The Best Science-backed Strength and Conditioning Workouts for BJJ

Workouts and exercises for BJJ whether you’re an elite competitor or hobbyist

Strength and conditioning is crucial for performance in every sport. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it is undeniable that for a given skill level, a stronger, faster player is harder to submit, harder to control, and poses a far greater threat than a slower, weaker opponent.  

There is no one-size-fits-all workout for BJJ. The best workouts and exercises for BJJ rely on traditional weight-training and conditioning with a specific focus on the needs of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes and practitioners on both a sport and individual level.

While there are infinite options available for overall strength and conditioning, optimizing BJJ performance with strength and conditioning requires a little bit more thought and planning than general fitness or muscle-building routines.

The following article will go over some fundamental considerations, exercise selection, and workout program design for serious competitive BJJ athletes as well as hobbyist jiu-jitsu players. By the end of the article, you should have enough information to begin strength and conditioning for BJJ, and have a better idea of the BJJ specific strength and conditioning needs.

This content below is for information purposes – it is not advice. Before applying any of the information or implementing any changes, we recommend you seek the advice of a qualified personal trainer. Don’t take chances with your health!

Table of contents

Should BJJ Players Lift Weights?

The pure intention behind BJJ is to allow a smaller, potentially weaker opponent to defeat a larger and stronger opponent by taking advantage of body mechanics, while engaged in a fight on the ground.

Nevertheless, the rise of sport-oriented BJJ tournaments and professional competitions has made it very clear that strength, speed, and conditioning plays a very important role in determining which athlete will ultimately find themself victorious. This is especially true when the athletes are of similar technical skill in jiu-jitsu.

Most people have long abandoned the idea that BJJ players at the hobbyist and competitive level don’t need to lift weights or do conditioning. In the interest of sport-performance as well as injury prevention and longevity in the sport, it is vital that BJJ practitioners of all levels add strength and conditioning for BJJ to their training program.  

Finding a BJJ Strength and Conditioning Routine

With the massive number of workout routines, equipment, and information overload, finding a practical and effective strength and conditioning routine for BJJ can be a difficult task for both competitive and non-competitive BJJ players to sort through.  Furthermore, the best strength routine for BJJ will vary for each person depending on your BJJ skill level, previous experience with strength and conditioning, and competition goals.  

As discussed by top BJJ strength and conditioning researchers such as Karsten Ovretveit in the growing body of literature dedicated to strength and conditioning training for BJJ, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training programs for top competitors will focus training on developing athletic traits such as maximum strength and general aerobic conditioning followed by explosive power and BJJ-specific conditioning.

Hobbyist and recreational BJJ competitors interested in strength and conditioning should follow similar programs to competitive athletes, but may need to adjust the volume and intensity based on their ability to get to the gym, access to equipment, time-constraint, and baseline fitness levels.

Principles of Strength and Conditioning for BJJ

There are overarching principles in BJJ strength programs that will guide each phase of training.  The muscle groups most required for BJJ remain the same for practitioners of all levels. The best foundation strength exercises are often used throughout the duration of a BJJ training program, with adjustments in intensity and exercise variation dialed-in for the goals of each phase in the workout program (Jones et al 60-65).

From a scientific perspective, BJJ strength programs should develop your maximum strength with an ultimate focus on developing explosive power, which combines maximum strength with speed (Ovretveit 5).  

Given the typical match duration of 5-10 minutes, conditioning is as crucial as strength and power for developing yourself into a well-rounded BJJ athlete. Because BJJ requires you to be explosive while fatigued, conditioning should focus on high-intensity interval training variations, and increase in metabolic specificity the closer you are to competition.

Muscle Groups and Exercise Selection for the BJJ Workout

The dynamic, unpredictable nature of BJJ matches means that a wide range of muscle groups must be trained to optimize strength for BJJ. The following section will discuss the major muscle groups used in BJJ and give exercises you can use to strengthen each motion.  

