While Jiu-Jitsu is best learned with at least one other training partner, many important aspects of BJJ can be learned by yourself.
Here are the 3 things you can do at home by yourself today to improve your game:
- Strength and Conditioning
- Movement and Solo Drills
- Mind Map / Flow Chart
If you’re able to do these 3 things on your own, you’re guaranteed to improve even without the need for a training partner.
My favorite thing to do by myself is study match footage online.
When you’re watching two high-level competitors going at it like at any of the IBJJF events, they’re only doing what’s effective.
I find this to be a great way of filtering out the flashy moves and only focusing on what matters.
If I can watch competitors with a similar build to mine, it’s even better!
This allows my training to be far more effective because I know exactly what’s worth spending the time learning and perfecting.
In this article, I look at what you can do by yourself at home to improve your BJJ.
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How Do You Train For Jiu-Jitsu At Home?
The most important thing you can do to learn BJJ at home by yourself is to study techniques. Jiu-Jitsu has the widest and deepest curriculum of any martial art. Understanding the various positions, transitions, defenses, counters, and submissions is crucial for developing and refining your game.
The techniques in BJJ can be compared to software on a computer. Without good software your hardware is useless.
It is the lifeblood of Jiu-Jitsu and it’s one of the best ways you can spend your time when learning by yourself.
Another great way to improve your game at home is by drilling positions, transitions, and submissions.
It’s very important to work on your muscle memory when training on your own.
The more movements you’re able to do without thinking, the more you’re able to think about what your opponent is doing and very often anticipate their next steps.
Grappling is an extremely physical activity.
Preparing your body to deal with the stresses and strains placed on your muscles and joints while training is very important for longevity in the art.
Working on your strength, stamina and flexibility are all going to help you be more effective when training.
Callisthenics For BJJ Strength
The best way to build strength for BJJ is by training multiple muscle groups in one movement. This will help to replicate the type of combined muscle movements experienced when training. Single muscle exercises are less effective because they don’t account for the dexterity required when training Jiu-Jitsu.
When I’m not training at the gym with my teammates, I always try to make time for strength and conditioning training at home.
My top 4 (by no means the only) techniques for building useful strength in BJJ are:
The push-up works the exact combination of muscles you’ll need for many of the movements you’ll perform from both the bottom and top positions in BJJ. It targets your core, pectorals, biceps, triceps forearms, and many more. Push-ups are a must for any strength and conditioning routine.
Say what you want about the humble push up, but it’s proven it’s effectiveness over and over again.
Here’s a great example of a push-up. The cleaner your form, the more you’ll gain from your push-up routine:
Feel free to modify your push-up if the standard technique is a bit out of reach right now.
You can do this a few different ways, below is a great video showing you exactly how:
If the standard push-up has become too easy for you, I’ve found a great way of challenging myself that I think you might enjoy:
- Starting nose down I start lifting as slowly as I can to about halfway
- Half-way I pause for 3 breaths
- Then continue to a full extension of my arms and hold at the top
- After 3 seconds I slowly move down, pausing half-way for 3 breaths again
- Finally finishing at the bottom
- Repeat until failure (then stop – don’t hurt yourself)
Remember: Keeping your form perfect is going to be the main battle.
Don’t count how many push-ups you can do, but rather how many you can do without losing your form before failing.
This simple modification forces you to focus on your strength, rather than exert it uncontrollably.
I’ve found that this helps to replicate the type of controlled strength required when performing incremental escapes or inching towards a submission.
Not simply exerting strength with no purpose.
Squats strengthen the combination of muscles required for both guard-passing as well as maintaining guard. They help to strengthen your core and lower back for keeping good posture when defending in guard as well as your legs for maintaining a good base when passing.
The squat is another very versatile exercise for BJJ that you can do at home by yourself.
It’s especially important to maintain good form when performing a squat, here is a great video showing exactly how to do this:
If you’re looking to intensify your squats, you can use the same principle we used with the push-up – Slow it down.
