As someone completely new to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ from here on), I quickly realised how tough a sport it is. Though I’m in pretty good shape, initially, it kicked my ass. Smart strength and conditioning will keep you healthier, less injury prone, and make you a better athlete. A little goes a long way – you don’t need to live in the gym to reap the benefits of this stuff.
The ideas below are similar for many sports, but there are some special considerations for BJJ.
Note: I’m not saying this will make you good at jiu-jitsu. I am still wack tbh. But the tips below WILL make you cope with the demands better and give you an advantage if you’re competing (more pound for pound strength in a weight class is never bad).
So with that said, here are my top 4 tips for BJJ strength and conditioning.
Grip, grip, grip!
You use your hands to control your opponent. While high level BJJ players can control people with just their legs, without a strong, enduring grip, it’s unlikely you will be able do much with your opponents.
Strong fingers and hands are a must in Gi Jiu Jitsu (the gi is the kimono BJJ players wear – there is also a form of jiu jitsu where the Gi is not worn).
Here are some simple exercises you can do for a vice like grip grip:
Rock climbing grip pull up & holds
Towel pull up
Other great exercises are plate pinches, rows and deadlifts with Fat Gripz, and fat bar holds for time (use Fat Gripz).
2) Start working on mobility
Mobility, in particular, hip mobility is king in BJJ! You don’t have to be stretch armstrong , but being very tight will limit your game. There are some moves that will be very awkward if you’re not mobile.
BJJ in and of itself will loosen you up a little, but if you’re tight, you’ll need to do more. Taking a bit of time to do some static and dynamic movements throughout the week will help. See here for ways to boost hip mobility.
Many BJJ competitors and teachers recommend yoga as a way to strengthen and mobilise the body, although I haven’t personally tried it myself.
3) Strength training
While strength will not make you good at BJJ (as I have found out), it is an undeniable asset, especially when fighting in weight classes. Skill and other factors being equal, strength may end up being the deciding factor.
The stronger you are, the more difficult you will be to manhandle, the more explosive you will be, and, the more ‘solid’ you’ll feel.
One of the other benefits of a good strength training regime is injury prevention. It will have positive effects on your ligaments and joints. The last thing you want is a dislocated shoulder or knee keeping you out of training.
So what to do?
You can never go wrong with the basics.
- Sled drags
- DB/Barbell presses (overhead and bench)
However, BJJ is a dynamic sport that plays out in three dimensions. All the above exercises are linear. You also need to add in movements that incorporate different directions (see this article for more).
A large part of BJJ consists of a hunched over, flexed position (think of when you are trying to control someone in full guard or protecting yourself in a defensive position). To stay strong and healthy, you need to train the opposite – extension. Lots of rows/pulls and hip extension movements (such as the Romanian Deadlift or kettlebell swing). This will also give you more explosive bridging and takedowns.
I recommend low volume, full body lifting sessions. 1-2 per week is ideal. The more often and harder your BJJ training, the less lifting you should do. The less you’re rolling, the more you can lift.
Don’t go to failure during your sets. Don’t do lots of sets. Don’t be tempted to do bodybuilding splits (chest day, back day etc). BJJ is very far from bodybuilding.
BJJ is tiring. I wouldn’t class it as the most cardio-intensive combat sport (i.e. compared to boxing), but during hard rolls you will feel it. Quick transitions and explosive movements will have you gassing harder than AJ vs Klitschko. I don’t need to tell you that running out of gas during a fight is bad.
Adding one day of conditioning to your training will allow you to spar longer. One underrated benefit of improved conditioning is that you will be calmer on the mat, which will also translate to better sparring.
Competition matches last from 5-6 minutes so there is a large aerobic component, which means low intensity steady state training is a good start. This doesn’t mean you have to go running – you could do 30 minutes of light bodyweight circuits, rotating between different cardio machines, and core work, for example.
As you get fitter, you can introduce more intense forms of conditioning such as sprints (hill sprints are amazing), barbell complexes, and other types of loaded conditiong. These types of training will allow you to be relentlessly explosive.
Again, don’t overdo this. One day a week is great.
Also, do yourself a favour and get a heart rate monitor how your fitness is improving over time.
Hope this helps you guys!