How To Balance Weight Training & BJJ

November 27, 2020

As BJJ gains more and more popularity every year, the sport also grows competitively. With more events that pay, and different organizations hosting events, BJJ has a fast-expanding competitive landscape. That comes with BJJ competitors becoming increasingly more skilled, better conditioned, and stronger.

Balancing weight training and BJJ is as simple as following a high/low training system. Similar stressors such as heavy strength training and hard rolling can be placed on the same day to allow adequate recovery. This can be planned in three phases. General, specific, and competition preparation.

While I have previously covered strength training for BJJ and conditioning for BJJ, this balancing weight training and BJJ article is more about piecing them together. It covers how you can balance your external weight training with your BJJ training to see performance improvements through effective training.

Balancing Weight Training & BJJ Training

For the BJJ competitor and hobbyist, it may be slightly different when balancing BJJ with supplementary weight training. However, the principles will remain consistent between the two.

Firstly, when planning, we must break down training into microcycles (days), mesocycles (weeks i.e. training goals), and macrocycles (weeks to months i.e. training blocks).

These are just fancy training periodization terms which I won’t refer to much as it can be confusing. Rather, I just want to cover how to plan a training week and how to progress those training weeks between training phases.

Training Phases

BJJ Strength and Conditioning

For the competitor, I’m going to break the training down into three phases. A general or base training phase, a specific training phase, and a competition phase. Now the length each of these will last is going to depend on the competitions you have planned to compete in.

The luxury with BJJ is that you generally know when competitions are happening well in advance especially if you’re competing in the IBJJF.

If not, no worries. You can use a set duration structure for the general and specific training phases such as 6-8 weeks for the general phase and 4-6 weeks for the specific training phase and repeat.

When the competition gets close, a simple 3-4 week competition phase is more than enough to up the ante of your training to prepare for high-intensity grappling matches.

7 Powerful Ways To Get Stronger For Grappling/BJJ, Without Being Tired & Sore!

For the hobbyist, planning your training into phases is still a good idea as it provides you with specific priorities within your training so you’re not spinning your wheels and not making any physical progress.

One difference with the hobbyist is potentially spending longer in the general or base phase as you are likely training less than a competitor and you may also enjoy other forms of exercise off the mats. So an 8-12 week general phase and a 4-week specific training phase to break the monotony and add some variety will work well.

Training Weeks

Planning your training week correctly is more important than what phase of training you are in. The phase of training will dictate what goes into your week, but how you plan the training week will directly affect how well you progress in your weight training.

In my opinion, the best weekly training structure is the High/Low training system made popular by sprint coach Charlie Francis.

Essentially, you want to consolidate all of your higher stress training on one day, and all of your lower stress training the following day which you repeat in an alternating fashion throughout the week. So let’s classify what is considered high and low stress training as it pertains to BJJ.

High StressLow Stress
Hard RollingDrilling
Positional Sparring (could be considered low depending on duration and position)Flow Rolling
TakedownsAerobic conditioning
High velocity strength, aka power (jumps, plyometric)Prehab/rehab/mobility exercise
Sprints (including cardio equipment)Complete rest
Anaerobic Lactic conditioning

You may notice why high and low days are alternated. If you decided to perform three high days in a row, you run yourself at a higher risk of injury and your training performance will likely decrease as you enter the second and third days affecting the quality of your sessions.

So instead, alternating days allow the body to recovery to maximize outputs during those high-stress training days.

Balancing Weight Training For The BJJ Competitor

Let’s start with the competitor. There are many BJJ practitioners who train and love to compete. Outside of their full-time jobs, this is where they dedicate their most time too. Which means this training schedule will be quite hectic. We will assume this athlete is training BJJ 5x a week.

Here are some broad overview weekly plans before we break this down into specifics for each phase. We are also going to assume you have set class times based on your work and lifestyle.

