How to Train Like You Mean it

All too often Jiu-Jitsu practitioners can be overheard touting the merits of their art over brute strength or athleticism. However, like most things, such a simple statement cannot be held as an absolute truth. Better said, in the words of author John Green, “The truth resists simplicity.”

John Green

While technique alone can defeat strength alone, it is rare for either trait to be used exclusively. The merits of athleticism or strength should never be dismissed by a serious Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. As can be seen in MMA and in high levels of Jiu-Jitsu competition, athleticism can be the key difference between victory and defeat; which is one reason I get very tired of seeing the Batman/Robin meme.

batman bjj

If a person wishes to compete in Jiu-Jitsu, they need a training program outside of just their time on the mats. If a person wishes to use BJJ as a self-defense, a training program is still necessary. In our world today, it’s difficult to know how trained or untrained an opponent might be. An edge in conditioning or strength could make the difference between personal safety and a trip to the hospital or worse.

There are varying ideas on how to build the athleticism necessary for Jiu-Jitsu, and of course, each individual’s goal in the art is going to be different. This means there is not blanket statement on how to prepare oneself physically. However, I will offer some minimal, general advice on building strength, nutrition, and conditioning.

First is strength. A person can gain strength without gaining muscle by doing power lifting (very high weight, low reps, rest in between lifts). That said, eventually a person will plateau in their strength gains through this method. In order to continue to continue to make gains, a person will need to “bulk up”. Bulking occurs through eating 200-500 calories more than necessary per day while lifting heavy weight at low repetitions (usually 10 or lower). Muscular endurance is another process entirely. It involves low weights, high reps (15-25), and short rest between sets. Randy Couture had a great program he would use to build muscular endurance (I’ll include a video that modifies his routine somewhat at the end of the article).


Obviously, nutrition will be key in making your body into a more fit and ready for whatever your goals may be. Let’s hit the basics:

  1. Protein – Absolutely necessary. Not only are your muscles made up of protein, but so is just about everything else in your body. Protein is also very satiating, meaning you’ll feel more satisfied from protein than anything else you’ll eat. Make certain that if you’re exercising that you’re also getting plenty of protein. The amount you’ll need varies based on your workout routine and body-type.
  2. Fat – Also necessary. Good fats should be taken often, while bad fats should be mostly avoided. Some examples of good fat sources: olive oil, fish, avocados, flax, etc. Fat also assists in testosterone production, which in turn, assists in muscle production.
  3. Carbs – Not actually necessary. A person can live (and healthily) without eating a single (processed) carb. That said, they are a quick, easy source of energy. Not eating carbs will cause your body to rapidly lose weight. Be careful though, as you begin to add carbs back into your diet after not eating them for a prolonged period of time it may cause you to also rapidly gain weight; often more than you originally had.

This article only touches on some very basic athletic concepts. I would advise anyone who wishes to begin a workout routine to supplement their Jiu-Jitsu to seek out someone with more knowledge that can assist in creating a personalized routine for you. If you cannot afford a personal trainer, do every bit of research you can before getting started. But get started. Be healthy and be safe. Good luck!


  1. Agree with the spirit of the article; however, I disagree with your statement about diet. Carbohydrates are a critical source of fuel for brain, heart, muscles and nervous system. Yes, your body can use fats and proteins as an energy source, but it is not healthy by most any measure. To factually state your body can live without consuming a single carb is dubious at best and unsafe at worst.


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