In this article, I will be going through a needs analysis of the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jutsu in order to help us understand it better and develop the proper S&C program for maximising performance.
I know most of us out there are only recreational grapplers. We have great passion for the sport and sometimes we enjoy the thrill of competing in the local competition. But most of us have full time jobs and have other responsibilities than training full time. More often than not, we really want to improve, but we might not get enough mat time. This is especially because BJJ is a sport that requires at least one other partner to train properly, whether it is to drill, or to spar. It might be difficult to get to classes due to time constraints like working overtime.
So, another way to improve your grappling performance, whether it’s BJJ, Nogi, Wrestling or Judo, is to start doing some Strength & Conditioning if you haven’t already. A normal gym is usually much more readily available and accessible to us than BJJ classes.
THE CASE FOR STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
The aim of S&C is to use exercise prescription to help with injury prevention as well as to improve performance for you.
We improve performance by improving our components of Athletic Performance. This includes:
- Maximal Strength
- Anaerobic Power
- Anaerobic Capacity
- Local Muscular Endurance
- Aerobic Capacity
- Body Composition
That might seem overwhelming. So much to train for and so little time? Well, don’t worry. By utilising a needs analysis, we can understand which components of athletic performance is most important for BJJ.
A NEEDS ANALYSIS OF BRAZILIAN JIU JUTSU
Before prescribing a training program, a coach would have to conduct a needs analysis of the sport. We want to understand the sport of BJJ before deciding why and what exercises are good for performance. We do not want to blindly follow any random powerlifting or bodybuilding program as those programs are meant to maximise performance in those sports, not BJJ.
Disclaimer: If you enjoy powerlifting/bodybuilding training AND BJJ, by all means cross train in them. This article is meant more specifically for those who want to maximise their BJJ performance.
A needs analysis is an evaluation of the requirements and characteristic of the sport. We can ask ourselves a few questions:
- Movement Analysis: What are the body and limb movement patterns and muscular involvement?
- Physiological Analysis: What are the priorities? Strength, Power, Hypertrophy or Muscular Endurance?
- Other Characteristics: What are some other requirements such as Cardiovascular Endurance, Agility, Speed or Flexibility?
- Injury Analysis: What are the common site for joint and muscle injuries? Also, what are their causative factors?
Let’s answer these questions together.
BJJ is a sport which requires very dynamic and fluid movements. You require a high degree of coordination and flexibility of all four limbs.
There are also highly complex movement patterns required as you are placed in various positions during the three phases of combat: Standing, Clinching and on the Ground. You will experience many different positions from standing, lunging, sitting, you’re on your side, on your back, in the turtle and even posting on your head. You are required to move well and utilise force efficiently from these positions. So a good degree of movement competency, flexibility and coordination is also required.
Here are some great grappling movement drills you can incorporate to improve your movement competency and coordination!
It is first important to note that BJJ is a sport with weight classes. As such, relative strength and power is more important than maximal strength and power.
Secondly, the length of matches depends on your belt level. As such, the higher your level, the more likely you will be required to have high levels of muscular and cardiovascular endurance.
|Length of Brazilian Jiu Jutsu Matches|
|White belt||5 minutes|
|Blue belt||6 minutes|
|Purple belt||7 minutes|
|Brown belt||8 minutes|
|Black belt||10 minutes|
John Danaher also stresses in his book Mastering Ju Jitsu, that Endurance (muscular and cardiovascular) is the “most important physical attribute, more important than size, strength and flexibility (though these are undeniably important as well).” This is because most matches with fighters of similar levels won’t be able to quickly overwhelm the other. Matches are usually drawn out and fighters need the stamina to last the duration of the fight.
So in a nutshell, the physiological priority for Brazilian Ju Jitsu is Endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular. Do understand that Endurance does not only refer to doing light weights for hundreds of repetitions or long distance running! We want to develop:
- Strength Endurance
- Power Endurance
- Anaerobic Conditioning
- Aerobic Conditioning
We want our endurance to be Grappling Specific. Of course, other physiological factors are important as well. But endurance should take priority as Professor Danaher emphasises.
