Does BJJ Build Muscles and Make you Stronger?

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blue vs white gi

BJJ is arguably the best martial art for self-defense. But is it that great when it comes to building muscles and strength?

Does practicing BJJ build muscles? Although that depends on the way you train (how often; with what intensity; what’s your style etc) BJJ by itself isn’t very effective for building muscles. Its focus is more on technique rather than strength, speed, and explosiveness like for example wrestling. However, you can still build muscles while doing BJJ if you do some changes in the way you train.

Don’t get me wrong, BJJ will definitely help you build muscles to a certain extent especially if you haven’t worked out for the last few months before starting BJJ.

The problem is that the focus of BJJ isn’t on building muscles but on taking control of your opponent on the ground and submitting him/her as quickly and as efficiently as possible while avoiding danger.

That means losing as less energy as possible in the process. That’s why 2/3 of the time of BJJ classes is spent on drilling techniques. At first, the new techniques can be hard for you and you’ll struggle to execute them but after you drill them several times those techniques will become easier and easier.

Your body will get used to them and the process of building muscles will stop.

Now that depends on your genetics and how you eat and what supplements you take (if any) but generally BJJ won’t make you buff. Chances are it will make you lean if you train regularly enough.

In the rest of the article, I’ll talk about what causes your muscles to grow, and how to train for BJJ to make sure you meet that goal.

Most Effective Way to Build Muscles

The fastest way to build muscles is by lifting weights. That’s because to increase your muscle mass you need to gradually increase the “work” your muscles do. And weights are the easiest way to do that because you can increase them just a little bit every time you go to the gym (or increase the reps).

Freeweight exercises are the second most effective way because it’s a little bit harder to increase the work so gradually and it’s harder to focus on some muscle groups.

There’s a correlation between getting stronger and building muscles – to build more muscles you need to get stronger. You obviously can do that by lifting weights. But when it comes to BJJ it’s a little trickier.

That’s because, as I mentioned at the beginning, all this drilling you do in BJJ is to make your body used to the technique. Once that is done, your body won’t have a reason to create more muscle mass.

How much muscle mass you are going to gain when starting BJJ depends on how you worked out before starting BJJ.

Previous Training

If all you did before BJJ was lifting weights, then chances are you’ll lose some strength BJJ in terms of your ability to lift weights and you can also lose some muscle mass (or at least reaching a plateau).

If you come from another combat sport (or any sport that requires endurance) like boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, your muscle mass will stay the same or increase a little. But if haven’t worked for a few months before starting BJJ, you’ll definitely notice that you are building more muscles.

BJJ makes you stronger/more muscular than many other sports because it focuses on the whole body – legs, core arms, back muscles, etc. But it won’t make you as strong as pure strength focuses training.

What Muscles does BJJ Work? (Grappling Strength)

Almost everything in BJJ requires a certain amount of strength. For example controlling the opponent on the ground (especially when he is bigger than you), sweeping the opponent; takedowns require a lot of strength; submissions also. It’s so hard to submit some people, you need to really use your strength especially at the beginning when your technique isn’t that great.

BJJ will also greatly improve your push and pull strength. When rolling you are constantly pushing and pulling your opponent. Generally speaking, Gi BJJ focuses much more on pulling, because you have some many grips on your opponent’s Gi. When standing, judo throws and sweep, as well as pulling guard is supper effective (all those techniques require grips and pulling).

On the other hand in No-Gi BJJ pushing and lifting techniques from wrestling are used much often when taking your opponent down.

Besides the muscle groups I already mentioned – back, arms, core, legs, BJJ will also strengthen your neck muscle and your grip especially if you are doing Gi BJJ.

But maybe the most interesting thing about BJJ is the grappling strength. That’s when you see someone who looks skinny but when you start rolling with him you notice how strong he is.

That’s because his muscle are so used to the technique and they can execute is super efficiently. There are tons of videos on Youtube of small BJJ guys controlling and submitting bodybuilders with ease.

Lean Muscles

BJJ can definitely help become more toned and build lean muscles or help you lose fat. But to accomplish that you have to have a good diet. I’m not going to get into dieting in this article but basically, to build muscle you need to consume more calories than you burn and get yourself enough protein so your body can build muscles.

To build lean muscle mass you shouldn’t eat too much but just a little bit more (200-300 calories more) than the number of calories to maintain your body weight. You can find that number easily, using calculators like this one.

How to Get Stronger While Doing BJJ (and build muscles)

In my opinion, to build more muscles and get stronger, you should train like a wrestler. Wrestlers always start on their feet while BJJ practitioners often just sit on the ground and start rolling from there which is much easier but doesn’t help you with building strength.

If you look at wrestlers you’ll notice that they are much stronger and muscular than most BJJ practitioners. That’s because of several reasons I described in this article.

But the main one is that wrestling requires much more strength, speed, and explosiveness than BJJ. Getting someone to the ground is hard. When I started wrestling for the first time, even though I had good cardio for BJJ and boxing I was super exhausted after just two 3-minute rounds.

Wrestling is probably the most grueling sport but it really builds muscles, improves your stamina, speed, and coordination. Another reason why wrestlers are so strong is that they often do strength and conditioning workouts.

If you are a BJJ practitioner but you want to build muscles, I recommend training more like a wrestler. When rolling try to always be on top and control your opponent, aks your opponent’s to start rolling on your feet as often as possible, and do strength and conditioning 1-2 times a week.

When doing strength and conditioning, go lift some weights and focus on basics – deadlift, squats, and bench press. And don’t forget to eat more calories then you burn.

And of course, don’t overtrain! If your muscles feel sore for more than 2-3 days, consider taking some time off. That way you’ll avoid injuries.


Dimitar Ivanov

Just a hardcore MMA fan and practitioner who wants to share some info with the world.