BJJ: Does Size, Strength & Weight Matter?

Does size strength and weight matter in BJJ

There are so many questions commonly asked surrounding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) – one popular one is; does size, strength and weight matter in BJJ?

In BJJ, size, strength, and weight do matter if two people are of equal skill and experience. If the skill gap between two people is small, then the bigger, stronger, and heavier person will most likely have an advantage. However, your weight can be a disadvantage if you’re unfit and unbalanced.

This question of size, strength and weight can be asked by two different people.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you both covered.

  • If you’re someone who is already in training – read on because this article covers in-depth whether size, strength, or weight could be an advantage or disadvantage in your BJJ.
  • If you’re someone who is looking to start learning Jiu-Jitsu and is asking whether your size, strength, or weight will matter or could be a problem, then check out our BJJ Complete Fitness Guide which covers all this and more.

Are size and strength an advantage in BJJ?

If you already train or compete in Jiu-Jitsu and are looking to gain a competitive edge on the mat – you may have wondered at some point whether size, strength or weight can be used as an advantage – or maybe you’ve been told its purely skill and experience that matters?

Because of the way BJJ was developed – as a form of grappling that is more energy efficient and doesn’t rely so much on power and/or strength – you may have heard people say that Jiu-Jitsu enables a smaller and weaker person to defeat a bigger and heavier attacker using leverage and technique alone.

And that is all true… Sometimes.

What makes Jiu-Jitsu so effective is the emphasis it puts on utilizing leverage and technique over strength and power in order to manipulate the biomechanics of the body into sweeps and submissions to win the fight.

Discover more about leverage in our article: BJJ: What is Leverage

But, does this mean that being bigger or stronger than your opponent doesn’t help at all?

The truth is there are two factors to consider – both which will influence how much of an advantage size and strength will or won’t be in BJJ.

1st – Skill Gap how much more skilled is one person over the other?

2nd – Skilled vs Skilled what if both people are of equal BJJ skill and experience?

Let’s look at two examples:

Example 1: Skill Gap

(A skilled BJJ person vs a bigger, stronger untrained person)

In this scenario, the skilled person is much more likely to have an advantage over the untrained person in a head-to-head grappling match, regardless of their size, strength, or weight. This is because the skill gap is much greater, meaning the untrained person will not understand even the very basic fundamentals of BJJ or grappling. Whereas the skilled BJJ person will.

The untrained person will also most likely panic and rely on strength alone to escape – and either they’ll eventually burn out, or make a critical mistake for the skilled person to capitalize on, and finish the fight.

But this is not to say that any skill vs any size is advantageous. What if the ‘skilled’ person is only still a beginner and the untrained person is much, much bigger, stronger, and athletic? The chances are that this would still pose a threat to the smaller person with only novice skill and experience.

There are no set rules when it comes to this sort of thing, but as a general rule of thumb – if you’re going up against someone bigger and stronger than you you’ll need to overcome this with a bigger skill advantage.

“The bigger they are, the bigger your skill advantage needs to be to survive.”

A perfect example of this skill gap working against a bigger, more athletic opponent, is in UFC 1: Royce Gracie vs Ken Shamrock. In this classic fight Royce Gracie appears to have a much more physical disadvantage than Shamrock – but clearly has a substantial skill gap advantage – which enables him to dominate the grappling and finish the fight.

It has even been said that Royce was selected from the Gracie family to represent Jiu-Jitsu because he looks less physically menacing – therefore proving Jiu-Jitsu’s effectiveness much more.

In this first example, size and strength matter less for the skilled person because the skilled person has the advantage of a large skill gap and experience over their opponent. However, the larger and stronger their opponent is – the larger the skill gap would need to be to overcome their opponent’s natural athletic ability.

Example 2: Skilled vs Skilled

(Two people, both of equal BJJ skill and experience – but one with a size, strength and weight advantage)

In this scenario, things get a little trickier. Now that both people are skilled at BJJ, and the skill gap between them is much smaller, the person who is bigger, stronger and heavier is more likely to have an advantage.

To support this theory, take a look at some of the high level BJJ athletes who compete in global BJJ championships and see how much work they put into their strength and conditioning training. Would they do this extra training if it didn’t give them an advantage over their opponents?

Probably not.

For example, take a look at Andre Galvao, who posts a lot of his strength and conditioning training videos on social media – including heavy weighted squats and dead lifts – all of which he is able to use to his advantage in competition.

Weight Divisions Again, looking at BJJ competitions and championships – why do they have weight divisions? It’s because size, strength and weight do matter when both people are at a similar level of skill and experience to each other. A smaller competitor from a lighter weight class is much more likely to be at a disadvantage. And so, to level the playing field, weight divisions are put in place.

In this second example – where the skill gap is much smaller between two equally experienced people – size and strength does matter more – and could possibly give an advantage to the bigger, stronger and heavier of the two people.

Does Weight Matter in BJJ?

Whether you’re training BJJ as a hobby, or starting to compete – you may be wondering – does weight matter in BJJ?

Weight does matter in BJJ because it can help to hold down your opponent and make it harder for them to escape from under you. However, if you’re overweight and unfit, then it will most likely be a disadvantage in BJJ because you may become tired and off-balanced more easily.

Being heavier in BJJ is an advantage, but only as long as you’re fairly fit and able to maintain a certain level of athletic output and maintain your balance while on top of your opponent.

But if you’re overweight, and don’t have at least a good base level of cardiovascular fitness, then your weight may start to become a problem. And eventually, you’ll probably become fatigued – enabling your opponent to find a way to gain a dominant position and finish with a submission.

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