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I started taking BJJ last month and I gas really quick, especially when we roll at the end of the session. I can roll with two guys, but then I feel really out of breath, and my muscles feel extremely weak. I'm even dizzy. What can I do to increase my endurance? I'm like 5'11" and 185 lbs, and pretty muscular so I don't think it's a strength issue, although my muscles do hurt afterwards. Is it cardio? I'm not eating the right thing beforehand?

Edit (about 2 months after starting):

This question is generating a lot of good input. I'd like to give an update that might help anyone that comes across this question. After about 2 months of rolling (4 days a week), and a few private lessons here's what I noticed.

1. As I gained a bit more tools (from classes, and especially private lessons) I exerted less energy when rolling because I was focused more on technique and not trying to muscle out of every situation. BJJ is more like chess than a show of brute strength. It's all about position and leverage, not strength.

2. I started taking BCAAs. This helped with muscle fatigue a ton.

3. Training hard every day really does boost your cardio. I'm gassing a lot less than when I started.

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I literally could not believe how gassed I was after 1 or 2 rolls when I started BJJ too. I don't think there's really any regular exercise the average person does at the gym or on team sports that prepares them for the type of strain you put on your cardio during grappling. –  Graham Jun 11 '13 at 17:30
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Chris, your update would make a good answer. –  Dave Liepmann Jul 25 '13 at 23:16
    
@DaveLiepmann To be fair, many of the existing answers contributed to what was (for me) the answer. I wish I could mark a single answer as 'the' answer, but I'm hard pressed to choose. I can't really take credit for the answer because what I found out was that every answer submitted here was part of the solution to my problem. –  Christopher Perry Jul 26 '13 at 0:29

9 Answers 9

but then I feel really out of breath

This is normally a cardio problem.

and my muscles feel extremely weak

This is normally a glycogen depletion problem (i.e. you've used up your available glycogen supplies).

I'm even dizzy

This can be a sympton of both cardio and glycogen shortage.

While glycogen shortage can be remedied somewhat by diet and/or supplements, increasing your fitness (aerobically for the cardio, and anaerobically for the glycogen stores) will be of the most help to you - but it will take time.

In the short term you could consider a supplement to help with the glycogen generation and release (what you choose will depend on what is available in your market). You could also try controlling the exercise somewhat so that you don't exhaust yourself aerobically.

Having said that, the results you are experiencing are good - it shows the workout is pushing you to your limit and this is how you improve.

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I started taking BCAAs and this helped my muscle fatigue. –  Christopher Perry Jul 25 '13 at 22:45
    
@ChristopherPerry Excellent suggestion - BCAAs are great for recovery and could really assist the turnaround time between workouts for the OP. –  slugster Jul 26 '13 at 0:36

1. BJJ is Hard

It is perfectly normal that you can't keep up in your first month. Just keep at it. You don't necessarily need to supplement your diet or training.

2. Cardio is Activity-Specific

Research and experience is fairly conclusive: one's cardio in a given sport does not transfer very well to other sports. Therefore, improving your cardio outside of class--like with running or weight training--will not help you in rolling. (NB: this is not the case with strength, which is best improved through non-sport-specific training.) You just need to roll more frequently, for as long and as hard as you can.

BJJ legend Marcelo Garcia is clear in his advice for improving rolling cardio: push yourself, roll harder, train more often:

If I want all my improvement in [jiujitsu], I don’t want to be improving my running, swimming, I only want to be improving upon jiu-jitsu.

...

This is the way I figured out: put in as much energy as I have.

Possible Issues

If you're training only once or twice a week, improvements will be very slow. If you're eating poorly, improvements will be very slow. If you're not sleeping enough, improvements will be very slow. If you're tiring yourself out with a ton of other training, improvements will be very slow. You haven't told us about your schedule, diet, sleep, or other training, so analyzing those elements is up to you.

Most likely, you just need another month or five of training before you don't feel totally gassed in every class. That's fine. Drink plenty of water, minimize booze and foods that disagree with you, get plenty of sleep, and train a lot.

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I was exactly the same way. Slowly your body adjusts, a lot is about muscle memory and learning to relax. When you first start, you tend to carry a lot of tension. When drilling, new people tend to be really stiff which wears them down, not so much cardio, but just muscle fatigue. Its just hard to maintain that kind of tension for entire training lessons. Eventually your body learns how to move better and it isn't so draining. During rolling its the same thing when you have to think your way through all the moves, when it doesn't quite work, rather than compensating with technique, you tend to use more muscle, so you tend to carry a lot of tension through rolls, as it slowly turns into muscle memory, it gets a lot more fluid and efficient, and then you also start learning to relax.

