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Maximal Strength Training that Improves Grappling Strength

Training like professional bodybuilders isn't very effective for grapplers. In fact, strength training is supplemental to their BJJ sport. Over time the strength and conditioning field has evolved a bit, there are a lot of people who still perform exercises that aren't as beneficial. The ultimate goal of a grappler is power. The stronger he is, the more weight he will be capable of lifting at a higher pace, the more explosive he will get.

While looking at the conditioning and strength training programs of advanced grapplers, it's easy to conclude that their way of training should be our way of training. Whatever’s working for them will work for us too. Well, it’s not entirely true. Everyone has a different body and different game style. No training is universal. What's working well for someone won’t necessarily work well for you.

The majority of recreational grapplers need something else. A training that gives them the leverage of working on improving their game. Athletes should have intensity and complexity in their game. And most of the practitioners aren’t advanced athletes. Elite strength training for grapplers can be unreasonably hard and provoke anxiety. Even the best training plan in the world is of no use if not followed. In this article we will explore methods for improving grappling strength.

The art of grappling

Grappling is a full contact sport and a potentially injurious art. Especially when the game is focused on bringing your opponent down. A lot of people spend most of the time in a day sitting down and then going zero to the sixty in the grappling class.

The art of grappling refers to certain techniques which are employed in the wide array of MMA disciplines. Prime goal of grappling is gaining the physical advantage, improving the relative position, escaping the opponent, or forcing the opponent for submission. It’s the opposite end of the striking spectrum. Strength and conditioning is very crucial for better performance in MMA. In BJJ, its effectiveness is undeniable at the given skill level, a strong, fast and powerful grappler is way more difficult to submit and controllable in the ring as it poses a greater threat compared to the slower and weaker opponent.

A perspective

The ordinary person's body is mainly composed of tissues which have beef jerky quality with a movement capacity of a drunken tortoise. Putting them under immediate extreme force just invites trouble. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and grappling athletes usually have that flexion-dominance at their lower back and pelvis. Most of the training drills incorporate repetitive flexion, causing stiffness in the hip flexors and weakness at hip extensors. With time the muscles of the lower back become tight and hip flexors tend to get shortened.

Another issue is the induction of ‘micro trauma,’ caused by repetitive motions, like grabbing, pulling, and twisting. All these actions apply subtle but prolonged stress on your tendons, joints, and bones. Generally, it can cause inflammation which your body can adapt to. However constant micro trauma can lead to serious injuries. As we age our training methodologies change. Development of force and strength comes with structural integrity and deceleration qualities.

There’s no one-size-fits-all exercise for Jiu-jitsu. Most effective BJJ workouts rely on classical weight-training and conditioning with a specific focus on BJJ needs, depending upon athletes' sports level. There are a number of options for improving overall strength and conditioning; optimizing your grappling performance. However it requires more precise planning than following general fitness and muscle-gaining routines.

Weight Lifting for Improving BJJ Grappling Strength

The core principle behind the game of jiu-jitsu is enabling the smaller opponent to defeat the larger and stronger athlete by applying the right skills and taking biomechanical advantage as he engages in the fight. The popularity of sport-oriented Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and professional competitions has made it obvious that strength, speed and conditioning comes into play an important role while determining which practitioner will be victorious. It’s particularly true when both of the opponents possess similar technical BJJ skills.

A lot of people no longer agree with the notion that grapplers at the hobbyist and competitive level are necessarily needed to be lifters or condition themselves. For improving sport-performance and preventing injuries it's important for jiu-jitsu practitioners to add strength and conditioning to their training regardless of their game level.

Finding Strength & Conditioning Routine for Grapplers

With so much variation of workout regimens, equipment, and information overload, having a practical and effective strength and conditioning routine can be a daunting task for grapplers. Moreover, the effectiveness of the strength routine varies from person to person depending on their grappling skills.

BJJ-Gi strength training programs primarily focus on growing athletic traits like maximizing strength and aerobic conditioning by incorporation of explosive power and Jiu-Jitsu specific conditioning. However, hobbyist and recreational competitors can also follow the same programs as competitive athletes, with adjusted volume and intensity.

Principles for Grappling Strength & Conditioning

Many Jiu-Jitsu overarching principles of strength programs dictate each training phase. Muscle groups that are used mostly by the Jiu-Jitsu players are usually the same, regardless of the game level. Most effective foundational strength workouts are usually performed throughout their Jiu-Jitsu training, with adjustments and alteration in intensity and exercise variation.

Jiu-Jitsu strengthening programs develop the maximal grappling strength with it’s prime focus on improving explosive power, that combines strength with speed. BJJ conditioning is crucial as the strength and power for a well-rounded athlete. BJJ demands you to be explosive even when you are fatigued.

