BJJ Conditioning and Strength Training: The Definitive Guide

Picture this; it’s the year 1993, the inception of martial arts competition as we know it. UFC 1: 216 lbs Dutch Karateka Gerard Gordeau fights 176 lbs BJJ Black Belt Royce Gracie. A heavyweight striker vs. a welterweight Juijiteiro by today’s standard. We all know the skilled underdog won and shocked the world by beating a stronger opponent.

This sparked the “size doesn’t matter in a fight debate”: Everything has changed since then, jiu-jitsu and MMA have evolved. Today, in a BJJ match between two opponents equally skilled, the bigger, stronger, and faster opponent will win.

Fighters need to realize that skill is not enough anymore; you need more than that. But don’t worry! You don’t have to spend hours in the gym like a bodybuilder; in this segment, we will help you with everything you need to know about strength and conditioning for BJJ.

Table of Contents

Strength and Conditioning Principles for BJJ

Any physical improvement occurs because of the SAID principle, which stands for Specific Adaptation on Imposed Demands. When you are drilling moves on the mats, lifting weights, driving, or doing any physical activity, your body will adapt to the demands of that activity. The more you repeat an action, the more efficient you become at it. Being more efficient is just another way of saying that you use less energy and more precision to accomplish a move.

General Concepts of Strength Training for BJJ

There is no one way to condition yourself for BJJ. Each method of training will give a certain strength quality, a certain amount of cardio, etc. It’s a matter of finding what you can enjoy and stick to in the long term. But remember that you are an athlete, so you need to make the necessary modification for your S&C to carry over Jiu-jitsu.

For instance, instead of sitting down and doing biceps curls, stand up while doing them. Why? Because, as an athlete, you will always be on your feet. Of course, there’s debate about how specific you should get with your training. It’s up to you to decide. But suppose you get too specific with your training. In that case, you run the risk of injury because of repetitive movement pattern overload. And if you’re training too broad with your approach, you will not have any carryover to BJJ.

Having a balanced approach will allow you to reap the most benefits from your strength and conditioning regimen; you will be able to target multiple energy systems.

Think movement patterns, not just muscles. The deadlift mimics a takedown or guillotine defense, and a TRX row mimics a gi pull. Those movements are functional for BJJ. These exercises stood the test of time because they hit multiple muscles in a movement pattern almost used in all sports. This is what functional training means.

The bottom line is that Jiu-Jitsu strength and conditioning don’t have to be complicated. It just has to make sense to you, and you have to enjoy it to stick with it.

All things being equal, the stronger one will always come out on top.

Muscles Involved in BJJ

To execute a strength and conditioning program for BJJ properly, one must first understand what we aim to improve. So which muscles should a BJJ athlete focus on to have better carry over in BJJ?

A typical BJJ match lasts between 5-10 minutes, so the goal is to structure your BJJ conditioning program around that time limit. To be efficient, you need to make sure you hit all three systems. There is no need to worry, though. We will provide you with templates and options to choose the best exercises for BJJ.

Requirements of BJJ: Explosiveness, Short Bursts with Low Intensity, Time Under Tension, Speed, Agility.

Here are some of the muscles involved in BJJ, so the workout plan should revolve around these muscles:

MovementsTarget Muscles
Pull Guard
Take Down
Pummelling
Core
Biceps and Forearms
Lats
Hip Escapes
Shrimping
Side Control
Glutes and Hamstrings
Lower Back
Triceps
Butterfly Guard
Single Leg Takedown
Quads and Hip Flexors
Lower Abs
Takedown Defence
Stand Up Pummelling
Hamstrings
Neck and Shoulders

Understanding Types of Strength in BJJ

TRAINING STRENGTH ABILITY | MONA.JOBINSPORT.COM

Strength is the ability to produce maximal force, but it is only part of the way power is expressed in BJJ. It is generally measured by how heavy you can lift. Those strengths are:

  • Maximum Strength
  • Explosive Strength
  • Isometric Strength (plays a significant role in BJJ)
  • Strength Endurance

The strongest Jiu-Jitsu competitors don’t have as much strength as sprinters, throwers, or even NFL players. But if the BJJ competitor gets in a BJJ match with any of those athletes, they would dominate. It’s a matter of specificity (i.e., SAID Principle).

Strength is not supposed to be the primary goal of BJJ athletes but rather the training’s by-product.

No need to go on a powerlifting program to get strong, but if it’s your thing and you enjoy it, by all means! But keep in mind this type of training brings a lot of neurological fatigue and joint stress.

Instead, here are some intent guidelines:

  • Move the bar as fast as possible.
  • Pair up Strength and Explosive exercises (supersets)
  • Employ plyometrics: Med Ball Throws, burpees, explosive push-ups, etc.
  • Do some Isometric Training
  • Do some high rep training for joint health and muscle endurance
  • Practice with a weighted vest
  • Leaving more energy for the other strength movements (explosive, endurance, isometric) will be more beneficial than just all-out strength training.

The technique allows you to express your strength, which will be specific to BJJ: that’s a particular strength. It comes from efficiency, most power and technique being expressed simultaneously. BJJ competitors get strong at those positions and movement patterns. Just like powerlifters get stronger at their specific movement patterns (Squat, Bench Press, etc.) along with the correct lifting technique.

Training those skills and specific movements, such as practicing that skill repeatedly or even training with a heavier opponent, is extremely effective.

BJJ is a unique sport in terms of movement patterns; this is why we say there is no ONE way. We would rather say the method you stick to and see improvements is the one you should choose, given the tools we provide you in this article.

Grapplers, in general, are extremely strong and they look JACKED! It’s not because they are just lifting, rather the constant pressure, lifting a human being overhead, pinning, choking, etc. Do that over and over again for hours and decades. I can guarantee you; you will get strong.

