Best Ways to Improve Your Cardio for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors in the gym training.

As the sport of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or BJJ has become more and more popular. Mainly through it’s original introduction to the world via the Ultimate Fighting Championships. More and more people are now asking about the best ways to improve their cardio for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

BJJ is mainly a ground-based fighting system which entails body positioning, grappling and lots of submissions. Cardio fitness for BJJ is only truly achieved by pushing yourself to your limits each class. Along with a range of additional cardi improving exercises I set out here.

So if you are like me and often dread going against the toughest guy on the mats, hoping that perhaps this time he will take it easy on you. Both you and I have to admit to ourselves that this is the worst possible state of mind to be in when trying to improve your cardio for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Regular Training Improves Cardio

BJJ is all about repetition and muscle memory, and if you are not regularly training and experiencing uncomfortable situations, then you will not get better.

It might seem like the obvious answer and it actually is. While you can absolutely do a whole host of other cardio exercises to improve your cardio. Nothing can substitute for time spent rolling on the mats.

Most serious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners train very specifically for that sport. BJJ can sometimes almost appear cult-like in its fighters dedication and attitude.

It’s quite a different mindset to other sport I am familiar with such as MMA, Muay Thai and Boxing. While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a sport for individuals. The etiquette and way in which it is taught very much fosters a sense of community and often a sense of tribalism.

BJJ Rolling With the Right Partner

Rolling with a range of opponents in terms of physical size and belt ranking is a key way in which to help improve your cardio. At any given time you will have a certain amount of cardio fitness which you can exploit.

So if you consistently train with the same people, the same weight class and same belt levels. You will never get to experience what it is like to have to adjust your output mid-match.

And when these situations then do arise, away from the training room in competition or even in a street environment. You will not have the experience from which to draw up upon and regulate your output, resulting in you gassing out.

Your body and most importantly your mind will not have that reserve in your memory banks from which to draw upon. And as a result, you will most likely max-out and quickly end up exhausted.

Cardio is King

Cardio is truly king when it comes to any combat sport. Think of it this way, you are the best trained most highly skilled fighter, yet you can only compete for short periods due to poor conditioning and cardio.

What happens when a skilled fighter with poor cardio meets a less skilled fighter with cardio for days? Think back to how many fights in almost any combat sport you have watched. And seen a superior fighter lose the bout due to pure exhaustion.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Vince Lombardi

We see it time and time again and in BJJ it is no different. You simply must have ample cardio to get you through your training session or competition. As fatigue will lead to you tapping out physically and mentally when it was yours for the taking.

Many BJJ competitors use a combination of specific fitness drills to improve their cardiovascular capacity. While someone like Marcelo Garcia tends to focus more on the consistent BJJ drilling and sparring to improve his situation awareness and cardio for competition.

Others, it has to be said, more muscular competitors like Andre Galvao focus more so on building functional strength. With exercises such as Olympic weight lifting, along with interval training to improve explosiveness.

There are a multitude of ways for you to improve your cardio for BJJ and much of the time it will be determined by your body type and your style of BJJ.

Will you be the hulking guy on the mat with the fast-twitch explosive style. Or will you be the slight in stature, slick technicians like a Marcelo Garcia or Eddie Bravo? These are the decisions that only you can make.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Fitness

During BJJ training you will use a series of movements that will require different types of fitness. With times varying between short explosive training sessions that can last just a few minutes. To longer sessions both in training and in competition. You will be forced to use both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

This means that you will have to be able to make short explosive movements that require anaerobic fitness. Combined with longer, more protracted phases using aerobic fitness, where you will hold a position before exploding into your next movement.

This type of constant switching means that you will need that explosiveness combined with overall cardio fitness to sustain yourself for an entire training session or fight. It’s something that will not come naturally and needs to be trained and maintained.

Cardio Training Off the Mats

While everyone is different and will have their own particular ways to obtain the best cardio possible. There are without a doubt some specific drills you can do while away from the mats that will compliment your main BJJ training.

  • Hill running for upping that heart rate and conditioning
  • Sprints are great for anaerobic training and those explosive movements you will need
  • Swimming is recommended in almost all sports. It improves your cardio, great for resistance training and is easy on the joints and muscles.

It’s all about you finding a training regime that suits your body type and your needs. What suits one person will not necessarily suit the next. Listen to your body and it will let you know if you are going in the right direction.

The BJJ Lifestyle

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is seen by many of its participants as more of a lifestyle choice, than just a sport they do on the mats. It tends to seep into other areas of their lives in terms of how they approach their daily routines. How they interact with other people and how they really look at life in general.

Blackbelt Jorge Santos discusses life on the mats and the BJJ lifestyle.

Along with the often daily training regime, many BJJ players will change their diet to suit the sport. As people progress, BJJ drives people forward to commit more of themselves to the BJJ lifestyle.

Watching what you put into your body is one key aspect of this change. And people who commit themselves will often see huge changes mentally and physically.

One of the huge benefits of training BJJ is it will dramatically improve your overall fitness and help you lose those extra pounds. The compounding of training along with lifestyle changes can and often do lead to a whole new you. I have seen it with my own eyes.

BJJ Training at Home

One of the great things about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that you can train many of the techniques on your own. Obviously training with a partner is the end goal, but you can of course drill many of the movements we use in our warm-up to improve your cardio and technique when away from the club.

All you really need is a floor area, some matting or carpet and off you go.

  • You can practice forward rolling, minimising ground impact and helping with disorientation
  • Hip extensions with weight on your abdomen for when you explode out of a mounted position
  • With your arms flat out to the sides and shoulders on the floor. With hips extended, practice sinking in a triangle overhead
  • Shrimping is where you propel yourself along the ground backwards. Using a combination of alternating feet, while all the time defending with your hands
  • Back fall then exploding to a standing defensive position
  • Alligators or Jacare animal movements staying as close to the ground as possible
  • Rock overs for double leg takedowns, these ones can give your feet friction burns
  • Sprawls which are key to defending takedowns. You see this both in BJJ and MMA warm-ups.

This list is not exhaustive and your BJJ professor may use these and a combination of others during your training sessions. Again these are all down to what best suits the time and place. But it’s great to keep the warmups varied and you prepared for any given situation.

Related Questions

How good is a bodyweight workout for BJJ training and can I train by myself without using weights?

The simple answer to this is yes, you can and many people do. As Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is you versus another individual, usually the same weight when it comes to competition. It makes sense to use your own body weight as another alternative way to train.

Again, there are numerous types of bodyweight exercises you can do to help improve your overall BJJ game. Training metabolic workout exercises outside of your time in the gym will add an additional level of conditioning and cardio. Making you all but unstoppable on the mats, providing, of course, your technique is also on point.

Why not try these exercises to see which one suit your workout plan.

  • Spiderman pushups for core and upper body
  • Burpee kickouts for conditioning and balance
  • Jump squats for explosiveness
  • Bunny hop sprawls coordination
  • The plank with alternating legs and arms being used
  • Bear crawls, animal movements similar to alligators.

There are just so many options and ways for you to help improve your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by improving your cardio. Focus on getting better cardio and see big improvements in your BJJ.


Hi, I'm Ross, at 40 years plus, I have been involved in the Martial arts for most of my life. Along with my first pet Collie dog named Tyson, RIP. My journey in the world of Martial Arts is something I want to share. So that others too can learn from my experiences.

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