Strength for BJJ: 3 Guard-Opening Exercises

Improve your strength and balance by adding some guard-opening specific exercises to your training program.

The closed guard is one of the first positions we learn in Brazilian jiu jitsu. It is also one of the hardest guards to pass. An opponent who is good in closed guard is skilled enough to both control your posture and make it difficult for you to open the legs. Anyone who has trained BJJ long enough knows that trying to get out of someone’s closed guard is difficult. For someone new to the sport it can be a nightmare.

Maintaining Balance

Teaching BJJ has given me the opportunity to observe students of different skill levels and athletic abilities learn the same skill. What I have noticed is how many students struggle to maintain balance when going from the ground to standing. Few sports require this of an athlete, and it is also not common in most training programs.

Opening the guard requires the maintenance of posture while changing body positions and overcoming the resistance of the opponent. In other words, the person in the top position of closed guard has to change positions and open the legs of the opponent while not getting swept or submitted. But for many, changing positions from the ground to standing is difficult enough on its own without all those other complications. I have seen many students struggle to maintain balance when trying to stand up in the guard when resistance is only minimal.

“If you are doing any additional strength and conditioning work, these exercises can be added into that program.”

This observation led me to find and create exercises specifically for this issue. Some may argue the importance of strength in BJJ, but if an athlete does not have the strength to go from the ground to standing on his or her own, then he or she is going to struggle when faced with an opponent.

Guard Strengthening Exercises

The exercises shown below are not designed to replace BJJ training. They should be used as a supplement. Exercises can be done before or after training or as a stand-alone workout. If you are doing any additional strength and conditioning work, these exercises can be added into that program. Each exercise places a slightly different angle of resistance on the body. Pick one or two of them and complete for reps or time.

For example:

  • 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps or perform each exercise for :30 and rest for :30 between each
  • Repeat 3 or 4 times

There is no right or wrong way to do these – just pick one that works for you.

Here are my go-to exercises to improve your strength and stability while opening the guard:

Exercise 1: Stand Up With Resistance Hanging From Belt

  1. Tie a kettlebell or loop a plate to the front of your belt.
  2. Start on your knees in good posture, as if you were in the closed guard.
  3. Step up with one leg making a ninety-degree angle with your hip and knee.
  4. Stand all the way up while maintaining an upright torso.
  5. Reverse the position by placing one knee on the ground, then the other.
  6. Repeat for desired number of reps or time.

Exercise 2: Guard Stand Up With Resistance Band

  1. Attach a rubber band to a wall/pole and slide other end around your chest near the armpit.
  2. Face the band and walk back until the desired amount of tension is created.
  3. Maintain tightness throughout the trunk as you move.
  4. Lower one knee to the ground forming a ninety-degree angle at the hip and knee of the opposite leg.
  5. Lower the other knee to the ground.
  6. Reverse directions to the standing position by stepping one leg up then driving through with the opposite side.

Exercise 3: Kettlebell Rack Position Stand Up

  1. Start on both knees holding one or two kettlebells (one kettle ell in goblet position or two in front rack).
  2. Step up with one leg forming a ninety-degree hip and knee angle.
  3. Maintain a tight torso stand up.
  4. Walk a few steps forward and backwars.
  5. Lower one leg then the other.
  6. Repeat for desired reps or time.

The Benefit of Guard-Opening Specific Exercises

Learning how to open the guard is difficult. It becomes even more difficult when you lack the strength and balance to execute the foundational movement on its own. It does not matter if you are new to BJJ or looking to improve your strength. Adding some guard-opening specific exercises to your training program will benefit you.

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Photo 1 courtesy of Breaking Muscle.

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