Are you having trouble balancing cross-training with jiu-jitsu?

This is a question I get a ton and my answer is always more or less the same with regard to cross-training in general.

The first question you have to ask yourself is, “What is my priority?”

That part is relatively easy but then you have to ask yourself how much of a priority is it?

Some quick backstory:

A year before jiu-jitsu, I was racing bikes. I was terrible at it. A friend of mine that I raced with suggested I start doing Crossfit so I did. I sucked at that too. While doing CF, another friend of mine asked if I had ever done Jiu-jitsu. I said no. He said I’d probably be good at it so I was interested… At this point I was realizing bike racing and crossfit were not for me.

Towards the end of my CF days, I realized my strength was terrible so, at the suggestion of the same friend (bike racer), I started Starting Strength (Rippetoe). I saw some pretty serious gains in my strength (but still nothing impressive). It took two months before I finally checked out a jiu-jitsu class. At this point, I was 2 months into SS and was hoping to do both simultaneously (I was also training Muay Thai because my goal was to get into MMA). I was eating a metric ton of calories and drinking a lot of raw milk to keep up.

What I noticed, however, is I started to hit some SERIOUS plateaus in lifting. I was following the program and using the numbers it prescribed but something wasn’t clicking. I started to get more fatigued and more stressed every time I lifted. FivexFive’s started to look like 3×1, 2×5, 2×4.

I tried deloading but still couldn’t recover…

It was then I realized that martial arts training was seriously interfering with my lifting.

I had to make a decision… What was my priority?

Lifting is cool, but for real, nothing compares to the feeling you get training combat sports. The decision was easy. I quit SS and CF and went all in with BJJ and Muay Thai. I didn’t really care about lifting anymore because to be honest, lifting is cool but dominating another human being is even cooler.

Further, I was learning a TON and even though I was getting my ass kicked in training, I actually enjoyed myself immensely and the community in martial arts is way better than the gym community.

So I dove in, head first, feet up (Homage Tolstoy).

After about a year of doing jiujitsu and Muay Thai (and not lifting) I ended up moving to another state. At this spot, they only had boxing and jiu-jitsu so I did that. After another move, I found myself with only jiu-jitsu since there weren’t any solid striking places nearby at the time (still kind of isn’t).

This was an interesting place in my journey because I was also starting to realize that I LOVED jiu-jitsu. Striking was cool, but Jiu-jitsu fascinated me so much more. Plus, I felt like I could do jiu-jitsu the rest of my life whereas striking… not so much.

“The Pie Chart”

It was then I started to think about an interesting concept I coined “the pie chart” of training. It was a simple idea that you can only give 100% of your time to something. Therefore, if I split Jiu-jitsu and Striking, my improvement in jiu-jitsu and striking would be split.

If I did jiu-jitsu full-time, then I could maximize my improvement in jiu-jitsu.

It was a no-brainer and I went all in.

[Note: This “pie chart” concept is how I am still able, to this day, ruthlessly rid myself of the things I don’t want to do everyday since they do not lead my to better jiu-jitsu or quality of life]

Over the last few years since the “pie chart” realization and my current situation now, I trained striking here and there, cross-trained in wrestling, Judo and have worked with various strength and conditioning coaches.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • If you’re going to cross-train, keep in mind you’re going to be splitting time. If you do 5 hours of one and 5 hours of another, your improvement will be “halved” what it could be if you just went all in.
  • You need to decide what your priority is and then you need to decide how much of your time and energy (and money) you want to allocate to that priority.
  • In my opinion, cross-training should be a SUPPLEMENT to your priority and not something completely irrelevant. [As example, I cross-trained Judo as a blue belt and got to my green belt strictly as a supplement to get me better at takedowns. Same with wrestling as a purple and brown belt. These days, I still work on both.]
  • On that note, if you’re doing something “irrelevant” such as striking and jiu-jitsu, then figure out what your goal is. These two don’t actually help each other out too much UNLESS you’re goal is just to be “well-rounded” or get into MMA.
  • Strength and Conditioning… This one deserves it’s own section. Keep reading!

Strength and Conditioning

Alright, first off. What is your priority?

This question now becomes more important. As an instructor, I’ve had students who prioritized lifting over jiu-jitsu and others who prioritized jiu-jitsu over lifting. The former doesn’t make it as far as the former.

Back to one of those bullets earlier, any cross-training should be a SUPPLEMENT to your priority. As such, lifting or any other type of strength and conditioning should be used to SUPPLEMENT your jiu-jitsu. That said, how should you use strength and conditioning to supplement. Here are some notes based on my personal philosophy.

  1. Jiu-jitsu training can cause a lot of imbalances (like forward posture). Lifting should be used to correct imbalances and maintain proper physical health
  2. Lifting weights should be done in order to strengthen the joints and develop the muscle that protects them
  3. Strength is useless without the ability to apply it and integrate it into your sport. Therefore, accessory lifts need to be 100% relevant. As example: Bicep curls help you with rear naked chokes and guillotines.

Now, here’s where things get interesting.

When I used to do heavy lifting, my nervous system was always friend and I couldn’t train very well. These days, I can do heavy lifting and my nervous system isn’t friend (+ making strength gains).

I’ve heard people prefer one or the other. I’ve also heard strength coaches say jiu-jitsu should be a mix of powerlifting (overall strength) and bodybuilding (accessory work). I’ve also heard strength coaches say that strength is pointless and you should do functional training instead.

Having done almost everything under the sun, I can only give you this advice:

  1. Do what works best for you —Experiment if you need to but always adapt and evolve strength and conditioning regimens to your specific needs
  2. HIRE SOMEONE! Experimentation is cool but if you’re serious about integrating strength into your program, hire someone who knows what they’re doing.
  3. Don’t just hire anyone though. Hire a strength coach who at least has a purple belt in jiu-jitsu. This is where you can maximize your coach’s knowledge because they’ll know what it’s like to balance the two (Not an affiliate but personally, I hired Coach K. Dude’s a monster with the weights and has the jiu-jitsu experience I look for. I’m loving it so far).

Alright, that’s about it for the day… Hope you enjoyed reading this. I’ll leave you with two last notes.

  1. Since receiving my black belt, the world has opened up to me. Everything has become easier in terms of cross-training. It’s hard to explain and perhaps I’ll go into detail in another post.
  2. Here are a couple of plugs

I talked about how to integrate cross training into your jiu-jitsu regimen (especially as a beginner) here in my book.

Also, there are other factors to consider when adding more jiujitsu training (or any other cross training in general). These factors include how much volume you’re training as well as the intensity… You can read more here on my paid substack BUT the short of it is, you can train anything at high volume (hours and hours per day). You just need to reduce the intensity.