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Strength training for Jiu Jitsu | Maarten Bauwens interview

Strength training for Jiu Jitsu | Maarten Bauwens interview

There is a huge amount of different workout routines, equipment, and information available about strength training. Therefore figuring out a practical strength and conditioning program to support and improve your Jiu Jitsu can be challenging for both competitors as well as  non-competitive BJJ players. On top of that, the ultimate workout routine for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will be different for everyone, depending on your level and the goals you have for you Jiu Jitsu.

We spoke about Jiu Jitsu-specific strength training with Maarten Bauwens, during an episode of our Youtube show “The BJJ Fightgear Lockdown Talks”. Maarten is a well-known fighter at tournaments in Western Europe, and he's known as the Flemish Lion.

Maarten Bauwens` medal collection includes many medals, in both gi and nogi, including a purple belt gold medal at the IBJJF Europeans in 2020. He recently opened his own school, the Lionheart Jiu Jitsu Academy in Belgium. You can watch the full interview in the video below, in which we also talk about training during lockdown, Prana Jiu Jitsu and Kenta Hammarström, and more.


Maarten`s BJJ strength training philosophy

Maarten has a Master degree in Human Movement Sciences, and is the manager of a big multi-level facility, including a fitness gym. This enabled him to integrate a lot of proven strength training methodology and knowledge on nutrition into his own off-the mat training regime.

Maarten explains: “In university and in the books they give the general scientific scope of what is the right way to train: strength, speed, conditioning, endurance, stuff like that. But then what you also learn in university is to do your own research. So starting out at a general approach, you start to find out that some methods make sense for a power-lifter or a runner, but not always for a Jiu Jitsu Fighter.”

“I started to look at power-lifting, in which you use a lot of force, ONE time. While in Jiu Jitsu, you use a lot of force, but MANY times. So in Jiu Jitsu you for example need to be able to do 10 reps as hard as you can. However, your 10 rep max improves when you improve your one rep max.”

“So because of this, my strength training is built around power-lifting. But because we do Jiu Jitsu, it’s not exactly the same. In Jiu Jitsu we have 6 to 10 minute matches, and because we perform in a tournament setting we have to deal with repetitive performance during a session. That is why volume, strength and endurance play a very big role.“


Magic 4 formulas for doing reps and sets

My training sessions are built around four types of compound exercises: squad, deadlift, bench press, and standing overhead press. In developing my own Jiu Jitsu specific method I started off with the 5x5 method, which is very basic and works good for beginners. I made some progress with this, but I reached a plateau very easily.” 

“Then I went back to regular body building type of exercises, and I actually got stronger from doing that, and I was wondering what I was doing wrong with my power-lifting. Next I progressed to the 5-3-1 method of Wendler, which again worked well, but I hit the plateau very fast, in 3 cycles. I found out that my body needs a lot of volume, which is actually normal because my body is used to working with so much volume in the Jiu Jitsu training sessions. Round after round of sparring has built up my body.”

Maarten’s typical strength training week looks like this:

Monday: Squad

Tuesday: Bench

Wednesday: Rest day. Light shoulder or arms exercises (10-15 reps)

Thursday: Deadlift

Friday: Overhead press

“The reason I do it in this sequence has to do with my body type. I’m a tall guy so for me squatting is not the easiest thing to do. I have long arms so compared to squatting, deadlifting is easier for me. So I do the hardest lift at the beginning of the week, for maximum progress.”

“So that is 4 exercises. I then have 4 formulas for doing my reps and my sets: 

  • 6 sets of 6 reps
  • 7 sets of 5 reps
  • 8 sets of 4 reps
  • 10 sets of 3 reps

Because there are 4 weeks in a month I am able to do each of the 4 exercises, using each of the 4 formulas, every month. I rotate that sequence, so for example in week one I do my squad at 6x6, bench 7x5, deadlift 8x4, and overhead press 10x3. Next week I switch everything up and my squad becomes 7x5, bench 8x4, deadlift 10x3, and overhead press 6x6.”

