BJJ practitioners spar or “roll” daily, and you may often hear them using the term “flow rolling.” But what does flow rolling mean in BJJ, and how does it differ from regular sparring?
Flow rolling is sparring done at a lighter and less competitive pace. The key is not to win but to keep the action “flowing” without putting on much resistance and giving the opponent space to work and practice techniques.
This makes flow rolling safe and one of the best methods to learn and progress.
Let’s further discuss flow rolling in BJJ, the benefits of this type of sparring, and how to “flow roll” correctly.
What Is Flow Rolling?
Flow rolling is a slowed-down variation of sparring. Practitioners get into an exchange at lower intensity and pressure, where the goal is to perform in a relaxed manner. The key is to avoid using full force and relying on explosive movements to win the exchange at all costs.
It is still as continuous and spontaneous as when you are preparing for matches. But the goal is different. There is no winning or losing. The entire emphasis is on learning.
BJJ is known as a “gentle martial art” because it emphasizes technique, leverage, balance, and re-direction of energy. Flow rolling is an excellent representation of this concept as it enables you to focus solely on these areas of grappling.
Both sides will give each other space to work and avoid taking significant risks during flow rolling. Instead, the focus is on exchanging positions, movement, attacking, and getting out of bad spots while keeping it all light and flowing. You may even intentionally allow the partner to put you in a bad position to learn how to escape it.
Remember, you don’t need to spar hard each time you step on the mats and win each exchange to develop proper BJJ skills. In fact, flow grappling shares the same benefits as rolling at high intensity, and in the following section, you will learn why.
Benefits Of Flow Rolling
Flow rolling at a lower intensity has many benefits, and the following are the most important ones:
During intense sparring, most practitioners solely rely on maximizing their strengths and covering their weaknesses. With the adrenalin rushing in and things playing out quickly, the mind relies on muscle memory and pulling the moves, you are good at. Flow rolls are great because you can isolate the holes in your game and work on improving your weaknesses.
Due to the lower intensity and competitiveness, there is no mental pressure or fear of losing and your ego being disturbed. While rolling, you can intentionally put yourself in a situation you have difficulty getting out of or drill a specific technique you struggle to master.
Partners also agree on drilling a specific grappling scenario. One person would focus on improving escapes from the bottom, while their partner would practice top control.
Lower Risk Of Injuries And Faster Recovery
People get hurt by sparring at a fast pace, exploding out of positions, grabbing, and intense pulling on the joints. The most common cause of minor or severe injuries in BJJ is not submissions but the intensity of sparring.
Awkward falls, the opponent’s knee hitting your rib cage, not taping on time, and many other situations with intense and reckless rolls are the biggest contributors to injuries. A bad decision or accident can put you on the sidelines for months, destroying your progress.
Luckily, flow rolling enables you to spar with a much lower impact on the body and overall risk of injuries. You and the partner will spar cooperatively, allowing each other to work without excessive force. This “gentle” approach reduces the risk of injuries and puts less stress on the body. As a result, you will recover faster after each workout and train more often.
Give You Space To Try New Techniques
The relaxing and chilling nature of flow rolling gives you space to expand your arsenal by working on new techniques. Most students heavily rely on their instincts and muscle memory during hard sparring.
They are afraid to try new techniques because if they fail, the opponent will react, and they will lose a position or get submitted. Due to this fear, most students would stick with what they know best.
Still, this is bad regarding progression, as you will hit a certain limit and get stuck on your journey at some point. And it makes your mind rigid too. To get to the next level and grow, you must adopt new skills and techniques and learn how to use them in sparring. And one of the best methods to do this is by flow rolling as much as possible. Repetition is the mother of progression.
Flow rolling is done in a judgment-free environment where you can test new techniques and fail as much as you want. Be open to your training partner and let them know about the specific technique or move you are trying to master. You can spend the entire round working on repeating one move until you get it right.
Makes You More Aware
Flow rolling is very beneficial for beginners, as it teaches you how to relax during the roles and calm down. Being relaxed during the light rolls opens your mind and allows you to think about your actions.
You can break down and understand each position, transition, and technique with a calm and open mind. This further teaches you how to think two-three steps in advance and chain different moves together, which is how you progress in grappling. Over time, you will transition these valuable skills to intense sparring and enjoy big improvements.
It Is Fun And Playful
Flow rolling is almost as fun as intense sparring and is playful. You can often see experienced students rolling around like kids, constantly switching positions, laughing, and having fun. It is a judgment-free atmosphere where no one tries to prove anything to anybody. The main goal is to roll through the sequences effortlessly, learn as much as possible, and have fun.
Going hard constantly stresses your body and mind, and flow rolling is an excellent method to make the training more dynamic. Some practitioners find it to be a great stress reliever as well.
How To Flow Roll in BJJ Classes
Each student should approach flow rolling casually. The goal is not to win every exchange as if in a real match but to learn how to let it go and perform in a flow. Each side must have enough space and time to isolate specific technical aspects of their game and work on improving these areas.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of flow-rolling sessions.
Don’t Use Excessive Force
The most important rule is to keep it all light and avoid applying excessive pressure. Do not pull hard on the opponents’ joints or hold on to a specific position. Even if you are in a dominant position, let it go and do not fully resist the opponent trying to escape.
Instead of being stuck in one position and stalling the action, dial back the intensity and keep the action flowing. Don’t hold in there for dear life. Relax and play.
Let Your Opponent Work
Always give space and time to your training partner to work, get out of position, or put you in an uncomfortable situation. If you end up in a dominant position from where you can finish the partner or hold them locked, pull back the intensity and give them space and time to escape. That’s how people are learning and progressing in BJJ.
In the other scenario, you may intentionally put yourself in a bad situation. For instance, give the back mount to your opponent, and practice how to escape multiple times until you do it. Putting your ego aside and jumping out of your comfort zone will make you a better grappler.
Control Your Ego
The best thing about flow rolling is the lack of mental pressure. You don’t have to prove anything to coaches, yourself, or training partners. You are doing the right thing as long as you are relaxed, focused on learning, and not worrying too much about winning or losing.
Relaxing and letting go of your ego might be a challenge for people with competitive nature. Learning to give away positions and moves is a skill on its own, and you must continuously practice it to get used to it.
What might help you turn off the competitive mode is the understanding that flow rolling in a light and relaxed manner is equally beneficial as intense sparring.
In some way, flow rolling is a pure representation of what BJJ is all about. It is fun, playful, safe, and above all, productive. Regardless of skill level, each student should consistently flow roll with other students as you can’t expect to progress and grow without adopting this method into your training regime.
In the long run, rolling at a cooperative pace without much resistance will boost your skills and progress in full-contact sparring and competition. And since it is playful and performed in a relaxed manner, it also makes training more dynamic and fun.