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Strength Training for BJJ: All You Need to Know

A lot of people find it awkward talking about strength training for BJJ.

There are a lot of different opinions on how important it is to do weight lifting or strength training. Most people go into one of two camps:

A) Strength training is cheating, or not important, and the only thing that’s important is to get better at Jiu Jitsu.
B) Strength training is a basic requirement for a physical sport like BJJ, and everyone should do it.

Not sure which side of the fence you sit on? No worries. Read on and we’ll explain more.

Do You Need to be Strong for BJJ?

It’s certainly a misconception a lot of outsiders have of Jiu Jitsu that you need to be big and strong to do it.

The point of BJJ is to allow smaller and lighter people to triumph against stronger foes through technique and leverage. So one could say that strength goes against the basic nature of Jiu Jitsu.

You definitely don’t need to be strong to be good at BJJ. If you look at Hélio Gracie, one of the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you don’t see a muscle-bound hulk. Yet he would have been able to submit most of the people on the planet in his time.

However, it’s foolish to say that being strong doesn’t help. If you’re against someone with same level of technique, the stronger person is going to win out. And as you get stronger, the importance of always having better technique goes down.

There are weight classes in BJJ for a reason. At the same belt level, a heavyweight almost certainly will beat a lightweight, in part because they’re likely to be that much stronger.

Should I Lift Weights for Jiu Jitsu?

Generally speaking, weight training is going to make you better at Jiu Jitsu. The stronger you are, the easier it will be to pull off most techniques.

In the following video, martial arts legends John Danaher, Georges St-Pierre and BJJ black belt Lex Fridman discuss strength and BJJ:

Danaher makes some really fantastic points. A summary of his view on whether you should lift weights for BJJ is such:

  • Getting stronger is always going to be beneficial for your Jiu Jitsu.
  • However, if the question is whether you’re better off making improvements in strength, versus improvements in technique, it’s not so clear.
  • Danaher believes there is a point of diminishing returns for strength training, where getting stronger won’t have a noticeable effect on your BJJ.
  • If in doubt, and as long as you have a basic level of strength already, he says to improve technique over strength and conditioning.

So, what we can take away from that is that it’s good to lift weights for BJJ, and work on getting stronger, as long as you don’t sacrifice technical improvement to do it.

I would also say that it’s often not a good idea to lift weights as a way to get better at BJJ when you’re still a white belt. That’s because, at this stage, you’ve got a lot to learn technique-wise.

You could get to the point where you can beat blue belts by getting super strong, but your technique won’t be polished, because you’ll usually have the strength to get ahead when the move is only 50% right.

As a white belt, you want to be focused on learning, not winning. Once you at least have the fundamentals down, you can start thinking about how to integrate strength training for your BJJ game.

Does BJJ Build Muscle?

So how about doing BJJ as a way to get stronger?

There’s no question that, if you’re a skinny person who has never done any kind of strength training before, BJJ can help you build muscle and increase body weight.

You’re going to be using your muscles and using strength both in drilling and rolling. Whenever you use muscles, particularly in a repetitive fashion, you’re going to build some muscle.

The extent to which you build muscle from BJJ will depend on how much you utilize strength vs technique, as well as standard things like your diet, and what kind of nutritional supplements you take.

Realistically you’re unlikely going to build a ton of muscle just from doing BJJ, unless you’re absolutely stick thin to start with, or you spend every training session bench pressing heavyweights off you from side control.

Will Jiu Jitsu Get Me Ripped?

A better question is whether you’ll get ripped from doing BJJ.

If you look at most professional Jiu Jitsu competitors, you’re usually going to find they’re pretty damn shredded.

That’s likely not only because they do BJJ – you can bet they do some conditioning outside of Jiu Jitsu too. But BJJ is a good way to cut down body fat and get a ripped physique.

In your average BJJ class, you’re going to burn a lot of calories. Combine that with the full-body muscle activation, as well as how important your core is in BJJ, if you train consistently you’re probably going to come out with a great body, even by accident.

Can I Bulk and Still Do BJJ?

Just because you’re going to burn calories and lean out with BJJ, it doesn’t mean you can’t do BJJ while you’re trying to put on bulk.

You will want to manage your calorie output in BJJ, however, if you really want to bulk as efficiently as possible. In fact, I’d go so far to say you can’t bulk 100% efficiently while still doing BJJ. You’re going to end up doing more endurance, metabolic and cardio activity than you would want to if bulking was your only focus.

But that’s not to say you can’t get bigger. Your diet obviously matters a lot, so get that right outside of BJJ. And try to be a little slower and more controlled when you roll, to limit your calorie output.

Optimal Strength Training Program for BJJ

So, what’s the best way to do strength training for BJJ?

As mentioned earlier, when you’re a white belt, I’d advise not doing strength training at all, or at least not specifically in order to get better at BJJ.

As you get more experienced, it’s a good thing to throw in alongside your Jiu Jitsu. A few sessions a week of weight lifting, or a similar type of strength training (circuits, HIIT, TRX, etc) will supplement your BJJ game well, and also break up the same old routine of BJJ training, helping you stay interested.

Ideally you’ll want to do strength training exercises that hit multiple muscle groups in functional movements. Isolation exercises – e.g. bicep curls – are great if you want to look good, but not so good for performance.

You’re better off doing exercises that work the whole body. Kettlebells are great for this. They’re functional, working both the upper body and lower body, and help build muscle in a way that will benefit you on the mats.

Training with kettlebells doubles as both a strength and conditioning program, working your cardio and core, both vital parts of getting fit for BJJ.

Best of all, kettlebells are convenient. I suggest picking up a cheap kettlebell online, and doing a quick circuit at home on your off day to add to your BJJ training.

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