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Get a Better Gas Tank for Jiu Jitsu

"Jiujitsu gas tank" is an all-encompassing term to describe your capacity for work on the mats.


This term comes from an analogy of comparing your jiujitsu energy reserves and "mat fitness" with a car gas tank.


If you fill the same amount of fuel into two different cars and drive them under the same conditions for as long as possible, which car will last longer? The one with the best fuel efficiency.


But we're not cars, so there's more to the story.


Three components make your jiujitsu gas tank:

  1. Technique efficiency
  2. Movement efficiency
  3. Cardiovascular fitness


This article will provide practical insights into all three components of your jiujitsu gas tank. It will guide you through identifying which one is your issue and empower you to make the necessary improvements.


Technique Efficiency

Student: "Hey coach, how do I get better cardio for BJJ?"

Coach: "jUsT rOlL mOrE"



The "just-roll-more" advice is short-sighted.


The first element of your jiujitsu gas tank is your technique efficiency.


If you're new to rolling, you'll expend a lot of energy. Your techniques are not yet efficient, so you're wasting energy and overworking yourself even when performing basic movements.


Compare this scenario to a black belt with 15 years of experience who can effortlessly sweep, mount, and submit to you without a sweat. Who is more efficient with their movements, the black belt or the white belt?


Improving your technique efficiency will improve your jiujitsu gas tank efficiency, meaning you'll use less energy to achieve the same outcome.


To improve your technique efficiency, you must improve your technique; the way to do that is to:

  • Train more jiujitsu and be consistent
  • Have a plan for what techniques you're working on over a series of classes, weeks or even months
  • Take notes on what you're learning
  • Consider studying competitive jiujitsu and instructionals (if that's your thing and within your means)
  • Study conceptual jiujitsu like those taught by Jordan Teaches Jiu Jitsu.


The best way to improve your technique efficiency is to get better at jiujitsu.


Movement Efficiency

Not to be confused with technique efficiency, movement efficiency is your ability to move your body through space effortlessly and achieve the positions jiujitsu techniques require.


Here, we're looking at how mobile you are.


Mobility is not simply flexibility.


Flexibility is moving your body through a greater range of motion.


Mobility, unlike flexibility, involves moving through a greater range of motion while maintaining strength throughout that range.


If you can move your body more easily through space, you'll use less energy, thus improving the efficiency of your jiujitsu gas tank.


To improve your movement efficiency:


The best way to improve your movement efficiency is to train for mobility.


Improve your Cardiovascular Fitness

Some people who train jiujitsu have decent movement efficiency, and technique efficiency is not their primary concern (although we can always get better at technique).


Sometimes, cardiovascular fitness is the limiting factor of your jiujitsu gas tank.


The pushback I get when I talk about this is people will often say things like:


"you're just not training hard enough."


"you need to change gyms to get better rolls in."


"you're just being lazy."


"Jiujitsu is the best form of cardio, and you can't convince me otherwise."


To me, this is the equivalent of a toddler putting their fingers in their ears and yelling, "la la la! I can't hear you... la la la!" to avoid hearing something that challenges their view of the world and what their black belt coach told them.  


A study published in 2018 found evidence to suggest hard BJJ sparring is insufficient to improve cardio fitness (measured via VO2 max). 


"But when I train more, I gas out less! This advice is BS!" 


Correlation does not equal causation. 


We've already established that the more jiujitsu you train, the more efficient you become and the less fuel you use from your gas tank.


If you're coming to jiujitsu off the couch with zero fitness, you'll improve your cardiovascular fitness by training jiujitsu. Still, a "ceiling effect" exists on how fit jiujitsu can get you.


That's where conditioning training comes in.


There are three conditioning training methods I recommend:

  1. Aerobic Base Training: Perform low-intensity-steady-state (LISS) cardio in the "Zone 2" Cardio Range (less than 70% max HR). 
  2. VO2 Max Training: Perform intense bouts of maximal or near-maximal cardio efforts followed by short rest periods.
  3. Work Capacity: Perform sustained efforts of medium-intensity muscular endurance exercises. 


To learn more about why your cardio sucks for jiujitsu and what to do about it, check out this video. 


The best way to improve your cardiovascular fitness is to do cardio training.


The Takehome Message

Here is the takehome message:

  1. Your jiujitsu gas tank is your ability to train jiujitsu at a high sustained level of effort during your sessions.
  2. The three elements of a jiujitsu gas tank are technique efficiency, movement efficiency and cardiovascular fitness.
  3. The best way to improve your technique efficiency is to get better technique.
  4. The best way to improve your movement efficiency is to train for mobility.
  5. The best way to improve your cardiovascular fitness is to do cardio training.
  6. Just because your black belt coach told you to "just roll more" to get better cardio for BJJ doesn't make it correct.


If you want a structured approach to improve all three elements of your jiujitsu gas tank, check out the BJJ Move program here.


BJJ Move is a full-body, mobility-focused program that comes with two separate cardio addon programs (Basic Cardio Addon and Max Gas Tank Program).

Get Stronger, Faster and more Powerful on the mats, while reducing your risk of injury. Take my FREE Fitness Quiz here.

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