Warm ups are generally regarded as the BJJ equivalent of busy work. No one really likes to do them – and (according to the memes at least) only purple belts are brazen enough to actively shirk them.
Frankly, I agree with this sentiment and have never really loved warm ups in any athletic event, but I am aware of how important they are. Given that we need them, I have spent lots of time devising a Jiu Jitsu warm up routine that’s fun, relevant, and most importantly, will not become boring after a while. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
The Jiu Jitsu warm up problem
First of all, let’s make one thing abundantly clear – warming up is an essential part of any athletic activity. In fact, when it comes to a combat sport, where live sparring happens on a regular basis, a good warm up is even more important.
So, what’s the issue with BJJ warm ups? Well, people that are involved in something as fun and dynamic as Jiu Jitsu find warming up boring. Even though everyone knows that a Jiu Jitsu warm up routine helps protect them from injuries and puts their body in the right state for training, people still hate doing warm ups.
What I usually see is one of two things – people either figure out ways to skip warm ups completely, or find ways to do the warm ups with the least amount of effort.
In the first case, I’ve heard some excuses about why people are not showing up on time that are so creative, they’d put school kids justifying why they skipped class to shame. Skipping the warm up is usually not something most BJJ academies punish, so people get away with it, especially those with a rank of purple belt and above.
To be honest, I can understand where they’re coming from – doing the same warm up for 7+ years is not fun.
In the case of people that actually show up for warm ups, but then slack through them, the situation is even worse. They’re not just wasting their time, and achieving nothing (because they’re not actually doing the war up) but they also start training with a negative state of mind.
Look at it this way – someone is making you do something you don’t want to. You end up doing it, but sulking through the process, and when the time comes to do what you love, you’re not in a good mood and may not enjoy training.
So, how do we solve this puzzle? How do we come up with Jiu Jitsu warm up routines that are fun, effective, and won’t chase people away faster than a no-touch martial art triple black belt seminar?
Jiu Jitsu warm up routines – what are we doing wrong?
There is no one unified way of warming up for Jiu Jitsu that is done around the world. Different academies do different warm ups. They range from the standardized warmups of mega-affiliations like Gracie Barra, to some academies completely skipping warm ups altogether and jumping straight into training.
It is ok for everyone to do what they believe works for them. However, the fact remains that a Jiu Jitsu warm up routine is essential. It should not only prepare the body for training and help prevent injuries, but it should also get people in the mood for training and help them focus on what is coming next.
The demands of BJJ
Jumping in with no warm up is a very bad idea when it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training. In order to be ready for the demands of BJJ, you need to be loose, warmed up, and in the right state of mind.
Training Jiu Jitsu doesn’t just require you to move your body in an isolated fashion. What is expected of you is to move your body at different paces through a series of unusual and often unpredictable motions, while someone else is actively resisting your efforts.
Learning new techniques is a bit less demanding physically than drilling or rolling but requires a lot of focus and mental effort. Rolling is best described as organized chaos and requires not just the ability to quickly physically adapt to every situation, but also to solve complicated problems while under pressure.
As a contact sport BJJ demands speed, strength, explosiveness, conditioning, flexibility, mobility, and any other athletic ability you might think of. In fact it often requires a few of these at the same time, which is no easy feat under the best of circumstances.
Engaging in such a physically and mentally demanding activity without warming up reduces your capacity to perform your best and increases the likelihood of injury.
What a “normal” Jiu Jitsu warm up looks like
Most BJJ warmups are centered around light cardio – the classic run in a circle around the gym is a perfect example. Others may stick with stationary cardio exercises like jumping jacks and skipping in place instead of running.
This type of cardio training is usually paired with some basic mobility work, involving doing circles with all joints, perhaps some squats, push-ups, and crunches.
Some BJJ gyms add line drills which include animal walks and specific BJJ movements like hip escapes, bridges, and technical stand-ups as part of the warm up.
