How Resistance Training Has Improved My Jiu-Jitsu

Flickr/ Creative Commons: Andres Trujillo

I am truly heartbroken to tell you that lifting things up and putting them down has led to improvements in my jiu-jitsu game.

I’m telling you this because, like many other jiu-jitsu practitioners, I do not like to work out “the normal way.” I hate running, HIIT training just makes me angry, and up until about a year ago, the idea of lifting weights bored me. Rolling was my cardio! And why lift barbells when you can lift people, amIrite?

For my fitness goals, jiu-jitsu really was all I needed at the time. It kept me fit and strong, and I didn’t have to adhere to a strict diet in order to look the way I wanted to look. My eating habits and training schedule would never sculpt me into a bikini model, but I was healthy and active. I didn’t need any other exercise, because I was happy with where I was.

Last year, though, I decided that I wanted to get stronger, partially for jiu-jitsu and partially to look like I could beat up Frieza. So I committed to moderate adherence to a resistance program, and, annoyingly, it has helped.

For reference, it would be laughable to call me “dedicated” in the gym. My hobbyist jiu-jitsu habit is my priority, and my two-to-three-but-sometimes-zero days of lifting per week are worked in to supplement the BJJ. I am not a die-hard gym rat looking to crush my opponent between my thighs, despite the many requests of very forward strangers in my Instagram DMs. I’m just doing a bit more lifting than what I was doing before, which was precisely nothing. And still, it has helped.

Most notably, according to the comments from my teammates, is that my submissions feel tighter. Once I get a hold of a limb, the little bit of extra muscle and strength I didn’t have before makes it much more difficult for the defending person to pull themselves out of danger. I clamp onto body parts easier, with far less of the “clinging on for dear life” vibe I gave when I was just training jiu-jitsu.

Perhaps even better, though, is that many of my old recurring pains have started to decrease. I’ve been plagued with a lifetime of back problems, and while there are definitely days when only rest and ibuprofen can help, building up my glutes (again, even just a little bit!) has helped reduce the severity of my lower back pain. The work I’ve done to build the strength in my legs has also significantly reduced my knee pain, which, trust me, is no small feat given the abuse I’ve put them through over the years on the mats.

Finally, a lot of things are just easier now that I’m stronger. The pushing and pulling movements that are so common in jiu-jitsu have been aided by the pushing and pulling I’ve been doing in the other gym. I am slower to tire out, I’m more likely to get my opponent to move the way I want them to move, and I finally have a little bit of that strength advantage that, like it or not, gives other jiu-jitsu athletes a bit of an edge.

None of this is peer-reviewed research from an accredited fitness expert on the benefits of strength training as they relate to jiu-jitsu. It’s just anecdotal evidence from one hobbyist brown belt who has finally, begrudgingly been forced to accept that just jiu-jitsu may not be the only exercise you need if you want to get better at jiu-jitsu.

While I’ve started to enjoy resistance training, it’s still not my preferred choice of exercise. I don’t fault any jiu-jitsu practitioners who don’t want to supplement their BJJ with additional strength and endurance workouts, especially if your only goal is to have fun and stay active. But if you do want to feel better and train more efficiently, even if you have no ambitions of winning ADCC or a local tournament, consider picking up picking things up as your next hobby. Once you start, you may find that it’s harder than expected to put down.


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