Strength Training for Jiu Jitsu

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Training for the grappling arts may be one of the most difficult sports to train for. You basically need to become like Jeff Speakmen in The Perfect Weapon (a 90’s action movie that was trying to replicate JCVD and Steven Segal as another action hero), in the fact that you need to master a lot of aspects of strength and conditioning because of the dynamics of sports like jiu jitsu.

What’s the most important attribute to performance? Strength, power, and flexibility, are all equally important, but they all go to waste if you’re gassed out in the first two minutes of your competition. And good luck getting your hand raised if you’re not spending time on the mats practicing your gameplan. Becoming a champion in anything takes work, and I have to tip my hat to those in combat sports because there are so many things to tackle to become a complete grappler.

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Performance is dictated by several factors such as your genetics, tactics, skills, psychology, and physiological  characteristics (1).  To make matters more difficult, many competitors in BJJ have no offseason. Sure, there are the big competitions throughout the year, but an athlete can compete nearly every week. This makes it hard to assemble a preparatory and sport-specific training program while balancing competition. The last thing I want is to work with an athlete and never allow their body to recover.

If you don’t think you need a conditioning program for BJJ, think again. A study analyzing lactate concentrations in blue, purple, and black belts following competitions found a significant increase in blood lactate (2). Between subjects there was a 71% increase in lactate concentrations! Fifteen minutes following the competition, blood lactate levels were still twice as high as they were at rest. Even if you’re not sold on performance enhancement through strength training, it is still important to help prevent injuries.

In a nutshell,  somewhere out there someone is training harder than you, and you don’t want to lose based on a lack of preparation.

The Program

For the sake of our example, this athlete is 5 months away from a major competition. They will drill and roll throughout the week, but most of their energy in the early phase is spent on enhancing performance. Given is a sample of what each phase would look like, but keep in mind that there would be day-to-day variances in training along with progressions to make the athlete stronger.

The program would be divided into the following aspects:

  • First 6 weeks – General Preparatory Work/Work Capacity
  • 1 Week deload
  • Second 6 weeks – General Strength/HIIT
  • 1 Week deload
  • Third 6 Weeks – Specific Strength/Power and TMT (Tactical Metabolic Conditioning)
  • 3-5 Day deload for competition

Sample General Preparatory Work

This phase focuses on an upper/lower body split along with general aerobic conditioning.

Lower Body Upper Body
Back Squat 4 x 12 RM, 3-0-1-1 Dumbbell Row 4 x 10 RM, 2-0-1-1
Seated Good Morning 4 x 8 RM, 4-0-1-1 Dumbbell Incline Press 4 x 10 RM, 3-0-1-1
Peterson Step Up 4 x 10 RM, 2-0-1-1 Seated Row to Neck 4 x 12 RM, 2-0-1-1
Supine Leg Curl 4 x 8 RM, 3-1-1-1 Triceps Extension 3 x 10 RM, 3-0-1-1
Standing Calf Raise 4 x 20 RM,2-0-1-1 Zottman Curl 3 x 10 RM, 3-0-1-1

– Conditioning – 15 minutes of threshold work of choice (running, whirlwind bike, etc) @85% HRR/VO2

Sample General Strength Work

This phase focuses on an upper/lower body split along with interval training.

Lower Body Upper Body
Front Squat 4 x 6 RM, 4-0-1-1 Chin Up 4 x 6 RM, 4-1-1-1
Sumo Deadlift 4 x 6 RM, 4-1-1-1 Overhead Press 4 x 6 RM, 4-0-1-1
Barbell Lunge 4 x 6 RM, 3-0-1-1 Reverse Curl 4 x 6 RM, 4-2-1-1

– Conditioning – 200 meter sprints x 6 with 2 minutes of rest and 30 seconds on/30 seconds off with Concept Rower (doing one day of each per week)

Sample Specific Power/Strength Work

This phase focuses on one session being power specific with another day being specific strength. The athlete is only strength training 2 days a week.

Power Strength
Squat Snatch, 6 x 2 RM, 2-0-X-1 Deficit Deadlift 3 x 3 RM, 3-1-1-1
Box Jump 4 x 5 Split Stance Good Morning 3 x 4 RM, 4-1-1-1
Depth Jump 4 x 5 Gi Chin Up – 3 x 4 RM, 4-0-1-1
Medicine Ball Side Throw 4 x 8/side
Medicine Ball Slam 4 x 8

– Conditioning – TMT (featuring circuits of sledge hammer slams, kettlebell swings, and sled pushes.
Of course working with an athlete one-on-one allows for individual variations into the program. The overall theme here is that you can’t just keep doing the same thing in the gym over and over again and expect to perform well. One aspect that goes beyond the scope of this article is one of structural balance. What this means is that I work with an athlete to find what type of muscular imbalances they have and correct them. This can not only prevent injuries and reduce aches and pains, but also dramatically increase your strength levels – all the things you need in your toolbox to claim victory.


[toggle title=”References“]

1. Kazunori, I. Nakazato, T., et al. “Sport Specific Characteristics of Trunk Muscles in Collegiate Wrestlers and Judokas.” (2008) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22;2, 350-358

2. Da Silva, B.V.C., Junior, M.M., et al. “Blood Lactate Repsonse After Brazillian Jiu Jitsu Simulated Matches.” (2013) Journal of Exercise Physiology Online 16;5, 63-67 [/toggle]



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