What? Strength Training for BJJ?
We have been instructed over and over and over: 1) Strength is bad for your BJJ game; 2) You don’t need strength to be a BJJ champion; 3) Strength will cause you to be bulky and inflexible; 4) BJJ, done correctly, doesn’t use strength; 5) Strength will cause you to execute techniques incorrectly. Because every single technique requires a certain amount of strength and power, I would like to challenge that thinking. The better your technique (leverage) has become, the less strength or power you need to use to be successful performing a given technique against a worthy opponent. But that doesn’t mean strength and power aren’t tools that are useful in BJJ. The secret is knowing when and how to use them effectively while you continue to develop flawless technique.
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Let’s discuss how flawless techniques are accomplished. What we do is based on leverage. A lever can be used to exert a large force over a small distance at one end by exerting only a small force over a greater distance at the other end, an example of this is an arm bar, creating pressure on an opponent’s joint using leverage. The best BJJ practitioners are creating three types of levers anatomically with their bodies, in BJJ we use all three classes of levers. Every time we transition our bodies to get into a position where we have leverage and our opponent does not, we can exert all of our force into one specific weak area (which would be a joint(s); their base to perform a sweep or takedown; or if we are strangling them, it would be their carotid arteries.
Then we can give our full expression of strength over time to cause someone to either be “choked out”, which is a time element game, or we can explode through the joint using power and strength (only after the correct technique is set up), which is demonstrated on my video, 1% Better Every Day, Strength Building System by Ricky Lundell. It may take 5-6 seconds to set up an entire move and potentially break through someone’s arm in a tenth of a second using a lever (technique) correctly while understanding the exact moment to use strength and power.
If you have the perfect technique, which I would refer to as a Black or Red Belt level technique, where every single thing you do is leverage, and you begin to quantify that perfect leverage with real power and strength, then you become the ultimate BJJ Athlete. I remember being told as a teenager years ago that when people would come into the original Gracie Academy who were very muscular and strong, the Gracies would say, “You don’t need BJJ, you can leave because you are already big and strong.
We need BJJ because we are not big and strong. We need an equalizer.” Full disclosure: I wasn’t at the original Gracie Academy to hear this with my own ears. I wasn’t even born yet; however, this is the story I heard from the time I started training at the age of six (1992) from my training partners. In the gym, getting your opponent to tap is the goal, not breaking an opponent’s arm; however, in a dangerous situation, that skill may save your life or the life of your family.
Here is the best kept secret of BJJ. BJJ is the great equalizer until both opponents are equal in technique. At that moment, the next equalizer, is the amount of force (strength & power) that can be exerted at the exact strategic moment.
One way to visualize this concept is through simple math equations. For this discussion, I will set aside cardiovascular as well as muscular endurance. We will visit these concepts in a separate blog. Picture BJJ Technique on a scale of 1-10, White Belt being Technique Level 1 and advanced Black Belt being Technique Level 10, so a beginning Blue Belt would be Technical Level 3, and a Technical Level 5 would be a Purple Belt. In comparison, visualize strength on a scale of 1-10 as well. For Strength Level, I will use the deep back squat as the baseline. Strength Level 1 would be the ability to deep back squat half of your personal body weight.
For example, a 200-pound person would be able to deep back squat 100 pounds. Strength Level 10 would be the ability to deep back squat 3 times your personal body weight (200-pound person would back squat 600 pounds). Let’s use our Blue Belt for an example. Using a simple math formula, times your Technique Level 3 (Beginning Level Blue Belt) by a Level Strength 4 (Deep back squat 1.5 times your personal body weight) giving you a total of a 12 which is very good. If an opponent has a Strength Level 10 and a Technique Level 1 (White Belt), you would beat him or her (12 trumps 10).
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When you become an advanced Black Belt (Technique level 10), and you also have a Strength Level 10, you would have the equivalent of 10 X 10 which equals 100. One hundred, not only crushes all the belts but it would destroy a 12. If you are a Technique Level 5 (Purple Belt) and you are a Strength Level 6, that gives you a score of 30. Therefore, an advanced Blue Belt with a Technique Level 4 could beat the 30 by having a Strength Level 8, which would give him/her a score of 32.
Remember, flawless technique is always the ultimate goal. But don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t ever need strength or power. A lever has three parts: fulcrum, load, and effort. Don’t forget that effort (strength and power) is a critical part of an effective lever. As you progress to flawless technique, start exploring your relationship with strength and power, making all the difference when you are matched up with your equal in technique level.
P.S. Always remember to follow your academy’s rules. Stay strong out there, my friend.
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