Does BJJ Build Muscle? (The Truth Behind Big Muscles)

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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 people. 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.

In short, does BJJ build muscle?

Doing BJJ doesn’t build muscle on its own because BJJ is primarily good as a cardiovascular exercise. BJJ can help build muscle strength and endurance, but not necessarily muscle size or definition, which needs muscle hypertrophy and a lower body fat percentage.

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

Will BJJ Get You Ripped?

Ripped fighter with big muscles

While BJJ offers many health benefits such as developing strength, endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and burning fat, it can only get you ripped if you are developing muscle size and reducing 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 puts a significant demand on your cardiovascular ability and your muscle endurance at the same time. 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 it will force them to become stronger, they won’t necessarily grow any more 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 just become more visibly ripped.

This article is focusing on building muscle with BJJ. I’ve covered the question of Is BJJ A Good Workout? in another article if you want to learn more about using it for exercise and losing weight!

Understanding The Science Of 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. Having a low body fat percentage is the key to muscle definition being visible, also called being “ripped.”

Here are the typical BF% 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.

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 what your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) is. This number estimates the Kilocalories (KCAL) that your body needs to maintain its weight.

Once you know the KCAL to maintain your weight, you then 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 your survival. Then you can go into Advanced mode on the same calculator from above to input your current activity level, which will give you a measure of 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 be eating fewer calories (KCAL) than your total energy expenditure per day. Try eating 100-200 less KCAL per day 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. Just remember to keep your protein intake high to help your muscles repair and lower your carbohydrates to get the best results.

Building Muscle With BJJ

If your goal is to build muscle with BJJ, 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 every day 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, I’m referencing that 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 turn it into fat to use later. If you want your calorie intake to turn into muscle, you have to constantly engage and break down your muscles to encourage them to repair and grow more muscular than before.

In BJJ, you will constantly challenge your muscles by pushing, pulling, and holding people in 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 ache 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 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 asks it to keep growing beyond what it was before so that it can meet the challenge the next time without breaking down.

BJJ simply 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 strength and mobility is needed and developed in it. Wrestling is also closely linked with strength building and weightlifting so it might encourage you in the right direction for muscle gains.

Let’s 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 single martial art like BJJ and expect to get buff. To get buff, you have to work on getting buff!

Does BJJ Give You Abs?

Illustration of abs on a BJJ fighter

Doing BJJ doesn’t give you abs on its own. It would be best if you had a body fat percentage between 10-15% to see the muscle definition through your abdominal area. To achieve this body fat percentage, you 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 take a look at some of the strongest guys you know, many of them might have no visible abdominals at all. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t there! Big strong 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 martial art. It’s all about the Science of calories, muscle growth, and body fat.

So does BJJ build muscle? Well by reading this article, you should have your answer. The only sure way of building muscle is by using a workout regime that focuses on it, like strength work or bodybuilding. Either way, BJJ will help you keep fit and shredded by burning body fat.

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