Exercises for BJJ: How to get stronger for Jiu Jitsu

Home » Exercises for BJJ: How to get stronger for Jiu Jitsu

Exercises for BJJ: Introduction

A man in gi pants holding a kettlebell

Doing exercises for BJJ is a controversial topic. Some people say that it will hurt you, some will say it will only help – and the truth is somewhere in the middle. As a Jiu Jitsu practitioner and Strength Coach, I understand the critical role that strength and conditioning plays in improving one’s Jiu Jitsu skills, however taking too much time and energy away from drilling technique can be harmful in the long run. 

Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that focuses on grappling and ground fighting, with the goal of controlling and submitting one’s opponent. It is a physically demanding sport that requires strength, mobility, endurance, and mental toughness. In this article I will discuss training methods and highlight the most important exercises for BJJ. More over,  we will take a look at  how to build a successful BJJ strength training program that will provide you with the strength, endurance and flexibility to succeed.

Benefits of Selecting the Right Exercises For BJJ

There are many benefits of Strength training for jiu jitsu. Among those are:


    • Increased Strength and Power for takedowns and transitions
    • Improved endurance for and cardio for performing during long rounds
    • Enhanced flexibility and mobility, allowing for freedom of movement, and reduction in joint pain
    • Reduced risk of injury, which will keep you on the mats consistently 
 

 

The Best Exercises for BJJ

Beginners

For beginner BJJ athletes, strength training is paramount. It enhances physical strength, increases endurance and reduces the risk of injury. Improved muscle power aids in executing techniques efficiently, ensuring the foundation laid is robust. As far as exercise specifics go, it would be wise to focus on body weight exercises and lots of reps before you start stacking on the weight. 

Push Ups

a drawing of a man performing a push up

To perform a push-up, start in a plank position with hands beneath the shoulders, body forming a straight line from head to heels. Engage your core, lower yourself by bending elbows until the chest almost touches the ground, then push up to the initial position. If this is too challenging, regress by doing knee push-ups: Begin with knees on the ground and feet lifted, then follow the same lowering and lifting motion, maintaining a straight line from head to knees.

Side Planks

a man performing a side plank

The side plank targets the obliques, enhancing core stability, which is paramount to Jiu Jitsu.

To perform: Lie on one side, legs extended, feet and hips resting on the ground. Prop yourself up on your elbow, ensuring it’s directly beneath your shoulder. Lift your hips, forming a straight line from head to heels. Hold, engaging the core. If too challenging, regress by bending your bottom leg at a 90-degree angle and resting your knee on the ground, maintaining the hip lift.

Bridges

a woman performing a glute bridge

To perform a glute bridge, lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Press through your heels, lifting your hips upwards, squeezing your glutes at the top. Slowly lower and repeat. This exercise strengthens the glutes, essential in BJJ for hip escapes, guard retention, and powerful takedowns. If too challenging, regress by reducing the height of the lift or using a wall for support, gradually progressing to the full movement.

Lunges

a woman performing a lunge

Lower body strength is an important attribute for any BJJ practitioner. To perform a lunge, stand upright and take a step forward, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Ensure your front knee aligns with your ankle, with the other knee hovering just above the ground. Lunges enhance leg strength and hip flexibility, vital for dynamic movements and guard play. If too challenging, regress by shortening the lunge depth or using a wall for balance, gradually building strength and coordination.

Pull Downs

a woman performing a pull down
a woman performing a pull down

To perform a band pull-down, anchor the band overhead, grasp both ends, and pull it down to chest level, squeezing shoulder blades. This mechanic has many carry overs in to live training, enhancing grip strength and upper body control. If too challenging, regress by choosing lowering resistance by using a band or reducing the range of motion. This maintains muscle engagement while accommodating varying strength levels, ensuring safe progression.

Intermediate

If you are an intermediate level athlete, we encourage you to move beyond the rudamentary and start dabbling in more advanced movements. Here are a few exercises for BJJ that will help you bridge the gap to the next level. 

Kettle Bell Swing

a man performing a kettlebell swing
a man performing a kettlebell swing

To perform a kettlebell swing, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the kettlebell with both hands. Bend primarily at the hips, keeping a neutral spine. Drive your hips up and forward as if to jump, swinging the kettlebell to chest height. Then let it descend between your legs. 

