While Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a very technical sport, the elite levels of competition are being increasingly dominated by very muscular athletes. But does BJJ build such muscles?
BJJ training on its own is not enough to build appreciable muscle mass. While the resistance and isometric tension during grappling will increase strength and promote growth in some muscles, it’s not enough to stimulate growth. To build bigger muscles for BJJ, you need to lift weights or do other forms of resistance training.
The fact that BJJ does not build muscles does not mean it’s not beneficial, but what exactly does BJJ do to your body?
BJJ does not build any significant muscle mass because it does not meet the muscle hypertrophy criteria, which are mechanical tension and metabolic stress. The optimal way to promote muscle growth is through resistance training, be it lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises.
The key is to contract the muscles through their full range of motion. This can be done with heavy loads, doing exercises until the muscles fail, or by isometric holds. And usually, none of these things happen in BJJ regularly or intensely enough to lead to muscle growth.
With that said, BJJ does build muscle strength and endurance in many muscle groups, and the resistance from holding or manipulating another human still promotes some muscle growth.
Some areas, especially grip, arm, and core strength, will be vastly improved by holding grips, maintaining guard, changing positions, and applying and defending submissions. With that also comes muscle development.
The bottom line is that BJJ is a very inefficient way of building muscle, so you need resistance training with weights and your own body weight. The types of resistance training will vary depending on the goals, but in this case, you will have to lift weights for the best size and strength results applicable on the mats.
The muscle-building effects of BJJ can be more pronounced for those who are completely new, not only to BJJ but also to resistance training. Then the tension and resistance of grappling will be enough to build muscles, at least in the initial stages.
Will BJJ Get You Ripped?
BJJ is an excellent full-body workout and will certainly get you in shape. With the proper diet, it will also help you get ripped. After all, being “ripped” means having a visible muscle definition. The main factor is having a low body fat percentage.
The combination of movement in all planes, like pulling, pushing, twisting, and isometric holds, provides the entire body with a serious workout. You will burn many calories each time you roll on the mats.
BJJ will improve your body composition and can serve as cardio. Still, for the fully ripped physique you see at the professional level, you will also need a proper diet and a lot of weight lifting (and likely some other not-very-legal substances if you want to look like Andre Galvao or Gordon Ryan).
What Does BJJ Do To Your Body?
Not only will BJJ help you get ripped, but it will also get you in better shape overall. Grappling combines low- and high-intensity effort and improves fitness on multiple levels. The typical class is around an hour and a half, much of which you will spend huffing and puffing at elevated heart rate levels, improving your cardiovascular fitness.
Then all the rolling will inevitably build some specific types of strength, like a bone-crushing grip. Years of BJJ can make your forearms and hands look like Popeye’s if you train mainly in a gi.
Other movements like choke attempts, seatbelt grips, and many others also build serious strength in the biceps and arms. This resistance can also help build some muscle, but most gains will come in terms of strength, not size.
Bridging, shrimping, and technical get-ups are good bodyweight exercises with many carryovers to general fitness and also contribute to overall muscle development and can be used as separate exercises for conditioning.
Muscle Groups That Are Strengthened Through BJJ
The core muscles are much more than the abs and include the lower and midback, the lateral trunk muscles, and some of the hip muscles. The core is important in BJJ and will be worked on constantly throughout the entire practice.
Almost every move in BJJ, from the bridge to hip escapes to applying submissions like the triangle, depends highly on having a strong core. With time, you will have one by grappling alone, even with no supplemental training whatsoever.
The core muscles won’t do much for you to look more muscular, but they will do an awful lot while you are on the mats.
Arms And Torso
The entire arms get a hell of a workout in BJJ. The tension and resistance are insufficient to promote muscle growth, especially if you are better and do not stay tensed the whole time but only when necessary. Still, the muscle endurance and strength in the forearms and biceps, in particular, will gradually become significant.
Appling chokes and joint locks will engage all the arms, shoulders, and chest muscles. But if you train in a gi, you will most likely develop grip strength. Even without supplemental grip strength training, your hands will become pliers.
Do You Need Big Muscles for BJJ
We all know the repeated-to-death (I am also often guilty of this) concept that BJJ is designed to allow technique to beat strength. And while that is completely true, what happens when techniques meet equal technique but superior strength? The answer is a very easy one, and we all know it.
Having strong muscles for BJJ is not a question at all, but the question is how big they should be. Looking like a bodybuilder is not the best decision for everyone, but it can be very beneficial. First, weighing more and having more muscles make it much more unpleasant when you crush someone on the bottom.
The biggest advantage comes when those big muscles are trained and usable in a grappling-specific way. So, for example, a bodybuilder will likely do poorly in BJJ, as his muscles limit mobility and increase energy demands.
But a powerlifter of similar size appropriately trained can also be explosive and exceptionally strong for grappling, in which case the big muscles become an enormous advantage.
So, while you don’t need big muscles for BJJ, big muscles carrying BJJ-specific strength will immensely help in every situation on the mat.
Training Brazilian jiu-jitsu alone will build some muscle, but only to a certain extent and only in some muscle groups. Overall, BJJ does not meet the requirements for balanced and continuous hypertrophy. For that, you need resistance training like lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises.
BJJ will help you get into better shape, improve your cardiovascular conditioning, and significantly increase grappling-specific strength.