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BJJ Strength Training – How to Add Weight Lifting to your Jiu Jitsu

BJJ Strength Training - How to Add Weight Lifting to your Jiu Jitsu Full Guide and PDF

In this post, I’ll give some details and insight into weightlifting and bjj that I wish I knew when I started and provide a simple, easy to follow guide to help you add weight training to complement your jiu jitsu.

I’ve also included a bjj strength training program pdf and excel sheets in this post that you can download and use for your own bjj strength training.

In this post I will:

  • outline how to schedule your progress both in the gym and on the mat
  • provide a detailed bjj strength training guide with exact exercises (that can be downloaded in a bjj strength training program pdf)
  • review benefits of weight training
  • go over considerations for weightlifting and bjj

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or health expert. I am simply someone who enjoys weightlifting and training jiu jitsu. The content below is purely for informational purposes.

BJJ Strength Training Program PDF – 4 Day/Week Program

Below is a link to a downloadable google sheet document that has a 4 day a week strength training program listed with all 7 weeks of weight lifting training.

This can be downloaded in either PDF or Excel format and used to track your weightlifting progress and can be found here.

Here is an image preview of the bjj strength training program pdf:

3 Day Strength Training for BJJ – BJJ Strength Training Program PDF

Here is our 3 day strength training program for BJJ

2 Day Strength Training for BJJ – BJJ Strength Training Program PDF

Finally, our 2 day strength training for bjj program in downloadable PDF or excel format.

BJJ Strength Training Full Workout (and Tips)

Before getting into the details of adding in weightlifting for bjj strength training here a a few guidelines:

  • if possible on days when training both weights and bjj try to always do weightlifting first
  • if doing both on the same day try to schedule at least a full meal and couple hours rest in between bjj and strength training
  • try to schedule your toughest bjj and hardest weight lifting sessions on separate days from each other
  • do not train the same muscle groups on consecutive days

Warming up

If you are training any kind of intense movements, be it weight lifting or bjj it is important to include a couple minutes of dynamic warm up movements to get your body ready.

Specifically, if you are weight lifting it is also strongly recommended to warm up with 2-3 warm up sets at lighter weights and then once you reach your working set weight doing one or two reps of that weight first and then rest and dive into your actually working sets.

This can be hugely beneficial for getting your body ready for handling such loads.

Below are some dynamic warm up movements that you can perform before each workout. Keep in mind these are general movements and as you start to weight train more you will begin to notice that certain areas or muscles need more or less warming up than others.

These warm up exercises below are a starting off point:

Upper Day Warm Up:

Banded Pull Aparts

(Note: each warm up exercise has a link to videos with further description)

*These are used to properly warm up your shoulders and the muscles of your upper back

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Scap Pull ups

*These are also used to warm up your shoulders and to garner a mind/muscle connection between the scapula and muscles of the upper back.

They involve hanging from a pull up position and raising and retracting your scapula.

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World’s Greatest Stretch

*This is a full body stretch that will get everything ready from your lower body to your thoracic spine and get your upper body ready for movement.

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Lower Day Warm Up:

Cat/Cow Stretch

*this stretches your core and lower back safely and gets your body ready to move efficiently especially during squat movements

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Bird Dog

*this movement helps you to be aware of your core and maintain core stability particularly when your limbs are in motion

(core stability is another key safety factor in a lot of complex weight lifting movements)

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Eccentric Curl Up

*this is another movement focused on teaching your body how to properly expand your stomach and brace your core and then raising your head ~2 inches off the ground while bracing

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Tippy Bird/Airplane

*this movement helps loosen and warm up your hips by closing and expanding your hips and the surround muscle structures

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Glute Bridges

*the final warm movement for your lower body teaches you to properly engage your glutes – often times if they are not engaged properly it can lead to injuries over time

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These warm ups have helped me deal with nagging back, shoulder, and knee injuries so if you want more of this info I cannot recommend the work of Dr. Aaron Horschig enough.

