Exercise for Jiu Jitsu

A lot of the best in the world (Andre Galvao for example) lift weights and do other supplemental exercises to better their performance on the mat. In fact, my coach has lately been encouraging us to do circuit training as a supplement as well as in between rolling sessions during regular competition training. I have a slightly different mind set that I’d like to explore…

Marcelo Garcia famously said that he supplements his jiu jitsu training with more jiu jitsu training. The energy we expend doing circuit training or weight training could theoretically be used for extra rolling and drilling. The rationale is that the muscle groups worked during regular rolling is the exact same muscle group needed for competition, and therefore it is logical that instead of focusing on other ways to augment training one would be better served merely focusing on rolling and drilling.

There are many exercises that one can use to simulate the movements needed for jiu jitsu, and one can use those exercises before and after training or on days when no one is available to train, so I’m certainly not knocking the notion of using those exercises, however in my ideal world I could train as much as I wanted with good training partners and not need to go outside of jiu jitsu for my fitness needs. World class competitors live in a world like this given the fact that they train full time.

Why then do people exercise to better their jiu jitsu? There are a lot of possible reasons. Either they don’t have training partners available for them or they want to build muscle groups that are not heavily worked while rolling. Also rolling doesn’t tend to build muscle, but rather refines what’s already there. If you are at the bottom of your weight class and have plenty of room to go up, it may be well advised to pack on some muscle in areas that don’t tire easily. You can never really be too strong.

Yoga and Ginastica Natural are generally accepted as methods to improve the movements needed for jiu jitsu while at the same time not exposing the practitioner to as much risk. If I am getting ready for a tournament and am scared about injury, I may only do exercises that are controlled like Yoga and Ginastica Natural to decrease my chances for injury. Live rolling can be risky.

I did an article a while back (Jiu-Jitsu: Different Rolling Methods) about the various kinds of rolling that we have available to us, and when I am unable or unwilling to roll hard I can mix it up a bit. I am all for finding rolling sequences, styles and methods that are different in order to constantly improve my game, stamina flexibility etc.

Personally, I don’t have time or energy to exercise when I’m not training. I do however train quite a bit (5-6 days a week,) and have a life outside of Jiu Jitsu. I for one believe that the very best exercise for jiu jitsu is more jiu jitsu, and the best way to get better at jiu jitsu is to spend more time on the mat.

Do you exercise to supplement your jiu jitsu? If yes what exercises do you use? Do you exercise because you can’t spend more time on the mat? Or do you do so to keep yourself safe?


  1. I wish I has more time to supplement my jiu jitsu with more jiu jitsu. But it is not the case, I do no have partner available or a mat available every time I can. Additionally I do have several injuries all over my body, therefore, lifting weights help me to keep everything in the right place. Running and circuit training help me to keep my gas (which I need to improve now). OSS!

  2. I do the StrongLifts program which is a set of barbell compound lifts. It has definitely taken my game to the next level. It’s free, and the app is great. I had to slow down the weight increase to a more gradual pace. Just be sure not to overdo the squats and deadlifts or you can hurt your spine. Great article topic Emil!

  3. Interesting topic, and something I wrestle with a lot. I weight train 3 times per week; used to do mostly metcon circuits (not CrossFit, but my own similar programming) and now do mostly traditional strength training, focusing on big lifts like the squat, deadlift, overhead press and pull-ups. Also things like Turkish get ups, box jumps, loaded carries, some sledgehammer work, and occasionally some sprints.

    I am turning 48 in a couple of months, and I feel that at this age strength training is critical for bulletproofing my body and staying injury-free. I also lift because I want to be stronger, for BJJ and for life in general, particularly to stay vibrant as I age. Yes, I admit it, I also want to be more muscular to look better. I enjoy my time in the gym, because my only opponent is myself and the bar (although, one could argue, in BJJ one’s only opponent is oneself – even in sparring or competition). I like the objective quantification of setting and achieving goals – the weight on the bar is a reliable yardstick. Of course there are goals in BJJ as well, but too often improvement is subjective and hard to measure, especially when those around you are improving at an equal or faster rate. Sometimes BJJ class is mostly technical with only a couple rounds of sparring, so I may not feel that I got a “workout.” Rolling all the time is not without risks, as the blog post notes. Lastly, the gym’s hours are much more flexible relative to my schedule than my BJJ school.

    It is hard to disagree with Marcelo Garcia, and I do so respectfully, but I think supplemental training is absolutely essential. Otherwise, we would do nothing but spar to get better at fighting. But no, we do technique drills, movement drills, structured sparring, flow rolling, etc. it is well recognized that these things lead to improvement quicker than an entirely trial-and-error approach of constant sparring. So why wouldn’t that extend to strength and conditioning training as well? It seems to be a well-established practice of boxers for generations, and now for MMA fighters.

    Having said all that, I sometimes wonder if I have skewed TOO much toward strength training. I don’t want to do without it, and I don’t want to deviate from my programming by missing a workout. So in a week that my time is limited, I may end up at the gym at the expense of BJJ. Some weeks I end up going to the gym 3 times but to BJJ only twice. I recognize that this equation is inverted versus what it should be. And I sometimes wish I had more energy for BJJ class, or that I wasn’t so stiff when I get there… So it’s a balance I am still trying to figure out!

  4. Compound lifts are essential. Deadlifts, squats, pull ups, push press, power cleans. All increase strength and explosiveness.


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