You Get In Shape For Jiu-Jitsu By Showing Up For Jiu-Jitsu

Photo by: Stewart Uy

There’s a lot of truth to the idea that if you wait for the “perfect” time to start doing something, you’ll never do it. The concept is certainly true for jiu-jitsu, though a lot of people don’t want to believe it. Jiu-jitsu is a very obviously athletic martial art — it doesn’t take an expert to see that all that rolling around and attacking submissions requires a certain amount of physical endurance. Unfortunately, many people don’t believe that level of endurance is something they can quickly achieve, and it pushes them to delay the start (or continuation) of their jiu-jitsu journey.

The excuse is one that is familiar to many jiu-jitsu practitioners. Lots of us couldn’t even count the number of times a friend or a first-time gym visitor has said something like, “Oh man, I wish I could sign up. I will in the future. I just need to get in shape first.”

I don’t think people believe me when I tell them that they’ll get in shape for jiu-jitsu if they just do jiu-jitsu. I had a hard time believing it myself when I first started. I’d done track and field in high school and had never gotten fast or lean enough to be good at it, even with all the tough workouts we’d been put through. Multiple times I caught other kids laughing at me during an embarrassingly slow race. Eventually, I just quit, assuming that the athletic life just wasn’t for me.

It’s crazy now to think about what I can do in jiu-jitsu. I still get winded soon after moving my legs faster than a brisk walk, but I can roll round after round after round without needing a break, even when other people are huffing and puffing. I still don’t completely look like an athlete because, hey, I like pizza, but my body has surprised me with its ability to adapt to jiu-jitsu. I’m an adult and still able to develop my athletic abilities just because I kept pushing myself.

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The truth is that being “fit” for jiu-jitsu is a unique kind of “fit.” Runners with great cardio often initially struggle with the weird kind of cardio that’s needed for grappling with another person. Avid weightlifters have a hard time moving their bodies in the way that’s needed to roll with someone, and they often quickly tire out. Even people who are in shape may not be in good “jiu-jitsu shape,” and though their adjustment may not take as long as someone who has never done any sort of physical activity, they, too, will probably have a hard time at first.

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No matter what shape you’re in (yes, even if you think you’re a blob with no muscle), you will get in shape for jiu-jitsu if you just come train. It’s going to be hard at first — it’s hard for everyone who doesn’t train regularly. But soon enough, you’ll start to see and feel your body changing. Chonky bits will become smaller, and you’ll start seeing muscle definition. You’ll be able to train harder and longer, and your ability to do different moves will expand.

Virtually every person you’ll come across on the mats started their journey gasping for breath and needing a lot of water breaks. You may or may not ever develop arms to kill for and a crazy six-pack, but as long as you keep training, you’ll see yourself become more fit, more athletic version of who you are now. But of course, you’ll never get there if you don’t take the first leap.

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