Strength training for BJJ: should you do it?
Every BJJ player — whether you’re a hobbyist or competitor — should do at least some strength training.
It will minimize your injuries, keep you on the mats for longer, and make you better at jiu-jitsu.
In this article, I’ll make the case for why strength training is a must for BJJ players.
- Why do strength training for BJJ;
- Principles of strength training for BJJ;
- Strength training for BJJ programs;
- Strength training equipment;
- And much more.
Let’s dive in.
(NOTE: I learned a lot of this information from Dr. Mike Israetel — sports science Ph.D., bodybuilder, and brown belt in jiu-jitsu — in his instructional Weight Training For Grapplers. So, credit to Mike for his excellent information on strength training for jiu-jitsu. Buy the instructional if you want to go in-depth on everything I write about here.)
Why Do Strength Training For BJJ?
Is strength training necessary for BJJ? Absolutely.
There are 3 primary benefits of strength training for BJJ:
1. Makes Your Technique More Effective
“Technique beats strength” is a false dichotomy. You can have good technique and be strong. And being strong will improve your ability to perform techniques.
Sure, being strong won’t teach you how to do jiu-jitsu. But, if you’re strong, you’ll do techniques better.
Take the triangle choke submission, for example. You can have the best triangle choke technique in the world, but if your hamstrings are weak, then your opponent will be able to posture out of it. But, if you have strong hamstrings, and you can bite down on your opponent’s neck with your hamstring. Your strength increases the effectiveness of the submission.
As Dr. Mike says, strength multiplies technique. Sure, technique is more important than strength. But, strength is still important.
Why not be both technically proficient and strong?
2. Minimizes Your Risk Of Injury
Proper strength training will minimize your risk of injury and keep you on the mats longer.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that strength training reduces overuse injuries by up to 50%, and acute injuries by 33%.
Strength training strengthens your bones, connective tissue, and muscles, all of which take a beating when you train jiu-jitsu. By strengthening them, you make yourself less likely to get hurt.
In the summer of 2022, I had a training partners fall on my leg, breaking my tibia. However, I had no ligament damage. My injury could have been much worse. I credit the relatively little damage to how much time I’ve spent strength training.
So, if you want to train jiu-jitsu longer, you’ll become stronger.
And unless you get to professional bodybuilder size, it won’t hurt your flexibility.
3. You’ll Feel & Look Better
When you’re having a good day, do you feel like you roll better?
Lifting weights has proven benefits not only for your physical health but for your mental health as well.
All of these psychological benefits will benefit your jiu-jitsu training. You’ll sleep better, enabling you to recover more quickly. You’ll pick up techniques in class more quickly. And you’ll simply enjoy training more, making you more consistent in your training, which will make you a better grappler.
Oh, and you’ll look better too. Look good, feel good, roll good. It’s not shallow, it’s science.
Principles of Strength Training For BJJ
In his BJJ Fanatics instructional, Weight Training For Grappling, Dr. Mike Israetel breaks down the principles of strength training for BJJ.
Mike has categorized 6 different core movement patterns for grapplers. They are core movements for grapplers because they are movements that you’ll use in jiu-jitsu.
1. Leg/Core Extension
Leg/core extension are movements where you extend your legs and stand upright.
An example of leg/core extension in jiu-jitsu is the technical stand-up — one of the most important techniques.
An example of leg/core extension in the gym is the barbell squat, which works nearly every muscle in your body.
2. Leg/Core Flexion
Leg/core flexion are movements where you flex and crunch your legs.
An example of leg/core flexion in jiu-jitsu is the triangle choke, where you are flexing your leg down through your hamstring to keep your opponent’s posture broken.
An example of leg/core flexion in the gym is hamstring leg curls, which primarily target your hamstrings.
3. Upper Body Pushing
Upper body pushing are movements where you push and extend your arms.
An example of upper-body pushing in jiu-jitsu is the elbow push escape, where you extend and push your arm as a frame to keep your opponent away.
An example of upper-body pushing in the gym is the dumbbell bench press.
4. Upper Body Pulling
Upper body pulling are movements where you pull your arms in.
An example of upper body pulling in jiu-jitsu is being in bottom closed guard, and pulling your opponent into you to break their posture and initiate an attack.
An example of upper body pulling in the gym is pull-ups.
5. Shoulder Abduction
Shoulder abduction refers to movements where you bring your elbows out away from your body.
An example of shoulder abduction in jiu-jitsu is raising your arm over your head to defend a rear-naked choke.