Specifically, I used his book, Rebuilding Milo (see link), to diagnose my injuries, create a rehab plan, and ultimately come back stronger in the gym and on the mat.

(Please keep in mind that if this book or any other amazon affiliate links are used in a purchase on Amazon I do get a small percentage which helps me afford more buffalo chicken wraps)

Cardio and Conditioning Considerations

While live sparring or rolling cardio for bjj generally is only increased by sparring more, there may be some other cardio options that can assist when off the mat.

Its worth noting, however, that your rolling cardio generally will not increase all that much over time.

More so, your bjj technique and efficiency of movement will improve so your overall cardio requirements will become less. With this in mind I don’t want to place too much emphasis on training cardio outside the bjj gym.

If you are still looking to add in some accessory cardio some good options are:

  • Sprint intervals
  • Bike riding (mirroring sprint/intensity intervals)
  • Rowing machine (with same interval intensity as above)

Generally, you’ll see a pattern here of trying to mimic the intensity of bjj live sparring with your cardio.

Just like when you are rolling at the gym your exertion should at times include intense all out effort as well as slower periods where you are using less energy.

Core Work Considerations

While it has long since been busted that training your core will not give you visible abs (only a low body fat percentage will do that), I believe in training some core movements.

Specifically, training core movements that carry directly over to bjj.

Some of these that I recommend doing are:

*Hanging knee raises strongly mimic the movement of the kipping escape from mount so this will be extremely beneficial.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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 *Leg Raises, again, require you to be able to maintaining a tight core while having your legs extended which is also common in a lot of bjj guard positions.                                                                                                                                                      

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BJJ Strength Training Exercises and Schedules Explained

Bjj Strength Training Breakdown (these terms will be used to describe each day)

DayDefinedAbbreviation
Hard BJJ Dayincludes a lot of live sparringHB
Light BJJ Dayincludes some live sparring but mostly drillingLB
Hard Upper Body Weight Lifting Dayincludes your most intense, complex, upper body movements and some accessory exercisesHUW
Light Upper Body Weight Lifting Dayincludes some upper body complex movements but mostly accessory exercisesLUW
Hard Lower Body Weight Lifting Dayincludes your most intense, complex, lower body movements and some accessory exercisesHLW
Light Lower Body Weight Lifting Dayincludes some lower body complex movements but mostly accessory exercisesLLW
Rest Dayincludes doing only light activities like going for a walk, bike riding, (light) yoga, stretchingRD

Hard BJJ Day (HB)

This day will include your harder bjj sessions. Some examples may include:

  • live sparring classes
  • taking two bjj sessions (in a single day)
  • working the most physically taxing parts of your bjj game like take downs
  • taking other multiple bjj related classes like wrestling/judo (in a single day)

Light BJJ Day (LB)

This lighter bjj day can include: 

  • bjj classes with mostly drilling and maybe one or two live rounds
  • drilling techniques with 50% resistance from your partner
  • light positional sparring
  • possibly flow rolling

Hard Upper Body Weight Lifting Day (HUW) Exercises

Each exercise listed contains link to a video with further description

This will be the more physically taxing upper body weight lifting day. It will include mostly complex weight lifting movements and some accessory work.

I will provide images for each exercise and link to a further descriptions with each one:

Exercise #1: Bench Press (4 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #2: Shoulder Press (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #3: Bent Over Row (4 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #4: Lateral Deltoid Raises (3 sets for 8-15 reps)

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Exercise #5: Alternating Bicep Curls (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #6: Hanging Knee Raises (2 sets for 10-20 reps)(see above for example)

Light Upper Body Weight Lifting Day (LUW) Exercises

Exercise #1: Incline Dumbbell Chest Press (4 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #2: Overhand Pull down (4 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #4: Barbell Shrugs (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #3: Rear Deltoid Raises (3 sets for 8-15 reps)

