Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is one of the more technical martial arts in the world. Unlike boxing or Muay Thai, which place a heavy emphasis on power and strength, BJJ is more heavily focused on your skill and technique. With this in mind, is it even necessary for BJJ fighters to lift weights?
Do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Fighters Lift Weights?
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) fighters lift weights in order to improve their power-to-weight ratio (PWR), performance, and health. BJJ fighters who lift will typically focus on compound exercises (squats, bench, etc.) as these are the best moves to improve PWR.
Power-to-weight ratio is so crucial in martial arts. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what PWR is, it is just the amount that you can lift, divided by your body weight.
In simple terms, it is the amount of power that you can generate given your size. And since you often get paired with people your size in BJJ, if you are able to generate more power than what your size is then you will have a major advantage over your opponent.
At least as far as power is concerned.
Not only will weight lifting make you a more powerful fighter, it will also reduce your risk of injury as well.
Lifting weights strengthens your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones making it less likely for injury to occur. This is especially important as you begin to age and your risk of injury increases.
4 Reasons Why You Should Lift Weights If You Do BJJ
Before I start this list remember the number 1 way for you to get better at all grappling, not just BJJ is to improve your technique! But the vast majority of BJJ athletes like André Galvão strength train, which tells you how lifting weights is good for BJJ.
1.Strength Training Improves Strength To Weight Ratio
All grappling sports including BJJ require athletes to meet certain weight LIMITS, check the link here for more information about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu weight classes.
To succeed assuming all things re equal having a better strength to weight ratio than your opponent is key. If two grapplers both weigh 180lbs but one can bench 1.5 times his body weight and squat double and the other cannot; the weight lifter has higher strength to weight than the other.
Who do you think has the advantage? It is obvious, isn’t it?
Assuming both fighters are equally skilled and mentally strong, strength & conditioning could very well be the deciding factor in the fight.
To be a powerful BJJ athlete you must be able to generate force quickly, the faster and stronger you are the more quickly you can accelerate and create power like shooting for a single leg., Make sure your training focuses on rapid muscle contraction recruiting the most muscle fibres. to make you explosive!
You might see but Dillon I want to stay in my weight class so I cannot lift weights? To solve this focus BJJ weight training should be in the 1-5 rep range as this builds more strength than mass with traditional muscle building happening in the 8-12 rep range(see article here)
All athletes need to focus on heavy compound movements from a barbell like a bench, squat, deadlift row, etc to utilize your central nervous system.
According to the S&C journal Muay Thai athletes for maximum strength gains must train at 85% of your 1 rep max for less than 6 reps two times a week with roughly 8 sets per muscle group this would be the same for all combat sports athletes.
If you want to know if Muay Thai fighters lift weights, please check my post here.
So if you one rep max of the bench press is 200 pounds, you should be doing a working set of 170 pounds for 3×5 reps with 3-5 minute rest between the sets twice a week, and only hit 8 different sets for your chest per week to just build strength.
If you want more understanding of why 5 reps are the golden standards for strength building, then please watch this video down below.
2.Strength Training Sharply Reduces Injury Risk
No direct research has been done on the rate of BJJ injuries but Wrestling a similar sport has an injury rate of 9.6 injuries per 100 athletes(see article) more likely muscles to be injured during training and competition are the neck, shoulders, elbows, and knees.
So for a sport that carries with it a high injury risk, this is EXACTLY why you need to strength train!
As if your muscles, bones, ligaments, or tendons become misaligned like with poor posture that is very common today, strength training introduces fluid movement pattern that fixes these posture imbalances which sharply reduces injury risk.
Resistant training puts the load on your joints which actually changes your bones, muscles, and connective tissue and making them stronger.
Bones have the crazy ability to rebuild themselves and whenever a load is placed on the bone, the bone changes increased its bone density making it stronger! This reduces the risk of bones breaking during BJJ.
Importantly, muscles tendons and ligaments support every joint of your body and keep the body aligned, in BJJ these ligaments are really tested and most likely to get injured, think during arm or kneebar.
Strength training helps build muscles and tendons whilst increases the dynamic flexibility of these ligaments decreases the risk of muscle torn or being strained.
Certain muscles rely on each other for help, like the hamstrings and quadriceps if there is an imbalance this increases the rate of injury even more. Injuries happen in sports when one muscle is untrained and calls another muscle to help the load causing injury.
Weak hamstrings, glutes core cause the lower back to assist which is the leading cause of back pain, if you want to know if doing BJJ with a bad back is even possible, please check my post here.
A proper full body resistant training regime(see below) is key for any combat sports athlete regardless of skill & activity level to reduce injury risk and maximize performance time.
According to this scientific journal on strength and conditioning, all sport-specific training routines should provide enough strength, and range of motion for the areas most likely injured in BJJ.
