Top 5 strength exercises for BJJ


Written by Thomas Johannessen for Thomas is a Norwegian physiotherapist and BJJ black belt training at Frontline Academy in Oslo, Norway.

Strength training for BJJ is a controversial subject. Some advocate low reps power lifting, some like to imitate BJJ-movements as much as possible, while some prefer intensity-boosting exercises like Crossfit. Personally I like to spend as little energy as possible, to have energy for BJJ-sparring. I want my strength training to cover four bases: heavy lifts for compound strength and boosting your hormone levels (research show that heavy lifts like deadlifts and squats boost testosterone and hGH), explosive training for fast movements, mobility training for injury prevention, and finally core/stability training (which includes balance exercising). Some like to include more endurance based strength training (a more correct term would be muscular endurance), but I think the exhaust-benifit ratio is too low. You will get a lot of this in sparring, and unless you struggle to get challenging sparring rounds at your BJJ-gym, I would not recommend to train this specifically. For this reason I do not recommend crossfit for BJJ.

These are my 5 most recommended exercises for BJJ:

1. Deadlifts.
The single best exercise for raw strength for BJJ. You get hip extension, complete back training, specific training for lifting off the ground and grip training in the same exercise. Don’t use lifting straps. Go for low reps training, and increase the number of sets. I prefer to do heavy singles, but keep good form. And remember: a deadlift is not a squat, so keep your hip higher.

2. Turkish get-up.
Technical stand-up with a weight. Awesome core training and all-round strength exercise. You can use a kettlbell, dumbbell or even a bar to challenge your grip strength. I like to integrate windmill with my TGUs, so one rep windmill on each TGU. Work heavy reps here as well, I like to do sets of 1 each side, 5 sets.

3. Power cleans and military presses.
Cleans are a great explosive exercise, and military presses are awesome for pressing strength as well as core stability. Most are stronger in the clean moment than in the military press, you can compensate by doing 5 reps consisting of 3 cleans and 1 press.

4. Face pulls.
Use a rope and a cable pulley, adjust it to face-height and pull towards the face. I like to slightly arch the back in the end of the movement while pulling my elbows down, to activate the rhomboids and lower trapezius. This is a great exercise to counter the round upper back some BJJ-guys tend to get. It wil also strengthen outward rotation of the shoulder, a movement often ignored.

5. Snatch.
Explosive hip-hinge movements are great for BJJ, and you should chose at least one. While the power clean is easy to learn, the olympic snatch is a more difficult exercise. However, the explosive training combined with the flexibility training the overhead squatting gives you, is great. If you can find someone to teach you this exercise, it’s a huge advantage. An easier alternative would be snatch with a kettlebell, or even kettlebell swings. For the olympic snatch, work hanging snatch into overhead squats before attempting the full snatch. Work low reps. The kettlebell snatch and swings are done in higher reps, for example 15 reps each arm for 3 sets.