the best barbell exercises for bjj

Barbells are an excellent tool for BJJ strength training. Barbell exercises for BJJ are a great option to include in your Jiu Jitsu strength and conditioning program.

Like many sports, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athletes of all levels benefit from strength training programs.

The design of standard barbells allows you to lift the most amount of total weight, giving your muscles the maximum amount of training stress to drive strength adaptations.

You can use barbell exercises for Jiu Jitsu to train most of the major compound movements and muscle groups you need for BJJ. 

Barbell training for Jiu Jitsu should revolve around multijoint movements such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.

In this article, I discuss my top barbell exercises for BJJ strength and muscle building. I look at the following aspects of Jiu Jitsu barbell training:

  • The best barbell exercises to build strength for Jiu Jitsu
  • Top benefits of barbells for BJJ
  • Risks of barbell training
  • How to include barbells in your BJJ workout program
  • 2 day strength program for BJJ using barbells.

Barbell Hip Thrusts

Movement pattern: hip hinge

Primary muscles worked (3):

  • Gluteus maximus (glutes)
  • Erector spinae
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps femoris

Barbell hip thrusts, also called barbell glute bridges, are an excellent BJJ barbell exercise to build strong, powerful glutes, a key muscle you need to strengthen for BJJ..

The barbell hip thrust exercise transfers well to the bridging movements in BJJ. Barbell hip thrusts for BJJ are an excellent way to build explosiveness in the glutes.

I highly recommend including barbell hip thrusts in Jiu Jitsu weight training programs.

You will need some sort of pad for the barbell across your lap for comfort.

Trap Bar Deadlifts & Squats

While they are not technically a barbell, you can find the trap bar in most modern gyms.

Trap bar deadlifts, alternatively called hex bar deadlifts or squats, are a safe and effective way to train squat and hip hinge movements, which are vital in BJJ.

You can make various adjustments to the lifting technique to target different lower body muscle groups.

Primary muscles worked (1):

  • Gluteus maximus (glutes)
  • Biceps femoris (hamstrings)
  • Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, & vastus medialis (quads)

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The standard trap/hex bar squat focuses more on a squat pattern, although it is somewhat of a hybrid movement.

trap bar for bjj workouts

Barbell Row

Movement pattern: horizontal pulling.

Primary muscles worked:

  • Rhomboids
  • Lats
  • Middle and lower traps
  • Posterior deltoid

Barbell rows are a powerful way to train your upper back as well as your grip strength and torso stability. You can use an overhand grip for more

Barbell Squat

Barbell back squats for BJJ are a phenomenal way to build strength and hypertrophy in the glutes, hamstrings and quads, which are key muscles to strengthen for Jiu Jitsu.

Additionally, the stability required to maintain the barbell on your upper traps and keep your torso from falling forward provides a substantial isometric strengthening stimulus in the core and back muscles.

This strengthens your lower back stabilizer muscles, which is an absolute must if you want to minimize the wear and tear on your low back from Jiu Jitsu.

Depending on where you place the bar (high or low bar position), the back squat emphasizes the quads or glutes, respectively.

Barbell front squats are an option as well, which further shifts the emphasis towards the quads.

Finally, barbell Zercher squats are a barbell squat option that mimics a “double underhook” position while training squats.                  

Barbell Deadlift & Variations

Movement pattern: hip hinge, squat (depending on variations).

Primary muscles worked (2):

  • Gluteus maximus (glutes)
  • Biceps femoris & semitendinosus (hamstrings)
  • Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, & vastus medialis (quads)
  • Adductors (sumo variation)

The barbell deadlift is a versatile movement that primarily trains the hip hinge pattern, which is a vital pattern for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Deadlifts hit the quads, hamstrings, and glutes with the emphasis changing depending on which variation is used.

There are multiple variations of barbell deadlift, including:

  • Standard deadlift
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Sumo deadlift

Barbell Overhead Press

Movement pattern: vertical pressing.

Primary muscles worked (4):

  • anterior, medial and posterior deltoid
  • upper trapezius
  • pectoralis major
  • triceps brachii

Barbell overhead presses hit the muscles in your shoulder and isometrically train your whole body to stabilize the weight during the press.

Avoid shrugging during the movement. Aim to keep your forearms vertically stacked under the bar. Aim for a full lockout with stabilization at the top.

Barbell Row

Movement pattern: horizontal pulling.

Primary muscles worked:

  • Rhomboids
  • Lats
  • Middle and lower traps
  • Posterior deltoid

Barbell rows are a powerful way to train your upper back as well as your grip strength and torso stability. You can use an overhand grip for more emphases on the posterior shoulder and upper back. Alternatively, you can use a reverse grip to put more emphasis on the biceps and lats.

Barbell Bench Press

Movement pattern: horizontal pressing.

Primary muscles worked (5):

  • Pectoralis major
  • Triceps brachii
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Serratus anterior muscle
  • Elbow flexors
  • Biceps brachialis

The barbell bench press is a foundational barbell exercise and a staple for training the chest muscles.

