Most of us who adopt the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle seek to supplement our training and prepare our bodies for our best performance on the mats. BJJ Strength training is an excellent way to achieve increased muscular performance, but most people focus on weightlifting and don’t recognize gymnastics as the fantastic alternative it is!
Gymnastics is the best choice for BJJ strength training because it is a total body strength workout that also improves flexibility, balance, and coordination.
The Strongest Athletes In The World
Gymnasts rank among the most robust and most flexible of all athletes. They are in peak physical condition because the gymnastics uses movements that work the entire body while utilizing resistance and mobility.
Top athletes like UFC fighter George St-Pierre and EBI and ADCC champ Eddie Cummings cross-train with gymnastics. Australia’s first female black belt and IBJJF champion, Sophia McDermott, was a gymnast before she began training Jiu Jitsu.
Because gymnastics movements use body weight for resistance, your muscles can recover much quicker than other BJJ strength training workouts that use added weights. Bodyweight exercises paired with mobility exercises stretch and strengthen your muscles simultaneously.
The combination of strength and mobility gained from gymnastics lend themselves perfectly to the wide range of dynamic and explosive movements we use in Jiu Jitsu.
BJJ Strength Training With Gymnastic Exercises
Gymnastics strengthens both connective tissue (bones, ligaments, tendons) and muscle tissue through bodyweight and flexibility exercises. Connective tissue helps support joints, while muscle tissue provides strength and movement. Strengthening both muscles and ligaments helps to prevent injury to the joints by making them more stable.
Gymnastics is a complete bodyweight workout. Most gymnastics exercises combine movements that exert power and strength with isometric (static holds) that require balance, such as the front and back lever.
To get into the lever position on the bar, you need to propel your body upwards with control. Once you get in the position, you hold your body in place isometrically.
You need powerful, almost explosive motion to lift yourself off of the ground, but you must do so with control and coordination to maintain your balance. In Jiu Jitsu, you also need to be able to utilize explosive movements while simultaneously maintaining control of your opponent.
A few important gymnastic strength training exercises that are beneficial to BJJ strength training are the planche, front and back lever, manna, rings, and handstands.
When executing the planche, the body is supported horizontally off of the ground by the arms. This exercise provides both strength and balance and is excellent for pushing movements we use in BJJ, like shrimping and escapes.
Front And Back Lever
The front and back lever is similar to the planche but is done either on rings or a pull-up bar. The body is positioned horizontal to the ground and supported by the arms. In a front lever, the front of the body is facing up and away from the ground. With a back lever, the front of the body is facing toward the ground.
The manna is similar to the planche, but instead of keeping the body horizontal to the ground, the hips and legs are lifted towards the face. This more advanced move is excellent for guard retention, inversions, and rolls.
There are a variety of different ring exercises available. Below are a few that will amplify your specific BJJ strength training routine:
- The Ring Support Hold: With the ring support hold, you support your body off of the ground by pushing down into the rings with your arms. This movement is great for an overall upper body and core workout.
- The Ring Row: The ring row is a bodyweight row on the rings that can support movements such as the pulling nature of cross collar chokes from bottom guard and collar drags.
- The Knee Tuck to Invert: The knee tuck to invert is great for guard retention and inversion. The beginning of this move is similar to a ring support hold, except you tuck your knees to your chest and invert your body by rolling backward.
- The Ring Push-Up: The ring push-up is a bodyweight push-up on the rings and supports pushing movements in BJJ.
When performing a handstand, support yourself with your arms while your body is completely inverted in a straight line. Handstands build upper body strength and are very useful for getting used to inverting.
Organizing Gymnastic Strength Training
Gymnastics exercises generally pair mobility with strength. Moves like the handstand and planche generate a significant amount of power. At the same time, mobility is still needed to get your body in the precise position these difficult maneuvers require.
Ring exercises are fantastic for mobility, yet you also need strength to lift and rotate yourself. Any combination of gymnastics exercises will add strength and mobility to your routine.
Instead of thinking of your exercise routine as dogmatic, remember that you can mix and match! Gymnastics pairs well with weightlifting, allowing you to work up to the more difficult movements.
For example, instead of doing rows on the rings, use weights and pair that movement with a knee tuck to invert or levers for mobility.
Alternatively, you can add weight to your gymnastic routines. A weighted vest can significantly increase the difficulty of movements like pull-ups and push-ups! At the same time, you’ll be doing BJJ strength training in a fun and easy to recover from way.
Gymnastics is one of the best ways to approach BJJ strength training because it provides you with the added strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination you need for peak BJJ performance, all at once.
Most gymnastics exercises replicate motions that are essential to Jiu Jitsu. Practicing gymnastics exercises is also a great way to keep your joints healthy and strong for longevity in training.
Kimberly is a Jiu Jitsu purple belt who also holds a black belt in Siljun Dobup Korean Sword Arts. When she’s not on the mats, she enjoys immersing herself in nature or a good book. She trains in New Jersey with her 9-year-old son.