"Fatigue can defeat us all. Worse even than the loss of technical proficiency is the simple inability to continue..."
I didn't want to use the word cardio because it only captures half of the conditioning equation. In this series of posts cardio = conditioning - I am referring to both cardiovascular/respiratory endurance - The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen and stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
Now on to the cardio assessment. You may be incredibly fit for some activities, such as running a marathon, and be reduced to a mass of quivering jelly when rolling on the mats. The type of cardio training you need most IS sport specific. Basketball, football, wrestling, soccer, volleyball, etc. all benefit the most from anaerobic training. Long distance and ultra endurance running, cross country skiing, and 1500+ meter swimming are sports that benefit from primarily aerobic training. Guess which one you need most for BJJ? That's right anaerobic endurance is the foundation of a great BJJ fighter.
An anaerobic assessment benchmark that matches well with BJJ is somewhat difficult. VO2max testing is expensive - the easy tests of treadmill running and 5-10K race times aren't a good carryover to BJJ. The random "workouts" from sources like Crossfit and other areas of the internet are hard to classify easily. Here are a few of the ones I use when trying to get a general idea of someone's anaerobic foundation (these are quick and dirty for the average Joe and can be done at home and the next time you hit the mats).
Test 1: 6 minute burpee challenge
Since this is a "timed" test form will probably not be perfect, but the chest should almost hit the ground on the pushup phase and the end jump should at least clear a few inches.
Results: 50 (adequate), 75 (good), 100 (you are a beast)
Test 2: 1 mile run
Not a sprint, not a trot - you should push hard enough to not want to do this again anytime soon (i.e. have a strong desire to, but try not to - puke).
Results: 7 minutes (adequate), 6 minutes (good), sub 6 (great)
Test 3: 5 rounds of 6 minutes rolling (30 second rest between rounds)
This is the most subjective, because you can easily stall and sandbag, but the intent is for you to roll 5 hard 6 minute rounds against individuals close to your size/skill level. Taking it too easy will be revealed by you getting tapped multiple times during a round or staying in bad positions. Starting from the feet is preferred.
Results: self evaluation = "I can survive this a couple of times a week" (adequate), "I can easily do this several times a week" (good), "Let's do a couple more rounds right now!" (great)
OK, so what does this tell us? Well I have good news and bad news. The good news is that if you are in the good to great range you can definitely mix your training up to include some serious strength work. The bad news is, just like skill work and flexibility - we should be doing cardio/conditioning all year. If you fall into the adequate range (or are not quite there yet), don't worry - YOU CAN GET THERE - this benchmark simply tells us that your priority should be additional conditioning work before trying to add significant strength work.
A few notes before we close:
1. The results "numbers" are ball park estimates. A 200+ lbs. fighter will not be able to do as many burpees or run as fast as the 145 lbs. fighter.
2. These figures are for the athlete who is serious and wants to be competitive but has a job (and a partial life) outside of BJJ.
3. These numbers are what I would like to see for someone between 25-35 years of age.
4. We can get a little more technical and say that your heart rate after each of these tests should be heading back under 100 bpm at the 2 minute mark and getting close to or under 80 bpm at the 5 minute mark (pretty close to full recovery). How quickly you recover is one of the key indicators of how conditioned you are - if you want to get more serious, buy a heart rate monitor.
5. You may think these benchmarks suck. If you have some other "quick and dirty" tests and results that an average Joe can do without a lot of expense or equipment that are better - post them in the comments section.
(next post in this series - Basic Strength Assessment)