Strength Training and BJJ: Frequently Asked Questions

When It comes to strength training for BJJ there is a lot of debate. Understanding how to program a BJJ lifting regime is not the same as going to the gym for general bodybuilding.

When you have to balance your time and energy for both sports you need to have the right approach. If your only goal for lifting weights is to improve your jiu-jitsu then you will need a different approach than someone who wants to do strength sports and BJJ.

That said, for those looking to strength training purely for BJJ, you need a program that helps you BJJ while giving you the time and energy to train on the mats. That said, every BJJ athlete serious about competing needs a good strength training program.

With that said, in this article, we are simply going to cover some of the most common questions people have about strength training and BJJ.

Do You Need To Lift Weights For BJJ?

Does lifting weights help your BJJ game?

In the world of BJJ, there are a ton of opinions on whether or not lifting weights is beneficial for your jiu-jitsu game. Some people say it is what separates champions from everyone else, whereas others say it will slow you down. So let’s tackle the question: Does lifting weights improve your jiu-jitsu? 

Lifting weights does improve your jiu-jitsu game. Though learning technique might be more important, getting stronger and more athletic is only going to make you a better BJJ athlete. 

So don’t let someone tell you that lifting weights is going to slow you down. Just make sure that focusing on technique does not take a back seat to your strength and conditioning program.

Should All BJJ Athletes Lift Weights?

No matter what sport you play lifting weights is only going to make you more athletic and improve your performance.

Once upon a time, many coaches were afraid that lifting weights was going to slow down their athletes. Though some may still hold this position, this old theory is nothing more than a misunderstanding from the past. 

Funny enough the science seems to conclude just about the complete opposite of what they thought. If you look at the fastest athletes in the world they are all very muscular.

Why The Best BJJ Athletes In The World Lift Weights

Though there are a few high-level BJJ athletes in the past that did not lift weights, today you would be hard-pressed to find a high-level grappler that does not incorporate a strength and conditioning program.

If you look at the best BJJ grapplers in the world today you can tell that they obviously lift weights. This is because they know that if they are if two jiu-jitsu players are of equal skill, the stronger of the two will have a great advantage.

This is not unique to BJJ but will all sports really. Part of becoming better at any sport or martial art is first working on the skills of the sport and secondly becoming physically conditioned for the sport. 

The best athletes in the world are both the most skilled at their sport and as well as being the most conditioned athletes in their sport. Lifting weights or strength training is just one aspect of a good strength and conditioning program from Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

You will also need to work on your endurance, flexibility, and all of the other aspects of physical training. That said, as far as focusing on getting stronger, lifting weights is the best option for BJJ players.

Why Everyone Who Competes In BJJ Should Lift Weights

Whether for self-defense or competition, everyone who does BJJ should lift weights. If you compete in BJJ then being strong and athletic will give you an edge over your opponent.

Since you will be competing in a weight class you will want to be as muscular and lean as you can naturally get. Carrying around an extra 20 lbs of fat is not going to help you in a BJJ competition with a weight class. 

To get a physical edge over your opponent you would want to maintain as much of your muscle as possible while losing that extra 20 lbs of fat. This way you can compete in a lower-weight class.

If you do this then it is more likely that you will be the more physically athletic competitor. If you then choose to go up in weight, I would suggest trying to stay pretty lean while adding some muscle to your frame. 

How Much Muscle Should You Gain For BJJ?

Of course, if you are a natural athlete, there is going to be a point where it is difficult to add a significant amount of extra muscle to your body. This would indicate that you are now probably at the best ideal weight class for your frame.

To maintain or gain muscle for a BJJ, you are going to want to focus on getting stronger at the key compound exercises such as bench, rows, weighted pull-ups,  squats ( back and front squats), deadlifts, and overhead presses. 

Those are just some examples but you can choose other exercises as well that mimic these movements such as machine exercises. Of course, developing a whole strength and conditioning plan for BJJ training is a bit more complicated than this or anything I could go deep enough into with this post.

Does Strength Matter In BJJ?

If size and strength didn’t matter in jiu-jitsu then there would be no need for weight classes. However, athletic performance and strength are some of the most important factors for BJJ competitors

You have probably heard it said many times that BJJ is a martial art that allows a smaller weaker person to defeat a larger and stronger unskilled person.

Well, this is certainly true to a very large degree just as it is with many martial arts. However, the hidden word is that they can defeat a stronger unskilled person. 

However, what then would happen if the stronger and bigger person was more skilled, equally skilled, or perhaps even slightly less skilled?

Well, the truth is that size and strength go a long way in combat sports and martial arts and you would likely be in a losing battle.

In addition, there is a point where someone might be so much stronger and bigger than a jiu-jitsu fighter that their skills can’t overcome the sheer size and strength of a person. 

Should You Lift Weights Or Do BJJ First?

If you are lifting weights and doing BJJ on the same day then you should lift weights before BJJ. However, if your schedule allows it then I would suggest getting a few hours of rest and some food in between lifting weights and Jiu Jitsu.

Doing BJJ before weights will more likely result in an injury than the other way around.  If you only train BJJ 2-3 times per week then the best practice would be to workout on your days off from doing jiu-jitsu.

