Strength Training 101

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If you are a competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) athlete or practitioner, you’ve probably realized that, technique being equal, the difference between winning and losing, or surviving, can often come down to who is the STRONGER athlete.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)

  • Lift progressively heavier weights or achieve more reps with your best weight to get stronger, every time you train. The 2.5lb plates are your best friend.
  • Focus on compound movements with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells.
  • Use odd objects as a “fun” way to train your body from head to toe. (Sandbags, Logs, Stones, People, etc.)
  • Keep metabolic conditioning in your program to aid in making your strength “honest”.
  • Keep body weight movements in your program to aid making your strength “mat-transferable”.
  • Use Olympic Lifts and Isometrics as a way to challenge the rate of force production.
  • Get enough healthy nutrition and sleep. It’s the glue to make it all stick together.

Fundamentals: “White Belt” Focus

Before my BJJ journey started, I had several years of strength training experience under my belt. I’ve never been a competitive bodybuilder or powerlifter.  I’ve flirted with 2.5 – 3 times body weight lifts in the Squat and Deadlift and was often the strongest person in the gyms I frequented. This isn’t meant to toot my horn, rather to show you that I’ve always taken strength training serious, as a way of testing my human potential and making myself a better version of me.

When I was introduced to BJJ, my strength was a challenge for many.


Rather, I tired and got tapped just like everyone does when they start.



During my Blue Belt years, in the absence of solid technique, my strength often saved me from being completely choked out, submitted or swept by the better technician. This only solidified my thought that if I could focus my BJJ training on learning the mechanics and concepts, and focus my strength training on getting stronger, faster, and tougher with basic grappling fundamentals, I would have a one-two punch that would be powerful to contend with. It has been the pillar of my program since then and will always be.

Why? Because being weak sucks.  If you can become stronger by lifting weights, why not do it? Plus lifting heavy things is primal and helps you live longer (examples here and here).

Pouring the Concrete

There are numerous types of strength qualities that need to be developed to be a well-rounded athlete.  I’m going to keep the focus of this article to what to do if you have a white belt level understanding of strength training.

There are many great strength coaches (black belt level) out there that I recommend you spend time researching. I’ve weeded through and tried many of these coaches advice in my own program over the last dozen years or more.  In no particular order, Jim Wendler, Ross Enamait, and Louie Simmons, all have useful perspectives to offer you in your quest to become a stronger version of you.

There are common themes to these folks work. When starting out:

  1. You need to lift heavier weights to become stronger (progressive overload).
  2. You need to follow the KISS principle.
  3. You need to be willing to work hard.
  4. Consistency is key.
  5. Slow and steady progress is the approach if you want your gains to be forever.
  6. You need to eat quality food and nutrients.
  7. You need adequate rest and recovery.


In the weight room, your focus should be on Maximal Strength.  This means adding weight to the bar, or adding reps to your previous best amount of reps (within the target rep ranges for strength).

Also, your program should not take away from your other technical work related to BJJ. You need to be smart about your program construction and not focusing in on too many goals at once.

I recommend that if you are already training in BJJ three (3) times a week or more, you need to evaluate the rest of your program to determine how many quality strength training sessions you should include, and whether you need to exclude other things that will take away from your main focus areas.

There is no one-sized fits all answer to this, because your rest, recovery, nutrition, stress levels, etc., all pay a part in how much you can and should take on.


I’ve compiled the best programs through my years programming that I’ve used to introduce and transition people to total-body training for their sport.

Strength Training 101 is designed with three primary objectives in mind:
1. To help transition you from traditional body part/bodybuilding style workouts to more comprehensive, total body training.
2. To improve total-body strength, mechanics, and performance all of which are vital to athletic performance.
3. Prepare your body for more rigorous training protocols that are designed to improve Sports Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP).



Once you have introduced your body to the rigor of total-body training, you can begin incorporating more advanced techniques into your training arsenal. You will need to graduate to more Sports-Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) to evolve your training to meet the demands of your specific sport (e.g., explosive and mat-endurance for Jiujitsu, etc.).

This is what I created the DRILLSKILL Workout Program for.  When you’re ready to move onto this program, the foundation article for the program is here.

Get after it! Make this the year you get STRONG!



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