5 Things You Aren’t Doing to Improve Your BJJ Game

5 easy hacks to work smarter, not harder

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a rapidly growing sport, and the evidence is everywhere: bigger tournaments, more sponsors, larger cash prizes, rapid evolutions of competition-tested technique, etc. You name it, BJJ is on the rise!

One way in which BJJ is still lagging behind other major sports is the lack of a support structure for professional athletes, especially in regards to sports medicine. Yes there are gi sponsors, grip tape sponsors, etc., but by and large even elite level grapplers are mostly left to fend for themselves when it comes to everything except training on the mat.

So what is a poor BJJ athlete left to do? Train like crazy and hope that it’s enough to win!! A pervasive mindset in BJJ is that 6 hours of training perhaps is always better than 4, because what if your next opponent has been training harder than you? It’s the one known and controlled variable in an athlete’s training, so the work ethic and grind is worshipped above all else.

Of course it is imperative to have a strong work ethic to get to the top. This is true in all aspects of life, it takes a hell of a lot of hard work to be good at something! But just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean it’s actually helping your performance. There is a delicate balance between training, and recovery. The proper balance leads to positive adaptations of the body, while too much stress can lead to maladaptation and an increased risk of injury.

This can be a hard to concept to grasp. Sometimes it’s better to rest than it is train?? How can that be? What about my technique, bro?!?Yes technique matters tremendously, but just like in any sport, physical attributes matter quite a bit in BJJ. Just because your technique is better than your opponent, if you are giving up a size or strength advantage and you’ve been training so hard that you’re utterly exhausted, guess what you’re in for a world of trouble.

What if there’s a better way? What if there’s a way to train smarter instead of harder, allowing for proper recovery and positive physiological adaptations? 

At Electrum Performance, we are big fans of the KISS principle, but it isn’t the acronym most people expect. Instead of “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, we like to say “Keep It Simple and Smart”. A good strength coach is looking to get the maximum benefit out of the least amount of work. Why perform 10 sets when you can get the same results with 3? 

With that being said, here are 5 things you can implement immediately into your training and life to improve your BJJ game:

  1. Progressive Overload – What is it and how do I use it!?
  2. REAL Recovery
  3. Specific is good – To a point!
  4. Monkey see, monkey DON’T
  5. DON’T be afraid to consult an Expert!!

1. Progressive Overload – the gradual increase of stress upon the body during exercise in order to elicit adaptation and improvement.

Progressive overload is one of the most important concepts in understanding the way our bodies adapt to physical activity. In order to improve our physical attributes (strength, speed, power, etc.) you have to make your body work harder than it has before.

This seems like a common sense principle, and it is, but it is also extremely easy to lose site of it amidst all the noise in the sports and fitness industries and legitimate number of training variables to worry about. The lack of applying progressive overload in training explains the vast majority of strength training plateaus. If we do the same thing over and over again, eventually the body adjusts and the stimulus is no longer enough stress to elicit adaptation. 

A good analogy to understand this is doing biceps curls with your cell phone. You could do thousands and thousands of reps each day and your biceps won’t get any bigger or stronger. The phone simply isn’t heavy enough to make any meaningful change. Our body is hardwired for survival, and won’t grow or improve unless we basically force it to do so. Many people who train include way too much “junk” volume that’s just work for the sake of work, and then wonder why they aren’t making progress. You can and should make improvements across all rep ranges, but what is far more important than 8 reps vs. 12 reps is the effort or intensity level of each training set.

But progressive overload does NOT mean slapping an extra 50 lbs on the bar!! Training is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s amazing what can be accomplished over the course of months or years focusing on nudging things forward 2.5 lbs or 1 extra rep at a time.

This concept can also be applied to BJJ. At times, especially as you become more and more experienced, you will need to push yourself to the point of gassing out, past what you’ve ever done before. If you dog it every live round that your instructor isn’t watching and your only goal is to just survive class, are you really going to continue to get better?

Ask yourself this simple question: am I constantly trying to make myself work harder in some way? If the answer is no, time to switch things up.

2. REAL Recovery

Here are the 5 most important factors for proper recovery:

  1. Sleep
  2. Nutrition


Do cupping, self-myofascial relief/massage, contrast bathing, compression, sauna, supplementation, acupuncture, Grasten, etc. have a place in a well structured recovery program? Yes, most of these modalities probably help a little bit (the scientific evidence is murky at best). BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS IF YOU DON’T GET ADEQUATE SLEEP AND PROPERLY FUEL YOUR BODY.

We all know that we need good quality sleep, but what are we actually doing about it?  Quit surfing your phone for two hours before bed, shut off Netflix, and get the 7+ hours you know you need. Every single physiological system in your body will be better for it.

