I am not the skinniest guy on the mats but have been able to start up and consistently train BJJ for many years now. While BJJ is a martial art that requires a combination of technique, strength, flexibility, and general fitness to hit the highest level, it is actually quite accessible to overweight people.
You do not need to be fit to start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Don’t let being out of shape stop you from training jiu-jitsu. You can do well in tournaments and gain just as much skill without being in peak physical condition. In fact, being heavier offers some advantages in training.
I started BJJ overweight and out of shape so I have some personal experience with this situation. So let’s take a look together at some factors in play when starting your jiu-jitsu training overweight or out of shape to help you make your decision.
Do Size and Weight Matter in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Size and weight do matter in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but there isn’t a better martial art out there for mitigating size and weight discrepancies. Size does make a difference, which is why we have weight classes in competitions, but you still see smaller guys win absolutes sometimes.
In an equal skill match-up a larger, heavier grappler will have a significant advantage. Having more weight results in many grappling advantages because you can more easily generate both power and momentum when working your techniques.
Do I Need to Be Fit to Start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Being fit or in shape is not mandatory in order to start training jiu-jitsu. People frequently use this excuse to put off starting BJJ training. The truth is that fit people struggle in the beginning stages of training. Also, your fitness will increase as a result of starting training anyway.
It’s natural to hesitate to start up what is essentially fighting when you are not in great shape since you don’t want to be “losing” every practice, or be unable to keep up with your training partners.
What people on the outside don’t understand yet is that no matter your fitness level, strength level, or weight level, you are very likely to be gassing out in your grapples and losing most of them anyway. So while having good attributes may help, the playing field is more even than you might expect.
Chris Matakas, lead instructor of Matakas Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Florence, New Jersey, has written books about jiu-jitsu and self-improvement. He runs into this question frequently and summed up his thoughts on this question on his YouTube channel, which I’ve included below.
If you’re thinking about using jiu-jitsu as a vehicle for self-improvement I highly recommend picking some of his content up.
Should I Lose Weight Before Starting BJJ?
Losing weight before starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn’t necessary. If you have too much body fat, BJJ can help you as a tool to lose some of that excess weight. Most classes are structured in a way that allows overweight individuals to get good training. Don’t let being overweight stop you.
In fact, I personally lost around 50 lbs in about 12 months with only minor dietary changes and being very consistent about showing up for about 4-5 mat hours a week. Don’t let a little extra body fat stop you from doing something that interests you, especially if that activity can get rid of that body fat.
Also, keep in mind that just because you might be heavier than you want, does not mean you won’t find somebody of a similar enough size and weight to be a good training partner for jiu-jitsu. Another factor is that higher-ranked training partners can mitigate that size disparity and facilitate good mutually beneficial training.
Anybody that is thinking about losing weight prior to starting jiu-jitsu should consider simply integrating it into their weight loss goals as something between cardio and HIIT training. I know a lot of people, myself included, who dropped weight and ended up using jiu-jitsu as a catalyst to get into a healthier, fit lifestyle.
How to Train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu While Overweight
If you are significantly overweight or out of shape there are adjustments that you can make that will make starting jiu-jitsu training a bit easier and more effective. Controlling your strength and focusing on building good frames and staying relaxed will make training easier if you are overweight.
When I was getting started in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I would have been classified as obese, and my cardiovascular fitness would be generously classified as pretty poor. I understood my current limitations and struggled through most of my warm-ups before classes. It was frustrating, but I was told it would be temporary so I just kept training consistently.
Adjust Your Gameplan for Rolling
In order to get through those times, I played a slow methodical pressure game and used various half guard techniques to find some reversals and to keep the action slower. That being said, I made sure to empty out my energy by the end of class to up my fitness levels.
When rolling, focus on building skills that don’t involve intense cardio for most of your training since it will help you to develop while your rolling cardio could be better. Building good frames and practicing grip fighting won’t take a lot of energy, but are supremely useful when grappling.
How to Train BJJ With Smaller Training Partners
If you are physically bigger than your training partner, you need to use less strength and pressure, work on your transitions, play a different jiu-jitsu game, and try to match your training partner’s energy. Doing this well allows both training partners to maximally benefit from their training.
If you are significantly larger than your training partner try the following:
- Reduce Your Use of Strength and Pressure
- Work on Your Transitions Between Positions
- Play a Different Jiu-Jitsu Game
- Match Their Speed and Energy
Reduce Your Use of Strength and Pressure
Focusing on quality movement without excessive use of strength and pressure can go a long way in getting the most out of training in general, but this is even more true with smaller training partners. You’ll naturally be more able to focus on the technical side of your movements since you won’t need to use as much power to move your partner.
Work on Your Transitions Between Positions
Build smoother transitions and work try to switch positions as much as possible. This will allow you to get more repetitions in the transitionary area between positions where everybody could use more practice. You often hear black belts talk about only being able to catch certain things in transition, getting into this area often can only benefit you.
Play a Different Jiu-Jitsu Game
If you play a different game than your primary game you get a golden opportunity to build competency in other technique sets. Field-testing new techniques with smaller training partners gives you a chance to learn new skills more easily since they are smaller.
Not only do you get to feed these new techniques into your primary jiu-jitsu game eventually, you also get to make a much more fun even playing field since you will be testing out your second and third-string moves and they will likely be using their primary game, which somewhat neutralizes the weight advantage.
Match Their Speed and Energy
If you can focus on matching the speed and energy of your smaller training partners, you get to learn how to run a small-guy jiu-jitsu game as a bigger guy. This can pay off when you end up being the smaller training partner since you will be able to outpace your bigger training partners.
If you are overweight matching their speed and energy will be an excellent workout for you.
BJJ Fanatics addresses size discrepancies in training here for a holistic view of the topic.
Also, check out the video below for some tips from Stephen Kesting to make sure everyone benefits from training in a size mismatch situation.
Starting jiu-jitsu training when you are out of shape or overweight isn’t really that big of a deal since you will likely end up becoming a more fit, healthier individual through involvement in it. There are stories all over the internet of people starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pretty heavily overweight and having a great time and losing weight while doing it.
Addressing excess body fat for health-related reasons is a really good idea, but don’t let those factors stop you from getting into training jiu-jitsu, since these factors do not impede your ability to build fundamental skills and get something out of your training.
For an overview of fitness requirements for starting out in other martial arts check out Do You Need to Be Fit to Start Martial Arts.