The first step is often the biggest and most difficult step in any journey in life. Stepping foot onto a BJJ mat for the first time is scary enough when your only reference to the sport is from watching the UFC and you are surrounded by a room full of strangers with colored belts and cauliflowered ears. For every beginner, the foreign warm ups and drills can be exhausting as you practice movements and use muscles you aren’t accustom to using. While many fit men and women are used to lifting barbells and dumbbells, most aren’t use to the compound movements and carrying the cumbersome weight of another person causing most to gasp for air after a few minutes of training.
When you are overweight and out of shape, the first few weeks of training in BJJ is even more intimidating and difficult. The extra weight and poor cardio will make it difficult to breath and cause your muscles to burn while you are barely able to stay conscious and think straight. However it is possible to work past this earlier and difficult stage and many men and women have changed their bodies, minds, and spirits by taking that difficult first step and the subsequent steps necessary to improve their lives.
If you are overweight and out of shape, but you want to try BJJ, just do it! Your life will be 100% better for it. You will meet new people, get in shape, build confidence and accomplish goals that you never thought were possible. In order to maximize your chances of success, follow these tips along your new journey.
Find the right school for you: Try out a few schools and find the one that will best meet your needs. There are many different types of coaches and cultures within the BJJ community. Some are old school and believe in the survival of the fittest. Others are more inclusive and empathetic to their students’ unique situations and needs. Finding the right coach, training partners, and school will help keep you motivated and on the right track during your BJJ journey.
Set goals and write them down: This will be a continual process. You need to set goals in every aspect of life and BJJ is no exception. When you are first starting out, the goals can be both short-term and long-term. The long-term goals could be to lose 50 lbs in 8 months, while the short-term goals can be as simple as attending 2 classes per week for 8 weeks, completing all the warm-up exercises within 4 weeks, or learning one technique to escape the mount position. Write it down, review it, gauge how you are progressing towards your goals, and celebrate your victories!
No one will judge you: Everybody will feel a bit insecure when they first step on the mats. In the right school and environment, your training partners will be empathetic since they were once in the same situation on their first day of training. No one will think any less of you if you are struggling with a warm up exercise or drill. If anything, your training partners and coaches will work with you and encourage you throughout your journey.
It is alright to take breaks in training: Bear crawling, army crawls, and gator walks suck even after doing these exercises for years. For a new person, the lactic acid in the muscles will be burning and you will be left gasping for air as your heart rate shoots up to 180 beats per minute. If you are overwhelmed and feel like you are on the brink of passing out during warm ups or drilling, it is alright to call for timeout and take a break.
Evaluate and change your lifestyle: Once you start training, you will likely evaluate and change your lifestyle to optimize your training. Two key areas that you will need to clean up are your diet and sleep patterns. It will be hard to lose weight and recover from workouts if you are eating lots of processed carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol, and fast food. Incorporating more natural and whole foods into your diet will help to energize your body for BJJ. Also, sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night is crucial to recovering from workouts and improving your overall health. Staying up late will need to take a back seat to get the necessary amount of sleep to rest and recover from your workouts.
You won’t always be constantly sore: The first few weeks of training will be rough. You will be gasping for air during your workouts and popping Advil in-between workouts to deal with the muscle soreness. This is all normal and you won’t always be sore and beaten down. Once you build a foundation for your body over several weeks of training, the soreness will subside and your lungs and muscles will strengthen from the training.
It is normal to feel confused and out of place: In addition to struggling through the warm ups and exercises, it is normal to feel lost while listening to the coach’s instructions and terminology. Learning basic BJJ fundamentals is like learning a long dance routine or foreign language. It all takes time. Don’t feel dumb or inadequate. You are learning something totally new and you aren’t expected to master it on the first, second, or even 50th attempt. Just keep going and know that you are doing fine. Also, your coaches and training partners are all there to support and help you.
Believe in yourself: Its normal to question whether BJJ is for you when your body feels like it has been hit by a truck and you are totally lost out there on the mats. Just understand this is all part of the normal process and the best thing you can do is to believe in yourself and give yourself a chance by going to the next class. It is not easy to put yourself out there and feel like you are going to puke every class, but in time you will have a major breakthrough whether it is in making it through all the warm ups, properly executing a technique, losing a few pounds, or just not feeling as sore as you did the previous week.
Test your limits: The only way to push through physical and mental barriers is to test yourself. Once your physical conditioning improves and you start to build confidence, set small goals to test your perceived limits. These tests can include working yourself to the point where you can complete all of the warms ups or if you only roll one round after class due to exhaustion, push yourself to roll that second round to break through the physical and mental barriers in your head.
Talk to your coaches and training partners: If you have questions or concerns about diet, conditioning, technique, or progress, feel free to talk to your coaches and training partners. BJJ schools should be collaborative learning environments where everybody works together to help each other. This goes back to the first step of finding the right school for you where you feel comfortable with the coaches and other students.
It all starts with taking a chance and betting on yourself to start a better life through BJJ. 🙂
You won’t always be sore? After one year, I suck up my off days like a cactus does water. Sitting here on a Sunday after my first 4 class week seriously reconsidering my mid life crises. Of course pumping in protein and I’ll be on the mats tomorrow, but till then, self pity and sorrow are my lot.