Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strength Gains For BJJ

People have all kinds of notions about how to get stronger. A lot of it is based around getting bigger to get stronger. Then you are dealing with absolute strength, being as strong as possible at any size. And you can only get so big, then at some point you still have to be strong for your size. Which we call relative strength. Strength relative to your size.

I had an athlete come to me a few months ago. Coming off a serious knee and neck injury, he was very weak, but his sport demanded he was strong.

His sport was BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). In that particular sport, there are weight divisions, so there is no reason to try to get this athlete bigger. Actually that would be a bad thing. You need this athlete as strong as possible for his size. He walked around at 135.

We had to start slow. The strength training should not hinder the athlete's ability to train his sport, which is often forgotten. So he needs to get stronger without getting fatigued or sore for his later afternoon sessions. Especially if the athlete is training twice a day in his sport and once a day in strength.

So we made it really simple. We broke it down to 15 minutes of strength a day every day 7 days a week. Working out like this will never get you huge but it will set personal records in lifts. We also took 5 lifts that would be most essential to his sport, and worked on strengthening only those 5 lifts. Trying to set PR (personal record) in each lift over a 40 day span. Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John call this Easy Strength. Building strength in an easy manner, slowly, and over time so as to not traumatize the body and also not hinder athlete's skill sets in their sport. This athlete had never lifted before so it would be a waste of time trying to have him do circus type work outs that he would not benefit from. Simple and easy.

The 5 lifts were: The press, deadlift, pull up, goblet squat, and the clean.

Doing it every day for 40 days. Took around 15 minutes a day. Easy. And it was. This is also weight that the athlete should be able to do with minimal warm up. Not his maximum or his best effort. Something he could lift at any moment. The idea was to increase his normal lifts to increase overall strength.

Day 1 numbers:

The press: 2 25lb kb (kettlebells) 3 sets of 3
Deadlift:  60lb 3x3
Pull up: 4 first set. 3 second set. 3 last set. (note this was done all the way down to deadhang, and no sway was allowed or it was considered performance failure. Tough)
KB front squat: 2 30lb kb 3 sets of 3
Clean: 45lb 3x3

Day 1 was really easy, actually the athlete thought too easy. Doing the same work out again day 2, kind of tough. Day 7, a bit of soreness because there was no off day. By day 9 we were ready to increase squats to 5 reps 2 sets.

It was hard to increase more than one lift at a time because it was too taxing for the body. We started everything with 3x3, then 5x2, then 10x1. When they could do 10 reps in 1 set, it was time to make things heavier. Never totaling more than 10 reps total.

Overtime we switched the squats to pistols and the kb press to dumbbell presses to keep up with his gains without having to stack so much weight on top of the athlete.

Towards the last 20 days, something was going up almost every day.

By day 40:

The press: 2 35lb db (dumbbell) 10x1
Deadlift:  135lbs 10x1
Pull up: 10 reps. (Pull ups are historically the hardest to increase)
Pistol: (5x2)x2 (took a while to increase range of motion to sit down all the way to the heel)
Clean: 75lbs 10x1

He could easily do more than this, but these are lifts he could now do with no warm up, anytime, easily. If he was trying to set a max, the numbers would be much higher. He would also not be able to train for a week. Also looking at where he started to where he ended, its some pretty insane increases in a short span.

Increasing strength also increases his endurance in his sport because he exerts himself less doing any of the sportive movements. Which means he can conserve more energy. Training cardio isn't the only way to increase endurance. If you have an athlete who is really weak but has strong cardio, he will still tire out and exert himself because he has to use create that much more effort to make up for his lack of strength.

Cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory strength is created in the sport. No strength training move can mimic the type of cardio an athlete needs. The strength training CAN increase overall strength and condition the athletes muscles to conserve more energy by exerting less by increase overall potential. The idea is strength and conditioning, not cardio and sport mimicry.


  1. Thank you for this, Sam.

    Just after I started training BJJ, I made the decision that I had to do something above and beyond just mat time to bring my strength in line with my cardio. However, the only type of strength training or lifting I have ever done was of the "vanity" type. It wasnt about increasing functional strength or anything like that, it was all about me; how much can I push, how many more pounds can I add this week, and so on. Thats really all I've ever known, or been taught, about how one should spend there time in front of the free weight rack. I nearly wrecked myself in the process.

    But more importantly I think, I went into it without a clear definition of what I was looking for, had no real goal other than "get stronger". I lost sight of how small, attainable goals build on themselves to eventually become that one big goal.

    So, I re-educated myself on what strength and conditioning actually means (and means to me with what I want to do) and am still tinkering a little with my gym time. The approach you've set out here looks logical and based on the results, effective. I've been reading Inner BJJ for awhile, but I now plan to dig through everything else you offer.

    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks Stain. Look forward to your comments.

  2. Sam this is so spot on. While I was training for swat tryouts, I met a track coach who wrote some workouts for me, as my running times were in desperate need of a jumpstart. I was surprised to learn that my weekly speedwork was pretty short. Intense, but short. For example, she would have me run 3 200's and then 3 120's, or 3 300's on hills, followed up by 3 50's.

    1. Yeah people don't know but a general rule in track is, whatever your event is, take the distance and split it in half or in quarters and sprint those as fast as you can. Even in MMA there are guys who say they train for 5 rounds, then there are guys who only train for 2 and finish guys and have pop to the last round.



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