Does BJJ Build Muscle? Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gains

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If you’re looking around your Jiu-Jitsu dojo, you’ll probably notice that BJJ practitioners are often pretty fit and athletic-looking.

You might even say that a few of them are ripped, so it makes you wonder if Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a suitable form of exercise for building muscle instead of hitting the weights.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t build necessarily build muscle on its own, but it is an excellent cardiovascular exercise and helps to build muscle strength and endurance. Only proactive hypertrophy, with sets and reps exercises, will increase muscle size.

If you want to learn more about using BJJ for building muscle and getting ripped, keep reading this article!

Does BJJ build muscle?

Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t build muscle on its own.

But having spent some time on the mats with other BJJ practitioners, I often notice that they are typically lean strong.

It might mean they don’t have bigger muscle mass, but they tend to have lower fat levels, and their muscle definition is usually quite visible.

And in particular, they have greater strength than what is visible from your eye.

Once you get onto the mats with these lean Jiu-Jitsu fighters, they will often surprise you with how much endurance they have.

You shouldn’t expect Jiu-Jitsu to help you build muscle, but it might help increase your strength and define your muscles.

But to grow your muscles, you’d need to have an actual strength & conditioning program or be lifting heavy things regularly. More on that later.

Does Jiu Jitsu make you stronger?

Jiu-Jitsu absolutely makes you stronger. It develops your overall strength capacity and strength endurance.

In a typical BJJ session, at the minimum, you’ll be using your hands constantly to grip and hold onto your sparring partner’s Gi.

If you have low grip strength, you’ll feel this immediately (like I did when I started) and the fatigue/DOMs after training.

And your grip strength in your fingers and forearms will develop quite quickly.

That’s just one part of the strength development you’ll get from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

These long periods of holding onto your opponent’s Gi, their arms or legs, and being pushed to challenge many of your muscle groups constantly.

You’ll also feel the strain in your biceps, abs, pectorals, deltoids, lats, obliques, glutes, and many muscles in your legs, too — BJJ is a complete workout.

By comparison, I found BJJ to be one of the most physically challenging because of the combination of cardiovascular and strength resistance challenges.

You’ll use muscles you didn’t know you had, and they’ll feel the burn after a hard rolling session — but it will help them get stronger if you are eating enough calories.

Eating the right number of calories and protein will help your muscles not only recover but also build stronger muscle fibers that are more resistant.

So if strength is important to you in picking a martial art, then Jiu-Jitsu is a perfect option in my view.

Will Jiu Jitsu get you ripped?

BJJ offers many benefits, such as developing strength, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and burning fat.

But it can only get you ripped if you simultaneously develop muscle size and reduce body fat percentage to see your muscle definition.

BJJ uses your muscles constantly throughout the practice, particularly in sparring.

The constant pushing and pulling forces your muscles to be continuously engaged, which activates your body to send tons of oxygen into the muscles so they can work.

This is why many people will find BJJ very challenging and exhausting at first because it simultaneously puts a significant demand on your cardiovascular ability and muscle endurance.

Your body needs time to learn and improve how it delivers oxygen from your lungs into your muscles so you can keep performing for extended periods.

So while BJJ will use your muscles constantly and force them to become stronger, they won’t grow anymore than usual unless you consume a lot of calories to gain weight.

BJJ could, however, help your muscles become more defined in the size they already are. If you have a low level of body fat so that you can see your muscles, they might become more visibly ripped.

The science behind getting ripped

Getting ripped (so you can see your muscle definition) is the same, no matter what sport or martial art you are doing. It always comes down to a few basic things:

  • Calorie Surplus Vs. Calorie Deficit
  • Body Fat Percentage
  • Muscle Size

Let’s break down these fundamentals.

Calorie Surplus means having more calories than your body burns off (during daily activities and exercise).

Calorie Deficit means having fewer calories than your body is burning off daily.

Your Body Fat Percentage is a grade of the overall amount of fat stored across your entire body.

A low body fat percentage is the key to muscle definition being visible, also called being “ripped.”

Here are the typical body fat percentage of people of different athletic levels:

Fitness LevelMen Women
Athlete6-12%15-20%
Fit13-16%21-25%
Average17-24%26-31%
Overweight25%+32%+

To get a ripped physique, you need to be at least within the Fit range on the table above, possibly even closer to the Athlete level of body fat, depending on your body type.

Each person holds and burns fat stores in different ways, though.

That means you should be looking to reach a body fat percentage between 10-15% for men to get ripped and 18-24% for women to get ripped.

To reach that appearance of being ripped, you need to reduce your body fat.

And to reduce your body fat, you need to understand how to put your body into a Calorie Deficit so that your body uses up more of the fat stored in your body to use as energy for fuel.

When you want to put your body into a Calorie Deficit, you should know your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR).

This number estimates the Kilocalories (KCAL) that your body needs to maintain weight.

