4 Lifts You Ought to be Doing to Improve Your BJJ

Before you start posting your Batman and Robin memes about how you just do Jiu-Jitsu to be good at Jiu-Jitsu, settle down and hear me out. Almost all high level BJJ competitors do some form of weight training. Even Marcelo Garcia does bodyweight training at least. That said, bodyweight will still only take a person so far.

Maybe you don’t want to compete. That’s fine. Maybe you only have time for either BJJ or weights, but not both. That’s fine, too. But don’t make up excuses to avoid lifting. I hear lots of people tout the strengths of BJJ against pure strength, but those same people do an awful lot of whining when someone stronger than them submits them.

Only weak, unmotivated people will cry about how someone “beat” them using only strength, so it “doesn’t count”. Yes it does count. You got beat. Someone who may or may not know more than you beat you because you A) weren’t strong enough, or B) don’t know enough technique to beat someone larger than you. If you both know the same amount of technique, my money is on the stronger guy every time.

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to start small. Don’t jump in and try some giant weight you aren’t ready for. Trust me, no one in the gym is looking around to make fun of people who are lifting less than they are. In fact, you’ll never meet a more helpful group of guys than weight lifters.

Keenan Cornelius recently did an interview in which he mentioned his three favorite lifts. He’s spot on, but we’re adding another. If you are competing even somewhat seriously, you need to be hitting the weights. If you truly want to build strength specifically for Jiu-Jitsu, here are the four lifts you need to start doing:



Do yourself a favor and never use a machine. Always go with the free weights.

If you want a takedown, you’d better have strong legs. The fastest way to strong legs and glutes is to be doing squats. Some people say not to do them more than twice a week. That’s crap. Obviously, don’t overdo anything, but twice is more of a minimum than a maximum.

Squats work your quads, butt, hamstrings, and even your back. If you do a squat and don’t feel like you’ve worked all of those things, you’ve done something wrong. Fix it.

That said, you would be wise to follow Mark Rippetoe’s advice on how to properly do a squat. There are lots of myths around how to squat properly, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re doing to avoid injury.


Bent Row

Though Mark Rippetoe isn’t a fan of these, the benefits are still too much to ignore. Bill Starr, a bodybuilder who made 5×5 routines famous, incorporates the bent row into his programs, and with good reason.

Bent Rows strengthen the back amazingly. Not only do they make the upper back muscles stronger, they also build up shoulder muscles around the rotator cuff. Keeping a healthy and strong rotator cuff is a must, as anyone who has been caught in a kimura knows.


Bench Press

The bench press has fallen out of fashion recently. It seems like it comes and goes and no one really wants to talk about how important it actually is. The bench press isn’t just an “ego” press. Instead, it is a major upper body workout.

Yes, it works the pecs, but it also works much more. It works the triceps, anterior deltoids (front of your shoulders), and your back. All of these muscles are extremely important in grappling. To dismiss the bench press is to severely limit yourself on the mats.

You can change your grip on the bar to isolate muscle groups further. However, it’s important to make sure that you aren’t using a machine to do bench press. Is a machine better than nothing? Yes. But it’s abysmal at getting you solid results. You miss developing stabilizing muscles that are so necessary in grappling as well.



A deadlift uses pretty much the same muscles as a squat does, but it targets them in a completely different manner. Squatting involves starting with the weight already on you and lowering it. A deadlift begins the lifter in a less advantageous position, lifting from the floor.

It also statically works a variety of muscles that the squat misses, such as the shoulders and arms. If you want your legs to be strong, and improve your physical ability to work your guard, this is an excellent lift to start doing. It’s a full body-lift that carries over into all of your full body motions while grappling.

Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general. – Mark RIppetoe





  1. Nicely broken down to the four key movements for Jiu Jitsu. People overcomplicate so often, nice to see it done simply. While I use other supplemental exercises, these four movements are key. The only two things I also see as essential are core stability and core rotation exercises, given all movement are in some way related to having strength in this part of the body.


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