For BJJ, this move develops explosive hip power, essential for takedowns and guard passes. If too challenging, regress by using a lighter kettlebell, focusing on form, or practicing kettlebell Romanian deadlifts to build foundational strength.

Kettle Bell Press

a man performing a kettlebell press
a man performing a kettlebell press

The 1-arm kettlebell press involves holding a kettlebell in one hand at shoulder height, then pressing it overhead until the arm is fully extended, keeping the core tight. For BJJ, this exercise builds shoulder strength and stability, crucial for framing, escaping, and applying pressure. If too challenging, regress by using a lighter kettlebell or perform a seated version which limits the involvement of the lower body and places more emphasis on the shoulder.

Back Squat

a man performing a squat
a man performing a squat

The Back Squat begins with a barbell positioned on the upper traps. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, chest up, and core engaged. Descend by pushing the hips back, bending the knees, keeping them in line with the toes. Drive up powerfully through the heels to return to standing. For BJJ, it builds powerful legs and core strength, crucial for explosive movements and takedowns. If too difficult, regress by performing bodyweight squats or using a lighter weight.

Pull Up

a man performing a pull up
a man performing a pull up

To perform a pull-up, grip a bar overhead with palms facing away. Engage your core, retract your scapula, and pull your body upwards until your chin clears the bar, then lower with control. Pull-ups are vital for BJJ due to their enhancement of grip strength, crucial for controlling opponents and maintaining control. If a standard pull-up is too challenging, regress by using resistance bands for support or practice negative pull-ups, focusing on a controlled descent.

Advanced

Turkish Get Up

a woman performing a turkish get up
a woman performing a turkish get up
a woman performing a turkish get up
a woman performing a turkish get up
a woman performing a turkish get up
a woman performing a turkish get up

The Turkish get-up (TGU) involves lying down, holding a kettlebell overhead, and transitioning to standing while maintaining the weight’s position. It’s pivotal for BJJ due to its emphasis on core strength, stability, and functional movement — attributes essential for grappling. To perform: Start supine, weight in one hand, same-side leg bent. Push up onto the opposite elbow, then hand, lift hips, sweep the straight leg underneath to kneel, and stand. If too challenging, practice without weight or break down each stage separately.

Barbell Jerk

a woman performing a barbell jerk
a woman performing a barbell jerk
a woman performing a barbell jerk

The barbell jerk is a powerful lift that involves quickly pushing the bar overhead after a slight dip and drive from the legs. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the barbell at collarbone height. Dip slightly by bending the knees, then powerfully extend your legs while pushing the bar overhead, splitting your legs into a lunge stance. For BJJ, it enhances explosive strength, crucial for takedowns. If too difficult, regress by using a lighter weight or practicing push presses.

Zercher Squat

a man performing a zercher squat
a man performing a zercher squat

The Zercher squat involves cradling the barbell in the crooks of your elbows, held against your chest. To perform, squat down while maintaining an upright posture, then drive up to standing. It’s valuable for BJJ due to its emphasis on core stability, upright torso, and simulation of holding an opponent. If too challenging, regress by reducing weight or using a goblet squat, holding a kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest instead.

Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press

The Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press challenges shoulder stability and grip strength. To perform: hold a kettlebell upside down (bottom facing up) at shoulder height. With a firm grip, press overhead until your arm is fully extended, keeping the kettlebell balanced. This exercise improves wrist control and shoulder stability, essential for BJJ grips and submissions. If too challenging, regress by using a lighter kettlebell or performing the press seated to decrease core engagement and focus on the arm movement.

Program Design: Exercises for BJJ

a bjj competitor preparing for competition

Warm Up

A proper warm up is absolutely essential to every workout. A thorough warm up will not only increase your performance during the session, but also reduce the likelihood of injury. Generally speaking, a well planned workout for jiu jitsu will order exercises from general to specific, and from fast to slow. Let’s jump in.

