3 Reasons Strength Training Is Essential for BJJ

Strength training is essential in most sports; it enables you to reach your full potential while making your body less prone to injury. However, many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners tend to think that technique is the only thing that is worth developing. So that begs the question, does strength training have any role to play in BJJ?

Strength training is essential for longevity in BJJ since it improves your strength reserve for executing BJJ techniques, protects your joints and minimizes injury risk, and gives you an extra advantage over an equally skilled opponent.

Let’s take a dive into some of the details so that you can decide whether or not it is worth making strength training a part of your routine as a BJJ athlete.

How Having a Strength Reserve Helps Your BJJ Techniques

Strength training and conditioning play a big role when grappling due to the strength reserve effect. If you are stronger and better conditioned you can execute your techniques at a higher level for longer since your technique won’t break down due to a lack of strength or endurance.

In addition, any imperfections in your technique can be compensated for by using more of your strength reserve. In a match-up where grapplers have similar skill levels, the person with superior strength and conditioning will be far more likely to win since they can execute their techniques at a higher quality for longer, and if a technique is used imperfectly it can still succeed if they are physically superior.

Improves Your Performance

A well-planned strength and conditioning program does much to improve your performance. While perfectly executed BJJ techniques are obviously the pinnacle of the art, strength training and physical conditioning play a significant part in your performance on the mats.

This is because in live grappling it is rare that you can execute a technique perfectly and having a bit more power and physicality can make up for any technical shortcomings that occur. This is especially noticeable at the beginning of BJJ training.

Increases Your Muscle Mass

Building up your muscle mass can result in enhanced performance. Having more muscular density on your body will allow you to exert more pressure as well as generate power when you need it. Combined with maintaining a reasonable body fat percentage you can improve your strength-to-weight ratio and have increased energy levels while rolling.

Something to keep in mind is that grappling sports like wrestling, Judo, and BJJ require you to be within specific weight ranges. So for competitions, you will need to monitor your weight and make sure you can weigh in within the right range. For natural athletes, it is very unlikely that you can add too much muscle mass and end up either too heavy or too slow, so don’t let those ideas prevent you from adding some healthy muscle mass to your frame.

It Does Not Slow You Down

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes often don’t think very highly of strength training. Partially this is rooted in the mythos of BJJ because it is supposed to be designed for the smaller weaker grappler to beat larger stronger opponents.

There are some reasons given to justify this idea, one of which is that you’ll end up slower due to strength training and adding muscle mass. This is because some grapplers assume that lifting heavy weights will slow them down, but they couldn’t be further from the truth.

In strength training, for the most part, our body mostly uses type II muscle fibers to lift heavy. These muscle fibers are built for short, intense, and quick movements, much like those used in grappling techniques. If you design your weight training with burst strength in mind, there is actually a direct speed advantage that gets added to your capabilities, the polar opposite of the slowdown that many people think will occur.

It Won’t Make You Bulky

Other grapplers fear becoming too bulky, but this fear is unfounded because this would only happen if you decide to lift with performance-enhancing drugs or eat and train with bodybuilding in mind.

Improving your explosive strength and base muscular endurance will be the focus of a smart strength and conditioning program for BJJ. While training in this manner can add muscle mass, it isn’t optimized for it. Furthermore, adding too much muscle mass just isn’t that likely unless you are a genetic freak.

Focusing on movements with large carryovers that work your body as a unit in similar positions that you run into for BJJ will not make you bulky. Examples of these movements are squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, pull-ups, and rowing movements.

Helps Minimize Loss of Muscle Mass and Loss of Bone Density

For all grapplers, but especially older grapplers, maintaining your muscle mass and bone density is a major concern. By integrating strength training into your routine, you can also slow down or reverse Sarcopenia, the inevitable muscle loss that occurs as you age.

Besides, the more muscle mass your body can hold on to the higher your metabolism and well-being can stay. Strength training is also one of the only proven ways to slow down bone loss or even add bone density back to your bones.

Building Functional Strength Protects Your Joints for BJJ

BJJ comes with an inherently higher risk of joint injury due to the prevalence of joint-lock submissions. Additionally, grappling is simply tough on the body in general. Fortunately, strength training helps strengthen joints and brings down this risk.

Your strength training should center around multi-joint movements to protect you from injury. This essentially involves strengthening joint muscles so as to keep them safe. Strength training also helps develop functional strength, thus allowing you to perform key movements like double leg takedown much more effectively.

Joint mobility coupled with flexibility in the surrounding muscles can assist in injury prevention and performance benefits. As a result, you need to perform proper warm-up exercises in addition to your regular stretching. Try and include some of the below exercises before strength training. You can also include them as a mobility exercise routine on your rest days:

  • Bird-dog
  • Glute stretches
  • T-spine rotation
  • Glute floor bridge
  • Hamstring stretches
  • Downward dog to cobra

I also personally like to focus on pulling exercises such as deadlifts and bent-over rows to strengthen my back to balance out all of the pushing and framing-oriented muscles that inherently see much more use when doing jiu-jitsu.

I like to schedule a minimum of 2 full-body strength sessions each week alongside my regular training. This will result in immense benefits in your ability to roll hard, avoid injuries, and ensure that you get to enjoy BJJ for many years to come.

Strength Provides an Advantage in Similar Skill Matchups

Strength training provides a strength advantage in a contest where your opponent matches your skill level. The additional strength reserve can allow you to execute techniques at a higher level more times and can aid in getting imperfect techniques to work in the middle of a roll.

It is obvious to anybody that has done a sport, that if you can outwork or outmuscle your opponent you can come from a good position of strength. Being able to generate more power, work harder, and work longer will make an enormous difference in the outcome of your rolls with similar skill-level opponents.

Should I Lift Weights Before or After Jiu-Jitsu to Maximize Effectiveness?

If you are lifting weights and training jiu-jitsu on the same day, you should put your lifting before your BJJ training sessions. If possible, try to lift early in the day and put at least 4 hours of time between lifting and training jiu-jitsu.

A good example of balancing lifting and jiu-jitsu training is to lift before work or school in the morning, and train jiu-jitsu in the evenings. This will allow sufficient recovery and let you move with something closer to normal physical capacity.

If you are completely destroyed by your lifting workout try to keep your rolls less intense and more playful.

Performing heavy lifts after BJJ training is more dangerous since most of your stabilizer muscles will be shot and you are more likely to end up with muscle strains or poor lifting technique. If you have to lift after jiu-jitsu class for scheduling reasons, just lift lighter and focus on movement quality through your exercises.

Final Thoughts

Strength training is essential for longevity in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Working on your strength and conditioning can make a big difference in your ability to execute techniques properly on the mats. It isn’t a substitute for improving your BJJ techniques, but it really synergizes with your BJJ training and will make you a better athlete overall.

You also can’t ignore sleep and nutrition. These recovery vectors will need to be kept up since adding strength and muscle mass will need more sleep for recovery purposes, and you need to keep your nutrition on point for similar reasons. I try to eat enough carbs to feel energized for my lifting and BJJ and eat a minimum of 0.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and seem to do fine just focusing on that.

For more check out Should You Choose Calisthenics or Lifting for Combat Sports?

Andre

Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I have always been fascinated with martial arts and train them as often as I can. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and train judo and wrestling as secondary martial arts. I help to coach a kid's grappling program that blends all three martial arts. I hope that you find the value that you are looking for in the articles on this website.

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