Sally’s 8 Week BJJ Tournament Training Program: Strength & Conditioning

Sally Arsenault

Contributor - Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Gear Reviews

Halifax, Canada

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MMA


“The best way to get in shape for Brazilian jiu jitsu is to do Brazilian jiu jitsu.” I hear this a lot, but is it true? I’m not so sure. Technique is the most important part of the game, but if you’re matched against someone of equal skill, strength and conditioning may be what gets you through a tough match with your hand raised at the end.


Growing up, I was small and clumsy with no athletic inclination. I skipped gym class as much as possible and dropped it for art class in high school. As I got older, my body turned against me and I started gaining fat.



A friend of mine told me that her grandmother always said, “Never let yourself get past the first five pounds.” Meaning, if you’ve gained five pounds, it’s time to do something about it before it turns into ten.


The first five pounds hit me when I was about 24, so I started going for walks at night to try to lose it. I realized pretty quickly the walks weren’t enough so I began lifting weights.


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I made great gains and I was pretty proud of myself until the second time I got robbed at gunpoint at the video store where I worked.


I remember standing there in the back room with the robber thinking how pointless all of my strength training was if I couldn’t use it to protect myself if he tried to beat or rape me.


My perspective on the purpose of exercise changed from it being something that makes me look good on the outside to training my body to be of optimum use to me.


I began training Brazilian jiu jitsu for self-defense purposes, but I soon realized I would have to begin lifting again to decrease my training partners’ strength advantage.


The added strength helped a lot but I still didn’t have explosiveness or endurance. In my first tournament, in November 2012, this was a huge disadvantage against a larger opponent so I decided to do some research and develop a training program that would allow me to continue training BJJ regularly while increasing strength, explosiveness, and endurance.


I didn’t know the best way to train all of that at once, especially since I work full-time, so I did a search online for BJJ training programs and found Leo Frincu’s 8-Week Training Program for BJJ.



It provided a great overview of what I could do leading up to a tournament, but I wanted specific details. I found them in Joel Jamieson’s book Ultimate MMA Conditioning.


Joel Jamieson is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and the founder of End Zone Athletics in Kirkland, Washington. Because Joel has been the strength and conditioning coach for professional MMA fighters such as Rich Franklin, Chris Leben, Hayato Sakurai, Tim Boetsch, Jens Pulver, and Demetrius Johnson, he understands the type of conditioning required for combat sport competition.


I read the articles on Joel’s blog, 8 Weeks Out, and sent him an email asking if he would look over the program I created based on his work.


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In Joel’s New Perspective on Energy Systems presentation, he explains that the power we gain from weight lifting burns out fast.


As you can see in the diagram, maximum power is expended within the first minute or so and then your body’s aerobic system kicks in to supply the body with energy for endurance.



I’ve always hated doing cardio indoors and haven’t been outside running in years due to knee issues. Still, over the past few weeks I’ve sucked it up and logged my cardio hours. My program consists of strength training twice a week with conditioning three times a week, in addition to my regular BJJ training.



Two articles from Joel’s blog that helped a lot when creating my program were 5 Ways to Improve Your Conditioning and Combat Strength 101, but his book Ultimate MMA Conditioning helped me to understand how the body’s energy systems work, what methods I should use, and how to combine them for optimal results.


For strength I focus on basic movements such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and bench press. For conditioning, I have a wide variety of routines that I alternate between.


Most frequently I run, climb stairs in my office building, hit pads, and do kettlebell training. One of the BJJ instructors at Titans MMA, Renzo Gracie brown belt Josh Wincey, is working towards attaining Steve Maxwell’s Levels 1 and 2 Kettlebell Trainer Certifications in order to provide classes for members of our club.


I was able to join Josh and another teammate, Josh Presley, for strength and conditioning work recently and we’ve provided a video with some of the exercises we used to build strength and explosive power. In addition to kettlebells, we used parallel bars and did bodyweight exercises.


Jamieson also suggested that I use BioForce HRV to monitor my conditioning progress and I absolutely love it.


Every morning when I wake up, I strap the Polar T31 heart rate transmitter around my chest and use the BioForce HRV Android app to measure my heart rate variance. Colored indicators tell me whether I should train at a high level of intensity or if I should rest or keep it low-key that day.


One thing I was worried about when I began planning my program was overtraining since it can lead to illness, injury, irritability and depression, or training plateaus. I often feel guilty when I miss BJJ or strength and conditioning training because I feel I should push through fatigue like many of my teammates.



Learning about heart rate variance has taught me to train smarter, not harder, and I’ve been making all kinds of gains.


I’ve also been using a heart rate monitor to ensure that my heart rate is at the optimum level during training to increase my cardiovascular capacity.


Weekly Training Update

As you can see from the HRV screenshot, this week I reached my goal of scoring over 90 on my HRV reading. My weekly HRV improved by 7 points and my high was up to 93.4 from 87.9.


BioForce HRV measures heart rate variance from 0-100 and a score of 93.4 puts me at the endurance athlete level.


Another improvement I saw was an all-time low for my resting heart rate at 60.6 compared to my previous low of 61.8. My resting heart rate indicates that I’m in excellent condition, so things are definitely looking up, but my goal is to have a measurement between 54 and 59 beats per minute.


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Regarding my weight, I varied from 103-106lbs this week. Joel advised that I should try to put on some lean muscle mass since my weight division will be 112lbs and under, so I’m increasing my food intake to try to accomplish that over the next few weeks.


For an overview of the BioForce HRV system and how it works, check out Joel Jamieson’s video below:


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