Specific strength training for Brazilian jiu-jitsu
By Lawrence from Rolls and Rehab, injury rehabilitation therapist and mobility specialist
Being strong is a great advantage in jiu-jitsu, but is traditional strength training the best way to shore up your game? It is important to consider the limitations of certain exercises and whether they will help you achieve what you want.
Strength training plays a very necessary role in sports performance and mitigating risk of injury. With traditional strength training exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press etc, the idea is simple: with consistent input and progressive overload, we are able to lift more weight. How do we know if that transfers directly to our sport, to BJJ?
BJJ is a bodyweight sport that requires you to control your own body and someone else’s, under velocity, in often-chaotic situations. In my opinion, traditional strength training does not appreciate the load and resistance that is placed on the body when doing BJJ. A barbell could never replicate this.
The Law of Specificity dictates that in order to get better at something, you must practise that thing. We practise BJJ to get better at BJJ. To clarify, there can be some carry-over from traditional strength training. Deadlifting is arguably similar to standing up in someone’s closed guard as they hold on to your lapel. My question there would be: are you actually able to replicate your ideal deadlifting technique in that sport specific scenario or is the spine inevitably going to be under load outside of ‘neutral’?
In order to strengthen for a specific scenario, you must replicate a similar environment. Let's use the kimura submission as an example. The shoulder (gleno-humeral joint) is placed in the end-range of internal rotation. Bench pressing, overhead pressing, dips and pull-ups all involve the shoulder heavily. But if you want to force tissue to adapt and better withstand the load that is applied when you are put in a kimura, you’ll need to adhere to specificity and train the shoulder in that end-range internal rotation position, using, cables or a kettlebell, for example.
This is not to deter you from traditional strength training, as it can be very useful. But remember that it is not just muscles that you’re training. Non-contractile tissues - ligaments, tendons, cartilage, bone, capsule etc - have been shown to adapt over time when we stress them too. So, train for strength, just make sure the training is also specific to your jiu-jitsu, that way we can better ensure we’re working towards mitigating risk of injury.