In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) you’ll hear the word ‘leverage’ used a lot. So, what is leverage in BJJ and how can you use it?
Leverage in BJJ is the use of force applied to the joints and limbs of the body; using them as levers to manipulate the way the body moves. Leverage is used in BJJ to reduce the amount of effort and force needed to do takedowns, sweeps and submissions; as your opponent tries to resist.
There are four basic principles of leverage you need to understand to improve your BJJ:
- Resistance (load)
- Fulcrum (pivot point)
- Force (effort)
- Lever (limb)
Let’s break each of them down.
Leverage in BJJ
Leverage is a basic principle in physics which means you’re able to move a heavy load over a pivot point while maximizing the use of a lighter, smaller force.
Leverage reduces the amount of effort needed to move the large resistance.
Using leverage in Jiu-Jitsu means you can:
- Reduce the amount of force needed
- Maximize the effort you apply
- Manipulate the levers of the body
Here is an example of a simple lever system which works in the same way as a seesaw.
Here is an example of how the same simple lever system can be applied in Jiu-Jitsu.
In BJJ, leverage can be used in multiple ways including:
- For takedowns and sweeps
- And ground transitions
It can be used for attacking your opponent with different techniques.
Or it can be used for defending against your opponent’s techniques.
When you understand how your opponent is trying to use leverage against you, you can apply the same principles of leverage to defend against the techniques.
Resistance comes from the weight or body mass (load) which you are trying to move.
In Jiu-Jitsu, the resistance comes from your training partner or opponent.
Their body weight and strength of their muscles acts as the resistance load.
Let’s look at two examples from BJJ:
- Hip Throw: When you are trying to throw your opponent to the ground with a hip throw, their body weight acts as the resistance which you need to move
- Armbar: When you are trying to finish an armbar, your opponent’s bicep is the resistance you need to overcome
Fulcrum (Pivot Point)
The word fulcrum is used in physics to describe the use of leverage but it basically means ‘the point on which a lever is placed’.
The pivot point in Jiu-Jitsu changes depending on the type of technique or move you’re doing.
- Hip Throw: The pivot point in a hip throw is your hip over which you’re trying to throw your opponent
- Armbar: In an armbar setup, the pivot point is your hips; while you have your opponent’s arm locked between your legs
The effort you use to apply force is what causes the resistance load to move over the pivot point.
In Jiu-Jitsu, the force and effort can come from your body weight (and momentum) or muscle strength.
Examples from BJJ:
- Hip Throw: As you throw your opponent over the pivot point, you use a combination of body weight, strength and momentum to force the load over the pivot point
- Armbar: The force applied in an armbar comes from locking the arm in place and using the hips to apply pressure into the arm and elbow joint
The lever is the part of the system which pivots over the fulcrum and has the pressure of both the resistance and force applied to it.
In Jiu-Jitsu, the lever are the limbs of the body or even the whole torso itself.
Examples from BJJ:
- Hip Throw: The lever in a hip throw is the whole upper part of your opponent’s torso, from the hips up to their head
- Armbar: In an armbar set up, your opponent’s arm is the lever, from their shoulder joint to their elbow and up to their hand
As you can see in the diagram above, the lever bar is balanced, this is because the resistance load and the force effort are placed equally apart from the pivot point and are applying equal pressure.
In BJJ, this would be the same as going head-to-head trying to use strength alone in a force-on-force battle.
This is not the most effective way to use your energy and if your opponent is bigger and stronger than you, they will probably win that battle.
An arm wrestle for example, is essentially two equal and balanced lever systems in a force-on-force battle – which is why in an arm wrestle – whoever is stronger, will win.
This is why the technical skills of Jiu-Jitsu use leverage over strength.
Discover more about BJJ skill vs strength, in our article: BJJ: Does Size, Strength & Weight Matter?
There are other factors to recognise which will help you use leverage in your Jiu-Jitsu.
The distance between the pivot point and either the resistance load or force effort will change how much force is needed to move the load.
For example, the closer the pivot point is to the resistance load, the less force effort is needed and the easier it will be to lift the load.
This is why when you’re learning how to do an armbar in Jiu-Jitsu, you are told to move your hips as close to your opponent’s shoulder joint (and under their bicep) as possible.
Because your hips are the pivot point and their bicep is the resistance on the lever (arm).
An armbar is a simple lever system (like the one in the diagram) – however, you are not trying to lift the resistance load.
In fact, you are actually holding the resistance load in place with your own legs while applying force effort with your hips.
This is to focus all the pressure on to the elbow joint, and to force your opponent to tap.
Alternatively, the further away the pivot point is to the resistance load, the more force effort is needed and the harder it will be to lift the load.
There are also different classes of lever systems.
For example, when the pivot point is not in the middle of the lever, but at the base of the lever.
This would mean that the resistance load and force effort are both on the same side as each other on the lever arm.
A wheelbarrow is the perfect example of this.
For Jiu-Jitsu though, having an understanding of the basic principles of leverage and how you can use it is enough.
As you learn Jiu-Jitsu and progress in training, you will start to learn how each lever system works on the body and how to maximize it in your techniques.
With practice and a good understanding of how leverage works, you’ll be able to identify each of the force, resistance, and pivot points on your opponents’ body and how to use them in your training.
Meaning, by identifying each point and applying leverage – your Jiu-Jitsu will become much more effective.
Discover more ways to drive your Jiu-Jitsu game forward in our article: BJJ: 12 Ways To Improve & Progress Faster