Author: Matthew Boyd at Crossfit Combustion
I thought that it might be productive to do a short blog about Strength and Conditioning as it relates to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve seen other articles similar to this but, perhaps I can have a little different take. My perspective comes as a Strength and Conditioning coach turned BJJ athlete. I want to take the approach that you might want to improve as an ATHLETE by doing some work outside of the Academy. Here is my thinking on this: any athletic endeavor or sport, that you participate in, will be improved IF you make yourself a better athlete overall. This is what we refer to as General Physical Preparedness (GPP). Having said that, I constantly hear Coach Rachel in my head saying “To get better at Jiu Jitsu, do more Jiu Jitsu”. I’m talking about ENHANCING your BJJ game by improving as an athlete. This approach is why in nearly every sport, athletes train outside of their sport specific training.
Now, I will be the first person to tell you that we all have different needs to improve as athletes. To illustrate this, let’s compare two real life BJJ athletes. We will take a very simple approach here.
Athlete 1: 5’8″, 155 lbs, low body fat percentage, very quick, explosive, fast, flexible
Athlete 2: 6′, 240 lbs, higher body fat percentage, slow, not flexible, strong
It’s obvious that the two athletes have very different areas to improve upon to get better overall. One should focus on getting stronger. The other should focus on shedding body fat by doing anaerobic training.
Essentially, we want to identify an athlete’s weaknesses and train those weaknesses up. By proxy, increasing that athletes overall fitness. It’s really pretty simple when you think about it. But, what movements, lifts and exercises do we use? Again, I want to take a VERY simple approach.
Let’s assume a very general scenario is of a BJJ athlete that trains Jiu Jitsu 3-5 times per week and has a full time career. I think that scenario fits a good number of our folks at TBJJA. If that athlete tells me that he or she can train toward general fitness an additional 3 hours per week. I think 3 hours is realistic and attainable for this individual. Again, this is a very simple approach. If an athlete wants to be a World Champion, she is single and doesn’t have a full time job, much more training is definitely called for.
Having said all of that, I want to give you a short, simple list of movements and lifts that will absolutely improve you as an athlete. This is not an all encompassing list. This list will build a foundation from which you can build. Again, as I stated earlier, we all have different needs but, these movements are FOUNDATIONAL movements that everyone should start with.
1. Squat- specifically, the Back Squat. The undisputed king of strength building. Squatting is highly functional (meaning, it applies to the real world). One wives tale about squatting seems to never die. The one in which squatting hurts your knees. In spite of this being disproved many times over many years, this idea still floats around. If you want to get stronger and more flexible, SQUAT.
2. Deadlift- the posterior chain is crucial to good movement. The deadlift is perhaps the best lift for strengthening the posterior chain. Deadlifting PROPERLY has also been shown to improve back pain. It’s virtually a requirement to get stronger overall.
3. Press- I’m going to include several presses here. I recommend incorporating the press (AKA military, standing, strict press), the close hand bench press and the push press. I prefer the close hand bench press over a standard (wide) grip bench press because of the safer shoulder positioning. Varying between these presses may be preferable.
4. Pull Ups- Not everyone can do a pull up or several pull ups. There are progression movements like; gymnastics ring rows, jumping pull ups, negatives, resistance band assisted pull ups, that will help toward learning to do pull ups. For strength, I recommend strict, weighted pull ups when possible. I’m pretty sure they cause world peace.
5. Wind Sprints- these have been shown to aide in muscle growth as well as to shed body fat. I am a strong believer that anaerobic training is THE way to lose body fat as well as improve cardiovascular endurance.
I wanted to keep my list to 5 movements and lifts to keep it simple. These will get you started. I have written programs for a couple of folks in the gym. I’m happy to do that for any of you. But, just make sure that you are dedicated to putting in the work. I’m happy to field any questions that you have.