An example of shoulder abduction in the gym is the dumbbell lateral raise exercise.
Gripping refers to your isometric strength when closing your fist.
An example of gripping in jiu-jitsu is taking a cross-collar grip on your opponent (and your ability to hold said grip and prevent grip breaks).
An example of gripping in the gym is dumbbell wrist curls.
To create a strength training for BJJ program, you’ll build your program in the gym around these 6 core movements.
In terms of rep ranges, 5-10 reps is the ideal range for BJJ players.
5-10 reps per exercise provides a solid hypertrophy stimulus, a good strength stimulus, good power stimulus, and has a far lower injury risk than the 1-4 rep range.
2-4 sets per exercise is sufficient for BJJ players who want to get stronger.
Going to the gym before jiu-jitsu is ideal. Try to space out your gym workouts and jiu-jitsu training as much as possible.
If you do BJJ before hitting the gym, you’ll be too tired to push your body in the gym. It will be difficult for you to add weight and get stronger.
If you go to the gym before you train jiu-jitsu, you might be a bit weaker. You won’t be able to rely on strength, but that’s a good thing. You’ll rely more on technique.
For example, if you’re going to the gym and training BJJ on the same day, you might go to the gym at 12pm, and train BJJ at 7 pm (this is my schedule). 6 hours between training gives you enough time to recover.
Remember, make sure you are sleeping 7-9 hours per night, eating well (plenty of protein, carbs, fruit, veggies, and healthy fats), and taking the right supplements. A healthy diet and proper sleeping habits are required if you are both strength training and doing jiu-jitsu. They enable your body to recover properly.
Strength Training For BJJ Programs
Based on the principles listed above, creating a schedule and routine for your BJJ strength training is relatively straightforward.
Go to the gym 2, 3, or 4 times per week. When you’re there, do 2-4 sets of 4-6 exercises. Aim to hit all of the core 6 movement patterns twice per week.
When doing these exercises, stick to a rep range of 5-10 reps. Every week, add 5 lbs or 1 rep to each working set.
Adding weight and reps consistently to your lifts is called progressive overload. It’s how you get bigger and stronger over time.
Here are 2 sample jiu-jitsu workouts from Weight Training For Grapplers. Each workout is based on training the core jiu-jitsu movement patterns.
Jiu-Jitsu Workout 1: Gym 2X Per Week
This routine is for grapplers who want to spend only 2x per week in the gym, but still want to leverage the incredible benefits of strength training.
- Barbell Squats: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Ab Wheel: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Dips: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Pull-Ups: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Barbell Wrist Curls: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Bench Press: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Machine Rows: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Barbell Upright Rows: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Deficit Deadlifts: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Ab Crunch Machine: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
- Dumbbell Wrist Curls: 2 sets of 5-10 reps
Jiu-Jitsu Workout 2: Gym 4X Per Week
This routine is for grapplers who’re able to invest more time into their strength training, spending 4x per week in the gym to maximize their strength and hypertrophy gains.
- Leg Press: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Incline Barbell Press: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Overhead Tricep Extensions: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Toe-To-Bars: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Barbell Rows: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Cable Curls: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Cable Wrist Curls: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Flat Dumbbell Presses: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Barbell JM Press: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Single Leg Deadlift: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Cable Lateral Raises: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Chinups: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Candlesticks: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
- Dumbbell Wrist Curls: 4 sets of 5-10 reps
These are sample template strength training programs for jiu-jitsu. However, you can modify the workouts to make them fit your unique jiu-jitsu game plan.
For example, if you train primarily in the gi and you have a grip-heavy game, you can do less shoulder work, and focus on more gripping exercises.
Progressive overload is key. Every week, you should be adding either 5 lbs or 1 rep to each of your working sets. I use the Strong app to track my workout history, making it easier for me to add more weight and/or reps to my exercises in the gym.
Once you’ve gotten to the point where you can’t add more weight or more reps, your body is telling you it’s time to rest. This is where you’ll do a deload.
A “deload” is where you cut your workouts in half for the week: 50% fewer sessions, 50% lighter weights, and 50% of the reps and sets of those weights.
During a deload week, you should also do only 50% of your usual BJJ training. And you should do no live rolling, only drilling.
Deloading helps your body to fully recover. The week after, your body will be ready for 6-8 weeks of optimal training.
Training Around BJJ Competitions
How should you modify your training programs when you are preparing for a competition?
If you compete every few weeks, don’t worry about modifying your strength training. Just be sensible about what you’re doing in the gym.
