Make Every Movement Count

Being economical with your strength and conditioning

I’m willing to wager that the vast majority of Jiu-Jitsu Magazine readers are not full-time athletes. You have a full-time job/school, a family, friends, and other responsibilities off the mat. Jiu-jitsu is your therapy; it is where you can escape for a few hours and continuously improve yourself. It would be naïve to think that after training 6-10 hours of jiu-jitsu each week, you have an additional 4-6 hours to perform resistance training and still fully recover to be your best on the mat. I’d also be willing to bet that, despite a busy schedule, you are still looking for ways to improve your jiu-jitsu game, whether it is improving technique, strength, mobility, or conditioning.

What is Efficient Training?
Your time is valuable, so it is best to use it wisely in the gym. Training economically refers to the most efficient (or economical) exercises one can utilize in the gym. You can walk into the gym and perform a cable chest fly for the pectoralis major, a cable press down for the triceps brachii, and a dumbbell front raise for your anterior deltoid. Or you could just perform a bench press, which activates all of these muscle groups and more. The more muscle groups active during an exercise, which are typically compound, multi-joint movements, the less time you have to spend on mundane (and unnecessary) exercises.

What To Work On
Many people make the mistake of simply picking up a bodybuilding routine to “blast their biceps” or play spider guard with a barbell, believing it will somehow improve their game. It could be argued that any type of resistance training will benefit you, but it is best to find the most useful and effective exercises for your sport. Make no mistake about it, you are an athlete; and as such, you should train like one. Any resistance-training program you follow should meet several criteria. It should:

1)    Transfer to your sport
2)    Progressively improve your strength, conditioning and power output
3)    Be performed in a time efficient manner without wasted energy
4)     Allow ample time to recover for skills training and competition

The Super Six
I’ve worked with several jiu-jitsu competitors, from fresh white belts looking to improve their game, to black belts attempting to rehabilitate injuries and add some prowess to their technique. Regardless of their skill levels, they all benefit from several foundational movements. Including these exercises will allow for a well-rounded and balanced physique:

Hip dominant variation
This category strengthens the muscles of the posterior chain. The hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors are not only important for powerful hip extension, but also allow stabilization at the hip, knee, and lumbar spine; which may prevent chronic pain and injury. Deadlift variations, kettlebell swings and hip thrusts/bridges all fall into this category.


Squat variation
Compared to the hip hinge variations, the squat is a much more knee dominant movement. It primarily strengthens the quadriceps muscle group of the thigh. Split and single leg squat variations, such as the Bulgarian split squat or pistol squat should be implemented in your program, as well as traditional bilateral squats with a barbell.


Upper Body Push
The bench press, shoulder press, push up and dip all fall into this category. These are the most popular exercises performed in most commercial gyms and are useful in the grappling arts. Muscle groups that are trained during push exercises vary depending on the angle of the press, but typically train the pectoralis major, the triceps and the anterior deltoid.


Upper Body Pull
These exercises are vital for any jiu-jitsu athlete’s programming. The pulling movement is apparent in judo throws, submissions from guard and transitioning to various dominant positions. Rows, pull downs and pull ups are the primary movements of this category and train the entire musculature of the back. Looking at the physique of any top jiu-jitsu competitor, it is apparent how much these muscles are utilized in the sport. Some top-level strength coaches advocate two upper body pulling exercises for every upper body push, as we are typically imbalanced and more anterior chain-dominant.


Popularized by the World’s Strongest Man competitions, weighted carries have become a foundational movement for athletes from a myriad of sports. This movement has been described as a weighted plank, as the musculature of the trunk is highly active to keep you upright while walking with a heavy load. Rack walks, farmer’s carries, waiter’s carries, and suitcase carries are all fantastic exercises that will not only work your “core,” but also your isometric grip strength with certain variations.


Trunk Stabilization
While many variations of the previous exercises will engage the abdominal and oblique muscles, added emphasis on these muscle groups may be necessary for those lacking trunk stability. Flexing at the lumbar spine (lower back) is quite common in various  guard positions, so it is important for jiu-jitsu athletes to focus on isometric static exercises in which the spine is in neutral position and not sit up (spinal flexion) exercises. Plank/bridge variations and anti-rotation exercises are ideal movements.


Efficient Like A Boss
At the gym, which exercises have the greatest impact on your jiu-jitsu?


Rafael Lovato Jr
Deadlifts, Kettlebell Swings, and all variations of pull-ups, especially with the gi or ropes.


Henry Akins
Deadlifts, squats, and pull-downs with a rope or rope climbs.

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One More Rep?
Repetition ranges can vary depending on the difficulty and demand of the exercise as training goal. A barbell deadlift is much more demanding on the body, so a set of 5-7 may suffice. Comparatively, the kettlebell swing is less demanding, so sets of 8-12 repetitions may be ideal. Repetition range will also vary depending on the goal of the person. A lower repetition range (3-6 reps) with more weight will increase overall strength. A moderate level of repetitions (7-12 reps) will focus primarily on hypertrophy (muscle growth). Repetition Ranges above 12 reps will increase your muscular endurance. Ideally, you vary your workouts with specific goals in mind, not just focusing on pure strength, endurance, or hypertrophy.

The Efficient Workout
For a jiu-jitsu athlete, a training week may look like this:

[row][double_paragraph]Workout One:

A1) Deadlift
3-5 sets of 5-7 repetitions
(resting 2 minutes between sets)

B1) Bulgarian Split Squat
2-4 sets of 5-7 repetitions

B2) Gi Pull Ups
2-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions
(Alternate between the two exercises, resting after B2 for
1-2 minutes)

C1) Farmer’s Walk
2-4 sets of 40-50 yards

C2) Kettlebell Press
2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions

C3) Long Lever Plank
2-3 sets of 20-30 seconds
(Alternate between the three exercises, resting after C3 for 1-2 minutes)[/double_paragraph][double_paragraph]Workout Two:

A1) Front Squat
3-5 sets of 5-7 repetitions
(resting 2 minutes between sets)

B1) Kettlebell swing
2-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions

B2) Pendlay Row
2-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions
(Alternate between the two exercises, resting after B2 for
1-2 minutes)

C1) Rack Walk
2-3 sets of 40-50 yards

C2) 1 arm Floor Press
2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions

C3) Band Dead Bug
2-3 sets of 15-20
(Alternate between the three exercises, resting after C3 for 1-2 minutes)[/double_paragraph] [/row]

Once completed, you will have trained every major muscle group of the body in an efficient manner. Performing routines such as this 2-3 times per week with a day or two of rest in between will increase your strength, training capacity, and transfer well onto the mat without significantly impacting your recovery for jiu-jitsu. You may never look like Arnold or squat 800lbs, but you will become a better athlete, which is the ultimate goal. This frequency allows for recovery, time on the mat, and no excuses to stay away from the weight room!



Naveed Shan is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Siege MMA/Lotus Club BJJ in Glendale, AZ and Revolution Training Systems in Tempe, AZ. He trains under Giva Santana and is currently finishing his post-graduate studies in Exercise Science and Psychology at ASU. You can contact him at

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