Strength Matters in Jiu Jitsu More Than You Think


Unleash Your Full Potential on the Mat by Embracing the Power of Strength Training


You’ve probably tried body builder splits, powerlifting, kettlebells, and bodyweight flows…You do a little bit of everything to accomplish very little.

That’s because strength, like technique on the mats, takes time to develop.

The problem is, most programs or videos online only cover a few well-intentioned exercises.

Maybe they even provide you with great information on form and technique, but you have little idea on how to make progress with it. You sit and ask yourself: 

  • How much weight do I add? 
  • When do I do it? 
  • How often? 
  • Sound familiar?

These are the questions I have answered and what I developed here. Advanced Jiu Jitsu 

Strength has detailed information and a clear program you can follow at your gym, from your phone.

It is what I developed after years of working with Jiu Jitsu Athletes of all levels and finding that there’s a common denominator between everyone:


If you have it, you’re less likely to be injured from the day-to-day, and you’re more likely to be executing your technique properly.

Strength isn’t gained by circuits that resemble “king of hill” or a group of fresh guy’s coming in to spar with you every two minutes either; it takes time and dedication to training on the right program to build, and push past plateaus.

If you don’t have it, you know what I’m talking about.

To build real strength, you need to work with loads (or an “intensity”) that’s high enough to spark adaptation. You then need to repeat that at an optimal frequency to keep the progress going. These principles are well established in nearly every other sport and applied with great effect in sister sports like MMA, Wrestling and Boxing, but jiu jitsu always falls behind.

Dark Horse – Advanced Jiu Jitsu Strength assumes you have some familiarity with the gym and is the program to help you meaningfully drive up numbers.

I also know you’re going to be training jiu jitsu while you run this program, and that’s exactly how it was designed: for the person who trains on the mats 3-5x per week. Most importantly, it accounts for the recovery necessary from such efforts.

What I found was, no matter the level of competitor, every athlete had one thing in common:

You’ve never been able to acquire any appreciable strength in your life, and certainly not anything that translates to the mats.

Any quality worth developing takes focus; just like any technique you’re trying to put together on the mats, you need to devote specific time to strength– especially if you’ve never done a serious lifting program before.

Any quality worth acquiring takes time, and if you can put together 3 solid months, you can make a world of difference in your strength on the mats, your base, and begin to change your body comp for real.

Here’s what you need to develop real strength…

To build real strength, you need to work with loads (or an “intensity”) that’s high enough to spark adaptation. You then need to repeat that at an optimal frequency to keep the progress going. These principles are well established in nearly every other sport and applied with great effect in sister sports like MMA, Wrestling and Boxing, but jiu jitsu always falls behind.

3 common mistakes in the weight room:

  1. Not working heavy enough
  2. Doing too much work
  3. Not resting long enough

The problem with a lot of protocols you may have used in the past is that you simply weren’t doing the right amount of work, or making it hard enough. Maybe you were making the biggest mistake of all– not working with heavy enough loads and minding a very important parameter of training — REST times.

Not working heavy enough

Whenever I ask jiu jitsu athletes how they’ve been training, they almost always answer kettlebells. Now, I love kettlebells, and we use them a lot at my gym, but swings and Turkish Get-Ups just aren’t going to get you strong the way you need to be. 

Why? What you’re usually training when you use them is the same qualities you train in jiu jitsu (endurance, simple power, increased glycolytic metabolism), which is the reason why you like them so much! I don’t have to tell you that to make changes, you often have to make yourself uncomfortable and expose yourself to new stimuli. 

These loads work for about 2-3 weeks with most people. Eventually, you need to work with loads that will cause your muscles to truly overload and adapt.

You do too much work:

More is not always better; what you can recover from is. It’s in that recovery from your last session that progress happens. A hard jiu jitsu class is like a mini-strength session of its own. Working too often on top of this has a diminishing return, as you’re never able to truly express your strength or finer athletic qualities because you never quite get back to full strength. 

After years of working with real athletes of all ages and levels in jiu jitsu, I found that there was an optimal training frequency– and if you go over that, you’re just spinning your wheels while getting nowhere.

Not Resting Long Enough

Repeating efforts as fast as you can is not the key to building lasting strength. You have to have a base level of strength to begin with; and that’s only developed by moving loads, resting, and repeating. Think about any time you’ve lifted something truly heavy and if you were able to keep doing it over and over for a minute. 

What does this all add up to? 

Have you been training a while and feeling like you’re getting weaker? 

You’re just losing a little too much strength and vitality? 