Pause in the seated position for as long as your legs allow and then move again, slowly up and slow down.
This again allows us to replicate the control movements of strength required when performing any kind of open guard as well.
Turning brute force into functional, versatile, and dependable strength that you can use in your Jiu-Jitsu game.
Leg raises are a predominantly core-focused exercise that strengthens your abdominal and lower back muscles, probably the most important muscle groups to develop for successfully training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Leg raises are a great alternative to the standard sit-up or crunch.
You use your core for almost every single movement you’ll make in BJJ, so strengthening your core should be one of your main focuses when training on your own.
Once again, I’m going to emphasize the importance of good form.
Here’s a great example of the right way to do leg raises:
I used to do a lot more of the old-school type sit-ups, but my back and neck always felt unnecessarily strained when doing them.
Leg raises are also far more effective because you’re using your relatively heavier legs, rather than your partially supine torso to strengthen your core.
If you’re not familiar with what a plank is, it’s essentially lying in a push-up position on your elbows and pretending to be a plank. It’s that simple. The basic plank is a great exercise for strengthening your core, back, and shoulders.
I found a great example here explaining how to do a proper plank:
The standard plank looks easier than it actually is. Holding the correct plank position for an extended period of time is a difficult task for many people.
Again, feel free to modify your own plank to make it easier by basing on your knees rather than your toes.
So these are my top 3 strength-building exercises for BJJ that you can do by yourself at home.
You’ll see that I haven’t included any sort of weight lifting exercises using gym equipment, this is because many people don’t have access to gym equipment at home.
I wanted this list to be useful, and achievable no matter where you are.
HIIT For BJJ Stamina
The most important thing to consider when building stamina for BJJ is the type of stamina you’re building.
Stamina for Jiu-Jitsu is different from the stamina required for completing a marathon for example. When building stamina for BJJ, it’s best to use HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) techniques that mimic the bursts of energy required when rolling.
If you’re not convinced of the effectiveness of HIIT for BJJ, here’s a study titled ‘High-intensity interval training applied in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is more effective to improve athletic performance and body composition’.
It was published in the Journal of Combat Sports and Martial Arts by Rafael Lima Ribeiro in 2015. In the study,
Rafael looks specifically at the effects of HIIT on BJJ athletes and shows significant benefits over standard workout routines.
So can you replicate the sort of HIIT required for BJJ by yourself at home? Absolutely!
Here are my top 4 HIIT exercises that I’ve found work best for building my stamina for Jiu-Jitsu:
Think about mountain climbers as the supercharged lovechild of the push-up and the plank.
Mountain climbers should be done at about 80% – 90% of your performance limit for bursts of 20 seconds at a time with 20-second rest intervals between each set. This is to replicate the bursts of energy required for guard retention in BJJ, with an intense focus on your core endurance.
Here’s a great video showing you exactly how to do mountain climbers:
Honestly, these are not easy to do. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you do find them a bit challenging.
My tip for making these a little easier is to make sure you’re distributing about 60% of your weight over your arms.
This obviously puts more pressure on your arms (which builds strength), but this way you’re able to ‘climb’ your legs a lot easier which helps the movement feel more efficient.
The more efficient the movement, the better you’re able to work your core.
Burpees are great because they replicate many of the constant up and down movements of rolling, sweeping, and taking the top position. The stamina required for repeated transitions from lying down to a standing position and back is exactly the type of strength we need to build for BJJ.
So let’s look at the best way to perform a burpee. Here’s a great example:
Burpees suck, they just do.
The way I see it, most people aren’t willing to do unpleasant things. If you put the effort into doing burpees, the likelihood that your opponent has done the same is very low.
The stamina you’re able to build by doing burpees by yourself is going to give you the edge over your opponent when you’re finally able to train with someone.
Sticking to the concept of HIIT, try to do as many burpees within a 20 second period as you can with 20-second rest intervals in-between.
Do as many sets as you realistically can without injuring yourself.
If you’re a runner, you might appreciate this one.