There are downsides to whatever order you choose. But I would rather be tired from lifting weights and have to focus more on proper BJJ technique than feel beat up and tired before weight training. You won’t get a full workout and that elbow you tweaked in class will only get more inflamed. 

This question can be a bit complicated with scheduling. I go into more detail about how this topic in my article should you do BJJ before or after weights?

Is Cross Fit A Good Workout For BJJ?

should you do cross fit for bjj?

You can mix cross-fit training and BJJ training if you are interested in competing in both sports. However, if you are simply looking for a way to improve your strength and conditioning for BJJ then I would suggest building a custom program for BJJ instead. Cross fit can be a great workout but it requires a steeper learning curve and can be very taxing to the body. 

That said if you like cross-fit and want to do both cross-fit and BJJ you certainly can. All I am saying is that if your singular goal is to get in better shape for BJJ there are probably more efficient and better routes to take. Cross fit is a sport unto itself so naturally, it might take some focus and energy away from BJJ.

Why Cross Fit Is Not The Best Strength And Conditioning Program For BJJ

Let me be clear, I am not saying that you should not do cross-fit alongside BJJ if you want to. After all, cross fit is a great way to get in shape and many people find it to be very fun and rewarding.

All I am saying is that cross-fit workouts are developed to make you better at cross fit, not BJJ. Yes, it will help you to become fit in most aspects of total fitness. That said, it is a sport unto itself so all of the focus is to get you better at competing in cross fit games.

BJJ is also a sport unto itself where an athlete must learn the necessary skills as well as being physically conditioned for the specifics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Because of this, you do not want to spend unnecessary time acquiring skills needed for cross fit that will not enhance your conditioning for BJJ anymore than a basic program would. With that said here are some of my main reasons against cross-fit for BJJ.

Cross Fit Is Created For Cross Fit Not BJJ

Sure a cross-fit athlete is in pretty darn good shape for just about any athletic activity. After all, it is a sport designed to see who the fittest people on earth are. That being said, cross-fit athletes are in many ways a Jack of all trades.

They are great long-distance runners but not better than those who only focus on long-distance running. They are great at Olympic lifts but not as good as pure Olympic lifters. Cross-fit athletes are great at sprinting but not as good as Olympic sprinters.

Don’t get me wrong they are certainly better than about 99 percent of the general population in just about any physical activity. But they are also not the best in the world at any one activity. They are the best at being the all-around the fittest people on earth.

With BJJ you need to be fit all around as well but as the other sports mentioned you can create your own routine that is more specific to training for BJJ.

Again if you simply enjoy cross-fit and want to train in both cross-fit and BJJ then be my guest. This is perfectly fine and you can certainly do both. But the only reason you should do both is if you want to do both. That said, if you don’t care much about cross-fit then there are probably better and more efficient programs that are more specifically designed for BJJ.

Too High Of A Risk Of Injury

Listen I am not a cross-fit hater so don’t tune out just yet. I understand that with a good coach you can probably do cross-fit without suffering any major injuries. That said, I do believe that injuries are more common in cross-fit than with a more traditional strength and conditioning program. If your main goal is having plenty of time to practice on the mats then the last thing you want to do is get injured off the mat.

You are going to have to spend enough time off the mats as it is with the injuries you will naturally get when rolling. So the last thing you want is to get injured when exercising. This is especially true if there are safer alternatives that are equally effective.

Cross Fit Is Very Taxing On The Body

Cross fit workouts are very intense and taxing on the body. There is nothing wrong with this if your only goal is to get better at cross fit. However, if you are trying to do cross fit and make it to BJJ class 5 times per week you might overtax your body. This is especially true if you are in your thirties or older.

Sure if you are still 18 years old you might get away with it but it is probably too much. Cross fit is great, but the people who run cross-fit gyms are not thinking about whether or not the workout will cut into your ability to perform well on the mats.

With BJJ you are going to want to periodize your training to make sure you are getting enough recovery time to do your best in BJJ. Or you are going to want to train in a way where you are not so exhausted that it eats into your BJJ training. The point of a good program is to get you stronger and have more energy for BJJ, not to be so exhausted that your performance declines.

What If You Want To Do Cross Fit and BJJ?

If you want to do CrossFit and BJJ, then you can. With that said, you will need to figure out which one is the bigger priority. Do you want to be a great cross-fit athlete who dabbles in BJJ or a great BJJ athlete who dabbles in CrossFit. Or do you want to be somewhere right in the middle?

There is no right or wrong answer but trying to be world-class in both is not going to be realistic. Doing cross fit 3 times per week and BJJ twice a week is probably pretty realistic as far a recovery goes.

Doing 5 cross-fit workouts plus 5 BJJ sessions, on the other hand, is a bit less realistic. Not only is this impractical for most people’s schedules but it is also going to be too much to recover from.

If you prioritize BJJ over cross-fit, understand that people who focus only on cross-fit might pass you up. On the other hand, if you choose to prioritize cross-fit, then understand some people might advance in BJJ at a faster pace than you.

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