That’s a natural thing as we age if we don’t do something about it. However, it’s also something a poorly organized training plan will promote as well.

The body needs a certain intensity to maintain (or gain) strength and size. It also needs a properly organized program to avoid what we call “accomodation.”

In structuring a strength program to have lasting effect, you need to make sure you are introducing enough progression, variety and novel stimuli to avoid overuse, 

Lack of strength is a high predictor of injury, studies show again and again. This is that baseline strength– and much more– that you need.

You train with some of the best; at some gyms, the best in the world, and these guys are strong, I understand that. I own a gym sandwiched between two of the best jiu jitsu schools in the world, right in the heart of NYC- Marcelo Garcia and Renzo Gracie. Every day, jiu jitsu athletes come to my gym to work on their strength and conditioning. 

Above all else, do you know what it is that they’re lacking?


The fact is, most of you will find ways of improving your endurance, just through being on the mats and working through intelligent drills. But jiu jitsu is a random, chaotic art that calls for strength, but never in the same way.

How do you balance that?

You do it in the gym, with the right program.

How many of you have gotten to a certain place in jiu jitsu? 

*this needs to be phrased in a different way so it stands alone

You can go years, many belts and tournament medals without doing anything besides what you do on the mats, and boom– you’re suddenly feeling the effects of years of training.

Strength training, particularly with weights, is what will keep you from feeling like you’re “withering”

Strength training gets you to the same place in a month, and you never can get past that. 

Maybe you weren’t even sure you were doing things correctly.

Coach Mark DiSalvo Helps Jiu JItsu Athletes Develop Strength that Transfers to the Mat

Mark DiSalvo is a New York City based strength and conditioning coach and owner of DiSalvo Performance Training. Mark understands the level of strength required for top competitors in jiu jitsu, as he has prepared athletes for some of the biggest events in the world, including EBI, Combat Jiu Jitsu Worlds, the IBJJF World Championship/Europeans/Pan Ams, and Spyder Korea.

His gym is located in New York City in the jiu jitsu epicenter of the United States: a block from Renzo Gracie and 3 blocks from Marcelo Garcia Academy, where he himself has trained since 2014. He specializes in work with grapplers and works with some of the highest level athletes in the sport at all belt levels.

Introducing Dark Horse – Advanced Jiu Jitsu Strength

Dark Horse – Advanced Jiu Jitsu Strength was developed by working with real athletes of all ages and levels in jiu jitsu. In doing so, I found that there was an optimal training frequency– and if you go over that, you’re just spinning your wheels and get nowhere.

The Benefits of Using This Training Plan:

Develop a Better Base 

Improving your base will always lead to you being harder to sweep, able execute technique with more confidence and feel better exploring new positions knowing that you have the base and overall balance to work your technique. 

I can’t think of one person who hasn’t told me that their base on the mats improved from doing this program. Harder to sweep, better balance, smoother passing– these are all things that a perfect execution can help greatly with. It’s been a bonus when they’re longtime training partners have come and told me the same.

The lifting and exercises you’ll do here promote a great awareness of overall balance and base, and it translates heavily to the mats.

You’ll Get Significantly Stronger 

When you’re stronger, you’re harder to move, and things [people] move easier. 

Strength has many connotations and interpretations for many people, but to REALLY build strength, you need to make the whole unit stronger, not just one aspect of it.

For years, the best minds in sports performance understand that optimal performance is like a pyramid. At the base of that pyramid is your strength and aerobic ability. As you rise up, you get into the more specialized skills of sport, and finer aspects of performance, but it’s that base that keeps you going and developing. This program builds that base.

People with that strong base of the pyramid are always the stronger, faster, and more durable athletes.

Not only that, you simply build a stronger you, with carefully chosen exercises for the jiu jitsu athlete and the rigors of the sport. I took into account the greatest areas of need, Build a stronger you

When you are stronger, everything is easier on the mats. Your techniques go off without a hitch, you’re harder to move around, and you move through all your positions with greater confidence. More important than any of these though: you’re more durable. Durable people train longer and get better faster.

Get More Comfortable in the Weight Room 

If you don’t understand how to properly lift, you’re leaving all the benefits of training on the table, and likely setting yourself up for injury down the road. You’re very unlikely to be getting truly stronger at all. I am sure if you’ve ever been to the gym and didn’t know what you were doing, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

I took time on many exercises to give you the simplest breakdowns I could of common, yet effective exercises. This comes after years of working with athletes, non-strength athletes, and complete first timers, and are some of my simplest cues for an effective workout. All in video form.

The skills and schemes you learn here can be born out and applied to a lifetime of healthy, safe and strong lifting.

