The importance of Strength and Conditioning in BJJ
Strength and conditioning for bjj is easy to overlook, especially when it’s so fun to jump on the mats and strangle your training partners instead!
In a sport where technique is so heavily emphasized, strength and conditioning for bjj can sometimes be seen in a negative light. Some people even think that getting stronger and more fit will take away from your bjj skill development, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, if you’re a white belt who spends more time bench pressing than learning how to escape mount, you’re going to have a bad time on the mats.
But taking the right amount of time to improve your fitness levels outside of the dojo is absolutely necessary if you want to stay healthy long enough to get your black belt.
Some grapplers choose yoga for bjj to bulletproof their bodies, choosing to focus more on developing their mobility and flexibility.
Others opt for the weight room, where well-planned strength and conditioning routines keep the body ready for more hard bjj training.
This article will include practical advice about strength and conditioning for bjj from two knowledgeable sources:
- Firas Zahabi, legendary MMA coach and bjj black belt
- Chad Wesley Smith, elite powerlifting coach and bjj blue belt
Keep reading to learn what these two have to say about integrating strength and conditioning for bjj into your routine in a way that’s realistic, helpful, and sustainable.
Firas Zahabi on How to Workout Smarter
Firas Zahabi’s mindset on how to workout smart for bjj is unique, intriguing, and insightful.
He acknowledges the main problem most grapplers have when it comes to adding strength and conditioning to their routines: training bjj is just too much fun!
Who wants to sacrifice precious mat time to go lift weights instead?
Firas argues that strength and conditioning is in fact vital if you want to keep your body healthy long enough to get your bjj black belt. Because he admits that training bjj is so much fun, Firas says that he will never spend a day only doing strength and conditioning. Instead, he chooses to combine workouts, training bjj first and strength and conditioning second, or vice versa.
It’s important to realize that strength and conditioning for bjj will always be a supplement to your training on the mats, and that cannot be forgotten. What that means is that you should not be spending the majority of your time, attention, or energy on lifting weights and doing sprints, because the majority of your sport-specific fitness will be developed by training your sport.
Although Firas doesn’t provide a detailed workout for you to follow, he does outline a few key exercises, movements, and tools he makes sure to include in his training.
A few of these exercises and tools are:
- Jumping, sprinting (ex. beep test)
- Medicine balls, kettlebells
- Bodyweight resistance training (ex. pull ups)
- Squats (and other exercises that involve the simultaneous bending of the hip, knee, and ankle)
He argues that fatigue-seeking activities are bad, and having this approach to strength and conditioning for bjj can be damaging.
The mentality of 1 more rep, even when you are on the brink of your maximum effort, needs to be done away with. This is especially the case when grapplers need to be able to recover in time for their next bjj training session!
That being said, Firas stresses the principle of consistency vs intensity when it comes to strength and conditioning for bjj.
Instead of training at 100% intensity and needing a few days to recover, he advises grapplers perform exercises like the ones listed above at 70-85% of their maximum intensity on a more regular basis. This way, the quality of your bjj training won’t suffer because you’ll actually be able to recover before your next workout.
But Firas says the consistency vs intensity principle doesn’t stop there, as it can be applied to bjj training as well.
If you spend a training session sparring 10 rounds at maximum intensity, you’re most likely going to have to take a few days to rest before you can train again. However, Firas argues that the person who trains at a lower intensity or for fewer rounds on a more consistent basis will accumulate more volume of training over time.
Stay at 7/10 intensity and train smart on a more consistent basis. Try to drill, spar, and use strength and conditioning for bjj in such a way that you are never sore the day after a workout.
Chad Wesley Smith on Conditioning for BJJ
Chad Wesley Smith has put up some pretty scary numbers in his days as a competitive powerlifter. Now, his attention is put towards Juggernaut Training Systems, where he spends his time getting other athletes to impressive levels of strength and performance.
But what makes Chad Wesley Smith’s advice relevant for strength and conditioning for bjj? Well, besides being a high-level powerlifter and renowned strength coach, Chad is also a bjj blue belt.
Looking at strength and conditioning for bjj from the perspective of exercise physiology, there are three energy systems the body uses that we need to account for in training:
- Aerobic Capacity
- Alactic Capacity
- Lactic Capacity
Each energy system has a different purpose during bjj sparring, and it is important that these systems are trained accordingly off the mats.
In this article, we are going to outline an easy-to-follow circuit that focuses on developing explosive power through improving alactic capacity. Follow along in the video to see how Chad performs the exercises (starts at 11:50).
Here are the basic of the circuit, so that you can make your own with exercises that work best for you.
- 4 exercises (jump, push, pull, twist)
- 3-6 second efforts, 10-20 seconds of rest between each set
- 1-2 minutes of rest between exercises
Here’s the workout that Chad goes through in the video.
- Kettlebell Squat Jumps (6 sets of 3)
- Clapping Push Ups (6 sets of 3)
- Single-Arm Rope Row (6 sets of 2 each arm)
- Barbell Russian Twist (6 sets of 2 each side)
Depending on how much time you have before your next competition, the principle of overload can be applied to this circuit over several weeks. Each week, you can add one more set to each exercise, increasing your ability to tolerate that workload. Here’s what that might look like.
- Week 1: 6 sets
- Week 2: 7 sets
- Week 3: 8 sets
- Week 4: 9 sets
- Week 5: deload
Learn more by watching the full video with Chad Wesley Smith.
Taking an informed, deliberate, and strategic approach to strength and conditioning for bjj is the best way to make sure you get strong, stay healthy, and continue to progress on the mats.
Remember, strength and conditioning for bjj is just a supplement to your main training: jiu jitsu. At the end of the day, you’re in the business of learning how to squeeze necks and break limbs, not have six-pack abs and lift heavy weights.
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