Questions? Answers! Strength & Conditining for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Stephen Hawking

What follows is a question from the mail bin.  I’ve reached the point now where I’m forced to choose representative questions in lieu of answering all the inquiries that I receive.  I wish that I could field each individually, but that’s just not possible with my available time.  Certain themes do emerge, though, and I’ll try to address these “themes” as they arise.  I’ll also tackle novel questions as well – something that forces all of us to stretch our understanding of health, fitness and the Paleo way beyond any bounds or borders that might begin to solidify.  The last thing we ever want is for this journey to become some kind of dogma.  I feel quite confident in saying that no one has all of the answers, least of all me.  I’m simply an n=1, m=1, “practitioner”, chronicling my own journey, reporting and advising on where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what has (and hasn’t) worked for me.   That being said, feel free to drop me a line at – your ideas, comments and questions will help me to determine what this community wants to see discussed.On to the question:

Dear Keith,

Firstly, the website and your knowledge of training and the Paleo lifestyle is both impressive and inspirational. With that said, my question revolves around incorporating jiu jitsu into my training regimen. My weight training has revolved around a speed/strength emphasis and my workouts deteriorate when I spend more time training BJJ. I would like to continue to improve upon my strength/speed emphasis while training BJJ.
Not sure if you have ever trained BJJ before however, live rolling can be taxing. How would would you recommend setting up a training week given these goals. Would you recommend completing a speed/strength workout on BJJ training days ( 45 min-2hrs roughly 3 days per week)? This would allow for more days off from exercise. Or would you suggest alternating the two? i.e. lift weights one day train BJJ the next. Which do you think would help me avoid over-training?
Thank You,


In a nutshell, this is a classic dose/recovery issue, and my first question would be not how much time do you have to workout, but how much time can you devote to full recovery?  Now, I’m going to assume here that BJJ is your primary focus, with weight training being an augmentation to your BJJ performance.  To better make my point, consider that, under ideal conditions, you could (using sensible auto-regulation techniques) train BJJ and the strength/conditioning aspect every day. The rest of your day, however, would need to be occupied by sleep, massage, feeding, recovery…you get the picture.  If you think this sounds like the lifestyle of a professional athlete, you’d be correct.  More than likely though, you’re holding down a full-time job, shop for and cook your own food and probably have family obligations to juggle as well.  This being the case, you can still train BJJ 3-times per week and weight train and/or condition 3 (even 4, if you prefer) times per week if you limit that weight room/conditioning training to only working on your weakness.  BJJ is all about (technique/skills aside, of course) maximizing the power to bodyweight ratio (P2BWR), so the first thing you’ll want to do is to asses what it is that is limiting your power output – and this must be measured, of course, against whatever time requirement (energy system) that is most important to you.  I’m sure instantaneous power is important, but you’ll also require a certain degree of “bout-length” stamina.  Are you weak compared to your cns ability (the Allyson Felix example) or the other way around?  Keep careful weightroom notes so that you can correlate per-exercise drop-off ratios ( a ballpark measure of dosing) as related to your recovery  unique abilities and BJJ performance.  I think what you’ll find is, is that your per-session time in the weight room – if you’re hitting on the proper high intensity cylinders and employing proper auto-regulation techniques – will be minimal, but extremely beneficial.

One other note – I wouldn’t train BJJ and strength/conditioning on the same day – unless you have the luxury of all-day, devoted recovery between the two sessions as described above.  Of course, the real-world being as it is, you might not have the luxury of splitting up your workouts perfectly.  My advice in this case is to monitor your sleep quality (subjective, but helpful), and, if possible your morning pulse rate and/or temperature.  I wouldn’t force a difficult training session following a night of poor or inadequate sleep.  Also, if you notice your AM pulse and/or temperature beginning to creep up, it’s a sure sign (as is continued poor-quality sleep) that you’re edging into the overtraining zone.  Remember, there’s a time and a place for “pushing through pain and discomfort” and I’m all for that notion in relatively untrained individuals.  The problem becomes carrying this mindset over into more highly trained individuals, as these athletes are able to pummel their bodies with an incredibly high exercise dose before the “cease and desist” signal ever appears.  The greater the training maturity, the more the old “train smarter, not harder” adage applies.

Also, remember not to skimp on your high quality fat intake.  Very, very important.  And if quick recovery between workout sessions is necessitated – i.e., you’re training multiple times per day, say – then be sure to ingest the greater portion of your days carbohydrate intake during the approximate 2-hr, post-workout window.  If you have at least 24 hours or so to recover between workouts, the post-workout refueling window becomes irrelevant, as this is a speed of recovery issue, and has nothing to do with the magnitude of recovery, which, at roughly the 24 hour point, equalizes.

