Does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Build Muscle?

At a glance, does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) build muscle? Not quite in the way traditional muscle-building exercises do.

While BJJ might not significantly enhance muscle mass, it definitely amps up muscle strength and endurance. Intrigued?

Dive in for a deeper dive on why that's the case and how to best complement your BJJ routine for muscle growth.

The Physical Benefits of BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is more than just an art of self-defense or a sport—it's a full-bodied workout.

While you might not walk out of your dojo looking like a bodybuilder, the physical gains from BJJ are undeniable.

But, what exactly are those benefits? Let's break it down.

Muscle Strength vs. Muscle Size: Knowing the Difference

Muscle strength and muscle size, though related, aren't the same thing. To put it simply:

  • Muscle Strength: It refers to the amount of force a muscle or group of muscles can produce. In BJJ, strength is crucial because you're often trying to control or move an opponent against their will. Over time, repetitive and diverse BJJ maneuvers—from maintaining grips to executing submissions—force your muscles to adapt and become stronger.
  • Muscle Size: This refers to the actual size or mass of the muscle, often achieved through hypertrophy. Hypertrophy occurs when there is an increase in the size of muscle cells, primarily through resistance training, like weightlifting. BJJ doesn't necessarily focus on this kind of muscle-building, so while you might gain some muscle size from repeated practice, it won't be as pronounced as dedicated resistance training.

Endurance and How BJJ Helps in Enhancing It

Endurance is the ability of your muscles to perform repeated actions over extended periods without getting tired. It's a little different from pure strength.

  • Endurance in BJJ: Every sparring session or “roll” in BJJ is an exhaustive workout. You're not just pushing or pulling an inanimate weight, but an actively resisting human. This resistance and the need for constant motion, like moving from guard to mount or defending a submission, requires and hence builds tremendous muscular endurance.
  • Why It Matters: Higher endurance means you can train longer and spar more rounds. The more you can train without getting exhausted, the faster you improve your techniques and strategies. Beyond BJJ, improved muscular endurance helps in daily activities, ensuring you don’t get winded easily.
  • Building Endurance Through BJJ: Regular training is key. The more often you put your muscles through the paces of a BJJ class, the more they adapt. Remember, adaptation in this case isn’t just about strength; it’s about sustainability. It's about your muscles saying, “Hey, I remember this. I can keep going.”

How Old School BJJ Athletes Approached Muscle Training

In the realm of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the old school practitioners carry with them tales not just of epic battles on the mats, but also of unique training methods.

Before the advent of sophisticated gym equipment and contemporary workout routines, these athletes relied on pure, raw techniques to build strength and endurance, drawn directly from their art.

Different Movement Routines on the Mat

The classic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu dojo was more than just a place for sparring; it was a muscle-building arena in itself.

Athletes, especially during their formative years, would focus on drilling fundamental movements tirelessly.

These drills often mimicked the fluid motions of a real bout, thus serving as functional strength exercises.

Take the “shrimping” movement, for instance.

Often regarded as one of the foundational BJJ movements, shrimping involves an athlete lying on their back and moving their hips side-to-side, imitating the motion of escaping from underneath an opponent.

Doing this repeatedly was not only a technique-training tool but also a great way to build hip and core strength.

Another common routine was the “technical stand-up,” a method to rise from the ground while maintaining a defensive posture.

While it sounds simple, doing this movement repetitively can be exhausting and can strengthen the legs, core, and even arms.

Historical Anecdotes or Examples of Old-School Techniques

Diving into the annals of BJJ history, we find intriguing tales of old-school masters and their unique training methods.

One such legend revolves around the Gracie family, the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Stories are told of the Gracies often training on the beaches of Brazil.

They would spar on the sand, which provides resistance and thus, intensifies the workout.

This not only honed their techniques but also developed strength and stability, as moving and controlling an opponent on an unstable surface like sand is way harder than on a mat.

Then there's the story of Rickson Gracie, known for his relentless pursuit of physical conditioning.

While techniques were his mainstay, he incorporated yoga and breathing exercises into his regimen.

This wasn’t just about flexibility or even mental calm; it was about expanding lung capacity, improving stamina, and increasing core strength.

Rickson's approach was holistic, believing that every aspect of his training, be it breathwork or a simple BJJ drill, contributed to his overall muscular strength and endurance.

Complementary Exercises for BJJ Practitioners

For Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts, the quest for strength and efficiency doesn't end on the mats.

Complementing your BJJ routines with strategic exercises can significantly augment your performance, helping you gain both in technique and physical prowess.

Let's delve into the best ways to supplement your BJJ training for optimal muscle growth and power.

Exercises that can help increase muscle size while practicing BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu largely emphasizes functional strength—strength that helps you perform better in live scenarios.

While you can certainly gain this from regular BJJ sessions, adding a few targeted exercises can help you bulk up those muscles for better size and definition.

