T Nation

Best Lifts for BJJ


So I’m really getting into bjj training and I am just wondering if anybody has found any lifts that seem to really help them on the mats? An example would be I was just introduced to one arm dumbbell bench pressing and it seems like over the last two weeks my stability and balance has increased tenfold and helped me with the feel of a couple different sweeps. So just interested if any gems like this are hiding out there waiting to be discovered.

Thanks for any suggestions


Basically anything that develops strength and/or balance like the big four (squat, bench, overhead press and deadlift) and some dumbbell variations of these. As BJJ is your focus, I would do a full body routine two or three times a week and just focus on getting stronger on each lift.

Stuff like squats, front squats, deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, barbell and dumbbell bench press, barbell and dumbbell overhead press, chinups, barbell and dumbbell rows etc. are great choices.


Glute bridges, both weighted and unweighted, and with a hold and isometric squeeze at the top. Bridging is such an important part of guard and changing positions that you have got to train it like you would a normal “big lift”

You want core strength and stability.

You want pulling strength in general, as you’re always pulling on something.

You want grip strength.

I do believe in the big standard lifts for fighters. However there is more to training for fighting than JUST standard lifting. You are in strange positions that you would never find yourself in when playing a field sport like baseball, soccer, basketball. You need to build up the attributes that help you with those strange positions in addition to standard stuff.

Yes 1 arm dumbbell bench is a good bench variation for that, but I would pair it with a lot of 1 armed pulling and a lot of rotational ab work as well.

Working from the top you want a really strong and healthy lower back, as you’re going to get cranked on or pulled on. You do want strong hamstrings too, but my experience seems to be that guys don’t build either of those, and if they do focus on that they usually let the low back and glutes go on the back burner until it becomes a problem.


Wow I had heard of glute bridges before but had completely forgotten about them but they seem to be exactly the kind of thing I should look to incorporate into my training. I 100% agree about the other stuff you mention as being important I actually spent my summer working on my deadlift because my general pulling strength seemed like it was holding me back a bit and it seems to have made quite the impact. I think core strength and stability is something I really lack probably why the 1 arm bench press seems to be having such an effect for me right now.

Also I hadn’t thought about the lower back thing before but you are right the longer and more consistent I am with bjj training the more often my lower back gets cranky so I will definitely look to strengthen those areas to prevent that from being a real problem. You have given me some good ideas here to further my training so thank you Aragorn.


Yea I agree Furius the big lifts provide the base of general strength that one really needs for really all forms of athletics but especially in combat sports where being just a bit stronger in certain positions can make a lot of difference. I actually currently am doing a fullbody workout 3 times a week so glad to see great minds think alike on that one.


In addition to the very solid info, I’d suggest not neglecting isolation exercises for smaller bodyparts. Just because you’re training full body doesn’t mean the arms or calves should be skipped.

It’s not that you’ll necessarily power out of a move because of strong arms (though that’s always a nice option to have), but having weak bis and tris puts you at a disadvantage in many positions, particularly Americanas/kimuras. Chins, rows, and presses are fine, but don’t shy away from a few sets of curls and extensions.


As Aragorn alluded to, the big difference between BJJ/combat sports/really any sport that involves an unpredictable/chaotic environment is the need for strength in “odd positions/poor alignment.” Every joint from your toes/fingers to the top of your neck will likely at some point be put under load at awkward angles and it will be your resilience/strength/mobility at these “incorrect” body angles that will likely predict whether they result in injury (and either a hiatus from training or compounding damage that will destroy your body down the line) or the ability to continue training healthily.

Some good ones that can be easily progressed due to their using traditional weighted implements are:

  1. Jefferson Curls (your eventual goal should be to do these with a weight equal to your bodyweight)

  2. Weighted overgrip/pronated grip shoulder dislocates

  3. Weighted undergrip/supinated grip (starting behind the back) shoulder dislocates

There are a bunch more that can use bodyweight or bands as well. But these 3 are easy to implement into your lifting program and again have potential for progression.


Thanks Sentoguy these kind of things are exactly why I love t-nation. I’ve never even heard of the Jefferson curl so I will definitely have to look into it along with the shoulder dislocates which I know I’ve heard of before but never actually done before. Do you have any place in particular to learn more about these particular exercises?


I was about to say the same thing. I had to google Jefferson Curl. Looks like a cool movement and one that would help in BJJ.


I do, but as it could be seen as a competitor site to T-Nation I won’t post a link. Instead here are a couple YouTube vids demonstrating them:

Jefferson Curl:

Weighted Dislocates:


Having just restarted BJJ myself, at 41 yeas old, my QL is screaming. I did reverse hypers last night after some light deadlifts, feeling much better.