Running is always going to be a great way of building your stamina, but you have to be doing the right kind of running for it to be applicable to BJJ.
Long-distance running is going to do very little for your Jiu-Jitsu game.
Interval sprints are great for BJJ because the HIIT nature of sprinting separated by short periods of rest replicates the intense nature of Jiu-Jitsu training. Hill sprints are particularly effective because they exponentially increase the effort required for the sprints, optimizing the time you spend working on your stamina.
Here’s an example of the best way to do them:
Hill sprints are brutal, they’ll make your lungs feel like they’re on fire.
Are they worth it? Absolutely.
I’ve done many sports over the years, and the one thing I’ve always done to improve my stamina is hill sprints.
If you’re looking to push your stamina for Jiu-Jitsu through the roof, get into hill sprints.
Solo BJJ HIIT Workout
If you’re looking for a HIIT that’s more BJJ-related, Cobrinha (Rubens Cobrinha Charles) has released a really cool HIIT BJJ workout that you can do on your own.
Cobrihna is a 5 x BJJ World Champion and 3 x ADCC World Champion, so he knows what works.
Follow along with the workout and you’re guaranteed to start growing some killer stamina for your Jiu-Jitsu game.
Stretching For BJJ Flexibility
Stretching is very important for BJJ. The great thing about stretching is you can do it by yourself, with no special equipment required.
The more stretching you get in while training on your own, the more it will benefit your game the next time you’re on the mats.
Do You Need To Be Flexible For BJJ?
This short answer is no. I’m not particularly flexible myself, I never have been and I’ve always found it difficult to develop flexibility in my muscles.
So my game is very much geared towards my own strengths of speed and mobility.
The importance of stretching in Jiu-Jitsu goes beyond the ability to perform complicated inversions and transitions. Stretching is very much an exercise in prolonging your BJJ journey by keeping your muscles and joints as supple as possible. Reducing your risk of injury and speeding up the healing process.
Here are the 2 main stretches that I find help the most when training alone, but are also great as a warm-up before rolling:
The butterfly stretch is probably the most commonly used in BJJ.
It’s the one most people go to first during their warm-ups, and you should definitely be including it in your arsenal of stretches.
The butterfly stretch helps to increase the mobility of the inner muscles in your hips and your groin. Increasing the flexibility in your hips is essential for more dynamic guard movement and helps to reduce the risk of groin injury while training BJJ.
Here’s a nice example of the simple butterfly stretch:
I often find myself in this position while watching TV, it’s a pretty comfortable position to sit in and it helps to relieve a lot of tightness that I get from hard training.
Inverted Guard Stretch
One of the most important muscle areas to stretch for BJJ is your neck and back.
I find that stretching this area regularly while training solo (as well as during warm-ups) helps to reduce the pain I experience after an intense session.
The inverted guard stretch is important for the flexibility of the muscles surrounding your spine. Being inverted (upside down) is a regular part of Jiu-Jitsu, especially for guard retention and even some armbar positions. Keeping your neck and back as supple as possible helps to reduce the risk of pain and injury from these awkward positions.
I highly recommend this stretch, here’s a yoga instructor explaining how to do it:
If I was to recommend only one stretch for reducing pain after training, the inverted guard stretch would be it.
Lachlan Giles Guard Stretches
One of my favorite grapplers to watch is Lachlan Giles. His leg-lock and open guard game is a wonder to behold!
Here are 5 stretches to improve your guard by Lachlan Giles:
Solo Drills For BJJ Movement
The range of movements you need to make while training BJJ is huge.
To be mobile while at the same time effectively controlling your opponent is a tricky task.
It’s made even more tricky if you haven’t yet mastered the underlying movements for effectively transitioning between positions of defense, control, and submission.
Solo drills are perfect for developing the muscle memory required for all the subtle movements in Jiu-Jitsu. Perfecting the movements lets you focus on the bigger picture. Including effective defense, identifying submission opportunities, transitioning effectively between positions, and winning scrambles.