In health,


10 responses to “Questions? Answers! Strength & Conditining for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

  1. Great advice Keith.

    I spent a lot of time dwelling on this back when I was rolling 4-5 times a week (now my frequency is down to only a few grappling sessions a month). I think that you’re right about the importance of the P2BWR. Even though I don’t roll as much as I used to, nor do I workout more than twice a week now, my conditioning for grappling is as good as it’s ever been simply because I’ve improved my P2BWR so greatly by losing weight and thus improving body composition.

    One thing I’d say is that, unlike with many sports, muscular endurance is at least AS important as P2BWR in BJJ. Grip endurance, adductor/abductor endurance (holding the guard), and abdominal endurance play a huge roll, much in the same way that climbing relies as much on muscular endurance as it does on strength to body weight ratios. Many a grappling match has been lost because someone’s forearm endurance wore out costing them a grip, and thus a strategic advantage in the match.

    Anecdotally, one of the exercises that had the most direct carry over to BJJ for me personally was hanging from a pullup bar, working the flexors of the forearm.

    I wonder if short, potentiating workouts (sort of like what Thib’s was talking about), might be good before a BJJ session, as they’d amp you up without draining you.

    • As a complete aside, I always found it frustrating that many BJJ schools insist on making the first half of every class heavily focused on conditioning drills. For someone who takes their own conditioning seriously, and spends their own time working on their fitness, it can be a little annoying that half of the sessions you pay $100-180/month for turn into organized calisthenic sessions.

      This makes balancing training with BJJ very difficult, because some BJJ instructors believe in exhausting their students before they actually begin instruction. Budgeting your own training with an unnecessarily taxing BJJ training regimen isn’t easy. It comes from the mentality of: “If you learn while you’re exhausted, you’ll perform while you’re exhausted.” I wonder if you can optimally reinforce motor patterns when you’re already seriously exhausted.

      • My approach has always been to train technique/fine motor skills first, when fresh (following a sport-specific and proper warm-up – including, if warranted, potentiation weight work), then game situation/sparring, then conditioning. It just makes little sense to me to train technique when fatigued. It’s counter-intuitive at best and, in a lot of ways, parallels the arguments against Oly lifts for MetCon work. Train the central nervous system (technique) and train the energy pathways (conditioning), but do so at optimal times relative to one another.

    • No doubt they would (the potentiating workouts), as long as one understood they are potentiating, and not meant as a pre-roll flogging. Very easy to do too much of a good thing. But in general, yeah – a good cns prime prior to his BJJ work would be well advised. I’ve found that performing (after a warm-up) a round of 7 or so fairly heavy power clean singles with a good 2 to 3 minutes rest in between is a good lead in to sprint work. Something Doug Taylor might want to try, btw.

  2. My suggestion would be to lift less frequently, following a HIT/Abreviated Training format ala Mike Mentzer or Stuart McRobert. Because (as mentioned above) most BJJ classes include a lot of calisthenics for conditioning, you’re really not missing out on anything if you cut your heavy lifting back to once per week.

    When I was training MMA, my schedule looked like this…

    Mon – BJJ, jog home
    Tues – Kickboxing
    Wed – BJJ, jog home
    Turs – Kickboxing
    Fri – BJJ / Vale Tudo, jog home
    Sat – Full body strength training
    Sun – Walk in the park (literally)

    Rest and nutrition are, of course, crucial with this kind of workload.

    BTW, the reason it is sometimes helpful to pre-exhaust beginning grapplers is to get around the adrenal response.

    Most beginners are so pumped up at the prospect of wrestling somebody that they’re actually unable to relax enough to use correct technique. If you exhaust them first, then they “have” to use guile and technique, cause that’s all they’ve got left.

    The pre-exhaust method is probably overused, but it worked for me (eventually).

    • “Most beginners are so pumped up at the prospect of wrestling somebody that they’re actually unable to relax enough to use correct technique. If you exhaust them first, then they “have” to use guile and technique, cause that’s all they’ve got left.”

      Interesting point.

      • I definitely think it can be helpful to train that way, but when you are pre-exhaust a student right before introducing him to technique, I don’t think you’re setting him up for success.

        Forcing technique through exhaustion happens naturally during free rolling anyway. Eventually you grow tired, and have no choice but to rely on technique or lose!

        • I just ran across this post from Boris (Squat RX) referencing Mel Siff’s Supertraining on this subject. Pretty much encapsulates my feeling on the subject as well. I can see the necessity for teaching relaxation, though – the same is required of sprinters. We’ve all seen the “mechanical/tight” sprinter and know that the results are disastrous vis-a-vis the relaxed/fluid sprinter. This comes back again to RFD/CNS activation training (rapid fire/release) and the direction the Marinovich camp is headed.

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