When your single aim is to build as much strength as possible, you should focus on the lower rep range.
In Jiu-Jitsu, strength is important but extra bulk and weight can be more of a burden than an asset and can affect your performance. One example is when you put on extra muscle mass, your guard seems to suffer as well as you tend to gas out faster.
If you want to increase your strength while staying in your current weight class, you can apply some of these methods below to jack up your strength, but not your size.
1. Lift for strength, Lift heavy and with lower reps
By lifting heavy (> 90% 1RM), you will improve strength by activating the muscle fiber that increases strength. Stick to multi-joint exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts, presses, and pulls). To make sure that you use the most fast-twitch muscles that are required in Jiu-Jitsu, move the weight as fast as possible. If your single aim is to build as much strength as possible, you should focus on the lower rep range, as this is what will allow you to lift the heaviest amount of weights, and thus see the greatest gains in pure strength.
The three main exercises that are beneficial for BJJ players are Deadlifts, Benchpress and Squats. It is also advisable to use more specialized exercises like pull ups, presses, rows to strengthen other parts of the body and that are used in a BJJ fight. Deadlifts and squats strengthen your legs and core, which give you better balance and impact when going for takedowns and throws. Bench press are great for building chess chest, triceps and core sterngth, which you use in BJJ to push opponents away, or control them. When designing your own routine, you should try to design a program that makes you work all your major muscle groups.
Do not fall in the trap of training in the 8-12 rep range which is what is needed for hypertrophy training, which will only encourage further muscle growth and move you away from your strength goals.
A regular routine for building size and strength is 5×5 but this set-rep scheme can be dropped to 2-3 sets to lower the muscle-building potential.
For a BJJ athlete with limited time to dedicate to powerlifting, it’s more than adequate to do three to five sets of each exercise. Since your goal is to develop strength, you should have not more than 6 repetitions.
2. Lift Explosively and use Olympic lifts
Explosive exercises that are useful for BJJ are Olympic lifts (e.g., clean & jerk, the snatch, ) medicine ball throws and kettlebell swings are also excellent and a good option.
3. Eat lean, eat well
One of the basic ways to build more muscle mass is by increasing your calorie intake, which will supply your body with extra nutrients to generate this new muscle tissue. If you don’t eat enough, your body won’t be able to assimilate new muscle tissue, even if you are lifting hard in the gym. So the smart way to build strength without getting too big is by eating right and controlling your calorie intake.
As a rule of thumb: eat a lot of lean meats such as fish and chicken, drink lots of water, don’t overdue the carbs, eat lots of fruit and vegetables and avoid sweets and alcohol.
4. Train a lot of Jiu-Jitsu and train with heavyweights
Many BJJ players make the mistake of spending more time in the gym instead of on the mats. You need to keep your BJJ conditioning up by training a lot and also train a lot with heavyweights as that is one one realistic way to apply your strength in a BJJ setting.
Nothing builds speed and quickness on the Jiu-Jitsu mats than sprinting itself. You can do sprint intervals or hill sprints tol help develop strength and power specific to Jiu-Jitsu.
This will benefit slower, less coordinated BJJ athletes.
Rolling Strong combines scientific exercises and routines specifically geared towards grappling.
Phil Daru is a performance coach for over 200 Elite Level Fighters in all aspects of combat sports.
Learn a comprehensive approach that covers everything from proper warmups to exercises designed to improve your guard!