BJJ as Strength and Conditioning?

BJJ as Strength and Conditioning?

BJJThere have been many articles written about developing a good strength and conditioning program for BJJ, but not many going the other way. If you are into fitness and are interesting in trying Jiu Jitsu this is the blog for you. To effectively use BJJ in a strength and conditioning program we need to first take a closer look and analyze what strength and conditioning attributes are developed by training Jiu Jitsu. While there are many measurements of human performance we could delve into, we are going to examine strength, power, muscular and cardiovascular endurance and mobility and how these aspects of fitness are used in the practice of BJJ.

Strength is essentially the maximum amount of force you can produce at any given time. Not to be confused with muscular endurance, strength is about the highest amount of force you can produce one time. Strength is used in BJJ constantly. Standing up in a closed guard, defending a kimura and reaching that one peak squeeze in a choke that finally gets your opponent to tap are all expressions of strength on the mats. While it is advantages to have a solid base of strength when rolling and drilling, BJJ itself is not the best way to develop overall strength. The forces involved are not quite intense enough to stimulate the nervous system to a degree that will build significant strength. In addition the most intense parts of BJJ are often unpredictable, making it impossible to periodize your training to maximally develop strength. However, in an untrained person BJJ will increase strength levels.  If you already want to do BJJ it is a perfectly good option to begin getting stronger.

Think of power as strength accessed quickly. It is a function of how fast your nervous system can fire, causing a muscle to contract. A great example of power being used in BJJ is lifting an opponents hips in a stack pass before they can make them heavy by moving away, where the speed is just as important as the maximum force being produced. Similarly to strength, power is best developed outside of BJJ unless an individual can only produce a relatively low amount of power to begin with. It is also important to note that power can only be developed with a foundation of strength, one reason that many top strength coaches have strength development at the top of their priority list when training an athlete.

Muscular Endurance:
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to produce a significant force for an extended time. Much of jiu jitsu relies on muscular endurance, for example when you are cinching up a choke but need to adjust while maintaining pressure or when you continually fire the muscles in your legs to maintain back control. Because muscular endurance is used so often in BJJ it is a good way to develop the various bioenergetic pathways that support constant muscular contractions over a time. (Fast and slow glycolysis and the ETC for anyone interested in more physiology)

Cardiovascular Endurance:
To fuel lower intensity muscular contractions for a prolonged period of time the body requires oxygen. Without going deep into heart rate, stroke volumes and oxygen cascades and consumption all you have to know is that the constant moving and application of pressure in Jiu Jitsu place an enormous stress on the cardiopulmonary system, making BJJ a great way to increase cardiovascular endurance. If you are already a hardcore BJJ practitioner you may need to take a different approach to your conditioning program, but for most everyone else Jiu Jitsu is a great way to get your “cardio” up.

Mobility is often confused with flexibility. While flexibility only requires you to be able to go through a large range of motion in any particular joint, mobility requires usable strength throughout the range of motion. An example of flexibility is someone who can put their foot on a handrail and then passively bring their torso to their leg, where mobility is the ability of a dancer to bring their leg up to their torso from a standing position. Mobility is extremely important in performance as well as injury prevention in BJJ. Defending a stack pass and playing some of the more exotic guards require a large amount of mobility. Jiu Jitsu certainly builds mobility, but its overall unpredictable nature makes it less than perfect in the development of mobility.

Let’s recap what parts of strength and condition BJJ is good and bad at developing and look at how to use that information. Jiu Jitsu is great for developing endurance (both muscular and cardiovascular), satisfactory at developing mobility and suitable for building strength and power in untrained people, but has a very low limit for overall development of maximal strength and power. What this means is that if you are already engaged in a balanced strength and conditioning program you can substitute out your conditioning or cardio with BJJ. Especially if your current conditioning is running or any other boring steady state cardio. The high intensity strength and power exercises should stay in your program, but their overall volume can be decreased to account for the increased stress your body takes in BJJ and the increased amount of recovery your body will require when adding Jiu Jitsu into your program. You should continue to work on mobility outside of BJJ, but there is no need to do separate long stretching routines. Just hit a few stretches for the major muscle groups and movement patterns at the end of workouts or BJJ practice once the body is already warm. While this blog certainly does not cover everything related to BJJ and S&C I hope it can point you in the right direction.