With that being said, imagine if you worked on the previously mentioned strength types. You would become stronger in your sport, less prone to injury, and overall perform better!

Understanding Conditioning Components for BJJ

One of the primary forms of energy our body uses comes from a molecule called ATP. It’s what helps form muscle contractions, so it is essential for sports performance.

When we train, our body adapts to fuel the proper organs and muscles to optimize performance. Three metabolic systems help with that depending on the activity we perform:

ATP-PC system:

  • High Intensity 10-15 secs duration: Uses Creatine-Phosphate to produce ATP (sprints, explosive bridging, etc.)
  • Glycolytic System: Moderate-High Intensity 30-50 secs. You are using glycogen to produce ATP. Your body switches to this system, for example, during weight training for BJJ.
  • Oxidative system: Provides a lot of energy for an infinite amount of time. It relies primarily on oxygen and fat storage to produce ATP. It is used when you’re working on your Jiu-jitsu cardio.

We use more than one energy system at a time, but in general, the first to get exhausted in a BJJ match is the ATP-PC and glycolytic systems. We mentioned those because nutrition and training always come hand in hand. If you know what energy your body needs, you’ll fuel it appropriately.

We wouldn’t want you to miss out on those performance gains now, would we?

Contraindications for Conditioning

  • Longer and slower training could slow you down. It might increase that transition from type II fibers (explosive) to type I fibers (slow). If you’re already a slow athlete, then it might not be for you.
  • If you have knee issues, then you might consider ditching long-distance running. Look for other options (swimming etc.)
  • Do not go above the effort level indicated
  • Suppose you maintain a high intensity of training. In that case, it will cause you to build up lactic acid (it’s the burning sensation you get when you perform the same exercise non-stop in a short duration). You won’t be able to perform the exercises correctly.

Specific Energy Systems Involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Energy Systems - Taekwondo and Energy systems

If you want to get better at a specific skill, condition yourself to repeat it over and over again. The more efficient your moves are in terms of energy saving, the more conditioned you will be. You don’t want just to do “conditioning”; you want “BJJ conditioning.”

BUT although rolling more is the most efficient way to develop conditioning, it also comes with higher fatigue, joint, and muscle stress. Here we go through the different energy systems that your body uses, whether for strength or conditioning.

Aerobic Capacity (i.e., oxidative system) is the ability to utilize oxygen as your primary energy source for training and competing. You should train in the aerobic Development Zone, which is 60%-80% of max heart rate.

This is a very low heart intensity with repeated short explosive bouts (BJJ/Submission Grappling). Improved aerobic capacity will help you recover better in between rounds of rolling and improve your training quality.

This is in the short term because eventually, you’ll get more skilled on the mats. You’ll do those low-intensity technical rolls every competitor does. You won’t need to use all of your energy in each roll.

Aerobic Power is the medium intensity with repeated bouts of explosiveness. This applies to BJJ and submission grappling. We’re still staying in the aerobic zone (60%- 70% of HR Max)

Alactic Power is the highest output in a single rep (exploding into a hip bridge or takedown). Alactic means without lactate, without that burning sensation: this is explosion, no endurance, no oxygen dependency.

Lactic Capacity is the medium intensity and long durations (long BJJ rounds or wrestling practice). The muscles are working for an extended period. This is particularly relevant during a match when you want to go for the submission.

Alactic Capacity is the short but high-intensity bursts without the presence of lactic acid.

The goal of this is to teach your body to get rid of that lactic build-up that freezes because it burns so much, especially in high-intensity rolling. In a BJJ tournament, you’re not going to scramble only one time. You’ll likely have multiple matches on the same day, so it’s best to prep your body to flush the lactic acid out.

Improved alactic capacity is going to allow you to sustain those levels of effort throughout the matches. This is an excellent opportunity to include those special strength exercises of BJJ. Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk uses the term “special strength,” describing a particular movement’s relevancy in terms of performance.

They’re the exercises that will have the most carry over to the sport of BJJ. You train in the most efficient way that allows you to carry over your gains in your sport, in our case, BJJ.

Different Modalities Of Training

There are many ways to train as a BJJ athlete, but the question remains the same: do you enjoy it, and if so, for how long? Let’s go over some of the general modalities that could benefit you as a grappler. I’ll provide my recommended strength and conditioning approach at the end.

Traditional Squat-Bench-Deadlift

Squat Bench Deadlift Logo, HD Png Descargar | Squat bench deadlift, Deadlift,  Squats

 

The traditional Squat-Bench-Deadlift is an excellent option if you are already a seasoned lifter with enough knowledge to execute these lifts correctly. If you can handle the technique and the heavyweight training, then you should give it a go.

Pros:

  • Great for increasing max strength
  • Very effective for beginner lifters
  • It helps build the foundation for any S&C program.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t address the agile components of BJJ.
  • Higher risk of injury given the stress your body goes through in practice: it’s possible, but you’ll need to be smart about the implementations.
  • It takes a lot of time to recover from neurologically.

Olympic Lifting

Olympic Lifts: The Importance of Peak Velocity and Recommended Guidelines |  SimpliFaster

Olympic lifters are probably one of the strongest people on earth, the reason being that they need to move heavy weights as fast as possible while staying composed. It’s not just strength but also skill and mental fortitude. If you come from a CrossFit background and you know how to handle the lifts, then give it a try!

Pro:

  • Three moves: Power Clean, Power Jerk, Power Snatch
  • Great for developing explosive strength
  • Great combination of mobility, flexibility, and strength
  • It’s a great combination of Traditional SBD and Explosive Olympic Lifting

Cons:

  • Very demanding neurologically
  • It needs a lot of skill and practice.