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Exercise #4: Skullcrushers (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #5: Legs Raises (2 sets for 10-20 reps)(see above for example)

Hard Lower Body Weight Lifting Day (HLW) Exercises

Exercise #1: Squats (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #2: Romanian Dead lifts (2 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #3: Leg Extensions (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #4: Calf Raises (3 sets for 8-20 reps)

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Light Lower Body Weight Lifting Day (LLW) Exercises

Exercise #1: Lunges (3 sets for 8-15 reps on each leg)

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Exercise #2: Squats (2 sets for 8-12 reps)( see above for example)

Exercise #3: Hamstring Curls (3 sets for 8-12 reps)

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Exercise #4: Calf Raises (3 sets for 8-20 reps)(see above for example)

Rest Day (RD)

So you’ve made it through the hard and light training days of the week and now you’ve earned your rest day.

This is the day that you are allowed to treat yourself like its your prepubescent birthday party at the roller rink in your hometown (that you are pretty sure has been demolished or exists solely as a hobo sanctuary).

On this day you are more than allowed to:

  • indulge in a cheat meal
  • go for a nice quite walk at sunset with your significant other
  • lay in your hammock and try to start Dune for the 3rd time only to give up 10 pages in
  • …really anything except workout

My Weekly BJJ Strength Training Schedule Example:

Below is an example of my weekly bjj strength training schedule broken down with weight lifting, bjj, and rest days. This may not seem like much, but this schedule works for me:

BJJ Strength Training Schedule – Sample Weekly Breakdowns

Essentially, you will be training weights 4 days a week and training jiu jitsu for however many sessions you see fit that will enable you to improve without leading to over training. Here are two more example weekly schedules that will work.

This first one works if you want weekends off from training:

This second one works if you’d rather train more days but have less overall rest days:

You get the jits* – you can play around with these schedules depending on your goals, availability, etc

Modulating your Progress

Okay great you’ve got your exercises and scheduled your weightlifting routing and bjj training sessions, but you need to plan for improvement over time both on the mat and in the gym.

You need to schedule in periods of intense efforts both in weight lifting and in jiu jitsu training as well as rest periods for longevity and improvement over time.

This will also, of course, depend on your goals and priorities for a specific time period. If you are trying to add some muscle to your physique, you want may prioritize weight lifting. If you are signing up for a string of bjj competitions ,you may want to prioritize your bjj training. 

Weight lifting Progression

So lets start off with how to schedule your weight lifting progress.

My weightlifting workouts are split into 7 week phases with a focus on both strength and hypertrophy. Every seven weeks I will start the phase over from the beginning and possibly select new exercises if some are getting stale with the goal of continuing to gain in strength and muscle size.

I recommend keeping your rep range for each set for every exercise (aside from a select few) within the 8-12 rep range.

A Note on Training a Set to Failure

At the start of each 7 week phase I will attempt to end each set ~3 reps away from failure. As I progress through the weeks, I will go closer and close to failure with the final week ending ~1 rep from failure on every set of every exercise (except core work).

         Keep in mind that failure is when you physically cannot do another clean repetition with good technique.

Progression

Through each phase I will progressively try to add more reps and weight to each set no matter how insignificant the weight might seem (often times I will add 2 1/2 lb plates to my bench press each week while still trying to stay within the 8-12 rep range).

Deload Weeks

Since every 7 weeks you will be starting a new phase over, you should take a deload week in between each phase. So after the first phase consisting of 7 weeks, you will take a deload week before moving onto the next 7 week phase.

During this deload week, I aim for about 2/3 of the total sets per week that I usually do and aim for ~20% weight reduction in the amount of weight I use for each set.

