Improving your BJJ: Training, Recovery, and Yoga

In this post, I discuss how yoga complements jiu jitsu. I start by emphasizing how consistent training is the key to progress in grappling and segue into the role of maintaining flexibility and mobility in performance. I conclude with the physical and conceptual connections between jiu jitsu and yoga

Training jiu jitsu
training Simply put, the best way to improve your jiu jitsu is to train as much as possible. If your only goal is to get better at jiu jitsu, why run when you could be training? Nothing else can replicate the physical and mental needs of BJJ. Other supplementary activities like weightlifting or running can put similar loads on the body, but they lack the grappling-specific movements and technical aspects.

I believe in Marcelo Garcia’s approach to conditioning, using intensity in training to achieve it. By grappling with intensity, you can develop cardio, muscular endurance, strength, timing, sensitivity, and mindset, all within the context of jiu jitsu. Most importantly, it sharpens technique, which rises above strength and speed. My point is that given enough access to mats and training partners, drilling and rolling are the best ways to improve grappling proficiency.

Of course, if your immediate goal is different, another approach may be more appropriate. For example, in preparation for a competition, the improvements in strength from supplementary weight lifting might provide a greater advantage, given the circumstances of fighting timed matches with a points system.

Recovery, Mobility, and Flexibility
Recovery is an important consideration when training consistently. Without adequate recovery, performance on the mat suffers and your chances of injury increase. Consistent training means knowing when and how to rest. Recovery can be more passive like getting quality sleep and nutrition, or more active like prehab, rehab, mobility work, etc.

Prehab and rehab will depend on the individual needs of each grappler. By identifying and addressing any imbalances, you can reduce the chance of injury. In addition to muscular weaknesses, mobility and flexibility are also crucial. Though similar, mobility addresses the ability to move through a range of motion, while flexibility refers to the actual range of motion itself. There are a lot of online resources on improving both, but finding out what works best for you will take some research and experimenting. Kelly Starrett is a big name in mobility, and his site, MobilityWOD, is a good place to start.

While mobility and flexibility can affect our grappling ability, it is also important to remember that jiu jitsu can work for anybody. Those will come naturally as your body begins to adapt to the physical demands. Don’t let inflexibility discourage your jiu jitsu. It is possible for anatomical differences to limit mobility or flexibility, so the “ideal” movement or range of motion varies from person to person. Like jiu jitsu, the focus of mobility and flexibility work should be improving oneself, not comparing with others.

Keep in mind that being flexible everywhere isn’t always good. Hyperflexibility/hypermobility can actually make you more susceptible to injury. Your program should cater to your BJJ/fitness goals and your body’s needs and limitations. More is not always better.

A practice that has helped me greatly is yoga. As a system, it works on many of the same tenets and positions of modern flexibility and mobility regimens. The static holds also develop stability and isometric strength. A study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of hot yoga (yoga in a heated room) and found that hot yoga improved dead lift strength, and flexibility in the lower back, hamstring, and shoulder (Tracy & Hart, 2013). Hot yoga has unique benefits from the integration of yoga and heat, but regular yoga practice is still powerful. Comparing yoga to static stretches, a study in the International Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed that yoga led to greater improvements in hip and shoulder range of motion (Sager & Grenier, 2014). Along with mindfulness and attention to breath, yoga can be a great complement to your jiu jitsu.
There are a lot of great free resources on yoga, but I recommend signing up for an intro class orpackage at a local yoga studio. Like jiu jitsu, form is crucial for yoga. Without it, it is easy to injure yourself, especially at the end range of motion. Leave your ego at the door and respect your body’s limits. By having an instructor observe and correct your form, you can develop a better sense of how the poses should feel. Having that awareness and knowledge will make any home practice much more beneficial.

Jiu jitsu and yoga are both extremely complex systems of human movement; very few other activities come close to the robust vocabulary of body positions and movement patterns the two encompass. In jiu jitsu, the most basic objective is control. The submission is the ultimate expression of control; the opponent has no means of resistance. In order to control someone else, we must first control ourselves. The endless hours spent drilling and rolling builds sensitivity and body awareness. Through yoga, we can focus on learning to control our own bodies in a more introspective setting. I have a great deal of respect for MMA fighter Jonathan Brookins’ notion of using yoga as a measuring stick. Brookins, the Ultimate Fighter season 12 winner, took a break from MMA to study yoga in India and describes yoga as his way to regularly examining his body and mind.

Other Supplementary Training:
With all that said, where does supplementary training like weightlifting, swimming, running, etc. fit into all this? Do it if you enjoy it! If you are happier and healthier, your jiu jitsu reflect that. Each form of supplementary training has its own unique benefits. Weightlifting builds muscle and strength, which helps prevent injuries down the road. Swimming is a good full-body workout that is also low impact on the joints. Other activities might include cross training other martial arts, kettle bells, cycling, and other sports. Figure out what works best for you and your body. Be open to trying different activities and do what you love. That’s why we do jiu jitsu.

Tracy, B. L., & Hart, C. E. (2013). Bikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 822-830.

Sager, M., & Grenier,
S. (2014). Comparison of Yoga Versus Static Stretching for Increasing
Hip and Shoulder Range of Motion. Int J Phys Med Rehabil, 2(208), 2.