1. Go easy on the crunches. Stir the pot instead.
A large amount of BJJ players experience back pain and doing a large amount of crunches or sit-ups may not be helpful. Research from Dr. Stu McGill, professor of Spine biomechanics and consultant to many MMA and BJJ champions, has identified the contributing factors of back pain.
He showed that the spine is like a metal coat hanger and the more flexion and extension bends in a spine, the greater the risk for back pain and disc herniation. Reduce repetitive flexion cycles by keeping a neutral spine and perform the “Stir the pot” exercise. More about this in my next article.
2. Do Bear crawls
Bear crawls are a highly underrated and underperformed move which should be a staple in every grappler’s training plan. It works the essential core stability in the quadruped position that grappler’s tend to be in. Try out the Reverse bear crawl for a good challenge.
3. Maintain the squat, train the deadlift
Everyone should be able to squat, but that doesn’t mean you should train it. A squat demonstrates proper body communication and allows for fluid level change (like taking a shot or performing a throw). But big, thick legs make guard positions and triangles very difficult and the mass gain from squatting makes it hard to maintain weight classes.
The Deadlift offers lower body AND upperbody strength, especially working on the BJJ critical muscles of grip and upper back strength. So you should be able to perform a bodyweight squat on command, but put the plates on the bar for the deadlift.
4. Don’t do long slow distance runs. Opt for intervals instead.
Grappling matches last only 5 minutes. Yet I see people jogging for hours. After a certain point, this doesn’t transfer well over to grappling because it uses a different energy system meant for super long sustained endurance.
Once you get a heart rate around 60 beats per minute, try doing interval work with short periods of high intensity exercise followed by periods of rest or light to moderate activity. Check out http://tabatatraining.org/ for more info and use the online tabata timer. Never gas again.
5. Keep the volume low. Train before your Skill work
Many martial arts make the mistake of doing high volume workouts that make you sore for days and interfere with skill work. Skill work is the MOST important thing and anything that steals from that is detrimental to you as a martial artist.
Instead, lower the reps and sets and increase the intensity (raise the weight). Training for strength has the greatest carry over to multiple attributes, especially if you haven’t made a habit of it.
Perform your Strength workouts before your skill or conditioning sessions so you are fresh to fully recruit all muscles. Any conditioning or high rep stuff is best on non-skill days, after skill sessions or 4-5 hours before (in that order).
6. Master the ground and learn to use your hips.
Many athletic attributes (strength, speed, power) are specific to the position you train them in. Learn to tumble, crawl, push, pull, twist and roll from the ground. Train moves like the hip lift or glute bridge so gain awareness and strength in the hips. Progress to single leg versions for a challenge.
For more ground-based training, check out organizations and methods like:
Lastly, follow the Grappler’s Strength and Conditioning Plan. There’s some great guidelines laid out by GrapplersPlanet’s Ted Ryce:
David Wu, PTS, FMS is a Strength Coach and Martial Artist and out of Waterloo & Toronto. He’s fed up with the current standard of health professional and intends to change it from the inside out.
David specializes in post-rehab training by helping people move better pain-free and has a relentless passion for solving the performance/health puzzle.