When you thought about choosing a martial art, it’s possible that BJJ may have attracted you with its promise of being a great equalizer against strength, weight, height, etc.

However, anyone who has spent some time on the mat knows that size and strength do still matter in BJJ.

While it’s true that jiu jitsu gives a weaker or smaller player opportunities to win a match (or in the case of self-defense, defend themselves), the reality is that physics gives a bigger opponent a natural advantage. It is always going to be harder, by default, to train against someone bigger and stronger than you.

All things being equal, the stronger person may often win. Technique can be an equalizer, but it only will work if there is a significant technique gap between the opponent. This is why it’s so important to train with the right BJJ learning resources and teachers (for more BJJ resources, check out this site)

All that said, it’s not all bad news for the smaller player. In fact, there are lots of ways that smaller BJJ players can overcome these issues. 

Below are a few tips to overcome weight and strength disadvantages for the smaller jiu jitsu player.

Play To Your Natural Advantages

Small players have speed and mobility advantages. A big guy’s movement costs him more (in fact, heavier players need to learn how to make adjustments to their game). If you have better cardio and are smaller, you can tire your opponent out faster. The more the bigger person moves, the faster he or she will get tired.

Likewise, if you are smaller, you tend to be more mobile so it’s easier to move around on the mat and create better angles. For instance, the arm drag is a great way to move your body out of the way. In contrast, mobility is harder for larger fighters. If you can force the angles, you can control the other aspects of the match.

Use Advantageous Positions

Some BJJ positions are better for smaller players than others. For instance, mount and sidemount are not the best for smaller people because of their relative lack of mass against a notably larger opponent. A big person can sometimes simply bench press the smaller play off of them.

In contrast, the back mount can be a great spot for a smaller person, especially in the gi. The gi permits you to multiply your leverage. This is because you do not need a lot of strength to choke someone. If you can sink your hand in the collar while on the back, it can be extremely easy to choke your opponent. While you have increased your leverage against them 10 fold, their strength is effectively neutralized.

Another good position is the deep half guard. A small body can fit in between small spots better, and when you are in the deep half, this spacing is crucial while underneath your opponent’s knees.

Lastly, leg locks can also be a good equalizer; however, a word of caution should be exercised. Unless you know you have a better leg lock game, think twice. A leg lock battle will open you up to counters by leg locks. We have all seen these dueling leg lock battles, and in this scenario the strength of one person may be the deciding factor on who wins. Advanced leg lock players know how to take advantage of this scenario. Therefore, learn leg locks to gain an advantage and expand your repertoire, but learn them properly.

The Role of Strength

One of the best things a small BJJ player can do is get stronger. Your strength can help close the gap between your opponent’s weight and size advantage.

Your relative strength increases in interesting ways. Just because someone is 25 lbs heavier than you does not mean he will be 25% stronger than you. In fact, it’s just as easy, to a degree, for the smaller person to be just as strong as the heavier player. Or, said another way, it’s better to fight a big weak guy than a strong smaller guy.

The long and short of it is that a smaller player will have a better chance against a bigger opponent if he closes the gap strength wise. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to add mass and muscle. Kettlebells are a great way to maximize your overall strength, for instance.

Beyond just working out and adding mass to your body, there are also ways to improve strength and leverage in your techniques by themselves.


Are size and strength important in BJJ? Unfortunately, yes.

However, with the right technique, training and strength, a smaller opponent can learn how to overcome these obstacles and become a force to be reckoned with no matter who he or she faces on the mat.

-Contributed by Nick from BJJ Video Vault