Like most martial arts, BJJ athletes are typically obsessed with core workouts. Whether that’s core finishers after class smashing 100 sit-ups each night in an attempt to improve their BJJ performance. While this is often a misdirected use of training time, having a solid core can positively influence your BJJ game.
Before providing BJJ core workouts, it’s essential to define the core and its functions so we aren’t stuck performing sit-ups as the sole exercise.
What Is The Core?
The term “core” has been bastardized within mainstream fitness. I typically don’t like referring to these muscles as the core because it encompasses much more than the abs you see in the mirror. But when I refer to the core, I’m referring to everything from the shoulders to the hips.
This becomes even more true within BJJ, where you resist movement or create it with your entire body. For this article, however, we’ll focus on the trunk and the primary roles of these muscles:
- Anti-Rotation and Rotation
- Anti-Lateral Flexion and Lateral Flexion
- Anti-Extension & Extension
The main muscles responsible for these movement patterns are the following:
Rectus abdominus – the six-pack abs mainly responsible for flexion and anti-extension of the spine.
Obliques – the muscles to the side of your trunk mainly responsible for rotation, lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion.
Transverse abdominus – the deep inner core muscle that stabilizes the spine. It acts like a weight belt helping create intra-abdominal pressure (think of the hard bracing you do when resisting movement).
Erector spinae – the thick columns of muscle that run up your spine. They are mainly responsible for the extension of the spine and for fighting against having your posture broken when in the guard or being snapped down.
Quadratus lumborum – these small muscles help the erector spinae during spinal extension and help to stabilize the pelvis.
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While crunches and sit-ups serve their function within a BJJ core workout, you can’t be isolated to these exercises as you cover only one of the many functions. So, here’s a list of exercises you can pick from!
Best Core Exercises For BJJ
This is not an exhaustive list of core exercises. However, sticking with these basic movements is more than enough to build a robust core. I’ll group these by movement category.
The sit-up has been vilified within the training community for years. However, the pendulum is swinging back to the middle as it always does, and now sit-ups aren’t seen as a spine destroyer it once was.
And face it, try going through a BJJ class without performing a sit-up motion. You’d have to love staying flat on your back and being dominated.
The benefit of the sit-up is you can do it anywhere, so you have no excuse for improving trunk flexion strength. Control the eccentric or lowering portion to get the most out of it.
I’m very fond of the decline sit-up variation over the traditional sit-up. Because of the line of gravity, you have more tension at the top of the sit-up when on a decline bench than on the floor. Further, you have a larger range of motion for the abdominals to work through.
Hanging Leg Raise
Interestingly, you can target the upper and lower abs preferentially, with sit-ups primarily targeting the upper abs and leg raises targeting the lower abs . Further, when doing leg raises while hanging, you decompress the spine, which feels great when you’ve been stacked and pulled on when grappling.
The suitcase carry is your ultimate anti-lateral flexion exercise. You must resist being bent sideways by the kettlebell when walking. Further, if you go heavy enough, your grip takes a beating.
DB Side Bends
Side bends take care of the lateral flexion component of core training and is helpful for many BJJ and stand-up techniques like throws and sweeps. Further, it places your obliques under stretch, which is excellent for overall trunk health and mobility.
The landmine rotation is easily my favorite core exercise because it encompasses the legs and hips during rotation. Very rarely will you rotate or resist rotation when standing in BJJ without the legs and hips helping you.
Therefore, it develops your ability to sequence the hips and trunk together, which can translate to better throws or resisting being thrown.
Seated Plate Rotation
You spend more time on your ass when doing BJJ than standing. Therefore, it’s crucial to strengthen this position. I love the seated plate rotation when done intentionally, slow down, and explosive on the way up.
Further, you need to resist falling back, making it excellent for any butt scooters who love playing with leg entries.
The cable rotation is a staple exercise for BJJ athletes. I did these two days ago as of writing this, and my obliques are still sore. Go heavy and angle yourself slightly away from the cable column, so you get a longer stretch in the starting position.
Many BJJ practitioners neglect the critical lower back muscles in core training. You can’t see them in the mirror like the rectus abdominus or six-pack, so they don’t get trained outside of deadlift variations.
But if you want to bulletproof your back and develop unbreakable posture, you’ll want to do back extensions. You can vary the exercise between the 45° and 90° variations.
Isometric Back Extension
The isometric variation of the back extension will improve your ability to resist a breaking posture for longer. These are best done by holding a plate or dumbbell for more significant load on the spinal erectors.
The barbell or ab wheel rollout is an advanced core exercise targeting the anti-extension ability of the trunk. Don’t try this if you are a beginner to strength training. And do them on your knees to spare your shoulders.
BJJ Specific Core Exercises
I hate these with a passion. Having to do these as part of the warm-up for BJJ class each day doesn’t make it any more tolerable. However, it’s highly effective for developing core strength when playing off your back.
Nothing beats spending time on the mats to develop core strength, especially having to resist and manipulate another human being. No number of sit-ups will prepare you for this. So do this often.
The best thing is to flow and work on pulling and pushing with your “handles” or “hooks” on the triceps and lats.
If you’ve ever had to drill 20+ sit sweep hip bumps in class, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is simple if you have a grappling dummy or partner to do core work while developing technical skills on the mat.
BJJ Core Workout
There is no need to spend an entire workout on training your core. It makes no sense in a logical training plan. Therefore, here are a few BJJ core workout add-ons you can tack on at the end of your BJJ strength training session.
BJJ Core Workout Gym Option
A1) Cable Rotation 3 x 10/side
A2) Hanging Leg Raise 3 x 10
B1) Isometric Back Extension 3 x 20 sec
BJJ Core Workout After Class Option
A1) Sidewinders 1 x 1 length of the mats each way
B1) Seated Plate Rotation 3 x 6/side
BJJ Core Workout At Home Option
A1) Sit-Up 4 x 10-15
B1) Ab Wheel Rollout 3 x 10
Frequently Asked BJJ Core Workout Questions
Does BJJ Build Core Strength?
BJJ builds core strength with the various takedowns, throws, sweeps, and submissions you’ll perform in class. However, targeting the core with direct core work is beneficial for developing strength to carry over to BJJ.
Are Planks Good For BJJ?
Planks aren’t bad for BJJ, but there are far better options. The core exercises listed above are far more beneficial than holding a plank.
You can use these BJJ core workouts as add-ons at the end of your strength training or BJJ classes. Depending on the volume, some of these can make simple warm-ups before stepping on the mats or before an easier strength day.
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1. Willett, G. M., Hyde, J. E., Uhrlaub, M. B., Wendel, C. L., & Karst, G. M. (2001). Relative activity of abdominal muscles during commonly prescribed strengthening exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(4), 480-485.