When searching for an effective and maintainable way to get in shape, it helps to find a type of exercise that you enjoy. There are many people who love lifting weights or going for a jog around the neighborhood, but many other people quickly become bored with traditional exercise.
Martial arts can be a fun and tough workout, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, in particular, is a great way to build strength, burn calories, and increase endurance. You’ll be tired and sore after one class, but over time, you may very well find that your weekly jiu-jitsu schedule makes up the best workout routine you’ve ever had.
Here’s why BJJ is the best martial art for anyone who wants to get in shape:
1. You use all your muscles.
When you train jiu-jitsu, every day is leg day… and arm day… and core day. BJJ requires the use of basically every muscle in your body as you go through a wide range of movement to move yourself and your training partners. In fact, training jiu-jitsu will likely help you develop strength in areas you may miss even if you religiously work out at a “traditional” gym.
In a typical sparring (or rolling) session, you’ll likely end up using your grips to secure your opponent’s arms and legs, which will strengthen your hands and forearms. You may use your neck for balance as you pressure down on your opponent and work to free any trapped limbs as you try to pass their guard.
If you’re the one playing guard, you can be sure that your core will be sore the next day as you work from your seat or back. And though jiu-jitsu is a ground-based martial art, you’ll spend plenty of time on your feet, working your legs and glutes as you step in all directions and squat to center your base.
It’s no surprise that even dedicated weightlifters feel exhausted when they first start training jiu-jitsu. Most people aren’t used to using so many muscles in one training session, after all. Over time, though, your body will adjust, and you’ll end up building muscle through your hard work on the mats.
2. You’ll increase your heart rate.
Running or cycling will help you get your cardio in, but so will grappling with someone who’s trying to choke you. Once you know what you’re doing, jiu-jitsu is fairly easy to modify based on how hard you want to work. Whether you’re hoping to have an easy class or you’re training for a competition, though, you’re guaranteed to get your heart rate up.
Many people who are used to cardio-heavy activities like running or boxing still feel tired after a good jiu-jitsu class. Drilling techniques and then rolling is a good way to increase your heart rate and burn calories without the monotonous, repetitive motions of many other cardio-specific workouts. Your endurance will increase with each class, and you may even find that other exercise becomes easier after getting in shape from jiu-jitsu.
3. Exercise isn’t the only goal.
What’s your motivation for working out? Do you want to lose weight? Build muscle? Lift heavier?
While these are all sufficient to convince many people to get their daily exercise in, it’s often not enough for people who struggle to find motivation to work out. Jiu-jitsu is the perfect remedy for people who find that working out for the sake of working out just isn’t enough. BJJ teaches practical skills and techniques that can help you work toward goals like competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments or MMA fights. The skills taught in jiu-jitsu classes can also be applied in self-defense scenarios, making this martial art ideal for anyone working in high-risk jobs or smaller people who want to be able to protect themselves in public or at home.
Because of the wide variety of techniques learned in jiu-jitsu, your mind gets a workout as well as your body. In fact, BJJ is great for people who generally prefer academic pursuits to physical ones; there’s so much to learn, and the exercise is just a perk. Oftentimes, the “workout” feels less like work and more like a physically challenging puzzle.
4. Your teammates will help you from day one.
Yes, you can have workout buddies for pretty much any exercise routine, but although jiu-jitsu is an individual sport at its core, there’s a huge team element that will keep you coming back as well. You’ll have to team up with one of your training partners to drill the techniques taught in class, and soon, you’ll likely develop friendships with the people you practice with.
Even before you become close friends with any of your teammates, a good, healthy jiu-jitsu school will have plenty of students who want to help you succeed from day one. More advanced students will give you tips to help you progress, and if you have questions, you’ll be in good company. Jiu-jitsu is often confusing, especially at first, but the advanced students remember what it was like to be in your position, and they’ll be happy to help you work through any troubles you’re having.
Having a culture like this inside a gym can reduce or eliminate insecurities and fears that may keep you from trying other solo workouts. In jiu-jitsu, you’ll always have a team of people around you to support and educate you, so you won’t be taking your exercise journey alone.
5. It can encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle.
Doing just jiu-jitsu will likely be enough for you to start losing unwanted weight and reach your fitness goals. Many jiu-jitsu students find, however, that BJJ creates a whole new driving force to build a healthier lifestyle. Sure, you can still see results if you continue being a couch potato and eat lots of junk food outside of class hours, but after a while, the unhealthy habits you’ve built up may become entirely unappealing.
Jiu-jitsu itself can be a conduit for positive, healthy changes that can facilitate the process to achieving your fitness goals. You might start lifting or cycling after all if you’re driven by the desire to become stronger and faster on the mats. You may also make the conscious choice to clean up your diet, eating more complex carbs and healthy proteins instead of refined sugars and fried meals once you realize how the foods you eat can impact the way you train.
Yes, other martial arts encourage this same type of self-care, but the physically demanding nature of jiu-jitsu tends to push practitioners to change their lives even more. The better you take care of your body, the better you’ll roll.
Do you need to be in shape to start jiu-jitsu?
The short answer to this question is a hard “no.” Many people think that they need to lose weight or build up their cardio prior to signing up for BJJ, especially if they do a trial class and leave the gym winded and exhausted.
In reality, there are people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and fitness backgrounds (or lack thereof) who find joy and success on the mats. Obviously, your physical condition will play a role in how you feel during and after training, but with time and practice, the same movements that leave you out of breath at first won’t even be a problem for you.
Jiu-jitsu isn’t the answer for “What should I do after I get in shape?” and if you wait to try it until you hit that “after” point, you may never sign up at all. Instead, summon your courage and trust the process. By joining a jiu-jitsu gym, you’ll ensure that your journey to fitness and happiness won’t be taken alone.
A Fight You Can Win
The struggle to get in shape is far less daunting when you’re doing exercise you actually enjoy. By starting your jiu-jitsu journey, regardless of your history with exercise, you’ll have a tough workout that can help you reach your strength, endurance, and weight loss goals.
As you learn new techniques and begin to fall in love with this martial art, your fitness goals may change, and you might soon discover that being a better grappler is more important to you than big muscles or a small waist. Best of all, you won’t be alone throughout the process.
Jiu-jitsu has a built-in support system, and you’ll be surrounded by people who are working to better themselves while helping their teammates achieve their dreams.
Through jiu-jitsu, the path to getting in shape isn’t conquered overnight. Take your journey one step, one class, one roll at a time, and you’ll realize you never want to go back to the way you lived your life before.