[EXPLAINED] How Important Is Strength In BJJ?

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Strength in BJJ has been a fiercely debated topic in the community.

Here’s the thing, it does depend on which context you’re talking about.

For hobbyists training BJJ for self-defense and fitness, strength isn’t very important. However, if you’re a competitor training 5-6 days a week and competing at every available opportunity, then strength is a lot more important.

Let’s take a closer look at how important strength is in BJJ.

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Credit: Grappling Insider

BJJ - The Gentle Art
BJJ - The Gentle Art
Importance of Strength for BJJ Hobbyist

If you’re a hobbyist doing BJJ for fun and you don’t have an interest in competing, strength isn’t that important.

After about a year of consistent BJJ training, you’ll have no problem fighting untrained people who outweigh you by 30% or even more.

Even if they’re significantly stronger than you.

This is because they won’t have the necessary knowledge or techniques to effectively beat you.

Spazzy White Belt

The spazzy white belt stereotype will be true till the end of time.

Even if someone is throwing their weight around, and using lots of strength.

If they don’t know any moves your going to beat them in most aspect of BJJ.

Even if they’re a fit person who exercises frequently, they won’t be used to Jiu-Jitsu pacing and movements.

A larger person will gas out fairly quickly once you gain significant control over them.

No one can just muscle their way out of positions for any extended period of time.

Side Control

If you have control of all the inside real estate.

I’ll use side control as an example.

You have one knee inside their hip.

The other knee is inside their elbow and shoulder.

Your cross faces arm inside their shoulder and control their head.

Your other arm controlling the under hook on the other.

Even someone with significantly more strength than you isn’t going to be to do anything.

Until they can gain some form of inside position there is no way they escape.

The size difference would have to be massive for them to roll you over.

Postural Control

The use of postural control.

Where the head leads the body follows.

In almost all exceptions if you control someone’s posture in BJJ weather isn’t a collar tie or cross grip.

You’re going to have significant control over someone’s movement.

This is will be extremely effective when dealing with strong explosive people.

It doesn’t matter how athletic you are.

You can’t move effectively when you have a broken posture.

Triangle

I’ll use the triangle and myself as an example.

Firstly a triangle choke is one of the best ways to control posture from the bottom as well a great submission.

It all begins with a trap triangle shown below.

Credit: Zombie Proof BJJ

This is the first stage of the triangle you have one arm in one arm out like all triangles and crossed ankles.

The first thing you do is grab behind your opponent’s head to control their posture pictured below.

This might not look like a lot but the amount of control you have over someones posture is staggering.

It doesn’t matter how strong your opponent is if they are roughly the same size as you.

They will not be posture away and broke you trap triangle.

Once to switch to the fully locked in triangle and head control.

I would say its almost impossible for your opponent to get their posture before dealing with the collar tie and lock of the triangle.

In short they won’t be able to just force there way out with strength.

A super strong guy might get you a few feet off the ground.

But they put you right back down again.

Now, there are always exceptions to the rule.

You’ll struggle with someone who’s more than double your body-weight and who is significantly stronger than you, even if you’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu for a number of years.

The size and strength difference will make it very difficult for you.

They will be extremely hard to control because they’ll be able to muscle out of bad spots, especially if you’re relatively light.

Tight, Close-range Positions

Tight, close-range positions like closed guard are going to be less effective, and they’re going to be able to shut your attempts down through strength alone.

You might also struggle to gain leverage due to their large frame.

For example, a triangle choke is going to be difficult to apply when dealing with a significantly larger opponent because you’ll struggle to get your legs around their upper body.

Furthermore their ability to posture easily will add more difficulty to finishing the triangle

You would be far better off using open guard attacks, as you won’t have to carry their weight as much and you’ll be more mobile.

Open Guard

Open guard attacks will also limit them from using so much strength.

Due to the four points of control concept used in most open guard.

You’ll control your opponent with both of your feet and both of your hands.

I’ll use collar and sleeve as an example.

One hand be a cross collar grip the other a sleeve grip.

One foot in the hips and the other in the bicep, picture below.

This can be applied to all commonly used open guard.

De La Riva Guard (DLR), X Guard, Reverse X Guard etc.

So, as long as you have your four points of attachment.

Your opponent cannot pass your guard.

Until they deal with at least one of your points of attachment.

They basically just be dragging around the mat.

It’ll also be easier to attack their balance if you make them move more.

This is because big guys don’t move as well, in general.

Your best bet is as a smaller and weaker person is to be fighting in the top position, floating your weight above them.

You’re not going to want to be too tight with stronger guys, as they can easily roll you over.

As a smaller person, you’re using a movement-based game to change positions whenever larger opponents are trying to escape.

This movement based pinning strategy will also work well, if a strong opponent decides he’s keeping his elbow tight to his hips.

You won’t break that connection its one of the strongest connection the body can make.

You need to provoke reactions, make them extend their limbs.

When they do steal the inside position.

The movement based pinning strategy will also work well because your are likely to be significantly quicker than them and have a stamina edge. 

John Danaher goes through this principle in his Dynamic pinning DVD.

He says you should never be too tight during a pin because it restricts your movement.

Weight and pressure to there, to back up your wedges you have made.

