BJJ competition preparation is not an easy endeavor. First and foremost, you have to have a solid technical base before even thinking about stepping on the mats i in a competitive fashion. Second, going in without a defined game plan based on your technical strength is a must. You also have to be smart about choosing your weight class, because weight cuts can be a real nuisance and can greatly hinder performance. And lastly, you have to be in good physical shape to be able to go through all the matches.
What I mean by good physical shape is that you need a solid level of strength as well as a good gas tank in order to compete. There are instances in which technique can only take you so far before strength becomes the deciding factor. At white and blue belt levels, when technique is not that sharp anyway, a lot of the match outcomes depend on the physical state of the competitors involved. And even at elite black belt level, when two competitors are very closely match in terms of technique, strength and conditioning is often the edge that decides the match.
The benefits of strength and conditioning
So even for the average Joe that only trains BJJ a few days a week, a solid strength and conditioning plan is a great idea. Regardless of competition aspirations, supplementing BJJ with physical training has multiple benefits.
A very important aspect of training for strength is the improvement of the range of motion for your joints. As far as joint abuse goes, BJJ is high on the list of sports that take their toll. Keeping your joints healthy and strong can prolong your BJJ journey for a significant amount of time. Also, the tendon strength that you develop through strength training means that you’ll be less prone to training injuries. Of course, there is the obvious benefit of being stronger and more powerful on the mats.
Conditioning training, on the other hand, is training for endurance and developing the ability to last longer at a higher pace when rolling. What conditioning offers is the ability to perform with consistent intensity throughout the whole competition. Obviously, this is the ideal state and is practically impossible, but you can keep your performance level high if you’re well conditioned. Being able to relentlessly go for submissions for the entire duration of the match offers a huge advantage over the opposition.
Structuring a supplemental training plan
Let’s look at the scenario of a professional athlete preparing for a grappling competition. He/she trains 7 out 7 days in the week, juggling high and low intensity sessions on the mat (tough sparring, perfecting technique, game plan drilling). On top of that he has the weekly meal prep crucial for keeping energy levels high while not gaining weight. Since sleep is a major factor in successful recovery, they manage to get their 8 hours a day in. Seems like a handful already without mentioning strength and conditioning training thus far.
In another scenario, a recreational athlete, with a 9-5 job and a heap of family obligations has decided to compete for the first time. He/she is managing to maintain a reasonable eating plan and gets on the mats 4-5 times a week. They manage to get close to 6 hours a sleep at night and are looking to start a strength and conditioning plan.
We already established that training strength and conditioning is an essential piece of the competition puzzle. With this in mind it’s important how you structure the supplemental training in order to help your Jiu Jitsu instead of diminishing it.
For start let’s look at frequency of training. As stated above, training strength and conditioning should help get you stronger and better, not tire you out. For both the professional and recreational athlete, a scheduled rest day is the starting point. From there, recovery abilities, goals and time constraints dictate the frequency of strength and conditioning training. Going for 1-3 supplemental training sessions a week is a reasonable range in which all levels of athletes can find the option that best suits them. Going for more than 3 sessions will most likely have a negative return, but if you really must train harder, than look to up the intensity of the sessions instead of the frequency.
Which brings us to intensity. Going all out, leaving a sweat angel on the ground and puking your guts out epitomizes the wrong approach. How tired you are after a training session is in no way an indicator of the productiveness of the session. Your ability to recover will dictate the intensity more than anything. If you’re to beat up in BJJ training the next day, than why do 1 RM squats the day before? One maximum effort training session might derail your whole week, and in the long term lead to over-training.
A subject that we’ll cover in detail in another article, active recovery should be done daily. Yes, that includes your rest day as well, and you might even use it take it up a notch. On your rest day, do easy yoga, walk, hike, take the dog for a walk, just move around. On training days, finish the day off with some foam rolling, stretching, contrast showers or easy stretches. And go for a massage. At leas once a month go for a massage to give your muscles a relief.
Strength or conditioning ?
Now that structure has been mapped out, and goals have been set, it’s time to decide which quality you want to develop further. There are a couple of indicators that should be the main guides when making this choice.
Fitness levels are the primary determinant in choosing which area you need to focus on the most. A good fitness test can very precisely show what your main weakness are. I recommend that you work with a certified coach for bot the test and actual training itself. You can’t learn BJJ from books and video clips only and strength training is no different.
In addition to the fitness test, the time you have until match day is the second major factor for your supplemental training. There’s no point in starting a program if you’ve got a match in three weeks, because you’re only going to tire yourself out. If you’re in a position like this, just stick to BJJ and go out and do your best. Next time around allow yourself more time to prepare.
A sample plan
In short, let’s say you have 12 weeks until a competition of your choice. You’ve been running because that’s what Rocky did and you’ve been putting in hours on the mat. A fitness test show that your conditioning is not at the desired level but not bad overall. Your strength however, is far below standards. I’m going to devote a full future article to strength standards for grappling athletes, but for now let’s just agree that you suck at being strong.
Since conditioning takes less time to develop, and you already have a decent gas tank, strength should be the main focus. A couple of sessions a week, with a carefully planned prioritization will definitely improve your strength over an 8 week cycle. And having 4 more weeks left means you can devote 3 weeks to developing energy systems so that you have the gas tank to match.
It’s not really rocket science. The rule of thumb is that when in doubt, go for strength. Strength will supercharge your athletic abilities and give you confidence. Add in properly structured conditioning and you’ve done all you can to make sure you get your hand raised.