This lets my body recover and get ready for the next phase. Additionally, you may want to only do light bjj training during this deload week in order to let your body fully recover from all taxing physical activities

Final Word on Progress and Workout Design

It will be helpful for you to figure out or estimate a couple baseline numbers over time: 

  1. How many sets per week does it take for you to maintain your muscle mass
  2. How many sets per week does it take for you to continue to gain muscle
  3. How many sets per week is the maximum that you can do and still recover

These will be key in designing your own programs to fit within your weightlifting and bjj goals.

What Are the Benefits of Strength Training for BJJ

Exhibit A

No matter what bjj strength training you choose – whether it be hypertrophy or strength focused its undeniable that getting stronger plays an important part in your jiu jitsu.

You may be thinking “Wait, wait why bother lifting weights if the guy who smashes me is only 140lbs and made of saltwater taffy?” (see Exhibit A)

To quell those objections, in the words of John Danaher

“there’s a reason there’s weight classes”

and a reason why that 200lb teenage white belt who just got a off a cycle or two of SARMs has made you consider quitting jiu jitsu more than once.

Yes, strength isn’t the main and only factor that will determine how good or bad you are at jiu jitsu, but it is definitely one of them.

Generally, its understood that if you and your opponent have the same amount of technique and knowledge that strength will then become a larger determining factor.

In the below chart are the physical factors that play a part in bjj with rough estimates integral they are to jiujitsu:

Furthermore, it is my belief that jiu jitsu specific weight training does not provide any greater benefit than the average bodybuilding program.

Is Strength Training Good for BJJ?

With that being said, weight lifting in general has some huge benefits both on and off the jiu jitsu mat such as:

  • better circulation
  • faster injury recovery
  • increased muscular endurance
  • (obviously) strength gains
  • other disease prevention that I’m really not qualified to name
  • Injury prevention both on and off the jiu jitsu mat (by increasing your bone density)
  • longevity – weight lifting will help you age gracefully instead of forcing your spine into a giant letter “C” shape
  • not to mention the non physical benefits such as gaining more confidence and being treated different by others

BJJ movements should be for the mats only – save your strength training sessions for strength training movements

I can’t tell you how differently I am treated now by both men and women from when I started weight lifting at 140lbs to now at 210lbs (of a little more muscle but mostly water and fat from Honeysmacks, almond milk, and buffalo chicken)

How often Should You Strength Train for BJJ?

In terms of how often should you strength train for bjj, we recommend 2-4 times a week of specific strength training sessions.

The times per week you strength training should align with your goals for bjj and weightlifting which we will go over in the next sessions

One of the key things to keep in mind is that you don’t want to over train and take away from your jiu jitsu.

At 2-4 times a week of strength and conditioning training you should be able to still enjoy the benefits of strength training without hindering your bjj sessions too much.

Plus if you find strength training is getting in the way of your bjj, you can always lessen the amount of days or volume your are weight training.

What Are your Goals for BJJ, Weight Lifting, and Dieting?

(nothing to see here, just got done eating red pepper hummus in my studio apt in 2014)
(yes, this pic has much better lighting and i got a bit of a pump after some recent sprints)
Exhibit B

Before we dive into an example routine with exercises, I recommend stepping back and analyzing your goals with bjj and weightlifting when devising a bjj strength training schedule.

For me (as you can see in the pics above) I always struggled to gain weight so I put a lot of emphasis and time into weight training as well as bjj and less time into getting upset at our jungler for not ganking our lane enough (see Exhibit B).

In this guide, I will provide specific exercises and a weekly schedule to improve both at bjj and weight training equally. This basic weightlifting guide can also be used as a starting off point that can be modified based on your specific goals.

Along with adding weightlifting you should structure your diet to meet your goals – here’s our full post for how to do just that

Here are some possible goals. These may depend on the time of year or if you are planning on competing in the near future or just want to sharpen up your physique with weights for the summer:

BJJ Prioritylight weight lifting to maintain strength while focusing on your bjj training
Equal Prioritywant to progress in both bjj and weight training equally at a moderate pace
Weights Prioritywant to focus on weight lifting possibly during a bulk or competition off season

Considerations for Weightlifting and BJJ

1. Managing Fatigue

Managing Fatigue and recovery is the first and most important thing to consider when designing and implementing your own bjj strength training program. This is something that I struggled with and wish someone would have just sat me down and told me that:

Your body can only handle so much physical activity a week and knowing those boundaries will directly effect how far you go in your training.