All the basic compounds such as presses pull, and squats will provide good support for the elbows and knees and other work needs to be done for the shoulder and neck.
One way to work the neck is using a neck harness, it is very common for grapplers to train the neck and I do it myself.
If you don’t have a harness I recommend you buy one as having a strong neck has NUMEROUS benefits like making you better looking and reducing concussion rates(see article) check the best neck harnesses available from Amazon here.
To have good shoulder health there are many exercises you can do with resistance bands, I think they are essential to exercise equipment get an 11 pack of Renoj bands for the best price on Amazon here.
To perform injury prevention exercises, just encourage them into a warm-up routine or during your recovery of compound movements. Do neck harness curls during your squat recovery for example.
3.Strength Training Keeps You Healthy(Even In Old Age)
Have you seen how old people age, they lose muscle mass and become more and more feeble? Is this how you want to age, is it natural even? What if I told you strength training is a way to keep you mobile and active even in old age?
Beginning around 30 men and women will lose muscle mass at roughly 10% per decade until 50 when it accelerates to 15% aaccording to research, this process is called sarcopenia and this strength loss can be really bad making falls not only more likely to break bones, but also increase the rate of falling.
Even if you train BJJ and don’t strength train as you get older you will find BJJ will get more and more difficult as the gap between your technique and other younger BJJ strength will widen more and more. How do you prevent this? By strength-training of course!
The damage caused by aging even happens at the molecular level with mitochondrial dysfunction which exists in the most active organs and tissues, the muscles heart, and the brain.
However, a study found out that only six months of resistant training associated with older people in 179/596 of genes from subjects in the control group showed a remarkable reversal in their profile! This means resistance training not only slows down ageing but can also reverse the process at the genetic level!
The older group in the study gene expression actually become similar to those in the younger group of people in their 20s! Weight- training is not only important for BJJ but also for the longevity and well being of your life!
4.Strength Training Makes You Physically Fitter!
Picture this, you’re in your first BJJ tournament and you’re about to start your first round of 5 minutes your tense your nervous and you are UTTERLY exhausted after it’s finished but never strength trained. If you strength trained do you think you be way less tired? Let me explain.
If someone walks into a gym and weights 180lbs and can squat 205ilbs for a two rep max, this means he has moved 410lbs of weight. If after a 3-month strength program he can now squat 205lbs for 8 reps that increase his total weight moved to 1640ilbs! He is now stronger with greater work capacity.
How does this translate to BJJ? BJJ rounds are roughly 5 minutes long so if you can squat 410lbs of weight to 1640lbs in a single set, overall your conditioning and strength are way better than before.
I noticed this myself, I am quite a skinny guy but since I weight train I don’t get super tired during rolling even compared to the higher belts, I associate this with my weight training and improved conditioning as a result of training big compound movements with many muscles involved.
At the highest level conditioning and strength is even more important, as picture two BJJ black belts. Roughly they have equal technique and understand BJJ the same the only difference will their strength and conditioning.
A good example is the fight below of Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker, both are phenomenal strikers but you can see in the last round Poirier was still fresh and Hooker was exhausted. A BIG part why Dustin won was his conditioning and largely due his word class strength and conditioning coach Phil Daru.
If you want the best strength and conditioning YouTube channel for combat sports athletes which includes, Boxing, BJJ, and Muay Thai please check his channel here.
Does BJJ Build Muscle?
BJJ is a full-body workout that is very taxing on the abs/core and the pulling muscles such as the lats and biceps. An untrained individual who starts BJJ will build some muscle but BJJ does not build a lot of muscle on its own, lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises is how you gain muscle.
This doesn’t mean BJJ is not a fantastic workout but the training is not the same as weight lifting and it’s not ideal for gaining muscle. Unlike Muay Thai where bodyweight training like pushups and squats are stable in warmups, these are not common in BJJ gyms.
I was like you and thought combat training Muay Thai & BJJ will be enough to gain muscle, I stopped weight training when I started and despite my fitness level going up, I noticed I looked the same. If I was only doing BJJ I bet I would have LOST muscle as I wouldn’t have done the bodyweight training in Muay Thai.
Only when I started doing a weight lifting routine recombination with BJJ training did I notice good muscle and strength gains.
I highly recommend separating your weight training and BJJ training on different days or spread out by many hours. For example, if you have BJJ in the evening do your weight training in the morning.
The issue with muscle building is you need to be in a calorie surplus of roughly 300-500 calories and eat a lot of protein-rich foods. If this sounds confusing don’t worry it is quite simple. watch the below for a nutritional guide on how to build muscle
How To Build Muscle While Doing BJJ
It is common for professional BJJ fights to focus on strength workouts in the 1-5 rep range as this gives you the more gives the most power whilst still increasing muscle mass if your eating in a calorie surplus.