Kettlebells

The Best and Simplest One Kettlebell Workout | RKC School of Strength

This piece of equipment is probably one of the most underrated out of all the other modalities. The implementation of kettlebell movements in your conditioning routine will carry over considerably in BJJ.

  • The awkward angle swings will challenge your core and shoulders like no other modality.
  • The closest movement patterns to BJJ: Turkish Get Ups, Kettlebell Swings, etc.
  • Power and Strength development
  • Adapts to your body’s dimension (torso-arm ratio etc.)
  • Great way to combine power training and grip

Calisthenics

What are some introductory details on calisthenics, as bodyweight  exercises? - Quora

Calisthenics have been around for a very long time due to their versatility and the fact that they can be done anywhere. Just because you don’t have access to weight doesn’t mean you cannot get strong. Your muscles don’t know if you’re lifting weights or your body weight, so don’t be fooled by the “calisthenics doesn’t build muscle” myth.

You could even buy a pair of gymnastic rings online, hang it anywhere and work on your ring pull-ups and push-ups. The unstable nature of the rings mimics the shakiness of being in the mount position.

Pros:

  • Works grip strength and endurance
  • Mobility: Skin the cat mobility for a kimura and other shoulder subs
  • Bodyweight dexterity
  • Big carry over to BJJ: Improves proprioception (awareness of the body in space)
  • Adapts to your body anthropometrics (the measurements and proportions of your body)
  • Low rate of injury

Cons:

  • You plateau fast
  • Needs creativity to challenge the body

Strongman

Strongman Training for Athletes | T Nation

I mean, who isn’t impressed by log carries, heavy farmer walks, and the wheel of death? Don’t worry. You don’t need to complete every single feat of strength. But what you can do is pick the exercises found in strongman training and include them in your training. Strongman training is probably the most practical way to get strong by lifting heavy objects. Certain exercises’ awkward nature challenges the body in all planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and horizontal). Whereas a deadlift and squat, and bench would only work in the frontal plane.

Here are the top strongman exercises you could incorporate in your strength training for BJJ:

  • Monster Dumbbell Press (power) – great for core, shoulder, grip strength, balance, and mobility of the shoulder.
  • Keg Run – Core and full-body strengthening, a great conditioning tool as well
  • Thick Bar Lat Pulldown – great for upper back, biceps, and brachialis. It’s great for upper body stability when doing overhead movements as well.
  • Heavy Dumbbell Overhead Press (power) – Core, shoulders, triceps, and lat strength
  • One Arm Cable Row – targets th lats and forearms and is great for guard pulling and lapel chokes!

Pros:

  • Great for wrestling (think of atlas stone carries)
  • Develops grip strength (farmer carries)
  • Incredible shoulder and core strength (log press)
  • A great mix of raw strength and brutal conditioning

Cons:

  • Strongman equipment is not always accessible.
  • You will need to find a strongman gym near you.
  • Requires a bit more research since it’s a niche area

Best Exercises for BJJ Strength and Conditioning

To keep it simple, we will select exercises that combine the best of these modalities, assuming you can access a gym. A quarantine/home version of those exercises will be due for another day.

So what are the best exercises for BJJ? As we said, think movement patterns, not muscles! That’s what we want. Think “neurological gains”! After all, the brain is the master of your body and not the other way around.

The exercises need to be:

  1. Technically safe
  2. Follow basic movement patterns.
  3. Help produce more force output.
  4. Optimal for you (do you feel more comfortable with trap bar deadlifts over conventional deadlifts etc.)

Remember that you need to have the following movement patterns since they’re the most prevalent in sports.

  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Hip Hinge/Extension
  • Upper Body Push
  • Upper Body Pull
  • Twisting Exercise
  • Carry Variation
  • Corrective Exercise (Prehab): Forearms, Shoulders, Hips.

Squat Pattern

How to Teach a Perfect Squat – Squat University
Source: squatuniversity.com

It doesn’t have to be a traditional barbell back squat; it can be one of the following:

  • Safety Squat – Great for strength and spares your forearm and arm external rotation if they’re beaten up from training.
  • Front Squat – Great for minimizing stress on the lower back and overall leg strength for BJJ
  • Belt Squat – takes away the compressive forces of a regular squat on the lower back, especially if you’re a guard player.
  • Box Squat – allows you to be explosive out of the hole. It is safe and extremely effective if you have mobility restrictions.

Lunge Pattern

The 4 Best Ways to Lunge | T Nation

Single leg exercises are crucial in sports since an athlete will rarely be on both legs while moving. There’s always a leg that comes off the ground (running, lunging, single-leg take-down, etc.)

  • Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat – Takes the lower back’s stress and helps you build leg strength. You could play around with the tempo to hit different strength properties for BJJ, like strength endurance. This one will carry over to your takedowns and guard passing game.
  • Lunge on BOSU ball – The BOSU ball adds a twist to the split squat by increasing the rear leg’s stability demands. This is great for combining strength and stability.
  • Single-Leg RDL – If you want to improve your stand-up game, try to build as much strength and balance with this exercise. Control is the goal here, so go heavy if you want, but do so responsibly!

Hip Hinge/Hip Extension

Master the 'Hinge' to Unlock your Athletic Potential - Princeton Longevity  Center

This movement pattern is a staple one when it comes to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Especially if you’re trying to pass someone’s guard or you’re working on your stand-up game.

