3 Workouts to Build Explosive Strength for BJJ

Sally Arsenault


Halifax, Canada

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MMA


Brazilian jiu jitsu is a martial art that was developed to allow a smaller, weaker person to protect him or herself from a larger, stronger opponent by using leverage.


As BJJ practitioners develop their skills, they also prepare for competition, which often includes additional strength and conditioning training. When competing against people who are the same size and skill level, this training could be the difference between submitting and being submitted.



Slow, controlled movements are often used for building strength, but another important component is explosive strength training, which helps to develop the ability to use more force in less time.


This ability is important in martial arts as competitors often have to move very quickly to manipulate their opponents into positions that allow them to get the submission.


Athletes who have become successful in BJJ have done so by drilling technical movements and sparring with partners. Doing the same movements over and over again allows your body to quickly react as it remembers all of your hard work.


My strength and conditioning program is primarily a supplement to my BJJ training; I lift slow and heavy on some days and light and fast on other days.


I am a Renzo Gracie blue belt out of Titans MMA in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and am training with the intention of competing in my first amateur MMA fight in the 105lb weight division.


Here are three explosive strength training circuits I’ve developed for use either on days when I don’t train BJJ or during a morning exercise before an evening class - “The Flying Armbar,” “The Triangle,” and “Escape from Bottom Position."



The workouts are outlined below with detailed notes on the movements and the reasons for choosing them.


The Flying Armbar

Do 3 circuits with 10 reps each (or 3 sets of 10 reps each) in quick but controlled motions with enough resistance to be challenging.


  1. Burpee Pull Ups – From standing, drop to a push up position, do a push up, jump up to the pull up bar and do a pull up.
  2. Windshield Wipers – Lay flat on a mat, holding a barbell straight above your chest. Keep your core tight and legs straight and swing them back and forth to try and touch either side of the barbell.
  3. Seated Cable Rows – While seated on the cable row station, keep your back straight and pull the small, triangular double-handled attachment to your midsection.
  4. One-Legged Cable Kickback – Attach an ankle strap to the cable at the bottom setting of the cable crossover machine and strap it firmly to your ankle. Support yourself with one arm or keep your hands on your hips to maintain a firm core while you kick the leg back, activating your glutes. This exercise can also be done lying on a bench with both ankle straps attached to one cable for a more BJJ-specific motion.
  5. Hip Adductor – On the hip adductor machine, squeeze your legs together and release.


Why do I call this routine The Flying Armbar? To perform the flying armbar either in a tournament or in MMA, you face your opponent, trap the back of his neck with your hand for leverage (pull up) while trapping his arm with your other hand.




As you jump up (burpee) and swing your legs across his chest (windshield wiper), you pull his arm to your chest (cable row) and squeeze your legs together (hip adductor) while smashing his body down with your legs (kickback) to finish the submission.


The Triangle

Do 3 circuits with 10 reps each (or 3 sets of 10 reps each) in quick but controlled motions with enough resistance to be challenging.


  1. Weighted Sit Ups – Sit on the lat pull-down machine with your legs firmly held in place and your feet anchored to the weight stack. Lean backward until your back is parallel to the floor. This exercise can be done with or without a weight plate.
  2. Lying Cable Pull-Downs – Set the cable to a position you can reach while seated and attach the small triangular-shaped, double-handled attachment. Place a mat in front of the machine to lay on with your knees bent. Sit up to grasp the attachment with both hands and lay backward, pulling the attachment back with you to your chest.
  3. Barbell Side Bends – With a barbell on your shoulders (or held overhead for a greater challenge) bend from side-to-side keeping your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hips firmly in place.
  4. Leg Press – Sit in the leg press machine and straighten your legs to push the weight away from you.
  5. Leg Curl Machine – Sit on the machine with your legs straight and curl the lever backward.


triangle, bjj, brazilian jiu jitsu, grappling, mma, submissions, chokes



I follow Ryan Hall’s advice when it comes to triangles, meaning I try to finish with my glutes, quads, and hamstrings rather than my adductors. To successfully submit an opponent with a triangle from guard, reach up (sit-up), trap his head (cable pull-down) and wrist, push the hand through your legs and shoot your hips up, crossing your feet behind his head. Grab your shin (not your foot) and lock that ankle under the outside knee.


At this point, swing your body toward your opponent (barbell side bends) and under-hook his leg or arm; either is fine as long as you are lying perpendicular to your opponent. If you have hooked his arm, reach over his shoulder and grab the inside of your own knee.


Push forward with the leg over your opponent’s head pointing the toes on that foot up (leg press) and curl the leg (leg curl machine) over your ankle, pointing the toes on that food down, to finish the submission.


Escape from Bottom Position

Do 3 circuits, 10 reps each (or 3 sets of 10 reps each) in quick but controlled motions with enough resistance to be challenging.


  1. Plyo Push Ups – Begin in the typical plank position and lower your body down into the push up, keeping your core tight. Rather than simply pushing yourself upward, explode upward and clap your hands together before lowering yourself again.
  2. Olympic Bar Torso Rotations – Place one end of an Olympic barbell in the corner or swivel attachment. Add a plate to the other end and, while keeping your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your hips steady, hold the end of the bar in your hands and twist your torso from side-to –side.
  3. Glute Bridges – Begin sitting with your shoulders resting on a bench and a barbell across your hips, then thrust your hips upward and clench your buttocks. The end position will see your calves perpendicular to the floor and your thighs and torso parallel.
  4. Dips – On the dip station, lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the bars and return to the straight-armed position.


Being mounted or under someone’s side control is a dangerous situation. It often takes explosive strength to escape with techniques such as bridging (glute bridges) while simultaneously pushing your opponent (plyo push ups) diagonally (Olympic bar torso rotations). Sometimes posting is involved (dips), so it’s always good to be prepared.


All of the movements described are repeated in BJJ time and again. Use these three circuits to add variety to your strength and conditioning program and increase your success rate on the mats.


If you're not sure about the movements, remember you can watch my video demonstrations.

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