Saturday, November 27, 2010

Strength and BJJ

“...At some point, all serious athletes go outside their sport-specific work to improve, and recreational athletes just want to play their sport and wear the clothes. ” -Rippetoe

Here’s a fun one. Is strength valuable in BJJ? Or is it even Detrimental?

I think I see someone ask about this once every 2 weeks on forums here and there. It always goes the same. It’s some iteration of:

“What is the best strength training for bjj?”

“Just train, strength is for the untrue”

Then some guy comes along and says “This.” or “/Thread”

I’ll be straight forward. I do a lot of strength training. I don’t have the perfect set up or conditions for it, but I make due. I dare say that I’m doing a decent job.

I don’t necessarily do strength training for BJJ. I’ve been lifting (properly or not) more than twice as long as I have been rolling. I started when I was 16. That being said, the way I have tailored my workouts recently is to make the strength as useful for BJJ and Judo as possible. I find in pursuit of better attributes for grappling (strength, but not size!) I’ve made myself better for all aspects of life.

In my view, the advantages are many, and they’re not just for BJJ functionality. Strength, like BJJ, finds utility in all parts of life. I feel that bodily health and longevity are greatly improved by strength training (Yeah, I’ve got no direct evidence, this is a blog, not ALDaily. I see weak people get weaker, and strong people get stronger, that’s all.) Strength training makes day to day chores and obligations that much easier. When you can lift more, it stands to reason that lifting smaller loads in day to day life is easier.

I think Henry Rollins nailed the more philosophical aspects in his piece “The Iron”. Lifting weights is another tool you can use (along with BJJ) to learn things about yourself mentally. You’re going to learn an awful lot about failure, about perseverance, and about hard work. In this sense, lifting parallels our beloved pyjama wrestling a great deal.

I hear a lot of people talk about the potential of being injured from lifting. This is another sense where lifting and BJJ run on the same track. If you do things with appropriate technique, while abandoning your ego, you will be fine. Proper coaching is also a key ingredient. Let’s not fool ourselves; these are physical pursuits. People get hurt.

People also get stronger and better, but this only happens when you push your limits.

Being a small guy, I’ve found strength advantageous in rolling. But not in the sense most people assume. I still don’t have size...I can’t force my weight into a sweep to make it work. The actual dynamic moves can sometimes be aided by the extra power you can generate. A cross choke benefits from grip and upper back strength, for instance. More important to me though is the isometric use of stronger muscles to hold your opponent in positions, without tiring.

An example I use here is Side control, or your modified scarf-hold (Kesa getame?). In these positions you use your core and your legs to block one escape route, and your tricep and lats to block the other side (assuming we’re thinking about the same thing here, and you are using the back side of your arm to block the far side of the opponents body.)  Being a small guy, it is the strength I can employ here that keeps the position secure. I can roll with giants and more often than not trap them here fairly effectively.

Strength, when well and intelligently employed, allows a person to fight far above their respective weight, roll longer, and pull off some things that they’d otherwise gas on.

There is a notion held by some out there, that building strength makes a person slow. It’s a ridiculous fallacy. I’m not ashamed to say that I move pretty quick. Adding strength to my frame with the 5 basic lifts (or imitations thereof,) while also working on appropriate conditioning with a Crossfit style MetCon routine the other days of the week has made me faster, stronger, and better at BJJ.

There are a lot of people out there who want you to think that it’s wrong to use bodily attributes (size/weight/speed/strength) in your daily practice of BJJ. Preposterous! It’s the interaction of all these attributes, the way they affect each individuals “game” and the way games interact on the mats that make BJJ the beautiful expression of innovation, thought and physical prowess that it is.



  1. I'm far too lazy to do any strength training. I've done routines in chunks at home, but it only ever lasts for a couple of months before I get bored. I'm hoping that I'll be more disciplined in the future, given the various articles I see about how useful it is for your joints etc as you get older (though I'm only just approaching 30, so I would hope age isn't a major concern just yet).

    Lynn wrote something on the topic recently that reminded me a bit of your post, here.

  2. Very Cool. Much respect for anyone with Rippetoe references.

    I think that everyone could be motivated to do weight training. I'm sure that once people like yourself have done enough of it to see a difference on the mats, lifing would become fun. Like Jits, it's just more self improvement. The problem is that the applicability can take time to develop.

    I, for instance, did yoga for about a year. Purely for injury prevention at the start. That is a tremendously intangible quantity. You can't measure not being injured!

    Prevention was what got me in the door, but I noticed that I just plain felt more comfortable in positions that used to explore the outer limits of my flexibility. I had stuck with it long enough to discover something more important.

    I think for the average person it's excellent for Fat loss (Weight loss is an irrelevance.) But more importantly, weight lifting is fun, fills a person with world-beating energy, and makes things easier. Progress can be easily had with a good program. It's these fun things that will keep people coming back. Fat loss will be a fortunate side effect.

    If I may, I heartily suggest Barbell training. The "Big 5" moves especially. "Starting Strength" by Mark Rippetoe is a good (albeit lengthy) reference for this.

    Like Lynn says, a crossfit routine is also good stuff, they look at Big 5 lifts quite a bit, and mix in fast paced stuff to work VO2 max and general fitness. My only beef with CF is the membership dues. I've got enough money out the door for training as it is. What I've done is take the CF material from their homepage, learned the moves, and alter the routines based on the equipment I have. Works well.