When you head to the gym for strength and conditioning, do you have a plan to follow? Even better do you have a plan to follow that is specific for you?
In the past, solely training Brazilian jiu jitsu was enough to prepare for a tournament. That is not the case anymore. Competitors at the local and national level are taking their training seriously. But unless you have the ability to pay for a strength coach or are lucky enough to have a sponsor that will pay for a coach, you will have to create or find your own programming.
The problem is few programs are written specifically for Brazilian jiu jitsu athletes. So some people turn to programs written for other sports and try to adjust them for BJJ. There are many good training programs out there that can work. But who do they work for? There are very specific things to look for and adjust to make a training program work for you.
The first step in choosing a strength and conditioning program is to assess your needs. Take some time and think of specific areas you need to improve.
For example, I recently did an assessment on a Brazilian jiu jitsu competitor who had great endurance, but lacked strength. This athlete needed to focus on building strength. Maybe you have no problem with strength, but you can’t roll for more than one round without getting tired. Then you need a program that focuses on increasing endurance. Now I’m not suggesting to completely abandon strength and only focus on endurance. What I want people to understand is that their program should work to bring up weak areas while maintaining areas of strength.
Let’s look at an athlete who needs to improve her mobility. The athlete may spend twenty minutes before or after every session doing mobility work, in addition to adding corrective exercises to her routine. Take the time to think about what your weaknesses are. Too often the focus is on what you are already good at.
BJJ is physically and mentally demanding. The frequency of your strength and conditioning program should be determined by the weekly number of BJJ sessions you train. Not the other way around. Strength and conditioning should not replace your BJJ sessions. It should compliment them.
Find a strength and conditioning program designed for the number of days you wish to work out. Do not try to take a program designed to be done over three days and do it in two. There is a reason the coach programmed it for three days.
Variety of Movements
It is best to think about exercise selection in terms of movements. In the sport of BJJ, you have to be strong everywhere. Look for a program that contains the following:
- A squat-based movement
- Lower body pulling
- Upper body pulling
- A horizontal upper body push
- A vertical upper body push
As long as your program contains exercises from each of these categories you have everything covered.
Strength and conditioning programs should vary in intensity depending on your BJJ training volume and goals. For example, if you are participating in two to three competition-level BJJ classes a week, you do not need another two days of intense conditioning. The only exception would be when you are close to a tournament and you need the extra conditioning work.
But I do not recommend this approach year round. The rest of the year, focus on building strength. As you get closer to your tournament, back off the strength training and add in some conditioning.
Strength and conditioning programming can be overwhelming. The best program is one that you can follow, done with the right frequency and intensity for your goals, and that incorporates exercises from various planes of movement. Choosing the right program and being consistent will pay off in the long run.
Photos 1 & 3 courtesy of Dan Halpin.
Photo 2 courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.