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BJJ Tournament Preparation

July 1, 2024

Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali seems larger than life to most of us now. As hard as it is to believe, he experienced normal human emotions, just like the rest of us, and admitted to feeling fear and nervousness before his fights. He famously said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” 

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Ali’s confidence in the ring came on the heels of meticulous preparation and overcoming his pre-fight anxiety. He’s a great example of how, when you put in the work, take care of your body, and practice relentlessly, you set yourself up to compete at a high level. You can’t skip steps, and you can’t run from the work.

This article will serve as a guide to getting ready for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions, covering everything from diet recommendations to physical and mental fitness exercises. 

Physical Fitness for BJJ Tournaments

Strength Training for BJJ

Strength training for BJJ competitions involves a well-rounded approach that focuses on building functional strength, enhancing endurance, and preventing injuries. Run through a circuit that includes press, pull, and carry exercises targeting different muscle groups.

Push Exercises

  • Bench press variations are essential, and for those with shoulder or wrist issues, using a Swiss bar, football bar, or multi-grip bar can help. 
  • Floor pressing is also useful as it mimics pushing an opponent off from the ground, which is common in BJJ.
  • Overhead presses for shoulder training are great for takedowns and pushing opponents.

Pull Exercises

  • Deadlifts are simple and effective for building posterior chain strength.
  • Rowing variations such as bent-over rows, seated rows, and single-arm rows help build a strong back, which is crucial for controlling opponents and maintaining posture.

Squat and Lower Body Exerices

  • Choose squat variations that suit your body and training needs. Safety squat bar (SSB) squats and box squats are great options, especially for those with shoulder or mobility issues. Belt squats, if available, are also advantageous, as they reduce spinal load while enhancing leg strength.
  • Single-leg work, such as lunges, split squats, and single-leg Romanian deadlifts, helps build leg strength and stability, which are vital for takedowns and guard passing.

Carry Exercises 

Farmer walks, sandbag carries, and Single-arm carries develop the traps, upper back, legs, and grip strength. 

Rotational Work

Med ball tosses and rotational slams develop core strength and power, which are crucial for BJJ’s dynamic movements.

Cardiovascular Conditioning for Competing in BJJ

A good rule of thumb in tournament prep is that there’s no such thing as too much cardio. Matches can be at least five minutes long and if you have them back-to-back, you won’t have much time to catch your breath. Having good cardio will allow you to fight longer and recover quicker. Your tournament should include both of the following: 

Aerobic Cardio

Aerobic cardio training helps improve endurance and stamina for sustained periods. 

  • Long-Distance Running: Aim for steady-state runs of 30-60 minutes at a moderate pace, either outside or on a treadmill.
  • Lap Swimming: This full-body workout improves cardiovascular fitness without stressing the joints. It has the added benefit of engaging different muscle groups as you vary your strokes (freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke).
  • Cycling: Great for cross-training and reducing joint stress, you can do longer steady-state cycling sessions to build leg strength and endurance. 

Anaerobic Cardio

This type of training focuses on short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest or lower intensity. Examples of exercises you can incorporate into your training include:

  • Bodyweight Circuits: A few rounds of high-intensity exercises (e.g., burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats) for 30-45 seconds each with minimal rest in between.
  • Sprint Intervals: Sprint at maximum effort for 20-30 seconds, followed by 1-2 minutes of walking or jogging on repeat for up to 20 minutes.
  • Battle Ropes: Perform a series of high-intensity intervals of battle rope exercises (e.g., waves, slams) for 20-30 seconds, followed by 1-2 minutes of rest.

Technical Skills

Practicing technical skills is crucial to ensure that your techniques are sharp, your strategies are effective, and your mental game is strong. You want to train hard with competition-style roles for a few weeks prior to the event and preparing your mind for the intensity of a tournament.

Drilling Techniques

Practice fundamental moves such as hip escapes, guard passes, and sweeps to refine your technique. These core movements form the bedrock of more advanced techniques and are vital in success on the mat.

Focusing on specific positions or submissions that you are likely to encounter or use in a tournament. This could include drilling escapes from bad positions, perfecting your guard game, or working on your favorite submissions.

Repetition and muscle memory training will help you perform techniques instinctively, even during the intensity of a match.

Sparring Sessions

Live rolling or sparring provides an opportunity to apply techniques in a dynamic and unpredictable environment, similar to what you’ll face in competition.

Practice your offense and defense, initiating attacks and submissions and defending against your partner’s moves for well-rounded training.

Adjusting strategies is essential to getting through a tournament. No two fighters are the same, so use these sessions to practice game planning based on your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Mental Focus

Mental preparation goes hand-in-hand with physical and strategic preparation. You have to envision every match, from the moment you step onto the mat to the referee raising your hand in victory.

