Time to tackle an age-old strength question when it comes to martial arts. Is having a lot of muscle any beneficial for a martial artist? If so, then how much muscle is enough muscle to be effective at grappling? Jiu-Jitsu is an art that can fit anyone, regardless of body type, athletic abilities, age or gender. That said, does having a certain amount of muscle mass helps you be better in Jiu-Jitsu? Is there a point of diminishing returns when it comes to muscles? When it comes to aesthetics, we all want to be muscular and ripped, that’s a given. Still, there is such a thing as an effective BJJ muscle mass. it is all a question of balance, as is often the case.
The age-old view on muscle mass for a martial artist is that big muscles will slow you down. We had this so drilled into us that nobody used to even try and touch a heavier weight back in the day. Ligen dumbbells and a jump rope were the favorite training tools of the martial artists of the last century. After the turn of the century and the rise of sports like MMA, strength, and conditioning suddenly boomed on to the stage. Looking to make up for years of propaganda, strength training did take the complete opposite route. Soon, people were training like bodybuilders when preparing for martial arts competitions. Luckily, the frenzy has died down somewhat so now people are actually finding a balance between necessary BJJ muscle and ineffective beach muscles.
Strength To Weight Ration For Grappling
When you take a look at grapplers from other arts, you’re bound to see some impressive physiques. Some might even be too impressive. Regardless of how they look, a lot of the performance efforts is down to how functional that muscle mass is. Wrestlers and Judokas are notorious for being dense and rugged, and they’re still highly effective in competition.
The one thing to consider here is the way in which muscle is used. Wrestlers usually fight with repeated explosive bursts that do not have a long duration. Basically, they’re sprinting. A lot of muscle, particularly fast twitch muscle does the job great here. With judo, it is much of the same. Apart form grip engagement which is pretty much constant, major efforts are short and powerful. However, when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu, particularly a match going in excess of 5 minutes, the variables change significantly.
BJJ is much closer to MMA in the sense of strength and conditioning requirements than it is to other grappling martial arts. In Jiu-Jitsu it is much more important how much of the BJJ muscle you have in terms of your weight. The goal is to be as strong as possible for your weight class, without really putting on too much bulk. This can be tricky, though, as there no strength without muscle, but you can have too much muscle without actually having an appropriate ratio of strength.
How Much BJJ Muscle Is Enough?
So, how much muscle do w need for effective grappling? There are several things we need to take into account here. First up, let’s look at some of the drawbacks of too much muscle.
Big muscles require a lot of oxygen to work, which means you need to have an appropriately developed cardiovascular system. In plain terms, you need to be in tremendous shape to allow those muscles to work for the duration of a grappling match. This is quite hard to dial in though unless you’re paying a professional a lot to do it for you.
Next, bigger muscles actually do limit mobility, While big muscles on the legs will mostly help your BJJ, large shoulders mean that you’ll struggle with mobility a lot. Not only that, but tight muscles reduce flexibility, which as we know wi essential for Jiu-Jitsu. Moreover, training to retain a lot of muscle mass requires time and does hinder your recovery times. In essence, having too much muscle has no real benefits for the Jiu-Jitsu fighter.
When we’re talking about what is the sweet spot for BJJ muscle mass, we have to look at functionality. Imagine a bodybuilder and a gymnast. Both can carry lots of muscle but a bodybuilder will never be able to do stuff that a gymnast does. So when you’re thinking about BJJ muscle, think more of a gymnast-like build, or a swimmers build, rather than that of a bodybuilder.
BJJ Strength Training
To be completely honest, while people did run from weights like from the Devil himself, it was not always the case. If you look at old training methods from Japan, people that trained Karate, Judo, etc almost always trained for strength. They did so using logs, stones, vases filled with water, etc. It did not show any of them down, did it?
This old school approach can still teach us a lot about strength training and muscle building for BJJ. Basically, you want to stay away from bodybuilding, that much is apparent by now. However, you might also want to give powerlifting and Olympic lifting a rest while you’re at it. All these methods tend to create tension and demand in the muscles, resulting in hypertrophy and/or tension and loss of flexibility and mobility. Instead, look at high-level kettlebell training, gymnastic training, and even Crossfit as long as you manage to program it adequately.
Speaking of kettlebells for Jiu-Jitsu, make sure you check out Mike Perry’s DVD Instructional “Kettlebell Essentials”. It is done by a BJJ guy for BJJ athletes and it’ll give you just the right amount of BJJ muscle and strength to dominate on the mats.
All in all, having muscles as a grappler is always a good idea. It is the amount of muscle and the way you obtain it that matters way more. As long as you do not get your strength routines from Muscle & Fitness and the like you’ll be fine. Just remember that you don’t have to be big to be strong, and you need to always aim to maintain mobility! Keep that in mind and use some of the resources we offer to get you in crazy shape for BJJ!
Also, make sure you check out our ultimate guide for the best BJJ strength and conditioning resources that are available to you in 2019. No more guesswork!