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To Condition, or Not Condition--That is the Question
Whether you are a jiu jitsu beginner or a seasoned competitor, there is one goal that we all share--to get better at BJJ. "Better" might have varying subjective meanings for each person, but at it's foundation, jiu jitsu is a martial art focused on finding the most efficient way to control and potentially submit another person, whether it's a self-defense scenario or a sport competition. One achieves this by using their bodies as efficiently as they can through the understanding of leverage, balance and strength.
So the question of whether or not you should implement additional conditioning beyond your normal class attendance depends on your goals and the progress you feel you are making. There are many schools of thought around this conditioning topic, but at the end of the day, you've got to do what fits your lifestyle and your goals.
What does conditioning even refer to?
Let's agree for the sake of this article that conditioning refers to training that is supplemental to your BJJ classes and open mats. This could take the form of any type of exercise designed to supplement or accentuate your development on the mats. For more information on jiu jitsu conditioning you can also check out this informative article from BJJ Fanatics.
Some practitioners including legendary competitors and coaches don't do much supplemental training, instead focusing the majority of their time on the mats and working their techniques. In the video below, Marcelo Garcia shares his thoughts on how he prefers to stay in proper BJJ shape.
Most athletes and coaches will agree that when practicing a sport or skill, it's important to work exercises, techniques and drills that mimic the things you are trying to improve. What this means is that maybe long distance running, although beneficial for general cardio fitness, might not be the best use of time for a jiu jitsu practitioner. We have to be smart and seek out activities that reinforce the things we need when we're rolling or competing.
Types of Conditioning Exercises
Body weight exercises and drills, with or without a partner are one of the best places to start because you can design a program that hones in on areas you want to improve with minimal requirements like extra equipment. These are also easily instituted at the academy before, during, or after your normal classes. Build yourself a circuit of exercises and work to perform the techniques as well as you can during a specific amount of time (perhaps the length of an upcoming match).
Resistance exercises like kettlebells and Olympic style lifting has become extremely popular with athletes because of the ability to improve explosiveness, strength and cardio. ADCC veteran and former MMA fighter Tom DeBlass is a huge advocate of simple exercises using Olympic weight plates. His primary conditioning workout consists of doing a serious of plate exercises where he starts on his back holding a 45lb plate at arms length and explodes up to his feet and then sits back down to his back. Occasionally he adds a few varieties of presses into these rounds to change things up and tax different body parts. He will usually do this after his hard sparring sessions where he has been known to roll for an hour straight with fresh opponents peppered throughout. In the video below, Men's Health Magazine presents some different exercises that you could build into a circuit.
Another great resource focused strictly on the use of Kettlebells is this great course from BJJ Fanatics. You can access it here.
Once you've taken a look at your lifestyle and your BJJ goals, you can make a rationale decision and put a gameplan together regarding conditioning. Remember the foundation of jiu jitsu is efficiency and our conditioning programs should reflect that. Be smart and make good use of your time outside of the academy doing additional activities that will move you forward towards your BJJ dreams.