There are simply diminishing returns with over training.

If you are training bjj 7 days a week and weight lifting an additional six days I can guarantee that you will not be able to keep up that schedule very long and you will often miss workouts and, ultimately, not give your body enough time to recover.

2. Making Recovery a Priority

If you are planning to add in weight lifting or some other strength training into your jiu jitsu, you must consider your recovery as an integral part.

Recovery includes:

  •  sleep (this eye cover was a game changer for me – especially when I lived downtown or when I’m trying to sleep in a little)
  • dietary choices
  • hydration
  • volume of training
  • supplements

Read More: Click here to take a look at our full bjj supplements guide

 If you don’t give your body time to recovery, realistically, the workout you just did may not even be entirely worth it; at the very least you won’t be able to reap all of the benefits from said tough workout without proper rest.

Again, with all types of training there are diminishing returns in how much time you put in at the gym and in the weight room.

Below is a graph signifying these diminishing returns based on the amount of bjj and weightlifting sessions total per week that I’ve found to be personally true for me. Of course yours may be different so I recommend finding this number for you.

Beyond a certain amount of sessions I find myself over training and more likely to get sick or injured:

So its important to prioritize your sleep and relaxation. This means:

  • aiming for a solid 7-9 hours of sleep
  • going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • not doing anything to jeopardize your sleep function like over indulging in alcohol or drinking caffeinated beverages before you try to go to bed.

Along with sleep, if you are trying to take your training seriously, you must be aware of your food choices. While you don’t need to be on that chicken, broccoli, and rice grind that every celebrity preaches, you will undoubtedly see benefits from tightening up your diet and limiting the amount of processed, sugary, fatty foods and sticking to whole foods.

Food is likely the second largest factor behind rest that will aid in recovery.

Four loko – the official drink of getting into a fight at 7-11

Hydration will also play apart in how well you can function in a tough workout and how much you can recovery from it. Its a very commonly preached idea, but water is important ok? that’s all I’m going to say – hydrating before, during, and after a tough workout is a game changer especially if you body is used to working out slightly dehydrated with only half of an energy drink in your system (see energy drink image for ref).

The amount you train weekly – this includes jiu jitsu, weight lifting, any other cardio, or taxing activities will all factor into the total volume of training a week.

Its important to understand there is a maximum amount of training that your body can handle and can still recover from.

Often times, you may be over training or on the brink of over training and really about to red line and get injured or pick up some other sickness from your likely lowered immune system

Some signs of over training:

  • weakened immune system
  • poor sleep quality
  • higher than normal resting heart rate
  • poor performance in the gym
  • headaches
  • body/muscle soreness lasting longer than usual

So when considering adding in a new, strenuous activity like weightlifting, recovery and total volume of training will be some of the most important factors as well.

3. Choosing a Schedule That Works for You

calendar, date, time-660670.jpg

With recovery and total volume of training in mind, its time to start considering how many days of bjj strength training and pure jiu jitsu training you can do per week without over training.

Its important not to listen to other people like bjj pros or other bjj content producers and listen to your own body.

Start slow and begin adding in weight lifting or strength training sessions only once or twice a week. You may feel the urge to immediately add in 5 days of lifting on top of your already 5 days of hard bjj training – this is not the way.

I go into some more depth on these factors in this post dealing with frequency of training bjj.

energetic dog

Furthermore, I can’t recommend enough scheduling at least one day a week to do no training whatsoever.

One day where there is no bjj or weightlifting at all. These days have been integral for me. On these no training days, I can still do something light like going for a walk or a bike ride but will stay away from anything physically taxing. I really just make rest a priority that day.

