The simplest answer to the question of how to improve at BJJ is to simply spend more time on the mats. However, this answer is unsatisfying as it doesn’t provide and guidance on how to improve most efficiently. When you’re learning complex skills, like BJJ, you’ll often find that you eventually feel like you hit a point where your growth slows and you feel like you aren’t making progress anymore.
We sometimes call this a plateau, and while everyone experiences them you don’t have to passively accept that your growth has slowed! In order to combat plateaus we’ve put together 6 tips that will help push your to the next level!
Taking Care of Your Body
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most physically demanding sports there is. You’re pitting yourself against another person who is doing everything in their power to prevent you from achieving your goals. While its undeniable that skill is an important factor in achieving victory, you’ll find these victories elusive if your body keeps letting you down!
Whenever you hit a plateau, take a step back and assess your overall health:
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Are you eating well?
- Are you drinking enough water?
- Do you smoke?
- Are you over-training?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will allow you to keep improving in Jiu Jitsu by allowing you to train harder, for longer.
If you find yourself unable to do multiple rounds of rolling back to back or are excusing yourself from a roll halfway through because you feel like your heart is going to pound itself out of your chest then your cardio is holding you back!
Many BJJ gyms include some cardio exercise in the warmups but often these warmups are too short to really allow you to see significant improvements. Supplement your Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training with complementary exercises like swimming, rowing, running, cycling, jumping rope, or CrossFit.
In Jiu Jitsu you’ll often hear that technique triumphs over strength, and on a certain level that is correct. However, if two grapplers are at the same level then the stronger will usually prevail!
BJJ is a game of frames and levers, physics, and deception; however, between getting the frames and positions you’re looking for you’ll need to move your opponent and yourself. Get yourself to a gym. Focus on compound lifts like deadlifts, bench presses, and squats and reap the benefits.
Making Your Time on the Mats Count!
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu we love to toss around catchy (or kitschy) phrases that exemplify training philosophy. In this case drillers make killers fits the bill! If you want to improve your BJJ or if you feel like you’ve hit a plateau, then look no further than this simple adage!
Drills can be broken into two broad categories: solo drills and partner drills. Solo drills are great because they let you improve on your own, but ultimately partner drills are the gold-standard of drilling. If possible, you should try to find someone from your gym to meet with before or after class to drill with. Having a dedicating training partner like this will keep you motivated and allow you to practice motions that can only be done with the aid of another person!
Drill the fundamental movements of BJJ like shrimps, granby rolls, bridges, technical stand ups, and sit outs until they are second nature. With a partner, work guard passing and retention, securing the back hooks, knee on belly transitions, and more.
Positional sparring is one of the best ways for beginners and experienced grapples alike to make improvements to their BJJ game. Positional sparring is simple: pick a position (mount for example) and try to submit your partner while they try to escape. When one of you achieves their goal, stop, and reset. It can be done in any position for any duration of time and with a bunch of different goals.
What makes positional sparring a great way to punch past plateaus is it frees you from the fear of making a mistake. In a live roll you might be reluctant to throw an armbar from the mount because failure could mean having the position reversed. Instead of getting to practice your mount attacks you’ll then find yourself on the bottom of the guard. In positional sparring you’ll simply reset and get to resume practicing, allowing you to get the necessary repetitions to really dial in whatever technique you’re working on!
Positional sparring is a great way to improve positions that are your weakest links, whether they be offensive or defensive. If you are weak somewhere then in an open roll you’ll probably find that is where you spend the least amount of a time. Have a weak guard? It’ll be passed quickly. Have weak mount stabilization? You probably won’t stay on top for long then! But, with positional sparring you get to work these positions again and again!
One of the best ways that will help you get really good at BJJ is to learn to slow roll. I say figure out because it really does take time to learn how to “fight slowly” since that goes against our natural instincts. As a tool for improvement, though, there’s hardly anything better than it.
How do you get better at Jiu Jitsu with slow-rolling? Easy. Pick a partner with the same mindset (possibly your drilling partner mentioned above!). Slap and bump and go for a roll like normal. When you feel your partner get close to getting something, though, do not resist. Not even the slightest. Give them the sweep, pass, or reversal. The trick here is your partner should do the same for you.
The key to flow rolling is that you are moving through all of the positions, generating plenty of opportunities to feel the transitions between static states. As you learn what these transitions feel like you will see how bodies are supposed to move through them and develop the muscle memory necessary to hit them against resisting opponents.
Note: If your or your partner is always on top or always in a dominant position then you are not flow rolling! One of you may be trying to flow, but flowing requires a give and take between both partners.
The last tip for improving at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to train mindfully. This means coming into class with a plan and then doing your best to stick to it. If you want to improve your closed guard then you should actively try to play closed guard in every single roll. If you sweep your opponent in the first minute of a roll, don’t just grind out the remaining time on top! Give up a reversal, put yourself back in closed guard and keep on practicing!
Take note of when your closed guard (or whatever you’re working on) doesn’t function as it should. Try to recognize what went wrong so that you can take steps to prevent those same errors from happening again.
This sort of training requires thoughtfulness and dedication and there will undoubtedly be days where you just want to get on the mats and roll. However, if you want to get the most out of your time on the mats you’ll want to put in the effort and truly think about what is happening while you roll.
The answer to the question “how to get better at Jiu Jitsu” is not exactly complicated one, but neither is it simple. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an inherently physical sport so you’ll need to make sure that you’re taking care of your body in order to improve. Beyond raw physicality, you’ll want to drill the fundamental movements of the sport until they become second nature. Even better still is drilling with a partner – this will allow you to truly refine and polish techniques.
When you roll try to keep your goals in mind. Resist the temptation to just fight and instead try to recognize that rolling is just one more tool to improve your BJJ. And finally, remember that all plateaus are temporary and you will get past them. By following the tips above you will keep progressing steadily as you grapple your way through BJJ!