can’t breath.
Alway remember, you can be the best athlete, the best marathon runner or sprinter, but in the end, it’ll be BJJ principles that’ll save you.
Don’t waste time or money on a regular gym membership thinking you need to get into shape before beginning BJJ.
All the time you waste in a regular gym, running on a treadmill or lifting weights is time you could spend on the mats.
Don’t listen to the naysayers. Don’t listen to the people (including yourself) trying to hold you back by telling you to “get into shape” before beginning BJJ.
Here’s the truth. You’re not going to get into BJJ shape until you start doing BJJ.
It’s that simple.
So, if you’re ready to get into the best shape of your life, start your BJJ journey today.