There are numerous exercises that you can do to improve your BJJ strength, but one that might just be the best: the pull up.
Pull ups are a ubiquitous part of strength training programs, and this includes BJJ athletes that have been using pull up variations for decades.
Here is a complete overview of the pull up and how you can improve your strength with just this one exercise. We’ll cover which muscles the pull up target, how it will improve your strength for BJJ, and offer some product recommendations.
We also added a section going over the different types of pull ups you can add to your workouts. Including beginner versions of the pull up that you can do if you can’t do a pull up just yet.
What is a pull up?
A pull up is a bodyweight exercise, where you grab onto a bar and lift yourself up. Then you lower yourself with control to complete the rep.
It is a closed chained movement that requires numerous body parts working together to complete the movement. The exercise particularly engages your biceps, lats, and core – all are activated throughout the duration of the exercise.
Pull ups are arguably the best workout that you can do to improve your strength without using weights. That is why numerous, proven effective strength programs include pull ups in their system.
Why are pull ups good for improving your BJJ strength?
Pull ups can improve your BJJ strength in a variety of different ways. Here are some of the benefits that pull ups can have on your BJJ strength.
Improves grip strength
One of the biggest improvements from doing pull ups is that they will improve your grip strength. Gi Jiu Jitsu requires that you have solid grip strength to grab onto your opponent’s gi and control them.
Doing pull ups and variations of the exercise dramatically will improve your grip strength.
While BJJ is something of a finesse martial art, it still requires good core strength to execute the movements – especially if you’re competing against a skilled grappler.
Many high level BJJ athletes do pull ups to improve their core strength. The movements of a pull up require your core to stay activated the whole time.
Don’t be surprised if you see more definition in your abs after doing pull ups for a few weeks.
The pull up is the best pull exercise you can do (it’s well named in that regard!). Which is great for Jiu Jitsu, since you’re constantly pulling in the martial art. Collar chokes, arm drags, arm bars, knee bars, spider guard, and more all rely on your pull strength.
Doing pull ups will definitely be beneficial to your pulling strength.
Pull up variations
There are a lot of great pull up variations you can use to boost your strength for BJJ. Here are 4 types of pull ups you should consider adding to your strength workouts.
Basic pull up
Of course, you should start with the basic pull ups and work your way into the variations. Grab the bar with an overhand grip (like you’re waving at the bar) slightly wider than shoulder width apart, activate your core, and lift yourself up, remember to keep control on the way down.
Chin ups are a great variation of the pull up that provide most of the same difference. The main difference is your palms are facing inward when you grab the bar and not outward. Doing these can be really beneficial for your cross chokes and loop chokes.
BJJ pull ups, using a gi or towel
Probably the best pull up variation you can do to increase your BJJ-specific strength are pull ups using your gi. In this variation, you throw your gi(or towel) over the bar, grab onto the sleeves, and pull yourself up. By doing these, you get the same benefits from a pull up, while at the same time improving your gi grips.
Experiment with different grips, trying pistol grips, sleeve grips, or even cross-choke grips.
Note: This puts a lot of stress on the fabric, so we recommend using a gi or towel you don’t care so much about.
Pull ups with isometric holds
Another variation that will improve your strength are pull ups with isometric hold. These are when you hold yourself for a few seconds before bringing yourself down to complete the rep. Doing these pauses can be really beneficial for your overall strength.
There are many exercise science experts that stress the importance of doing negative reps with your routines. A negative pull up is where you control yourself going down while keeping constant tension and your core activated. These are way harder than a normal pull up, but will improve your BJJ strength.
Pull Up Bar Recommendations
Pull ups don’t require much, and in fact can be done using a sturdy tree branch or the monkey bars at your local park. But if you don’t have a handy tree or just want to be able to do some at home, then you’re going to need a pull up bar.
Here is a short list of good options. Each of these products is well rated and has been vetted using FakeSpot to check for low quality reviews and received an A rating. While we have not had the pleasure of using these first hand, each of these chin up bars should serve you well.
Style: Over Door Frame
Style: In door frame
Style: Wall mount
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Pull up alternatives for beginners?
Can’t do a pull up just yet? That’s no problem at all! Here are some pull up alternatives you can do to boost your strength and work towards doing a pull up.
The first exercise you should do to build up to a pull up are hangs. All you do is grab onto the pull up bar and hang on.
Once you’re able to hold up your bodyweight, you should eventually be able to do a pull up. Hangs are also great for alignment and stretching out your shoulders. There are now many orthopedic doctors that recommend hangs to build up strength and mobility in your shoulders.
Assisted pull up machine
Most all commercial gyms have an assisted pull up machine available for you to use. If you have a membership to a commercial gym, try to use this machine every time you go.
Another machine that every commercial gym has is a cable weight machine. Use this machine to do pull downs, which will help you build up to doing pull ups by working your lats.
Seated pull ups
The last exercise we’ll list to help you do pull ups are doing seated pull ups. Use a bar on a squat rack or Smith Machine to do this exercise. Grab the bar, squat down until your knees are bent at ninety degrees, and pull yourself up.
Assisted pull ups w/ bands
If you have a hard time doing strict pull ups, then you can use elastic bands to help get you up. You can either put your feet or knees in the band that will help you do some pull ups.
Let Downs / (Negative pull ups)
Let downs are simply starting a pull up at the top of the motion and lowering yourself down. Using a block placed to the side of the bar, step up to the bar so it’s positioned at the top of your chest. Grab the bar in a pull up (overhand) or chin up (underhand) grip, and step off the block. Lower yourself down with control. Put your feet on the ground, let go of the bar, climb back up on the block and repeat the process.
Ready to start doing pull ups?
Adding pull ups to your strength training will improve your BJJ game. Everything from your grip strength to your choke holds will be noticeably stronger once you start doing pull ups. They will be difficult to do at first, so start with the beginner exercises at first, then work your way up.