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10 Exercises to Boost Your Muscle Endurance in BJJ

10 Exercises to Boost Your Muscle Endurance in BJJ

Words by Naveed Shan

The feeling is all too familiar. You can feel the blood and lactic acid filling your forearms and it becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to your opponent’s lapel. You feel the pressure of his elbow grinding against the inside of your knee slowly opening your guard.  You readjust your hips and grip higher on his lapel but you feel weaker with every adjustment. It’s not brute strength or technique – it’s muscular endurance that’s the lingering issue. Muscular endurance is your ability to contract and sustain a contraction against a resistance for an extended period of time. Many BJJ practitioners insist that strength and power have little to no place in jiu jitsu, that proper technique will win competitions.  While I agree that technique should be the main focus in any BJJ player’s training, muscular endurance and conditioning can play a vital role as well. If you have two brown belts of the same size and same skill but one is better conditioned, he will have the obvious advantage on the mat.

Many people assume that an increase in endurance involves running on a treadmill for miles on end.  While this may be slightly beneficial for your training on the mats, you should make a few considerations before lacing up your running shoes.  A BJJ match only lasts five to ten minutes, depending on the belt level and organization, so an hour of low intensity cardio would not be the best use of your time. Physiological adaptations and progression will occur until your body becomes used to the stimulus, so adding another 30-60 minutes to your cardio training would not be realistic.  Your heart rate changes rapidly in a match depending on the position you are in, with traditional cardio you tend to have a steady heart rate throughout the workout. Lastly, a match requires muscular and cardiovascular endurance at a much higher intensity than what jogging, or other low intensity types of cardio, can offer. 

Some feel that heavy strength training may be the answer and while strength and power can be helpful, many traditional lifts are not always applicable to BJJ. We’ve all seen the gym rat who assumes his muscles will be enough to dominate everyone on the mat, until he’s submitted 20 times in one round by a seasoned white belt that’s 80lbs lighter. 

So if an hour on the treadmill or five sets on a bench press don’t transfer well on the mat, what will? I propose a different type of training, one that challenges your cardiovascular and muscular system at the same time, complexes. A complex is a series of exercises with a weight (typically a barbell or dumbbell) in which you perform set after set of without letting go of the bar until you’ve completed the entire circuit. Complexes are not a new type of training and have been popular among lifting enthusiasts for some time. Below are two different complexes designed specifically for the total body demands of BJJ athletes. It should be noted that these complexes should not replace your current resistance training program, this would be something to include after your workout to improve muscular endurance, cardiac output, and give you an extra edge over your opponents! 

Select a weight that is heavy enough to be challenging throughout the complexes but you should be able to complete all repetitions of each exercise. Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise moving quickly while maintaining proper form. 

Perform the entire complex on one side then immediately switch hands and repeat the complex on the other side. Perform 2-4 sets of each complex, resting 60 seconds in between.  For an added challenge to your cardiovascular system, time how long it takes to complete each complex and try to beat your time for each set!


1) Kettlebell Swing: Grasp the kettlebell with one hand and bring your hips back.  Extend your hips and knees as fast as possible swinging the Kettlebell to eye level.


2) Push Press - Grasp the handle with the ball resting on your shoulder.  Slightly bend at the hips and knees then quickly extend your hips and knees quickly while pressing the kettlebell overhead.


3) Split Squat - Hold the kettlebell at your side in a staggered stance.  Lower your hips by dropping your back knee until the kettlebell touches the floor.


4) High Pull - Beginning in the same position as the swing, extend your hips and knees at the same time to swing the kettlebell upwards.  At the top position, retract your shoulder blade and pull your elbow backward.


5) One Sided Goblet Squat -Rest the kettlebell on your shoulder with your elbow out to the side, squat down by bending at the knees and bringing your hips back.


6) Russian Twist - Grasp the end of the barbell with it resting on the side of the hip.  Move the barbell overhead by rotating your torso until the barbell reaches the opposite side.


7) Lumberjack Press - Press the barbell overhead.


8) Lean in Jump Squat -Grasp the end of the barbell with both hands and lean in slightly.  Squat down and explode up, jumping off the ground.


9) Grappler Row -In staggered stance, bend at the hip while holding the barbell at the side of your thigh.  Retract your shoulder, and pull your elbow back.


10) Overhead Reverse Lunge –Extend your arm overhead.   Take a big step back with the leg on the same side and slowly drop that knee until it is a few inches above the ground.



Naveed Shan is a certified personal trainer and strength coach at Siege MMA/Lotus Club BJJ in Glendale, AZ.  He is a blue belt under Giva Santana and is currently finishing his post-graduate studies in Exercise Science and Psychology at Arizona State University, focusing on athletic performance.  He can be reached at

Photography by Nestor Martinez

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