Those of us who have explored other sports and even other grappling styles know that jiu-jitsu has its own type of cardio. I’ve heard it referred to as “mat cardio” but even that can be inaccurate as the cardio possessed by wrestlers can at times be incompatible with the cardio jiujiteiros need. So… What gives?
Jiu-jitsu cardio is as mental as it is physical. The knowledge that another person is going to simulate murdering you with their bare hands can have a profound affect on your adrenaline production, your heart rate, and even your systemic muscle tension. Think of how white belts roll on their first day. Many of them are “spazzes.” What’s a spazz? It’s someone who does sudden, quick, unintelligent movements tensely.
As time progresses we learn how to train, we learn how to roll, and we learn how to keep certain muscles relaxed that otherwise would have been tense during the rigors of rolling. Of course tension is important at times. You don’t want to be relaxed right as someone explodes into a submission. But learning to relax is a big part of learning jiu-jitsu.
How about the mat cardio associated with standup? Ever notice how tired you get when you try to wrestle a wrestler? Similar to ground work, you need to learn when to relax, when to tense up, when to move, and when to be still. This is all part of learning how to simply be on the mat.
Muscle coordination aside, breathing is a big part of the experience of developing mat cardio. Taking deep breaths, breathing through your nose not your mouth, and breathing slowly all help conserve energy. Breathing can also help you initiate bursts of movement; if you exhale when moving explosively your movement will be stronger.
The funny thing about mat cardio is that we all develop it, but different people use it differently. Some people like to use their mat cardio to “sprint”, using all of the energy they have during the beginning minutes of early rounds. This can be a useful skill if you are ever in a self-defense situation; you don’t really have to worry about later rounds in those circumstances. Other people like to use that mat cardio to develop a “marathon-like” discipline. Rather than ever exploding, you simply flow with your training partner until you see an opening.
Another interesting thing about mat cardio is that it doesn’t necessarily translate to other kinds of cardio. For example, not all BJJ guys are spectacular runners, and some downright suck at other sports. Mat cardio is just that, for the mat.
The better you get at jiu-jitsu, the more efficiently you play the game, the less tired you’ll get while you roll. The ideal goal should be to do more with less. To not have to breathe hard at the end of every round, and to know that when you are in fact breathing hard at the end of a round you’ve done the most with your energy that you could.
What is your experience with mat cardio? At what point did you realize it exists and at what point did you start to develop your own?