Improve Your Posture

Posture, whether your coach yells at you during class when your partner’s triangle breaks you down, or your day-to-day posture dictates nearly every aspect of how you move.

It is the enemy of the jiu jitsu athlete on the mats or every day life. Bad posture leads to poor performance on the mats, and nagging pain. This program directly addresses that fact with carefully chosen exercises. It’s among my primary goals to make sure your posture is well taken care of, and all exercises chosen accordingly.

Here’s What a Few Athletes are Saying About This Program

I met Mark on the mats of Marcelo Garcia Academy in NYC. He was a blue belt and I was a brown belt. I knew that I would be getting my black belt at some point in the near future and I knew that there were some significant improvements that I needed to make in order to be where I always wanted to be in this sport.

“I have been working with Mark for about two full years now.

I was initially trying to improve the imbalances in my body that were resulting in pain and inability to train and perform at the level I wanted to be at. My movement was being affected by the imbalances I had developed over the years of hard training. After Mark corrected my imbalances, I realized how much stronger I could get and how my strength training journey had just begun.

Initially I was very grateful to be pain free, which made me hopeful that my career could be a lot longer and successful that I had initially thought possible. Now that my body feels great, I am focused on becoming a stronger and overall better athlete which will, in turn, improve my outcomes in competitions.

This absolutely translated onto the mat. Both my guard and passing has tremendously improved because of the specific attributes I have developed through Mark’s strength & conditioning program. I have also noticed that my ability to finish my opponents has gone up considerably due to the grip & leg strength we have developed over the past two year.

I would absolutely refer a friend to Mark. However, the selfish part of me wants to keep Mark my secret lol.”

Rehan Muttalib

Black belt under Cobrinha, multiple IBJJF title holder at Black Belt, European and Pan Am Champ (not black belt), Fight to Win Superfight Winner

“I met Mark through mutual friends in the jiu jitsu community and we have been working together since the Fall of 2018. I had started training jiu jitsu ~4 days a week in the Fall of 2014 as a 32 year old. I’ve been an athlete my entire life and kept active into adulthood, but the physical demands of regular jiu jitsu training, coupled with long hours of sitting at a desk in my office job was starting to take a toll on my body. I noticed that I was beginning to get injured more frequently and that my posture could use some significant improvement (rounded shoulders, upper/lower back pain, etc.).

First and foremost, I was looking to develop functional strength that would allow me to continue training jiu jitsu injury-free into my 40s and beyond. Secondarily, I was looking to improve my posture and core strength. I have spondylolisthesis from some combination of genetics and too much soccer in my youth, so taking pressure off of my lower back through a sound core training regimen has always been a fitness priority (even if I haven’t always been diligent about executing on it)

Within months of working with Mark, the feedback was unanimous – from myself as well as from my training partners – that my work with Mark translated directly to the mat. Since working with Mark I have had zero jiu jitsu related injuries and my strength has improved noticeably through a variety of vectors. Mark is a master at identifying what underlying muscle systems and movements are holding me back at a given moment in time and is both knowledgeable and agile enough to adapt my training regimen on the fly as new problems and strengths emerge. I think his deep understanding of the sport as a practitioner himself gives him an edge here as well.

I refer ALL of my friends to work with Mark, both those in and outside of the jiu jitsu community. The training is first rate, the results are demonstrable/quantifiable, and Mark is a joy to work with. I look forward to each one of our training sessions together.”

Cameron Foster

Purple belt under Dan Covel. Recreational athlete, married with two kids and a day job

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What equipment is needed?
    • Dark Horse requires access to a barbell, dumbbells and a pull-up bar. Though not required, it is recommended that you either have access to jump stretch bands or cable pulley system/Lat Pulldown systems for added versatility. 
  • How long is the program?
    • The program lasts 3 months from start to finish.
  • Can I use this program to prepare for a tournament?
    • Absolutely! AJJS gives options for those preparing for a tournament, in addition to those using it “out of camp.”
  • Is this a beginner or advanced program?
    • This program works best with athletes who have some baseline experience in the gym. However, beginners will absolutely see results, but may need extra time to develop proficiency in the bigger lifts and techniques. That’s why we spent extra time to record instructional videos of the bigger lifts with the main cues you need to succeed.
  • Will this program make me gain weight? 
    • No, the program and exercises themselves will not cause you to gain weight. It is entirely possible to gain strength without size, as has been done for years in strength sports that also have weight classes.  That said, what you eat while doing this program will largely determine your weight gain above all else: if you do this while eating at a surplus, you will very likely gain lean muscle mass. Perform this program at a caloric deficit (or maintenance levels), and you’ll be very unlikely to see the scale change much at all.  The best course of action is to eat smart and for your goals. I recommend you contact a dietician or nutritionist familiar with the energy demands of combat sports if this is a concern.
  • I purchased the program, but I don’t see any explosive exercises, plyometrics, etc. Why is that?
    • One of the things I see most in jiu jitsu is the fast, quick athlete who has very little to “back it up.” In other words, they’re faster than a rubber band flinging at you, but couldn’t lift the plates to load up a bar. That’s a problem that always ends in injury. This program was designed to build your strength so you are NOT that guy

