Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Five Training Tips for Fighters and Combat Athletes.

There are many different physical qualities required for combat athletes to achieve optimal levels of development for their sport. Strength and power training are one of the most underrated, but that is changing.

For a long time the idea was technique not strength was the most important factor for a fighter or grappler. Technique, without a doubt, is incredibly important for athletes from all sports, but why does it have to be one or the other?

It's like my good friend Brian said when we were discussing the importance of strength for fighters and combat athletes. He said, "If strength wasn't important then why are so many fighters getting popped for steroids?" Great point. Another observation I made recently was looking at the absolute results for the IBJJF Master World Championships. The majority of the winners were from the ultra heavyweight and super heavyweight divisions. Technique not being an issue the bigger and stronger athletes tend to prevail.

I have always felt that developing the highest levels of strength and power, while keeping the athlete in their respective weight class, was extremely important. Here are five training tips that I have found to be extremely beneficial for all of the combat athletes I've trained at EPTS across the board.

#1 - Jump
BJJ athlete Chris jumping onto a 30" box with an extra 50lbs of weight.
Jumping is one of the most important exercises and all athletes should do them. Jumping is absolute power. You are able to create and display a huge amount of force without the deceleration associated with the traditional barbell lifts. Use a wide variety of jumps done mostly onto a box. Doing box jumps minimizes the impact forces created when landing a vertical, broad, or depth jump. Depth jumps should be used in small cycles and only when the athlete is physically prepared to handle them. We do many different types of jumps from seated jumps, jumps from the knees, jumps with extra weights (holding weights, wearing weight vest, ankle weights, etc.), double leg jumps, single leg jumps, bounding, and many others. Most of our athletes do 40 jumps per workout twice per week. I got this from Louie Simmons' book, "Explosive Strength Development for Jumping" - a must read.

#2 - Sumo Deadlifts
9th grade 138 lb. wrestler Cam pulling 300 lbs in a rack deadlift.

Strong powerful hips are essential for fighters and grapplers and the sumo deadlift is one of the best exercises to build the hips, back, legs and grip. For strength we use the maximal effort method where we work up to a 1 rep max in a variation of the deadlift each week. For speed strength we use 50-60% of a max deadlift with an additional 25% band tension usually for 10 sets of 2 reps on our weekly dynamic effort training session. The deadlift variations we rotate through are rack deadlifts from 3 different positions all below the knee, deadlifts with the plates on 2" or 4" blocks, deficit deadlifts standing on 2" or 4" blocks, deadlifts in the belt squat, zercher lifts, and a variety of good mornings. 
BJJ athlete and 2017 IBJJF Master World Champion Chris pulling 295 lbs in the Zercher lift from the ground.
We use bands or chains attached to the bar for accommodating resistance always on speed work and sometimes on max effort work.
BJJ athlete Jesse doing speed deadlifts with 315 lbs and 220 lbs of band tension.

#3 - Don't Neglect the Lower Back, Neck or Grip

High school wrestler Cam doing neck bridges.
Louie Simmons' has said numerous times that football players and football strength coaches are afraid to train both ends of the spine - the neck and the low back. I recently spent a summer working with a Division 2 defensive lineman and confirmed this. His back shut down doing deadlifts with 50% his max and couldn't manage a set of 10 with 50% of his best squat in the reverse hyper. That is ridiculous, especially since a strong low back and hips are required to explode off the line.
BJJ athlete Noah doing 4-way neck exercises with the neck harness and light band.
A strong low back, neck and grip are critical for combat athletes. We use a ton of different exercises to build these areas and some of our favorites are the reverse hyper (developed and patented by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell), kettlebell swings, cleans and snatches (great for the torso, lower and upper back, grip and general physical preparation-GPP), neck bridges and neck harness lifts, grip strength tools like the Rolling Thunder revolving handle, hub lift, pinch gripping plates and hex dumbbell heads, and doing chin up and rowing exercises using a GI jacket which develops tremendous grip strength while training the lats and upper back.
MMA fighter Ryan doing reverse hypers.
The keys for these areas are high repetitions and isometric holds. The high reps encourage blood flow which for an area like the lower back is critical since it is comprised of a large amount of connective tissue which has a poor blood supply compared to muscle tissue. 
BJJ athlete Pete doing kettlebell cleans.
The high reps and isometrics build strength endurance which is critical in these areas as well. Spend some time developing these three typically overlooked areas of the body - it pays to be bulletproof!
BJJ athlete Chris doing gi pull ups.
I would strongly encourage you to read Louie Simmons' and John Quint's articles at and check out their podcasts as well, they dig much deeper into this topic.

#4 - Work in the Belt Squat 
BJJ athlete Braulio doing box squats in the belt squat machine.
The belt squat is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment I have ever used. For combat athletes it allows for a huge amount of exercise variety and training volume. By walking in the belt squat it can be used for conditioning as well. Squatting in the belt squat is great because it allows you to execute a squat without the compressive loading on the spine associated with the barbell squat. Not having the barbell on the back keeps a lot of stress off the shoulders as well. 
BJJ athlete Jesse doing step ups while walking in the belt squat.
The belt squat also tractions the spine some as the weight is loaded onto the hips with a belt. In addition to squats a wide variety of exercises can be performed. 
MMA fighter Ryan doing an isometric hold with the Bandbell Bar while walking in the belt squat.
You can do kettlebell exercises in the belt squat, deadlifts in the belt squat, all varieties of loaded carries and odd object lifts, medicine ball work, walking, shadow boxing, pummeling drills, and the list goes on and on. Walking drills are typically done for timed sets - usually between 1:00 and up to 5:00 or longer. One of our grapplers, Chris, made 8:00 of continuous walking with 205 lbs of weight and 70 lbs of band tension while doing various lifts, carries and isometric exercises! You are only limited by your creativity. 
BJJ athlete Jesse working an isometric choking exercise while walking in the belt squat.
Had it not been for making a trip to Columbus, Ohio to learn from Louie Simmons and Tom Barry at Westside Barbell I would have never realized the true value of this piece of equipment.
MMA fighter Ryan shadow boxing in the belt squat.
#5 - Club Swinging for Shoulder Strength and Health
BJJ athlete Chris performing shoulder strength and health exercises with Indian clubs.
Club swinging as a form of exercise is hundreds of years old but is still incredibly beneficial today. By swinging light and heavy clubs in various patterns you are able to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder in a circular pattern unlike with traditional presses and raises. In addition the club provides a bit of traction on the shoulder joint during various swing exercises. 
BJJ athlete Noah doing mobility work with Indian clubs.
In fighting and grappling the shoulders take a beating and club swinging is one of the best methods of training I have found for strength and restoration.

There are many qualities that need to be developed for a combat athlete's physical preparedness including flexibility, mobility, aerobic and anaerobic energy systems development, strength, speed, power, endurance, etc. These strength and power exercises are not a be all end all by any means. However, they are some of the exercises I have found to have a huge impact for all of the fighters and grapplers I have worked with past and present.

Stay Strong and Healthy!


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