  • Squats and Deadlifts: Both these exercises are paramount for building leg and core strength. They engage multiple muscle groups at once, leading to increased muscle mass over time. Given that BJJ often requires powerful leg movements—for sweeps, guards, and takedowns—having strong legs can be a game-changer.
  • Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups: These exercises focus on the upper body, primarily the back, shoulders, and biceps. A strong upper body aids in grip strength and the ability to manipulate an opponent's body—be it pulling them into your guard or setting up a choke.
  • Bench Press and Push-Ups: While BJJ doesn't emphasize pushing movements as much, having a balanced physique can prevent injuries. These exercises focus on chest, triceps, and shoulder strength, providing a balance to the pulling motions commonly found in BJJ.
  • Core Exercises: Movements like planks, Russian twists, and leg raises help in building a strong core. In BJJ, your core acts as a pivot for most movements, ensuring stability and balance.

Integrating weightlifting/bodybuilding routines with BJJ training

To effectively combine weightlifting with BJJ, it's essential to have a plan that doesn’t lead to overtraining or compromise your BJJ performance.

  • Split Routines: Consider breaking your week into sessions dedicated to different muscle groups. For instance, you can focus on legs and lower body post your BJJ class on Monday, upper body on Wednesday, and maybe dedicate Fridays for core workouts. This ensures each muscle group gets adequate rest before being engaged again.
  • Recovery is Key: Weightlifting can lead to muscle soreness, especially if you're lifting heavy. Ensure you have rest days or lighter BJJ sessions post a heavy lifting day. Adequate sleep, hydration, and a protein-rich diet can significantly aid in recovery.
  • Functional over Aesthetic: While bodybuilding emphasizes muscle size and definition, remember that your primary goal is to improve your BJJ performance. It's essential to strike a balance. Choose compound movements and exercises that mimic BJJ motions over isolated bodybuilding exercises.
  • Seek Expertise: If you're serious about integrating both worlds, it might be beneficial to hire a strength and conditioning coach familiar with BJJ. They can tailor your workouts to ensure they complement your BJJ training, ensuring you get the best of both worlds without overtaxing your body.

Alternative Sports for Muscle Building

While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu offers a myriad of benefits, including functional strength and endurance, it might not be the prime choice for those looking to pack on muscle mass.

But fret not! There's a world of sports and exercises out there tailor-made for muscle growth.

Here's a deep dive into some of them and how you might incorporate them alongside your BJJ passion.

Other Sports or Exercises that Focus Specifically on Muscle Growth

  • Weightlifting/Powerlifting: At the forefront of muscle-building sports is weightlifting or powerlifting. Focusing on heavy compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, these disciplines are designed to increase muscle size and strength.
  • Bodybuilding: Different from weightlifting, bodybuilding is all about aesthetics and symmetry. It emphasizes both compound and isolation exercises, aiming to enhance each muscle's size and definition.
  • CrossFit: A mix of high-intensity functional movements, CrossFit has gained immense popularity. It combines weightlifting, aerobic exercises, and high-intensity functional movements, making it ideal for those looking for muscle growth coupled with cardiovascular fitness.
  • Gymnastics: An often-overlooked avenue, gymnastics demands extreme muscle control, strength, and balance. Think of the sheer muscular power required for events like rings or parallel bars. Regular training can lead to significant muscle growth, especially in the upper body.
  • Rowing: A sport that demands both cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength, rowing is especially effective for building back, shoulder, and leg muscles.

How to Balance BJJ with These Alternatives for Comprehensive Muscle Development

  • Schedule Wisely: Combining BJJ with another intense sport requires strategic planning. If BJJ is your primary focus, consider scheduling your muscle-building workouts during your off days or lighter BJJ days. This prevents over-exertion and gives muscles adequate recovery time.
  • Dietary Adjustments: With increased physical activity, your nutritional needs will shoot up. Ensure you're consuming enough calories, especially protein, to aid muscle recovery and growth. Hydration becomes crucial too.
  • Rest and Recovery: Remember, muscles grow not just when you're working out, but during recovery. Overtraining can lead to injuries and hamper growth. Make sure to have adequate rest days and consider practices like stretching, yoga, or even massages to aid recovery.
  • Set Clear Goals: Define what you're aiming for. If you want muscle size, sports like bodybuilding might be more apt. If it's about balanced development, CrossFit or gymnastics could be the way. Align your goals with the sport you pick alongside BJJ.
  • Monitor and Adjust: Listen to your body. If you start feeling perpetually fatigued, consider adjusting your routine. Maybe cut back on one sport or adjust the intensity. Regular health check-ups can also give insights into any overtraining effects.


In essence, while BJJ offers unparalleled functional strength and technique, those seeking pronounced muscle growth might venture into complementary sports.

By striking the right balance between BJJ and muscle-focused disciplines, achieving both martial prowess and a robust physique becomes attainable.

It's all about harmonizing passions and priorities for holistic physical development.