Improving your Cardiovascular Fitness for BJJ

A very common question that comes up around the topic of strength and conditioning for jiu jitsu is improving your fitness on the mats. We’re going to explore this question today.

When regarding “fitness” and how “fit” we are, we’re referring to our cardiovascular system - heart, lungs, blood vessels etc. We want to improve the power, efficiency, and recoverability of this system.

We can achieve this through 3 major means – anaerobic alactic, anaerobic  and aerobic training. Definitions below:

Anaerobic Alactic

Short duration—for movements lasting up to 10 seconds

Does not use oxygen

No lactic acid produced

Anaerobic Lactic

Moderate duration—30 seconds to 2 minutes

Does not use oxygen

Produces lactic acid


Long duration—longer than three minutes

Uses oxygen

No lactic acid produced

We can see from the information above that there are 3 energy systems to deal with. We can get into the weeds on these, and we will, but I want to draw your attention to something in particular which is the aerobic system.

Your aerobic system is the lifeblood of your CV system, so to speak. If you’re strong and efficient aerobically, you’ll have a much easier time both developing your other systems, as well as enjoying all the benefits of a robust aerobic system – better recovery, lower resting HR, lower blood pressure, better cognition (kcals and sugars available to think), better efficiency with the fuel available to you, the ability to be metabolically flexible and swap between burning carbs vs fat for fuel, the list goes on.

Yes, you can certainly improve your anaerobic system, both in the presence and absence of lactic acid. However, I make the argument that most of this benefit will be derived from your ability to gain grappling specific conditioning on the mats – by pushing yourself in your rounds. There’s a conversation past this for professional athlete where this training should be considered and implemented.

The truth is all sports have a cadence, a rhythm, and you need to be an expert in the ebb and flow of a sport before you can hope to be very efficient at it. As well as the cognitive demands of the sport involved. All this decision making, and plan execution requires calories and oxygen as well. Best to be efficient with what you have.

You want interval training? Rounds + Position training at high tempo – an article coming on this in the future!

Aerobic Training

With that established – we need to improve our aerobic system – where does that leave us?

Aerobic Power

Total amount of oxygen usable for an intense period of exercise   (x amount of minutes)

Aerobic Capacity

Total usable oxygen over a very long period of exercise

How do we improve these?

Engage in aerobic exercise 1-2+ times per week. This can be anything from running and cycling to swimming and rowing. The key is to get your heart rate up and maintain it for a sustained period of time, ideally 40min+. This type of training will help to increase your aerobic power and capacity, both of which are essential for success in jiu-jitsu.

Training tip:

It can be helpful to take your round length based on rank (blue, purple etc.. ) and evaluate your aerobic power over that period of time. We use kcals on an aerodyne bike for example, a rower or similar modality would be perfectly sufficient also.

That will give you an idea of how much you can output over that period of time, a metric that can be tracked can be improved.

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