  • Clean or Snatch Pull – this exercise is a portion of the classic Olympic Snatch. The risk to reward ratio is relatively low (in terms of injury). If you come from a CrossFit background or know your way around the bar, you could perform the whole movement. The only drawback of performing the entire movement is that it will stress your elbows, shoulders, and wrists even more. Chances are those muscles are already overworked from practice.
  • Trap Bar Deadlift – easier to learn as opposed to conventional or sumo deadlift. You could load it even heavier than the other two. Trap bar deadlifts are great for strengthening the posterior chain without stressing the lower back too much.
  • Hip Thrust – This is massively valuable, and you probably guessed what it’s good for Hip escapes and bottom position. Your hips can bear a lot of weight because it’s the center of mass of your body. They connect upper and lower body limbs. Should you go heavy? Yes. but focus on full extension though no half-ass reps! (Pun intended)

Upper Body Push

Strength Training For BJJ | Jiu Jitsu Legacy

The following exercise will help build stronger frames and shoulder strength. Your shoulders are probably crying from all the punishment it takes on the mat. Take care of them; you only get one shoulder joint (unless humans fuse with AI soon and we evolve as a species):

  • Swiss Bar (neutral grip) or Floor Press – Helps create strength in chest and shoulder without beating them up too much. If you have any shoulder issues, this variation might be something to consider
  • Dumbbell Z Press – This forces a lot of stability (for Sit-up Guard)
  • Dips – Play around with tempo, weight, etc. if you can
  • Push Press – helps build power in the upper body using the whole kinetic chain from your feet to your quads, chest, and shoulder.
  • Weighted Push-Ups – a phenomenal exercise for BJJ. It replaces the bench press and might even surpass it in terms of carryover to the sport: more core engagement and lower body engagement to fight off your back or defend a back take.

Upper Body Pull

How To Increase Pull-Ups From 0 to 10+ Reps FAST (Science-Based Tips)

Pulling strength is even more important than pressing strength:

  • Bent-Over Barbell Row – Isometric strength for lower back, athletes excelling with this exercise seem to improve on the mats due to the exercise’s nature. It builds concentric and eccentric strength in the back, biceps, and forearms.
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row – Do not put your knee on the bench! You don’t want excessive rotation with the knee on bench variation, which is the number one cause of disk hernia. This exercise is great to stimulate passing the guard or pulling your opponent’s lapel in the guard position.
  • Weighted Pull-Ups – If there’s one exercise that is the king of back strength, that’s the pull up! Mix the grips to neutral, supinated, and pronated to get multiple benefits and avoid overuse injuries. You can do rope pull-ups, chin up, commando, neutral grip, etc. variety is key here.

Rotational Exercises

Three Anti-Rotation Exercises Every Baseball Player Should Be Doing — GSP

When you’re on the ground, and your opponent is trying to pass your guard, you need rotational strength to retain your guard or prevent him from going to side control. You can work on this by improving your rotational strength with these exercises.

  • Barbell Russian Twist – you can do it for strength, power, or endurance, depending on the weight you use. These are great for take-down and throws.
  • Med Ball Twisting Slam – Intent is vital for this exercise, do not be gentle, explode, and slam down. This is great for power rotation.
  • Rotational Ball Slams – These are great to build overall rotational power

Carrying Exercises

The Top 10 Weighted Carry Exercises | T Nation

The carrying movement patterns will help build grip strength and strength in the hips. It will also address any asymmetry that could come from Jiu-Jitsu.

  • Single-arm Farmer Walks – will build strength and endurance in the forearms and trunk. You could do it for time or distance.
  • Sand Bag or Keg Carry – This strongman-inspired exercise is excellent for teaching the athlete how to brace. This will build stability in the lower back and also work grip endurance.
  • Kettlebell Front Rack Walk – This will challenge the core, shoulders, and hips. You could do them with both arms.

Correctives and Accessory Exercises for BJJ

The bird-dog helps improve posture | TheSpec.com

The wear and tear your body goes through needs some maintenance, and that’s where those corrective exercises come into play.

  • Band Pullapart – This exercise will help maintain the stability of your scapula, rhomboids, and traps. Strengthening those muscles is essential to minimize the risk of injury.
  • Sled Push/Pulls – target the glutes, which are the main muscles working in explosive takedowns. We cannot stress how important sled work is for BJJ athletes!
  • T-Spine Rotation – This is an excellent drill for spine health and mobility. This helps to teach your body to move correctly.
  • Bird Dog – This exercise is a must for core stability and strength because it helps you limit excessive motion in the spine. This will carry over to BJJ.
  • Glute Floor Bridge – Another core strengthening exercise. Because the glute is also part of the core muscles complex, this is great for teaching your body how to avoid excessive lumbar extension when shrimping or hip escaping.
  • Hindu Pushup/Downward Dog to Cobra – This compound movement will challenge your whole body and is essential for full-body strength and dexterity. Using the same muscles that help with guard passing and side control is a must if you are a guard passer.
  • Face Pulls – Protect your shoulder, and save it from the wear and tear it goes through in BJJ. Face pulls hold tremendous carry over in BJJ in terms of shoulder stability and strength.
  • Turkish Get-up –  Turkish Get-ups challenge your shoulder stability and mobility. This exercise is often bastardized because it is very technical. It will help you complete your S&C routine by exposing weak areas in your body that you could work on when done right.
  • Band Clamshells (Glute Med) – If you want overall knee stability and protection, include this exercise in your recovery days. This is especially essential if you are a leg locker.
  • Calf Raises –  Calves attach to the back of the knee joint; by working on them, you fortify the knee joint even more. Keep your knee safe!
  • Back Extension on Physioball – Back Protection
  • Band Pull-Apart – The Band pull apart works your lower traps and shoulders and helps fight off the rounded posture you have when you’re fighting off your back in BJJ.
  • Dead-hangs –  if you want your grip to be tested and improved.
  • Plate Holds – using a moderate weight but sticking to plates to work on width (grip component)

Mobility and Stretching

8 Hip Mobility Exercises That Will Unlock Your Strength and Power | STACK

Flexibility and Mobility are essential components of BJJ. Your limbs are put in very awkward and stressful positions: The sport revolves around the “art of breaking your opponent,” so when you roll, you’re breaking or getting broken. There needs to be something to offset that. With strength training, it will make you harder to break. With conditioning, you will be less fatigued, therefore, less prone to injury. With mobility and flexibility, that’s everything in between, from overuse injuries to strengthening small muscles, etc.

