Strength Training for BJJ

Why is Strength important in BJJ?

Yes, Technique as a whole is the most important thing, but how much easier can you perform a technique if you have a good mix of Strength, Speed, Endurance and Flexibility? A lot easier, a lot better, a lot faster and a lot more times. And that's a whole lot of lots.

How many times have you thought "damn, this guy is heavy and it isn't easy to create space to regain guard" or any other thought remotely close to it? I know I have, and I'm a beginner. All factors matter when you're moving against resistance and I'll promise you this: Two guys at the same level technique-wise, same weight class, same age (and for the sake of argument, same mental state) - the stronger, faster guy will win.
Also, if you're stronger, you'll more than likely be able to dodge more injuries than you may think. A stronger shoulder-trap-neck configuration will avoid a huge number of injuries all by itself. A strong grip will allow you to protect yourself against lots of cranks by allowing you to avoid . Strong arms/legs will decrease the speed with which an opponent will snap that arm/kneebar (yes, there are people with little regard towards your safety around - shocker).
And to end with a kind of fallacy, how many champions look like they do weights? That's because they do ;) BJJ hasn't yet reached that level of competition, but look at judokas, wrestlers and such.

What kind of training will suit BJJ better?

The best way to train for a sport is to perform exercises which mimic the sport's key movement patterns or dominant skills while also improving the power of prime movers. Gains in power transfer to skill improvement.
To quote Dr. Tudor Bompa, "Athletic skills are multijoint movements occurring in a certain order, called a kinetic chain (movement chain). The sequence in which muscles are contracted during an exercise is crucial to the specifics of adaptation. Exercises, especially multijoint exercises (i.e., squats involving three joints), must simulate the sequence in which muscles contract while performing a specific technical skill. Neural adaptation resulting from specificity of strength training increases the number of active motor units. Well selected training methods, such as maximum-strength methods and power training, activate more motor units. As a result, an athlete has the ability to perform an exercise with higher speed of contraction and more power."
Typical bodybuilding mentality isn't suited for this at all. Splitting body in 2, 3 or more workouts, many isolation exercises, lots of volume, not much intensity and varying levels of density is terribly sub-par.
I would say that unless you're a Pro (and who is?) you won't benefit from training more than 3 times a week. There's the actual BJJ training, there's the cardio, there's flexibility... even as far as Pros go, most of them have to teach classes so I don't think there would be much time left for life outside a gym.
While I'm on the subject of cardio, let me just summarize it real quick: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT cardio). That's the best. Unless you have loads of time to spare or have specific needs or concerns (for instance, losing fat while keeping the most muscle as possible since lo-IT, high duration cardio will be better for that) HIIT is the way to go. The "interval" part mimics what happens on the mat best and by itself high-intensity is the best way to get better cardio/endurance capacity.

With that in mind, what kind of exercises should be in the program?

Shrugs , Incline/Bench Press , Parallel Bar Dips , Chin-ups/Bar raises , Bar/DB Row , Good Mornings , Deadlift , Romanian DL , Power Clean , Power Shrug , Abdominal Crunches , V-Sits/Weighted Sit-ups , Knee Lifts , Squat , Jump Half-Squat , Smith Calf-raises / Donkey Calf-raises / Leg-press-machine Calf-raises.
There is a big number of "also" exercises but the list above more than likely has one or more exercises which are superior in every way to those (except for cases in which there is a physical impediment to perform a given exercise).
Plyometrics and such: both High and Low impact, Drop Jumps, Reactive Jumps, Medicine Ball throws, ... Those are all very good, can't go wrong with them as long as you keep in mind that they should mimic key movements. With bars and dumbbells you can't really get too specific, but with these you can so take advantage of it.


This is a somewhat advanced notion which is key in one of its many ways. I won't dive in too deep on it (more advanced planning) because I believe that with BJJ there isn't much point in planning for a specific part of a season.
Periodization in strength training for BJJ should however take into consideration neighboring competition dates and deload/rest weeks every once in a while. It is important not to get burned out at times where you need to be at your best and even more important, you do not want to get overtrained. The body (and mind) needs to rest in order to be able to advance - think of it as a step back before taking two steps forward. As such, planned rest is key.
With that said, I will probably repeat myself but it's never too much: you can't always train all out. You can maybe train all out once in a very long while, that is, if you're aiming at the long run.


