Rolling off the Pounds with Jiu Jitsu

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Losing weight with jiujitsu. People study jiu jitsu for any number of reasons. Some think they’re the next UFC champion, while other just might be. Students may have grown up on Kung Fu Theater, while others are looking to protect themselves and their families. Yet others study for the sheer joy of the art.

There’s another group that we’re seeing more of in gyms across the country—those that are looking for a way to lose weight. Obesity is an ever-growing problem (no pun intended). If you haven’t heard the statistics, do a quick search on Google and you’ll see just how serious things are. With the CDC attributing obesity and even over weight being with leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers, and with knowing that you could feel better about yourself if you lost those extra pounds, it’s no surprise that people are looking for something to help them shed the weight.

But why lose weight with jiujitsu?

The biggest thing about weight loss isn’t diet or exercise—I know, not what you normally hear, but hold on, let me explain. You have to have good nutrition. If you’re over eating, or eating the wrong things, than the weight will never come off. In fact, it will most likely continue to increase. Likewise, you have to exercise. Even if you’re eating healthy, a sedentary lifestyle isn’t conducive to losing weight. It’s true, you have to have good nutrition and an exercise program. But those things only work if you’re consistent and dedicated in your efforts—and that’s the biggest thing about weight loss. If you don’t stick to your program, your excess weight will stick to you.

That’s where jiu jitsu as an aid to weight loss can really excel. Here are a three ways that jiu jitsu helps you be more consistent and dedicated in your weight loss efforts.

  • Atmosphere. With a few rare exceptions, jiu jitsu gyms are open, welcoming places. They’re filled with a mix of people, as was mentioned above. By and large, students and instructors are friendly and genuinely care about helping you learn and improve—not just in your jiu jitsu skills, but in your life. If your goal is to lose weight, and if you share that goal with your teammates, they’ll be supportive and helpful.
  • Accountability. A jiu jitsu gym can provide accountability. As you develop relationships in a gym, you’ll also develop a desire to be around your teammates. You won’t be as tempted to stay at home eating potato chips and watching reruns of Days of Our Lives. You’ll know that you need to be in the gym not only to reach your own goals, but to help others reach theirs. And vice-versa. Your teammates will be looking for you, and if you don’t show up, don’t be surprised if they call you to find out why. They’ll push you to keep working, and they will give you the strength to get past the obstacles.
  • Real-life Skills. Honestly, when will you ever need to know how to work an elliptical machine outside of the gym? Is there a scenario where you’ll need to be able to row, jog, or swim for an hour? These are all great things, but outside of exercising, what good do they do? Now consider what you learn in jiu jitsu. Can you think of a situation where you might need to defend yourself from a choke or from being attacked? Knowing that you’re developing skills that will serve you in the real world is motivating. It gives you confidence, and a reason to keep coming back.

Those are just three ways that jiu jitsu can help you be consistent and dedicated. As you study, you’ll discover more ways that it can help. The question you’re probably wondering about, though, is whether jiu jitsu can actually help you burn enough calories to make a difference. The answer? Go roll with someone for just two minutes, and you’ll know that jiu jitsu is a calorie furnace.

And that’s a big key to how you can lose weight with jiu jitsu. Consider how a class usually works. You’ll have a warm-up that gets your heart pumping and your body loose. You’ll do some drills that provide activity with rest intervals. Then some instruction and practice—again, down time and practice time. Finally, you’ll probably roll at the end of the class—more active and resting periods. Have you heard of HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training? HIIT is defined as activities of high intensity (80 to 95 percent of your max heart rate) for a few seconds to minutes mingled with rest periods of similar time amounts. Sounds very much like a jiu jitsu class. Why is that good? Check out these studies on the benefits of HIIT:

  • According to the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT increases post work out calorie burn, adding about 6 to 15 percent more calories to your total workout expenditure over the next 24 hours.
  • The Annals of Internal Medecine reports that HIIT participants experience a 9 percent improvement in glucose tolerance, which is important to preventing diseases like diabetes.
  • HIIT actually causes changes to your DNA, promoting muscle growth and strength, explains the research journal Cell Metabolism. Remember, more muscle means more calories burned.
  • Metabolismanother research journal, reports that HIIT training increases your body’s use of and ability to use fat as fuel.

Also consider that HIIT training will actually help your body maintain muscle instead of burning it. Think of sprinters versus marathon runners—which still has muscle, and which looks more like a skeleton? Sprinters use HIIT training. And jiu jitsu practitioners? Yep, HIIT as well.

While the exercise is great to help promote fat burning, how does jiu jitsu help you with the other weight loss factor—good nutrition? Ultimately, good nutrition is a personal choice. You can read article after article, hear lecture after lecture, but until you decide to make the lifestyle choice to eat differently, you’ll stick with corn dogs and cinnamon buns instead of lean meats and raw vegetables. But that doesn’t mean that jiu jitsu can’t help. Remember, the most important thing you can do to lose weight is to be consistent and dedicated. Without support and motivation, your chances at success drop pretty fast. Your jiu jitsu teammates can help you stay on the diet wagon, and help you get back on it should your will power slip. They can also help you make good choices and remind you of where you want to be. There are studies to back this up as well. The American Psychology Association reported on a study showing that two-thirds of participants who had social support both lost and maintained their weight loss, while only one quarter of those who went alone were able to do so.

One final aspect to consider is how you’ll feel while training in jiu jitsu. As you eat more cleanly, you’ll notice that you feel better—and perform better—on the mat. That in itself is a huge motivator to keep at it, because who doesn’t want to feel better doing something they enjoy?

Regardless of why you’re joining a jiu jitsu gym, if weight loss factors in at all, you’re headed in the right direction. Aside from the help that a gym can provide—from the atmosphere, to accountability, to the skills you’ll gain and more—jiu jitsu is an excellent exercise that uses a modality clinically proven to be more effective at burning fat.

Give it a chance, and you’ll find that jiu jitsu can do so much more than you ever thought.

If you like this article, we have a whole library of cross-training articles on YouJiuJitsu that you can check out.