Exercise choice is focused on compound movements that will engage stabilizer muscles in addition to the primary muscles used. This routine is focused on the safest exercises that don’t require a ton of technique training and can be learned relatively quickly.  The sets and reps will vary with the phase of training you are currently in. 

Upper Body: Back, Chest, and Shoulders

Sufficient upper body pushing and pulling strength is required for both gi and no-gi competition.  Gi competition also involves a fair bit of strength and endurance in gripping for manipulating the fabric.  

The large muscles of the upper body needed for BJJ include the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids in the back for pull strength in addition to pecs and shoulders for pushing and gripping. Proper upper body strength work must train all the major movements of the upper body, which can be generally classified as horizontal and vertical pushing and pulling.  

Many of the pushing and pulling strength exercises will improve grip strength.  You can make pullups and rows more grip heavy by hanging a towel or old gi from a pullup bar and using a lapel-style grip to perform pullup variations.

Performing row variations using thicker bars or PVC pipes will also increase the grip demands.  That being said, even standard variations of these exercises will improve your grip strength substantially.

Lower Body: Glutes, Quads, and Hamstrings

Lower body strength is also crucial for BJJ performance, particularly in the hip-hinge and leg extension movements. A good guard in BJJ requires you to be able to push and pull your opponent with the combined effort of your arms and legs.  

This means having good hip flexion (i.e. bringing your knees toward your chest) and extension (i.e. bridging). Many guard-passes and submissions such as the armbar and triangle also rely on strong hip extension. The muscles needed for these motions include the posterior chain, which is largely composed of the glute and hamstring muscles.  

Core: Abs, Obliques, Transverse Abdominis

Core strength is crucial for you to have stable, efficient, and effective application of your strength and power and should be integrated into your BJJ strength training programs. Proper core strength includes the ability to sit up, move from side to side, and rotate the torso and hips.  These movements are crucial for passing guard, maintaining base, and off-basing your opponent to set up offensive sweeps and submissions from the guard position.  

Maintaining a braced core against pressure while being able to breathe is another crucial aspect of core strength and can be trained using various isometric core exercises (discussed further in the article). The muscles needed for these motions include the rectus abdominis (abs), the obliques, and the transverse abdominis (the deep core muscle responsible for rotating the torso).

Should You Do Olympic Lifts and Kettlebells for BJJ?

If you are a more advanced athlete or have access to skilled technical weightlifting coaching, Olympic lifts are a great tool for developing power. This program does not include Olympic lifts because they are an entire skill set in of themselves, however it’s worth mentioning that power cleans, push-jerks, and snatch variations are excellent ways to develop explosive power for athletes proficient in these techniques.

Kettlebells are another popular option you can use to develop strength for BJJ.  While there are endless kettlebell exercises for improving BJJ, the two main kettlebell-specific exercises included in this program are the kettlebell swing and Turkish get-up.  Most barbell and dumbbell exercises have a kettlebell variation available.  

Kettlebells do have the advantage of introducing some instability that can provide a different stimulus to your strength routine, however generally speaking, they do not allow as much weight to be lifted compared to the barbell and dumbbell variations. Due to this, the primary lifts in this program will be focused on barbells and dumbbells to allow maximum muscle recruitment, muscle growth, and strength development.

Conditioning

Conditioning for BJJ revolves around short to medium term bursts of energy followed by rest intervals. The duration of the conditioning should be between 3 and 8 minutes depending on the expected duration of the matches, and should include some time at higher and lower intensities throughout the workout.  

BJJ training alone is often insufficient to improve VO2 max, which reflects overall conditioning (Ovretveit 6). In order to be fully prepared for the intensity of competition, additional conditioning protocols are necessary to increase VO2 max.

Your workout intensity during the high-end of intervals should be upwards of 85-95% of your max heart rate. A fairly straightforward method to estimate your intensity is known as the “talk test.”  The basic “talk test” method is to be at an intensity where you are unable to talk in complete sentences both during and immediately after the interval. While there are more precise ways to determine maximum heart rate, the talk test is a fairly reliable way to ensure you are within the right intensity range to elicit improvements in your conditioning. You don’t want to be at full intensity, but in a range that is within the upper boundaries of your conditioning.