I’ve training strongman for the past two years and I think it laid a great foundation, comfort level with “bad position,” and increased my explosiveness a lot.

I wouldn’t over think the lifting part. Make sure your joints are healthy and stable and enjoy the flow.


Strongman is great supplemental work for “real world” strength and conditioning. But IMO most strongman athletes, powerlifters, and many other strength athletes are severally out of balance between their strength and mobility. This results in very rigid, but “fragile” structures which are prone to injury if forced into extreme ranges of motion. Just like bones, muscles are the most injury resistant and perform the most effectively when they have both optimal flexibility/resiliency and yet provide optimal support. Take away their strength/ability to provide support and they collapse under load. Take away under their flexibility/resiliency and they shatter/tear under load. You need both.



Have you been using that Pit Shark much?

I’ve been listening to the Westside Barbell Podcast lately, and they will not shut up about the hip belt squat machine for fighters.

The Westside guys also talk a lot about dragging sleds, carrying medicine balls around, dragging sleds while carrying medicine balls around. Or squeezing a soccer ball like you have it in a guillotine while dragging a sled. You should check their podcast too.


Flat–I make love to that Pit Shark. I’ll check out their podcast. Do they talk about marching on it? A lot of the powerlifters do it. I’ve tried it but I don’t get it.

Sentoguy–I see your point to a point. Flexibility is clearly important for joint health. The thing that attracted me to strongman was the technical and dynamic aspects. A lot of lifts use triple extension and there is an inherent need to be flexible and fluid under force. Powerlifters have fixed planes and implements so they only have to get good/strong at three movements. Total generalization but you can see it in their walks.

That being said I went back to BJJ as active (and fun) recovery. I’m only two weeks in but I can feel the pathways opening up. I’m pretty much treating it as a yoga class, but someone gets strangled…and it is awesome to be a grey beard bad ass.


Yeah, I didn’t mean that as a dis to strongman (or powerlifting for that matter), and I completely agree about the more “3 dimensional” nature of strongman vs a the very linear strength of Powerlifting. My point was simply that I see too many strength athletes focusing/programming in very unbalanced ways that tend to lead to huge mobility deficiencies and therefore preclude them to higher risk of soft tissue injury.


They talk about marching in it with so much weight it breaks. They mention going “side to side” instead of front to back.

Also, Deadlifting, doing cleans and Olympic style pulls in it. Shadow boxing in the belt squat. Holding barbells with band hanging kettlebell while you shuffle around in there. They are all about that thing.

They also mention the Traction of the hips it provides. Driving with the glutes/hips help posture and reverse Anterior Pelvic Tilt.

This will “open up” the hips and hip flexors. They can get tight and limit the hip portion of Triple Extension. This can lead to back extension, posture and disk problems or hip issues.

I don’t have a belt squat machine, but I’ve been doing lots of walking around with a band looped over my lifting belt.


lol, A few of my friends are powerlifters and I dis them. We each have are oddities. I have a ton of respect for anyone that can climb under 500lbs, break parallel and stand up again, but when the “other side of the gym” has boulders, logs, yokes, etc., what is a grown-assed boy to do? There is something extremely satisfying to pressing a log over head.

One other point, I’m not huooooge but I have put on some size, chokes with “good meaty arms” are really effective.


Yeah, no doubt, I totally respect the dedication and accomplishment to takes to reach high levels of strength regardless of the application. And totally agree, strongman/Primal Strength/Dinosaur Training stuff is a lot of fun!

Meaty arms are good in some ways, but can actually become an issue for applying certain subs at a point. If you can’t touch your thumb to your shoulder, your arms are too big for optimal choke application and definitely when it comes to striking/boxing performance (though I realize we were only talking BJJ).


There are some really good responses here.

Im going to give my smart ass answers first
anything you bust your ass on
anything you do consistently

Im not much of a smart ass
a few things I like.

aside from snatch width pulls
front squats
the already mentioned glute bridge - AKA air hump

‘kroc’ high rep db row
BSS or reverse lunge
zercher lunges
turkish get ups
Hanging leg raises
and sled work
lots of sled

all easy to add in while still hitting your
other money lifts.

I tie a ‘battling rope’ to one end of the sled
TRX/rings/Straps to the other
load that shit up use the TRX to pull backwards
then walk back and use the rope to pull it in.

I can drag more then I can pull in with the rope
so sometimes I strip plates and farmers walk them back to where the rope is


I REALLY have to strongly disagree with weight dislocates. I don’t have the opportunity right now to go into detail as I am on my phone, but I view them as extremely risky for some people–and most people I know don’t even have the ability to do regular unweighted dislocates properly.

Jefferson curls are valuable, provided one is not predisposed to flexion based back pain and has the control to do them properly.