GB Chelmsford

The Importance of Strength Training for Grappling

GB Chelmsford - Importance of Grappling

Jiu Jitsu is a wonderful sport that requires mastery, skill, and discipline. The jiujitsu lifestyle addiction is one that bites deep and can become a lifelong pursuit. For many people however jiujitsu is their first ever full contact sport. This does come with some risk! Being strong has a ton of upsides that can help you do jiujitsu for longer, be more robust and avoid the downsides of a full contact sport. A good strength and conditioning coach or trainer can guide you in the right direction, two of the biggest questions I get in this post.

  1. Should I do strength and conditioning?
  2. Should my BJJ kid do strength and conditioning?


Grappling is a contact sport and a potentially injurious one at that. Especially when the intent of the end game is causing injury to someone else. Most people spend most of their day sat down and then go zero to sixty in a grappling class. Most ordinary people have tissue quality like beef jerky and the movement capacity of a drunken tortoise beyond sitting standing and walking. Applying sudden dramatic forces to an already dysfunctional body is asking for trouble, when I talk to most grapplers they will have ‘something’ that hurts.

Another ever present issue is ‘micro trauma’, which is caused by the repeat activity, such a grabbing, pulling, and twisting which applies subtle but repeated stress to tendons, joints, and bones. In most situations it causes minor inflammation at a rate at which the body can overcome and adapt to. However repetitive micro trauma can develop into more serious injuries. I am sure you have all sat rubbing that bad elbow or knee while reading this. Regular strength training can reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries by up to 50%.

Another consideration is age, as we age capacity for recovery drops, micro trauma accumulates, chances are you have had some sort of injury that has forced a lay off is high over your training career. As a young athlete in my early 20s I had the mentality of “why would anyone not give their training all of their time?”  As a man in my late 30s and two torn LCL’s, sprained ankles and a subluxated shoulder later, I now appreciate what the old guys were telling me. It’s important to ask yourself ‘if you knew how you would feel now, would you train how you did then?’ Key point is this; as we get older, we should look to train more like a mix of bodybuilding, athlete and mobility guru. We do not care about rate of force development or high levels of strength if we are a recreational grappler. What we should care about is structural integrity and great movement qualities. What we need to do is build some robustness.

What strength and conditioning can do for you?

I’ve always maintained in the past that as bare minimum, you should engage in some sort of strength work that has largely injury prevention intent. To quote Dan John;

  • “Most adults need to strengthen the phasics and stretch the tonics.
  • Next, deal with a lifetime of asymmetry issues.
  • Finally, deal with too much sitting and not moving.”

I believe moving is one of the best correctives there is. Many people often when dealing with injury, stiffness, tightness or soreness, look at static solutions to a dynamic problem. So off they trot to a chiro, osteopath or doctor. Who will try to snap crack or medicate a problem, fixed at least temporarily. Too bad that you are still sitting like an orang-utan in the front of Ferrari while you work. You probably need to move and I’m not suggesting taking up yoga either. It’s a simple as this you need to do the following;

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Hinge
  • Squat
  • Loaded Carry/bracing

And everything else.

A strength & conditioning coach or a qualified can do the heavy lifting of planning and programming for you.

Should my BJJ Kid do BJJ?

A question I often get asked by energetic BJJ parents is “should my BJJ kid do S&C?” as a parent who wants the best for your child’s sporting career I can understand the desire to give them the best training in all aspects. It’s great that you are interested in helping your child be and do better especially when we are very much beyond the flawed notion that strength training will stunt growth or damage growth plates. Strength and Conditioning for children has many health benefits, injury prevention benefits and psycho-social benefits much the same as adults.

Strength training for kids is safe but it comes with caveats.

I will go over the main points when concerning this question.

Children are not little adults

Children are biologically and mentally different to adults, especially when it comes to exercise. It must be made very clear that simply adapting an adult training programme to suit a child will not only produce poor results, but will likely increase injury risk and dissatisfaction. Very rigid and structured exercise programs can be particularly tricky for children especially the younger they are. Children especially young ones derive much of their physical capacity and literacy from play and this can be challenging for adults to understand. Remember they started BJJ because they found it fun, so exercise needs to be engaging also. Where as children see exercise as fun adults can be pretty darn self flagellating with it, if you want drop out, don’t use exercise as punishment.

Biological age and chronological age can be wildly different

Childhood development is a very individual experience, children of the same chronological age can be significantly far apart in physical development. I have seen children of the same age who looked like they where 5 years apart physically and this discrepancy can impact participation. Early developers are often the favourites of coaches as they rapidly develop physical capacities their less developed training partners just do not have. With this in mind their training needs will differ also. Children who have not gone through puberty produce testosterone and growth hormone in very small amounts so cannot recover from very intense training sessions.

So what type of training can children do?

Children are extremely pliable skill-wise and engage in bodyweight training pretty much at every opportunity (we used to call it play!) and they certainly can perform this type of exercise with high frequency, things like pull-ups, push-ups, climbing, crawling, tumbling. If you do teach them strength movements, ala squat, hinge, push, pull, and carry keep everything simple, don’t progress them too fast and once puberty kicks in you can progress them to more serious training taking advantage of the hormonal changes. In short Basics Basics Basics, much like BJJ.

My usual age recommendation for very ‘structured’ S&C begins at 12 to 16 for most youth athletes, at this point they are often psychologically mature enough to knuckle down to more serious training. It is about this age I start to introduce more conventional strength training in the form of ‘heavier’ barbell work. Even during this period natural strength levels, training age and biology still play a factor.

Take Away Points

  1. Strength and Conditioning for Children is safe when properly supported.
  2. Much like training adults weight training needs to be properly implemented and coached.
  3. Respect the biological age of the children, what they do should be age related not age determined. Biology, mental maturity, natural strength levels, training age (how long they have been training) and technical proficiency all play a role.
  4. Properly designed program can improve performance and health.
  5. Technical competency should never ever be compromised.
  6. If its stops being fun they’ll stop wanting to do it.

About the Author

William Wayland CSCS is a BJJ Brown Belt at Gracie Barra Chelmsford, Strength & Conditioning Coach for the PGA European Tour Performance Institute & Coach to UFC fighters and BJJ Champions. He Owns Powering-Through Performance a Strength & Conditioning Gym directly opposite GB Chelmsford.

You can grab a copy of his instructional ‘practical strength training for grapplers’ with UFC feather weight Arnold Allen

And his Jiu Jitsu Strength program here

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