How will your body change when you start training BJJ? This depends on why you are starting in the first place. This timeline will be different for every single person, but assuming that you are eating a relatively heathy diet, which remains unchanged and train a minimum of 3 times per week these are some of the things you can expect.
- First muscle gains – Did you get into this to get a little fitter and leaner, but instead you have gained a kilo or two? Initial muscle gain is the most noticeable, especially in women. In daily lives women tend to use their upper body very little, and when suddenly those and other muscles are put to extensive use in grappling class they are forced to adjust to the new circumstances. Thus small initial weight gain is nothing to worry about – you are just becoming stronger and your muscles develop as a result of exercise.
- You feel happy – When the endorphins hit you after training, you will feel extremely happy, motivated and confident. This bodily response doesn’t just get you hooked on jiu jitsu, but is also what helps many people battle anxiety and depression with training. If you have ever wondered why jiu jitsu is jokingly referred to as therapy – this is why, the endorphin rush makes all your problems go away.
- The hunger – As your training will get more intense and as your body will learn to adapt to new circumstances, there will be some days when you’ll get the hunger. On these days, you will want to eat copious amounts of food and still fail to be satisfied. You’ll crave things of questionable nutritional value, but this is perfectly normal. Having a cheat meal on a hunger day will spare you lots of unnecessary guilt. Some sources claim the hunger is due to a compensatory response after days of higher energy expenditure, but that’s a topic for a whole new post.
- Larger arms & shoulders – I bought a beautiful and a very expensive dress once. Then I started training Thai boxing. Six months later my arms became too big and shoulders too wide to fit into the single most expensive item of clothing I owned. Oh well, it was worth it! After the first half a year of regular training this is usually the single most visible change in your body and a great proof of your hard work and progress.
- Body proportions – the best side effect of muscle gain is the improvement in your body shape. Regardless of your weight and size, an increase in muscle mass all over your body will tone your figure. Your thighs will seem more sucked-in, your bum shapelier and your now wider shoulders will make your waist more distinctive. The awareness of having achieved this yourself is an amazing confidence booster.
6 months – 1 year
- You’ll gain even more muscle mass
- Small injuries – As good as jiu jitsu is for you, it puts a strain on your body and it is important to recognise this in order to avoid serious injuries. Stretching is a single most effective way of preventing contusions. Tight muscles are very easy to hurt and that is why stretching before class is more beneficial than after. Start simple – alongside specific exercises Yoga for BJJ is my go-to when my body feels stiff and damaged. If you do not want to pay for membership, these guys have many free videos on YouTube. If you are starved for time there are some 10-min-long ones, which still work wonders. Try it for a week and get your mind blown.
- Nutrient cravings – Sooner or later you will start noticing that you’ll crave strange products at random times. They’ll vary from vegetables to dark chocolate or even beer. If you haven’t already started adjusting your diet you may want to start thinking about it now. Since you’re exerting yourself in training a couple of times a week or more, you’ll need to make sure that you’re eating or supplementing all the nutrients necessary for recovery, injury prevention and maintaining good health. Craving seemingly random things is a sign that you need to start addressing your body’s needs. Reliable health blogs or Anita Bean’s The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition is a great place to start.
1 year and longer
- Will I get a six pack? – Your diet – both how much you eat and what you eat, your level of physical activity and its type – jiu jitsu, heavy weights, cardio and a few other factors such as quality of sleep and levels of stress in your everyday life affect your body fat percentage. If it’s low, your abs will be more visible. Most people who train regularly and lead relatively healthy lifestyles will see the outline, which will make them appear very athletic, but their abs will not be as defined a bodybuilder’s would be. It is also important to remember that very low body fat percentages can be dangerous for women.
One of the great things about jiu jitsu, and you’ll surely notice this with time, is that if you stick with it your body will become shapely and powerful. Which is always nice, even if your game sucks!