Nutrition is an incredibly complex field, but at the end of the day most people and athletes know what good food choices are. If you have to ask yourself “should I be eating this?” the answer is probably no! 

The phrase “you are what you eat” is quite literally true. Would you rather be made of minimally processed whole food products, or McDonalds?

Some very simple guidelines to cut out all the marketing noise in the nutrition industry:

  • Consume adequate calories for your individual needs
  • Consume adequate protein (approx. 0.8-1.0 gram per lb. bodyweight per day)
  • Don’t freak out too much about meal timing, but try to have some carbs and protein before and/or after your training.
  • Hydrate! (general recommendation)
  • Eat foods that are a variety of colors (will ensure proper vitamin/mineral/micronutrient intake)
  • Only supplement if you have to (supplements are a supplement to your whole foods)

3. Specificity is good – to a point!

The second most important training concept after progressive overload is the SAID principle, which stands for Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand. It’s basically the antithesis of “muscle confusion”, which is a totally bogus concept. Your muscles (or any other system in the body) are NEVER confused! Your body responds PRECISELY to the EXACT stimulus placed upon it! This is why biceps curls won’t give you a world record squat.

Again this is common sense, but common sense is not so common. 

Ask yourself another simple question: does my training program address my stated goals, with exercises that are specific to these goals? If not, get some goals and structure your training specifically around them!

However, be aware that we can absolutely take specificity too far, especially in regards to sport specificity. If all that mattered was mimicking our sport, the only thing we would do would be our sport, and Electrum Performance wouldn’t exist! Your BJJ training of course needs to be specific, but in other aspects of training like strength and conditioning, legendary MMA fighter and strength training enthusiast Matt Brown says it best; “In resistance training we are attempting to replicate the muscular work, not the muscular action.

What’s another common specificity trap? Read on…

4. Monkey see, monkey DON’T – especially on Instagram

If the EP Coaches had a dollar for every time we’ve seen a comment on an exercise video like “dude trying this tomorrow @randomtrainingbuddy”, we wouldn’t have written this article and would instead be so stinking rich we’d be training for funsies on the beach in Aruba. 

The snapshot you see on social media is usually a tiny piece of the overall picture, especially in the realm of strength and conditioning.  The videos that are most commonly sensationalized on the internet have no context in terms of what progressions/regressions can be used, or how long the person trained before they performed the movement as you saw it.  It doesn’t usually say how many takes they attempted, or how many failed attempts there were. It’s natural to strive to emulate skilled athletes, but it’s important to realize that you’re simply viewing the tip of the iceberg.  

Keep in mind that Instagram is everyone’s highlight reel, and only shows favorite (read “highly edited”) pictures, videos, etc., with no real way to fit that cool exercise you just saw into an actual training program. Does said exercise fit into your specific goals and/or does it allow for progressive overload? Are we seeing a pattern here?

The same goes for BJJ. Sure it’s great to see some cool new sweep from deep De La Riva, but do you even have the entry to get there or does it fit into your total game?  Often times, a single technique is merely a piece of the bigger picture. The video you see doesn’t necessarily factor in different body types or prior experience – it’s simply one person’s interpretation as to how this best fits THEIR style.  Before you can begin to effectively use this technique in competition, you’ll likely need to modify it to your own game.  

5. Consult an Expert!!

In so many other contexts, consulting an expert is an obvious choice.  When you can’t seem to get your car to start, you’ll find a good mechanic.  When you try to launch your own website, you’ll likely consult with a web developer.  Even athletes in other sports have an entire team of experts supporting them and helping them make decisions (nutritionists, strength coaches, PT’s, Ortho’s, etc.)  It’s an important skill to recognize when something falls outside our area of expertise, and we shouldn’t hesitate to seek out those that can help us with our current needs and goals.

That all seems to change, however, with the BJJ competitor.  These athletes are expected to be able to diagnose their acute injuries, plan their subsequent return to sport, act as their own strength coach, design their own weight cut – the list goes on.  

But for those that want to make the most of their training, the act of using an expert to streamline your efforts should be a logical choice.  Being able to consult with a reliable PT or physician can help make decisions that promote longevity in the sport. Picking the brains of a nutritionist can help optimize a weight cut and directly boost performance.  Having a structured strength training plan can prevent you from spinning your wheels and allow for improvements that will boost performance on the mats. But all of these things are just a little bit harder if that expert equates BJJ to karate…

That’s where Electrum Performance comes in. Our coaches live and breath the BJJ lifestyle, and our methods are competition-tested with some of the best athletes in the world. Our methods speak for themselves, with back to back to back IBJJF Team World Titles and countless individual world titles at every belt level.

We’ve brought a team lifting environment to a sport where it never existed previously, and are working to provide evidence-based practices to improve BJJ as a whole. We are driven and dedicated in our commitment to maximize your strength, power, performance, and health.

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