You can’t get on the mat as much as you like? Me too. If I’m travelling and can’t get to another club, then strength training for BJJ it is.
What if you can make it to Jiu Jitsu as much as you want?
Awesome. But imagine this:
There are two people who weigh the same, and they both have equal levels of skill. But one of them is stronger, and has better endurance.
Who do you think will have better Jiu Jitsu?
Do you need strength for BJJ?
Yes, you need some level of strength to apply most techniques. But also…
There’s some specific benefits of doing strength training for BJJ:
- Strength training will improve your rolling endurance. It doesn’t work the other way around though… endurance training won’t increase your strength.
- A good strength training program can actually improve your flexibility
- Strong muscles and tendons are less prone to injury
But how do you increase your grappling strength? Good question:
How do you get stronger in BJJ?
There’s the obvious “lift weights” approach, but really:
It’s not just about getting stronger… because you can also learn to use what strength you already have more effectively.
There’s 3 ways you can get stronger for BJJ… and 2 of them can be improved almost instantly.
1. Learn how to use your weight properly to feel heavier
In Paulo Guillobel’s book Mastering The 21 Immutable Principles Of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, one of the chapters can be summarized as:
You feel heavier by focusing your weight on one side, and by driving with your feet and/or hands
The very next class I attended someone commented on how heavy I was…
….it’s crazy to think reading a couple of pages from a book can make you feel stronger just by using your weight more effectively
2. Use frames and levers to more effectively use the strength you already have
Notice how some big guys are easy to move around on the mat… while some smaller people can have their way with you?
Jiu Jitsu techniques all have some underlying physics and biomechanics at play.
Stephan Kesting and Rob Biernacki illustrate these with 11 BJJ core concepts… and one of these is summed up as:
Use skeletal strength vs. muscular strength… and use the end of the lever to gain a mechanical advantage
The best example of this is in the attempting a figure-4 armlock from mount. You could:
- Try to push down your opponent’s arm using all of your strength, or
- Grip their wrist (the end of the lever), then use all of your weight through straight arms like you’re trying to do a handstand
[This is actually from their BJJ Back Attacks Formula… not as a submission, but as a way of creating the turn to take the back from mount]
3. Do a strength training for BJJ workout routine
The best strength training for BJJ workout routines all have some things in common:
- The right exercises
- The right amount of repetitions, sets, and rest periods, and
- Doing it at the right time
Let’s get started
The best strength training for BJJ workout routine
1. The best exercises for BJJ are the big lifts
The best exercises for BJJ are:
- Pull ups.
These will make you stronger in the shortest amount of time.
Because they work nearly every muscle in your body.
[Variations of cleans can be your friend… but get some coaching on these]
2. Choose the right rep scheme
Make sure you choose a combination of sets, reps, and rest periods that will help you reach your goals.
A generally accepted protocol for novices that includes a good balance of strength and hypertrophy is 3 sets of 5 repetitions (3 x 5).
To start with.
If you want to increase your strength and size then a 3 x 5 rep scheme is your friend
3. Do the most taxing exercises first
You’re setting yourself up for failure (and injury) if you leave an exercise that requires the most core stability last.
A hierarchy is squats, press, rows, pull-ups.
These progressively use less and less muscles.
[Leave isolation exercises to last. Or don’t do them.]
4. The goal of your first workout is to find your starting weight
Start with the bar.
- Do the first exercise with good form.
- Add a little weight.
- Keep adding a little more until your movement just starts to slow down.
- Move to the next exercise.
That’s it for today. That’s your weights for the next workout.
5. Use linear progression
Each workout add a tiny little bit of weight. Slow and steady.
After several workouts you’ll hit a point where you can’t make your target number of reps.
Unless you can chalk it down to being tired or unwell, it’s time for a ‘reset’.
Reduce the weight by 10%, then work your way back up. It’s more than likely you’ll nudge past your previous limit.
6. Break it up
Leg strength, pushing strength, pulling strength. Each workout. For example,
Workout A: Deadlift, squat, bench, pull-ups.
Workout B: Squat, press, rows.
Done properly, these exercises will 100% give your core a workout.
[And, it’ll work it out in a way that is actually useful]
But sure, if you’re after a 6-pack feel free to add in some core-specific exercises.
Just not sit-ups.
