How Does An Increase In Muscle Mass & Bodyweight Affect Grappling Conditioning?

How Does An Increase In Muscle Mass & Bodyweight Affect Grappling Conditioning?

In order to become the best jiu-jiteiro you can be it’s not enough to just attend class day after day – you need to maximize strength, power, flexibility, balance and endurance!

So naturally many of us go through a slew of changes once we start bjj regardless of our body structure. Sure many greats are known for saying things like “Technique conquers all” but it’s not that simple.

Simple physics will tell you that Force equals mass times acceleration – so naturally one must capitalize on the law of motion to become a dominant grappler.


Many of us turn to muscle gains! And in the process of bulking up, for many of us (most, really) cardio suffers.

Firas Zahabi makes some interesting points when discussing Strength and Conditioning (clip attached below).

He urges we look at the length of our arms. Our arteries are kind of the same, something we were born with. Some people’s arteries are bigger then others. The bigger the artery the more blood, the more blood the more oxygen there is. Regardless of how much work you put in – the arteries can only stretch so far. 

“After 2 years, you can sprint every day, twice a day, 5 times a week your arteries will not get bigger. Your VO2 max has plateaued – That’s it. “

VO2 max is maximal oxygen uptake and it tells you milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.

From this alone it’s not hard to conclude how a muscle gain might impair your cardio – while your arteries have reached their maximum size your whole body gets bigger and the demand for oxygen supply is bigger – this in turn ends up making us all slower. Of course all of this depends on the current state of your own body.

According to multiple research studies published in the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness,” high BMI measurements are linked to lowered VO2 max values. The role BMI plays in reducing VO2 max is related to changes in respiratory capacity and cardiovascular endurance.


One longitudinal study that stretched for 5 years and more than 3000 subjects found that VO2max is closely related to cardiorespiratory fitness which reduced significantly for both sexes with body mass index (BMI) increases (Chen et al., 2016).

Of course there are also other factors that influence VO2 max such as age – it is typically highest at age 20 and decreases by close to 30% by age 65.

While elite female athletes can have higher VO2 values than most men it’s typically about 20 percent lower than a man’s VO2 max.

One outside factor that has a significant influence on this unique value is Altitude – this is why UFC’s sworn to not have more heavy weight matches on high altitudes – An athlete will generally have a 5 percent decrease in VO2 max per very 5000 feet gain in altitude (Wilmore & Costill, 2005).

MMA coach Joel Jamieson recommends you start conditioning by increasing your cardiovascular system’s potential to supply oxygen throughout your body in his book Ultimate MMA Conditioning. And only after that the need to develop the neuro-muscular system’s ability to generate explosive power and minimize fatigue. To do all of this you will have to develop an entire chain supporting systems that are involved in energy production.

Firas Zahabi has a black belt under John Danaher – who also recognizes the potential different body builds have saying:

Very often people will ask me about the effects of body type on jiu jitsu. It appears that many people hold the belief that there is an optimum body type in jiu jitsu that confers advantage over other body types. Even a moments reflection will reveal that this is false. A look at the medal platform at the world championships will always show a wide variety of body types which are represented in no particular order of success.

If I ask you to name for me the five most successful jiu jitsu champions of all time, I guarantee your list will show big disparities in body type. There is no dominant body type on the medal stands.

There is however, a dominant body ETHOS. Champions always maximize their body’s ability to perform the skills of the sport.

Everyone’s body has an optimal weight and conditioning that maximizes its performance for a given activity. It is your duty to find what that is for you and to maintain yourself close to that ideal (getting closer if competition is near). Thus any body type can win a world championship, but only one way of maintaining that body of yours will maximize your ability to perform the skills you hope to win that championship with.

He ads a comment on his own squad:

Garry Tonon is a classic mesomorph. Gordon Ryan an ectomorph and Eddie Cummings an endomorph masquerading as a mesomorph. Yet all three have found a way to maximize their very different bodies to perform the skills they needed to win. Thus any body type can win a world championship, but only one way of maintaining it will maximize your chances of doing so.”

In the end throughout all the literature there’s a big common thread – you need to design and fine tune your own systematic approach because otherwise your performance will suffer.

You don’t need the cardio of a marathon runner or the raw strength of a powerlifter – you need to maximize your own potential to perform in that 5 to 10 minute window with enough quickness and energy to make your opponent pay for his or her mistakes.

Chen, L, Kuang, J, Pei, J, Chen, H, Chen, Z, Li, Z, Yang, H, Fu, X, Wang, L, Chen, Z, Lai, S, & Zhang, S 2016, ‘Predictors of cardiorespiratory fitness in female and male adults with different body mass index: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004 dataset’, Annals Of Medicine, pp. 1-10, MEDLINE, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 January 2017.
 Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. 2005. Human Kinetics Publishing.

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