When it comes to the idea of lifting weights to help improve BJJ people tend to lose their minds. The most anti-lifting groups, at least anecdotally, seem to be those from a Gracie/Pedro Sauer lineage. The claim always seems to revolve around “the street” or some such nonsense that has been repeated so often that it has lost its meaning. What is the mythical “the street” and why does strength suddenly become useless there? Lifting weights is good for Jiu-Jitsu whether a person trains for sport or for self-defense.
Ignoring the benefits of lifting is absurd and is often born of over-inflated egos and ignorance. The champion of not lifting weights who Jiu-Jitsu practitioners like to hold up is Marcelo Garcia. The problem with doing so is failing to recognize that Garcia is an exception to the rule of not lifting weights. Competitors such as Andre Galvao, Keenan Cornelius, Josh Barnett, and numerous others do lift weights to supplement their training and they tend to perform excellently in the grappling circuits. Cornelius stated in an interview with Stephan Kesting:
“So I feel that just basic, meat-head type lifting is actually really good for Jiu-Jitsu, so I try to stick to that. I’ve had a lot of success with that. I feel really good when I’m feeling strong like that… I’m a lean guy so I put on muscle it’s not a lot of muscle but it really helps me a lot.”
One myth that seems to rear its ugly head time and time again is that any sort of weight training is going to make a person bulky and ruin their cardio. This simply isn’t the case. While true that if a person has never lifted weights before they will gain some mass when they first begin, it is utterly false that all types of weight training equate to body-building. Just as Jiu-Jitsu can have multiple points of focus (self-defense, sport, social activity, etc), weight training also has multiple methods of training like body-building, strength training, power development, conditioning, etc.
Another argument that is often heard is the fear of becoming injured while lifting and therefore missing grappling time because of it. This is yet another argument born of ignorance. Injury rates in martial arts are much higher than in most other sports. One study puts the injury risk of BJJ as much lower than other martial arts, however, it only accounts for injuries during competitions and not during regular training periods. That said, weightlifting injuries are some of the lowest in any sport both on a professional and amateur level, according to a study that was updated in 2016. The best way to avoid injury is to seek the assistance of a professional, especially one who is also familiar with the intricacies of grappling. Otherwise, fearing injury is nothing more than an excuse to avoid trying something new and could perhaps be viewed as an excuse for simple laziness.
Finally, the idea that somehow becoming strong is not what Jiu-Jitsu is about needs to be addressed. People will often point to Helio Gracie and regurgitate the sales-pitch that he was weak and frail so he started BJJ. Someone who would want to stay weak and frail just because their predecessor was is beyond ridiculous; and as an aside, Helio was in much better shape than most give him credit for. To think that because someone else was smaller than oneself is a good reason to not become strong is foolish in the best situations and dangerous in the worst.
Every body-type is different and ought to be developed to its best as well as possible. Why impose an unnecessary handicap when it comes to improving oneself? Does it help to not have the tool of strength in one’s toolbox should a physical altercation ever arise? It is damaging to believe so. If a person is physically incapable of lifting or is unable to add weightlifting on top of their grappling routine it is excusable. However, to deny it out of some strange pride or false narrative is damaging only to one’s self. No matter where a person is at in their Jiu-Jitsu journey, lifting weights can benefit them.