The 5 Best Strength Exercises For BJJ
The strength and conditioning world is huge..
Everyone’s got an opinion for you.. Even people with no idea will tell you what you SHOULD be doing
There’s also a heap of options out there.. If you’re looking for a program thats right for you finding the right on is tricky
You might even skip the strength work altogether ‘to get more time on the mats’.. Bad call
Maybe you do push a few weights, but following a program from the 1980’s that your mate got out of Muscle and Fitness Magazine isn’t really suited to your needs
It is my intention here to outlay 5 of the most simple and effective Strength exercises for BJJ athletes
In fact, i would go as far to say that these 5 exercises will benefit almost ANY athlete just the same
Some things you should know before we get into it:
- if you have specific needs ie. injuries or mobility issues – you might benefit from a more tailored approach. Seek a GOOD Personal Trainer and follow their advice
- if you don’t know how to perform these movements correctly, don’t waste your time. As mentioned above, seek a good PT and get them to correct your form
- these exercises ARE NOT a complete BJJ Strength Program. I would be adding in accessory and mobility work around these movements. These exercises should just form the ‘Rice and Beans’ of your training meal
Now that you understand that, lets talk more specifically about the work..
In basic terms, effective strength training should:
Be easy to implement
Compliment your game on the mats
Fortify your body against external forces
Make you stronger and more powerful
NOT leave you sore for days so your BJJ training suffers
Why have I chosen these 5 exercises?
Aside from all the above, these 5 exercises address 4 main areas of human movement:
Squat, Hip Hinge, Pushing & Pulling
The last exercise is for basic torso, or core strength – this ties everything together nicely
Functionally, these exercises will carry over most effectively to your life and your Jits game. Training like a bodybuilder is great if you want to get huge and immobile, but if you want to be strong, fast, injury resistant, and supple – working with exercises like this will serve you best
Additionally, these exercises will target the most amount of muscle mass which means that for every rep you do, you are getting the best return on investment you can (ie. maximal gains for minimal time input)
I work with a lot of BJJ athletes —
Many of whom are extremely committed to their Strength & Movement training which allows us to go deeper into more complex patterns of movement, skill development, strength, mobility etc.. Ideally you would all be doing this
However, i know you too many of you who put exactly ZERO time into your strength training.. Which is not cool at all.. So for you guys these exercises should be your starting point:
#2 Split squat
#3 Chin up
#5 Hollow Body Hold
Deadlift – The Hip Hinge
The deadlift is about as basic as it gets – you pick something up from the floor and put it back down again. In terms of carry over to BJJ its huge..
Positionally: will use it when standing up while in closed guard, or standing strong when someone jumps closed guard on you etc.
Strength: it targets the posterior chain (the muscles running along the back of your body) like the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors – all of which will make you better at takedowns, keeping a stable base, bridging etc.
Technical notes: Abs braced, spine neutral. Weight evenly distributed through whole foot. Keep abs braced throughout and ‘Crack a Walnut’ between your butt cheeks at the top. Lower with control
Split Squat – Get Balanced
Squatting is king. If you’re not doing some kind of weighted squats in your training you’re asking for trouble. I like the split squat especially because it addresses structural imbalances in the hips and trunk.
Positionally: any time you are bending at the knee and hip joint, which in BJJ is pretty much all the time. Handling tough open guard players, deep half players etc will all be placing HUGE stress on your knees. Do them a favor
Strength: Targets the muscles of the hip and knee – quads, hip flexors, glutes.. It also fortifies those joints against external forces (like the 95kg white belt who jumps guard on you).
Technical notes: Elevate the rear leg but make sure your rear knee touches the ground on each rep (the higher the rear the leg the harder this is). Keep abs tight, weight evenly distributed through the front foot.
Chin Up – Upper Body Part A
Pulling strength is a staple of any good humans training diet.. For BJJ players in particular, you spend a lot of time gripping and pulling and your shoulders are constantly under attack
Positionally: Having a strong pull will make you better at snap downs, takedowns, playing guard, securing grips etc.
Strength: Targets the muscles of the back (lats, rhomboids, lower trap etc). Will improve grip strength.. Posture strength.. Fortify your shoulders against the dreaded Kimura, Omo Plata, Americana etc.
Technical notes: Underhand grip on bar, start in a dead hang. Fully retract your scapulas first, then initiate the pull with your arms. Chest should touch the bar at top of chin up. Return to dead hang with control.
Dip – Upper Body Part B
Pressing strength is another staple, and will build well balanced strength and mass which compliments your pulling work.
Positionally: Anytime you place your hands on the mat to stop a takedown, avoid a pass, invert yourself, or bridge an opponent
Strength: Targets the Triceps, Pec, Deltoids etc. It’s the essential second-half of upper body development and shoulder and elbow fortification
Technical Notes: Lean forward as you come into the bottom of dip and keep your scapulas depressed (down, away from ears). Elbows should track straight behind you, not out. Go as low as you can with control and lock the elbows fully at the top
Hollow Body Hold – Trunk Strength 101
A strong core is essential for any human, especially Jits players.. It forms the basis of all movement, and it protects your spine. Also if you ain’t using it well you’re going to be overloading your lower back which is not a good thing
Positionally: Guard, standing, passing, side control, bridging, having someone knee-ride you into oblivion.. Fuck, there isn’t really a time when you’re NOT using your core
Strength: As mentioned above
Technical notes: lift knees up first, then chest. Lower back must be firmly pressed into floor. If this is OK, start to lengthen the legs which will increase the load. Keep that lower back on the floor. Always
Common BJJ Strength Training Fuck Ups:
“I do 8-12 reps on all my exercises”
That’s because you got your ‘Strength Training’ education from the swole dude at Fitness First who knows all about pre-workout supps and getting jacked, but unfortunately knows fuck all about strength training for athletes. Bring your reps down to somewhere between 4-6 per set.. You will become stronger than that fool.. (And yes you will need to add more weight that what you were lifting for 8-12)
You do pull ups… Except you can’t actually do pull ups
If it doesn’t start AND finish in a dead hang and your chest doesn’t reach the bar at the top its not a real pull up. Don’t let ego get in the way of a full range of motion movement. If you don’t have the adequate strength try Ring Rows instead.. If mobility is the issue then work on that. Tabletop stretch is a great place to start
Your deadlift looks more like a dog taking a shit than it does a highly athletic movement
If you don’t have the awareness and motor control to get into a neutral spine before loading it up and lifting some weight, you need to get on top of that first. Use a mirror, film yourself, get your mate to check – make sure you are in a good position before you load that shit up
You use the machines at the gym instead of lifting real weights
If you still think that pushing handles on a machine is an appropriate way to develop athletic strength, you need to A) wake the fuck up bro, and B) look at what your body is doing when you roll on the mats.. The loads, the angles, the forces that are being applied to you are about as dynamic as it gets. The machine is about as un-dynamic as it gets. Don’t waste your time. get strong lifting some weights, and by lifting your bodyweight
You do bodyweight squats, lunges and pistols to get strong legs
OK these are great movements, don’t get me wrong. However, bodyweight squats and lunges will NEVER prepare my knee joints for the forces they’re going to endure when said 95g white belt jumps guard on me.. Or when you throw me in a Knee-bar.. Or when you shoot continuous double legs.. You need heavy loads to build the kind of fortification we are after. This means weights
Like i said earlier, these exercises are not THE program, but they should definitely be in your program. Get good and strong at them and you will notice the gains on the mats
If you are struggling with any of this stuff reach out and get in touch with me