Jiu Jitsu Exercises: Understanding Physical Preparation for a BJJ Tournament

by Peak Strength & Conditioning

Unlike most other sports that play by the season, jiu-jitsu has over 50 different competitions throughout the year. This means a bjj athlete is competing all year around. In this type of environment, it’s impossible to peak at every single competition, due to the amount of time needed to be dedicated to each phase of training. We usually aim to peak at 3-5 of the many competitions our athletes compete at a year. In this article, we’ll take you through the phases of a bjj macrocycle and examples of jiu jitsu exercises we use with our athletes.

The first phase we’ll take our athletes through is called Hypertrophy.

This phase introduces athletes to the most basic movements at a high volume and low intensity. The athlete builds up muscle mass and the cross-sectional area to provide the body with as many muscle fibers as possible for the next coming phases. Here, we are looking at growing the muscle, versus strengthening the muscle, we’ll save that for the next phase.

Depending on the athletes lifting experience, we start with the basics: bench, squat, deadlift (again, depending on the athlete’s experience). These are compound movements which are movements that require 2 or more joints & muscle groups to work together. These movements are easily transferred to this sport; the athlete is using the entire body throughout every match, therefore train in a similar manner, without increasing the risk for injury. For example, the squat, in any form, is a compound movement which helps show us a few key things you need for this sport. When we see the athletes squat form we can determine what their mobility looks like, if there is an imbalance throughout the body & what their basic strength threshold looks like.

Why is it important to know these things as your coach?

The answer is easy… there’s always room for improvement.

In bjj, the object of the game is to put your opponent in a position that forces them to quit the game; during this process, the athlete is twisting, bending, pulling & pushing at every position. This brings the athlete to a place where there’s a need for strength within the musculature, flexibility & durability with in the ligaments/joints & whole-body proprioception.

The second set of jiu jitsu exercises are isolation exercises.

These accessory exercises are used to strengthen and target the smaller muscle groups within the body that in turn help the athlete pull more weight in the compound movements. They also train stabilizer muscles, which help lower the risk for injury during competition.

How much weight should the athlete pull? The intensity of these exercises is determined by the limitations of the athlete. Athlete should aim for 60-80% of their 1RM.

The second phase is the strength phase.

This is where we’re increasing the intensity of every exercise. Making sure that the musculature that was grown in the last phase is being contracted in the 85-95% 1RM range. In this phase, we decrease the volume significantly, just around the 1-6 rep range and increase the rest in order to produce the best results.

The strength phase will use the majority of the same exercises, used in the hypertrophy cycle. We use the same exercises and adjust the intensity, volume, and rest time to train the athlete how to pull heavier weight with good form. We do and in a few “newer” exercises to set the athlete up for the power phase. These “new’ exercises are the progressions for the Olympic weight lifting we’ll be doing towards the end of the phase. For example, the athlete will learn different complexes to help them practice the proper mechanics for the hang clean. One of the complexes we use is a Romanian deadlift (RDL) to an RDL shrug to a RDL jump shrug. This complex helps the athlete understand the triple extension needed for the hang clean.

The third phase is the power phase.

After the athlete builds up their strength & become adapted to the progressions used in the strength cycle, they move on into the power phase.  This is usually the final phase of the athlete’s program where they should see their peak performance.

The athlete’s intensity can range from 1-100% depending on the exercise. Volume is in the range of 1-5 depending on the intensity, the major factor in this phase is rest. We emphasize a max rest to ensure the same or close to the same amount of power is being used throughout each set. In this phase, our athletes will train in plyometric movements & Olympic weightlifting variations.

A plyometric movement is a type of exercise teaches an athlete how exert maximum force in a short amount of time, also known as power. A favorite exercise of our athletes’ in the knees-to-feet. This exercise is performed using the entire body, to get from their knees, to their feet, without putting any other limbs on the floor. This movement helps athletes understand how much power needs to be used in their hips for other exercises such as the clean, jerk and snatch.

After the plyos, we’ll have an athlete perform an Olympic weightlifting exercise. These exercises involve a full body range of motion where the goal is to move max weight at max speed. The most common and safe exercise we use is a hang clean. This exercise allows the athlete to train their triple extension under load at a high speed. Why is this important? The extension is being trained at the hip, knee, and ankle joint which are the joints most commonly used in every sport. If we’re thinking bjj, the athlete is consistently flexing or extending at those specific joints throughout the whole completion. This makes them stronger, and faster at those positions because they’ve trained under load to produce that force they need in competition.

The desired results come when the athlete is consistently training through a science based program.

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