November 26, 2020

Ask the average bro for strength training advice for BJJ and you’ll likely get “just lift weights bro” or “just get stronger in the squat, bench, and deadlift.” While maximal strength is an important quality that influences other strength characteristics, it is not as important in BJJ as it is in other sports.

However, as the sport of BJJ evolves, many of the top BJJ players are physically imposing and have the strength to match. Which begs the question, does strength provide a competitive advantage?

As strength training isn’t widely part of the BJJ training culture, developing total body strength may provide a competitive advantage over similarly skilled opponents. Aiming for general strength standards of 1.3-1.5 kg bench press, 1.5-2.0 kg squat, and 2-2.5 kg deadlift will likely be “strong enough” to give you a competitive advantage.

However, there is much more to strength training for BJJ than the squat, bench, and deadlift. While they provide a great stimulus for maximal strength, BJJ is a sport that requires muscular power and endurance in planes of movement outside of the typical ‘up and down.’

Strength Requirements For BJJ

Strength Requirements For BJJ

When analyzing the strength requirements for BJJ, it is best to look at how strong elite level BJJ competitors are compared to non-elite. One study did just that comparing brown and black belt elite BJJ practitioners versus brown and black belt non-elite BJJ practitioners [1].

Elite BJJ practitioners were defined as having won a national and/or international competition medal while non-elite BJJ practitioners were non-medalists in these competitions.

Elite BJJ athletes were stronger in the bench press (111 kg vs. 98 kg), were able to perform more push-ups (41 vs. 36), and perform more sit-ups in one minute (46 vs. 40) than the non-elite BJJ athletes.

However, when accounting for bodyweight, there was no difference in bench press strength. Also, no difference was found between the groups in the squat.

It seems lower body strength may not be a differentiator between elite and non-elite BJJ practitioners. In fact, squat strength only ranged between 83-98 kg representing around 1.1-1.3 kg relative to body weight.

Muscular power output is important in BJJ during explosive actions such as sweeps and takedowns. High-level BJJ athletes have a vertical jump between 30-45 cm which is higher than Olympic wrestlers and elite judo athletes potentially highlighting the importance of having powerful legs for BJJ [2].

7 Incredibly Easy Ways To Get Stronger For Grappling Without Being Tired and Sore For Class!

There was no difference in power output in the upper body using the bench press throw when comparing advanced and non-advanced BJJ athletes. Power was maximized in the throw at approximately 42% of bench press 1RM.

We can also profile BJJ practitioners by the style of game they like to play. In the literature, BJJ practitioners are labeled either as guard fighters or pass fighters [3].

While there were no differences in leg or grip strength, pass fighters exhibited greater lower back endurance than guard fighters.

Based on all of the strength training research in BJJ, a general guideline for strength standards are [2]:

  • Bench press: 1.3-1.5 kg/bodyweight
  • Squat: 1.2 kg/bodyweight
  • Deadlift: 1.7 kg/bodyweight

These strength standards for BJJ would be considered very low regarding the lower body to most other athletes. In my opinion, it highlights the importance of upper body strength over lower body strength.

However, that doesn’t discount the potential benefits of having stronger legs. With technique being equal, you can potentially gain an advantage over an opponent with due to being stronger overall.

So instead of these standards, you can shoot for some typical strength standards of:

  • Bench press: 1.3-1.5 kg/bodyweight
  • Squat: 1.5-2 kg/bodyweight
  • Deadlift: 2-2.5 kg/bodyweight

Importantly, time taken away from your BJJ training to reach these targets is not desirable. Especially the lower body strength targets as it doesn’t seem maximal lower body strength is of great importance to BJJ.

We can sum these findings up into some general principles for strength training for BJJ.

  1. Aim to develop general strength in the ranges presented above for the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
  2. Develop lower body explosive power so vertical jump sits in the range of 30-45 cm or higher.
  3. Upper body explosive power in the form of bench press throw may not be as important but when training it, use loads approximately 40% of 1RM.
  4. Upper body and trunk strength endurance should be emphasized.
  5. If you are a pass fighter, place extra emphasis on lower back endurance.

It’s important to note that if a physical metric doesn’t differentiate between elite and non-elite BJJ athletes, it likely has little bearing on BJJ performance. Sadly, there isn’t much research on this specific topic so some creative freedom will be used.