What are Other Jiu Jitsu Players Saying?

I met Mark at the academy as a student, (he was taking my class now I am his student, haha!). Someone told me that he does amazing work as a strength coach, so I went to him to check it out. I loved it! I have work with Mark for almost a half a year now and it’s been amazing so far. 

My goal has always been to try to increase my performance on the mats, and building my body to be progressively stronger, so I can continue to get more out of my training [jiu jitsu], improve in competitions, and fix my body.

I could feel that after a few weeks my body was reacting with more power and endurance on the mats. It was really good feeling!

We work very specific areas, always working where my body is weak to first make it stronger. Eventually, we started to work very specific movement related to BJJ.

I recommend Mark’s work 100% to friends and anyone for who wants to get theirs performance better, no just for jiujitsu, but for any sport and their overall lifestyle. Mark has everything you need to stay healthy and get stronger.

Major Black Belt Titles:

  • UAEJJF World Pro Masters Champion (2019) 
  • 1st Place CBJJ Brazilian Nationals (2018) 
  • 1st Place IBJJF European Open (2018/2017) 
  • 1st Place IBJJF No-Gi Pan Championship (2018/2015) 
  • Top 10 in the 2018 IBJJF Overall Pound for Pound Rankings 
  • Kasai Pro, Multiple time Fight 2 Win Superfight Winner 

Marcos Tinoco, Marcelo Garcia Black Belt, instructor.

I’ve been training jiu-jitsu for 10+ years and am currently a brown belt. I’m also an avid snowboarder and wannabe surfer. I met Mark through jiu-jitsu, but like a lot of people I meet through jiu-jitsu I had no idea what he did in the “real world”. One day I randomly came across a blog he had written about training for jiu jitsu and I found myself very interested in a lot of what he was saying.

I had stopped strength training regularly because I had become bored of it and didn’t really know how to properly train to compliment the activities I wanted to pursue. But now that I was in my mid 30s I was starting to come back around on the idea that it was probably something I needed to help avoid injury and to maximize my potential and longevity in all my sports. So after reading the blog I reached out to Mark.

He shared some basic info about his philosophy and send me an evaluation / goal sheet to fill out and then we met for an evaluation / consultation. I really appreciated his ability to understand my goals and objectives and be able to speak about how he would specifically tailor a program to meet those needs while also satisfying the my own unique personal circumstances (i.e. my work, personal schedule and budget).

I have been working with Mark consistently for 2 years now and have seen very positive results every step of the way. I had some lingering injuries and weaknesses when I first started training with Mark that he addressed right away and I noticed I got stronger in those weaker areas and some of my aches and pains began to wane.

After working out some of those imbalances and weaknesses he was able to start building up my overall strength for jiu-jitsu as well as my other seasonal activities. I started to notice my isometric strength gains very quickly on the mats. My top pressure became much stronger (I had several training partners make comments to me about it) and defensively I became much more effective at being able to maintain frames and escape from certain positions. My recovery times also improved and I was able to train more frequently without feeling as run down or fatigued. His hands on approach and constant check ins have allowed that to continue.

He was able to shift gears to seasonal activities I participate in such as snowboarding and make sure that my legs were well conditions for the multiple snowboard trips I take each year. This year I did an entirely foot powered snowboard tour in the Wyoming backcountry that entailed about 20 miles of hiking at 9,000 foot elevations and I felt strong the entire time. I’ve always felt very confident recommending Mark to other people and have connected him with several of my friends ranging from highly competitive jiu-jitsu athletes to “regular” people who want to stay strong and all of them have told me about the positive results they’ve experienced. I’m very excited to continue my work with Mark and would recommend him to anyone looking to stay strong and maximize their physical potential.

Leigh Cohen (Business owner, father and Marcelo Garcia Brown Belt)

If you are ready to stop spinning your wheels and develop some serious strength, then click the add to cart button below, fill out a quick form and you’ll get access to this program in less than 5 minutes.