Rest periods

Rest periods should be around 3 minutes (Ovretveit 6). The ideal number of intervals performed will depend on the phase of training, however generally speaking, conditioning of this nature will be present throughout every phase of training (Ovretveit 8, Jones et al 63-65).

Example conditioning exercises

  • Assault Bike
  • Rower
  • Stairmaster
  • Jogging/Sprints

BJJ Exercises for Warming up, Mobility, and Injury Prevention

Injury prevention is an often overlooked aspect of strength and conditioning programs for BJJ. It only takes one BJJ class for you to realize how hard grappling can be on the joints and body overall. For grapplers, the common injury areas are the elbows, knees, neck, and shoulders (Jones et al 6).

Mobility in the joints and flexibility in the surrounding musculature can aid in preventing injury in addition to performance benefits (7). Proper warming up is crucial in addition to regular stretching. The following exercises can be performed as a warm-up before strength training or as a mobility routine on rest days.

Sample warm-up program

The following warm up should be performed before all training sessions, feel free to add other mobility or warm up exercises that you prefer:

  1. T Spine rotations 2×10
  2. Bird Dog 2×10
  3. Glute Bridge 2×10
  4. Down-Dog to Cobra 2×10

Planning and Progressing Your BJJ Strength and Conditioning Program

While there are many ways to plan and program a BJJ strength training routine, the following is an example three-phase training program. The program is geared towards peaking for a tournament by the end of block 3. Each block lasts 1 month followed by a de-load week.  

This program is based-off the research of James Lachlan, Nathaniel Brian Jones et al, and the more recent work of Karsten Øvretveit. It assumes you have relatively high access to gym equipment in addition to control over your BJJ training camp and overall schedule for recovery.  In practice, this is an unrealistic expectation for many BJJ players who are not top competitors, which we will address after the competition program overview. 

The goal of the strength work in this program is to build a base of muscle mass in phase 1, followed by strength in phase 2 and power development in phase 3 (Lachlan 16-18).  Conditioning in phase 1 will focus on general cardiovascular improvements. Phase 2 and 3 will focus on more intense BJJ specific conditioning.

BJJ training itself should focus on drilling in phase 1 and include less intense live rolling. Phase 2 will include increased intensity during BJJ practice. In phase 3, focusing on specific game plans and tactics using intense rolling with sufficient rest to maintain the intensity will optimize peak competition performance (19).

You should use a weight for each exercise where you are just short of failure by the end of the prescribed number of reps. Knowing your 1 rep max (1RM) for each lift will be beneficial in determining the specific weight to use, but it is often unrealistic to know this number for every lift. As such, being near failure or having ‘1 in the tank’ can be a more practical way to gauge the intensity for a given number of reps.

While this BJJ strength program is intensive and demanding, it is a superior training structure if you intend to go for peak performance in a given competition.

Example Competition Strength Program for Competitive BJJ Athletes

Phase 1

Phase 1 is focused on building up a base of muscle mass to allow further strength and power adaptations in phase 2 and 3. BJJ alone will not build muscle as the normal course of BJJ training does not provide the proper stimulus for muscle growth.  

Using weights in an 8-12 rep range, provided the weight is challenging at that rep range, will increase muscle mass. While BJJ players are not bodybuilders and are thus not ultimately focused on maximizing muscularity, the base of muscle is important to build up to provide a platform for strength and power adaptations.  

Realistically, depending on your weight-training experience, you can expect to add around 1-2 pounds of muscle during phase 1 provided you are following good nutritional guidelines.

Conditioning during phase 1 will focus on general aerobic adaptations via interval training on cardio equipment.

