Is BJJ Cardio? (What About Strength?)

February 17, 2023

You may wonder if BJJ counts as cardio, so you don’t need to lace up those old shoes in the garage and hit the pavement. Well, I’ve got some good news for you.

BJJ is a combination of cardio and strength training. The high percentage of maximum heart rate reached when rolling along with manipulating human beings makes it an exciting workout.

But what makes BJJ cardio and strength? And what is the best form of cardio for BJJ?

Is BJJ Cardio Or Strength?

BJJ is cardio and strength training. Strength training isn’t isolated to one rep max on the squat, bench, and deadlift. I share the philosophy with legendary strength coach Vern Gambetta, “strength training is coordination training with appropriate resistance to develop strength you can use.”

So, strength training takes the form of the sport. Having to hold lapels to develop grip strength or pummelling for underhooks is all a form of strength training. Does that mean you abandon traditional BJJ weight training? Of course not.

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But to isolate strength development to the weight room is a narrow-minded view of physical development. Regarding cardio, you’ll know from experience the lung-busting feeling after a hard roll.

And many recreational BJJ players and competitors use BJJ as their form of cardio instead of running. However, if your goal is to be in peak shape and compete at higher levels, then additional BJJ conditioning is needed.

For example, touching on the lower and higher ends of the intensity spectrum to complement the middling intensity of BJJ. These could be various aerobic intervals on the lower end and short bursts of maximal efforts with complete rest on the higher end.

Is BJJ Enough Of A Workout?

Is BJJ Cardio or Strength

This depends on what you’re doing BJJ for and your training goals. If you are doing BJJ solely for physical activity, then BJJ is more than enough of a workout unless the class is purely technical drilling. Then you may need to roll some rounds.

If you’re a competitor, BJJ is still enough of a workout, but you will need to supplement your training with off-mat strength and conditioning options.

Best Cardio For BJJ

There are no best cardio exercises regarding BJJ. It all depends on your current fitness level, typical training week, life schedule, and how your training looks on the mat. This will dictate the type of cardio training you need for BJJ.

So, I will give you what I believe to be good BJJ cardio options that will work for most BJJ practitioners.

BJJ Solo Drill Circuits

My training philosophy revolves around the sport coming first and practicing the skills as often as possible. Further, I want anything I do to transfer to the mats. While going for long bike rides might be great for general cardio, most conditioning adaptations occur within the legs.

We know BJJ is a heavily upper-body dominant sport, so you may not feel much fitter on the mats. Hence why solo drill circuits can be such a potent cardio stimulus. You can manipulate the speed you perform these techniques to target various intensities.

For example, slow and smooth will keep your heart rate low and target aerobic adaptations with little fatigue. Moving at a fast pace in an interval training fashion will raise your heart rate, improving your ability to tolerate higher intensities.

An easy way to increase the intensity of solo drills is to pair standing and floor-based exercises, so you must get up and down often. For example, shadow wrestling, then shrimping followed by more shadow wrestling. Or using sprawls into double-leg shots.

BJJ Partner Drill Circuits

You can improve your technique retention further by using partner drills during your skill circuits. You’ve likely felt how quickly you can be out of breath when drilling one for one or two for two in class. You can do the same thing for conditioning.

For example, pummelling and fighting for underhooks would be a high-intensity option. Or you can continuously drill various passes or submissions you’ve learned in class to perfect them. For example, sit sweep to arm bar or K guard to the various submissions.

You can take it a step further and do live positional rounds for allotted time periods. This could be escaping the back for 3 minutes before switching roles.

Off-Feet Sprints

Not everyone has mats in their garage or a partner ready to train when it’s convenient. So, off-feet cardio equipment makes excellent conditioning options, especially for high-intensity sprints. Your risk of injury is massively reduced when sprinting on a stationary bike or rowing machine versus running.

Running sprints is an easy way to tear a hamstring. You don’t have these problems on off-feet cardio equipment. So, you can push the intensity much higher. For example, you can sprint for 10-20 seconds with a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio.


BJJ is cardio, but it is also strength training. Keep that in mind when embarking on extra strength & conditioning activities. Typically, the goal of extra training is to get what you don’t when doing BJJ. So low and high-intensity cardio, heavy-strength training, and power training are where you should focus.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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