Strength training for BJJ can be a minefield. Thousands of videos, articles and opinions. Yes, I'm partly responsible for that mess. So, how do you cut through the noise?
In this article I want to give you, maybe, the only 3 exercises you need for strength training for BJJ. So, if you're confused, don't have much time to do strength training, you have 3 go to exercises you can easily slot into your routine to complement your BJJ.
Sometimes, you have very specific problems, like lower back pain, you need to address. Strength training forms one pillar of a complete physical optimisation system as discussed "BJJ Strength and Conditioning: A Complete System?"
But, if we're talking just about strength and I had a gun to my head and could only pick 3 exercises for developing BJJ specific strength, I would pick these.
- They give the broadest range of strength benefits throughout the body
- The movements are VERY applicable to BJJ
- They can be used with minimal equipment and time
Turkish Get Up for BJJ Strength Training
- It replicates very closely BJJ movement patterns: When you're framing and creating space by moving your hips away from your opponent, either in side control or in a sit up type guard (plus many other examples), the Turkish Get Up is great for developing strength in those movement patterns.
- It builds strong and healthy shoulders: shoulder problems from BJJ are common. So, to help protect the shoulder joint, it is important for it to be strong in multiple different positions. As we move through the Turkish Get Up, we are carrying tension (and therefore building strength) in the shoulder in multiple different angles and ranges of motion. There may not be a better exercise for shoulders.
- It builds strong and health wrists and elbows: BJJ can also cause wear and tear in the elbows and wrists. Similar to the shoulders, the Turkish Get Up places a huge amount of tension through the wrist and elbow, so is an excellent method of developing strength in those areas.
- It builds excellent core stability and rotation: you are constantly fighting instability as you move the Kettlebell in the Turkish Get Up. So, as you control the movement and rotate between different positions, you are going to build core stability and rotation strength that is key for BJJ.
- It teaches you to stabilise and use your body as one unit: BJJ requires you to use your body holistically. So, if you learn to use your body as one unit, I believe you will be developing strength that translates very well to BJJ. The Turkish Get Up forces you to do this like almost no other exercise.
Interested in learning the Turkish Get Up?
Just watch the video below
12 tips to get the Turkish Get Up right
Kettlebell Swing for BJJ Strength Training
A common exercise I see recommended is the Hip Thurst (pictured below) or the deadlift, which are great exercises, but not as good as the kettlebell swing for BJJ.
- The kettlebell swing is more dynamic; BJJ is a dynamic sport, sometimes we have to move quickly. So, if you use an exercise in your strength training like the kettlebell swing where you move quickly, you're training your body like it will be used in BJJ (again, slow strength work has its place, I recommend and use it all the time. But if we're talking about just picking 3 exercises, we need to be picky)
- The kettlebell swing is more unstable: because the kettlebell is trying to pull you off balance during the swing, fighting that imbalance is more suited for developing core strength and stability through the spine, which has fantastic carryover to BJJ.
- Load on the lower spine: when comparing how the kettlebell swing places weight through the body, vs the deadlift, in my personal experience (as I can't find research to back this up) there is less pressure going through the vertebrae of the lower back. This over time, may lead to less wear and tear on the spine, which already takes a beating from BJJ.
Lastly, YES, YOU CAN BUILD GREAT STRENGTH USING KETTLEBELL SWINGS.
There is a common myth that because a kettlebell is much lighter (in terms of lb's and kg's) when compared to something like the deadlift, it is not as good at developing strength.
What you need to remember, we move the kettlebell much quicker. Therefore, we generate massive forces and strength generating potential because of the speed of the movement, not just the mass.
Lastly, when you can hit 3-5 sets of 5 reps on a particular weight, the kettlebell swing is not the limit to the strength generating potential, the weight of the kettlebell is. Most commercial gyms don't carry 48kg kettlebells, let alone 96kg ones.
11 tips for a perfect kettlebell swing
The L Pull Up for BJJ Strength Training
Honestly, I think the rope climb could be the best for developing BJJ specific strength. Although, I know most people don't have access to a climbing rope, but everyone has access to a pull-up bar.
So, the pull-up I suggest doing, is the "L Pull-Up", which is hard to describe, but easy to watch. Check out the video below to see a demonstration and tips on working towards and past the L Pull-Up. Here's why I think it suits the strength demands of BJJ.
The reason this exercise is so good for BJJ, is not because of the required core strength. Its because how the adjustment of your weight places far more stress on the on muscles of the back (thus developing more strength), but also the additional stress it places on the shoulders and elbows. Both areas, as we've discussed, can take a lot of damage in BJJ. So, additional strengthening of those joints, will benefit those that train BJJ.