However, if you compete only a few times per year, then you’ll have to modify your strength training.
- When you’re 3 weeks out, reduce all exercises to 2 working sets each.
- When you’re 2 weeks out, reduce all exercises to 1 working set each. GO hard on those sets.
- When you’re 1 week out, don’t do any weight training. Reduce your live rolling by 50%.
- 1 week after competition, don’t do any weight training. Allow your body to fully recover.
After 1 week of no weight training (after doing it consistently), you actually get stronger. And 2 weeks after not training, you don’t lose any strength. Proper recovery protocols are just as important as your strength training!
Finally, I recommend some sort of mobility or yoga routine. I do a dozen or so mobility movements every day which I’ve outlined in my article on jiu-jitsu stretches. This will help keep you limber and flexible, further reducing your risk of injury.
Strength Training For BJJ Equipment
Most commercial gyms will have the equipment you need when it comes to strength training for jiu-jitsu. Sign up for the gym that is closest to you. The closer your gym, the more likely you are to go consistently.
However, if you’d rather work out from your home or apartment, here are my recommendations in terms of equipment.
1. Squat Rack
A squat rack enables you to do many different barbell exercises, from squats to bench pressing. However, it is quite a large and expensive piece of equipment. Any commercial gym worth joining will have plenty of these.
A barbell is the quintessential strength training equipment. With a barbell, you can target every single muscle on your body. If you’re serious about your strength training, you will incorporate a barbell.
If you have a bench, you can do plenty of exercises you couldn’t do without one. Exercises like barbell bench presses or Bulgarian split squats require a bench. They’re a great addition to your home gym.
Adjustable dumbbells are excellent dumbbells for a home gym. I’ve owned the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells for several years, and use them weekly. Using dumbbells, you can train everything.
5. Pull-Up Bar
A pull-up bar is an excellent piece of training equipment specifically for the upper body. I own a pull-up bar that you can fit in your doorframe, and I’ve used it for years. Using a pull-up bar, you’ll be able to train your back, arms, and grip.
6. Dip Bar
A dip bar is another great, portable addition to your home gym. I purchased the Lebert dip bar so that I could train my triceps and core. You can get creative with these and do all sorts of full-body training.
Joe Rogan’s personal favorite: the kettlebell is a must for home gyms. With a few kettlebells, you can do full-body training at home. Kettlebells are especially good for jiu-jitsu, as they help you incorporate dynamic movements into your workouts.
8. Weight Belt
Weight belts are great to pair with your pull-up bar or dip bar. They enable you to add more resistance to movements like pull-ups and dips. You’ll develop a dangerous grip and pushing strength.
Purchase some weight plates for your barbell or your weight belt so you can add weights to your lifts. Adding resistance is essential for progressive overload. I own around 75 lbs of additional weight plates at home.
10. Neck Harness
Don’t forget about neck training for BJJ. With a neck harness, you can also work out your neck from home. Neck training makes it harder for opponents to rear-naked choke you, and helps prevent you from injuring your neck.
With these pieces of equipment, you’ll be able to do some — or all — of your strength training for BJJ from home.
Looking for more strength training for BJJ resources?
- Weight Training For Grapplers: Dr. Mike Israetel’s instructional, where he goes much more in-depth on what I’ve written about in this article.
- Balancing Weight Training and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: A free video by Dr. Mike Israetel, where he talks about the basics of strength training for grapplers.
- Understanding Healthy Eating: A Science-Based Guide to How Your Diet Affects Your Health: Dr. Mike’s ebook on how to eat well.
- Jiu-Jitsu Stretches: My article with my upper and lower body mobility stretching routine.
- Renaissance Periodization: Dr. Mike’s Site, which features custom programs for BJJ athletes (and much more).
- JuggernautBJJ: An app that builds weight training programs for BJJ players.
If you have a resource that will help BJJ players with their strength training, let me know in the comments below!
So there you have it: your guide to strength training for BJJ.
Did I miss anything? What particular exercises or equipment had a positive effect on your jiu-jitsu?
Or, have I convinced you to start weightlifting for jiu-jitsu?
Leave a comment in the section below.
Happy rolling. 🤙
Tsavo is the founder of BJJ Equipment and BJJ blue belt who started training in 2019. He’s a passionate hobbyist and BJJ gear/equipment aficionado who wanted to share his favorite pickups with other jiujiteiros. He launched BJJ Equipment in 2022 to make it easy for jiu-jitsu practitioners to find the best BJJ gear so they look, feel, and perform at their best on the mats.