This week we talk about proper breathing technique for BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). It’s definitely an issue that does not usually get its own lesson… but it should.
Years ago, I had the pleasure of rolling with Bobby Southworth (Former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion). He was a much larger grappler than I so he gave my lungs a serious workout. Keeping up with him was extremely difficult. Generally, going against MMA guys is awesome because they are quick to up the tempo and make the fight dependent on cardio. I destroyed my lungs trying to pass his guard. I naturally asked Bobby for feedback after the round. His comments centered around my cardio and how I needed to improve it. I’ll share some of his comments to me and I will also expand with some research.
Here is the scenario. You are rolling in a live session or in a tournament. You are moving fast and using a lot of strength. Either way, you are rolling hard. You are not paying attention to your breathing and you are now in a situation where you cannot get oxygen into your lungs fast enough. Your need for oxygen has now outpaced your what your lungs can provide on demand. Your breathing is quick and labored. Your lungs are hurting.
The oxygen content in your blood is dwindling and your muscles are brain are feeling the drain. You start making stupid mistakes. Mistakes you know the answers to but now somehow seem excusable. Your clarity is now gone. You lose your ability to see those golden opportunities and ability to launch an effective offensive attack. Eventually, you lose the match. Your breathing, your body, and your mind are all a mess.
Consider another situation. Remember being a lower belt and getting to roll with the black belt in the school? One the key takeaways was that the higher belts breathing is always totally under control. This control over their breathing is not an accident. They are doing this on purpose, it is a major part of their strategy for winning any match.
The Worst Breathing Technique for BJJ
Holding your breath and short erratic breaths are the worst thing you can do. A number of situations can bring about the troubled breathing. Maybe you are giving up about 150 lbs. to your opponent and they are currently on your chest, maybe you are going against some former NCAA Div 1 college wrestler who figured out how to put a heel in your gut while in spider guard. It is your job as the martial artist to manage your breathing properly no matter the situation. As your opponent applies pressure focus inwards on your breath – tempo, and depth.
The Best Breathing Technique for BJJ
What you want to achieve are long healthy deep breaths that shuttle as much oxygen into your lungs as possible. The length of the breath should neither be too long or too short. The breath should be focused in your stomach as opposed to your chest. You want your breathing to be diaphragm focused. The tempo of the breathing is important as well. As the match ramps up the tendency will be to quicken up the breathing with it. Fight this urge.
“Try as much as possible to use your diaphragm and remember that when you start feeling like you are gassing, take 2 or 3 deep breaths and continue fighting!”- Rickson Gracie
Breathing Through the Lower Lobes
I did some researching on the subject proper breathing technique for Jiu Jitsu and combat and I came across a gold mine. Steve Maxwell did a great interview with London Real in which he goes in depth about the Gracie breathing technique. In this video he says:
“Sitting and the sedentary lifestyle, talking about America and the industrialized lifestyle… People have forgotten how to breath correctly or via the diaphragm. You want to breath using the lower lobes of your lungs this is where the calming receptors are. It keeps you calm even in an emergency. And it is of great advantage to learn how to breath through the lower lungs. Even in athletic training. Especially in Combat”
Fast forward to min 24
Proper Body Position
How your body is positioned plays a big part in how air can get into your lungs. Your opponent may know this. Some opponents will attempt moves that will rob your body of air. This means that there are positions that you need to stay clear of. Knee on chest, Stack passes, Body figure four, and full mount (with hips in) all of these positions will play havoc on your breathing. It’s best to stay in an offensive top position as much as possible.
Wim Hof Method
A lesser known technique for breathing is called the WHM or the Wim Hof method. Wim Hof is a crazy Dutch man who has pioneered a method for controlled breathing that could revolutionize medicine, performance, and generally human optimization. Other notable people like Tim Ferris, Joe Rogan, Laird Hamilton and MMA fighter Alistair Overeem consider Wim to be the authority on breathing and a major contributor to professional performance. Wim makes a point to perform activities that enforce the idea of ‘Mind over Body”. Activities like wading in literal ice cold rivers for extended periods of time, climbing ice capped mountains in shorts, he has even used his techniques to thwart sickness.
The point here is that if a man can develop a breathing method to keep himself alive in temperatures that would kill other people and protect himself from certain sickness then he can use this technique to help with breath control in an MMA or BJJ match.
In conclusion, breath from the stomach instead of the chest. Use medium length, deep, controlled breaths. Not quick, explosive, erratic breaths. Stay clear of positions where your chest cavity can get compressed.
Keep it gentleman, And I hope you can learn a little something from my mistakes.