10 Mistakes in Strength & Conditioning for Jiu-Jitsu

Thanks to years of research, modern technology, and the Internet, there is a ton of useful information now available on strength and conditioning (S&C). Even with all of that valuable info out there, many of us still use outdated training methods, continue with bad habits, and don’t get the most from our time in the gym. The following mistakes in S&C for jiu-jitsu will not only limit your results in the weight room, but could set you up for injury, lead to overtraining, and threaten your grappling performance. Take an honest look at the following list and if you’re guilty, commit to fixing a few of these mistakes over the course of your next few training sessions.

1. You Don’t Have a Goal
This is one of the most common mistakes in the weight room. Having a goal gives you something finite to work toward and provides the means for what exercises, sets, reps, and rest periods to use. If you were told to take a road trip somewhere, you would need to know your destination, otherwise you’d be driving around aimlessly, lost on a road to nowhere. A goal is the destination and determines the course of action for your journey toward it. Make your goal specific. “I want to get stronger” is vague and won’t inspire action. “I want to add 20 pounds to my deadlift in six weeks” is specific, measurable, and the specified timeframe adds urgency. Find a goal, commit to it, and achieve it.


2.You Don’t Use a Program or Log Your Workouts
This mistake goes hand-in-hand with not having a goal. The goal is where you want to be- the program is how you get there.  There are plenty of well-tested strength, conditioning, flexibility, and goal specific programs available, so don’t cut yourself short by not using one that’s proven. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the weight room, or overcomplicate things with complex training protocols. Short term, six to twelve week programs, are great to keep you on track and continually improving.  Once you’ve selected a program, be sure to record your exercises, weights, and rest periods.  This will ensure that you’re making progress and not just spinning your wheels using the same weights at every session.
Plus it will keep you motivated to see your progress after finishing the program.


3.You Don’t Warm Up or Cool Down
When you’re young, you can get away with a few side bends and a quick hammy stretch before training without herniating a disc or tearing a rotator cuff.  Although a proper warm-up is necessary for all ages, as you get older, a thorough prep of the muscles, joints, heart, and lungs, is an absolute must. A good warm-up will help prevent injury and ensure that you get the most from your workout.  Make sure you thoroughly heat up the muscles and joints with dynamic stretches, mobility drills, and a few light sets. To limit post workout soreness and stiffness, and maintain good flexibility, statically stretch the muscles you worked for five to ten minutes after your workout.


4.You Only Work Your Strengths
It’s easy to get caught up in only training what you’re good at. It feeds the ego, gains approval from others, and keeps us motivated. However, most of the time, your strengths are exactly what you don’t need work on. The areas you lack in are what need your attention. Working your weaknesses are often uncomfortable, boring, and not immediately satisfying. To become a better all around grappler, however, you need to spend time on these areas. Just like how you may favor the guard over passing because you’re better at it, it’s your passing that you should drill. Regarding fitness, maybe you’ve got cardio for days but can’t bench-press a broomstick, or you can squat double bodyweight but can’t touch your toes. Determine what your weaknesses are and attack them!


5.You’re Still Doing Isolation Exercises and Bodybuilding Splits
The once highly popular bodybuilding methods of the seventies, eighties, and nineties, have unfortunately overstayed their welcome, and continue to rear their ugly heads in gyms throughout the country. Thanks to the growth of things like CrossFit and kettlebell training, however, we’ve seen a push back into functional fitness that carries over to sport and daily life. Isolating muscle groups with single joint exercises has been shown to cause muscular imbalances and damage to the joints and tendons. Instead, elect to train muscle groups, like the upper body, core complex, and posterior chain through compound movements. The entire body is used in jiu-jitsu so exercises like the Deadlift, Turkish Get Up, and Kettlebell Swing will contribute to your sports performance, not just your beach muscles.


