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?
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"
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.
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 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...
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
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...
Dumbbell Bench Press
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...
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)
*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.
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...