I am a BJJ blue belt, and have been training for five and a half years. I am an assistant coach, and a national masters gold medalist.
BJJ Training as a Beginner
Most beginners fall into one of two categories: either they fall in love with the sport and decide that they want to train every day, or they aren't sure if they really want to train and are just testing the waters, and they plan to train just once or twice a week. The people in the first category are at risk of getting injured or burning out after just a few months of training. The people in the second category are at risk of getting demoralized because they aren't training often enough to build muscle memory and remember techniques.
So, what's the perfect balance? Well, the answer really depends on your age, your goals, and what else you have going on in your life. A student is probably going to have more free time than someone with a full-time job. A younger person is probably going to be able to recover more quickly than someone who is in their 40s. You need to find the right balance between recall and recovery, especially as a beginner.
Muscle Memory vs. Recovery
If you asked the average coach how often you should be training, they'd probably say "three times a week, at least, if you want to progress." While it's true that training regularly helps with rapid progress, that doesn't mean that it's not worth training at all if you can only train once or twice a week.
Think of it this way:
- Training once a week will produce slow progress. You'll struggle to remember techniques from week to week, and your timing and coordination will develop slowly. It is possible to progress, but it will be slow, and you'll need to make an effort to concentrate and pay attention in class, and maximise every second of your training time.
- Training twice a week will produce returns more than twice as quickly as training once a week, especially if you can stagger the sessions. You'll get fitter and more coordinated more quickly, and things will link together from session to session more easily.
- Training three times a week seems to be the sweet spot for a lot of people between avoiding burnout and making rapid progress. You'll be able to spar hard every session. You'll be able to remember what you learned last class, and you'll develop good timing and reflexes.
- Training four times a week is getting into the "dedicated competitor territory." You'll have to start making sacrifices at home to train that often, and you will need to start paying attention to your diet and getting quality rest.
- Training even more often will give diminishing returns for most people. Yes, the best of the best are doing two a day every day, but that doesn't mean that the average person needs to do that. If it makes you happy by all means do so, but if BJJ is a bit of fun and stress relief, then don't treat it like a job. A lot of lower belts burn out because they train too often, and end up quitting when they could have just trained in moderation instead.
Be in It for the Long Haul
If you want to get good at BJJ, then you will need to train consistently. You'll make better progress training once a week, every week, for a year than you would training several times a week for two weeks and then taking a few months off.
Training camps such as BJJ Globetrotters will give you the chance to learn a lot of new techniques in a short space of time, but if you don't apply those techniques regularly, you won't go through the 'consolidation period' where those techniques become a part of your game and something that you can do without thinking. It's regular, consistent training that will give you that experience and those skills.
If you're thinking of starting, but can't train often, don't worry. Try anyway and enjoy being on the mats. If you're someone who used to train regularly but can't anymore, don't quit! Most upper belts go through periods where they can't train often, but they stay on the mats, and the training time that they do get in is the time that keeps their skills fresh and slows down the rate of "skill decay." This means that when they do come back, it's easier for them to get back to their former level of skill.
Everyone progresses at their own rate in any martial art, whether that's BJJ, judo, muay Thai, or karate. Don't obsess over other people's progress or how much time they are putting in compared to you. Just focus on what you are doing when you are on the mats, and everything else will come.
© 2017 Leslie Ann