Continuous progress

“Rotating like this and giving my body a different load every week, is a principle I learned from the system of Louie Simmons, a power-lifting coach surrounded by mysticism. This principle tells us that when your body adapts, things become easier for us. That is why you should keep changing things up, so that your body works towards adapting, but it never reaches the point of adaptation, and so you keep progressing.”

“I have been working with this system for three years now and have been progressing every year. So I’m very convinced of its effectiveness, and I have been teaching the program to other people as well. The only problem is that not everyone is used to the volume that is needed, so that is something you will have to build up.”

Types of muscle fiber and what to focus on during training

“Another thing that is important in Jiu Jitsu-specific strength training is speed. Speed is also a fiber-type thing, and depends on whether you are gifted or not. You are either born with more type one muscle fibers (for endurance), or with more type two muscle fibers (for explosiveness). However, you can work on this.”

“That is why I also do a lot of accessory workouts, and I do two accessory workouts in every lift. So when I bench I will also do two exercises to make my bench better and more explosive. Many people think you only need chest muscles to perform a bench, but you also need shoulders, triceps, and lats. In order to use the same type of muscle for strength as for speed (the fast-twitch fibers) I put elastic bands on the bar. That way they pull the weight back down, and I have to push through the elastic bands explosively.”

“I think doing a lot of explosive lifting with elastic bands is extremely good for Jiu Jitsu, because you always need to push through tension and motion. Your partner is also not a doll, it’s a living person that will produce force onto you as well.”

“Another benefit of training with elastic bands is that it’s very good for your ligaments and joints.”

Resting time between sets

“Normal routines in power-lifting and max out type of exercises use resting periods of 3-5 minutes. I never wait for that long, and I make sure I am always still a little bit fatigued. That way you keep progressing.” 

“Because in a fight, you are always a little bit fatigued too, and you have to train your body so that it gets used to pushing through the fatigue.”


Cardio training

“Regarding cardio, I do the Nicky Rodriguez approach. I just spar every round balls-to-the-walls, and I never skip a round. When I actually do a specific cardio training off the mat, there are two types of training:

  1. The complete opposite: easy steady-state, 50 percent heart rate for 30 minutes or more. That is the type of cardio we never get during Jiu Jitsu training. (Maybe if you drill for an hour, which I like to do, but not many people like it haha)
  2. Very short intensity bursts with just not enough time to recuperate completely. I do that three times a week now on the rowing machine.”

Pre-competition training

“Before a competition you need to taper, but you need to do it the right way. You need to make your body peek, but also letting it rest and getting the fatigue go away. You do that by keeping the intensity almost the same, but you lower the volume a little bit.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me to lower the intensity 10 days before a tournament, and then having to go all out at the competition for six minutes. Your body won’t be used to the intensity anymore, so you just need to lower the volume.”

“When I need to compete on Saturday for example, the Saturday before that I will go completely dead. During the open mat I will roll with everyone, back to back, and get my body empty. On Sunday I then rest. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I keep everything the same, both my weight lifting and my Jiu Jitsu training, but I try to lower the volume. So let’s say I would normally have 8 sets of 4 on a Monday, I only do 5 sets of 4. Same weight, but maybe no accessory exercise.”

“What I have been doing more and more recently is take 2 days off completely before the tournament. As a young competitor you want to do so well at competition, but sometimes you drain yourself too much. You will then feel weak at the competition and think that you will need to train even harder before the next competition. That way you end up in a negative spiral. So it’s a lot of trial and error.”

Trial and error

“Going through phases of trial and error is also how I came to this specific system for Jiu Jitsu-specific strength training, and I learned that not every system works for everyone (either not in the specific phase that they are in at the moment, or just never). So I believe in my system, but I know some people are not going to get used to the volume involved, because of their muscle type.” 

If you would like to listen to the entire interview with Maarten Bauwens, you can do so by watching the video below:


In the BJJ Fightgear Lockdown Talks, we interview top Jiu Jitsu competitors and people in the scene, about life during the COVID-19 lockdown, explore the story behind the person, and other interesting BJJ-related topics, such as diet, motivation and competition and more.


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