Maximum strength should be a goal of every serious grappler. Being as strong as possible at your current weight is like having a secret weapon to call on. Technique should always be the primary focus, but devastating strength is a desirable quality to have in your back pocket.

There’s a quote by legendary strength coach, Mark Rippetoe, “Strong people are harder to kill…” and this holds true on the mat. We all know that one guy in class who’s just strong as hell. Sure we’ll roll with him, but inside we’re always thinking, “here we go…” We may score or get the tap, but it’s never easy.

Now, if that guy only relies on strength, that’s one thing, but if he puts in the time on the mat, develops technique and maintains his strength, that’s a deadly combination.

There’s a saying in martial arts, “When technique is equal, the stronger fighter will prevail.” There’s always an advantage to being strong. Assuming we’ve put the time in on the mats and meticulously sharpened our technique, strength is the quality that can usually finish the takedown, complete the sweep, or force the submission.

Weight classes are used to “level the playing field,” but if the time and effort is put in, we can tip the field in our favor. This is especially true in the upper belt ranks, when skills are matched, athletes are in top shape, and gold medals are won and lost often by a sweep or takedown.

At the lower belts, strength will give you that push to survive just a bit longer, and ultimately, be harder to “kill.” Being as strong as possible will give you the confidence to apply your game without fear the next time you step on the mat.

Contrary to popular belief, strength training is not analogous with getting big. If the proper programming and techniques are used you can get seriously strong without putting on size. For grapplers who don’t have the luxury of adding weight, this is the approach to use when training for strength.

There are two ways to get stronger – you can make a muscle bigger or you can make a muscle contract harder. Grapplers should focus on the latter, which is called neurological efficiency.

To develop this type of strength you must train to recruit more motor units, which are, at a basic level, the neurons that are attached to our muscles, which connect back to the spinal cord and brain. We also want to increase the rate at which these motor units are fired. The ability to do this must be practiced or trained, and is accomplished using heavy weights with maximum body tension.

Time spent under a heavy barbell can provide a variety of qualities valuable to an athlete, aside from the performance advantages. First, strength training has been shown to improve bone density. Not only will your muscles benefit but the bones themselves actually become more dense and strong, and therefore more resilient to season ending injuries like breaks and fractures.

Strength training also plays a big role in injury prevention. When you train for strength, the ligaments and tendons are also strengthen. In a martial art where joint locks are the objective, it’s in every grappler’s interest to have strong, resilient connective tissue supporting the joints.

The stress withstood from heavy weight training also affects your anabolic hormones. Testosterone, in particular, is released when weights in the 85-95% range of your one-rep max are used for large muscle group exercises like deadlifts and squats.

This type of training also increases the number of receptors for testosterone, and will have the greatest affect on neural changes within the body.

Just know, big weights combined with big moves yields big changes to your hormone profile.

Here are some tips to get the most from your strength training…



– Use compound lifts that will target the most amount of muscle like deadlifts and presses.


– Keep reps and sets low. Neither should exceed five.


Rest for a minimum of 3 minutes between sets to allow for full recovery and maximum effort in your next set.


– Use maximum body tension in every rep to recruit the most amount of muscle.


-Use weights in the 80-95% range of your one-rep max.


– Limit supplemental exercises and metabolic conditioning to prevent overtraining.


– Vary the intensity at every session (or week) to prevent overtraining.


– Use training cycles for maximum results.


This has been an excerpt from our e-book “Strength Without Size for Jiu Jitsu and Combat Sports – Proven Methods To Gain Maximum Strength and Dominate Your Weight Class Without Adding Bulk.” 


Click here for Part II