Gassing Out in BJJ: Why Rolling is Not Enough for Improving Your Cardio

Introduction: The Reality of Gassing Out in BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a physically demanding martial art that requires not only technical skill but also exceptional cardiovascular endurance. Many practitioners rely solely on rolling (sparring) to improve their cardio, only to find themselves gassing out during intense matches. This article explores why rolling is not enough to enhance your cardio and provides actionable strategies to boost your endurance, ensuring you stay strong from the first to the last minute on the mat.

Why Rolling Alone Falls Short

The Specificity of Training Principle

The principle of specificity states that training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is preparing. While rolling in BJJ does improve certain aspects of your cardio, it does not fully address the diverse energy systems required for optimal performance. Rolling predominantly engages the aerobic system but often neglects the anaerobic systems, crucial for explosive movements and sustained high-intensity efforts.

Limited Intensity Variation

During typical rolling sessions, the intensity fluctuates based on your partner's skill level and the flow of the match. This inconsistency can lead to gaps in your cardiovascular development. Without structured intensity variation, your body fails to adapt to higher levels of exertion, leaving you vulnerable to fatigue during competitions.

Understanding BJJ's Energy Demands

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Energy Systems

BJJ relies on a complex interplay of aerobic and anaerobic energy systems:

  • Aerobic System: Provides energy for prolonged, moderate-intensity activities by using oxygen to metabolize fats and carbohydrates.
  • Anaerobic System: Supplies energy for short bursts of high-intensity efforts without oxygen, primarily using stored glycogen.

Successful BJJ athletes must develop both systems to maintain endurance and execute powerful techniques without gassing out.

Effective Strategies to Improve BJJ Cardio

1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Description: HIIT involves alternating periods of intense activity with short recovery intervals. This method enhances both aerobic and anaerobic systems, improving overall endurance and power output.

Example HIIT Workout for BJJ:

  • Warm-up: 10 minutes of light jogging or jumping rope
  • Work: 30 seconds of sprinting or high-intensity exercise (e.g., burpees, kettlebell swings)
  • Rest: 30 seconds of rest or low-intensity activity (e.g., walking)
  • Repeat: 8-10 cycles
  • Cool-down: 5-10 minutes of stretching or light activity

2. Circuit Training

Description: Circuit training involves performing a series of exercises targeting different muscle groups with minimal rest between sets. This method boosts muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness simultaneously.

Example Circuit for BJJ:

  • Push-ups: 15-20 reps
  • Pull-ups: 10-15 reps
  • Bodyweight Squats: 20-25 reps
  • Plank: 1 minute
  • Medicine Ball Slams: 15-20 reps
  • Rest: 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat: 3-5 rounds

3. Long, Steady-State Cardio

Description: Incorporating long-duration, low-intensity cardio sessions helps build a solid aerobic base, essential for recovery and maintaining a steady pace during extended matches.

Example Activities:

  • Running or cycling for 30-60 minutes at a moderate pace
  • Swimming for 30-45 minutes at a steady pace
  • Rowing for 20-40 minutes at a moderate intensity

4. Specific BJJ Drills and Sparring

Description: Complement your conditioning routine with specific BJJ drills and positional sparring. Focus on high-intensity drills that mimic competition scenarios to enhance your sport-specific endurance.

Example Drills:

  • Guard passing drills with a partner: 2-3 minutes of continuous movement
  • Positional sparring: 3-5 minutes focused on specific positions (e.g., mount escapes, guard retention)
  • Shark tank: Rotate fresh partners every minute while you stay in, maintaining high intensity

Nutrition and Recovery

Proper Fueling

Consuming the right nutrients before and after training sessions is crucial for optimizing performance and recovery. Focus on a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Hydration is equally important to maintain peak cardiovascular function.

Pre-Training Meal:

  • Complex carbohydrates (e.g., oatmeal, brown rice)
  • Lean protein (e.g., chicken, fish)
  • Vegetables

Post-Training Meal:

  • Protein shake or smoothie
  • Whole foods meal with a mix of protein, carbs, and fats (e.g., grilled chicken with quinoa and vegetables)

Adequate Rest

Recovery is essential for improving cardiovascular endurance. Ensure you get enough sleep (7-9 hours per night) and incorporate rest days into your training schedule to allow your body to repair and adapt.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Training

Tracking Workouts

Keep a log of your workouts, noting intensity, duration, and how you feel during and after each session. This helps you identify patterns, track improvements, and make necessary adjustments.

Assessing Cardiovascular Improvements

Regularly test your cardiovascular fitness through standardized tests (e.g., VO2 max, beep test) or by noting your performance in specific BJJ drills and sparring sessions. Adjust your training based on these assessments to ensure continuous progress.

Conclusion: Roll Smart, Train Smarter

While rolling is an integral part of BJJ training, it is not enough to develop the cardiovascular endurance required to excel in competitions. By incorporating structured high-intensity interval training, circuit training, steady-state cardio, and sport-specific drills, you can significantly enhance your cardio and prevent gassing out on the mat. Pair your training with proper nutrition, adequate rest, and regular progress monitoring to stay ahead of the competition and achieve peak performance in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


  1. Bompa, T. O., & Haff, G. G. (2009). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Human Kinetics.
  2. McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2014). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  3. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. (2017). American College of Sports Medicine.

By following these strategies, you'll be well on your way to improving your cardio for BJJ and ensuring that you never gas out during a match again. Roll smart, train smarter, and dominate on the mat!

Weekly Tips for Physical Dominance!

Yes, I Want to be More Athletic!