Jiu-jitsu and other grappling sports rely heavily on precise technique and movement efficiency. Thus, jiu-jitsu athletes often focus on developing their technical prowess but overlook a critical aspect of training that plays a key role in performance, injury prevention, and longevity: strength and conditioning. It’s no surprise, too, given the many competing approaches to working out and the ever-evolving science behind it; it’s challenging to determine the proper workout routine for one’s needs. This article aims to help jiu-jitsu athletes understand the importance of exercise selection, injury prevention, and core strength and stability work in a well-rounded strength program. We’ll also explore the benefits of various training methods and discuss which strategy is the most adaptable for grapplers. By the end of this article, you’ll have some actionable recommendations to help you maximize your performance on and off the mat.
Regardless of the sport, a stronger, more conditioned athlete is always better. Even in jiu jitsu, where leverage and mechanics matter significantly more than strength, athletes of even technical skill will always underperform against the stronger and better-conditioned athlete. Moreover, the conditioned athlete is more durable and less prone to injury, allowing them to train more often and efficiently. In short, strength and conditioning is the key to maximizing performance and longevity on the mats.
However, strength training is a vast and complex field full of contradictions and no one-size-fits-all prescription. So how should an athlete decide to train?
Before answering that question, let’s address a common challenge in making this decision. Grappling encompasses different aspects of strength, including maximum/absolute strength, explosive power, endurance, and isometric strength. Thus, a complete strength and conditioning program for a grappler should work on all of these aspects. The problem is that typical programming focuses on one aspect of strength at a time.
Enter the conjugate training method. Popularized by the legendary American powerlifter and strength coach Louie Simmons, conjugate training is a highly effective strategy that combines different aspects of strength or fitness concurrently instead of splitting them up. This approach involves rotating through various types of exercises and training modalities, such as absolute strength work (Max effort Work), Dynamic force or Power production (Dynamic Effort work), as well as some hypertrophy work (Repetition Effort). This method enables us to get stronger, more explosive, and add muscle simultaneously.
A program that prioritizes bodybuilding-style hypertrophy work can benefit grapplers on the mat. However, it is not enough to maximize their potential in jiu-jitsu. When programmed correctly, two to three training sessions per week geared towards the specific capabilities should be enough to train these aspects of fitness.
A good strength program for BJJ or Grappling should
- Should have you performing the majority of your Strength work at around 75-85% of your 1RM
- Have built in progressions and deloads to ensure you continue to progress.
- Include Power development that is more focused than just some random Jumping or “plyo” exercises
Being able to build strength and then express that strength with speed should be the ultimate goal of your strength training and it’s what makes for a truly powerful athlete. For this to happen your strength and power focused training needs to teach you to produce power effectively. It should focus on making you stronger and more ballistic.
Another huge consideration of any successful training system or really any training style is exercise selection, choosing the right exercise for the right training method matters! This is especially true for grapplers, regardless of skill level most grapplers are going to exhibit a lot of the same soft tissue and overuse injuries. For example because as grapplers we spend so much time in spinal flexion it’s common to see grapplers with shortened and contracted hip flexors and weak glutes so this is a specific issue any good strength program for grapplers should address. There is also the worry that strength training will make grapplers more muscle bound and stiff, unable to move as fluidly. Even though there are plenty of examples of athletes that can disprove that, I will instead say this is even more reason for choosing an effective full range of motion exercises that specifically lengthen and strengthen muscle tissues and areas that are chronically tight in grapplers. I’m a big believer in a full range of motion movement specifically for back and knee health. This includes exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, and glute bridges but it also includes other exercises where we move the spine through flexion and extensions and move our knees way over our toes. Basically if your body will move through that range of motion in your sport it’s better to be strong there than not.
Lastly, a good strength training program should have some specific consideration for injury prevention, core strength and stability work. We could talk about these in depth but I think most grapplers understand why they need to focus on these aspects. The ability to continue training is your best ability and if you’re always hurt you’re just not going to progress. Getting stronger and more explosive, as well as working through full range of motion will ultimately help with injury prevention but there are some areas that just need some extra work and strengthening specifically (Rotator cuff, groin, lower back, etc).
In conclusion, incorporating a good well thought out strength program into your training is essential if you’re serious about BJJ or grappling. Team Soul Pressure is exactly that, a fully thought out and planned strength program incorporating everything we’ve talked about as well as conditioning!