By Guillaume Huni
In my years training Jiu-Jitsu, I’ve experimented with different weight classes and was able to measure the impact of extra muscle mass on my Jiu-Jitsu performance. Many people make the assumption that bigger, stronger, means a better BJJ athlete. This is where many are wrong. Stronger doesn’t have to mean bigger muscles, because bigger muscles (added muscle mass) will ultimately make you slower and affect your cardio.
More muscle mass= Slower and less cardio
I’ve experienced this first handed. A few years ago I experimented going up to the -100 kilos division in Jiu-Jitsu. I started lifting a lot of weights in an attempt to pump myself up. I got much bigger and also got stronger but I was working out like a bodybuilder, doing mid reps 8 to 12. I was doing good in training and was able to use my added weight to my advantage. On the other hand , my guard game got worse and I was over relying on my strength in sparring. The real test was when I competed. After just 2 minutes of all out effort, combined with adrenaline, I was completely gassed out. Why? think about it – what calls for oxygen during exercise? Your muscles do. So it follows that the more muscle you have, the greater the call for oxygen, hence you breathe heavier. Someone who gains muscle mass doesn’t always increase their endurance in a proportionate manner. I had so much extra muscle on that the muscle mass called for oxygen far beyond what are normal requirements.
When I sat down to watch the absolute division, I can tell you that it was all of the thinner, less muscled BJJ players that were performing. And if you look at other sports you’ll see the same. Watch a boxing or MMA match and keep track of the stamina, quickness and conditioning in the different weight classes. Every now and then you may see a genetic freak like Brock Lesnar for ex, but for the most part the lighter guys are faster, more nimble, have better endurance and conditioning and aren’t huffing and puffing by round 3 like the heavyweight monsters.
Know your bodytype and build around that
There are three general categories of body types (somatotypes): ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Very few people fall perfectly into one of the three categories. People are often a mix of characteristics. Additionally, years of training and good nutrition can change the outward appearance of one’s body. For instance, a bodybuilder might be mistaken for a “natural” mesomorph when in fact, s/he is really an endomorph who’s trained and dieted hard; or an ectomorph who’s spent years guzzling protein shakes and doing the power lifts. An ectomorph who’s gained a little weight around the middle from a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition might assume they’re more endomorphic. You don’t want to make the mistake of being a natural middleweight fighting as muscled up heavyweight…
The solution: Strength training not bodybuilding
It’s good to have strength, but not at the sacrifice of flexibility. I do circuits with higher reps and lower weights and stretch a lot. Better technique will beat strength, but if you only rely on technique, what happens when the stronger guy learns the techniques? If you’re training like a bodybuilder,you’re going to gain size without much strength, which will sacrifice flexibility if you aren’t careful. That is why you need to train for power. For a detailed look at what type of strength training program to go for, you can refer to this article:
The Need for Strength
While skill is vital for success in Brazilian jiu jitsu, strength is equally important. Taking another fighter to the ground so that you can use the locks and chokes of the sport often requires strength — especially if your opponent is bigger than you. It also takes strength to resist his efforts to get you on the deck and defend yourself. In sports, strength can be a vital factor, and when two equally skilled fighters meet, the stronger one is often the one to prevail.
Types of Strength
There are three main types of strength that are vital in Brazilian jiu jitsu: maximal strength, strength endurance and explosive strength — also known as power. Maximal strength is your ability to generate large amounts of force irrespective of speed. Maximal strength is important when applying a joint lock or choke, especially if your opponent is much bigger than you. Strength endurance describes your ability to repeat submaximal efforts without fatigue. This is essential if a fight lasts longer than a couple of minutes. Power describes the application of strength at high speeds. Possessing power means that you are better equipped to throw your opponent to the mat or sweep his legs from under him. This type of offensive maneuver must be performed powerfully if it is to be successful.
Training for Strength
Combining strength training with Brazilian jiu jitsu skills training and conditioning training requires careful time management. While both strength and conditioning are important, they should not detract from technique training. This means that strength training should be done on the days when you do not do any Brazilian jiu jitsu work. To maximize the benefits of strength training while minimizing actual workout volume, focus on the exercises that have the greatest carryover into your sport and organize your workouts so that you cover the maximum number of muscles using the minimum of exercises. Perform light weight, high-repetition work to develop muscular endurance and heavy weight, low-repetition work to develop strength. Power is developed by using moderate weights lifted at maximal speed.
Because Brazilian jiu jitsu is a full-body sport, you should base the majority of your strength training on full body exercises. While leg curls and calf raises are effective exercises for bodybuilding, they have little crossover to the complex movements of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Mixed martial arts strength and conditioning expert martin Rooney, author of “Training for Warriors” suggests focusing on compound, multi-joint exercises such as deadlifts, power cleans, high pulls, plyometric pushups and similar exercises that target multiple muscle groups at the same time. Core strength is also essential for successful Brazilian jiu jitsu, so you should devote time to developing the muscles of your abs, lower back and waist to ensure that your midsection is as strong as possible. Core exercises of choice include planks, V-situps, hanging leg raises, 45-degree back extensions and rotational throws using a medicine ball.