Should You Be Cross-training For Jiu Jitsu?

By Joshua Rozenboom

Jiu Jitsu is an exercise like no other. There’s a good reason why trainers adapt martial arts like boxing and Muay-Thai for their gyms; the combination of aerobic and anaerobic movements give amazing workouts. What’s really great about Jiu Jitsu is that we get a good warm-up, a workout while drilling, AND we get to practice our art with resisting opponents, which is absolutely exhausting. Everyone from lifelong fitness junkies to professional athletes show up to Jiu Jitsu and find themselves unprepared for the type of conditioning it requires.

Should we assume, then, that Jiu Jitsu is all we need? Many people will say the best exercise for Jiu Jitsu is Jiu Jitsu, and they’re mostly right. As timing and leverage develop, we learn to execute movements with less force, which conserves energy and burns less oxygen. Your “cardio” increases not just in physical endurance, but your ability to pace yourself and make your opponent do the work. We also tend to develop a style based on our strengths, which in turn builds up the muscles we need to play our game.

Regardless, the benefits of cross-training, or supplementing your Jiu Jitsu with another form of exercise, go beyond improving your Jiu Jitsu game. Jiu Jitsu is hard on the body, and longevity for some practitioners means taking extra precautions. Here are a few of the ways people like to supplement their Jiu Jitsu:


CrossFit workouts are a combination of high-intensity calisthenics and plyometric exercises and high-rep, low-weight Olympic lifts. The workouts are great for building cardiovascular endurance and fast-twitch movements, they vary daily, and there is a friendly competitive aspect to CrossFit that makes it fun for the user. There is, however, a risk of injury for those not familiar with the movements, and CrossFit is known to invoke a cult-like loyalty… though we wouldn’t know anything about that, would we?


Yoga is an unlikely, but highly regarded, supplement to BJJ. Unlikely because of the public perception of yoga, but many Jiu Jitsu players consider it the perfect accompaniment to martial arts. Yoga, through steady movement and deliberate practice, improves flexibility, muscle strength and breathing. Some core concepts of yoga practice include creating balance and strength throughout the body, while connecting breathing and movement. It is also something that can easily be practiced at home; there are even websites and DVDs dedicated to yoga for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.


Olympic lifts are long believed to be the standard for building overall strength and endurance. Bench press, squats and deadlifts are a great baseline for conditioning the body, and the more complex lifts such as the snatch and the clean-and-jerk help develop explosive movement. These lifts, however, require careful practice to perfect in order to avoid injury. It is best to approach them with an experienced coach or partner. The upside is that you can find the necessary equipment at any standard gym, or even build your own weightlifting gym at home.

Personalized Athletic Training

On the higher end of the spectrum are facilities that offer customized training in strength, mobility, power and conditioning, and are sport specific for each client. This means a certified trainer helps develop a training program utilizing several different methods to tailor your workout to your athletic needs. These trainers might use kettlebells, Olympic lifting, plyometrics and more as part of a long-term holistic training regimen.

It seems like a lot to add more gym time to your already busy schedule, especially if you train Jiu Jitsu most of the week. However, the benefits of the additional workout are reflected in not just your Jiu Jitsu, but in how you feel all day long. It’s worth trying different workouts to find what works best for you. Swimming, biking, climbing, hiking; all of it has some added benefit and could be exactly what you need to supplement your training. And if working out doesn’t work out, then there’s nothing wrong with more Jiu Jitsu!

What do you like to do to supplement your Jiu Jitsu training? Let us know in the comments!