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The 6 Essential Elements of a BJJ Training Program

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BJJ demand a lot from your body.


Cookie cutter gym-bro program or strength sport splits don't hold up.


There are 6 essential elements that your training program must have to improve performance (and reduce your risk of injury).


Element 1: Strength & Power

There is no advantage to being frail and weak.  


If you had to fight an exact clone of yourself, but the clone had a 25% strength & power increase, who do you think would win?


Strength is your ability to exert maximal force.


Power is your ability to exert maximal force in as little time or with as much speed as possible. 


Powerlifting programs are terrible for BJJ because they:

  • Do not address critical areas of BJJ Performance.
  • Demand a high training load, which causes a negative interference effect
  • Makes you stiff and immobile, risking injury
  • Lack of stability, rotation, core, grip and carry exercises
  • Designed for the sport of powerlifting, not grappling.


To develop real strength & power for BJJ, follow a 2-3x per week training program for grapplers. 


Element 2: Rotation

Jiujitsu is freakin' dynamic... 


Think about trying to bridge and roll someone off of mount. Massive rotational forces go through your trunk and spine. 


Bodybuilding and powerlifting programs neglect rotation (they're not designed for sports performance). 


Incorporate explosive rotational and anti-rotational exercises in your training; here are some examples: 


Pair these exercises with your main compound lifts of the day, or add them as a superset at the end of your workout. 


Element 3: Stability 

Stability training doesn't have to be batshit-boring, balancing on a wobble board, or bouncing around on a bosu ball.


Stability is your body's ability to provide a robust foundation on the mats in a chaotic environment. 


Having control and stability of your muscles will protect your joints from injury. 


Stability work is in all my training programs; here are some example exercises:


Element 4: Grip & Carry 

Every jiujitsu exchange begins with the grip fight. 


Grip strength and endurance are essential. 


Remember the last time you competed; what was the first thing that went? Your grips!


Incorporate grip strength training into your sessions by:

  • Modifying existing movements or,
  • Adding dedicated grip strength drills and exercises.


You can turn a KB shoulder press into a KB bottoms-up press (holding the KB upside down by the horn). This challenges your grip strength and endurance while still getting your vertical push work done. 


Dedicated grip strength training like the plate pinch or my favourite 'Med Ball Squeeze with a Gable Grip' will also help. 


Add these at the end of your sessions so your grips don't give out during your strength exercises. 


Element 5: Mobility

Yoga doesn't cut it... 


There's a big difference between flexibility and mobility. 


Flexibility is being able to move through a greater range of motion. 


Mobility is moving through a greater range of motion and being strong throughout that range. 


Being too flexible in jiujitsu can sometimes do more harm than good. You could get hurt if you lack strength and control in those end-range positions. 


Mobility training is dynamic work that unlocks and strengthens. Here are some examples:


If you want to level up your mobility and get strong, check out the 12-week BJJ Move program.


Element 6: Endurance & VO2 Max

"Just roll more" is terrible advice for improving your cardio for BJJ. 


Here's why...


A study published in 2018 found evidence to suggest hard BJJ sparring is insufficient to improve cardio fitness (measured via VO2 max). 


"But when I train more, I gas out less! This is BS!" 


Correlation does not equal causation. 


When you train more jiujitsu, you become more efficient on the mats.


Think about cardio fitness like the gas tank of a car.


If you fill the same amount of fuel into two different cars and drive them under the same conditions for as long as possible, which car will last longer?


The one with the best fuel efficiency.


The more jiujitsu you train, the more efficient you become and the less 'fuel' you use from your gas tank. This makes it seem like you're getting fitter. 


And I mean, you are, to a "ceiling effect", but in reality, you're becoming more efficient. You can think of this as "mat fitness", but it's not cardio fitness...


That's where conditioning training comes in.


There are three conditioning training methods I recommend:

  1. Aerobic Base Training: Perform low-intensity-steady-state (LISS) cardio in the "Zone 2" Cardio Range (less than 70% max HR). 
  2. VO2 Max Training: Perform intense bouts of maximal or near-maximal cardio efforts followed by short rest periods.
  3. Work Capacity: Perform sustained efforts of medium-intensity muscular endurance exercises. 


To learn more about why your cardio sucks for jiujitsu and what to do about it, check out this video.


Putting it all together

An effective training program for BJJ must incorporate these 6 elements (or at least most).


If you want to improve your performance, reduce your risk of injury and incorporate everything we discussed today...


Check out BJJ Strong Online, the ultimate performance resource for grapplers. 

Get StrongerFaster and more Powerful on the mats, while reducing your risk of injury. Take my FREE Fitness Quiz here.

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