The great thing about solo drills is you’re able to do them … solo.
Cobrinha’s Solo Drills For Guard Retention
Guard retention is something you’re going to spend a lot of time perfecting.
The best BJJ practitioners in the world pride themselves on having rock-solid guards, with multiple sweeps and submissions options to choose from.
Solo drills for guard retention allow you to perfect the movements required for sufficient mobility from the guard position. Drilling the moves until they become subconscious allows you to focus on being more dangerous from inside your guard.
Here are the 8 Solo BJJ Drills to work on your guard retention on your own at home:
Eli Knight’s Solo BJJ Drills
Eli Knight from Knight Jiu-Jitsu has a great series of techniques available on YouTube.
One of my favorites is this video he did on 19 solo BJJ drills to do at home. This is perfect for doing on your own!
Use A Grappling Dummy To Drill BJJ Techniques
Another great option for learning BJJ by yourself is by using a grappling dummy.
In fact, during the Covid-19 lockdown, we were actually using grappling dummies at our gym to abide by social distancing rules.
Grappling dummies are great for drilling BJJ techniques by yourself. Practising specific movements against a passive opponent like a grappling dummy allows you to focus on the detail that will eventually become muscle memory when training with a live opponent.
So what sort of techniques are you able to drill by yourself with a grappling dummy?
I’m glad you asked. I found this really good instructional with many drills for you to do:
Are Grappling Dummies Worth It? Should You Buy One?
If you’re training alone, a grappling dummy is a great substitute for a live sparring partner. Being able to simulate submissions, sweeps, and transitions without the need for a training partner allows you to learn new techniques by yourself.
The debate on the effectiveness of grappling dummies is still ongoing.
Some believe that drilling techniques against a passive sparring partner aren’t a useful thing to do.
I tend to disagree because many coaches include a period of passive drilling before moving into specific or open sparring.
It’s an important step in memorizing and integrating a new technique into your game.
Sure you could discover techniques while rolling, I highly recommend starting to put together a strategy for when you’re training.
I use flow charts for this, and you should too.
Flow Chart Or Mind Maps For BJJ
Flow charts (or mind maps) are a great way of establishing an overall idea of what you’re trying to achieve when training. By identifying and physically writing out your 2-3 favorite moves and counters from a certain position, it will help to execute your game more effectively when live rolling.
Any good coach (like mine) will tell you to only focus on a few, high percentage moves.
Rather than trying to cram every technique, you find online into your game.
This way you’re able to optimize the time that you spend training.
It’s good to have an idea of what sorts of techniques and transitions are possible, it might even be a good idea to try new techniques for yourself a few times to know how to defend and counter these.
However, it’s important to focus on the techniques that you’re able to execute reliably and repeatedly.
If you’re looking for good flow charts to start working on your game strategy, I highly recommend BJJ Flow Charts.
Here’s a very basic example of a BJJ flow chart:
BJJ Mind Map For Beginners
Mind maps or flow charts can very quickly grow out of control with all the possibilities available from a single position.
So I recommend creating separate ones from each position.
The best way to create your own mind map is to work backward, from the submission all the way to the initial point of contact – This could even be the standing position.
If you’re not sure how to create one for yourself, here are the steps to creating your own BJJ mind map:
- Pick a submission you’d like to focus on
- Identify 2 transitions that normally get you there
- Identify 2 control positions that allow for those transitions
- Identify counters to your transitions
- Identify exit points (the moment you move from one mind map to another)
Once you’ve written down each of these, put them into a mind map connecting each point.
This helps you to visually understand exactly what you should be trying to achieve, giving you much-needed direction when rolling.
How Do You Get Better At BJJ By Yourself?
The best way to get better at BJJ by yourself is to address the skills that will make the biggest difference when you get back to the mat. This includes strength and conditioning for your body, movement drills for muscle memory, and ensuring the techniques you’re using are right for your game and body type.
If you’re interested in more ways that you can learn BJJ by yourself, be sure to check out my guide to learning BJJ using video.