6.You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Injury Prevention
People often tend to focus on injury prevention when it’s too late.  You were going along strong, making five classes a week, competing, weight training, thinking your Rickson in ’95, then BAM, you’re on the couch for eight to twelve weeks with a popped knee. Six weeks of recovery with another six of rehab.  Typically during that time you’ll say to yourself, “Man, how could I have prevented this? I want to train!”  The best way to prevent injuries is to commit to prehab exercises that clean up mobility restrictions, correct muscular imbalances, stabilize wobbly joints, and loosen overactive muscles before they cause a problem. Foam rolling, joint mobility, yoga, and stretching are all examples of injury prevention methods that will help you stay on the mats for the long-term.


7.You Don’t Use Proper Form
Nowadays, fitness has become a competition. Everyone wants to set a personal record week after week and finish a fitness challenge they saw online faster than their buddy.  When fitness becomes a competition, the first thing to go is form. Technique is sacrificed for speed or weight lifted. Don’t fall into this trap. In fact, when was the last time you had a professional critique your form? Most of us learn to exercise from YouTube, a high school coach, or worse yet, one of our bros. Invest the time and money in learning proper technique. You’ll reduce your risk of injury and get more out of your exercise.


8.You Don’t Rest Enough
Many of us get caught in the trap of wanting to train as much as possible, regardless of our recovery needs. Whatever the root is, desire for progress/jiu-jitsu addiction/fear of looking weak, overtraining is a serious problem that can lead to a mess of ugly health issues. The body needs a balance of stress and recovery to perform optimally, and when the needle is pushed too far in one direction, the result is almost always negative. Schedule rest days, listen to your body, and spend some time off the mat and out of the weight room.  You’ll come back stronger and perform better than before.


9. You Don’t Refuel Properly After Training 
Although research is disproving much of the hype sold by supplement companies regarding nutrient requirements and timing, there are some solid strategies for refueling after training.  Whether it’s post jiu-jitsu or weight training, either a BCAA or carb with protein drink has been shown to speed muscle recovery. With the extreme demands put on the body from multiple training sessions, it’s a smart idea to provide your body with the best fuel for recovery. Aim for half of your bodyweight in ounces of water per day, and give your body nutrient-dense foods between sessions. Up your intake of colorful fruits and vegetables, eat quality sources of lean protein, and limit sugar, processed food, and alcohol.


10.You Try to Do What “4-time Black Belt World Champion [insert name] Did.”
The Internet can be a great resource for information and motivation, but don’t allow what you saw on social media to get the best of your ego. When you see Cobrinha balancing on a Swiss ball while overhead squatting a kettlebell, don’t ask yourself if you might be able to do that. Or you see Andre Galvao bench-pressing eight plates on chest day, don’t test how much you can do the next day. The pros are pros for a reason; they’re elite athletes with years of experience under even more experienced coaches. A lot of times what you see on social media are just circus tricks meant to entertain and impress. But even if you do get ahold of Andre’s leg training plan, don’t attempt it unless you are an expert lifter with years of experience. Basic exercises like squats, pushes, and pulls with simple rep and set schemes are enough to yield progress. Use your head and don’t try something you’re not ready for.



Always remember: to get better at jiu-jitsu, you must train jiu-jitsu. Strength and conditioning can help you get stronger, faster, and tougher to handle on the mats, but to make the most of your time in the gym, clean up your regimen by eliminating these mistakes. Some of them may be easier to correct than others, but if your goal is to progress, then commit to these changes and watch your development take off!


2 Comments on this post.
  • Laurence Griffiths
    7 June 2016 at 11:18 am
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    Nice article, agree with what you’re saying I think people focus on what they need to do, this also gives some great pointers on what not to do also, often overlooked.

  • Ruben Mendez jr
    7 August 2019 at 1:41 am
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    Was wondering what this publications thoughts on crossfit for bjj was?. I currently train in both… crossfit in the a.m and bjj in the evening. Being 38 years old it does seem to take its toll, but I dont mind taking a day or two off from both. Any thoughts is appreciated.

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