Base Building: Strength & Conditioning for BJJ Athletes

Reading Time: 9 minutes

In this article, we will go through the Strongertmr Base Building Program which is a simple and effective strength & conditioning program for BJJ athletes to improve and supplement their performance on the mats.


Strength & Conditioning (S&C) is important for all athletes. When all other things are equal, the athlete who is stronger, more powerful and enduring will emerge victorious. However, most amateur BJJ athletes might not have the capacity to hire a S&C coach nor have the know-how to come up with their own training program to help improve their performance on the mats. So this article is written for these athletes in mind, to provide them with an easy to follow training program which can supplement and improve their grappling training.

According to John Danaher, Endurance is the most important physical attribute.


In my previous article “A Needs Analysis for BJJ”, we have learnt that the physiological priority for Brazilian Ju Jitsu is Endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular. John Danaher stresses in his book “Mastering Ju Jitsu”, that Endurance is the ‘most important physical attribute, more important than size, strength and flexibility (although these are undeniably important as well’. Delving deeper, there are many aspects of Endurance one can train for:

  • Strength Endurance
  • Power Endurance
  • Anaerobic Endurance
  • Aerobic Endurance

Training for these attributes properly is best done in a periodized strength & conditioning program for BJJ athletes in accordance to their specific goals or needs.

If you’ll like a more detailed and periodized program on the different attributes for BJJ, it would be best to hire a coach to help you out with that.


In this article, we will focus on general strength & conditioning to build a foundation for the BJJ athlete. In other words, building the base or base building.

The BJJ athlete can then work to develop these other athletic qualities on the mats with specific BJJ movement or sparring drills. They can also consider building on these aspects in the future when they have progressed to a higher level in the weight room.

Principles of the Program

Before we discuss the exercises, sets and reps, here are the guiding principles for the Strongertmr BJJ Base Building Program:

1. The goal of this program is to help BJJ athletes build a foundation of general strength & conditioning in order to help them improve their BJJ performance and reduce the chances of injury.

2. The program is kept simple as it is geared towards BJJ athletes who might have difficulty learning more complex exercises such as cleans, snatches, deadlifts etc. It is ok to progress or substitute for the more complex exercises if you know how to perform them.

Strength is great, but how much stregnth specific training is optimal?

3. This is neither a powerlifting program to get really strong on the big 3 barbell lifts nor is it a bodybuilding program to get you ripped and aesthetic. Always remember that the main goal is to get better at BJJ and not to get maximally strong or aesthetic.

4. The goal of the workouts are not meant to crush you in the gym. We leave enough in the tank to go hard on the mats. Don’t test yourself in the weight room by going all out, test yourself on the mats!

Strength & Conditioning for BJJ Athletes

Program Rules

  • The program is a full body program in order to maximise efficiency and leave more time for the mats.
  • Perform this workout 2 – 3 times a week with at least one day in between.
  • Volume is kept low in order to ensure sufficient recovery for sports practice.

Workout Outline

  1. Dynamic Stretching/Mobility Drills
  2. Core & Scapular Activation Drills
  3. Movement Drills (to get warm)
  4. Main Exercises
  5. Supplementary Exercises
  6. Core Exercises

The Warm-Up

The warm-up consists of the Mobility, Activation & Movement Drills. For a complete guide on how to get a good warm-up in, check out this article: Better Your Workout: The Ultimate Warm-Up.

Mobility Drills – Being mobile is a must for BJJ. Other than getting ready for the S&C session, performing mobility drills regularly can help improve mobility and flexibility in the long run. So it is important to take this part of the workout as seriously as the main workout itself.

Perform dynamic stretches for the muscles around the shoulder, thoracic spine and hip joints. You can also perform additional stretches for other muscle groups if you’d like. If you want a resource to follow along to, check out my Mobility Drills for Warm Ups video below.

Follow along these mobility drills or choose some that suits your preferance!

Activation Drills – It is important for a trainee to know how to and to have good stability of their lumbar spine and scapular-thoracic region before moving on to loaded training. This will allow trainees to handle load better and with proper technique which can help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance (ACE).

A BJJ athlete also requires a lot of ability to keep stable as we are constantly opposing forces being acted upon us by our opponents. Utilising activation drills during the warmups is a good way to add some scapular and core stabilising drills without taking too much of our time.

When you can’t resist…you get thrown!

A simple way to perform this would be to do 2 – 3 sets of the following exercises:

  • Plank Variation
  • Glute Thrust Variation
  • Band Pull Aparts/Face Pull Variation

Do 3 types of the above exercises in a superset for 12-15 repetitions.
Rest ~30 seconds in between each superset.

If you need ideas for some core activation exercises, check out 8 Anti-Rotational Exercises for a Bulletproof Core.

Movement Drills – The last part of the warm-up is to perform some movement drills. The main goal of this part is to get our heart rate up and start getting warm (literally). This will help us prepare our bodies for the main workout. While it is ok to perform general cardio exercises such as running, cycling for a few minutes to achieve this, I highly recommend performing some BJJ specific movement drills to do so. We can kill two birds with one stone, get warmed up and improve our movement capacity.

Here are some bodyweight movements that you can utilise during this part of the workout.

Try out some of these movements in your warmup!

