I hate running. If I could base an entire article on my thoughts, this would be a running-hatred article. However, evidence shows that running for BJJ is not something you want to glance over, particularly if you are a competitor looking to improve your conditioning efficiently. While it is by no means something, you have to do, finding a place for some form of running is a smart thing to do. Even if you hate it.
Running for BJJ at a Glance: Pros and Cons
Running is not as simple as getting shoes on, going outside, and starting to run. Okay, it can be, but if you want to achieve something apart from getting tired, you’ll need to understand what running does to your body and how the benefits of it (and the disadvantages) can carry over to your performance on the mats.
Benefits of Running for BJJ
Running will help you perform better on the mats by improving the efficiency of your energy systems (more on them below).
One clear benefit of running is that you can target all three of the body’s energy systems by changing the intensity and duration of the runs.
Moreover, you can use running for BJJ as a conditioning tool with next to no equipment (good shoes are a must).
Running also helps you strengthen your joints and ligaments when done correctly and on the right surface.
A hidden benefit of running that is really important for Jiu Jitsu is that you will have to learn how to breathe if you want to run successfully. This has a direct carryover to grappling, as figuring out how to control your breath when someone is not trying to bend your joints and strangle you, is easier.
Running will also help you become more explosive, albeit it will only carry over to the standing portions of your BJJ game.
Disadvantages of Running for BJJ
On the negative side of running for BJJ, there are some things that you can’t ignore when picking running as your main conditioning tool.
To begin with, if you’re planning to run outside, you must factor in weather conditions. All it takes is a prolonged light rain, and you’re stuck at home, wishfully looking outside. Unless you live in a tropical paradise, you’re all good if that’s the case.
Of course, you could run on a treadmill, elliptical, and the like, but that will require a gym membership and the dedication to heading to the gym to do your runs.
Something that is really, really important to consider is the impact running has on your joints. While it can make them stronger, your knees will suffer over time if you do it on an inappropriate surface, like concrete, asphalt, or any surface with no suspension capabilities.
In terms of muscle development, you only get lower body work done while running, so you can develop imbalances over time if you’re not supplementing with upper body strength training.
There is the inevitable risk of injury, although it is not greater than training BJJ or any other sport if we’re completely honest.
Finally, I’ll mention the main reason I personally hate running as a drawback – it is boring. The repetitive nature of running and the time it takes to execute it are big drawbacks for me and most grapplers I’ve discussed this with.
Programming Running for BJJ
Running is a conditioning tool that helps you improve the capacity of your energy systems. Your energy systems are metabolic circuits that utilize energy in a way that helps you achieve certain physical goals.
For example, if you want to run a marathon, you need to be able to use the aerobic energy system to its maximum capacity. That system uses oxygen to activate metabolic processes in your body, supplying the body with the energy to run for a long time but at a very low intensity.
The anaerobic lactic system is an energy system that does not require oxygen for energy production and can enable you to run at moderate intensity for a moderate time (90 seconds to 3 minutes).
A byproduct of this system is lactic acid, which is, opposite to many people’s opinions, good for the body, as it gets involved immediately in the aerobic energy system as a substrate.
Finally, there is the anaerobic alactic system, which will help you sprint at maximal intensity but only for a very short duration (under 15 seconds).
When looking at the demands of grappling, you’ll notice that you’ll need to be working at a moderate pace for a predetermined time (anaerobic lactic system), you’ll need to explode from time to time (anaerobic alactic system), and you’ll need to do it over and over again against different opponents (aerobic system).
That means that running for BJJ needs to address all three energy systems if you truly want to have a carryover of the conditioning to the mats.
A good rule of thumb is to dedicate at least 8 weeks per energy system development and focus on developing one while you maintain the others.
That means that you should start with 8 weeks of aerobic work, at least three times per week, and work to increase the time you’re running every time you train.
Next, you’ll focus on the anaerobic lactic system using interval training. Switching between moderate intensity for 1–3 minutes and at least the same amount of time of resting or very slow running will help you develop this system.
Finally, leave the anaerobic alactic system last. This is where all you will be doing when running for BJJ is sprinting, all out, for 10–15 seconds and resting completely (>3 minutes) in between sprints.
Different methodologies will help you with specific programming of running for BJJ. Still, you must remember to include long, steady distance work, interval work, and all-out sprinting.
Tips on Running For BJJ
The following few tips will ensure that running for BJJ, as long as you have it programmed right, will yield more benefits and less of drawbacks:
- Warm Up and Stretch – Whatever you choose as your warm-up, make sure that the joints in your lower body are loosened up and that your body’s temperature is slightly increased Vigorous mobility work for the joints will prepare you for this. If you are sprinting, warm up the running muscles by running for a short while at a slow pace, and include jumps in your warm-ups.
- Footwear – The shoes you wear will make all the difference. They might even help protect your knees if you choose to run on hard surfaces like pavements and streets. Make sure that you pick a pair of running shoes that won’t compress your toes and will feel comfortable to wear. While you can ask for advice, keep in mind that picking running shoes is a very individual choice, and you must look at comfort first.
- Compression Gear – Wearing the spats you wear for BJJ is going to help you with blood flow and improve your recovery If you’re dead set on using running for BJJ conditioning, take your spats with you, especially on those long-distance runs.
- Hydration and Nutrition – Make sure you are hydrated enough before training, but do not run with a belly full of water. The same goes for food, as running will cause food to move around your stomach. No food for at least a couple of hours before a run. When you’re running long distances, you need to carry a hydration drink with you, preferably something with electrolytes and sugar, to help you fuel your run.
- Don’t Overdo It – You are using running for BJJ conditioning, so remember that you are a grappler, not a runner. Do not let running tire you out too much for Jiu Jitsu training because the combined fatigue from both activities will put you in a state of overtraining, which is difficult to eliminate.
Running for BJJ is definitely not my first choice of conditioning tool. Still, I have used it throughout the years in preparation for tournaments, and it has been delivered every single time. Despite some of the more obvious drawbacks, running has its benefits, and when programmed optimally, it can carry over to the mats and improve your grappling performance significantly.
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.