CARs (Functional Range Conditioning)

This a mobility concept that athletes of all levels have used due to its efficiency in mobilizing joints. CAR stands for Controlled articular rotations. Rather than going through a non-exhaustive list of exercises, we will explain the purpose of CARs and give a few examples of application.

CARs will help improve the dynamic range of motion: activating mechanoreceptors in all joint ranges. It’s not just about flexibility but also controls. We want you to master your body not to get hurt, especially in combat sports.

Mechanoreceptors are a type of somatosensory receptors that relay stimulus to a joint to allow it to move. The external stimuli are usually touching, pressure, stretching, sound waves, and motion.

You should increase the challenge by going slower and increase the contraction in the target joint and avoid any compensations.

Here’s an example of a CARs routine:

Active Stretching

Active stretching is dynamic and is essential for BJJ; there’s a lot to cover on this topic. We will just give some general benefits and guidelines. Active flexibility is the ability to move muscles and stretch them dynamically, meaning speed. It is great for warm-ups and pre-competition prep.

If you want an excellent routine check out Limber 11 stretches.

Passive Stretching

Static flexibility is based on the joint’s mobility without accelerating the movement. Those types of stretches are best done at the end of the training to release any tension and improve blood flow. We’ve covered this topic before with a great stretching routine that you can check out here.

Conditioning Tools for BJJ

So how do you choose your conditioning exercises for BJJ? It doesn’t matter but here is some good option:

  • Rowing (LISS) – Uses the same main muscles as BJJ (back, forearm, glutes, etc.)
  • Sprinting (Power) –  Sprinting helps teach your hips to generate power which is essential for takedowns and takedown defense. It’s about speed, technique, and quality, so don’t slack on them.
  • Bike Riding – This is a great recovery tool if you don’t want to do intense cardio and feel beat up from training. But you could also use it for interval training which we will discuss in more detail below.
  • Jump Rope – Jump rope is probably the cheapest and most effective way to work your cardiovascular endurance. The explosive pushes from the ground don’t just work the calves; they work balance, hand-feet coordination, and grip endurance.
  • Shadow-wrestling (Circuit) –  Including some technical skills in your conditioning is a great way to hit two birds with one stone: work on your BJJ while getting your cardio game up a notch.
  • Running (LISS) – Running is one tool that people seem to hate because it’s too dull. But you could always find a good park or an excellent view to run. It has meditative benefits as well as conditioning benefits.

Programming and Periodization for BJJ

Your BJJ S&C will change depending on your goals. You want to balance and focus and what you lack; do you lack strength? Focus on it in the offseason. Do you lack power and explosion, then focus on that. S&C should make you a better BJJ athlete. You’re not looking to become the next Hafthor Bjornson.

With the variety of exercises presented above, you should be able to build your BJJ strength and conditioning program.

Aerobic Capacity (i.e., oxidative system)

There are two main ways to improve aerobic capacity.

LISS Cardio – Low-intensity steady-state cardio (long distance runs etc.)

Benefits:

  • It helps you last longer on the mats.
  • Improves cardiovascular fitness

Instructions:

  • 20-40 minutes (adjust appropriately for yourself)
  • Stay in the 60%-70% HR (Heart Rate) Max zone

Circuit Cardio – this probably the most effective way in terms of time and effort

Benefits:

  • Shorter bouts of aerobic exercise combined with low-level calisthenics.
  • Great for mixing modalities
  • Keeps the type II fibers conditioned

Instructions:

  • 70-80% Max Heart Rate
  • 30-45 sec intervals
  • Jump out of the exercise and do low-level calisthenics for a fixed number of reps (ex: 20 push-ups, 30 sit-ups, etc.)
  • Include calisthenics with rest periods of 15 secs (the most common way)
  • Total time: 20-40 min
  • Doing these circuits will pump blood into the body faster and help you recover more quickly.
  • Aerobic capacity sessions 2-5x week on OFF Days. It will be included in every phase of training (on & off camp).
  • You could program four days of high-intensity work and three days of LISS cardio.

Alactic Power

You need explosiveness, and it follows the alactic capacity phase. This is your highest possible output in a single effort.

Benefits:

  • It helps develop maximum power in a single effort.

Instructions:

  • Sprints: 50-100m for 1-2x per week.
  • Jumps: 20-60 jumps per week split on 2-3 session
  • Medicine ball Throws: 50-100 total per week split into 1-2 sessions.
  • For the medicine ball throws, focus on speed rather than the weight of the ball.
  • You’re resting twice or thrice as much as the time it took you to perform the exercise to preserve your power quality.

Aerobic Power

Aerobic power is the ability of the muscles to use oxygen received form the heart and lungs to produce energy. More efficient this process becomes, aerobic power improves.

Benefits:

  • Helps improve your body’s ability to take in oxygen and produce energy for long durations: This is the definition of your VO2 Max.
  • Increase power production while using your aerobic capacity but using focusing on speed
  • This will lower your resting heart, which is for overall fitness: the higher your RHR (Resting Heart Rate), the more it takes energy, and the easier you get tired in a scramble.
  • Medium intensity with repeated bouts of explosiveness
  • Maintain submaximal efforts (under 90% HR)
  • Use any tool you like: bike, rower machine, jump rope, etc.

Instructions

  • 60%- 70% of HR effort for 1 min followed by 80-85% HR efforts for 2 mins followed by a recovery period (get your HR low)

Alactic Capacity

Loosely defined, the alactic system provides the immediate energy you need for high-intensity movement—think sprinting after a ball or jumping over a defender. It is responsible for what is called high power output.

