Strength Training for BJJ
The excerpt isn’t click bait. Every time I’ve done Dan John’s “40 Day Workout” aka “Easy Strength” I’ve completed my goals before session 40. Again, not click bait. I have no affiliation with Dan other than being a huge fan.
There’s a common misconception in BJJ that “strength doesn’t matter.” I call bull****. Why the prolific use of PEDs then? At any rate, strength does matter. The idea of developing technique for a smaller (presumably weaker) person is that you utilize physics (levers and wedges) to compensate for your applicable force (strength).
However, if you’ve been doing this for very long, you know that two athletes with similar technical and tactical abilities are going to be at a draw unless one has superior physicality (strength, speed, endurance, etc.). Obviously competing is more complex than that, but you get the idea.
The main point here is that technique is important. It is your lever. However, the more force we can put into that lever, our technique being a force multiplier, the more breaking pressure (literally) we’re going to be able to produce as output.
My original notes on this (video above) were from mid 2020, so I wanted to do some expanding. Firstly, read the above linked article about the Easy Strength program. Secondly, look over Dan John’s strength standards for male and female athletes.
Earlier this year I read Dan’s latest book, Now What, and in one of the appendixes it discusses “Anaconda Strength.” Sounds perfect for grappling sports, no? The short list looks something like this:
- tumbling (forwards / backwards / lateral rolls; you’re already doing this if your doing grappling)
- snatch-grip (wide) deadlifts
- Zercher (bar in elbow) squats and deadlifts (especially for developing hip mobility)
- double-kettlebell cleans (specific to 2x bells, not a barbell)
- thick-bar anything
The prior appendix in Now What discusses “armor building” which is a good general protocol involving the above movements. What’s important to note there is that you have to decide what you want to be good at. In other words, we don’t want to be so smoked from weight lifting, that we losing efficiency in or enthusiasm for our focused endeavor (jiu jits in this case).
The program I’ve been on from several months now has been a combination of the programs and principles above:
- Daily: 5 min yoga flow, 5 min TGUs and KB swings, 2 min dead hang or deep squat
- 3–4x / Week: Light, skill and situation / specific BJJ training
- Weekly: heavy lifting, awkward carries, or Anaconda Lifts; no more than 10 reps total
The sport-specific training is entirely up to you. The daily program is supposed to be easy. As is the case with Easy Strength, you’ll be tempted to overdo it on days 1–5. Get back to me on day 27 — if you haven’t already found an excuse to stop or change something because you apparently know better than a world class coach (Dan, not me).
The criteria for my daily program is simple:
- must be easy enough to never fail (I suggest using nasal-only breathing as a barometer)
- ideally under 15 minutes (and auto-drip coffee pot makes a nice timer)
- must incorporate mobility
- choose at least one: push, hinge, and squat (I leave off pulls since there’s plenty of that already in grappling)
BONUS: compound many health benefits by doing this in your undies, barefoot, on grass, in the sun!
The weekly criteria is just a simple, I just try harder:
- 10 reps total (that’s all reps, sets, and exercises combines: something like 1 exercise at 5 x 2 reps; or 2 exercises, one at 3 x 2 and the other at 2 x 2).
- pick a primary lift from the “Anaconda” list
- pick a secondary “loaded carry” (hex-bar, keg / stones, Zercher, etc.)
The 10-rep limit ensures that we’re resting adequately between sets and that we’re keeping the focus on strength (call it power if you want). That is, we’re not timing rests — that dips us into anaerobic-lactic territory (so called strength endurance). There’s a great expression that if you’re sweating or breathing hard you’re not working strength anymore. For the record, the physiology behind that is that most strength gains come from neurological stimulation rather than growth of muscle mass; a topic for another day.
My goal with these types of articles is to provide just enough of a prescription to give you the traction you need to get started. However, I also want to give you enough context to continue to blaze your own trail. Life doesn’t revolve around 6-week bulking and shred cycles, in case you haven’t noticed.
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