• Alex Parry

Strength Training for BJJ: The Complete Guide

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is getting more competitive every single year; as the art has grown in popularity worldwide so has the level of talent it's drawn in. It makes sense to look for every advantage you can get, and strength training for BJJ might just be the answer. As a professional strength & conditioning (S&C) coach with a background in jiu-jitsu and judo, I've written this article to take you through the essentials of strength training for jiu-jitsu, including...



Let's get started, shall we?



strength training for bjj


Is Strength training good for BJJ?


100% yes. Not only is strength training good for BJJ, but beyond a certain level, I would argue that it's pretty much essential.


No one is denying that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a technical sport, in fact having trained in Jiu-Jitsu and Judo myself for a good few years, I know first-hand just how much time and effort has to go into skill learning. However, if you have two fighters in the same weight class, both of a similar skill level, the stronger fighter is winning that fight 99 times out of 100.



How Strong Do You Need To Be For Jiu-Jitsu?


I've always thought that this is a sort of pointless question. Hear me out... Let's say that I tell you that you need to squat 1.5x bodyweight, and bench press 1.3x bodyweight, and you hit those numbers within 6 months of training. Are you suddenly going to stop strength training? What if you're naturally someone who gets strong really easily, and with another 6 months of pretty easy weight training you could be squatting 2x bodyweight and bench pressing 1.6x bodyweight. Why on earth would you miss out on that HUGE competitive advantage you might have. So the answer is this...

"As strong as you can possibly be"


Strength Training for the BJJ Fighter - Guiding Principles


1) BJJ Training Comes First


It might sound insanely obvious, but actually training BJJ is more important than your strength training.


I've had athletes come to me saying that they've started doing some weight training for BJJ, and got loads stronger, but it hasn't improved their Jiu-Jitsu. So I ask them... "How many times per week are you practising BJJ?" Only for them to usually respond with, "Once or twice per week"


Nope.


surprised pikachu jiu jitsu meme

BJJ is a technical sport, it needs to be trained often, and your strength training shouldn't take away from that.



2) Strength Training Doesn't Have to Be Super Sport-Specific


In almost every sport I've worked with, athletes and sports coaches seem to get the mistaken idea that every movement you do in the gym needs to look or feel similar to something you do in your sport. On the surface it seems like it makes sense, but look at it this way...


"If you already spend multiple hours training those movements in your BJJ sessions, what makes you think doing more of the same is going to magically improve your game?"

Your time in the gym is best used doing things that you don't or can't do on the mats. We'll talk more about the specific exercises in the next section. But this is why you won't find any "weighted guard passes" or "cable resistance leg sweeps" in the list.



For Custom Strength Programming for Jiu-Jitsu - Click Here



What Exercises Help With BJJ?


I would describe BJJ as a chaotic, full-body workout that utilises multiple muscle groups in hundreds of different sequences. What this means is that we need a pretty wide selection of exercises and variations to train for it.


Squats


Squats are one of the most effective, and simplest ways to increase leg strength. Leg strength can help a lot in guard as you can apply more pressure and exert more control over your opponent. Stronger legs are also useful for more forceful takedowns, and for leg sweeps.



Variations that I recommend include...


  • Back squats

  • Front Squats

  • Goblet Squats



Deadlifts


Deadlifts are a posterior chain exercise that work your hamstrings, glutes, lower back and spinal erectors. Developing strength in these muscles can help with bridging and hip escapes, as well takedowns and maintaining your guard.



Variations that work well include...


  • RDL's (Romanian Deadlifts)

  • Snatch (Wide Grip) Deadlifts

  • Kettlebell Deadlifts



Bench Press


The bench press is a simple and effective way of building upper body pushing strength in the chest, shoulders and triceps. This kind of strength can help with framing against your opponent in mount or side control



Other variations I like include...


  • Press Ups

  • Dumbbell Bench Press



Barbell Rows


Barbell rows are a great way to build pulling strength in your lats and upper back, as well as grip strength, all of which is useful for just about everything you do in BJJ.