Imagine tournament scenarios such as the venue, the crowd, and your opponents. Visualize yourself executing techniques successfully and overcoming challenges to boost your confidence and reduce anxiety on the day of the competition.

Mentally rehearse techniques by walking through the steps of your favorite submissions or escapes in your mind. This mental practice reinforces your physical training and helps you remain focused and composed during a match.

Developing a winning mindset by focusing on your strengths, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a determined attitude. Embrace the challenges and view them as opportunities to grow and improve.

Nutrition and Recovery

Proper nutrition and effective recovery strategies ensure that your body performs at its peak when the time comes to compete.

Balanced Diet

Proper Macronutrient Ratios

  • Carbohydrates provide the primary source of energy, particularly for high-intensity training sessions. Focus on complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Proteins build and repair muscles. Incorporate lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and plant-based proteins.
  • Fats are important for overall health and hormone production. Opt for healthy fats from sources such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

Adequate Intake of Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamin C and Vitamin D support immune function and bone health, while minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium are important for muscle function and preventing cramps. Your diet should always be rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, especially if you’re training to compete. 

Pre- and Post-training Nutrition

Nutrient timing will maximize your training outcomes, so make sure you know when you should be eating what. Before a workout or sparring session, eat a meal or snack rich in carbohydrates and protein like a banana with peanut butter or a chicken and rice bowl. After you’re done and have spent all your energy, you’ll want to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue by consuming a mix of carbs and protein, such as a protein shake with fruit or a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread.

Sleep and Rest

Adequate sleep is critical for recovery and performance. During sleep, the body repairs muscle tissue, consolidates memory, and regulates hormones so aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to get a fuly rest a make sure you’re ready for training.

Additionally, you should always incorporate rest days (days with no workouts or drilling) into your training schedule. You need to give your body a chance to recuperate from the strain and keep your mind sharp and focused.

Other ways to improve your recover are massages, which reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and alleviate soreness, and ice baths. Immersing yourself in cold water can reduce inflammation and muscle soreness after intense training sessions.

Injury Prevention in BJJ Tournaments

Common Injuries in BJJ Competitions

  • Knee Injuries: Meniscus tears, ligament sprains (ACL, MCL), and patellar dislocations are common due to the stress placed on the knees during takedowns, guard passing, and submissions like leg locks.
  • Shoulder Injuries: Rotator cuff tears, dislocations, and labral tears often occur from submissions like kimuras, Americanas, and arm bars, as well as from posting on the mat to prevent sweeps.
  • Elbow Injuries: Hyperextensions, sprains, and dislocations frequently happen from arm bars and other joint locks.
  • Hamstring and Quadriceps Strains: Sudden explosive movements, like shooting for takedowns or escaping from bad positions, can cause muscle strains or tears.
  • Back Strains: The dynamic movements and constant pressure on the spine can lead to strains in the lower and upper back muscles.
  • Dislocations and Fractures: Fingers and toes are prone to injuries due to gripping the gi, mat friction, and accidental impacts during rolls.
  • Mat Burns: Friction between the skin and the mat can cause painful burns, particularly on the elbows, knees, and feet.
  • Bruised or Fractured Ribs: Compression from tight submissions, intense pressure during passes, or falls can result in bruised or fractured ribs.
  • Cauliflower Ear: Repeated trauma to the ear can cause blood to pool and harden, leading to cauliflower ear. This is common in grappling sports and often occurs from headlocks and other forms of head pressure.

Injury Prevention Techniques for BJJ Tournaments

  1. Warm up thoroughly before training or competing to prepare your muscles and joints for the physical demands. Cooling down and stretching post-training helps with recovery and flexibility.
  2. Focus on proper technique rather than brute force toprevent unnecessary strain on your body.
  3. Use protective gear such as knee braces, finger tape, and mouthguards.
  4. Pay attention to your body’s signals and avoid pushing through pain. 
  5. Maintain a regular conditioning and strength training routine to keep your body resilient and better equipped to handle the physical demands of BJJ.

Study Tournament Rules

This should go without saying, but you need to know he rules of any tournament you plan to compete in. Scoring criteria, time limits, weight classes, and prohibited techniques can all vary from competition to competition.


In the last few days before a competition, lighten up on the training to stay healthy. Eat carbs on the day you are competing for energy and a banana to prevent cramping. Drink a lot of water to prevent cramping, and get good sleep the night before.

Remember that everyone gets nervous – even Muhammed Ali! It’s up to you to turn that nervous energy into attacking energy because once the match starts, you won’t have time to think about it and the jitters will dissolve.

If you’re ready to compete, take a look at our upcoming events and see if there’s a tournament coming to your area!