 

Step 1: General Warm Up

A general warm up is always a good idea. It will raise your core body temperature, lubricate joints and prepare the central nervous system for the workout to come. 10-15 minutes of cardio while fully dressed goes a long way. here are some options:

  • Walking uphill or running outside or on a treadmill
  • Skipping rope
  • Shadow Boxing or shadow wrestling
  • Riding the stationary bike

Step 2: Dynamic Warm Up

A good dynamic warm up will include slow walking stretches at the beginning, and faster more sport specific drills at the end. Here is an example:

  • Walking Toe Touches
  • Walking Knee Hugs
  • Walking Quad Stretch
  • Lunge and Twist
  • Side Shuffle
  • Skip For height
  • Shots and sprawls across the mat

Step 3: Work Out

Move Fast, First

a man doing box jumps

The beginning of your workout is the time to do anything powerful. Plyometrics, Olympic lifting, sprinting are all good examples of power exercises that will make you stronger and faster on the mats. One thing to consider here are sets and reps. For explosive movements were you are using close to maximum effort, keep your repetitions low. 6 would be a maximum number of reps to complete without a break. When you do take a rest between sets, make that rest long and complete. You want to be sure you are moving the implement (or yourself) as fast as you can each repetition. If you feel yourself slowing down, you’re only practicing to be slow. It is a waste of energy and the risk of injury increases with fatigue. Next time you’re at the gym, try out some of these exercises:

Plyometrics

  • Standing Broad Jump
  • Vertical Leaps
  • Ice Skaters
  • Split Squat Jumps
  • Box Jumps
  • Hurdle Hops
Kettlebells
  • Swings for height, or  “Amercian Swings”
  • 1 arm Swings
  •  Push Press
  • 1 arm Jerks
Olympic Lifts
  • Power Clean
 

Next, Move Heavy

a loaded barbell

Heavy Lifts are also something you want to do early in your session. If you wait until later, your central nervous system will most likely be too overwhelmed and fatigued to perform. Heavy squats, deadlifts and presses should all be done as early as you can. When lifting heavy, always under-train. This means always do less than you know you can do for a given number of reps, but accumulate volume by adding additional sets. For example, instead of doing 1×10 at maximal effort, use the same weight for 3 sets 5. Not only are you afforded 5 extra reps (15 versus 10), you will recover much more quickly and be able to train at a higher frequency overall, leading to faster strength gains. 

Try these progressions for your barbell lifts:

Week 1: 3×6(80% 1 rep max)

Week 2: 4×5(85% 1 rep max)

Week 3: 4×2(90% 1 rep max)

Week 4: 3×8(50% 1 rep max)

 

Then, repeat with 5 or 10 more pounds on the bar. You can cycle this 3 or 4 times before it’s time to take a week or two off of the heavy weights. 

 

Core Training and Body Building for BJJ

a man showing off his muscles

Now that you’ve completed your sport specific work, it’s time to work on muscular endurance and muscularity.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doesn’t require much size, but it does require resistance to fatigue as well as robust connective tissue. Body building is a great way to achieve this. All of the traditional body building exercises are great for this. Generally speaking I would stay away from most machine work, but if there is something specific you need help with I’d say go for it. Core training is also important for Jiu Jitsu.  Take a look below for some ideas on core training exercises for BJJ

 

Body Building

  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Dumbell Chest Press (incline and declime)
  • Lateral dumbell raises
  • Hamstring Curls
  • 1 Leg Press
  • Barbell Bridges
Core Exercises
  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Russian Twist
  • Crunch
 
 

Should I Do Cardio for BJJ?

If you’ve got the time and energy, now is the time for cardio training. There are two effective methods for developing your conditioning. Low intensity and slow moving, or high intensity quick movement. Both appear to be worth while for Jiu Jitsu, it just depends on what your time constraints are.

The low and slow method is fairly simple. Find a pace that you can still talk through without breaking, but not so slow that you can hold the pace indefinitely. This is called “Zone 2” training. Slowly increase the length of your sessions and you will see your cardio vascular performance increase along with it. 

High intensity and fast speed is called Interval Training. Interval work for increasing cardio vascular fitness is more complicated, but just as effective in less time. 

Interval Training For BJJ

Step 1: Determine your Max Heart Rate

Subtract your age from 220 to get an estimate of your MHR.