Further, having an elite level bench press isn’t going to turn you from a non-elite to an elite BJJ practitioner at the national or international level. BJJ skill will always trump strength. It could be that the elite level BJJ practitioners are generally better athletes than non-elite so have higher scores for some physical tests.

Or that elite level BJJ athletes place greater emphasis on their overall training off the mats. There are many factors that can influence these testing results.

How To Structure A Strength Training Program For BJJ

2 Day Strength Training Program For BJJ

This is where the art and science of programming is blended together. To make things easier, there are some general guidelines that should be adhered to within a training day:

  • Fast to slow
  • Complex to simple
  • Compound to isolation

These guidelines ensure you get the most out of your strength and power training while minimizing the risk of injury.

Fast to slow means performing exercises on the velocity side of the force-velocity curve first in the workout. As you progress through the workout, the loading gets heavier, and therefore, the velocity decreases.

Complex to simple means performing movements that require a high level of coordination such as various jumps, throws, or Olympic lifts before simpler movements such as squats or single-limb movements.

Compound to isolation means performing multi joint movements such as squats and deadlifts before single joint movements such as lateral raises or bicep curls.

It’s important to remember these guidelines serve as an overall guiding principles. It doesn’t mean that all exercises always have to be performed in these orders.

Sometimes, using rest periods to perform easier isolation exercises can be a great training strategy to make the most use of your time. You will see an example of this below.

When planning strength training sessions for the week, you need to choose how many days a week you’ll train. This is all going to depend on the time you have available. If you work full time, you may only have time to strength train 2 days a week when juggling BJJ training.

2 Day Strength Training Program For BJJ

In my experience, performing strength training before BJJ training works best. Whether that’s directly before BJJ practice if you’re time-crunched or in the morning of your evening BJJ sessions if you have more time.

If you’re only drilling at BJJ, then strength training can be performed later in the day.

If you’ve ever tried strength training after a tough BJJ training session, you know it’s near impossible to do anything from the fatigue!

When training twice a week, both sessions should be full-body to take advantage of the limited training time.

So without further or do, here is a sample 2 day a week strength training program for BJJ.

Day 1

ExerciseSetsRepsLoad
A1) Box or Broad Jump3-53-5
A2) Neck Training Variation3-4
B1) KB Swing3-46-8
C1) Front Squat3-42-570-85% 1RM
D1) BB Row3-46-1065-80% 1RM
E1) 1-Arm Overhead Press2-48-12
F1) Farmers Walk2-320-40m

Day 2

ExerciseSetsRepsLoad
A1) Medicine Ball Overhead Scoop Toss3-53-43-8 kg
A2) Neck Training Variation3-4
B1) Deadlift3-42-570-85% 1RM
C1) Bench Press3-43-670-85% 1RM
C2) Chin-Up3-45-1065-80% 1RM
D1) Landmine Rotation2-45-6/side
E1) Sandbag Bearhug or Zercher Carry2-320-40m
F1) Grip Training Variation2-3

3 Day Strength Training Program For BJJ

If you are training BJJ 5+ times a week, I wouldn’t recommend performing three days of strength training a week. Twice a week is easily enough to get what you need done.

However, if you are training less BJJ and want to add in an extra strength training session to gain some size or just to feel stronger overall, here is how you can go about it.

Two days should be your ‘hard’ training sessions that involve full-body strength and power exercises. These will be complexed so the strength exercise will be followed by the velocity or power exercise. You can also use these complexes in the 2-Day schedule but I want to show another way of organizing your training program.

By doing this, we can take advantage of the post-activation potentiation phenomenon. This phenomenon was best described by Soviet researcher Dr. Verkhoshanksy. I paraphrase:

“Imagine what would happen if you lifted a half-full bottle of water when you thought the bottle was full. There’d be a mismatch between your perception of the force needed to move the bottle, and the actual force required. The bottle would move twice as fast as you intended.”

Using complexes is a more intermediate-advanced way of organising training so it is a good progression from moving from fast to slow exercises like in the 2-Day program.

One day will consist of ‘easy’ isolation or bodybuilding exercises to address muscular imbalances, general prehab, or overall hypertrophy.

