Jun 242009

I’ve been training for a few years now and have seen a lot of new guys come and go. One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to avoid gassing out when sparring. Of course, I laugh because my conditioning is suspect and I routinely gas out. But it’s a good question: how do you avoid gassing out while rolling? I have five simple tips that might help. I hope they do.

Tip 1: Breathe

With new guys, conditioning is certainly a big part of it. However, even guys who are in good shape gas out fast when they first step onto the mats. The reason is often because they forget to breathe. What I mean is, they literally hold their breath or breath irregularly while exerting themselves. So, when sparring, focus on breathing. Just being aware of your breathing is sometimes enough to keeping you from holding your breath.

Tip 2: Relax

I don’t mean be passive. By relaxed, I mean learning when to move and when to rest and this largely comes from experience. Over time, you’ll learn how to push, pull or whatever without flexing every single muscle in your body. I swear, some new guys look like they’re passing a kidney stone when they roll.

Tip 3: Focus on good technique

If you’re on the bottom, flat on your back and your arms aren’t in the right spots, you’re probably very uncomfortable and unable to breathe. Look at the upper belts. You’ll see that if the the guy on top is in close, the guy on bottom is likely up on one side or the other… rarely squared up and flat on his back. If you’re on the bottom, being on your side gives you space to breathe and also options to improve your position. Also, keeping your arms in to create space will help relieve pressure on your diaphragm making it possible to breathe.

As Rick told me on my first day of class as he drove his considerable mass into my ribs, “This is just pressure. Pressure isn’t a submission.” Of course, he was right, but I’m pretty sure I still tapped.

Tip 4: Don’t just use your arms..

It’s amazing how many new guys forget they have legs. Again, look at the upper belts. They use their arms, legs and head to good effect. Once you begin to really incorporate your legs into your game, you’ll see how you can start working your advantage. The entire idea of BJJ is to stack the deck in your favor. Using your legs against your opponent’s arms is a good example of this.

I’ve found that strong arms and legs help, but a strong core is crucial. Being able to stay up on your side in half guard is all core strength and technique. Being able to breathe with pressure on your diaphragm is a function of your core strength. Without a strong core, your arsenal of tools in BJJ is very limited.

Tip 5: Keep Training

Ultimately, it’s just mat time. Train, train, train and focus on the basics, and don’t forget to breathe. As you gain experience, you’ll find that all of those things to remember become second nature.

 Posted by at 1:29 pm

  8 Responses to “Don’t Forget to Breathe”

Comments (8)

    Good stuff. Thanks for this.


    A post which I was thinking on writing but you beat me to it! But you do a good job of it so its all good.lol.

    I think the last point you make is the most important. New students must realise that grappling is not just a matter of over powering your opponant and it will take a lot of practise and patience to get right. As long as one is willing to put in the dedication eventually they shall bcome good.


    Thanks, Todd. I hope it helps!

    Mark, great points. Thanks.


    Steve, yeah, breathing is important, and I had a reminder in my class on Saturday.

    I had my classmate Warren in an arm triangle–I had him in my guard–and I had the triangle good and tight. Warren, who tends to resort to unconventional techniques, took his free hand, and he PINCHED MY NOSE AND COVERED MY MOUTH so I couldn't breathe. Eventually, feeling gassed, as you put it, I had to loosen the triangle and pull his hand away, and, of course, he got out of the triangle choke.

    Later, people pointed out to him that, in our school anyway, that's not allowed. I was laughing about it, however–it was a creative solution.


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    this is all good. it reminded me that I need to focus on the basics and stop making my training so complicated


    Good info. I need to pass this along in class


    Great info. I remember when I started doing jits, I would (unknowingly) hold my breath when I was rolling and for the first couple of months, I would have to go outside at least once during class because I felt lightheaded (many of times I even threw up or dry heaved). I don't know how many times I've heard them yell "BREATHE!" at me, but eventually it sunk in and things got a lot better after that.

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