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Tell me if this has ever happened to you. Towards the end of you Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, the instructor tells everyone that you are going to “roll” now. Everyone gets their partner, except for you. You look around to see who is left to spare with – and there he is! The most muscular, jacked, and tan human being you have ever seen.
He walks over to you and says “hi my name is blah, blah, blah”. You couldn’t hear a word he said because you are only thinking about how you are going to deal with this future Mr. Olympia.
When the match starts, he throws you around the mat like a ragdoll. But after a few moments, something strange happens. He becomes completely exhausted and now it is “you” who is throwing this monster around the mat.
This happens quite frequently in BJJ schools and is a great lesson for the biggest and smallest practitioner to learn. Overly large muscles do not equal skill on the mat. In fact, they can serve as a detriment in most cases.
I’m sure that you’ve heard this before. The bigger the muscle is, the more oxygen that it needs. Well, this is completely true. Your body constantly demands oxygen whether you’re lying in bed or wrestling on the mat. Oxygen is consumed by your muscles after it is extracted from the blood.
It only stands to reason that if your muscle needs more oxygen, and it’s excessively large, the muscle will struggle. This is where the real problem comes into play and why our giant friend became so exhausted. To make up for the lack of blood getting to his giant quads, his heart will begin to beat at full force.
His heart is pumping faster and faster to get that blood to the muscles, but where do you thing all the oxygen is coming from? Now his lungs are sucking in as much air as possible in order meet the oxygen demands of the muscles. This is the reason why he has tired so fast.
Just as your body needs to get more oxygen into the large muscle, it also needs to get the waste out. As we discussed, during a BJJ match our friend had some major issues getting enough blood to his muscles. Getting blood in is only part of the problem. He also needs to get rid of the waste that the muscle produces.
Lactic acid and carbon dioxide are the main culprits in this case. They’re simply a byproduct of energy production, but it needs to be removed from that muscle as fast as possible. Again, the bigger the muscle is, the more waste needs to be removed. If your body can’t remove the waste fast enough, then it will basically shut the muscle down.
Maybe you have seen pictures or videos of a competitive bodybuilder that can do a full split and has amazing flexibility. It’s important to take note; mobility and flexibility are not the same things. There are plenty of BJJ practitioners that can stand and touch their toes but can’t contort their body to get into the X-guard position.
Flexibility is the ability to bend and stretch in a static position (bend without break). Mobility is the ability to perform activities in a functional and full range of motion. These terms may oftentimes be used interchangeably, but they very different.
There is a reason that Yoga has become so popular with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners – mobility. Everything in BJJ requires you to be as mobile as possible. No matter if your goal is getting the takedown, pulling guard, passing, or sweeping; the ability to move well is paramount. If your muscles are just too big, then it can really limit your mobility.
Time might not be something that comes to most people’s mind when they talk about gigantic muscles, but let me explain why this factor may be the most detrimental.
Over my eight years as a personal trainer, I would have a lot of initial consultations. During these consultations with prospective clients, I would hear this phrase all the time: “I want to add some muscle, but I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder”.
This may have even been you at some point in time. What many individuals don’t realize is how much time you have to dedicate to the weight room to develop a large amount of muscle mass (hypertrophy). You can improve your cardio quickly. You can increase your strength pretty fast as well. Unfortunately, adding several pounds of lean muscle mass takes much longer. It will take a large amount of time to achieve bodybuilder’s physique.
This is where the time demand has a negative effect and can slow down your BJJ. Your strength program should “compliment” your Jiu Jitsu. When you commit so many hours a week to the weight room, you may end up sacrificing the available time you have for Jiu Jitsu.
Most likely, you were already aware that big muscles can slow you down in BJJ. However, now you know exactly how this happens. If you want to be a competitive bodybuilder or powerlifter, I’ll be the first person to help you out and cheer you on. Just remember that it can definitely have a negative effect on you Jiu Jitsu.
Before you decide to swear off all weightlifting for fear of becoming too “huge” – hang on a second. Keep in mind that having enough muscle mass to interfere with oxygen demands, decrease mobility, and take time away from training, takes years of hard work and most likely is not the case for you.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with becoming lean and muscular. In fact, any Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner can benefit tremendously from a good strength and conditioning program. But just like anything else in life; too much of a good thing can be bad.
James Macferson is a BJJ blue belt, martial arts practitioner and a true health enthusiast. He mostly writes for Budomate Magazine and JabCross Blog, but always glad to share his knowledge with MMA community anywhere anytime.