Training for Size vs Strength for BJJ
Choosing a program to improve your grappling performance can be confusing.
Should you lift for strength or size? Like a bodybuilder or like a powerlifter?
Well... both and neither.
When to Lift for Size
"Larger muscles mean healthier bodies, better sports performance, and can improve you as a jiujitsu athlete, particularly as you age." - BJJ Strong Podcast Ep. 2
It's not always the case that muscles need to get bigger to get stronger. But increasing muscle size usually increases strength (up to a point).
Here are some use cases for grapplers following a hypertrophy program:
- Filling up into a higher weight bracket
- Wanting to improve body composition (more muscle, less fat)
- A novice lifter trying to establish a "foundation" of muscle
- Coming off a strength/power block (change it up with a higher repetition range and volume)
- Going through a pre-season or post-season training block
- Wanting for a different style of training (think "palate cleanser")
Repetition Range and Weight Selection - Hypertrophy
The optimal repetition range for hypertrophy is 7-15.
Research shows that weight selection between 30-80% of your one-rep-max (1RM) can cause changes that lead to hypertrophy (muscle growth).
For beginners, 1-4 sets per muscle group - per week can achieve 64% of your hypertrophy results - more experienced lifters will need more volume.
To learn more about hypertrophy for grappling, check out episode 2 of the BJJ Strong Podcast "How to Get Jacked for BJJ | The Complete Beginners Guide".
When to Lift for Strength
Most grapplers will see more significant benefits by lifting for strength.
That's because strength and power are more correlated with improved performance outcomes.
Here are some use cases for grapplers following a strength program:
- Preparing for a competition
- Pre-comp season preparation
- General grappling performance
- Lifting to reduce the risk of injury
- Body/performance maintenance
- To increase your power
Repetition Range and Weight Selection - Strength
The optimal repetition range for strength is 1 - 6.
Different programs will use different metrics to assist you with weight selection.
My preferred method is "autoregulation" in the form of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
RPE is a scale from 1-10, where 1 is effortless, and 10 is max effort, where you could not complete another rep.
The RPE range will vary depending on your training phase and how your program structure. Ranges of 6-10 are commonplace in a strength-based program for grapplers.
Bodybuilding and Powerlifting
At the beginning of this article, I teased that you shouldn't lift like a bodybuilder or a powerlifter.
If strength is your focus, it does not mean that powerlifting is the best approach; I consider this a mistake.
Likewise, a traditional bodybuilding program has similar problems to powerlifting.
Lifting for grappling means a holistic athletic approach, taking into consideration the following:
- Grappling volume
- Competition prep
- Program structure
- Total volume and fatigue
- Range of Motion
- Grip Strength
- Core Strength
- Carry Capacity
Whether hypertrophy or strength is your focus, I've got you covered. Check out the programs on BJJ Strong Online — the ultimate performance resource for grapplers.
Get Stronger, Faster and more Powerful on the mats, while reducing your risk of injury. Take my FREE Fitness Quiz here.