Variations I like include...

  • Dumbbell Rows

  • Seated rows

  • Prone Rows



Pull-Ups


Pull-ups are another great strength builder for your lats, upper back and grip strength, only this time you're training a vertical pulling motion. Personally, I also found that I was able to pull off a few gi-chokes easier once I had the lat strength to pull down and maintain a tight position.



Variations I like include...

  • Chin-Ups (Palms towards you)

  • Rope/Towel Pull-Ups


*If you don't have the strength for pull-ups yet (or you're a heavier fighter) you can add resistance bands to the top bar for assistance, or use an assisted pull-up machine in the gym. Both options work great.


Overhead Press


The overhead press is one of the best ways to build strength in your shoulders and triceps, and just like the bench press it can help with framing against your opponent in mount or side control. Also, I think it really helps to pull off some quality standing over the shoulder the type throws.



Good variations also include...

  • Push Press

  • Kneeling DB Overhead Press



3-Dimensional Core Work


I say 3-dimensional core work because when we're strength training for Jiu-Jitsu, there are 3 main types of movement that we want to train our torso to resist against, so exercises fall into 3 categories...

Anti-extension: Best trained by exercises like planks and deadbugs

Anti-lateral flexion: Best trained by side planks

Anti-rotation: Best trained by paloff presses


With a strong, well developed core you'll be able to resist forces pushing you forwards, backwards, down or sideways, making you an incredibly hard fighter to control. Not only that, but you'll be able to better transfer force throughout your own body, making you more powerful and your movements more efficient.


BJJ Workout Plan


Alright, now that we've got our exercises we need to start putting them together in ways that make sense, with appropriate sets, reps and intensities. To do that, I like to have my athletes follow 3 simple rules... 1) Keep most of the reps in the 2-6 rep range. This is best for strength without adding too much extra size. BJJ is a weight classed sport after all.


2) Since you're not a powerlifter you won't be maxing out all the time, so you won't really know your 1 rep maxes. Instead, we use RPE (rate of perceived exertion) where 10/10 is as hard as possible. So by training at a 7 or 8 out of 10 we're working hard, but still leaving a couple of reps in the tank each time.


3) Aim to get warmed up, attack your session and get out of the gym within an hour. Remember, you're strength training for Jiu-Jitsu, not to be the next worlds strongest man. Get your work done then get home and start recovering.


Here's what it looks like in practice...



2-day strength training for BJJ


Day 1:


Squat: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 8 Bench Press: 4 sets of 5 @ RPE 8

Barbell Row: 4 sets of 5 @ RPE 7

Plank: 3 sets of 30+s

Side Plank: 2 sets of 30+ s per side



Day 2:


Deadlift: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 7

Overhead Press: 4 sets of 5 @ RPE 8

Pull-Ups: 4 sets of 5

Paloff Press: 2 sets of 10 each side



3-day strength training for BJJ


Day 1:


Squat: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 8 Bench Press: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 8

Barbell Row: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 7

Plank: 3 sets of 30+s

Side Plank: 2 sets of 30+ s per side



Day 2:


Front Squat: 3 sets of 3 @ RPE 7

Overhead Press: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 8

Pull-Ups: 3 sets of 5

Paloff Press: 2 sets of 10 each side



Day 3:


Deadlift: 3 sets of 5 @ RPE 7

DB Bench Press: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

DB Rows: 2 sets of 6-8 reps each side

Deadbugs: 2 sets of 10 each side



For Custom Strength Programming for Jiu-Jitsu - Click Here



Planning and Progressing Your BJJ Strength and Conditioning Program


I see athletes and coaches making strength training for Jiu-Jitsu far more complicated than it needs to be with complex 12 and 16-week periodized strength training programs. I can promise you right now, that for 95% of the people reading this, that level of complexity is totally unneccesary.


