When you’re looking at martial arts as a form of exercise, you’re probably wondering which of them provides the best overall workout.
BJJ may appear like just a couple of students rolling around on the floor and that it must not use much energy, but you’d be wrong!
In short, is BJJ a good workout?
BJJ is an excellent workout for exercise and improving your fitness level. An average BJJ class burns over 800 calories while bringing your heart rate into challenging your cardiovascular system, which will improve your fitness and overall health.
For a greater insight into what BJJ does to your body during a workout, keep reading to see my own fitness tracking data!
What BJJ Does To Your Body
BJJ pushes your body into a cardiovascular state while challenging the strength of your muscles simultaneously. Your body has to adapt to these demands, so it will use up calories to improve muscle strength and improve the health of your heart.
In my own experience, during a BJJ session, my body is pushed up through a fat-burning heart rate zone and into a cardiovascular zone for most of the training. Sometimes I’ll even hit a peak heart rate zone.
Let’s look at what my body is doing during a BJJ session; thankfully, I have used my best fitness tracker for BJJ to log my workouts and better understand my exercises and heart rate.
My Heart Rate Results During BJJ
During a BJJ session that lasts approximately 90 minutes, my heart rate zones look like this:
As you can see, I spend most of the BJJ session in a cardio zone for my heart rate and fitness level. It’s clear then why BJJ is an excellent tool for improving cardiovascular ability and health.
I’m also getting a decent amount of fat burn during a BJJ session, which helps keep off the extra weight.
Over that example of a 90 minute BJJ session, here’s what my heart rate is doing:
It starts pretty light but tipping over into the fat burn stage as I begin doing warmups with the class. Shrimping, rolling, and falling practice gets my heart rate up pretty quickly, and I start sweating in the first 10-15 minutes.
It doesn’t take long before my heart rate has risen above fat burn and into my cardio zone (heart rate of 134 BPM), where it stays up there consistently throughout the majority of the class. It only seems to drop under if I’m pausing or resting in between rounds of practice or sparring.
Towards the end of the heart rate graph above, you can see I hit a peak of 174, which is very high and probably where my body is gassed out during heavy sparring, and I no longer have the will to defend myself!
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Calories Burned During BJJ
With all that cardiovascular effort, my body is burning approximately 10 calories per minute:
Overall I can burn between 800-900 calories in one BJJ class that involves warmups, practicing techniques, and a few rounds of sparring at the end.
That’s about the same amount of calories as a burger and fries. It makes it clear that it can be so easy to put on fat and weight by overeating or just eating high-calorie foods, whereas it takes a whole 90 minutes of hard work in a BJJ session to be able to burn it off.
At the end of the day, how BJJ affects your body is still a lot about the choices you make off the mats. Combine that with BJJ, and your fitness goals can be achieved.
How Fit Does BJJ Make You?
Learning and practicing BJJ can make you fit as an athlete if you train regularly and maintain a good diet. BJJ is as challenging as most other martial arts of forms of exercise, as it challenges your body to develop strength and cardiovascular capacity at the same time.
BJJ is beneficial for exercise because of its unique physical demands. While it might appear that you’re lying on your back or side most of the time, you’re actually putting a lot of (good) stress into your body.
During BJJ, your heart rate does have to elevate into a cardio rate to keep up and pump oxygen around your body efficiently.
BJJ uses your muscle strength and endurance and your cardiovascular fitness to help you fight off your opponent and win. The sparring element of BJJ also is likely to elevate your heart rate even further with the added competitive and adrenaline spikes.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does a good job of using your muscles against your opponent, but it doesn’t necessarily build muscle. I’ve covered the question Does BJJ Build Muscle? in another article!
While it may not look like a big workout to watch BJJ because practitioners spend a lot of time on the floor, it is, in fact, one of the most challenging martial arts for fitness in my personal experience!
Is BJJ Good For Weight Loss?
BJJ is an excellent workout for weight loss because it will elevate your heart rate into a fat-burning heart rate zone through the majority of the workout. In this heart rate zone, your body will use up fat stores for energy and help you lose weight.
Earlier in this article, I showed examples of the fat burning that my heart rate goes into as an experienced martial artist and someone who is overall quite fit.
I can spend up to 30 minutes inside a fat-burning zone throughout an entire BJJ session, with the majority in a cardio zone. The first zone will help me burn fat, and the second will help my body become fitter and more efficient at using up fat stores, which makes it a win-win.
How many calories does BJJ burn?
I typically burn 800-900 calories per BJJ session. That’s around two small meals for a lot of people! Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is super effective at maintaining your body in a fat-burning zone because of the constant challenge on your cardiovascular system.
So you can be confident that when you are training in BJJ, your body will be doing all it can to use up fat stores built up around your body and keep the weight off.
Any martial art is a great way to lose weight, but I have found diminishing returns for keeping weight off in other martial arts like Boxing or Muay Thai. In those, eventually, you can hit a wall where the weight loss gains don’t come as quickly as you repeat a lot of the same movements, and your body gets better at handling them.
In BJJ, you are frequently put in unique positions and challenges that demand you use your brain while physically challenging your body to help you overcome the obstacle each time. I think this is one of the great reasons to pick up BJJ to become fit and learn something useful for self-defense at the same time.
BJJ is often considered far more effective than Judo and other grappling martial arts for defending yourself if you need it. This makes it so useful for more than just a great exercise program.
So now you should be confident answering is BJJ a good workout for yourself and sign up for your first, or next, BJJ class! Having picked up BJJ myself in more recent years, I’ve learned so much about my fitness and about camaraderie, and I think you will too!
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.