Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: The Full Body Workout

A common fitness craze today involves a full-body approach to every workout. You hit every major muscle group in different ways to create “muscle confusion”, and prevent overtraining in one area and complacency in your workout routine. People pay big money for CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, and more.

But what if I told you these concepts were already built in to a martial arts workout that would also teach you how to defend yourself in all kinds of situations? Since you’ve already read the title of this article, you know I’m talking about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. After my standard one-hour class, plus 30 minutes of grappling, I am consistently sore in every major muscle group, and minor ones I didn’t know existed.

The beauty of a BJJ workout is each technique covers so many different body parts, and coordinates them into fluid movement. As an example, let’s look at a common technique – the escape from bottom side mount. In this position, you are on your back, and your opponent is lying across you, chest-to-chest. For the top person, it is probably the best position to control your opponent.

In our example, your opponent is cross-sides from your left. The technique to escape involves several steps, each of which uses multiple parts of your body.

Step 1: Control your opponent’s hips

Your left arm, closest to your opponent, should be cupped around their right hip. Your left hand will be on the side of their hip, your left forearm curling down around their thigh. With your right arm, work it through between the two of you until your right hand is against their left hipbone. This will take some work; it’s easier if you anticipate the cross-side control coming, and get on your side and put your right arm across your body before your opponent closes in on you. As much as you can, straighten out your arms and control the space between you and your opponent. If you can achieve a stiff-arm position with one or both arms, the rest of the escape will be MUCH easier.

Muscle groups used – chest, shoulders, arms

Step 2: Shrimp on to your side

The shrimping motion is perhaps the most common in all of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When you shrimp, you bridge up using one leg, putting your weight on the opposite shoulder. The bridge creates room underneath you to slide your free hip through, so you can be on your side instead of your back. It will be hard to bridge with most of your opponent’s weight on your chest…fortunately you don’t have to go very high for the shrimp to work. The higher you can bridge, however, the better, to affect your opponent’s balance and to create more room for you to move.

In this particular position, you will bring your right heel in toward your butt. Use that foot to bridge up, driving some of your weight on to your left shoulder. At this point, only two parts of your body should be in contact with the mat. Slide your left hip underneath your body, and end up on your side, facing your opponent. It is VERY important for you to keep that hip control from Step #1 as you do this.

Muscle groups used – legs, abdominals, lower & upper back

Step 3: Bring your bottom knee through

On your side, your left leg is on the bottom, and there should be room for it to move. Slide your left knee between you and your opponent, placing your left knee (or even better, your shin) into your opponent’s stomach. You will have to move your right arm away from its hip control as you do this, but that’s completely OK…your leg is stronger, and will do a better job of maintaining the space between the two of you. If you don’t have enough room, do another small shrimp away.

Muscle groups used – legs, abdominals

Step 4: Straighten up into full guard

Using your left leg as a lever, slide your body to your right, coming back to parallel with them. You will be moving from your side onto your back. Your right leg will come across and behind your opponent, your knee against their left hip. Make a circle with your left foot, rotating your left leg from in front of your opponent. If there isn’t enough room to get your left leg completely out of the way, either because your opponent is driving forward to keep it in place, or just because you’re not flexible enough…don’t worry about it. Just move a little farther to your right, using your right leg to push against their hip, to make the extra space necessary to free your left leg.

Muscle groups used – legs, abdominals, back

With a training partner, do three escapes from each side, then switch places…you’ll be in the top side mount, and your partner does the escape. After 15 minutes of switching places and doing the escape, you will feel the workout EVERYWHERE!

For more strain on your upper body, escape to your knees, rather than to the full guard. Instead of one shrimping motion, just enough to get your bottom leg through…make a couple of big shrimps, bringing your body around nearly 270 degrees. At this point, you will be in line with your opponent, your arms still straightened and maintaining strong hip control. Bring your knees under you. As your opponent moves forward, keep your arms locked out, and their momentum will lift your torso off the mat for you. This escape is used primarily when your opponent blocks the space for your bottom leg to come through…but it’s also a good change to the workout.

I lost 40 pounds in my first year of training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu primarily because I’m not very good. I have spent most of my sparring time being stuck in bottom side mount. Struggling with this escape over and over, several times a week, has not only helped my BJJ game, but greatly improved my overall fitness. I don’t need a meticulous 90-day training plan…a DVD system…a set of weights…an expensive machine…all I need is a mat, and someone to roll with!