Although it does pose some increased injury risk compared to other chest pressing variations, the bench press remains a safe way to develop serious upper body pressing strength when proper form and progression are maintained.

Barbell Landmine Exercises

The barbell landmine attachment greatly increases the versatility of your barbell. It allows you to perform excellent rotational movements as well as presses, rows, and more, which greatly benefit you for Jiu Jitsu strength gains. Landmine training with barbells has its own series of possible exercises. The biggest benefit to landmine training is the rotational component that comes with virtually every barbell landmine exercises. Whether you are actively rotating your body for the movement, or are stabilizing against rotating, you use muscles that don’t always get hit with traditional core training programs. The rotational strength in your torso is vital for BJJ, so barbell landmine exercises are very appropriate for Jiu Jitsu workouts and training programs.

Example barbell landmine exercises include:

  • Landmine rotations
  • Kneeling landmine press
  • T-bar row

Benefits of Barbell Training for BJJ

Overall, barbell training has a lot of benefits that tie-in to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu performance as well as general health.

Studies conducted on barbell training have found the following benefits associated with barbell training:

  • Improved bone mineral density
  • Muscular hypertrophy and growth
  • Increased maximal strength output
  • Increased submaximal muscular endurance
  • Increased strength and joint health and longevity (if using full range of motion)
  • Improved athletic performance

Downsides of Barbells for Jiu Jitsu

While barbells can be a great tool for Jiu Jitsu strength training, there are a few downsides to barbell training that I should highlight.

The first is that barbells are not very forgiving on technique. Because of the fixed range of motion, lifting with improper form can put more strain on the knees, lower back, and shoulders depending on the movement.

This is not an issue for most healthy athletes who perform the exercises with the right technique. However, if you have any pre-existing injuries, you should consider more forgiving training methods such as dumbbell training for BJJ.

The second downside to barbells is the overall limitation on the exercises you can perform. Other than landmine barbell exercises, most barbell training does not include a ton of rotational work.

Furthermore, without performing pullups or some other vertical pulling exercise, its tough to really hit your lats with just a barbell. For this reason, I usually recommend including additional training modalities other than barbells in your BJJ strength program, even if barbells still form the bulk of the workout.

How to Add Barbell Training for BJJ to Your Workout Program

If you have an existing Jiu Jitsu workout program that does not include barbells, you can start by swapping out 1-2 exercises in your current program with a related barbell exercise.

For example, if you currently perform pushups and goblet squats, swap them out for barbell bench presses and back squats, respectively.

If you prefer the barbell, you can swap out more non-barbell exercises for the barbell variations. Alternatively, it’s fine to stick with 1-2 barbell exercises in your program and perform the bulk of your training using kettlebells, dumbbells, or bodyweight exercises.

2-Day Per Week Barbell Training for BJJ Strength

The following plan is split into two workouts. 

Workout A focuses on pushing movements across the whole body. Workout B targets pulling motions. Perform each workout once per week with at least one day apart, but no longer than 3 days apart. For each exercise, warm up with 1-2 lighter sets before hitting your working sets.

To focus on strength and muscle growth combined, use a weight that allows at least 4 repetitions, but no more than 8. This should correspond to roughly 80-90% of your 1-repetition maximum for the movement.

If you don’t know your 1RM, that’s fine.

If you fail on repetitions 5-7, you are using the right weight.

Aim to increase the weight slightly from workout to workout. Use your warmup and first working set to assess whether you will increase the weight on a given exercise.

BJJ Barbell Workout A – “Pushing”

Warmup

  • 5 minutes light aerobic activity

Main workout

  1. Barbell back squat – 3 sets of 4-8 repetitions
  2. Barbell overhead press – 3 x 4-8 reps
  3. Barbell hip thrust – 3 x 4-8 reps
  4. Barbell bench press – 3 x 4-8 reps
  5. Barbell landmine half-kneeling press 3 x 4-8 reps each side

BJJ Barbell Workout B – “Pulling”

  • 5 minutes light aerobic activity

Main workout

  1. Barbell deadlift or variation- 3 sets of 4-8 repetitions
  2. Pull ups (if pullup bar available) – 3 x 4-8 reps
  3. Barbell row – 3 x 4-8 reps 
  4. T-bar row – 3 x 4-8 reps
  5. Barbell landmine rotations 3 x 4-8 reps each side

The Bottom Line

Barbell training for BJJ is an excellent and effective way to increase your strength for Jiu Jitsu and improve overall Brazilian Jiu Jitsu performance.

Choosing the right compound exercises and following proper form is a must for maximizing your Jiu Jitsu strength and performance gains while minimizing your risk of injury.

You can integrate barbell training into your current BJJ strength and conditioning program. 

Alternatively, you can use barbell exercises for the bulk of your Jiu Jitsu workout program.

Stay safe, and happy lifting!

Barbell Exercises for BJJ (Video)

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