The except for this when you have a very strong pinning position where control all the inside real estate and there normally only one escape method.

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Competitors

Credit: IBJJF

Now it’s more straightforward for competitors yes strength is important.

You’re going to be facing other competitors who likely also are training 5-6 days a week and also have very good technique.

So your need some sort of extra edge to give you an advantage.

Furthermore, if we take the competition aspect out, and put two people with similar skill sets and have them roll in a relaxed environment with nothing on the line.

The stronger and more physically fit person will win nine times out of ten.

You’re dealing with razor-thin margins in skill when getting to the highest level of BJJ.

That’s when you see strength can make a difference.

Now if you are a jiu jitsu competitor the bulk of your training should still be BJJ don’t get me wrong.

Five to seven days a week and possibly twice a day if you can manage it.

But if you are serious you need to supplement it with strength and conditioning training as well.

Technique alone will only get you so far in high-level competition.

Weight training is very transferable to BJJ.

If it wasn’t all the highest level competitors would just train BJJ and nothing else.

Furthermore weight training has other benefits than just building strength.

It’s great for injury prevention as long as you aren’t doing excessive or too high intensity training.

It’s also great for fat loss if you pair it along side a good diet.

When dieting down to lose weight adding in some weight training will reduce muscle loss.

Compared to if you went for a cardio only approach to exercise.

For a lot of BJJ competitors they will want to be as big and strong possible while still making the weight class.

Due to same day weigh ins for most BJJ tournaments weight cuts are not recommended.

So a good diet, good strength and conditioning program, and having a relatively low body-fat is a must for all high level competitors.

They say relatively low body-fat, because past a certain point it will be a demising return getting so lean.

It varies from person to person but no competitors outside of super and ultra heavyweight should be above 15% body-fat.

I feel a way to show why size and strength does matter in competition is going through the recent absolute medalists at the IBJJF European Championship.

I’ll be going through both the Male and Female division in the blue, purple, brown and black belt absolute divisions.

So what weight classes feature most heavily.

Male Blue Belt

  • 1st Joao Souza Ultra Heavy
  • 2nd Pedro Navarro Super Heavy
  • 3rd Italo Mendonca Ultra Heavy
  • 3rd Matten Chazen Ultra Heavy

Male Purple Belt

  • 1st Pedro Rubim Medium-Heavy
  • 2nd Jose Ndilu Middle
  • 3rd Patryk Smosna Heavy
  • 3rd Yago Oliveira Heavy

Male Brown Belt

  • 1st Lucas de Souza Middle
  • 2nd Jakub Najdek Middle
  • 3rd Diogo Nogueira Heavy
  • 3rd Gustavo Borges Ultra Heavy

Male Black Belt

  • 1st Fellipe Andrew Super Heavy
  • 2nd Yatan Bueno Ultra Heavy
  • 3rd Adam Wardzinski Heavy 
  • 3rd Matheus Felipe Xavier Ultra Heavy

Female Blue Belt

  • 1st Laura Schmidlin Heavy
  • 2nd Ashley Green Heavy
  • 3rd Ana Fernandes Middle
  • 3rd Laura Sieradzan Middle

Female Purple Belt

  • 1st Nia Blackman Heavy
  • 2nd Selma Vik Middle
  • 3rd Emily Pakulski Light
  • 3rd Larah Reis Super Heavy

Female Brown Belt

  • 1st Mayara Ribeiro Medium Heavy
  • 2nd Scarlett Anstiss-Liljefors Medium Heavy
  • 3rd Rachel Ranschau Middle
  • 3rd Stephanie Faure

Female Black Belt

  • 1st Gabrieli Pessanha Super Heavy
  • 2nd Thalyta Lima Middle
  • 3rd Ana Rodrigues Feather
  • 3rd Nathalie Ribeiro Light

So in sport jiu-jitsu size and strength is definitely important.

The overwhelming major of medalists in absolutes are super and ultra-heavyweight competitors.

In the male division the lightest weight class we saw feature was a middleweight.

The middleweight limit is 82.3kg or 181lbs.

So an average-sized competitor can still do very well in BJJ against bigger guys.

As shown in Edwin Najmi who won double gold at the 2014 world champion after winning the featherweight division(70kg or 155lbs).

He wasn’t going up against nobodies the worlds are the biggest tournament in gi jiu jitsu, and two of the other competitors on the podium with him are Nicolas Meregali and Gutemburg Pereira.

Two of the best black belts in the world currently.

A reason I believe we saw so many middleweights was because it’s one of the most competitive divisions in BJJ.

To win a major IBJJF tournament at middleweight in the coloured belt ranks your having upwards of 5 to 6 matches in one day as well, and you are in divisions with 50 plus competitors most of the time.

A majority of those competitors are smashing local competitions and train basically the same as the professionals.

Not that this isn’t the case among all divisions but the size of the divisions means your conditioning and technique need to be on point to win.

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Conclusion

It really depends why you chose to do jiu-jitsu if strength is important?

If you want to win and by the best yes strength is important.

Because all the highest level guys also have great technique and timing.

But if you are a hobbyist who does BJJ for fun, strength will help, and make you a more effective grappler.

But if you keep training consistently over a period of years your have the skillset to beat an untrained person have bigger and stronger than you.

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