Strength Training For BJJ | Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is legit af.
As an athlete in the sport of BJJ, one may have entered their last couple of tournaments with technique lined up, everything functioning well with new submissions and defensive attacks. Different positions with different grips have all improved. Gi or No-Gi feels comfortable. As an athlete, everything feels like it is exactly where it needs to be. But still, in those last couple of tournaments, the athlete is still tapping out, losing takedowns, and feels as if one specific thing is still missing when competing in the tournaments.
Often times this comes back to endurance, strength, conditioning, and explosiveness. Meaning, as an athlete in BJJ, are the right elements developed behind the sport to apply the technical aspects directly on the mat. When in the different positions, not only does the athlete need to execute from the technical perspective but are strong enough, explosive enough, and have the solid aerobic capacity to execute.
Anaerobic alactic is the energy system that most wrestlers might use when they get into BJJ. The system showcases offensive, aggressive, and explosive movements. This system is trained through explosive strength work and then is applied on the mat through an offensive attack. Now the wrestler may put themselves in precarious positions within BJJ, but they know how to fire this energy system and be explosive.
The glycolytic energy system can be anywhere from twenty to ninety seconds in length. Think of scrambles. The glycolytic and anaerobic alactic systems really feed off of each other.
Then there is the aerobic energy system. This is really the foundation behind BJJ. This doesn’t mean that athletes have to go out and jog miles and miles to dominate in BJJ. What it means that if the aerobic energy system is developed with good work on the mat and a decent foundation, the athlete can use the explosive capacity later in the match because of the aerobic capacity being developed. The same with the glycolytic system.
The anaerobic alactic will really be fueling explosive-based training. The glycolytic will be feeding grip-specific work and contralateral work. The aerobic system is really going to be focusing on breath work and staying under control.
Think of the key factors an athlete needs to have to dominate their opponent. BJJ athletes need to be explosive and they have to be able to react very quickly within small windows of opportunity, especially when dealing with highly competitive athletes. Athletes with exceptional explosiveness are able to take advantage of weaker individuals. Couple that with technical work the athlete can understand opponents’ weaknesses to locate the windows of opportunity. And that is the thing about BJJ. It isn’t that athletes have to be super explosive, but that when the opening is noticed the athlete is physically capable of taking advantage of the moment.
Elements: Grip Specific Work
A HUGE factor in BJJ is grip-specific work. Gi or No-Gi, grip work is paramount. Training the grip work requires understanding the glycolytic system and even the alactic system. Grip strength needs to be explosive. An athlete’s grip needs to be able to hold a handle for a long period of time, like two minutes at least. All grips need to be trained in the weight room: the monkey grip, the umbrella grip, the pistol grip, the Gable grip. By understanding grip-specific work, athletes can develop grip strength and the technical grips used on the mat in the weight room. Take the main grips utilized and continually develop them in the weight room to transfer the explosiveness onto the mat.
Elements: Contralateral Specificity
The next element we need to discuss is contralateral specificity. Contralateral specificity is the idea of utilizing opposite body parts simultaneously doing opposing actions. Think pushing with one arm while pulling with the other arm. Contralateral-specific scenarios happen on the BJJ mat all the time. The problem is athletes don’t train this way in the weight room. Training the contralateral specificity from a trunk perspective, a push and pull perspective, as well as utilizing movements of contralateral that combine the lower body and upper body. Training in this regard can be done through all energy systems, just recognize how it transfers to various technical movements.
Elements: Breath Work
We will argue that breath work is one of the most important aspects. Breath work impacts explosiveness. BJJ requires athletes to be able to be in horrible positions and not panic--this comes back to breath work.
We are Wim Hof certified. We worked with and studied the Rickson Gracie Breathing system. From working through the breath work, we can have athletes in the weight room use the breath work to prepare for different movements and exercises. This helps athletes when in a precarious position to understand how to not panic, relax, and stay in control in a high-stress situation.
This brings us back to explosiveness. Being extremely explosive is key. But not being super tense is necessary. Athletes need to be dynamic and understand muscle slack. Athletes need to be loose and explosive at the same time. Breath work will really set this up. The breath work helps the body understand how to relax and sets up the explosiveness.
Elements: Isometric Action
Isometric action is tantamount to BJJ. When talking about isometric muscular action, an athlete may be in a position that they are trying to hold really tight with specific grips for very long periods of time. Athletes have to be able to hold various positions for copious amounts of seconds to tire out an opponent to put them into precarious positions for the hero to dominate. This means training specific isometric actions in the weight room and understand how they will carry over to the mat.
Recognize that sometimes isometric action needs to be utilized during rest periods in the weight room between lifts. Think about it. While holding guard an athlete may need to hold an isometric action for an extended time and recover while the opponent is dealing with the force and energy of controlling them into fatiguing. This needs to be done more often by athletes training for BJJ.
More mobile athletes can get out of more positions. On top of that, the more mobile the athlete is in their hips, ankles, and shoulders, they can hit different moves from deeper positions. Mobile athletes can set up opponents from a different position and can see opportunities open enough.
Movements & Frequency
Plyometric work and Olympic lifts create explosiveness and train muscular slack to be more fluid and dynamic. The weight doesn’t necessarily need to be super, super heavy, but try and complete the work in bare feet. This helps train the element of explosiveness.
Grip-specific work we can hang from a pull-up bar coupled with trunk work. We can have athletes do farmer’s walks and, thinking along with explosiveness, plate flips.
With contralateral specificity, we are thinking about doing single leg work while pressing or doing a movement where we press and pull at the exact same time. Think opposing sides at the same time. Try to train the upper body limbs with the trunk utilizing different actions to understand how to coordinate very rapidly.
Dealing with isometric actions, hold positions for long durations of time. These movements, like holding dumbbells for a long period of time, can lead to serious development that will transfer very well to the mat. They are also very mentally challenging.
Talking about mobility, we recommend doing yoga for recovery when capable. In addition, performing the full range of motion completing movements is necessary. We also believe that explosive work out of different, various positions to teach the body how to be dynamic from deep positions as well as shorter-range positions. Implement dynamic and static stretching while lifting to understand how to apply force from different angles.
The key behind strength training for BJJ is taking the above elements and understanding what that means for the sport. Applying the strength elements for BJJ can create an advantage with a technically equal opponent and close the gap with a technically superior opponent (within reason). Utilize these elements a few days a week in addition to the BJJ technical training and find success on the mat coming more and more often.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.