BJJ athletes and practitioners are looking for that one silver bullet that will solve all their problems. In truth, the best athletes do not learn or find the best BJJ strength and conditioning program. Instead, they create them.
Creating a BJJ strength and conditioning program doesn’t require a degree in exercise physiology. Jiu-jitsu athletes looking to develop strength, power, and Helio’s gas tank don’t need to be black belts either.
To create the right S&C program, a BJJ athlete needs to shoot for three things. Autodidact BJJ athletes need to program for general strength, power production, and energy system training.
Also, the athlete should have S&C as a complement to BJJ — not the other way around. Getting the combination wrong leads to burnout, or worse, injury.
Creating a strength and conditioning program for BJJ is simpler than it appears. Read on to learn more about crafting the perfect BJJ strength and conditioning program.
To paraphrase Mark Rippetoe, strength forms the basis of all adaptations. Being strong enables a person to develop other physical tools like speed, endurance, and power — all necessary attributes for the mats.
BJJ athletes need to program for strength. However, there are caveats.
First, strength will require the execution of exercises that activate the most number of muscle groups. While it’s easy to think that a bicep curl carries over to armbar defense, isolation exercises will not make an athlete strong.
Rather, strength training for BJJ needs to include the core lifts or versions of them. What are the core lifts? These are none other than the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
The second point of consideration is that strength develops in a surplus of energy. In other words, there’s no point in adding 5 x 5 or 3 x 8 front squats if an athlete has just finished a Na-Waza session.
To become stronger, BJJ athletes need to add core lifts or their variations and train them in a fully recovered state.
Rolling several rounds can take a toll on someone’s energy. BJJ athletes of all levels are no strangers to the feeling of burning lungs and being short of breath. Right away, it’s clear that conditioning can be a limiting factor for most athletes.
Being well-conditioned for BJJ involves training more than an athlete’s ability to last long. Conditioning for BJJ also encompasses energy use for quick bursts of movement.
Just think of the difference between a marathon runner and a sprinter. Conditioning is something both athletes do. It’s an issue of difference. One has the conditioning to run at a moderate pace for about an hour. The other has the lung and muscle capacity to cover 100 meters in seconds.
To program for mat-grade conditioning, an athlete needs to train like a runner and sprinter. The athlete needs to program low-intensity steady-state movements into the conditioning program, as well as high-intensity interval work.
Low-intensity work needs to last at least 45 minutes. High-intensity conditioning needs to last 15 minutes at most. These sessions should consist of rounds of maximum effort movements punctuated with rest periods.
It’s common to hear people say that power and strength are the same.
They are similar in the sense that both involve force production. However, what separates power and strength is the speed element.
Strength is the ability to move against resistance. An athlete who can slowly shrimp out under an opponent 10 kilos heavier is a display of strength.
Power, on the other hand, is the ability to move against resistance but quickly. An example of power in use is whenever a wrestler finishes a takedown. Another example is when an athlete power cleans 60% of what he can deadlift.
In both examples, there’s a display of force with speed. That’s power. Training for it is fairly simple — it’s like doing versions of the core lifts but executing them with speed.
Plyometric movements like jumping on boxes, sprinting, and explosive calisthenic movements also contribute to power development.
BJJ strength and conditioning alongside BJJ training need to be in the weekly training plan. Of course, the body (and mind) can only take so much. Past a certain point, injuries occur and burnout gets the best of an athlete.
Training flexibility and being just as focused on recovery can add years to a person’s athletic career. In a sport like BJJ, flexibility and recovery are important — especially at the highest levels of the sport.
Flexibility enables joints to move more freely along their natural planes of motion. Flexibility training will remove the stiffness in the muscles surrounding the joints. This results in lesser discomfort in many of the positions Jiu-jitsu puts athletes in.
Recovery is one of the simplest things to dial in and should be part of an athlete’s training plan. Despite its simplicity, many athletes underestimate its value, placing more emphasis on S&C.
Training of any sort is only as good as an athlete’s recovery strategy. A high training volume without sleep, nutrition, flexibility work, and hydration doesn’t make an athlete stronger or conditioned. It makes them sick, weaker, and injured.
Strength and conditioning should work with an athlete’s general BJJ training. In addition, training power, strength, and conditioning need to be in the right sequence to allow each to develop.
Athletes of the sport differ in their recovery capacities, genetics, athletic background, and baseline level of fitness. Be that as it may, these general recommendations can be resourceful to athletes designing their BJJ strength and conditioning program.
Training both on the same day or session can cause one of two things. It’s either strength develops and conditioning stalls, or the athlete sandbags the strength portion of the workout to perform well in conditioning.
Either way, the result can be subpar especially over an entire training block.
To prevent strength from interfering with high-intensity conditioning, it’s best to train them on separate days. Most studies show that 24 hours is the optimal space between a strength workout and one for conditioning.
This allows energy and the nervous system to return to normal functioning between sessions, assuming that sleep and nutrition are dialed in.
Of the three physical adaptations, power is the one that is most sensitive to fatigue. Athletes should train weighted power movements in sets of doubles or triples to reap the benefits.
Power movements include faster versions of the squat, bench, or deadlift. Of course, due to the speed requirement for power production, reducing the weight is a good idea.
If an athlete only has one session for power and strength, power training should come first. Strength can follow.
Having an entire day or session dedicated to long-duration low-intensity work is counterproductive. The only sensible time to add it in is in the absence of BJJ training.
This isn’t to say that low-intensity conditioning work should fall by the wayside. It’s still necessary for energy system training and health. However, a BJJ athlete, by default, already gets a lot of low to moderate conditioning work — on the mats.
Develop a cardiovascular base for BJJ. The only way to do this and zero in on technique at the same time is by rolling.
Sleep, nutrition, and hydration should be the pillars of any athlete’s recovery strategy. Without them, training doesn’t become productive.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules for all three. Nonetheless, some recommendations have stood the test of time.
When it comes to nutrition, a good rule of thumb is to eat only whole foods. This includes vegetables, fruits, and meats.
Getting eight to nine hours of sleep is also vital. Sure, some athletes report surviving on less. Then again, they “survive.” They don’t progress — which is the whole point of any BJJ strength and conditioning program.
Lastly, hydration needs attention in an athlete’s program. The CDC recommends anywhere from two to four liters daily.
At the end of the day, the biggest part of any BJJ athlete’s training is BJJ training. A BJJ strength and conditioning program needs to flow with an athlete’s training schedule, instead of taking up the majority of the athlete’s time.
Designing a BJJ strength and conditioning program can be complicated to some. Luckily, Granite Bay Jiu-jitsu is a BJJ gym that takes the guesswork out of BJJ and strength and conditioning.
Try a free week, and roll, strengthen, and condition to greatness at Granite Bay Jiu-jitsu.