Day 1 (‘Hard’)

ExerciseSetsRepsLoad
A1) Front Squat3-52-570-85% 1RM
A2) Box or Broad Jump3-53-5
B1) Bench Press3-42-570-85% 1RM
B2) Med Ball Chest Throw3-42-52-4 kg
C1) KB Swing3-46-8
C2) Neck Training Variation3-4
D1) BB Row3-45-10
E1) Farmers Walk2-320-40m

Day 2 (‘Easy’)

ExerciseSetsRepsLoad
A1) Sandbag Zercher or Bearhug Carry3-420-40m
B1) Reverse Fly2-315-20
B2) Isometric Back Extension2-320-60sec
C1) Fat Gripz BB Curl2-310-15
C2) Towel Tricep Extension2-36-8
D1) Neck Training Variation3-4
D2) Hanging Leg Raise3-45-10

Day 3 (‘Hard’)

ExerciseSetsRepsLoad
A1) Deadlift3-42-570-85% 1RM
A2) Split Squat Jump3-43-4/leg
B1) Push Press3-42-570-85% 1RM
B2) Medicine Ball Overhead Scoop Toss3-43-43-8 kg
C1) Chin-Up3-45-10
C2) Neck Training Variation3-4
D1) Landmine Rotation2-35-6/side
D2) Rotational Med Ball Throw3-43-5/side3-5 kg
E1) Grip Training Variation2-3

Grip Strength Training For BJJ

Both maximal handgrip strength and strength endurance of the grip are important factors for BJJ performance.

With so many different grips used in BJJ, it’s important to train as many of them as possible either by making modifications to your main exercises or adding specific grip training exercises.

See my article “How To Improve Grip Strength For BJJ” for the different grips and training options.

Bodyweight Strength Training For BJJ

If you refer to my “What Is Strength Training” article, I mention that bodyweight only training isn’t enough to get the most out of strength training. This is because various loading elicits different adaptations.

However, if you don’t have access to gym equipment for whatever reason, bodyweight training will have to suffice. Placing the emphasis on jumps, upper body strength and endurance, and trunk strength and endurance will be the main goals.

Here is a sample twice a week bodyweight strength training program for BJJ with the only piece of equipment being an elastic band:

Day 1

ExerciseSetsReps
A1) Vertical Jump3-53-5
A2) 4-Way Neck Isometric Hold3-510 sec/side
B1) Explosive Incline Pushup3-53-5
B2) Band Pull Apart2-315-25
C1) Bulgarian Split Squat2-38-15
C2) Cross Body Crunch2-35-10/side
D1) Banded Pushup3-48-15
D2) Prone Superman3-410-20
E1) Bent Over Band Row3-410-20
E2) Gripper or Rice Bucket or Finger Extensions3-4

Day 2

ExerciseSetsReps
A1) Broad Jump3-53-5
A2) 4-Way Neck Isometric Hold3-510 sec/side
B1) Explosive Pushup3-53-5
B2) Lying Leg Raise3-510-20
C1) Band Good Morning2-410-20
C2) Side Plank2-420-60/side
D1) Pushup Isometric Hold3-420-45sec
D2) Prone Superman Power Hold3-420-60sec
E1) Band Face Pull2-315-25
E2) Gripper or Rice Bucket or Finger Extensions2-3

These programs provided are very general plans. When programming for yourself, there will be individual factors to account for such as previous injuries, time, equipment, and space available, and individual strengths and weaknesses.

However, these examples will provide a framework to work off of. You can see the guiding principles in action such as moving from fast to slow movements during the training session.

References

1. Marinho, B. F., Andreato, L. V., Follmer, B., & Franchini, E. (2016). Comparison of body composition and physical fitness in elite and non-elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes. Science & Sports31(3), 129-134.

2. Andreato, L. V., Lara, F. J. D., Andrade, A., & Branco, B. H. M. (2017). Physical and physiological profiles of Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes: a systematic review. Sports medicine-open3(1), 9.

3. de Paula Lima, P. O., Lima, A. A., Coelho, A. C. S., Lima, Y. L., Almeida, G. P. L., Bezerra, M. A., & de Oliveira, R. R. (2017). Biomechanical differences in brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes: the role of combat style. International journal of sports physical therapy12(1), 67.

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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