The Science Behind the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

 In Physical Performance

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, commonly known as ‘BJJ’ around the World, is a grappling martial art where two opponents fight in an attempt to get a submission finish or ‘tap out’. In other words, if you ‘tap-out’ during a BJJ match you have surrendered and your opponent has the victory. More recently, a points system has been created and is used in competitions worldwide. Points are awarded according to the progress achieved by either opponent during the bout. If you a not very familiar with the sport and the website for the International Federation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the best place to start your research.

The demands of the sport require the athletes to have great aerobic and anaerobic capacities. #performbetter @pogophysio Click To Tweet

The Overview

Essentially, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a contact sport with very high physical demands. An enormous part of it relies on strength endurance and power, all boosted by great aerobic and anaerobic capacities.

The main characteristic of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is intermittency. An athlete has to perform on average four to six matches in order to win a competition in a given weight division. Various capacities and physical skills are required during a jiu-jitsu match. The athletes need to be in optimal physical condition to cope with the demands of the training and consequently the matches. For instance, aerobic power, which collaborates to maintain a high intensity throughout the match, delay fatigue and achieve a better/faster recovery between matches; muscle strength, which is used for both attack and defence; muscle power, used in the application of throwing techniques or in some specific movements of groundwork actions (sweeps and guard pass); muscular endurance for maintaining grip on the opponent’s gi (specific apparel for training) when there is a gripping dispute to dominate the opponent, apply techniques and maintain positions; the reaction time used to dodge or anticipate the opponent’s attacks or take advantage of opportune moments for the application of attacks; and flexibility, which collaborates in specific situations of attack or defence.

Injury Profile

One study reports that Chronic Low back Pain was present in 58 (80.6%) athletes out of a group total of 72 individuals. In respect to the level of practice, pain was present in 32 (88.9%) professional jiu-jitsu athletes and 26 (72.2%) recreational athletes. Despite the high prevalence of chronic back pain in this population, there was no findings suggesting augmented daily activity limitations as per findings in the general population suffering from Chronic Low Back Pain.

Another study performed during the World No-Gi competition reported 1606 Athlete-Exposures (AEs) and 62 total injuries total. Of these injuries, 40 affected the joints, for an overall incidence rate of 24.9 per 1000 AEs. The joint incidence rate by belt rank was 21.5 per 1000 AEs for blue, 21.3 per 1000 AEs for purple, 25.2 per 1000 AEs for brown, and 35.1 per 1000 AEs for black. More experienced (brown belt and black belt) competitors had a higher injury risk than the less experienced (blue belt and purple belt) competitors. The incidence of joint injury was highest at the knee (7.5 per 1000 AEs) and elbow (7.5 per 1000 AEs).

A third study looked into data obtained across the medical records of 8 state competitions in the US. These authors identified that the injury incidence on the day of matches was 9.2 per 1000 exposures (46 injuries out of 5022 exposures, ie, match participations). Orthopaedic injuries were the most common and accounted for 78% of all injuries (n = 36), followed by costochondral or rib injuries (n = 7) and lacerations requiring medical care (n = 3). The elbow was found to be the joint most commonly injured, with the arm bar being the most common mechanism.

These authors, after crossing references with data streaming from competitions of judo, taekwondo, wrestling, and mixed martial arts; concluded that BJJ competitors were at substantially lower risk of injury compared with these other sports.

Athlete Profile

One particular study set out to analyse the physiological, nutritional and performance profiles of athletes practising Brazilian jiu-jitsu. 15 athletes that practised Brazilian jiu-jitsu (aged: 28 ± 5 years; 8 brown belts and 7 black belts; training experience: 11 ± 4 years) underwent anthropometric measurements (body composition and somatotype), dietary evaluation (24 h recall) and physical fitness tests (movement time, dynamometer hand-grip, kimono grip strength, vertical jump and sit-and-reach tests).

The average body fat was 12.7 and the mesomorphic component was dominant followed by endomorphic and ectomorphic components. Nutritional assessment suggested a diet consisting of  average 54% of carbohydrates, 19% of protein and 27% of lipids. Average movement time on the hand-grip tests was 0.42 s, for hand-grip strength, 53 kgf was found for the dominant hand and 50 kgf for the non-dominant hand. For the counter-movement jump, the jiu-jitsu athletes reached 41cm. Athletes remained in average 30s in the maximum static suspension test gripping a kimono, and reached 27cm in the sit-and-reach test. Overall their studied sample presented average levels of body fat, elevated muscle mass and a predominantly mesomorphic somatotype.

Diet was generally poor, with low carbohydrate intake, high protein intake and adequate lipid intake. Maximum isometric hand-grip strength was consistent with observations of other athletes in this sport discipline. Movement time was comparable and lower body muscle power was worse compared to athletes in similar sports. Additionally, flexibility was rated as poor.

Other authors reached similar conclusions and suggested that maximal dynamic, isometric and endurance strength can be associated with sporting success in Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes.

Key points:

  • The demands of the sport require the athletes to have great aerobic and anaerobic capacities;
  • The mesomorphic body type is dominant in the sport
  • Grip strength endurance and dynamic grip strength are associated with greater success in the sport
  • Flexibility is a key component which seems to be more developed in athletes at higher levels.
  • The elbow is the most common site of injury followed by a high incidence of chronic low back pain.
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Bruno Rebello (APAM)

Bruno Rebello


  1. Kreiswirth, E. M., Myer, G. D., & Rauh, M. J. (2014). Incidence of injury among male Brazilian jiujitsu fighters at the World Jiu-Jitsu No-Gi Championship 2009. J Athl Train, 49(1), 89-94. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-49.1.11
  2. Scoggin, J. F., 3rd, Brusovanik, G., Izuka, B. H., Zandee van Rilland, E., Geling, O., & Tokumura, S. (2014). Assessment of Injuries During Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Competition. Orthop J Sports Med, 2(2), 2325967114522184. doi:10.1177/2325967114522184
  3. Reis, F. J., Dias, M. D., Newlands, F., Meziat-Filho, N., & Macedo, A. R. (2015). Chronic low back pain and disability in Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes. Phys Ther Sport, 16(4), 340-343. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2015.02.005
  4. Andreato, L. V., Santos, J. F., Esteves, J. V., Panissa, V. L., Julio, U. F., & Franchini, E. (2016). Physiological, Nutritional and Performance Profiles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Athletes. J Hum Kinet, 53, 261-271. doi:10.1515/hukin-2016-0029
  5. Andreato, L. V., Lara, F. J., Andrade, A., & Branco, B. H. (2017). Physical and Physiological Profiles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Athletes: a Systematic Review. Sports Med Open, 3(1), 9. doi:10.1186/s40798-016-0069-5

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