Both the power (how fast you can use the energy) and the capacity (how long your body can produce energy for sustained high-intensity movement) come from the alactic system.

Instructions:

  • Select exercises that mimic the direction, duration, and velocity of the sport’s movements, such as jumping, pushing, pulling, and twisting exercises.
  • 3-6 seconds of all-out effort
  • 10-20 sec rest periods.
  • The more fit you are, the closest to the 10 seconds you’re going to be.
  • You want to rest just enough to keep the intensity high and maintain the quality of the exercises.

Cycle a 4-week phase 2-3 times back to back:

  • Week 1 – 6 sets
  • Week 2 – 8 sets
  • Week 3 – 10 sets
  • Week 4 – 12 sets
  • Week 5 – Deload

Lactic Capacity

This phase is the final phase before the competition. This uses the glycolytic system that we mentioned earlier. The goal is to get your body used to high-intensity efforts repeatedly without getting tired.

Benefits:

  • Special strength exercises are included here.
  • You’re trying to get your body ready for competition. It should get used to the constant effort and lactic buildup (the “burn”)

Instructions:

Medium intensity (high-level effort) and long durations (Long BJJ rounds, wrestling practice, duration). The muscles are working for a long period.

  • 30-50 sec of continuous level effort with incomplete rest
  • Constant tension to make the body get used to that burn

Programming:

  • Week 1: 30 secs on, 30 sec off
  • Week 2: 35 secs on, 25 sec off
  • Week 3: 40 secs on, 20 sec off
  • Week 4: 50 secs on, 10 sec off

A 2-3 week lactic capacity phase is optimal if repeated 1-2 times. This is usually done before a competition, so it will be intense (because it’s simulating a live BJJ match).

Strength Guidelines for BJJ

Watch: Yoga for BJJ Free 20 Mins Class

Ten commandments of strength and conditioning for all BJJ athletes:

  1. Focus on your nutrition – if you do not hydrate and eat healthily, you will impair your recovery. If you have practice late at night and an early conditioning session in the morning, you will not perform at your best if you go to sleep. This will affect your recovery regardless of your breakfast. Take it one step at a time, start with your nutrition, then once dialed in, schedule your sleep accordingly.
  2. Sleep – I cannot stress enough how important it is to sleep well. At this point, if your sleep and nutrition are not dialed in, then dedicate your all to fix them because this is the foundation of S&C. According to a study done by Christova M. et Al. On neural plasticity, sleep can enhance cognitive and fine motor tasks, resulting in better memory retention. In other words, if you don’t sleep properly, you won’t get strong, you won’t recover, and you won’t be able to learn BJJ to the fullest. Nutrition and sleep come. First, it’s simple but not easy, so stay consistent!
  3. Train smart, not hard – no ego lifting and no gym wars, you don’t get medals in the gym if you win, and nobody will steal your wife if you lose.
  4. Always keep good form even if it means lowering the weight“but I’ve got to lift super heavy to get strong!” – Gym Bro. There are millions of ways to get strong, but there’s only one way to perform an exercise correctly, and that’s technique. Using the full range of motion will also carry over better in BJJ because you strengthen your joints’ end ranges, which are 90% of BJJ. Train in the 6-8 rep to become strong on the big lift but never sacrifice form.
  5. Use the technique on the mats and keep the strength for the gym – BJJ is a martial arts skill. If it were about strength, then Eddie Hall would be a BJJ black belt and the world’s strongest man (Thankfully, he’s not a black belt! Can you imagine??)
  6. Always warm-up – The warm-up is essential to neurologically prime your body for the movements you’re about to perform. It also helps reduce the risk of injury. This goes for you too, purple belts!
  7. Listen to your body! – So many times, we follow the mentality of being the hardest worker in the room. The truth is, what’s the point of being the hardest worker if you’re not efficient? Take care of your body. You only get one! Find how much your body can train and train within that range: if you want to be more methodical, look up MRV (Minimum Recoverable Volume).
  8. Never underestimate rest days – no matter how hard you have convinced yourself that rest time is lost time, it is the most critical time for your body to adapt.
  9. Keep it goal-oriented and straightforward – don’t overcomplicate your program. Find something you enjoy and works for you; don’t try to do everything at once. There’s a good quote by Bruce Lee, who might’ve not been a BJJ black belt. Still, he was undoubtedly a philosopher in terms of training and martial arts: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”
  10. Put your ego aside – whether it’s on the mats or in the gym, your ego will get injured. And if you get injured, do not do what makes it worse. That’s ego attacking you twice. Take time off to recover, or don’t, and pay the price later in your lifting or BJJ career.

Strength Standards to Aim For

Starting NumbersAdvanced Numbers
2x deadliftSquat 2x bodyweight
1.5x benchBench 1.5x bodyweight
1.5x squatDeadlift 2.5x bodyweight
Pull Up 0.25x bodyweight for 3 repsPull Up 0.5x bodyweight for 3 reps
Bent-Over Row heaviest weight you can handle for 6 repsBent-Over Row heaviest weight you can handle for 3 reps

With that being said, do not go and try to double your squat while neglecting other aspects of strength for BJJ. Do not put all your eggs in one basket because BJJ is more versatile than that.

Rest Periods

  • 3 minutes rest between sets of high-intensity bouts for explosive based, strength-based exercises
  • 1-2 minutes for hypertrophy-based sets: more muscle is not always bad. You need hypertrophy in the small supporting muscles such as the rotator cuff, forearms, lower back, and calves
  • 30-60 secs between sets of high-intensity exercises: HIIT training for lactic acid flushing, better cardio, pump blood into muscles to clear out any residue from lifting.

Structure of the Program

How should a decent program look like?