Day 1: Heavy Lifting Day, BJJ Drilling/Light Rolling

Main Exercises –  perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 75% 1RM: 

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift or Barbell Back Squat
  2. Overhead Barbell Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Floor Bench Press or Floor Dumbbell Press
  4. Romanian Deadlift
  5. Pull ups
  6. Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row

Day 2: Conditioning, BJJ Drilling

Intervals – Rower 3×3 minute sets with 2 minute rest – 45 seconds at 95% intensity, 45 seconds at 75% intensity – 

Day 3: Light Lifting Day, Core –  BJJ Drilling/Live Rolling

Use 70% of the Heavy Day Weight (or ~60% 1RM)

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift or Barbell Back Squat
  2. Overhead Barbell Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Floor Bench Press or Floor Dumbbell Press
  4. Romanian Deadlift
  5. Pull ups
  6. Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row

Core – Hanging Leg Raise, Barbell Landmine Twists, Dead-bug holds – 3×10

Day 4: Conditioning, BJJ Drilling

Intervals – Aerodyne 3×3 minute sets with 2 minute rest – 45 seconds at 95% intensity, 45 seconds at 75% intensity 

Day 5: Heavy Lifting, BJJ Drilling

Main Exercises –  perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps @ 75% 1RM: 

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift or Barbell Back Squat
  2. Overhead Barbell Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Floor Bench Press or Floor Dumbbell Press
  4. Romanian Deadlift
  5. Pull ups
  6. Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row

Day 6 – Rest/Active Recovery/Mobility

  • T Spine rotations 2×10
  • Bird Dog 2×10
  • Glute Bridge 2×10
  • Hamstring/Glute stretches

Day 7 – Rest/Mobility

Phase 1 progression should involve increasing the weight each week if you are able to successfully complete 3 sets of 12 reps on each exercise.  

Deload – After 4 weeks, your deload week should follow the same workout plan using 50% percent of your 1RM

Phase 2

Phase 2 will be focused on building maximum strength after the muscle growth from phase 1.  The exercises will remain the same, however you will increase the resistance such that performing 5 reps is challenging. Work up to a weight on each exercise where 5 reps leaves you at near failure (around 85% of your 1 rep max).  

The conditioning for phase 2 and 3 focuses more on BJJ specific adaptations and as such includes max effort for short bursts followed by lesser but still intense effort using various plyometric and weighted exercises.

Day 1: Heavy Lifting Day, BJJ Drilling/Position Rolling

Strength Exercises – Perform 3 sets of 5 reps @ 85% 1RM: 

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift or Barbell Back Squat
  2. Overhead Barbell Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Floor Bench Press or Floor Dumbbell Press
  4. Romanian Deadlift/Barbell Glute Bridge
  5. Pull ups
  6. Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row

Day 2: Active Recovery, Mobility, BJJ Drilling/Position Sparring

Intervals – Rower 3×3 minute sets with 2 minute rest – 45 seconds at 95% intensity, 45 seconds at 75% intensity

Day 3: Conditioning, BJJ Drilling/Live Rolling

Round 1: Repeat 5x with 30 seconds rest between sets – Jump squat – 25 seconds @ 40% Trap Bar 1RM, Medicine Ball Slam – 5 Seconds @ 40% 1RM 

Rest 1 minute

Round 2: Repeat 5x – Sled push 25 seconds @ 70% max Effort, 5 Seconds @ 100% max effort

Day 4: Light Lifting Day, Core, BJJ Drilling/Live Rolling

Core – Turkish Get-Up, Band anti-Rotation press

Strength Exercises: Perform 3 sets of 5 reps @ 70% 1RM

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift or Barbell Back Squat
  2. Overhead Barbell Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Floor Bench Press or Floor Dumbbell Press
  4. Romanian Deadlift/Barbell Glute Bridge
  5. Pull ups
  6. Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row

Day 5: Conditioning, BJJ Drilling/Live Rolling

Round 1: Repeat 5x with 30 seconds rest between sets – Box jump – 25 seconds @ 40% Trap Bar 1RM, Plyometric medicine ball pushup – 5 Seconds

Rest 1 minute

Round 2: Repeat 5x with 30 seconds rest between sets- Assault bike 25 seconds @ 70% max Effort, 5 Seconds @ 100% max effort