7. Don’t forget to improve your grip strength
As well as developing your overall strength, there’s some specific strength needs for BJJ:
You might be able to lift a truck, but if you can’t grip a Gi it’s all a waste.
Should I lift weights before or after Jiu Jitsu?
If you’re learning BJJ, your strength and conditioning training should be AFTER your BJJ classes.
When you go to BJJ, you’re going there to learn and hone new skills.
If you’re already fatigued, then this will affect how you perform them. You will only reinforce bad habits.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanence. It’s perfect practice that makes perfect.
The exception to this rule is when you already know the technical side of BJJ from thousands of hours of training and you’re preparing for competition.
[This is “Exercise and Sport Science: Skill Development 101″… it applies to basketball, baseball, shooting… anything really]
What are some strength training for BJJ mistakes?
1. Don’t get sloppy
The priority of work is technique, then consistency, then intensity.
If your form is breaking down, it’s time for a reset.
[Please don’t do kipping pull-ups. Unless you want to see me in my physio clinic]
2. Don’t progress your weights too fast
Small incremental changes add up. You’ll hardly the notice the increase to start with.
It’ll give your body time to adapt (your tendons adapt more slowly than your muscles).
It won’t affect your Jiu Jitsu on the mat because you won’t be too sore.
3. Don’t waste your time
If you want to do exercises to work on your beach muscles, knock yourself out.
But, if you want to get strong, do them after you’ve done the big lifts.
[Hint: You’ve already given them a workout anyway.]
Strength training for BJJ using bodyweight exercises
Yes. You can increase your strength using nothing but your bodyweight.
[It’s what I did for a year while doing a lap of Australia]
Instead of progressing the weight you lift, you increase the difficulty of exercises.
For example, check out this squat progression:
Squat, 1/2 Pistol, Assisted Pistol, Pistol, Pistol with Backpack
If you can’t do already do a pull-up, or you don’t want to be that dodgy guy at a playground, rings are your friend.
Whenever I’m travelling I pack a set of rings or a suspension trainer.
Another good option is towel pull-ups.
Pressing movements? Vary how high you place your fee for elevated push-ups.
The best strength training for BJJ resources
Without a doubt the best resource out there to learn about strength training is a book called Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
This covers so much:
How to get stronger without getting bigger.
Which lifts you should perform.
How to perform the lifts properly.
Which exercises are a waste of time.
How to program workouts effectively. Meat and potatoes.
If you want to get sport-specific though, click here to check out Beyond Grappling’s Strength Training for Judo.
It’s a great strength training for BJJ program even though it has Judo in the title (Matt D’Aquino is a BJJ Black Belt… as well as a Judo Olympian!).
If kettlebells area all you have access to, then check out Kettlebells for Grapplers.
I like this one because it has different programs to make sure you master different kettlebell moves before moving on to intermediate and advanced kettlebell workouts.
Plus, these give you a good grip strength workout which is great for BJJ (amongst other things).
Is there a downside to doing strength training for Jiu Jitsu?
There’s no downside to being strong. But:
Doing the actual training can come with at a cost:
- You can waste your time if you focus on the wrong exercises. Strength is specific to the movement you train. If you do bicep curls… you get good at bicep curls. Not much else. Okay, it might save you from an armbar. For about 3 seconds. Other than that, there’s little carry over to functional movements like pulling.
- A good strength training program requires a decent amount of equipment. Weight plates. An Olympic bar. A flat bench. Squat stands (these are a cheap and space-saving alternative to a benchpress and squat rack). Or, it’ll mean you have to go to a gym.
- It’s addictive…
Which types of grapplers shouldn’t do strength training?
There is never a time that you shouldn’t do strength training.
But, you can end up spending too much time on it when you no longer need to.
I recommend setting some strength goals.
When you hit these, go into maintenance mode. Then start spending some of that time elsewhere (like flexibility).
The benchmarks I like to work around are based on my bodyweight:
Pull-up 1/2x, and
When I’m at these my BJJ workout routines are then focused on how I use this strength.
Summary: Strength training for BJJ
A good strength training program isn’t just about making you stronger.
You’ll last longer on the mat.
You’ll be less prone to injury.
This means you’ll get more quality out of your time on the mat, and your Jiu Jitsu will improve.
Comment below if there’s anything about strength training for BJJ you’d like more info on?