Many times I’ve seen relatively well-conditioned BJJ guys exhausted on the mat after a tough roll and pant “Must….*pant*….do…*gasp*….more….cardio!”
Having a base of cardio is very valuable. But it isn’t the only significant factor in having better endurance while rolling.
Actually, it is possible to see highly conditioned fighters from striking arts fatigue rapidly on the ground.
They tired not because they lack physical conditioning, but because they are out of their element. They are expending a tremendous amount of energy because they are tensing in a stressful situation. Any of you grapplers out there who ever tried the boxing or muay thai class realize how quickly you tired doing unfamiliar drills and movements.
So what can we do about that?
Frank Shamrock was a UFC Champion and an innovator of MMA in the dark days of pre-Zuffa UFC. He was one of the first truly well-rounded fighters who was known for superb endurance.
Frank Shamrock also had another secret: his ability to relax in bad positions.
That is easy to say, but quite another thing to do!
Shamrock elaborated that he was relaxed in bad positions because he had been there one million times before in training. He would deliberately put himself in bad positions in the gym and he learned to be “comfortable” in these tough spots. When you are comfortable you don’t expend tons of energy needlessly.
I reflected on this insight. The majority of the time we are trying our hardest to avoid bad situations! Shamrock was recommending it as a training method.
This was a different philosophy of rolling for improvement. When I was a purple belt I spent a period of several months encouraging lower belts to start in any dominant position that they wanted and I had to fight out of it.
Using this training focus I accumulated significant time with training partners on my back trying to strangle me and putting me in a heavy cross face in side control. As my experience in those positions increased, so did my ability to relax, defend, and be patient for my opportunity to escape.
The side effect was that my endurance seemed to improve while my cardio stayed the same.
Experiment for the next month fighting out of bad positions and see how your endurance improves.