pull day exercises

10 Best Pull Day Exercises to Stay In Shape for BJJ

One feature that distinguishes Brazilian jiu-jitsu from other martial arts is that it doesn’t rely on brute strength. Instead, practitioners champion BJJ as a technique to help a smaller, weaker fighter overpower a larger, stronger opponent. However, this doesn’t mean practitioners should ignore strength training as part of a well-rounded regimen. While overall strength training is helpful, pull day exercises are a must for those trying to stay in shape for BJJ.

Why should you do strength conditioning for BJJ?

Strength training is usually a minor focus in BJJ training. Again, the philosophy behind BJJ focuses more on using leverage and mechanics to overpower a larger, potentially stronger opponent. Those who learn BJJ for fun, fitness, or self-defense do not necessarily need to incorporate strength training into their routine.

However, those interested in competing should definitely implement a strength conditioning program, including pull day exercises, especially at higher levels. More muscle and speed could be the difference between victory and defeat on the mat.

What is a “Pull Day?”

One of the best ways to consistently build muscle and improve strength is to use the Push, Pull, Legs Routine, otherwise known as PPL. This is a common 3-day or 6-day workout split that helps exercise all the muscle groups in the body by focusing on a different area each day. “Legs,” of course, refers to any exercise that benefits the lower half of the body. This methodology divides the upper body into “pulling” muscles—usually the back and biceps- and “pushing” muscles—the chest, shoulders, and triceps. A 3-day rotation would look like Push Day/Pull Day/Legs/Rest, whereas a 6-day cycle would be Push Day/Pull Day/Legs/Push Day/Pull Day/Legs/Rest.

10 Pull Day Exercises To Add To Your Regimen

When incorporating PPL strength conditioning into BJJ training, it is important to know which exercises to do on which day of the split. These 10 exercises are excellent for options to add to your pull day. These workouts work to strengthen the pull muscles and improve BJJ performance.

Single-Arm Kettlebell Rows

The single-arm kettlebell row is a great pull day exercise to get started. Bracing on one arm while lifting the kettlebell with the other provides better stability and allows the lifter to isolate the back muscles.

To perform a single-arm kettlebell row:

  1. Find a flat bench.
  2. Place one leg on the bench at a 90-degree angle and the other on the floor.
  3. Place the same-side hand on the bench directly under the shoulder.
  4. Place the kettlebell beside the bench and lift it straight up with the available hand.
  5. Pull the elbow straight past the back without turning the hips or shoulders, pause, and straighten the arm to lower the kettlebell back to the floor.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.

Bent Over Barbell Rows

Bent-over barbell rows are like single-arm kettlebell rows but with more emphasis on stability and posture.

  1. Stand in front of a weighted barbell. 
  2. Place the feet shoulder-width apart under the bar. 
  3. Using an overhand grip, place the hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend the knees and push the hips back to get the back parallel to the floor. 
  4. Like single-arm rows, focus on pulling the elbows past the back and tightening the core to prevent the back from arching. 
  5. At the top of the movement, pause for a moment, then lower the bar back below the knees.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Rest for a minute or two between each set.


Pull-ups are a pull day workout that require very little equipment. Any horizontal bar that can hold body weight will do. 

  1. Stand underneath the bar with hands wider than shoulder-width apart and grab the bar with an overhand grip. 
  2. Contract the biceps and back muscles to pull the body upward and bring the chin to the bar. 
  3. Pause for a moment, then lower the body back down.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Inverted Rows

Instead of pulling the bar toward the body, this alternative to traditional rows focuses on drawing the body toward the bar. This requires a squat rack or smith machine with a bar at waist height. 

  1. Starting with your body underneath the bar, grip the bar with an overhand grip, placing hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Hang down from the bar so that only the heels make contact with the ground. 
  3. Straighten the back by activating the core and glutes. Next, pull the chest toward the bar, pause, and then lower back into the starting position while keeping the back straight.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Bicep Curls

Bicep curls are one of the most straightforward pull day exercises. 

  1. Begin with a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Stand with palms facing forward and elbows against the side of the body. 
  3. Lift the dumbbells to the chest one at a time or together. 
  4. Pause at the top of the movement before lowering the dumbbells.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.

Hammer Curls

Hammer curls are a variation of bicep curls. 

  1. Start with the dumbbells in each hand and the palms facing toward the body. 
  2. ]Keep the elbow against the side of the body while lifting the dumbbells toward the shoulders. Do this one at a time or together. 
  3. Pause at the top of the movement before lowering the dumbbells back down to the starting position.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.

Lat Pulldowns

Lat pulldowns can be a great alternative to pull-ups for those who struggle with them. However, they do require a specialized lat pulldown machine. 

  1. Adjust the machine’s seat so the feet can be flat on the ground, and then sit down and grab the bar with a wide overhand grip. 
  2. Ensure that the back is straight and the chest is slightly forward. 
  3. Start with the arms fully extended, then slowly pull the bar down until it reaches the top of the chest. 
  4. Pause for a moment before extending the arms back to the starting position.

Perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Seated Cable Rows

A seated cable row is another pull day exercise that requires a specialized machine. Look for one with a close grip bar. 

  1. Sit with the knees slightly bent, the torso perpendicular to the bench, and the feet positioned on the platform. 
  2. Grab the bar with palms facing each other and pull it toward the body. 
  3. Start with the arms slightly bent, arch the back, and squeeze the shoulder blades together to pull the bar towards the abs. 
  4. Pause for a second before releasing the bar back to the starting position.

Perform 3 to 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.


Though deadlifts are most associated with bodybuilders, they can also help strengthen the back, core, and biceps for BJJ.

  1. Stand in front of a weighted barbell with feet shoulder-width apart under the bar. 
  2. Bend over the bar and grab it with an overhead grip, making sure the hands are wider than the legs. 
  3. Bend the legs and push the hips back until the back is parallel to the floor.  
  4. Push the hips forward and bring the barbell to the hips, standing up straight. Be careful not to arch the back. Pause at the top of the movement before lowering the bar to the starting position.

Do 5 sets of 5 repetitions.

Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell pullovers are one of the only pull day exercises that target the chest muscles. 

  1. Start by sitting on a flat bench with the back straight, feet on the ground, and a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Next, lay back on the bench with each dumbbell straight over the chest, then lift the dumbbells above the head with straight arms. 
  3. Pause at the top of the movement before bringing the dumbbells back overhead to the chest.

Do 3 to 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

This pull day workout is sure to get your muscles fired up! If you’re interested in learning more about workouts that can improve your Jiu Jitsu skills or need a place to up your self defense game, we can help at Granite Bay Jiu Jitsu. Come try a free week with us!