Building a Bigger Engine for BJJ



I often hear high level practitioners recommend against conditioning outside of BJJ, that the only thing you should be doing to improve your cardio for jiu-jitsu is more jiu-jitsu. While there is some truth to this if you are training with 5-6 times a week with training partners of equal or higher level (your cardio should be fine). but what if you can only make it to BJJ two or three times a week? For the first time in my career, barring time off due to injury, I find myself here.

Hillary and I are on the last few weeks before our first baby comes. And as we try to do our best to figure out the whole nesting thing, BJJ is taking a backseat for a while. BJJ will still be part of our lives once baby is here, but I found myself struggling with my cardio already. Scrambles became tougher, passing sequences I was accustomed to were cut short as I needed a moment to recompose myself and catch a breath.

A few weeks ago, I took action and asked my friend Jeremy, owner of Zombie BJJ, about the rower gathering dust in the corner of the gym. No one used it besides kids sitting on it and strapping in before being told to get out of there. Some bartering later, I struck a deal and a few gis and some cash got me a rower in great condition.

I have never used a rower before. A deep dive on YouTube and few workouts after I am a believer.

The magic of the rower is that since it uses so many muscle groups, you can go really hard on it and recover fairly easily. While I have been lifting weights or doing callisthenic exercises since I was 14, it always mostly focused on strength training. Every previous attempt I had of working on my cardio included running, and no matter how much prep mobility and soft tissue work I did, I would end up with plantar fasciitis. Once that hit, I was sidelined from everything for a week or two until I could walk again.

However, I have been able to row in the mornings and train in the afternoon without an issue. I even row an hour or two before training on Saturdays.

I like rowing because the rower’s computer has an enormous amount of data you can geek out on. A computer saves your workouts and makes it easy to race against yourself. Not only on single distances, but how long can you sustain a certain speed on a specific stroke rate. Concept 2, the company who makes the gold standard of rowers, maintain an amazing website where you can look up workouts and see what other people of your age and size are doing in that specific distance, giving you goals to shoot for.

While you can pick up a Concept 2 rower just about anywhere—you can even get one Amazon—they are often floating on Craigslist. If you are lucky enough, you can snag one for $500. That is probably less than a trip to an IBJJF tournament when you consider registration, hotels, and flights.

If you are interested in getting started with rowing, I recommend you checkout the Darkhorse Rowing YouTube channel. They also offer programming. I am currently using the programming from Garage Athlete. you can see some sampling programming on his site, and I highly recommend his programming.

About two months into my rowing journey, as I learn more about it, I feel like a white belt again. I am still learning every row and refining my technique. I am finding a love for cardio training that I have never experienced before. I am already seeing benefits and training partners are asking what am I doing for my cardio and complaining that big guys shouldn’t move as much as I do.

If you are struggling with your cardio give rowing a try.

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