Coach Saenz’s Top 5 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Exercises
Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to work with many BJJ practitioners ranging from White Belts to World Champions.
If there is one thing that we’ve seen on a consistent basis is that 2 hours a week of dedicated strength and conditioning will far outweigh the benefits of adding an additional 2 hours of mat time.
Often times when an athlete seeks improvement in a discipline they simply think “more is better.” More time on the mat, more classes, more sparring. Considering most grapplers trying to improve their game are already training 5x per week, a better approach would be to identify where the athlete can make the most improvement with the least amount of time.
In short, we are looking for the highest return on investment with the athletes’ training time.
The older the athlete the more important this is due to careers, family, and other obligations.
We typically see one of two things with a grappler that comes into the gym:
1) They have a significant deficiency in strength which is indicative of a high probability for injury.
2) They lack the required conditioning to roll at high intensities for extended durations, which limits their training volume on the mat.
If you are looking to fully realize your potential on the mats you need to train both strength and conditioning in a structured manner. Below are 5 of my favorite exercises for the BJJ practitioner.
#1 Back Squats – Lower Body Strength
Hands down the #1 exercise to get stronger is squatting with a barbell. The loads used while doing either Back or Front Squats create adaptions that few other exercises can come close to. Bone density, connective tissue strength, an increase in muscle mass, not to mention the ability to withstand external forces all contribute two the Squat makes the top of my list.
#2 The Power Clean – Total Body Strength + Power
The Power Clean not only trains pulling power from the ground but also trains hip extension in a very explosive manner. This movement is critical for grapplers due to the roll that the hips play in their sport. Whether is getting posture or escaping the mount, having strong, and explosive hips will drastically improve you performance on the mat.
#3 KB Floor Press – Upper Body Strength
I chose this exercise over the Bench Press for upper body strength due to it’s similarity to what the grappling athlete actually sees on the mat. The dynamic nature of this unilateral exercise really seems to replicate what the athlete is trying to do when their opponent is moving into side control. It also is a great exercise for athletes that have any shoulder issues because the bells are not in a fixed position and the range of motion is shorter than a traditional Bench Press. The rotational component of this exercises also has the added value of training core.
#4 Sandbag Get Ups – Mental toughness + Conditioning + Core
There aren’t many things out there that simulate getting crushed into the ground by an unrelenting opponent. The Sandbag Getup is probably the best bang for the buck in regards to a conditioning movement.
It trains mental toughness like no other exercise. Most of the time a specific body part or muscle will hit failure which will limit the athletes ability to keep moving. Not with this exercise. It just hammers the body just enough to make the mind start to question itself. Learning to hammer through these mental barriers is a huge advantage for the grappler in case they become gassed out in a match.
This exercise also trains the core extremely effectively. As you sit up with the sandbag you get not only flexion but also rotational training. As you start to stand up your hips will extend training the low back. And finally as you come to the standing position you are isometrically training the core by stabilizing a heavy load on one side of your body.
#5 Burpees – Conditioning
Simple, extremely demanding, and practical for the grappler. The Burpee is very similar to a sprawl and it teaches combative athletes to get down and get up quickly. it requires no equipment, can be done anywhere, and is great when coupled with single mode activities such as running. It is one of the most effective ways to elevate the grapplers heart rate and elicit a training response.
Final notes for the grappling Athlete
Keep in mind we would never just program 5 exercises for an athlete. There is so much more to a well-designed training program than just 5 exercises repeated every session. Variety keeps the athlete interested in training and ultimately exercises are simply a means to an end!
Also never overlook simple aerobic conditioning. A strong aerobic base is the foundation that all intensity needs to be built upon. Long and easy runs, rides, swims, and even low intensity easy rolling will accomplish this task. Do these in 30-45 minute blocks at a pace that you can keep your mouth closed while breathing.
Training hard is not always training smart! Too often I’ve seen athletes preparing for a match/fight where they are just hammering themselves daily with no rhyme or reason. Train-ups for a match should be very challenging but they must provide adequate rest, nutrition, and recovery to allow the training adaptation to take place. They should also be gradually progressed. Jumping right into 20 minute round robin sessions soon as you sign up will greatly increase the chance of injury or over-training.
Below is 2 example sessions using these exercises. Enjoy!
– Coach Saenz
Warmup: 3 rounds
8x Back Squats – start light and increase each round
200 meter run
1) 5 rounds
5x Back Squat increasing load until hard but doable
10x KB Swings
60 second rest
2) 5 rounds
5x KB Floor Press e/s increasing load until hard but doable
10x Kroc Rows e/s
60 second rest
3) 10 rounds
4x 25 meter shuttle
30 second rest
Warmup: 3 rounds
Clean Warmup Complex
1) 6 rounds
2x Power Clean
2x Broad Jumps
60 second rest
2) 20 minute AMRAP
10x Sandbag Getups – 40 to 80lbs
200 meter run
3) 3 rounds
50x Glute Leg Lifts e/s
25x Should Handjob e/s