Five Ways Heavier People Can Improve Their Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I remember when I first started training again and was one of the bigger people in the room. I was struggling with learning to not stunt the growth of my jiu-jitsu by relying too heavily on strength.  Being on the heavier end of the scale in jiu-jitsu is somewhat of an inherent learning disability because, even when you’re not trying to “use strength,” you still wind up finding yourself making decisions that ultimately slow down your progress. It’s all really quite annoying.

There was a moment that I realized that size and strength become crutches to those who aren’t cautious.  What may seem like major advantages when rolling with fellow white belts and even blue belts can be crippling when facing off against someone of similar size and strength with better technique.  It’s a tough lesson to learn but it’s one we must learn early on.

So what’s the solution to this problem?  How can a larger practitioner enhance their rolling experience?

  1. Play guard.  I know that “guard puller” is a dirty word in many jiu-jitsu circles.  I know that we are supposed to focus all of our time and energy on being on top of the other person even though the whole point of jiu-jitsu is to be dangerous everywhere. But seriously…play guard!  Big guys with terrible guards are easy to beat.  Big guys with good guards are terrifying.  Spend time jockeying for position as well as figuring out how to be mobile off your back.  My game progressed when I started playing guard.  Up until that point I had to rely on a limited set of tools. Playing guard opened the game up for me.
  2. Explore bad positions.  So often I see big terrifying guys who are really scary when they’re in a great position, but have poor submission defense.  This is because most training partners aren’t going to be able to impose their will on the top four to five biggest guys in the room.  However, in a competition, you’re up against people who are ostensibly the same size as you.  It’s better to learn how to defend in training than it is on the competition mat.
  3. Work on tightening your game up.  I do better against opponents who are 10 pounds heavier than I am than ones who are 10 pounds lighter because the heavier ones tend to leave more gaps and space for me to work with.  Big guys are notorious for being sloppy with position; we see it all the time in absolute divisions in which someone in the middle of the scale beats everyone.  Tighten your transitions so you don’t get caught and tighten your submission entries so that your opponent can’t escape.  A great way to do this is to just hold your submissions without applying them and allow your partner to try to escape.  If they are able to, your game isn’t tight enough.
  4. Use functional movements/strength.  Just because you’re big and strong doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to use your physical attributes.  Use good posture, positioning, and intelligent defense in training.  The key is to never exert yourself.  If you ever feel yourself straining you’re doing it wrong and should reevaluate what you’re doing.  Learn to move and learn to be comfortable in your own skin.
  5. Throw your weight around with partners your weight or heavier.  The truth is that if you are big and strong, you should learn to use it.  Use your size and strength when rolling with people of similar size and strength because it’ll allow you to accurately assess your own abilities.  Far too often I see big guys who are great at muscling around people half their size but not so great when they train with guys their weight or heavier.  It’s okay to unleash the bear every now and again, but choose who you do it with carefully.

For anyone out there who started jiu-jitsu as a slightly fuller figured feller, what are some ways you found to maximize your time training?  How do you develop an intelligent game as a “big guy”?


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