Daily Structure

Sample Off-Season DaySample In-Season Day
Morning Strength Session (1-2h)Morning BJJ practice
4-6 hours rest4-6 hours rest
Evening BJJ practice (1.5-2h)Evening Strength Session (1-2h)
Post-BJJ practice conditioning session
(15-30 mins)
BJJ conditioning session
(15-30 mins)

Recreational BJJ Athlete Guidelines

Have 3 distinct parts of your week: You should spread the hardest weights training and most challenging BJJ rolls into 2-3 days during the week.

The moderate-intensity strength training and moderate BJJ rolling paired during the other 2-3 days of the week.

You should have at least one day OFF of Both (cardio ok on this if you want to cut weight)

Competitive BJJ Athlete Guidelines

Usually, when you train BJJ, you focus on technique, but if you have to use your strength, it should be before the competition (2-3 weeks with strong rolls with strong people).

During the competition season, start with BJJ in the morning fresh because you want to teach your body to train fresh. Also, because the main focus here is the competition, you could dial back your strength and conditioning intensity: BJJ first to allow adaptation and neurological recovery.

You should split your week into 3 parts

  • 2-3 days hard BJJ rolling and easy lifting
  • 2-3 days of light rolling (flow roll, drill, situational rolling, etc.) and hard lifting
  • Take 2 days off during the week (it’s best if you space your rest days to allow for good recovery in the week as well)

As the competition approaches:

  • More focus BJJ weekly sessions, longer sessions (for cardio)
  • Reduce weight sessions, less volume in each: you could do some light calisthenics.
  • Increase hard rolls frequency and intensity as comp nears
  • Minimal lifting week of the competition (50% volume and intensity)

Weekly Structure

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursday (OFF)FridaySaturdaySunday (OFF)
Upper Body (Strength)Lower Body (Strength)
Upper Body (Strength)
 Lower Body (Strength)Accessories 
Easy RollingHard RollingHard Rolling Easy RollingEasy Rolling 
Conditioning Conditioning ConditioningConditioning 

Monthly Structure

As we mentioned, aerobic capacity is a requirement in each of the following phases.

Phase 1: Base building (4 weeks)

Strength training

  • Weight: 55-80% RM
  • Sets of 4-8 Reps for 24-100 total Reps: This is for each big lift/movement
  • 12-20 reps per set for accessory exercises: hypertrophy for the small muscles and joints

Conditioning: Alactic Power

Sprints:

  • 50-200 m (range) 2-4/week.
  • Rest twice as long as the time it took you to complete a dash.
  • Sled training is an alternative (if it’s rainy or cold)

Jumps:

  • Use Prilepin’s Chart to program your jumps accordingly based on the intensity you need
  • Low rep/High quality.
  • 2-3/week
  • Broad Jumps (for explosive takedowns), Box Jumps (for Power and landing mechanics)

Med ball throws:

  • Focus on being as explosive as possible with your throws
  • 50 to 100/week for 1-2 sessions

Phase 2: Strength Phase (4 weeks)

High-intensity strength training but less frequent (to allow recovery)

Strength Training:

  • Weight: 70-90% RM
  • Sets of 2-4 Reps. 12 to 48 Reps/Weekly for each compound movement.
  • 1-2 sessions of each weekly
  • The same rep range for accessory work as the previous phase

Conditioning (Alactic Capacity)

  • Special Strength exercises – 3 to 6 secs of max-effort with 10-20 secs rest
  • 4 to 12 sets per exercise and 4 to 8 exercises total

Phase 3: Peaking Phase (4 weeks)

Intense weight training and intense rolling. Strength sessions are less frequent because of their high intensity.

Strength Training

  • 60-85% RM
  • Sets of 1-3 Reps for 6 to 30 reps weekly for each compound movement
  • 1-2 sessions of each weekly
  • Accessory work: 6-10 rep range

Conditioning (Lactic Capacity)

  • Special Strength exercises: constant effort for lactic burn
  • 20-40 seconds max effort/ 20-40 seconds of rest

Sample Workouts for BJJ

With most of the information offered here, you should be able to make your schedule. It’s about what works best for you, and no one will be able to tailor a strength and conditioning schedule better than you! Don’t worry, though; we will give you a hint of inspiration: here’s what your BJJ S&C workout plans should look something like this:

Strength Training Samples for BJJ

Upper Body

  • Pull-Ups – 4x 5-6 (Rep Max) Rest: 3-4 minutes
  • Bench Press/ or Weighted Push-Ups – 4x 5-6 RM Rest: 3-4 minutes
  • Dumbbell Z Press/ or Pike Push-Ups – 3x 8-12 Rest: 1-2 minutes
  • Skull Crushers/ or Narrow Push-Ups – 3x 8-12 Rest: 1-2 minutes

You can use the calisthenics exercises as an alternative workout for OFF CAMP or novice lifters.

Finisher:

  • Face Pulls – 2x 15-20 rest:1 min
  • Leg Raises – 2×60 secs rest: 30 secs.

Lower Body

  • Squat – 4×5-6 RM rest:3-4 minutes
  • Hip Thrusts/Single Floor Hip Thrust – 4×5-6 RM rest: 3-4 minutes
  • Single-Leg Squat Jumps Each Leg– 4×6-8 rest: 2-3 minutes (focus on power and quality technique)
  • RDL (Romanian Deadlift)/or Single-Leg RDL bodyweight– 3-8-12 RM rest: 2 mins

You can use the calisthenics exercises as an alternative workout for OFF CAMP or novice lifters.

