First, I think it’s important to appreciate that BJJ can certainly get you into better shape if you’re already overweight or haven’t exercised in a very long time, but is it actually enough to get you into good shape? Any form of grappling is a sport that gives you a great cardio workout, along with training muscle endurance over a long enough timeframe, although the gains in this area are minimal compared to traditional weightlifting. But you hear so many stories about how “BJJ saved my life” and a lot of them revolve around fitness, so just how good is it for getting into shape?
The fact is that Jiu-Jitsu is a skill acquisition exercise first and foremost, and the entire point of the skills you’re learning is to become more energy-efficient. It’s the exact reason why that chubby purple belt can roll for hours while the marathon-runner or crossfitter on their first day is left lying on the floor after one round. Because of that, the cardio aspect of Jiu-Jitsu is a process of diminishing returns. During your time as a white belt, you’ll likely burn a ton of calories in every single session but as you get better and learn how to control opponents using technique and timing, your cardio workout gets less and less.
It’s still possible to get the same cardio workout you did on day 1, but you’ll need to increase the level of opposition you face, as your skills increase. At a certain point, this becomes very difficult for most hobbyists as they surpass the majority of their training partners in a small gym. Coincidentally, this also tends to coincide with the time that people start to get a little more serious about competition and might want to do things outside of the gym that will improve their performance.
There are a number of great ways to give yourself the edge in Jiu-Jitsu outside of actual grappling, from the small details like improving grip strength to the more general approaches like increasing your overall strength, using something like Wendler’s 5/3/1. This is where the real benefit of BJJ comes in terms of weight-loss and getting into good shape, the sport can give you a great start to your fitness journey by keeping a workout fun and interesting at all times and by the time you plateau, most people become so enamored with the gentle art that they start looking for other ways to improve physically anyway.
Regardless of whether your aim is to get into shape, or just to learn a new skill, we encourage absolutely everyone to take up Jiu-Jitsu and if you’re on the fence, take a look at the best things to keep in mind when looking for the gym of your dreams.
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