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How to Get Better at BJJ

April 4, 2024
How to get better at BJJ

BJJ is a grappling martial art that concentrates on the ground game with the ultimate goal of getting your opponent to submit via a joint lock or choke. BJJ originated in Japan, home of judo master Mitsuyo Maeda. He traveled to Brazil in the early 20th century, where he shared his craft with brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., O’Brien, and Hélio Gracie. Several years later, the Gracie family developed their own self-defense system, modified judo ground techniques, and eventually created a unique fighting style called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Today, BJJ is considered one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense because it emphasizes that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant using technique and leverage. Because everyone can practice BJJ, it has become one of the most popular martial arts in the past few decades.

Like any passion, hobby, or professional aspiration, practice is key to improvement. It doesn’t matter if you’re training to get better at self-defense or out of pure love for the sport, if you want to get better at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you can’t cut any corners. Even the best BJJ martial artists spent years working on their game to go from white belt to black belt. Hit the mat, roll as much as you can, rinse, and repeat. 

Acquiring BJJ Techniques

BJJ is popular because it is one of the top arts for competition, the training is excellent for staying in shape, and it has real-world use. To get better at BJJ, you need to focus on three things: 

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  1. Drilling

“Drillers make killers,” as the saying goes. Training at least a couple of times each week is essential to hone your skills and stay in shape. Ask your training partners to drill with you so you can practice key techniques like the guard and guard passing. A common mistake among beginners is focusing too much on less helpful positions like bottom side-control, a difficult position to escape, especially when you’re new to BJJ. Dedicate a good portion of your drilling to rolling and guarding or guard passing to develop BJJ skills more quickly. 

  1. Mastering fundamental moves

When you’re just starting out in BJJ, it can be hard to know where to focus your training, but intention is critical. Go into your drills with a specific understanding of what you want to achieve. Early on, you should be more concerned about learning essential positions and skills, such as escapes, defense, guard retention, sweeps, transitions, and different guard positions, than applying submissions. Don’t worry about winning, and don’t be afraid to put yourself in tough positions; getting reps escaping will help you become a more confident and effective attacker down the line. Focus on one single move and get really good at that move. It could take weeks or longer, but train and drill that move until you’re ready for the next. 

  1. Study advanced techniques

The people that advance the quickest in any sport are those that do their homework. To get better at BJJ, you can’t just show up when it’s time to hit the mat. If you’re serious about your craft, you have to spend the time learning about advanced BJJ techniques for in-depth knowledge. Since you’re reading this article, you’re already well on your way. You can also analyze online tutorials and video breakdowns, read books, attend seminars and elite training camps, and seek mentorship from experienced black belt practitioners.    

Developing BJJ Strategies

For many fighters out there, the complexity of BJJ is one of its great appeals. With many strategies to learn, people often compare it to chess. Here are three critical factors that go into developing a strategy:

Understanding the tactical aspects of BJJ

If you hope to be even remotely competitive in BJJ, you need a sound knowledge of the fundamentals. This understanding of tactics like grip fighting, distance management, timing, and chain attacks allows you to make informed decisions and execute techniques effectively during a match.

Focusing on positional dominance during training

BJJ is all about vying for good positioning. You can maintain positional control by mastering transitions, reversals, scrambles, and escapes. Positions such as mount, side control, back control, and guard allow you to prioritize certain positions over others based on your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses. These techniques allow you to string together positions and submissions, keep your opponent off guard, and remove yourself from a disadvantageous position when the fight is getting away from you. Over time, you will learn how to utilize your favorite tactics to develop an approach that’s all your own. 

Analyzing and adapting to diverse opponents

Some fighters prefer to play the long game and take a more defensive approach to a match, while others try to work quickly and aggressively. Different opponents have different styles, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies that you need to study so you can formulate counter-strategies. Not only that, but a BJJ match is a dynamic event, and you may need to adapt your strategy depending on how things are unfolding on the mat. 

By analyzing and adapting your approach based on who your opponent is, you can maximize the efficiency of your techniques. Certain techniques may work better against specific opponents based on their body type, flexibility, or skill level. Practicing different strategies during friendly competitions with different training partners will teach you to exploit weaknesses, anticipate your opponent’s movements, and adjust your approach to increase your chances of victory.

Enhancing Physical Conditioning for BJJ

BJJ is a great workout that engages your entire body. Taking down an opponent and escaping from submissions will help you build strength, lose weight, and increase your endurance, while warmup drills and recovery will help your flexibility and mobility. But reaching and maintaining peak physical conditioning extends far beyond the mat. If you want to become the best BJJ fighter you can be, it requires adopting a healthy lifestyle that priotizies a strict diet, workout regimen, and ample recovery time. 