The problem with organizing a Jiu Jitsu warm up routine in such a fashion is that people grow bored of it quickly. Moreover, even the specific training portion of doing BJJ movements for reps or time gets tiring after a while and you get people that are slacking through it.
Apart from the monotony that usually comes with BJJ warm ups there are two more main issues: they don’t really prepare people appropriately for the physical demands of the training to follow, and they definitely do not put them in the right mindset for it.
BJJ warm up drills that make sense
In a quest to figure out the perfect Jiu Jitsu warm up routine I managed to find out just one thing for sure: there’s no set warm up routine that will do the trick in the long run. Whatever the choice and order of exercises and drills might be, after a while it will have the same effect on people – monotony and boredom.
So instead of doing the same warm up every day, it is best to follow a basic structure which allows for flexibility and change while covering all of the essential elements of a BJJ warm up.
First up, regardless of their profession, most people spend at least a few hours a day seated, whether it is at a desk or during their commute. Countering the effects of this with mobility drills is a great way to kick off warm ups.
Mobility exercises I like to use are moves based on Yoga, gymnastics, and dancing. Some of the moves dancers and ballerinas use to warm up are tailor-made for Jiu Jitsu. The “natural movement” type of exercises also fit great here. Deep squatting routines and upper body mobility flows are great ways to loosen people up for BJJ.
After mobility work I like to go one of two ways: animal drills or gymnastic exercises. When I am using animal drills, I have people do them for the length of the gym, and I am always making sure the motions they’re doing are connected to the motions that we’ll work on in the technical part of training.
With gymnastics, I either pair a few gymnastic exercises based on core strength, balance, and upper body strength. Ginastica Natural is also an awesome way to do quick flows that cover all of the cardio and strength needs for grappling training.
Finally, I like to get people in the mood for BJJ – that means letting them roll. These warm up rolls aren’t full intensity, but rather “chess rolls” with very specific rules and with precise objectives. The rules for the roll are that they approach it as playing chess – one person does a move, then waits until the other person does theirs, with no resistance and no finishing of submission holds.
The tasks people get during these slow rolls have to do with getting to the position/move that is the subject of the day. For example, if we’re training back takes, I encourage both people to look for the back during the chess roll more than they do when they usually roll.
Putting it all together
What does a Jiu Jitsu warm up routine that is not boring, prepares people for grappling, and turns them on mentally would look like?
Start off with deep squat holds, multi-directional lunging, and chest openers like tabletops, cat/cow poses, and thoracic bridges. I like to organize things as short flows instead of counting, which gives everyone the ability to spend more time in a certain position if they feel the need to. About 3-5 minutes of this is perfect.
Light cardio/strength drills
Animal movement drills or gymnastic exercises done in circuit fashion for reps or time, with few progressions to make sure you can accommodate everyone or a Ginastica natural routine for 3-5 minutes is more than enough to get everyone’s heart pumping.
Simply have people pair up, give them a task, and let them start rolling under “chess” rules. Another 3-5 minutes here and you’re ready for class.
Remember to mix it up
Remember that you will need to change things up every now and then. I usually switch exercises or routines up every few weeks, maybe sometimes throwing an entire portion out, depending on how I gauge the mood in the room to be.
Bottom line, if you stick to the three-part setup for the warm up, and you switch exercises up regularly, you’ll have a bunch of people ready and willing to grapple!
This setup of using blocks of mobility, strength and cardio work, and slow rolling is not the silver bullet solution to the Jiu Jitsu warm up puzzle, but it is one that has worked for me. In 10-15 minutes people will not only warm up properly for Jiu Jitsu class, but also settle into the perfect state of mind to train.
If you aren’t in charge of warm ups this may feel like a tease – as you’ll still have to do your endless shrimps down the mat. But this recipe works just as well at the beginning of an open mat or garage training session! Try it out the next time you are told to warm up on your own and get the most out of your training.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.