Phase 1 (General Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
LowHighLowHighLowHighLow
BJJBJJStrength & ConditioningBJJBJJOpen MatOFF
Strength & ConditioningStrength & ConditioningStrength & ConditioningStrength & Conditioning

Phase 2 (Specific Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
LowHighLowHighLowHighLow
BJJBJJBJJBJJBJJOpen MatOFF
Strength & ConditioningStrength & ConditioningStrength & ConditioningStrength & Conditioning

Phase 3 (Competition Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
LowHighLowHighLowHighLow
BJJBJJOFFBJJBJJOpen MatOFF
Strength & ConditioningStrength & ConditioningStrength & Conditioning

Now this provides a very general overview. The order you perform the training in the day is going to depend on your schedule. However, I will provide recommendations for each day.

These phases may all look very similar regarding how they are set out. That’s no problem. It’s what type of training that is performed during each session that dictates the training phase.

Let’s start placing the specifics into the weekly schedule.

Phase 1 (General Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
LowHighLowHighLowHighLow
Drills/FlowDrills/Positional SparringAerobic conditioning (BJJ specific or not)Drills/Positional SparringDrills/FlowOpen MatOFF
Easy bodybuilding OR aerobic conditioningStrength/PowerStrength/PowerAerobic conditioning

For our first low day on Monday, the order you perform these sessions isn’t a big deal. You can perform your gym or aerobic training in the morning and BJJ at night or vice versa. The training isn’t so taxing that it will interfere with each session. Whether you choose bodybuilding or conditioning is going to be down to where you lack physically.

If you are generally small or don’t have a strength training background, then opt for the bodybuilding work. If you know cardiovascular fitness is your weak point, then perform the extra conditioning.

For Tuesday, our first high day, I would recommend performing the strength/power training first in the day. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to lift later in the day after a hard BJJ session, but it’s very difficult with the fatigue associated with the training.

However, if you have no choice as you can only train BJJ in the morning, then you may have to make some changes to the strength/power program to reflect that by reducing the overall volume.

If possible, you can actually perform your strength/power session directly before your BJJ session. I used to do that often where I would do my own weight training at around 9 am and then train BJJ at 12pm.

It was like having an extended warm-up and didn’t bother me at all when we would also roll at the end of class.

Wednesday is considered an off day from BJJ where some form of aerobic conditioning should take place to promote recovery and develop your fitness. If possible, performing circuits of BJJ movements are your best options such as the ones listed in my “Conditioning For BJJ” article.

However, if you don’t have the space or your own mats, using typical cardio equipment or running will suffice.

Thursday we are back on the mats and essentially repeating what Tuesday looked like.

Friday is a repeat of Monday but is geared towards aerobic conditioning.

At most BJJ gyms, Saturday is for open mat. So go at it and have some fun!

Now I understand that many gyms roll at the end of every class making it difficult to stick to a plan that states only do drilling or positional sparring etc. But do the best you can within the structure.

After 6-8 weeks of this general preparation phase, then it is time to start dialing in your training to be more specific.

Phase 2 (Specific Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
LowHighLowHighLowHighLow
Drills/FlowPositional Sparring/RollingDrills/FlowPositional Sparring/RollingDrills/FlowOpen MatOFF
Easy Bodybuilding OR Aerobic ConditioningStrength/PowerStrength/PowerAerobic Conditioning

Not much changes with the structure of the week other than substituting Wednesday S&C session with more BJJ drilling. However, it’s what happens within the strength/power sessions and aerobic conditioning sessions that change.

Strength/power sessions start to move towards more specific exercise selection for BJJ. Various isometrics, specific carries, and staggered stance movements. Less overall emphasis is placed on maximal strength and more is placed on power development.

Aerobic conditioning shifts emphasis towards more peripheral adaptations using various interval training methods.

BJJ now starts to have more frequent live rolling.

After 4-6 weeks spent in this specific phase, it is now time to enter the competition phase.

Phase 3 (Competition Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
LowHighLowHighLowHighLow
Drills/FlowPositional Sparring/RollingOFF or Aerobic Capacity or DrillsPositional Sparring/RollingDrills/FlowOpen MatOFF
Lactic CapacityStrength/PowerPower Endurance/Alactic CapacityLactic Capacity

When we get to competition preparation, rules get slightly broken. Here we have a lactic capacity session on the first low day. It’s the only logical place we can put it as to not interfere with everything else.