Functional strength and stamina

BJJ matches may be short, but fighters expend a tremendous amount of energy in that time. You’d be surprised how much fatigue can affect your technique and decision-making deep into a match. Developing stamina requires cardiovascular training and endurance exercises, while targeted weightlifting will increase the strength of crucial muscles. Endurance training is especially important for longer rolls so you can sustain a high level of performance throughout a match. 

Working on your strength and stamina improves joint stability, which can prevent common injuries like sprains, strains, and tears. It also makes you more explosive so you can better execute movements such as takedowns, sweeps, and escapes. Overall, this type of training improves your body awareness, proprioception, and balance, which are crucial for maintaining control during grappling and transitions between positions.

Flexibility and agility for fluid movements

Strength training usually gets all the love, but regular dynamic and static stretching routines have an underrated impact on how you move on the mat. Plan it out so its easier to incorporate into your routine. We recommend the following: 

  • Incorporate dynamic stretching exercises such as leg swings, arm circles, and hip rotations. into your warm-up routine before training sessions. 
  • Perform static stretches at the end of your training sessions to improve flexibility and reduce muscle stiffness. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, focusing on major muscle groups used in BJJ, such as the hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, shoulders, and back.
  • Integrate yoga and mobility exercises into your overall workout plan, as it will not only improve your range of motion, but your balance and coordination too. Poses such as downward dog, pigeon, and lizard target muscles and mobility exercises such as hip openers, thoracic spine mobilization, and shoulder rotations can help increase joint mobility and range of motion.

Recovery for optimal performance

Recovery is probably the most overlooked part of training for any athlete, not just BJJ competitors, even though it is just as important as the other work. You have to get sufficient rest for muscle repair and growth otherwise you risk overworking and injuring yourself. Add foam rolling, ice baths, and physical therapy to your workout schedule and maintain a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated for sustained energy. 

Mental Attributes and Mindset in BJJ

There’s no doubt that BJJ can be downright uncomfortable, if not painful. Some people think mindset and toughness are things you are born with, but we’re here to tell you they can absolutely be learned. Training to stay calm and patient amidst the discomfort of a match will actually serve you well beyond the mat as practicing BJJ teaches you perseverance, the value of hard work, and increases your confidence and humility.

Progress is not always linear, and in BJJ, you have to embrace the challenges and the setbacks alongside your success. Overcoming these things is critical to cultivating mental toughness and resilience. In turn, you’ll learn to manage your nerves and anxiety for focused performance during competitions. 

Overall, improving at BJJ requires embracing a growth mindset for continuous development. We recommend setting SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals—so you can track your progress. Here’s an example of SMART goals for BJJ training to show you what we mean:

  • Specific: Improve my armbar technique from closed guard.
  • Measurable: Successfully execute the armbar technique on training partners of varying skill levels during sparring sessions.
  • Achievable: Attend two additional BJJ classes per week focused on drilling and refining the armbar technique.
  • Relevant: Enhancing my armbar technique will contribute to my overall grappling proficiency and ability to submit opponents.
  • Time-bound: Achieve consistent improvement within three months, with a goal of performing the armbar with precision and fluidity.

Another helpful way to monitor your progress and build confidence is recording your training sessions, tournaments, and belt promotions. As you go through these videos, its important to reflect on achievements and identify areas for improvement so you constantly reset the bar for yourself. 

Finally, go to the experts themselves. Seek guidance from knowledgeable instructors and mentors to learn how they overcame similar struggles when training in BJJ. One way to do that is to find a reputable BJJ academy with experienced coaches and, if possible, participate in private lessons, so you have a chance to get personalized feedback from your mentors.


BJJ really is a lifestyle that extends beyond the mat, and if you want to get better, you need to put in the work each day. Whether you’re training for self-defense, competition, or personal development, the journey to improvement in BJJ requires deliberate practice, physical conditioning, mental resilience, and a growth mindset.

Follow the principles outlined in this article, including focusing on technique acquisition, developing strategic understanding, enhancing physical conditioning, and nurturing mental attributes, you can steadily progress on your BJJ journey. Do your homework, set SMART goals for yourself, track your progress, and lean on those around you who have more experience. Remember to embrace challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth because success in BJJ is not measured solely by belt promotions or tournament victories, but by the personal growth and development you experience along the way. 

So hit the mat, train with purpose, and embrace the journey—one roll at a time. With dedication and perseverance, you’ll continue to evolve as a martial artist and as a person, both on and off the mat.