BJJ & Bodybuilding: Can You Do Both?

November 19, 2021

Many of the modern era BJJ athletes have physiques resembling old school bodybuilders or fitness athletes. Large muscular upper bodies help them fill out their weight class and manhandle opponents. Is this a combination of BJJ and bodybuilding?

Combining both BJJ and bodybuilding is not a good idea if your goal is to be great at either sport. However, if you are a hobbyist that enjoys BJJ and bodybuilding, then you can do both but understand you may not progress as well as you’d like.

If you should do both BJJ and bodybuilding, is there a way to still lift weights and do BJJ?

Can You Combine BJJ And Bodybuilding?

BJJ and Bodybuilding

You can combine both BJJ and bodybuilding as your forms of physical training. However, you are serving two masters so both activities will suffer. Doing both at a competitive level means’ you won’t be very good at either BJJ or bodybuilding.

If you are a hobbyist that enjoys both sports, then this may not matter as it is purely a form of enjoyment. However, if you are trying to become very good at either sport, then you need to pick one or the other.

That doesn’t mean you couldn’t prioritize one sport and have the other on the back burner. For example, training BJJ 4-5 times per week and bodybuilding 1-2 times per week or vice versa depending on the time of the year.

The main problem with doing the sport of bodybuilding (or chasing bodybuilding type physique goals) is the volume of lifting. Performing high-intensity, low-volume lifting can be done alongside BJJ and isn’t going to tax you to the same extent as high-volume bodybuilding training.

This volume is what is going to hamper your recovery and leave you feeling sore and tired each time you step on the mats. You likely know from experience if you blasted your chest and arms, framing or pushing an opponent doesn’t last long because of the fatigue. But this doesn’t mean you can’t use bodybuilding-type movements for BJJ.

How To Use Bodybuilding Movements For BJJ

Just because doing bodybuilding and BJJ isn’t the best idea, it doesn’t mean that bodybuilding movements should be completely ignored. They have many benefits that can transfer well to your BJJ. Such as:

  • Increases blood flow to tendons which can strengthen them,
  • Increase muscle size so you can have greater muscle mass for your given bodyweight,
  • Single joint isolation exercises are generally easy to recover from.

High rep exercises pump a lot of blood through your tendons and muscles. Tendons don’t receive much blood flow so this is a positive to those that are suffering from tendon pain. Further, these single-joint isolation exercises don’t carry over much fatigue.

5 Step Blueprint To Build A BJJ Strength Workout To Demolish Your Opposition

Learn how to plan your strength training to maximize transfer to the mats.

For example, performing sets of 10-20 triceps extensions or bicep curls isn’t going to ruin the following days of BJJ training and can still provide strength and size benefits for BJJ.

To use these movements within your BJJ strength training program, they should be placed at the end of the session after your main exercises. For example, your main exercises may be the bench press and the pull-up done for low reps with heavy loads.

Following this, isolation shoulder and arm exercises can round out your session for the added hypertrophy benefit. Being more muscular at the same bodyweight is much better for your BJJ conditioning than carrying fat mass.

How To Get A BJJ Physique?

BJJ Physique

Strength training should be part of your BJJ preparation. But not in the form of bodybuilding programming. Strength training should be an accessory to your BJJ meaning everything you do in the gym should benefit you in some way on the mats and not make you too sore for BJJ training.

If you follow my Dominate The Mats strength training program, everything is laid out for you. But let’s cover some of the basics.

Workout Splits

Avoid bro or body part splits. These serve you no purpose other than to create extreme local fatigue and force you to be in the gym 5 times a week. If you are training BJJ 5 times a week, that is 10 times a week of training. I’m going to assume you don’t have the time to train and recover like a professional athlete.

Either follow a full body or upper/lower split routine. This allows you to train all the necessary movements and muscles in 2-3 days without creating extreme fatigue. For example, Dominate The Mats has three full-body workout programs specifically designed for BJJ so you don’t fall into the trap of doing too much volume.

Exercise Selection

Very simply, each full-body workout can involve a main lower body exercise, an upper-body push, and an upper-body pull. You could just do that and be in great shape for BJJ. However, you can perform other single-joint bodybuilding type movements after that such as shoulders and arms.

If performing an upper/lower split, you may perform two main movements in each session and follow it with some lighter bodybuilding-type movements.

Sets And Reps

For the main movements, you’re looking at anywhere between 2-5 sets of 2-6 reps. As you get to the bodybuilding accessory movements, you can increase the reps as the loads will be lighter. 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps are a good guideline to follow.

BJJ And Bodybuilding

Just know that if you want to dedicate a lot of time to doing both BJJ and bodybuilding, you will not make much progress with either. Ideally, you want to make BJJ a priority (assuming you are prioritizing martial arts), and use strength training as an accessory exercise with some bodybuilding exercises thrown in to enhance your BJJ game and physique.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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