Strength & Conditioning for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Competitors

Doing the right Strength & Conditioning workout to train for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition can be challenging. A fighter must be prepared for different amounts of effort at any moment. For example: you might be working to get a take down which takes a great amount of effort and energy followed by a 20-30 sec submission attempt, only to be completely gassed. You get swept and end up on your back defending and surviving your opponent’s attempts to submit you.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Champions

In this intricate process you will tap into different energy systems that the body utilizes. The issue a lot of competitors have is that they’re not used to expending diverse types of energy and working at different paces, so often they end up gassing out too early. Often BJJ athletes have the misconception that to be good at Jiu Jitsu they just need good cardio, so they might run to benefit their Jiu Jitsu. While that isn’t the wrong thing to do, the reality is that running on a treadmill you control the pace. You speed up and slow down when needed. In BJJ a lot of times you are forced to react to someone else’s pace. Either you are the one setting the pace and trying to be one step ahead of your opponent or you are on the defensive constantly reacting to their movements. Either way, the pace you keep is determined by another person. Also, you should keep in mind when you roll you are basically doing cardio and lifting weights at the same time. No matter how good your technique is when you’re framing in side control to escape or cranking on the arm for a submission your opponent is resisting. To train effectively for a competition, it’s imperative we understand what energy systems are being used and what its used for.

Garett Irons Arm Bar In Jiu Jitsu Competition

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the major energy systems used are the ATP system, anaerobic system and the aerobic system. First up let’s talk about the ATP system. Adenosine Triphosphate is a nucleotide that contains a large amount of chemical energy stored in its high-energy phosphate bonds. It releases energy when it is broken down into ADP or Adenosine Diphosphate. The energy is used for many metabolic processes. Hence why, ATP is considered as the universal energy currency for metabolism. This system supplies maximal energy outputs for a short duration in the absence of oxygen. This usually last around 10 seconds. Some examples of this energy system are shooting a takedown or throw and lifting heavy weights.


The anaerobic system which means without oxygen. Consists of near maximal energy outputs over a more sustained period, where oxygen demand surpasses oxygen supply. This process typically last around 2 minutes or so. A couple examples of this would be a submission attempt or sprinting.

The last and most important energy system used in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu is the Aerobic system which means with oxygen. This system produces the largest amounts of energy, although at the lowest intensity. This energy production can be sustained for extended periods of time as long as breathing can supply the lungs with enough oxygen. Examples of this would be transitioning through multiply positions, defending or holding a position, distance running or swimming.

Before I go into what a good strength and conditioning program for a common BJJ competitor looks like I want to go over common mistakes people make when they take on adding strength and conditioning work to improve their Jiu jitsu.


  • Too Much Volume and Intensity


A lot of BJJ athletes look to the internet and their favorite athletes when trying to find an effective strength and conditioning protocol. The problem with that is most people who compete or train BJJ are not Garry Tonnon, Keenan Cornelius or leandro Lo. No offense. They are parents, have families and jobs to tend to. You know the real stressful stuff. Because of this you do not need to train at the volume or intensity of those guys to be a good competitor. They have the time because that’s their job. You might not. So, you must approach your training and recovery intelligently to avoid unwanted stress, injuries and burnout. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is hard work. You want to make sure your strength and conditioning program isn’t too intense and demanding and you recover enough to compliment your BJJ.


  • Focusing only on Strengths


World renown strength coach Dan John said it best, “compete with your strengths and practice your weaknesses. Most people focus too much and work mostly on their strengths. If your weakness is leg strength then get off the bench press and do some squats and kb swings. If you’re cardio vascular endurance is great but you can’t seem to produce enough force to take someone down. Complete exercises that develop power like sprints or barbell cleans.


  • No Mobility or Corrective Exercise work


Another key component to consider when training to improve your BJJ is mobility/flexibility and corrective exercise. Mobility and flexibility is often overlooked by BJJ athletes. Because in BJJ you move through many ranges of motion voluntary and involuntarily fitting mobility/flexibility work into your training regimen is crucial. Just foam rolling and static stretching won’t cut it. Things like dynamic stretching, animal flow and yoga have been shown to help athletes perform better. Corrective exercise will help get rid of any asymmetries. A lot of times BJJ athletes favor one side over the other like when passing guard or wrapping up a triangle using you’re dominate leg on top. Removing asymmetries and muscle imbalances helps to improve mobility and muscle recruitment.

