As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu grows in popularity and evolves as a professional sport, so do the athletes. More and more jiu jitsu athletes are spending more time on their bodies, working on getting faster and stronger in the gym, either to aid their competition performance or help rehab them from injury. Fighters Market Europe caught up with two strength & conditioning coaches who work with Brazilian jiu jitsu athletes, and who themselves train in the sport.
Leroy Holcroft owns Factory Fitness which is the strength and conditioning gym of Factory BJJ in Stockport, Manchester, he is also a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu under Adam Adshead. Leroy began his strength and conditioning journey 15 years ago, influenced by his own mother who lifted and stories of his grandfather who held an army record for holding two rifles out horizontally, at arms’ length, purely by gripping the butt of each gun, an impressive feat, when you consider the weight of each gun.
Simon Price is a Brazilian jiu jitsu purple belt training under Progress Jiu Jitsu athlete Kameron Atakuru at ASW Manchester. Simon works as a personal trainer at Evo Lift Didsbury and runs his own NoGi Club, Hive BJJ in Didsbury.
Together with their help we put together this guide on Strength and conditioning for the jiu jitsu athlete, with information which should help both the hobbyist and the competitor alike.
Common mistakes made by BJJ athletes?
The most common mistake Leroy sees in any BJJ athlete’s strength and conditioning is simply doing too much, with too little recovery. It’s rife in jiu jitsu. Too much volume, too frequent and always going too heavy. Activities off the mat should complement jiu jitsu training, rather than diminishing an athlete’s capability on the mat and capacity for recovery off the mat.
Alongside this, many BJJ practitioners seem to be super keen on making everything “specific” to jiu jitsu, rather than focusing on building a solid base of strength and athletic movement, to power the moves of BJJ. Swinging a kettlebell from your gi collar, while balancing on a stability ball, is a silly idea, in any circumstance.
Don’t over-complicate it, keep your programme simple and sustainable and you’ll reap the benefits.
Of course, adding tools like Fat Gripz to bars and dumbbells and occasionally using a Gi collar to work pulling movements has its benefits, but not every move has to be adapted.
Simon adds that while the usual mistake he sees is that a lot of athletes train like bodybuilders, doing a Dorian Yates Blood and Guts style workout is good if your aim is a bodybuilding competition, it’s not exactly the best use of your time for getting strong for your next jiu jitsu competition. Fortunately it is changing now, there is a lot of good information out there and it is changing the way a lot of practitioners train.
How often should you train strength and conditioning?
This all depends on if you are a ‘full time competitor’ or just a hobbyist.
Leroy notes that gym work shouldn’t be occupying more than one fifth of your actual training time.
Athletes should be listening to their bodies and consider implementing some form of system to measure their rate of perceived exertion (RPE) through the training week, to make sure their recovery is adequate. Competitors who are full time should be looking at 3/4 strength and conditioning sessions a week. However, a major problem with BJJ is that BJJ as a sport has no off-season, so training loads need to be considered week on week and adapted accordingly.
Hobbyists can get by on two sessions a week, even one if pushed for time, and none of these need to be long, difficult or particularly intense. 45 minutes is plenty. Get in, warm up, mobilise, lift and get out.
Simon adds that hobbyists in their limited sessions they should concentrate on full body sessions which covers rehab/prehab, and maybe some form of cardio. They should make sure they cover a hip hinge, squat, vertical push and pull and a horizontal push and pull.
What kind of exercises should you be focusing on?
You need to be Keeping exercise selection relatively simple, to cover strength and varying elements of stability for grappling, beneficial movements include;
Hip hinge/ Hip drive:
e.g. Deadlifts (using a trap bar if possible, to reduce lower back stress), Romanian Deadlift (also excellent for hamstring work), weighted hip thrusts and kettlebell swings.
Squat pattern work:
e.g. Back/ front/zercher barbell squats, goblet squats (also for mobility), double-rack kettlebell squats, as well as overhead squat mobility work. Split squats, bodyweight squats, squat jumps, etc.
Overhead work for shoulder health:
e.g. Turkish Get Ups (also great for mobility), overhead carries, overhead lunges, and shoulder press only with pain-free athletes.
Shoulders seems to be an area which Leroy finds already beat up from mat time so too often repetitive pressing stresses shoulder structures, hence he utilises more static/isometric overhead work.
Unilateral lower body work:
e.g. Lunge work, pistol squats, weighted step ups.
Upper body Pull\Push work:
e.g. Renegade rows (combining push/pull), bodyweight rows, (saves the shoulders of the beat-up grappler), pull-ups and their many variations (particularly neutral grip),Sled rows, floor pressing, push ups and their many variations, med ball horizontal throws, explosive bodyweight rows paired with plyo push-ups for contrasting push/pull work.
Unilateral upper body work:
Incorporating both horizontal pull and push and vertical push; Single-arm floor press.
Rotational core work; Landmine rotations, band-press rotations, rotational throws, bodyweight sit-throughs.
Anti-rotational work; Banded Palloff presses, single-arm floor press
Stabilising work, such as heavy carries, with awkward objects
Isometric, concentric and eccentric work should also be included, for instance pauses, squeezes, static holds, slow lowering and raising of weights. This can be rather endless in variation.
Where possible, leroy likes to implement full-body work to encourage improved motor control.
This list is by no means exhaustive – there are countless variations and alternative exercises can be incorporated to suit individual needs.
A Typical workout for a grappler
Leroy Holcroft - A typical strength session might look like this:
- Brief foam roll – Glutes, calves, hamstrings.
- Dynamic Warm up (including specific movements to work hip hinging, bridging, squatting, opening up and rotating the T-spine).
- Resistance band shoulder and lat warm up
- Light goblet squats/ overhead squats/ pistol squats (for mobility/ beginning to add load before heavier lifting)
- Compound lift; Trap bar deadlifts 5 x 5
- Turkish get up 5 sets, one rep each side. Pause at each position deliberately for a solid three count.
- Back to back push, pull, lunge, Bent Row (+ Fat Gripz to suit)
- Ischaemic Floor Press (two dumbbells or kettlebells) Weighted Static Lunge or Dumbbell reverse lunge.
- Isometric work – weighted wall sit and dead hang 30 seconds each back to back, three to four sets.
- Conditioning work; Prowler push and sled pull.
- Stretch, shower and eat.
Simon Price - A day focused around deadlifts, needing no specialised equipment, I'd prescribe this:
A1 - Deadlift 4 x 6-8 reps
B1 - Reverse Deficit Lunge 3 x 8 each side
B2 - Renegade Row 3 x 12 each side
C1 - Single Leg RDL 3 x 10 each side
D1 - Pallof Press 3 x 12 each side
D2 - Elbow Supported Leg Raises - 12
"Start with the basics and don't go around copying all the videos you see on Instagram with someone playing spider guard with a barbell. Make sure you develop a good grip, a strong neck and a strong back. Big compound lifts will and should be the focus of your sessions and build everything else around that."
Benefits from strength training
Biggest benefit from strength training include the robustness your body develops, you become a bit more resilient to wear and tear injuries if you are training correctly and it can even improve your movement and mobility. Think of building strength as adding armour to your body.
The cons are that a poorly written programme could be a hindrance in the long term, and when doing too much it tends to affect your time on the mat especially when you start feeling sore and being unable to move as freely as you'd like.
Big thanks to Leroy Holcroft and Simon Price for their time helping to create this article.
For more information on both of them and their strength & conditioning workouts:
Instagram - @factoryfitnessuk
Website - www.factoryfitness.co.uk
Factory BJJ - insta - @factorybjj
Instagram - @coachedbysi
Hive BJJ - @hive_bjj