Day 6 – Rest/Active Recovery/Mobility

  • Light Jog/Swim – 30 minutes
  • T Spine rotations 2×10
  • Bird Dog 2×10
  • Glute Bridge 2×10
  • Hamstring/Glute stretches

Day 7 – Rest

Phase 3 – Power/Strength

Day 1 – Power,  BJJ Position Sparring

  1. Depth Jump 3×5 reps 
  2. Push Press 3×5 reps @ 90% Overhead Press 1RM
  3. Jump Squat 3×5 reps @ 30% 1RM
  4. Medicine Ball Toss – 15-20lb

Day 2 – Conditioning, Core, BJJ Position Sparring

Core: Hanging Leg Raise, Barbell Twist

Round 1: Repeat 5x with 30 seconds rest between sets – Jump squat – 25 seconds @ 40% Trap Bar 1RM, Medicine Ball Slam – 5 Seconds @ 40% 1RM 

Rest 1 minute

Round 2: Repeat 5x – Sled push 25 seconds @ 70% max Effort, 5 Seconds @ 100% max effort

Day 3 – Active Recovery/Mobility, BJJ Strategy Drilling

  • Mobility warm-up
  • 20 minute light jog

Day 4 – Strength, BJJ Position Sparring

Strength Exercises: 3×5 @ 85% 1RM (Last 2 weeks before competition 50% 1RM)

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift or Barbell Back Squat
  2. Overhead Barbell Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Floor Bench Press or Floor Dumbbell Press
  4. Romanian Deadlift/Barbell Glute Bridge
  5. Pull ups
  6. Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row

Day 5 – Conditioning, BJJ Position Sparring (Mobility and rest if day before competition)

Round 1: Repeat 5x with 30 seconds rest between sets – Box jump – 25 seconds @ 40% Trap Bar 1RM, Plyometric medicine ball pushup – 5 Seconds

Rest 1 minute

Round 2: Repeat 5x with 30 seconds rest between sets- Assault bike 25 seconds @ 70% max Effort, 5 Seconds @ 100% max effort

Day 6 – Mobility, Rest/Competition

Day 7 – Rest/Competition

BJJ Strength and Conditioning: Practical Considerations for ‘Typical’ BJJ Artists

While the above program overviews an ideal training camp for serious BJJ competitors, many BJJ practitioners have to balance a 9-5 job, family, and other responsibilities, so it may be unrealistic to expect this level of workout volume and specificity.  

Often, practitioners have to make a serious effort to get three, much less four or more BJJ classes every week alone, beyond even any consideration of strength and conditioning. 

Additionally, most BJJ gym members have very little say in how intense a given class will be in terms of focused drilling or long drawn-out open rolls. In this case, it is simply not practical to program a strength and conditioning routine as finely tuned as those geared for high-level competitors. 

Do Not Let Perfection Be the Enemy of Good

Nevertheless, in the circumstances most BJJ players face, to quote an old cliche, ‘we must not let perfection be the enemy of the good.’  

Doing a ‘good enough’ strength and conditioning routine that you can consistently adhere to alongside a busy schedule and BJJ class of varying intensities is far better than avoiding strength training altogether because you cannot adhere to a perfectly designed training camp.

If you can carve out just two strength sessions per week alongside your training, you will benefit immensely in terms of your ability to roll hard, be more competitive, and avoid injuries.

In this case, the exercise selection is typically the same, but the programming is simplified.

If you are looking to build some muscle, you still must adhere to an 8-12 rep range using a weight that is around 75% of your 1RM. For strength, the reps need to be in the lower 5 rep range with heavier weight.  

The overview of this program is fairly simple. Pick a weighted exercise for each major movement and perform an upper/lower body split 2 times per week. Include the mobility warm up and 2 different core exercises in each workout.

If you have time for conditioning, intervals on the Assault bike or rower are both great low-impact options to add that extra edge to your conditioning without a huge time investment.