There are different phases in combat and each has a specific set of physical requirements. A complete grappler must be able to cope with all of them.
- Standing: Speed, explosiveness and aerobic conditioning
- Clinch: Balance, gripping strength and driving power
- Ground: Anaerobic conditioning, strength, flexibility and grappling endurance
“Also according to Mastering Ju Jutsu“
BJJ is a multi-faceted sport and as such, there are many aspects to train for in order to become great. It is not possible to train every single aspect of athleticism due to limited time, energy and resources. Periodisation of training is very important in order to structure your training properly.
Another way to decide what to train on is to understand your style of play. For instance a half guard game like Bernado Faria would require a lot more strength and endurance compared to a very quick and lateral passing game like the Rafael Mendes who would require more speed, quickness and agility.
Thus, it is highly important for athletes to understand their own ‘game’ and decide which aspects they should be focusing on. We want to train the component of athleticism that complements our ‘game’ and also focus on some of our weaknesses.
Most Common Injury Sites
In one research study with 121 participants, it was found that the most common injury locations were to the hands & fingers (n = 70), foot & toes (n = 52) as well as the arms & elbow (n = 51). In general, injuries to the upper extremities were more common although lower extremity injuries tended to be more serious. 
In another study, it was found that the shoulder and knees had the most injury location by novice (white to blue/3.67 ± 2.27 years) and advanced (purple to black/10.0 ± 5.59 years) athletes. Novice athletes tended to get more easily injured during training (54.5%). The study attributed this to experience levels and that overuse was the most common factor of injury. On the other hand, advanced athletes had more frequent injuries during competition (66.1%) which was mostly joint injuries possibly from submission attempts by the opponent. 
Injuries and Quitting
Lastly, a study also showed that BJJ is a sport with a high rate of injury. 91% of participants were injured in training and 60% of competitive athletes were injured in competitions. Around 66% of injured participants needed medical attention and 15% of them required surgery. Those who required surgical treatment were 6.5 times more likely to consider quitting BJJ as compared to those who require no or other forms of treatment. Those who had to take more than 4 months absence from BJJ were 5.5 times more likely to consider quitting as compared with participants who needed less time off. 
The studies show that there is a high prevalence of injury in this sport, even during training due to live sparring. The upper body is also more likely to get injured and if your injury requires some sort of surgical treatment, it is likely that you might consider quitting the sport. So it is very important to ensure that we take care and strengthen our bodies by utilising S&C. We can do this by implementing exercises which can help us strengthen the muscles around our fingers, arms, shoulders and knees. It is also important to ensure that we know when to tap out of submissions to prevent severe injuries.
- McDonald, A. R., Murdock, F. A., Jr, McDonald, J. A., & Wolf, C. J. (2017). Prevalence of Injuries during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 5(2), 39. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports5020039
- Silva Junior, Jorge Nelson da, Kons, Rafael Lima, Dellagrana, Rodolfo André, & Detanico, Daniele. (2018). Injury prevalence in Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes: comparison between different competitive levels. Revista Brasileira de Cineantropometria & Desempenho Humano, 20(3), 280-289
- Petrisor BA, Del Fabbro G, Madden K, Khan M, Joslin J, Bhandari M. Injury in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training. Sports Health. 2019;11(5):432‐439.
In this article, we did a needs analysis of Brazilian Jiu Jutsu to better understand the needs of the sport. We now know that BJJ is a sport which
- Requires a high degree of movement competency and competency
- Priorities muscular endurance
- Has many phases which has different requirements, so we need to understand our own game better
- Has a high prevalence of injury. So we need to take care of our bodies well
By understanding the above, we will be better able to craft out a strength and conditioning regime to maximise performance on the mats. I hope you guys understand the needs of our sport better now and let’s get stronger on the mats together. Oss!