Pick 2-3 movements and perform them for a short circuit of 20s ON and 20s OFF.
Complete 2-3 sets till you build up a light sweat.
Rest 30-60s in between circuits.

Do not attempt to go all out on these movements. Keep the movement light and flowing. Remember that the goal is to get warmed up and improve your movement! Not to get overly fatigued.

The Trap Bar Deadlift is a fantastic exercise for the BJJ athlete


These are the bread and butter lifts of the program. I have limited exercise selection to a few key exercises I believe are easier for a beginner lifter to learn and perform. Other variations are acceptable although I would strongly recommend sticking to a few lifts to ensure better progress.

Keep intensity at 75% – 85% of your 1RM. You want to finish the lifts feeling that you can perform a few more reps. This is to ensure room for progress and also not to overly fatigue you for practice on the mats. We always want to leave more in the tank when it comes to the weight room!

Main Exercise A (Push):

  • Bench Press 
  • Overhead Press 

Main Exercise B (Pull):

  • Weighted Pull-up
  • Barbell Row

Main Exercise C (Squat/Bend):

  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Front Squat
  • Bulgarian Split Squat

Work up to 2 sets of 5 OR 3 sets of 3 on the main exercises.
Rest for 3-5 minutes in between sets

You can alternate between the main exercises every workout. For example:

Bench PressOverhead PressBench Press
Barbell RowWeighted Pull-upBarbell Row
Trap Bar DeadliftBulgarian Split SquatTrap Bar Deadlift
A sample 3 day outline for the Main Exercises
The Pull-up is another great Strength & Conditioning exercise for a BJJ Athletes


The supplementary exercises are to help improve muscular balance, build on your strength and work on your weaknesses. Hence, I would recommend performing more unilateral work here if possible. Similar to the main exercises, do not try to go all out on these exercises. Always leave a few reps in the tank!

Supplementary Exercise (Push/Pull):

  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Row
  • Dips/Push-up
  • Pull/Chin-up

Supplementary Exercise (Squat/Bend)

  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Goblet Squats 
  • Lunges

Work up to 2 sets of 6-10 on the supplementary exercises.
Pick 2 Upper Body supplementary exercises, 1 Push and 1 Pull.

Choose the opposing Lower Body movement from your Main Lower Body exercise.
Rest for 90-120 seconds in between sets

Build up your core strength with some rotation movements.


We will keep the core exercises simple but effective.

Trunk ActionExercise
FlexionCrunch variation: cable/bosu/stability ball
ExtensionBridge variation: floor/bosu/stability ball
RotationWoodchops/Side Slams/Twists

Pick 1 trunk action each workout and perform one exercise.
Perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
Rest 45-60 seconds between sets
Alternate between the different trunk actions each workout.

Strength & Conditioning for BJJ Athletes


ExerciseSets x Reps Rest Time
Dynamic Stretches
Band Pullapart
Pallov Hold
Glute Bridge
Inch Worm
Side Kickthrough
Side Ape
2 Rounds Circuit
Bench Press2×54m
Weighted Pullups2×54m
Front Squat2×54m
Dumbbell Press2×102m
Dumbbell Row2×102m
Stability Ball Crunches3×1560s
A sample workout for the ST BJJ Program


1. I don’t feel like I’ve worked out enough! There’s too little volume, can I do more?
Do more on the mats! It is great that you have more energy in reserve after your workout sessions. This will allow you to perform better on the mats.

2. Can I do the normal barbell squats and deadlifts instead?

Sure! If you are competent in the lifts, feel free to do so. The trap bar deadlift and bulgarian split squat are generally easier for most to perform. They also place less load on the lower back which can be pretty beat up due to constant BJJ practice.

3. What does it mean to work up to?
It means that you start light and work your way up to your main working sets. For the main exercises, this would be 75-85% of your 1RM. You probably won’t have to work up as much for the supplementary lifts as you are more than warmed up from the prior exercises. But 1 or 2 warmup sets can get you ready for the particular exercises.

4. Can I change exercises every session?
It is generally advisable to stick to a few key exercises for at least 4-6 weeks. This would allow you to gauge your actual progress as you have a benchmark to compare with. As shown in the above table, you can alternate between exercises in two workouts. I generally recommend having a Workout A and Workout B to alternate with.

5. This is too easy for me, I rather stick to my 5×5.
Sure! Do whatever works for you. Just keep in mind that programs like 5×5 or geared towards powerlifting whose main goal is to develop absolute strength in 3 main lifts. While this can help improve your BJJ, it might no the the most optimal.

Now go out and get it in!


The main goal of any athlete is to improve their performance in their sport and being diligent in your strength & conditioning can help with that. However, it is important to remember the main goal of improving BJJ performance and not end up being an iron athlete.

If you are a Brazilian Jiu Jutsu athlete and are looking for a simple but effective program to work with to improve your performance and reduce injuries, try the Strongertmr Base Building Program out! You will find yourself getting stronger and fitter while still having lots in the tank to go hard and train hard on the mats.

If you have any questions regarding the program, leave a comment or drop me a DM @strongertmrtraining.

Check out my other articles on Strength & Conditioning for Brazilian Jiu Jutsu here!

Author: Leon Tan, CSCS

I'm a certified Fitness Coach with a degree in Sports Science. I am passionate in Health, Fitness and helping people become a better version of ourselves.

Leave a Reply