Guy That Looks Like Mike At Katharo Training Center In Littleton Colorado

There are lots of great options out there as far as strength and conditioning workouts and programs that will develop the energy systems talked about earlier in the article. I’ve found that with many you must stay completely disciplined and on track with the programs to see any real progress. The reality is most average BJJ people who compete also have a family and full-time jobs, as well as a whole other plethora of things to do. Following a strength and conditioning program on top of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can go by the wayside. Another commonality is there’s just too much volume and intensity in the workouts for most people. The method I’ve found to be effective for common BJJ athletes and competitors is a simplistic approach that can be done when you can carve out the time for a strength and conditioning session.

Here is an outline of what a session will look like. Each session is designed to be completed in blocks to insure you stay on track. Make sure you complete the FULL session to train the energy systems needed to improve your BJJ game and conditioning.  

  1. Dynamic warmup/ Animal Flow 10 minutes

  2. Steady State Cardio 10 minutes

  3. Power development 5-10 minutes

  4. Strength 10 minutes

  5. Muscular endurance 10 minutes

  6. Cool down stretch/ mobility work 10 minutes

Exercise selection for each workout is up to you. There are multiple different exercises you can use in each block. I recommend using exercises you are comfortable performing and have solid form. Also switching up the type of equipment and using unconventional exercise equipment like (Kettlebells, battle ropes and sandbags) will promote more functionality and trains multiple kinetic systems. Below I will demonstrate what 2 strength and conditioning sessions would look like. If you have never done strength and conditioning with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or you are new to working out I recommend you start with 1-2 sessions per week. As for the weights you will choose, make sure your form is solid while still pushing the pace. If your form starts to go to crap, lower the weight or choose an exercise you can perform well.


Workout 1:

  1. Dynamic Warmup/ Animal Flow 10 minutes

  1. Running (Treadmill or anywhere) 10 minutes


  1. Sumo jump squats 10 seconds on 20 seconds rest 6 minutes

*can be performed with weight as well

  1. Floor press with Kettlebell or dumbbell 3 x 8-10 reps each arm 10 minutes

*Rest as needed between sets

  1. Amrap (as many rounds as possible):

Kettlebell swings 15 reps, Kettlebell single arm thrusters 5 reps each arm 10 minutes

  *little rest as possible

  1. Cool down stretch/ Mobility work 10 minutes


Workout 2:

  1. Dynamic Warmup/ Animal Flow 10 minutes

  1. Running (Treadmill or anywhere) 10 minutes
  2. Box jumps 10 seconds on 20 seconds rest              6 minutes

  1. Dumbbell Deadlift 3 x 10 reps 10 minutes

*rest as needed between sets

  1. Amrap (as many rounds as possible): 10 minutes

Turkish get ups 2 reps each arm, Russian twist 20 reps  

  1. Cool down stretch/ Mobility work 10 minutes
Katharo Training Center Students Training Jiu Jitsu Guard Passing


Every good BJJ instructor will tell you the best way to get better at Jiu Jitsu is to actually do more Jiu Jitsu. What a concept right. Well actually a lot of athletes looking to get better commonly over look this and head straight to the weight room instead of hitting the mats for a hard-rolling session. A good Strength and Conditioning program should never replace getting on the mats. It needs to be something extra you do to compliment your Jiu Jitsu. So, unless you’re Andre Galvao, you really only need to add in about 1-2 sessions a week of strength and conditioning. Adding in strength and conditioning to supplement your BJJ can elevate your performance on the mat and in competition. By training your ATP system, anaerobic system and aerobic system to work synergistically, you will go from gassed out after your first match to the guy on the podium.



Garett Irons Jiu Jitsu Instructor






Garett Irons

Strength and conditioning coach at Katharo Training Center, BJJ Brown belt competitor