If strength is something you do want to develop in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, then one of the side effects may be a jump in weight class. As you are aware, in jiu-jitsu, strength is important, but extra bulk and weight generally associated with strength gains can be more of a burden than an asset and can affect your performance. One example that is specific to BJJ is when you put on extra size, your bottom game seems to suffer more as you tend to gas out faster.
However, if you want to increase your strength while staying in your current weight class, you can apply some of the methods below to boost your strength without the size.
1. Lift for strength: heavy weights, lower reps.
By lifting heavy (greater than 90% of your 1RM), you will improve strength by activating the muscle fibre that increases strength. Stick to multi-joint exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts, presses, and pulls). To make sure that you use the most fast-twitch muscles that are required in jiu-jitsu, move the weight at the fastest tempo you can. If your single aim is to build as much strength as possible, you should focus on the lower end of the rep range, as this is what will allow you to lift the heaviest amount of weights, which will see the greatest gains in strength.
The three main exercises that are beneficial for BJJ players are deadlifts, bench presses, and squats. It is also advisable to use more specialized exercises like pull ups, presses, and rows to strengthen other parts of the body that are used in a BJJ match. Deadlifts and squats strengthen your legs and core, which give you better balance and impact when going for takedowns and throws. Bench presses are great for building the chest, triceps, and core strength, which you use consistently in a match and training to control your opponent or create space when in close to them. If you are designing your own workout routine then you should try to design a program that makes you work all your major muscle groups.
Do not fall in the trap of traditional weight training regimes which see you work in the 8-12 rep range. This will only encourage further muscle growth and move you away from your strength goals.
A regular routine for strength and size is 5×5 but this set-rep scheme can be dropped to 2-3 sets with 5 reps to lower the muscle-building potential.
For grappling athletes with limited time to dedicate to powerlifting, it’s more than adequate to do three to five sets of each exercise. Since your goal is to develop strength, you should have no more than 6 repetitions.
2. Lift explosively and use Olympic lifts.
Explosive exercises that are useful for BJJ are Olympic lifts (e.g., clean & jerk, the snatch). Medicine ball throws and kettlebell swings are also excellent.
3. Eat lean, eat well.
One of the basic ways to build more muscle mass is by increasing your calorie intake, which will supply your body with extra nutrients to generate this new muscle tissue. If you don’t eat enough, your body won’t be able to assimilate new muscle tissue even if you are lifting hard in the gym. So the smart way to build strength without getting too big is by eating right and controlling your calorie intake.
As a rule of thumb: eat a lot of lean meats such as fish and chicken, drink lots of water, don’t overdue the carbs, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and avoid sweets and alcohol.
4. Train more and train with the big guys.
Many BJJ players make the mistake of spending more time in the gym instead of on the mats. The old saying, “To get better at jiu-jitsu you must train jiu-jitsu,” remains true. You need to keep your conditioning up by training a lot and also train a lot with heavyweights, as that is one realistic way to apply your strength in a grappling environment.
Nothing builds speed and quickness on the mats than sprinting itself. You can do sprint intervals or hill sprints to help develop strength and power specific to jiu-jitsu.
This will benefit slower, less coordinated BJJ athletes.