I couldn’t find BJJ specific weight training program online but here is Stephan Kesting(BJJ blackbelt) top six BJJ specific exercises, you can see the full article complete with video demonstration in the article here.
BJJ Specific Exercises
- The Hip Thrust
- Alternating Base Row
- The Modified Split Squat
- The ‘B Stance Squat’
- The Half Turkish Getup with Kettlebell
- The Dead Bug Core Exercise
Similar Juggernaut Training Systems(video below) has video details his favourite BJJ exercises, that make up the following six dominant movement patterns.
6 BJJ Movement Pattern Exercises
- Hip Hinge
- Upper Body Push
- Upper Body Pull
- Twisting Exercise
- Carrying Exercise.
To gain muscle eating more calories than you consume, and having a proper nutrition is more important than the workouts you do s 80% of your gains whether losing or gaining weight is to do with your diet.
The only way to gain muscle to eat more than you burn, and then incorporating a strength and conditioning routine made up of the above exercise together with your BJJ training.
You need good fats, fiber, protein good carbohydrates to ensure your nutrition is the best it can.
Nutrition is a very complicated subject but checks out the biggest fitness YouTuber ATHLEAN-X video on general weight gaining tips, and how to gain weight if you’re struggling down below. Remember that nutrition is key!
3 Tips On Gaining Muscle With BJJ
1.For BJJ Training Ensure You Rest And Recover
Recovering from a heavy rolling session with your ligaments and joints feeling sore is difficult enough, but if you want your muscles to recover and get stronger you MUST recover from your workouts, especially if you lift weights
Your muscles need 48 hours to fully recover from a workout which is why full-body routines are always separate by two full days. If you do your strength and conditioning on Monday make sure to wait until at least Wednesday to lift weights again.
It takes your body 48 hours to recover completely from a workout which is why full-body routines are separated by two full days if you do your strength and conditioning on Monday make sure to wait until at least Wednesday to lift weights again.
Lifting weights and doing BJJ is manageable and the benefits have already been spoken about, however, how you fit the training all depends on you. Personally, I weight train in the morning and do my BJJ training in the evening but experiment with what works. for you.
To ensure your training is optimal you must aim for at least eight hours of sleep. Sleep is super important for muscle building(read here on sleep.org) as its when your human growth hormone is released so make sure you get your eight hours so you can recovery optimally!
2. Don’t Weight Train Straight After Your BJJ Sessions!
The majority of your strength training should be done BEFORE you train BJJ or at least a couple hours afterward.
Why? To properly stimulate growth and provide stress to the muscles to make them grow your body should be fresh so it can focus all its output on getting stronger and lifting heavier weights.
The problem with doing the reverse is after one hour of drilling followed by 5 rolls you will be very tired, and your muscles will not be in the best condition to be under stress to stimulate new growth.
I’ve done this myself and I said to myself never again, as I was so much weaker after BJJ training and the session would have been a lot better if I did it on a different day.
But Dillon you say, wouldn’t do BJJ after weight training be bad for your Jiu-Jitsu?
No as BJJ coaches and MMA coaches encourage fighters to do martial arts training tired as it’s replicating a real fight, you should be able to do all your martial arts training when tired, but with lifting weights no one would expect you to perform a new 1 rep max on the deadlift after heavy sparring would they?
3.You Must Stretch Between BJJ & Weight Lifting Workouts!
Whenever your lifting weights to build muscle especially if you’re training martial arts, you must stretch after each session for many reasons.
I have a post where I go into a lot more details on BJJ specific stretches you can do here but to summarize.
Why BJJ Athletes Should Stretch
- Stretching reduces the risk of injuries
- Reduces the muscle ache/pain from both BJJ training and lifting weights
- It helps you improve BJJ skills like shrimping and guard retention as your hips are more mobile!
- Certain positions like 10th planets Rubber Guard are not possible without being flexible
I stretch every single day when I wake up and go to bed and find that it’s the best process to make my stretching consistent. However, stretching for 10-15 minutes after every training session will go a LONG way to ensure your recovering properly between workouts.
Imagine if you DON’T stretch you will be that much more fatigued and stiff which will be even worse if you lift weights and train BJJ on the same day as you get DOMS(muscle soreness) will be even worse.
Every muscle in your body is connected with tissue known as fascia but this fascia could be stopping your muscles from growing larger. It’s like putting trying to fit a big backpack into a smaller backpack there is not enough room no matter what.
Stretching your fascia gives more space for your muscles to grow and get stronger if you want to know more about fascia and why you should stretch to maximize muscle growth then please read this article from stretchcoach.com
See the video below on how to release your fascia, you need some sort of lacrosse ball to do it, take your pick from the best lacrosse for a great price on Amazon right here.
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