A question I get asked a lot by students and clients is, is it possible to train specifically for BJJ and Grappling whilst looking ripped/aesthetic?
This is an interesting question so I thought I would share some ideas and opinions with you.
First of all, weight training and strength work will 100% help your BJJ. Fact. As I have covered in previous articles being a stronger, more powerful athlete, can only be a good thing – if – that strength and power is backing up sound technique.
The question coming from that is – if someone is training specifically to improve and enhance their mat performance will it still be possible to look good? In short the answer is Yes. However, we need to program intelligently to achieve this and avoid negative impacts on either your grappling or physique.
The ‘Bro-Split’ refers to a style of training often popular in commercial gyms and mainly looking like a the program of an ‘enhanced’ body builder. Something like:
Monday – Chest and Tri
Tuesday – Back and Bi
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Shoulders and Abs
Friday – Legs
Whish usually turns out looking something like:
Monday – Chest and Tri
Tuesday – Chest and Bi
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Shoulders and Abs and Chest
Friday – Arms and Chest
I am not a fan of this style of training for anyone – let alone a BJJ athlete. Multiple studies have shown it to not be an optimal way of training for the ‘non-enhanced’ trainer and so is not a good choice for natural athletes. This is due to a number of factors but summarizing these is the idea that you will not hit as much (quality) volume or frequency as you could.
Unfortunately this is a very popular method of training preached by some high-level body builders, certain BJJ players and John from the local gym.
The only caveat to all of this is that if you truly enjoy it and are getting good results – then the best program is one you can stick to. However maybe the first thing you try isn’t always the best…
Total Body Training
Total Body Training is a style of training that involves hitting body parts multiple times throughout the week allowing you to repeat core movements such as a squat and concentrate on accruing a decent amount of volume for all body parts.
There is a number of ways to set this up such as:
Monday – Lower
Tuesday – Upper
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Lower
Friday – Upper
However, for most BJJ athletes I have found that 2-3x training per week is usually the sweet spot for supplementary gym work – assuming they have a relatively heavy BJJ schedule. Anything more and it starts to impact on jujitsu training frequency and quality, anything less and results will be hard to achieve. In that case the schedule may look a little more like this:
Monday – Total Body 1
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – Total Body 2
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Rest
Can I get ‘ripped’ on 2 days per week?
Yes, 100% you can – but you must be diligent and hardworking alongside having smart programming (and of course that old chestnut – good nutrition). This entails a good portion of work on big compound movements, backed up with solid form and progressive overload.
There are no ‘magical’ exercises, however, Deadlift or Squat is likely going to do a lot more for your physique than a lateral raise (for a myriad of reasons but least of all which is that they are compound, “functional” movements).
It is important to understand that BJJ will be playing a roll in your physique – pushing your cardio, endurance and helping develop muscle. This coupled with some dedicated strength work will help you develop a physique that not only performs well on the mat but also looks good on the beach.
How do I set this up?
Well that’s the BIG questions isn’t it – short answer, speak to a professional that can show you clients who look great and perform well. But, let me give you a few pointers that really help me.
Most of my grappling clients do not have a dedicated on/off season and so have to train often in a more Hybrid style. With that in mind I like to divide my workouts (and my BJJ clients) into 3 sections – Strength/Power/Accessory.
I like to include 1-3 ‘strength’ movements in my workouts i.e. a big compound movement in a low to mid rep range. Examples of this could be a Squat, Bench or Deadlift.
These movements help build total body strength alongside some quality muscle. It is important to concentrate on good form and range of movement whilst gradually progressing the volume or intensity of your workouts.
In this section I like to include something explosive, usually 1-2 exercises, to work on an athletes ability to move fast and generate force. This could be a single arm snatch, bag lift and slam or Tyre Flip.
The emphasis here is once again to use the whole body in conjunction to create an explosive movement.
Accessory is a section that can be anything from 2-6 movements depending on time/ability and requirements. I usually choose accessory exercises specifically tailored to my client, so if they need more work in a certain area we can use this space to help.
This is an area where you can look to add more ‘body building’ style movements to target areas of your body you may like more development in. I’ve talked about why Curls are great for BJJ previously, these fit great in here, as do abdominal work and any other isolation movements.
Pretty much any weight lifting movement will help with your BJJ and you will see great performance carry over. A lot of people like to classify certain exercises as ‘not good for BJJ’ and ‘not functional’ or even ‘too risky’ – as a general rule these people are wrong.
Bicep Curls great for your arm development – amazing for pulling strength in BJJ
Shrugs, awesome for trap development – helps build a strong and protected neck area
Crunches – Do you want a 6 pack? Do you like sitting up?
The list goes on and on, as I say any and all movements that help you get stronger will be a great asset to your grappling and your physique.
But with more muscle won’t I gas?
The idea that you will gas quicker has some merit, in that more muscle requires more oxygen however I counter with that – if technique is matched and you are twice as strong as your partner who do you think will gas quicker?
Further more – mere mortals (naturals) will struggle to build muscle at a rate fast enough that their cardio cannot catch up and accommodate. As you are slowly building muscle you will also be training BJJ and so you should make some good adaptations to adjust to that new tissue.
You do need to be aware of the issue of ‘gas tank’, however, your explosive work plus your BJJ and the slow rate of gain should mean that you are more than efficient enough to handle the added mass and so shouldn’t hold you back from looking and feeling good.
Weight training mainly, when used correctly only has positives for us. We get stronger, bigger and look better.
Smart programming, patience and good work ethic will result in substantial improvements to your physique, getting you bigger, more ripped and more aesthetic.
Alongside this you will also enjoy enhanced performance in BJJ, being able to execute your techniques with more strength and power.
One thing I do caution is speaking to a professional; your favorite BJJ players Instagram is probably not the best place for advice. I wouldn’t ask my weight lifting coach for guard passing advice so don’t do the same with celeb BJJ athletes. Unfortunately just because someone is ripped doesn’t mean they necessarily know the best methods for you, and that’s before we talk about the issue of PED use in the BJJ community.
Follow and learn from high-level BJJ athletes and coaches for advice on Grappling. Follow and learn from high-level fitness coaches for advice on fitness and you wont go far wrong.
For reference a few of my awesome clients who all compete regularly in BJJ, MMA or both and who I think arguably all have great physiques that they developed training their martial arts and fitness concurrently.