Can't you get on the mat as much as you like? Me too. If I’m traveling 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 are some specific benefits of doing strength training for BJJ:
Let’s expand on these points. It sounds counterintuitive that being stronger will improve your BJJ endurance. But it’s about relative effort. Let’s use some arbitrary numbers to illustrate this point.
If you have the capacity to produce 500 Newtons (a measure of force) during an exercise and your opponent can produce 300 N, when performing a technique that requires 150 N, you’re using far less strength relative to your maximum.
This is a crude example; the strength requirements to finish the technique diminish with the proper leverage and technique. However, it demonstrates that you can operate at a lower percentage of your maximum abilities.
Many BJJ players don’t realize that strength training IS flexibility training when done correctly. Static stretching does not make any structural changes to the muscle. Meaning any change in muscle length is temporary and based on sensation.
For example, static stretching for 3-8 weeks increased stretch tolerance but didn’t change muscle or tendon properties . Strength training at long muscle lengths and through a full range of motion adds blocks of muscle fibers, increasing muscle length and the angle you can produce peak force .
This leads to the third point, where stronger and longer muscles and thicker tendons reduce your risk of injury. A systematic review and meta-analysis found strength training can reduce the risk of overuse injury by 50% and sports injuries to less than 33%, whereas stretching show no benefit .
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 your strength more effectively.
There are 3 ways you can get stronger for BJJ… and 2 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 follows:
“You feel heavier by focusing your weight on one side, and by driving with your feet and/or hands.”
The 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 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 is in the attempting a figure-4 armlock from mount. You could:
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. Another example is escaping side control by pushing the armpit as your opponent moves their arm over your head.
You’ll sit up, push, and shrimp simultaneously, but to keep your opponent from flattening you back on the floor, you must lock out your arm and internally rotate your shoulder to "lock it in." Holding this position requires less muscular strength and uses your leverage to your advantage.
3. Do A Strength Training For BJJ Workout Routine
The best strength training for BJJ workout routines all have some things in common:
Let’s get started
The Best Strength Training For BJJ Workout Routine
The best exercises for BJJ are:
These will make you stronger in the shortest amount of time. Why? Because they work nearly every muscle in your body. Variations of the Olympic lifts are also great options, but they require coaching.
When choosing a suitable rep scheme, select a combination of sets, reps, and rest periods to 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). But this depends on the exercise and your training goal. The picture below illustrates that you can use various rep ranges to reach strength and size goals.
For example, we know there is no optimal rep range for building muscle, and lifting across various rep ranges may lead to a greater muscle growth response . However, to maximize strength development, heavier loads are superior to lighter loads .
Typically, in the 1-5 rep range. But you must consider how often and intensely you’re training BJJ, as this will factor into how much volume you do.
When planning your BJJ weight training program, always 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.
An example hierarchy is squats, presses, and pull-ups. These progressively use fewer muscles. It's important to note exercises placed last in the session diminish strength gains in the long term .
A full body is your best option for BJJ weight training when creating your workout split. A simple example is:
Workout A: Deadlift, squat, bench, pull-ups.
Workout B: Squat, press, rows.
But you can go deeper than this and emphasize the lower or upper body. For example, workout A emphasizes lower body with heavier weights and more volume with lighter upper body work.
Should I Lift Weights Before Or After Jiu-Jitsu?
This depends entirely on your strength training program and your life schedule. Sweet Science of Fighting broke this down for you in their video below:
Typically, you’d perform BJJ first and strength training later in the day. However, most people can’t train twice a day due to work, life, and family. If that’s the case, you’d lift weights on days you’re not doing BJJ.
But if you don't have the time and need to lift on the same day as BJJ training, I recommend lifting before your hard BJJ training sessions. This places your most challenging workouts on the same day allowing the following day to recover.
Why before? When volume is prescribed correctly, you should feel like you want to do more after hitting the gym. It serves as an extended warm-up. And in my experience, it won’t hinder your training on the mats.
I’ve found lifting heavy after a hard BJJ session near impossible. But, if you are drilling and doing little sparring, you can lift after BJJ class.
What Are Strength Training Mistakes For BJJ?
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. You should strive to master the form for every exercise and do it better each time.
Don’t Progress Your Weights Too Fast
Small incremental changes add up. You'll hardly notice the increase to start with. Good. 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 mats because you won’t be too sore.
Don’t Waste Your Time
Knock yourself out if you want to do exercises to work on your beach muscles. But, if you want to get strong, do them after you’ve done the big lifts.
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.
What about pulling movements? Rings are your friend if you can't already do a pull-up or want to avoid being that dodgy guy at a playground. Whenever I'm traveling, I pack a set of rings or a suspension trainer.
Another good option is towel pull-ups. What about pressing movements? Vary how high you place your feet for elevated push-ups. However, you will need to hit the gym at some point, as you can only get so far with bodyweight.
The Best Strength Training For BJJ Resources
Without a doubt, the best resource out there is Dominate The Mats by Sweet Science of Fighting. It was specifically designed for grapplers, so you’re not limping to your next BJJ training session while getting brutally strong.
It also includes conditioning based on simple fitness tests, which is optional depending on if you’re competing. Here’s a sample of the 3-day BJJ strength training program Dominate The Mats.
Week 1 Day 1
A1) Jump Squat
3 x 4
A2) 4-Way Band Neck Isometric
3 x 15 sec
B1) Trap Bar Deadlift
3 x 6
C1) Barbell Row
3 x 8
C2) Bench Press
3 x 8
D1) Landmine Rotation
2 x 5/side
D2) Dumbbell Reverse Fly
2 x 10
Week 1 Day 2
A1) Incline Explosive Push-Up
3 x 4
A2) Plate Lateral Neck Flexion
3 x 15/side
B1) Front Squat
3 x 6
3 x 3/fail
3 x 8
D1) Barbell Sit-Up
2 x 10
D2) Towel Bicep Curl
2 x 10
Week 1 Day 3
A1) Medicine Ball Scoop Toss
2 x 4
B1) Lateral Lunge
3 x 8
B2) Lat Pulldown
3 x 10
C1) Weighted Push-Up
3 x 10
C2) Plate Zercher Good Morning
3 x 8
D1) Farmers Walk
2 x 20m
Further, Sweet Science of Fighting has a Farm Boy Strong strength program and Grappling 365, an entire year of training, so you never run out of options.
Get Dominate The Mats Now!
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 a cost:
Which Types Of Grapplers Shouldn’t Do Strength Training?
There is never a time that you shouldn’t do strength training. Ever. But you can spend too much time on it when you no longer need to. I recommend setting some strength goals.
When you hit these, focus on power or size development, depending on your goals. The benchmarks I like to work around are based on my bodyweight:
My BJJ workout routines focus on how I use this strength when I'm at these. The Dominate The Mats BJJ Strength Training Program will get you to all these numbers while improving flexibility and power development.
A good strength training program isn’t just about making you stronger. You’ll last longer on the mat, and you’ll be less prone to injury. This means you’ll get more quality out of your time on the mats, and your Jiu-Jitsu will improve.
Dominate The Mats BJJ Strength Training Program
The Dominate The Mats Strength Training System was created to help fighters just like YOU who are struggling to find the right solution to getting stronger specifically for grappling/BJJ without being sore, tired, and fatigued for training on the mats.
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