I’ve listened to my friends repeatedly argue over the best way to supplement BJJ conditioning to build up cardio and endurance. Running, strength training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are usually the topic of conversation, but rarely have I heard anyone suggest swimming.
Swimming is a great way to cross-train and build endurance for BJJ. It’s fun, almost effortless, and can be used as a meditative technique as well as a workout.
The Benefits of Swimming as a Conditioning Method
Swimming has enormous health benefits. The versatile movements used by swimmers such as the backstroke, butterfly, and breaststroke provide a great full-body workout that strengthens your arms, legs, core, and back muscles in addition to boosting overall endurance and cardio output.
Water provides resistance and helps to build and tone a swimmer’s muscles, allowing for low impact strength training.
Continuous swimming, such as swimming laps, increases heart rate and energy output because the swimmer needs to build up and maintain constant momentum. Swimming laps consistently can, therefore, increase cardiovascular performance and lung capacity.
Swimming is such a great workout that one study showed that swimming was better at increasing lung capacity than running.
Swimming is also great for those with injuries because the effect of gravity decreases in water, which allows your body to feel lighter and less weighed down. The buoyancy of water places less stress on joints while allowing for a more intense workout than an injured person would otherwise be able to achieve.
Swimming can also aid in recovery after hard training sessions, especially if you’re swimming in cold water. Cold water therapy reduces inflammation and lactic acid that builds up in muscles when training, leading to shorter recovery times.
Swimming can also boost mental health. It increases blood flow throughout the body, improves mood, decreases anxiety, and can be used as a meditative aid.
Using swimming as a tool for meditation can help during those tough times on the mats, as it can give you the tools you need to stay calm when in difficult situations.
What Does a Swimming Workout Look Like
One of the best ways to start a swimming workout regimen is to swim continuously for 20-30 minutes. You can swim laps or any general style that is easiest for you depending on your expertise level.
Absolute beginners should get used to freestyle swimming and sprints in the water before they try to take on long distances. There are several different swim workouts available.
Swimmers can choose the distance and length of workout depending on their level of fitness and swimming expertise.
Beginner workouts focus on building up the body to be able to swim long distances. A beginner swimmer may perform continuous laps with alternating kicks (with or without using a board) and then switch over to freestyle laps.
During this type of workout, swimmers will alternate swim styles for a certain number of laps, with 30 seconds to a minute rest between sets.
Ladders are a popular type of workout, where you swim for a set distance followed by a rest period, increasing the distance for every set. For example, one would swim 25 yards, then rest, 50 yards, rest, 75 yards, rest, etc.
More experienced swimmers can also use time to their advantage and perform a sequence of alternating laps for 1.5+ hours. This type of workout can help increase BJJ endurance dramatically.
Some swimmers also choose to use a HIIT approach to their swim workouts. They will swim at high intensity of 150 to 200 yards with a rest between each lap. After a few rounds, they’ll take an even more extended rest and then resume the cycle again.
The HIIT approach to swim workouts can be a great supplemental workout for BJJ since it mimics moments of explosivity sandwiched between moments of rest during rolls.
Breathing Rhythm Benefits From Swimming for BJJ
Since swimming increases lung capacity, it can be a useful tool in training breathing techniques for BJJ. Swimmers keep their face in the water while swimming and periodically take breaths. This rhythmic breathing in intervals can help tremendously during live rolls.
During rhythmic breathing, swimmers take a breath, place their face in the water, then start breathing out almost immediately as they swim. They must time their breaths and movement in such a way where they can turn their face for a breath without interrupting their strokes.
When you’re faced with the pressure of someone’s weight on top of you in side control or mount, you need to find this same sort of rhythmic breathing. Calming your breath can be the difference between continuing the fight or gassing out and tapping.
In this way, Jiu Jitsu is a lot like swimming. During a roll, when your “face is in the water” and you struggle to breathe, you’re fighting the sharks that are trying to smash you. But just like a swimmer, you have to find a fluid rhythm between breath and movement. This technique will help you conserve energy and stay calm during a hard roll.
Pool vs. Open Water Training
Not all mediums for swimming are created equal. Whether you choose to swim in a pool, lake, or ocean, keep in mind the differences in what you want to get out of your session.
Pool temperature can be easily regulated, but you have to consider the time of year and location when it comes to open water swimming. Do you want a warm, comfortable swim, or are you looking for cold water therapy? Your body works harder in cold water, so keep in mind the intensity of the workout you desire.
Coldwater therapy is hugely beneficial to your health. The Wim Hof Method of cold water immersion has become popular in recent years due to the benefits of muscle recovery, increased blood circulation, and fat loss.
Open water training will give you all of the benefits of cold water therapy when done at the right time. But, it usually takes some mental and physical preparation to get your body used to colder temperatures.
If you want to focus on achieving a certain number of laps, pool training might be a better choice since open waters can be rough at times, making it more challenging to track distance.
Swimming can be a great addition to your exercise regime when it comes to conditioning for BJJ. There are numerous physical and mental benefits and a variety of different workouts from which to choose.
Swimming can be used for physical exercise, meditation, and to train breathing techniques to support your BJJ journey. Swimming offers a vast array of options, easily allowing you to cater to your skill level and training goals.
Kimberly is a Jiu Jitsu purple belt who also holds a black belt in Siljun Dobup Korean Sword Arts. When she’s not on the mats, she enjoys immersing herself in nature or a good book. She trains in New Jersey with her 9-year-old son.