Practical Strength Program for BJJ Hobbyists – 2-4x Per Week

Phase 1 – Muscle Building –  4 weeks – 8-12 reps @ 75% 1RM 

With Deload week – One week following Phase 1 with 40% 1RM 

Phase 2 – Strength – 4 weeks –  5 Reps @ 85% 1RM

With Deload week – one week following Phase 2 with %50 1RM

Phase 3 – Power – 4 Weeks – Varied Reps

After phase 3 you will be near your peak performance.  This would be a good time to schedule a competition, or just enjoy the high performance. 

Following phase 3, take a rest and relaxation week. You can then repeat the cycle using different exercises or variations for each body part.

Phases 1 and 2

Perform each workout 1-2x per week on non-consecutive days. Work in 1-2 conditioning days either after weight training or on a seperate day. Try to take at least 1 full day off each week.

Perform a full warm-up mobility routine before each training session

Day 1 – Upper Body

Perform 3 sets – 8-12 reps @75% 1RM  (Phase 1), 5 Reps @ 85% 1RM (Phase 2)

  1. Overhead Barbell Press
  2. Bench Press
  3. Pull ups
  4. Dumbbell Row

Core

  • Hanging Leg raise – 3×10 (Phase 1 and 2)
  • Barbell Landmine Twist – 3×10 (Phase 1 and 2)

Cooldown

  • Hamstring and Glute Stretch

Day 2 – Lower Body

Perform 3 sets – 8-12 reps @75% 1RM  (Phase 1), 5 Reps @ 85% 1RM (Phase 2)

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift
  2. Romanian Deadlift
  3. Barbell Glute Thruster

Core

  • Dead Bugs – 3×10
  • Band Anti-Rotation Press – 3×10

Cooldown

  • Hamstring and Glute Stretch

Day 3 – Conditioning

  • Phase 1 – Rower – 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy – 2 sets of 5 minutes each with 1 minute rest
  • Phase 2 – Assault bike 25 seconds @ 70% max Effort, 5 Seconds @ 100% max effort

Phase 3 – Power

This simplified power routine is great for those with limited time who want to finish a training program with power development. The metabolic specific conditioning will round out the conditioning program for BJJ specificity

Day 1 – Upper Body Power

  1. Push-Press – 3×5 @ 85% 1RM
  2. Medicine Ball Slam 3×5 @ 15-20lb
  3. Plyometric Push-up 3×5
  4. Explosive chest-to-bar pullup – 3×5

Day 2 – Lower Body Power

  1. Depth Jump – 3×5
  2. Jump Squat – 3×5 @ 30% 1RM
  3. Sprints – 5×15 seconds

Day 3 – Conditioning

5x through, rest 2 minutes, repeat:

  1. 15 Kettlebell Swings
  2. 5 Burpees

Key Strength and Conditioning Takeaways for all BJJ Artists

Whether you are a serious full-time BJJ competitor or a dedicated BJJ hobbyist, strength and conditioning is crucial for optimizing your game. While there is no one-size-fits all BJJ routine, choosing intelligent, efficient, and effective exercises to train the major muscles needed for BJJ will always form the foundation of any jiu-jitsu strength and conditioning program.

If you are preparing for a tournament or have serious competition on the line, following a well-designed competition camp strength and conditioning routine will ensure you are physically ready for the toughest competition.

If your main goal in BJJ is to train three days a week and be the best you can be at open mat, it’s still worth doing strength and conditioning. Even just two days a week will make a big difference in your ability to roll hard, avoid injury, and ensure you can train and enjoy BJJ for the long-haul.

A final note on the subject of strength and conditioning: if you are looking to burn fat, ‘get shredded,’ or build muscle, a proper nutrition program for BJJ will be crucial. While this is a topic for a different article, nutrition and lifestyle, including adequate sleep, abstaining from overindulging in alcohol and other substances, and ensuring proper recovery are as important as the BJJ strength routine itself when it comes to progressing towards any BJJ strength and fitness goal.

Citations

About Jordan

Jordan is a BJJ addict and strength and fitness coach.  He received his blue belt in 2016 and regularly competes in gi and no-gi. He currently trains at 10th Planet Tucson in Arizona.  Jordan is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. You can follow him on Instagram.

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