I limit the amount of physical/mental work I do and, generally, will just lounge around most of the day against my wife and my energetic dog’s wishes.

What Strength Training Exercises Are Best for BJJ?

The Exercises and programs below will focus on complex movements and movements that may be more common in grappling such as below:

  • Hip Hinge – Romanian Dead lifts
  • Squat – Back Squat/Front Squat
  • Press –Overhead Press, Bench Press, Incline Press
  • Pulling – Pull-ups, Bent Over Barbell Row

BJJ Strength Training – The Final Word

Exhibit C

If you’re still here and you’re not all jazzed up like an elementary school music teacher getting ready to conduct a recital to a bunch of visibly bored parents then I don’t know what else to tell you (see Exhibit C).

If you’re already training hard in bjj, why not add weightlifting in? It can only benefit both you and your bjj.

With the considerations mentioned above in mind, you can follow the basic example workout provided. This, again, is a beginner weightlifting routine that can be done 4 days a week in addition to your bjj training.

I know it may not seem like much, but you will notice the benefits both on and off the mat if you stick with weightlifting for a couple months.

If you are a more advanced lifter you can also use the workout as a jumping off point to change your own routine up and add more exercises and sets to the example provided.

If you are looking to include weight training to complement your jiu jistu or to just progress in along side of your bjj training, its important to analyze your goals for each, to manage your total training volume, and finally, understand that no matter your bjj strength training routine there are benefits to weight lifting that directly carry over to jiu jitsu.

Here are some strongly recommend viewing and reading sources to assist you on your weight training and bjj journey:

Renaissance Periodization – Dr. Mike Israetel and crew probably have the most credible, detailed, and insightful information out there on weight training. I can’t recommend them enough. Additionally, I believe Dr. Mike is a bjj brown belt and did an extremely detailed video on managing bjj and weight lifting here

Squat University – Dr. Aaron Horschig has legitimately changed my life in terms of dealing with injuries from weight lifting and bjj. With his book, Rebuilding Milo, and the extensive information on his Youtube channel I now believe I can train well into my older years

Juggernaut Training Systems – Chad Wesley Smith is a power lifter turned jiu jitsu athlete and he probably has the most extensive information on the topic of combining the two disciplines.

Thanks for reading all and if you ever need a spot when you’re benching I promise not to drip sweat on you or hover my crotch too close to your face – Zack

Frequently Asked Questions about Strength Training and BJJ

Can you lift weights and train BJJ?

Yes! You absolutely can lift weights and train bjj. It makes you stronger, bigger, and less vulnerable to injury. However, you must be sure manage you entirely weekly training volume to avoid over training, and analyze your goals for both bjj and weight training, and slowly easy into additionally training days.


“Being strong and knowing jiu jitsu is a double advantage.”

Helio Gracie

Does Bench Press Help BJJ?

Yes, bench press does help bjj. Any complex multi join weight lifting movement has immense carryover into bjj. For example, bench press, squat, dead lift, and row all require strength from multiple large muscle groups. In bjj training, you will be using all of these muscle groups together as well.

So anything you can do to make them strong and work more cohesively will help your jiu jitsu.

Does BJJ Increase Testosterone?

BJJ alone does not increase testosterone. In fact, if you believe you are over training, you may be lowering your testosterone. There have been numerous studies of natural individuals over training and being in the lower range of testosterone levels after getting blood work done.

Does Strength Training Help BJJ?

Yes, strength training helps bjj by:

  • providing injury prevention
  • making you bigger and stronger
  • increasing muscle endurance

Should Do Strength Training and BJJ on the Same Day?

Yes, you can do strength training and bjj on the same day. However, I recommend schedule your hardest weight lifing and bjj sessions on separate days.

For instance, I schedule a specific day for my leg training day and a separte day for my advanced, competition bjj class.