Finisher:

  • Weighted Wall Sit – 2xMax Time Rest: 1-2 mins
  • Band Clamshells – 3×10-12 Rest: 1-2 mins

Conditioning Training Samples for BJJ

Aerobic Capacity Circuit (Bike/Rowing/Jump Rope Circuit)

Do this for for 20-40 minutes:

  • 45 secs Jump Rope Double Unders
  • 15 secs transition
  • 45 secs Callisthenic/Corrective exercise n°1
  • 15 secs transition
  • 45 Secs Jump Rope Double Unders
  • 15-sec transition
  • 45 secs Callisthenic/Corrective exercise n°2

Alactic Capacity Circuit

  • Dumbbell Squat Jumps – 6×3 with 10-20 secs rest between sets
  • Rest 1-2 min
  • Plyo Push-Ups – 6×3 with 10-20 secs rest between sets.
  • Rest 1-2 min
  • Single Arm TRX row – 6×2 each arm with 10-20 secs rest between sets
  • Rest 1-2 min
  • Barbell Russian Twist – 6×2 twists each side with 10-20 sec rest between sets

Lactic Capacity Circuit

30 secs on/ 30 secs off for each exercise. The whole circuit would be 5 minutes. That’s one round. Do as many as you can! You could even add exercises to the circuit to reach the 10’minutes mark simulating a BJJ match.

  • Box Jumps
  • Inverted TRX Rows
  • Incline Explosive Push-Ups
  • Barbell Russian Twist
  • Bike (max effort)

Alactic Anaerobic (Power)

Two exercises for 5 minutes straight and two rounds (2-3x week):

  • 6 Seconds on
  • 20-second passive recovery
Gi Top Pull

This exercise mimics the Gi Pull during a guard pull; we want to condition the hands and fingers while adding resistance to this full-body movement.

Get a resistance band anchored to something sturdy.

  • Put a gi on it
  • Hard Pulls for 6 Seconds (working grip and upper body strength)
  • Rest: 20 secs
  • Repeat it for 5 minutes
Medicine Ball Squeeze (20-30 lb)
  • Gable grip on med ball
  • Attach a resistance band to hips: anchor it in something sturdy on the floor and let it resist your hip extension
  • Working on the grip and the hip strength
  • 6 seconds on/20 secs off

Cool Down: 5-10 treadmill walk

Lactic Power (Power Performance Conditioning)

You could perform sprint intervals on a track or, even better, do them uphill (more glute activation, which is excellent for BJJ).

4 Sessions – Sprint 2-3/week

  • D1: 30 sec on/3 min off x 4-6 Reps. Target distance 150-200m
  • D2: 12 sec/ 60 sec off x 10-15 Reps. Target distance 60-80m
  • D3: 20 sec on/2 min off x 8-12 Reps. Target distance – 60-80m
  • D4: 10 sec on/ 60 secs off x 8×12 Reps

Accessory/Pre-Rehab Routine

You can perform this on the days you feel run down, or on the days you’re not lifting. This is to fix your posture and avoid any injuries down the line. It only takes 10 minutes, so give it a try.

  • Shoulder CAR – 2×5 rotations each arm
  • T-Spine Segmentations – 2×5 reps
  • Band Pull-Aparts – 100 reps
  • Prone Swimmer – (Use 2.5 lbs plates) 3×12

Considerations for BJJ Strength and Conditioning

  • Learn to listen to your body: if you feel beat up from training, lower the weight, or focus more on the movement rather than reps.
  • Be smart with your approach and implement what you need, not what other competitors are doing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I do strength training before BJJ?

Yes! It is by far the most efficient way to balance both: weightlift in the morning, where you have the most focus and energy, then recover during the day. By the time you get to BJJ practice, you’ll be refreshed, and you probably won’t have your full strength, and that’s good: you can focus on technique! You hit two birds with one stone, getting strong and getting technical!

How do I structure my daily training with BJJ conditioning and BJJ practice?

Have 4-6 hours between BJJ and your conditioning sessions and have your before and after weight training and BJJ to improve recovery. The meals should be taken at least 30 before training, and don’t have too much, or you’ll end up puking (not fun!).

When should I do my cardio conditioning?

You could do it right before or right after BJJ since it is not very taxing on the nervous system. Just make sure to drink plenty of water and eat something potassium-rich (bananas, kiwis, etc.) to restore any lost fluids.

Why should I space my BJJ and conditioning sessions with a minimum of 4 hours?

Suppose you go into BJJ right after lifting or conditioning. In that case, you are going to lack the quality technique and energy to execute correctly. If you do BJJ, then go lifting; let’s say you got aggressive defending an armbar; your arm got stressed way too much. If you do deadlifts or weighted pull-ups, the fatigue and lack of technique in the lift might get you injured.

How do I know if I have a good program?

Any program should have measurable results, and to stick to a good program, you have to understand it: you need to focus on the fundamental movements patterns (squat, bench press, deadlift)

Should I try to mimic what I do on the mats in the weight room?

Strength training should not try to mimic the sport; whether it is boxing or jiu-jitsu, you can’t mimic that. Strength training is supposed to complement everything you do outside the weight room, including your sports. Suppose you try to mimic your BJJ movements in the weight room. In that case, you can get injured and due to pattern overload and overuse injury.

How important is conditioning in BJJ?

Common weak areas in BJJ are rounded upper backs, weak hips because of overusing the same muscle. There’s no proper hip extension in exercises like deadlifts, squats, RDL, hip thrust, hip bridges. This is why it’s important to address those issues with a proper S&C for BJJ.

Lifting weights keeps you on the mats longer and protects you from injuries! Also, with technique on par, physical strength goes a long way to winning fights! Strength and conditioning give you an edge over your opponent. If your opponent gets tired, you can easily submit him.

Should you train BJJ and Lift on the same day?

Be careful on lifting days not to go into hard rolling sessions. Stick to your goals. If it’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu, don’t slack off BJJ. Weight training has to be 45 minutes to 1-hour max, don’t plan on going 100% on both.

References

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