I don't think I'm that much fitter than when I started bjj, but I don't gas anywhere near as much as I used to.

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I think you are right. This is what my instructor, and a few other guys I roll with told me. Since I don't know much technique right now, I tend to try to muscle out of situations when I don't know what else to do. I'm finding if I just stay calm, and think a bit more then I get gassed less. Also, if I can't think of a way to get out, or how to overcome my partner I'll just let them take advantage, and ask for technical guidance. –  Christopher Perry Jun 12 '13 at 17:30
    
@ChristopherPerry I'm in about the same position. I started about a month ago, and I tire fast. But I'm improving slowly by doing it, and I think getting in a last roll even after I'm exhausted helps me improve faster (even if it is less practice for my opponent since I'm not much better than practice dummy by then.) –  TimothyAWiseman Jul 18 '13 at 22:17

Make sure you are breathing. Irregular breathing or holding one's breath (especially during rolls) is very common among beginners. If you're not sure how to be breathing for a given exercise, ask a senior student or the instructor.

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True. I noticed I was doing this. –  Christopher Perry Jul 25 '13 at 22:46

1. Relax

Just try to Relax. Sparring isn't a fight for life or death. It isn't even a competition. It should be a playful way to work on your grappling. Even if you go hard you should still be relaxed, a tense body just doesn't move that well. This takes some time, but you will get used to it.

2. Grapple

The best way to build grappling conditioning is to grapple. It has the nice side effect of also improving your grappling technique.

3. Never skip a roll

Never sit out because you are tired. This is when the real training begins. Use your technique, breathe, relax, hang in there. These are the most valuable rolling sessions there are. Once you get used to it, you can even start to push the pace.

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Number 3 is hard when my muscles are so fatigued I can barely grip a gi, or try to stand and break out of full guard. I'm eventually so tired I can't do anything but try to fend off submissions, which doesn't last too long when I'm gassed. When I'm not gassed I'm much better, but once I gas I'm pretty worthless. –  Christopher Perry Jun 18 '13 at 20:35
    
@ChristopherPerry So what if you're gassed? If you're not vomiting or getting injured you're learning something. –  Dave Liepmann Jul 25 '13 at 21:22

You just started. You use a lot of energy for a lot of inefficient movements. Until these movements become second nature to you, they will drain too much energy. The more experienced you get, you will learn to make the right movement at the right time, and thus be much more efficient with your available energy. What I am saying is, your bridge is not as efficient as the bridge of a purple belt. Same thing with your shrimp. And now add to it that you're likely defending the entire match since you just started, so you're probably constantly freaking out as to which of these aliens moves you have to perform as well.

In addition, Cardio is specific to the activity. BJJ Cardio barely translated to wrestling cardio which is not the same as boxing cardio, nor is it the same as MMA Cardio. The way to improve BJJ cardio is to do BJJ.

Basically, do more BJJ so you are more efficient at it. And do more BJJ to build better BJJ cardio.

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In my brief experience with BJJ, I recall hearing that rolling is similar to sprinting. I don't know if that will directly translate, but perhaps one way to increase your endurance is to do 'sprints' of exercises that you would do in the context of rolling. You just have to find a willing partner, haha. Though, in the beginning, technique is more important than speed, so don't let technique suffer for speed. Please note, this is merely an idea. I'm no expert in this field. Be safe about it!

You may have opportunities to roll during open mat practices. If this is the case, try finding a partner and doing so for longer periods than the typical sparring match of a 2-5(?) minutes.

Ultimately, practice will make a huge difference. The more you do it, the easier it will be to do so for longer periods of time. You'll learn when to expend energy and when to save energy. Easiest way - don't stop. Just stay in it, and you'll get there.

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From my experience of training BJJ, I've found that this kind of 'sprint' training does help, but nothing is as beneficial as regular training and rolling. Try to relax when rolling and concentrate on breathing. If you hold your breath when rolling you'll, obviously, run out and gas.

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Just roll, it's as simple as that. The more you do it the better! Matt Thornton Head of SBG once said he holds an hour class of rolling where no one is allowed a rest or drink of water. I've been doing this for about a year, it has massively helped my endurance and my skills as I cannot rely on power or speed.

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