Once you know the KCAL to maintain your weight, you learn how many calories you need to eat to lose weight/fat (deficit) or increase weight/fat (surplus).

This deficit or surplus is essentially the same method for adding or removing muscle mass, as well, because of how the human body uses fuel.

To find out your BMR, you can use this Harris-Benedict formula calculator to obtain your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Use this BMR as a starting point for understanding how many calories you need for survival.

Then you can go into Advanced mode on the same calculator from above to input your current activity level, which will measure how many calories you should be intaking to maintain weight when considering your activity.

If you want to lose weight and burn fat, you need to eat fewer calories (KCAL) than your total energy expenditure per day.

Try eating 100-200 less KCAL daily to lose weight or fat, and keep adjusting as necessary.

Many people start losing fat just by exercising regularly, without changing their diet in any way, simply because they will be in a calorie deficit which they weren’t previously.

If you start changing your diet, you can increase your rate of fat loss and become ripped even faster.

Remember to keep your protein intake high to help your muscles repair and lower your carbohydrates to get the best results.

How to build muscle with Jiu Jitsu

If your goal is to build muscle with Jiu-Jitsu, you might need to consider picking a different sport.

BJJ is a unique martial art with a lot to offer, including improving strength, but it doesn’t translate to building muscle size, which makes your muscles appear strong.

I’ve already detailed how you might get ripped, which relies on lower body fat percentages for appearance.

But if you want to build muscle size (which can also help with a ripped definition), you need to do the opposite of lowering body fat. To build muscle, you need to be in a Caloric Surplus.

When you know your TDEE, you can add 100-200 calories daily to give your body the extra fuel it needs to create and grow muscle.

After all, muscle doesn’t grow without fuel. For your body to build more bricks, it needs more clay to create them!

In reality, your body needs more calories to convert those calories into muscle.

When you are intaking more calories than your body is using, it has two main choices: turn it into muscle or fat to use later.

If you want your calorie intake to turn into muscle, you must constantly engage and break down your muscles to encourage them to repair and grow more muscular than before.

In Jiu-Jitsu, you will constantly challenge your muscles by pushing, pulling, and holding people between your arms and legs.

Still, it’s typically not enough to stimulate muscle growth, known as hypertrophy.

For hypertrophy to occur, individual muscle groups need to be pushed slightly beyond their limits to create small tears in the muscle (this is where muscle aches or “DOMs” come from).

These small tears of the muscle tell your body to repair those muscles by using calories or fat to fuel the growth.

The growth will also be level to what you pushed your muscles to before, and that’s why progressive overload (increasing weight or resistance over time) is the crucial factor in encouraging muscle growth.

By constantly giving your muscles new challenges (e.g., a higher weight or higher rep), it will keep growing beyond what it was before so that it can meet the challenge the next time without breaking down.

BJJ doesn’t use the muscles of your body enough to make them develop and grow.

If you’re looking for a martial art that might help with it, then Wrestling might be a better option for you because of how much explosive strength is developed.

Wrestling is also closely linked with strength building and weightlifting, so it might encourage you to hit the weights for significant muscle gains.

To summarize, if you want to build muscle, you need to apply a strength and conditioning program to your martial arts training.

You can’t perform a martial art like BJJ and expect to get buff. To get buff, you have to work on getting buff! Training styles for specific aims is the way to go.

Does Jiu Jitsu give you abs?

Doing Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t give you abs on its own.

But it could help you get visible abs if you have a body fat percentage between 10-15% to see the muscle definition through your abdominal area.

To achieve this body fat percentage, you typically need to be in a calorie deficit enough to burn fat.

You have to know and remember that having “ripped abs” requires having muscle size and definition in your abdominal muscles and a low enough body fat percentage so that your muscles become visible through your skin.

If you look at some of the strongest guys you know, especially those on the mats, many of them might have no visible abdominals.

But it doesn’t mean the muscles aren’t there!

Bigger (and sometimes fatter) guys will probably have big strong abs as well, but their weight and body fat percentage might just be hiding them under layers of fat.

Fat isn’t a bad thing to have on your body because you might need to use it to keep itself working and not eat away at your muscles or organs.

But if you want to have abs showing, you need to have the correct ratio of muscle size and definition and a lower body fat percentage, usually between 10-15%.

Training in BJJ will probably help your muscles become stronger and more defined, but they won’t necessarily grow. And BJJ will only lower your body fat percentage if you have a calorie deficit.

BJJ burns calories amazingly well, so it could help you get abs, but so could lots of other martial arts or types of exercise.

It isn’t down to the specific martial art, necessarily, though some could burn more calories than others. It’s all about the science of calories, muscle growth, and body fat.

Final word on BJJ building muscles

Like with all kinds of martial arts or workouts, they won’t build muscle unless you’re specifically eating a calorie surplus and working on progressive load.

It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to lift weights, but you do have to challenge your muscles with enough resistance training that encourages them to tear, repair, and grow!

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