For most of us, the simplest and most effective way to progress your strength training for BJJ, is just to add a little bit of weight to the bar each week for as long as possible. That's it.



What About Fatigue?


Maybe when you feel tired take a nice and easy light day. And maybe if you've been pushing quite hard for 5+ weeks you might want to consider taking a lighter or 'deload' week. But that's all the complexity you need.



What if Progress Stops?

If you're getting really bored, or your lifts are getting stale and not improving for a few weeks, then just swap them out for a different variation listed above. Bench got stale? Try push ups for a while. Pull-ups got stale? Give Rope/Towel Chin Ups a go.

Who Needs More Complexity?


If you've been strength training consistently for a number of years, progress is going to come much slower, and you'll probably reach a point where weekly or even bi-weekly weight increases just aren't happening (despite how much you vary the exercises) If that's you, then that's great, because it means you're already pretty damn strong. But it's also tricky, because you're going to have to start approaching strength PR's from a 12 to 16 week perspective, using phasic programmes which vary sets, reps and loads more intelligently.


You're also going to have to consider whether or not it's actually worth it to put in all that extra work just to get a little bit stronger, or whether your time might be better spent maximising your time on the mat.


The reality is that I can't give you an accurate answer without more info, but if you drop me an email (alex@characterstrength.co.uk) I'll be happy to offer some advice based on your specific situation.



How to Structure a Strength Training Program for BJJ


Thinking back to principle number 1, our main priority is our actual sport, so we need to structure our weight training for BJJ in a way that minimises interference.


In practice, this means that we'll ideally not be placing any hard strength training sessions right before hard BJJ sessions. Additionally, we'll try to use a heavy-light alternating structure to allow for recovery time between hard training sessions.


Following these rules, here's what a recreational timetable might look like...


strength training for bjj recreational structure

  • There are 5 total training sessions (3 BJJ and 2 strength)


  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are harder days, whilst Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday are lighter days.



And here's what an elite timetable might look like...


strength training for bjj elite structure

  • There are 9 total sessions (6 BJJ and 3 strength)


  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are harder days, whilst Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday are lighter days.


Strength Training for BJJ Frequently Asked Questions


Bodyweight Strength Training For BJJ?


You can absolutely use bodyweight exercises for BJJ strength development. It's all about finding alternative exercises that offer enough resistance. For example...


  • Bench Press = Push Ups wearing a backpack

  • Shoulder Press = Pike or Handstand Push Ups

  • Barbell Squats = Single leg squats

  • Deadlift = Single leg bridges and slides


BJJ and Weight Training Same Day?


For recreational BJJ athletes I would try to keep them on separate days if possible, but it's not the end of the world to have them both on the same day if needed, provided you do your strength training AFTER your BJJ. For elite BJJ athletes it's basically unavoidable.



Should You Do Olympic Lifts and Kettlebells for BJJ?


The olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk) are great movements for developing explosive power. However, as someone who actively coaches and delivers seminars for British Weightlifting, I can tell with certainty that they're not always the easiest or the quickest movements to learn - and the time investment just might not be worth it as a BJJ athlete. With that said, you can have good success utilising simplified variations of the movements. So instead of performing a full clean from the floor, I might have my athletes perform a power clean from the blocks. The higher start position makes the pull easier, and catching the bar without having to squat down makes the lift technically simpler.


Kettlebells are okay, but they're not magic. I like kettlebell swings as a power and core control exercise for BJJ. But for the most part, the weights are too light to really maximise strength development.



Next Steps


Alright, that's enough reading for today, time for some action..

1) Get in the gym and start working through one of the 2 or 3-day example programmes I provided. Get stronger, get the edge on your opponents.

2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.

3) And if you're looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to improve your sports performance, you can find more information about my services here.


'Til Next Time Alex



Alex Parry, Msc, BA

Alex's experience includes 7+ years within strength & conditioning, including supporting 2 major universities, 2 national talent pathways and a selection of international level athletes.

He is also a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting


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