Step 2 Calculate your heart rate zones

There are different ways to do this, but a common method is the Karvonen formula. First, find your resting heart rate (RHR) by taking your pulse for a minute when you wake up in the morning. Then, calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting your RHR from your MHR. Finally, multiply your HRR by the percentage of intensity you want to train at, and add your RHR to get your target heart rate (THR). Here’s an example for a 30-year-old with an RHR of 60 bpm who wants to train at 70% intensity:

MHR = 220 – 30 = 190 bpm HRR = 190 – 60 = 130 bpm THR = (0.7 x 130) + 60 = 151 bpm

Zone 1: Recovery (60-70% THR) 

Zone 2: Endurance (70-80% THR) 

Zone 3: Tempo (80-90% THR) 

Zone 4: Threshold (90-95% THR) 

Zone 5: VO2 max (95-100% THR)

Plan your invervals

Interval training involves alternating periods of high-intensity exercise (work intervals) with periods of low-intensity exercise or rest (recovery intervals). The length and intensity of the intervals depend on your fitness level and goals

Here’s an example of a 20-minute interval workout using heart rate zones:

 
  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of light cardio to gradually increase your heart rate (Zone 1)
  • Work interval: 1 minute at Zone 4 (near maximum effort)
  • Recovery interval: 2 minutes at Zone 2 (moderate effort)
  • Work interval: 1 minute at Zone 5 (maximum effort)
  • Recovery interval: 2 minutes at Zone 1 (easy effort)
  • Repeat the work and recovery intervals for a total of 4 cycles
  • Cool-down: 3 minutes of light cardio to gradually decrease your heart rate (Zone 1)
Progress your intervals

As you get fitter, you can increase the duration or intensity of the work intervals, decrease the duration or intensity of the recovery intervals, or increase the number of cycles. However, be careful not to overdo it and listen to your body’s signals.

Grip Training

Grip strength in BJJ is crucial for controlling opponents, maintaining dominant positions, and executing submissions. A strong grip can deter an adversary’s movement, turning the tide of a match. Moreover, frequent gripping in BJJ can strain the hands and forearms, making targeted grip training essential for both performance enhancement and injury prevention. As the hands are a primary connection point in many techniques, a formidable grip often translates to a significant advantage on the mats.

Grip Exercises for BJJ

Gi Pull Up

Performing a pull-up with a gi involves gripping the gi’s lapels instead of a standard bar. Begin by hanging from the gi, with a firm grip on each lapel. Engage your core and back muscles, pulling yourself up until your chin surpasses the anchor point. Slowly lower and repeat. 

This exercise directly translates to BJJ by enhancing grip strength and endurance, crucial for controlling opponents especially when gripping the collar.

Exercises for BJJ: Injury Prevention

Rotator Cuff

Rotator cuff exercises are crucial for BJJ practitioners. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint, a primary pivot point in BJJ. Strengthening this area helps prevent injuries, especially during the repetitive arm and shoulder movements inherent in the sport. Furthermore, a strong rotator cuff allows for more precise control and force application downstream, enhancing performance of the arms overall. Regularly incorporating these exercises into training ensures longevity on the mats. When performing these exercises, shoot for 3 sets of 15 Reps

Internal Rotation

To perform this exercise, start with a band in your right hand, and with it anchored to your right. While keeping your shoulder blade tucked down and back, reach your hand across your torso, rotating at the humerus. 

External Rotation

For this exercise, Start with a band in your left hand, and anchored to your right. 

Ankle Inversion, Eversion and Dorsiflexion

Strong, flexible ankles enhance mobility, guard retention, and takedown defense. Not to mention, they make for very sticky hooks. By strengthening and conditioning the ankles, athletes reduce their risk of sprains and strains by providing more support for the joint through stronger, more robust muscles and ligaments that hold the ankle joint together. This is crucial for avoiding ankle sprains, which are a common injury in BJJ. 

Ankle Dorsiflexion

Conclusion

By incorporating strength and conditioning exercises into your Jiu Jitsu training program, you can improve your physical attributes and enhance your performance on the mats. As a personal trainer and Purple Belt, I highly recommend adding strength and conditioning to your weekly training.

 It can be hard to spend energy on anything that is not rolling. But remember, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Spend just a little time each weak working on your fitness, and you will become a monster on the mats. I promise.

Leave a Comment