Strength and power training volume will be reduced while power endurance/alactic capacity replaces traditional strength and power training.

Lactic capacity training is probably best performed off the mats on cardio equipment in order to maintain the intensity needed. During open mat, setting up some kind of takedown drill or shark tank will allow you to get some more specific BJJ lactic capacity training in.

Wednesday becomes an optional day where taking the day off is the best course of action. If you feel you need to work on something, some easy drilling will be okay.

Balancing Weight Training For The BJJ Hobbyist

The BJJ hobbyist has a completely different set of needs to the competitor. The hobbyist generally doesn’t train as much as the competitor but would still like to feel good and perform well. For both general and specific phases, their week may look like this assuming they train BJJ 3x per week.

Because our hobbyist is training for the fun of it, the high/low training system is a little more difficult to apply. Thus, training schedule may look like this.

Phase 1 and 2

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
BJJS&CBJJS&CBJJS&C OR Open MatOFF

Obviously, this will vary based on your schedule. Maybe you train more sessions of BJJ such as open mat. That’s okay. You can just perform the two S&C sessions. Here’s how it will look for both phases of training.

Phase 1 (General Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
BJJStrength/PowerBJJStrength/PowerBJJAerobic Conditioning OR Open MatOFF

BJJ will consist of whatever you end up doing in class for that day. Drilling, rolling, and positional sparring.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are your strength training days where you will focus on getting stronger. Some hypertrophy work can also be done here if you are trying to gain some size.

Saturday is a day for you to do some other form of activity to get your aerobic conditioning in. Simple walks, runs, bike rides, whatever takes your fancy. If you enjoy it, do it.

You may notice there isn’t much conditioning outside of BJJ. That is because BJJ in this instance is the primary training method for improving conditioning. The training performed outside of BJJ addresses areas which you cannot get from BJJ training being maximal strength and power training.

This is where you will spend the bulk of your training time. After about 8-12 weeks, you can break the monotony and move towards a more specific training phase for 4 weeks.

Phase 2 (Specific Prep)

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
BJJStrength/PowerBJJPower EnduranceBJJLactic Conditioning OR Open MatOFF

Again, very similar to phase 1 as you are a BJJ hobbyist. The only difference is performing a power endurance session on Thursday and changing your Saturday conditioning to something more demanding.

Once you’ve completed 4 weeks, start the process again with the general prep phase. This will set you up nicely with 2-3 months of general preparation and 1 month of specific preparation.

Why Is There No Hypertrophy Or Strength Block?

When people think of periodization or training planning, they often revert to blocking their training into phases that target certain qualities. E.g. hypertrophy phase, then strength, then power. So in the hypertrophy block, only hypertrophy style training is performed. Then so on and so on.

There is one inherent problem with this kind of training structure.

What you don’t use, you lose.

Meaning, if you spend 8 weeks performing maximal strength training, then you haven’t performed any maximal strength work 8 weeks later during your power phase, do you expect to hold onto those qualities?

The vertical integration approach suits mixed sports like BJJ far better. It means you always train all qualities within a training week, but you emphasize the qualities you deem most important in that training phase.

As you see from the week plans, strength, power, hypertrophy, and conditioning are all trained together. The amount of work done between these variables will differ depending on the training phase.

Guidelines To Balance Your Own Weight Training Plan For BJJ

When putting your own plan together, you can follow the week and phase guidelines presented here and fill the gaps with ideas from strength training for BJJ and conditioning for BJJ.

Generally, you BJJ training should follow these ideas:

  • Place similar stressors on the same day.
  • Spend most of your time emphasizing the aerobic energy system outside of the competition phase.
  • Always have a thread of all physical qualities throughout the training week. This way you ensure that you never get too far away from a component of fitness.
  • While you touch on everything, emphasize certain qualities depending on strengths, weaknesses, and the training phase you are in.

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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