Dynamic and unpredictable in nature, this game demands multiple muscle groups to be trained for optimizing strength. Workout choice is primarily focused on the compound moves which engage stabilization. Sets and reps of each exercise varies according to your goals. The following muscle groups should be majorly targeted:

  • Upper Body: Chest, Back, & Shoulders: Upper-body pushing and pulling strength is of prime importance in both gi and no gi game style. Your upper body is responsible for all the major body movements classified as vertical and horizontal pushing and pulling. These exercises play a great role in improving your grip strength as well.
  • Lower Body: Quads, Glutes & Hamstrings: Developing strength in your lower body especially in your hip-hinge and leg extension movements play a crucial role for your BJJ performance. A good jiu-jitsu guard requires you to push and pull with combined upper and lower body efforts.
  • Core: Obliques, Abs & Transverse Abdominis: Having a sheer core strength plays a great role in stabilizing you, and boosting your game efficiency. It makes you use your strength and power effectively. Adequate core strength is crucially important to pass the guard, maintain the base, and off-base your opponent for setting up offensive sweeps and submissions.
    Workouts for Maximizing Your Grappling Strength

1. Kettlebell swing

Strong and powerful hip joints and muscles go a long way in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Hips are used during shrimping, passing guard, shooting for takedowns, finishing submissions, bridging, etc. Kettlebell swings are an amazing workout for developing power in the hips. It also teaches how to use the hip muscles by hinging. Kettlebell swings also target your posterior muscles like hamstrings and glutes; they are significantly important for developing strong bridging abilities.

2. Sled push

If you would have to choose just one exercise for conditioning, strengthening and developing other attributes that would benefit your grappling game, it should be the sled push. This exercise requires better lower body mechanics and trunk stabilization. Both of these are prime components as you go for single and double-leg takedowns. The sled is also good for keeping you in top shape. It's an amazing cardio workout. All you are required to do is load yourself with weights and start pushing it back and forth at an intensity which is suitable to your level.

3. Deadlifts

It’s an amazing exercise that is primarily performed for developing strength in the posterior chain. Your lumbar, hamstrings and glutes are extremely important for all of your physical movements. Strong posterior chain is significantly important for your explosive MMA movements such as shooting for takedowns, knee strikes, hip throws and sprawling for preventing takedowns. Deadlift is a core strengthening workout that works well for grapplers who want to build strength and muscle for their entire body.

4. Carries

Have you ever picked up some heavy object and tried walking with it? If not then go outside and do it right now. There’s nothing super special about carrying heavy objects. But carries are considered amazing because of the incredible benefits they have offered as you perform them.

There are three basic ways of carrying something with a huge weight: suitcase, bear hug and farmers’ carries. Sandbags and rocks can be great for carrying heavy objects in a bear hug. For the rest of the variations, the kettlebell can be a cool choice. These workouts teach core and hip stability. It engages all of the major muscle groups of your body if done properly.

5. Barbell Bent Over Rows

Bent over rows are a great back and pulling exercise. It works well for improving your posterior chain. It’s important to do well as you perform this workout by not allowing the spine to curve or bend during the exercise. Beside the incredible upper body benefits, full body stabilization is another effect of barbell rows. Barbell bent over rows require adequate strength from your hands to your feet.

6. Weighted Step Ups – Unilateral strength

MMA fighters benefit a lot from the weighted step-ups for strength development. The strength and endurance that they get from this workout transfers to many other grappling movements. Your quadriceps and glutes are prime body movers during this exercise. These secondary moves help stabilize your body during these movements, that includes your adductors, inner thighs and calf muscles of your following leg.

7. Weighted Parallel Bar Dips

Dips lie among the best workouts that build chest, shoulders muscles, and tris from a different angle and range of motion compared to pushups and bench press. It’s an amazing workout for developing upper body and push strength. The parallel dips lack support that is forced for lifting the entire body’s weight.

The absolute strength of this workout is what a grappler needs. Your goal as a fighter is to develop enough absolute strength so you can fight and develop and improve your combat skill level and overall conditioning.

8. Barbell Lunge Variations

Benefits of practicing these exercises for the lower body are incredible. Unlike most strengthening exercises, barbell lunge variation is a unilateral workout. It targets one leg at a time. Many people have a weak and a stronger side, unilateralism works well for working exclusively on a side. This workout helps in developing better coordination and improves muscular imbalance in the limbs.

Doing this will also increase the hip flexor flexibility, it’s the key for grappling and throwing impactful kicks and punches. Performing lunges puts the body in a position where it isolates and activates the glutes that are used in most martial arts movements. The lunge helps in improving your core stability as well.

9. Barbell Bench Press

Bench press workouts build strength and power. If you want to train yourself with reliability and sheer strength then bench press should be your go-to option. Its technique is highly important, make sure you execute it correctly. Bench pressing induces a strain on your scapula, shoulder blades and your rotator cuff if done incorrectly.

Practicing it in the proper form is necessary. Make sure you keep both of your feet planted firmly on the ground, maintain a straight back and keep your shoulders and glutes flat all the time. Doing it that way will prevent injuries.

10. Barbell Military Press

Barbell military press, when performed correctly, works exceptionally well for developing strength in your upper body, core and trunk. You can also perform the seated and standing variation of them for developing MMA strength. It’s utterly important to perform this exercise in its proper form. You must keep your whole body straight and upright during this workout.

11. Weighted Pull-ups

Weighted pull-ups are done mainly for strengthening your upper body where your whole body is suspended by your arms. This workout increases your punching power. As you are performing them, your back and core start to strengthen themselves. It’s a key element for adding power to hips while you throw a punch. Grapplers and strikers also get to benefit from grip strength, which is developed by this workout. This exercise is extremely beneficial for grapplers.

12. Barbell Squat Variations

This variation of squats is extremely effective for developing upper and lower body strength. This variation of squats allows you to extend your hips and force a better technique. It’s easy on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. It also develops a good amount of flexibility.


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