Interviewing the Pros: Justin Curtis on BJJ, Fitness, and the Evolution of the Sport

Justin Curtis is a Brown Belt under James Clingerman, a multiple time IBJJF Gold Medalist, owner of Performex Gym and Avon BJJ. He was kind enough to sit down with us and share some of his knowledge on strength and conditioning for BJJ, as well as a variety of other topics.

JJT: What got you started in the fitness world?

1234774_10100436507253084_1736710800_nJustin: I have been active in sports since I was 6. I played football, I wrestled, I attempted to play basketball and baseball, but I was terrible. I started lifting weights for high school football and wrestling. I had a tremendous strength coach (Randy Vanderbush) whose strength and conditioning program took me from an awkward, unathletic teen and turned me into an awkward, but above average athlete.

I started exercising/training before the weight room. I saw an old VHS of the Brands Brothers training in the Iowa football stadium and my mind went, “Oh that’s what you have to do to be good,” Once I was bitten by the training bug I just continued down the path.


JJT: For people who’ve never really been to the gym before, what sort of strength training would you recommend for them?

Justin: The first step is to take an honest assessment of your goals, why are you training? I have found people train for 3 reasons. 1) They don’t want to die, so they exercise because a doctor is forcing them. 2) They want to look good naked. Vanity is a fantastic motivator. 3) They want perform better at a sport. Getting your face smashed is also an amazing motivator.


As far as a training program, first I’d consult a professional. Not a trainer at Globo Gym, but an actual professional trainer. Preferably one that knows what Jiu Jitsu is and what it is like to train BJJ. If a GOOD trainer is not available I’d say for most people, barring severe injury or limitations, Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe is an effective novice beginner guide to getting stronger. It is concise, effective and can be done with little equipment.


JJT: In the Jiu-Jitsu world, there is this idea that if a person wants to be a better Jiu-Jitsu competitor, all they have to do is more Jiu-Jitsu. What would you say to that?

Justin: Of course, the more you do something, the better you get. But at what point do diminishing returns happen? At what point do you find yourself needing to get stronger, in better shape, faster? Watch Rodolfo compete, the Mendes brothers, Buchecha. These are top flight athletes who train strength and conditioning seriously. We are talking about a sport, and in every sport the bigger, stronger, faster athlete has a unique advantage. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it helps. Getting stronger will not make your BJJ better, but it will make you better at BJJ.

Training off the mat is there to augment, not replace mat time. If you have a problem posturing in someone’s guard, I bet deadlifting can help. Hard time finishing those take downs? Try a good power clean. Need help finishing your chokes? How about some rows? Remember: augment not replace.


JJT: What do you believe causes that distaste for exercise among the BJJ community?

Justin: Being lazy. Also, not understanding exercise physiology and human biology. Fear of the unknown. Ignorance. The same could be said for the general population’s fear of the weight room.


JJT: What sort of conditioning routines might you recommend to someone who is looking to become a better BJJ athlete?

Justin: Simple, quick answer? If you took Drill to Win by Andre Galvao and mixed it with Starting Strength you’d have a fine start to a program. Once the athlete hits the intermediate level of Strength and can perform the drills in Prof. Galvao’s book they would probably need to consult a different training paradigm.
JJT: Lots of fads pop up in the exercise world, crossfit, suspension trainers, P90X; do they have a place in the BJJ practitioner’s toolbox, or should they be mostly avoided? Or, is the answer somewhere in between?
Justin: My opinion is this: once you have hit an intermediate level of strength, you can do whatever you want. Until then, an individual would be best served getting stronger.  And the best way to get stronger is to get under a bar and Squat, Deadlift, Clean, Press, and Bench. You could probably add some pull ups in there too.
JJT: Within the last couple of years, there has been a greater call for drug testing for Black Belts competing at a world level. People like Gabi Garci and Braulio Estima have even failed tests. Are PEDs something we ought to be worried about in Jiu-Jitsu?

Justin: Who would do the drug testing? Would the test be random? Who would select that athletes getting tested? What would the appeal process be? Until you can show me a truly effective test, my answer is no. All steroid testing does is create better cheaters. Your best bet is education. We can all look at the highest levels of BJJ and tell that a lot of those guys and girls are on some Vitamin S, which leads to another question: if they are all doing it, is it cheating?


JJT: How do you expect we will see BJJ athletes evolve over the next few years?

Justin: As education continues to spread, as science pushes the limits of human performance, you will only see more crazy athletes in BJJ. Can you imagine if Galvao, Lo, Vieira, Miyao, had the same Strength and Conditioning coaches as the Olympic Training Facility? Or as the guys in the NFL or Big 10, SEC, Pac12? Machines. You’d have freaking machines. That is what the future holds. Athletes who train like the best in the world.
JJT: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Justin: I’m really excited to have my gym Peformex INC in Avon, IN. We are growing steadily with plans for expansion in the near future. Performex is creating some real studs. We are working with Division 1 level football and baseball athletes, high level D1 prospects as well as some really solid combat sports athletes. My Brazilian Jiu Jitsu School, Avon BJJ, is located at this facility as well.

Personally, I’m looking forward to competing at the IBJJF Pans in March as well as Master’s Worlds in September. I get way more joy out of watching my guys get better than I do with my own success and I can’t wait to see what comes out of ABJJ/Performex in the near future.



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