Knowing Your ‘Why’: Warming Up to Warmups


“Why am I doing leg circles … again?”

We all find ourselves asking this question at some point during Jiu Jitsu. Newly minted white belts ask this question when their hip adductors are burning and their core is screaming for relief. Their bodies are unfamiliar with this essential movement for grappling. The advanced students have done this a million times. Their bodies are hardened by the movement. Still, they find themselves wondering, what’s the point?

We often forget the “why” behind warmup movements. Hip escapes, forward rolls, technical lifts–all essential to Jiu Jitsu. Without knowing the “why,” though, all movements run the risk of becoming wastes of time and energy.

The dichotomy of warmups

I am constantly torn between loving and hating warmups. On one hand, it’s a great solo practice that can be a wonderful supplemental workout that helps you understand how to move for Jiu Jitsu. On the other hand, as a more advanced student, I prefer to drill technique to warm up, executing the movements efficiently as I build muscle memory in each rep. As an instructor, I find value in both. I prefer to explain the “why” behind each warmup movement, noting when it’s applicable. When I begin to teach a technique, I refer to which warmup movement they are using to execute the movement with another body. The warmup movements are a crucial tool for students and instructors to help understand the foreign language that is Jiu Jitsu.

Would you forward roll to pass the guard? If you’re Andre Galvao, sure. If you’re anyone else, you probably should level change, remove frames, and use the principles of the four-point base to pass the legs, securing side control. 

If your opponent throws you, would you rather land on your face, or would you rather breakfall? The smart move would be to breakfall and recover. You don’t want to come home from a Jiu Jitsu class with a broken face.

There are more complicated applications of movement. Choosing the correct response can be the deciding factor between success and failure. If your opponent isn’t engaging your guard and is moving backward, would you technical lift to stand up? Would you do a grapplers lift to chase them? Or would you go into turtle position and nonchalantly stand up? I’ll give you a clue: Two out of those three could be appropriate responses.

One last hypothetical: Would you shrimp away to recover guard if your opponent is passing standing? You could, but you would be giving up frames and allowing your opponent access to your upper body, pinning you to the mat. What movement should you have used to recover guard? You guessed it … leg circles!

Know your why

We all use these fundamental movements when we train. The first step toward success is how quickly your body can master the movement efficiently. The second step is understanding the “why” behind the movement and when it should be implemented. Success requires mastering both of those steps and understanding the goals of each position in Jiu Jitsu. Once you do, you have the building blocks needed as a grappler to further your understanding of Jiu Jitsu.

A portion of our first workshop series, which takes place on Saturday, 10/16 at 1 p.m., will focus on learning these essential movements, as well as the “why” behind their applications. Beginners with fewer than 6 months of experience are strongly encouraged to attend. The second workshop, which is geared toward advanced students, will take place on Sunday, Oct. 17 at 12 p.m.

If you would like to reserve your spot, please email us at with “Workshop Series” in the subject and let us know which workshop you would like to attend. The cost of each workshop is $35. If you supported us during the pandemic we will be offering these workshops for free as a way of showing our gratitude.

P.S.: Running is not an essential warmup movement. Don’t run from the fight, engage. If you want to run, sign up for a 5K.

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Shane McCarthy

Shane McCarthy is a brown belt instructor at Princeton Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You can follow him on Instagram here.

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