Getting Bigger & Stronger: The Right Way To Move Up A Weight Class In Jiu-Jitsu

Getting Bigger & Stronger: The Right Way To Move Up A Weight Class In Jiu-Jitsu

In Jiu-Jitsu most of us want to go down in weight to make the weight class below. Putting on quality muscle to go up a weight class is a tricky issue but can be achieved with the right weight training, and nutrition program. Some athletes have been successful with going up weight classes. Keenan Cornelius went through a serious weight and nutrition program to go from Middle to middle heavy (6 extra kilos). After 2 years at middle heavy he is now moving up to heavy. This makes sense as Keenan is 1m86 tall (6ft1), has a big frame and is only 21 years old so his body will also naturally get bigger.

To achieve this the rule of thumb is: Eat a lot (clean), lift a lot, roll a lot, and sleep a lot.

Why move up?

When you have a real hard time to make weight in your current division and you are also taller and leaner than most of your opponents, then is a good time to consider moving up. Sometimes you may even perform better with a higher body fat percentage than with a lower one (think of Fedor). Bulking is fun: You eat a lot, lift heavy weights, train a lot, sleep a lot. Your BJJ game will also change. The extra weight should improve your top game in regards to pressure , you will also be harder to sweep or be taken down, and in some cases the added muscle will make you more explosive (if you train the right way).

What is ‘bulking’ for BJJ & how to do it

It’s not just about eating more and keeping with the same training routine. If you want to put on quality weight as in muscle, you will need to eat more, lift weights more often, and it is very important to keep training Jiu-Jitsu at the same time to keep your grappling rhythm.

First thing is you have got to determine how much weight you need to gain. If you want to put on the 6 kilos that makes an IBJJF weight class, then go for 8 kilos (you will cut down 2 kilos before the competition). It’s important to put on this weight over a longer period of time. Rule of thumb is 2 kilos per month for good quality muscle mass. Your body needs time to assimilate this weight gain and adapt. The extra muscle tends to gas out many BJJ players so it is important to do a lot of live rolling to keep your conditioning up. Another side effect of extra muscle mass is your open guard becoming less effective. Very often when your hips get heavier, they also get less mobile. This leads to a less active guard. Make sure that you take this into consideration when you are training and work a lot on your guard mobility. 


Feeding. How and what to eat

The first impulse for most while attempting to add size after a prolonged diet or even during their first “bulking” experience is to immediately eat all the bad foods they can to add both quick size while also satisfying their hunger and junk food craves. This is not the best route to get the desired end result of strong lean muscles. Bulking up and adding extra muscle with minimal fat is the byproduct of increasing your training volume and your calories.


Dirty bulking is where you eat a lot of calorie dense foods such as pizza, fries, burgers, hot dogs and ice cream in a desperate fight to gain muscle. Dirty bulking is often used by ectomorphs and hardgainers, although dirty bulking tends to add a lot more weight faster, the majority of it is fat. Most people who “dirty bulk” are only concerned with meeting their daily protein needs, they don’t care how much carbohydrate and fat they eat as long as they are in a calorie surplus and are getting enough protein.

Clean bulking is where the majority of your calories (+80%) come from clean foods such as whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats. Since clean foods are less calories dense, a clean bulk requires higher quantities of food and a higher meal frequency. Clean bulking takes time, you may only gain 1 or 2 pounds a month but you will gain minimal fat as opposed to dirty bulking. People who “clean bulk” carefully calculate the amount of calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates they require on a daily basis.

Here are 6 foods that will help you to accomplish a healthy bulk without the guilt:

Protein Sources

Lean beef


Cottage Cheese




Fat Sources

Chia Seeds


A clean bulk requires a you to count calories so that you are in no more than a 500 calorie surplus. Having a diet built on lean meat, complex carbohydrate and healthy fats will minimize any fat gain.

Dirty bulking however rarely accounts for calories, protein is usually the only concern. Some days you could be in a 1000, 500 or 1500 calorie surplus. Without counting calories you will never know and this usually results in a large weight gain over time.

Supplements: There are so many supplements to help you achieve your goals. Everybody has different reactions to supplements. Personally, I use whey protein, creatine and amino acids.


Weight lifting

During this bulking period you will have to lift heavy weights at least 3 times a week. It’s important to remember that your goal  is not to become a bodybuilder but to be a better BJJ player. Stick to a basic lifting routine with exercises that use a lot of body parts and go with 12 to 8 reps to maximize muscle mass gains. Once you hit your target weight after a few months, go down to 2x a week and switch to strength/power lifting routine with 6 to 3 reps per lift (see our article on how to get stronger without adding weight), and replace that lifting session with an extra BJJ session.

Top 10  Exercises for Jiu-Jitsu players:

1. Deadlifts (Barbell and Trap Bar)
2. Barbell Squat Variations (Front, Zercher, Back)
3. Weighted Pull/Chin Ups (various grips)
4. Barbell Bench Press (Close Grip and Regular)
5. Turkish Get Ups (KB/DB)
6. Barbell Military Press (Seated)
7. Barbell Lunge Variations (alternating, reverse and stationary)
8. Barbell Bent Over Rows (various grips)
9. Weighted Step Ups – Unilateral strength (KB, DB, Barbell)
10. Weighted Parallel Bar Dips

Follow this guide:


Rest and sleep

Rest day is part of the program. Your muscles grow when you rest. There are some people who can function well on just a few hours of sleep a night, but most require more. Some experts peg the number at seven to nine hours a night and others say eight hours is optimal. The right number for each individual will vary, but athletes who sleep just seven hours a night might be compromising their ability.

Take lots of naps. Naps as short as 10 minutes help people recuperate from sleep debt. If you want to be at your best, either on the playing field or in the office, going to bed and getting up every day at the same time will enhance your ability to sleep as long as you need. Not sleeping enough would mean not allowing your body to produce the testosterone to refuel your tired body. Good quality sleep is the best vitamin, do yourself a favor and give it to your body.


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