Yoga Or Strength Training For BJJ?

March 24, 2021

So, you’ve been wondering… should you add yoga or strength training to your BJJ training routine? When training BJJ most days of the week, it can be difficult to find time to fit both activities into your weekly schedule.

Both yoga and strength training can be beneficial for BJJ. However, strength training offers more benefits compared to yoga as lifting weights with a full range of motion has been shown to improve flexibility similarly to static stretching while reducing the risk of injury.

If I was to only pick yoga or strength training when it came to my BJJ training, which one would it be and why?

Yoga Or Strength Training For BJJ?

If I had to ONLY pick one for the BJJ practitioner, it would be strength training in a landslide win. And are the four main reasons why:

Strength Training Is Just As Effective In Improving Range Of Motion

Untrained adults were split into two groups. A resistance training group and a static stretching group [1]. Both groups did either their resistance training or static stretching three times a week for five weeks and were compared to a control group who did nothing.

The strength training program involved three full-body days lifting through a full range of motion. The static stretching program was the same each day and involved 30 second holds in most of the major muscle groups.

They found that both the static stretching and resistance training groups similarly improved knee extension flexibility (hamstring), hip flexion flexibility (hamstring), and hip extension flexibility (hip flexors) compared to the control group.

While they may have been statistically similar, each flexibility assessment showed a trend for resistance training resulting in a greater range of motion. Further, there was a trend observed for the resistance training group displaying greater quadriceps and hamstring strength compared to the static stretching group.

Similar results have been found when comparing eccentric exercise protocols (lengthening the muscle under tension known as the lowering phase of the movement) to static stretching on flexibility of the hamstring muscles [2].

The eccentric exercise was performed lying down on the back holding a band around the foot like someone would do when stretching their hamstrings. They actively pulled the foot up with the band while actively resisting with the hamstrings for a 5 second eccentric.

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

This would be considered a low-level eccentric exercise and more of a PNF stretch. The static stretching group performed a simple hamstring stretch with the leg up on a chair for 30 seconds.

It seems as long as the eccentric exercise is putting the muscle through length with tension, it is as effective at improving range of motion as static stretching.

Strength Training Reduces The Risk Of Injury

Yoga or Weights For BJJ

In a recent meta-analysis (the gold standard of scientific research), strength training was found to reduce sports injuries by 66% [3]. On the other hand, static stretching has been shown to not prevent or reduce injury in military training, running, or sports [4].

Taking this further, lower 1RM back squat relative to body weight have been observed in injured football, softball, and volleyball players compared to non-injured players [5]. Meaning those who were injured less had greater levels of strength in the back squat.

Similar results were found in amateur hurling players where those with greater 3RM trap bar deadlifts were less likely to get injured and were able to handle higher training workloads [6].

Being stronger relative to your body weight is one of the key factors to reducing your risk of injury when practicing BJJ.

Strength Training Directly Translates To BJJ Performance

As BJJ practitioners, we know that technique trumps all. But what happens when you have the strength to finish submissions that you couldn’t before? You now have more techniques to use in your arsenal.

Elite BJJ practitioners only seem to be stronger in the upper body compared to non-elite practitioners.

However, being stronger overall can potentially give you an added advantage over your competition all skills being equal.

Active Flexibility Is Better Than Passive Flexibility

The way you improve your range of motion can either be passive or active flexibility. Active flexibility can be thought of as mobility. Which is being able to produce force at long muscle lengths so you have control over your movement when put into these positions.

Passive flexibility can get you there. But if you are put there during a roll and you try to fight your way out, you are likely to injure yourself as you can’t tolerate load in that position.

Strength training develops the ability to handle the load at these end ranges of motion which is what makes gaining range of motion in this manner superior to static stretching such as yoga.

Can You Do Both Yoga And Weights For BJJ?

I’ve made some key points regarding strength training being superior to yoga for BJJ. But nothing is stopping you from doing both.

Strength training 2-3 times a week with a full range of motion and doing your yoga at night before bed can be a great way to quickly get more flexible and mobile for BJJ. Further, yoga is great for relaxing the mind, focusing on your breathing, and just winding down.

For this reason, yoga before bed can be a sleep enhancer. If you are doing just yoga and BJJ, I would advise you to start strength training to reap the benefits for BJJ. If you are only doing strength training and BJJ, yoga is optional in my opinion.

If you are struggling with your flexibility in certain areas, extra stretching through yoga can be a way to accelerate your progress.

I understand that some yoga poses require you to hold positions for extended periods turning them into bodyweight strength exercises. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to derive the full benefits of strength training and the adaptations that take place.

References

1. Morton, S. K., Whitehead, J. R., Brinkert, R. H., & Caine, D. J. (2011). Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research25(12), 3391-3398.

2. Nelson, R. T., & Bandy, W. D. (2004). Eccentric training and static stretching improve hamstring flexibility of high school males. Journal of athletic training39(3), 254.

3. Lauersen, J. B., Andersen, T. E., & Andersen, L. B. (2018). Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine52(24), 1557-1563.

4. Nuzzo, J. L. (2020). The case for retiring flexibility as a major component of physical fitness. Sports Medicine, 50(5), 853-870.

5. Case, M. J., Knudson, D. V., & Downey, D. L. (2020). Barbell squat relative strength as an identifier for lower extremity injury in collegiate athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(5), 1249-1253.

6. Malone, S., Hughes, B., Doran, D. A., Collins, K., & Gabbett, T. J. (2019). Can the workload–injury relationship be moderated by improved strength, speed and repeated-sprint qualities?. Journal of science and medicine in sport22(1), 29-34.

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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