There are lots of beginner programs out there. At this time one is better off not getting into anything much too specific and demanding. Join a gym and start with the usual "circuit" or something like it. Prefer off the bat correctly performed exercises with free weights: barbells and dumbbells are your friends, machines are the devil. Not all of them, but the exercise list above already covers that. Start low, start slow. Unless you can comfortably perform a complete set with a given weight, do not advance to a heavier one. You risk injury and that could set you back weeks or months without training properly and then restart even weaker than you were at the time.
If you don't already, start doing cardio, preferably everyday. On workout days, do it at the end of training. Doing cardio before workouts (including BJJ) will probably rob you of precious energy. As above, start low, start slow. Steadily work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes with good intensity.
After about 8 weeks of this, you'll be ready for an actual program. There are several, but this is a good one:

[ Workout A]
Squat - 3 sets x 5 reps
Bench Press - 3x5
Deadlift - 1x5

[Workout B]
3x5 Squat
3x5 Press
5x3 Power cleans
(based on programs such as Mark Rippetoe's)

» Before you ask, allow me to quote Mark Rippetoe: "Since the trainee is both inefficient and unadapted, only a few basic exercises should be used, and they should be repeated frequently to establish the basic motor pathways and basic strength."
» Always warm up. 5 to 10 minutes of slow row machine, elliptical or such will suffice. After that, you can either do joint exercises or (my favorite) do about 3 sets of very lightweight (or even body weight) of the exercise you'll do next. For example, if I start squatting and my first set will be 5 reps with 80Kg, I'll do 15 reps with just the bar (20Kg) and then add 5Kg to each following set. Sometimes that's 3 sets, sometimes it's 5 if I don't feel ready. Fewer warmups are generally necessary later in the workout, as the squat and press will get most of the body warmed up relatively well. Warmup sets should be light but you should feel them, yet they must not interfere with the working sets so you shouldn't get tired while doing them.
» Use the same weight for all working sets. Go up in weight everytime you workout. Small increments will get you far in the long run.
» Don't max out, don't go to failure. Start off using weight that is LOWER than you think you can handle, and progress upward. It is better to use weight that is too light than weight that is too heavy.
» Rest as much as STRICTLY necessary between sets. Don't go all tired out, with heavy breath and thirsty to the next set but don't talk for 5 minutes with the cute boy/girl who just smiled at you. Between sets, that is.
» Train five weeks then rest one. During that week do just cardio. Do the same if you'll be competing (that is, in the week previous to the competition provided it'll be in a weekend). Then restart with the weights you were using on the 3rd week.

Intermediates and people who are already working out for a while.

After doing 5x5-type programs for a while, I came up with this:

5x5 BJJ Program

[ Monday ]
Bench Press - 5x5
Squat - 5x5
Deadlift - 5x5
Hammer Curl - 5x5
Decline/Swiss ball weighted Situps - 4x8

[ Wednesday ]
Bench Press - 4x5
Incline Press - 4x5
Power Clean - 4x5
Close-grip Press - 5x5
Calf Press - 4x8

[ Friday ]
Bench Press – 4x5 , 1x3
Squat – 4x5 , 1x3
Deadlift – 4x5 , 1x3
Chin-Ups - 5x5
Decline/Swiss ball weighted Russian Twist - 4x8
(mostly based on Madcow's 5x5 but totally different)

» On Monday, the weight for each lift is increased on each set of 5, from a light warm-up to an all out set of 5. For squats, something like 80x5, 84x5, 102x5, 125x5, 143x5. The weight should be increased evenly from your first to last set. Your fifth set equals the triple from the previous Friday's workout.
» On Wednesday, Press the first 3 sets of 5 just as you did on Monday, and then do a fourth set of 5 with the weight used on the third set. Incline and Power cleans are ramped up to a top set of five.
» On Friday, the first four sets are the same as they were on Monday. The fifth set, done for three reps, should be a jump of about 2.5% over what you did for your fifth set on Monday. As you become more experienced with the system, you can experiment with the weight you use on this triple. This should NOT be a PR triple attempt every week. In fact, the goal is to come back the following Monday and get the same weight for 5 reps that you got for 3 reps the Friday before. To avoid missing reps, pick weights carefully.
» Take it easy the first few weeks, and don’t over do it. In fact if you've tested/already know your 5 rep maxes you shouldn't be using that weight until the 4th week.

...After 4 to 6 weeks of this, one would do one deload week which will consist of the following (more on this below):

[ Monday ]
Bench Press - 3x3
Squat - 3x3
Deadlift - 3x3
Hammer Curl - 3x3
Decline/Swiss ball weighted Situps - 4x8

[ Wednesday ]
Incline Press - 3x3
Power Clean - 3x3
Close-grip Press - 3x3
Calf Press - 4x8

[ Friday ]
Bench Press – 3x3
Squat – 3x3
Deadlift – 3x3
Chin-Ups - 3x3
Dips - 3x3
Decline/Swiss ball weighted Russian Twist - 4x8

» Use about the same weights as you were using on the previous 3rd week of the program for the first 3 sets.
» Resist the temptation to do more than this. Keep the cardio as always.
» Do this kind of week if you'll be competing (that is, in the week previous to the competition provided it'll be in a weekend).
» After this deload week restart the program with the weights you were using on the 3rd week.

That's about it. I believe this will help people get better, stronger and faster. Hopefully no one will use it against me... that would just be disrespectful.

There's a lot more to it such as transition to Muscle-Endurance and much more but I don't think I'll get to it anytime soon. If you're curious you could start with Tudor Bompa's books such as "Periodization Training for Sports" which is nothing short of a bible.

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