How to Increase Your Grappling Conditioning

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Grapplers are always trying to get an edge over their competition on the mats, many times this entails long hours of strength and power training in order to give them gorilla like attributes but there is also another type of fitness that needs to be addressed in regards to grappling and that is conditioning.

While strength and power are incredibly important physical attributes to have, conditioning is the attribute that more than anything will help a grappler win in competition.

Let’s Define Grappling Conditioning

Grappling conditioning means to be physically ready for all the rigours of your sport in terms of overall fitness, cardio and stamina.

In essence this means that a practitioner is in the best absolute shape in order to compete in their sport, this is very different from strength and power.

A grappler who is better conditioned than the opponent can perform at a higher pace, breathe easier and perform for a longer period of time at maximum RPM’s and will find it easier to determine the pace of the fight which is an extremely powerful tactic in a grappling and MMA match.

Nearly every single BJJ, wrestling, judo, sambo and MMA champion was world class conditioned and this definitely was one of the major factors in their winning a championship.

Athletes need to understand there are 2 types of conditioning – one for cardio (endurance) and one for stamina. They both fall under grappling conditioning but the difference is cardio conditioning is all about being able to perform more efficiently for a longer time without losing breath and stamina conditioning which involves your muscles being able to work at peak capacity for the longest time possible (basically fighting off muscle fatigue).

Sport Specific Grappling Conditioning

A proper conditioning plan must be sport specific as well as task specific,, this simply means that you need to understand the needs of athletes in a sport as well as rules of the competition in order to build a proper conditioning plan.

This can translate to training for the weight class a competitor will be competing in, the time limits per round, the rules of the round (does the referee stop the match often to stand the competitors up or can they grapple on the ground for the entire match), the total matches in a day, the total days in a competition as well as total amount of rest period between rounds in a match.

Grappling Conditioning Exercises

The absolute most important thing a grappler can do when it comes to conditioning is to practice the sport, this means rolling and wrestling with your training partners with different goals each round.

There are many types of rounds that can be practiced such as long round rolling, short burst rounds where you go full gas, king of the ring rounds where the winner stays in, position specific rounds, rolling after physical exertion and more.

A grappler’s main conditioning will come from wrestling and rolling, it is as sport specific as it gets and it has the best bang for buck in batting proper grappling conditioning for competition.

Watch any world class wrestling room, BJJ school, sambo club and judo dojo and you will see these guys train hard, wrestle hard and roll hard. They work off of time and goals each rolling round as wella s they always focus their rolls around the rules and time limits of the competition they are entering. 

Auxiliary Conditioning Exercises

There are more conditioning exercises that can be added in order to gain proper conditioning and if added they will definitely make a difference. Some of these exercises are well known and some may seem new to you but rest assured, these will get you in serious shape.

Shadow Wrestling

Shadow wrestling is an amazing way to get into shape for the standing part of a wrestling match, you simply get into a proper stance and start to change stance, shoot (high crotch, low single, double leg etc…), sprawl, down block, scramble, run on spot, jump up tucking knees to chest and more. Always changing your levels and angles as well as always moving.

This is best to do after a wrestling practice and will only have positive conditioning benefits.

Running Stairs

Run your local high school stadium stairs up and down over and over until you cannot run anymore…then continue. If you want a little more conditioning benefit, carry some lighter dumbbells the entire time you are running stairs. Many NCAA Division 1 schools run the stairs of the entire stadium each practice and it’s for a good reason – because it works.

Grappling Anabolic Circuit Training

It is important to develop something called speed endurance, this is where you build both stamina and cardio at the same time, the best way is to do this with a specific type of circuit training that is more geared towards grapplers. Below is a great example of a proper circuit conditioning round for grappling

3 Rounds of:

1. 20 Pushups

  1. 10 Jump squats with knee tuck to chest
  2. 15 second sprint
  3. 10 pullups
  4. 20 seconds battle ropes
  5. 15 burpees
  6. 30 seconds jumping rope as fast as possible

Rest 1 minute and repeat.

As you can see, this is a full body effort, lots of moving around and every single muscle in the body is working as well as at the same time you are increasing overall cardio capacity.

Dopa Resistance Bands

Dopa (also known as Shgut in Russian) are an amazing method to build upper body stamina with all types of exercises that have crossover to wrestling and judo, it is an excellent way to condition your upper body for the clinch as well as throws and setups when you do not have a training partner available. Many national wrestling teams use Dopa for conditioning, it is one of the secrets of success for the Russian national wrestling team as it simply works and can be done anywhere.

Tabata Training

Developed by Professor Izumi Tabata for the Japanese Olympic speed skating team where the athletes had to perform 8 rounds of 20 seconds high intensity exercise with 10 seconds rest between. This type of training is perfect for increasing VO2 Max levels in athletes which means you will use your oxygen more efficiently and thus have a much higher cardiovascular capacity (better overall cardio). 

Simply pick a few exercises that require high effort as well as can be done one after another with ease and smash out your highest intensity for 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds, go 8 full cycles and you are done. It takes 4 minutes total and produces titan sized conditioning benefits. 

A sample Tabata workout:

20 seconds Burpees

10 seconds rest

20 seconds Jump squats with knee tuck

10 seconds rest

20 seconds double unders with a skipping rope

10 seconds rest

20 seconds clean and press with a weighted barbell

10 seconds rest

20 seconds battle ropes

10 seconds rest

20 seconds wrestling sprawl shoots

10 seconds rest

20 seconds assault bike

10 seconds rest

20 seconds medicine ball slam

10 seconds rest

BJJ Specific Conditioning

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a grappling art that can have longer matches depending on the competition. Due to this fact, it must be noted that Jiujiteiros may need for some longer conditioning sessions as matches have been known to go up to 30 minutes and even up to an hour.

The first method as mentioned prior is simply to have longer sparring rounds that mimic the time limit of the match, a great way to “hack” this is to have fresh training partners jump in frequently in the round until the time limit is done.

Although controversial, we recommend also running and swimming in order to increase your cardio levels in order to deal with longer time limits. Make sure to run/swim at a challenging pace where you know you will be getting the best cardio benefits possible.

It must also be known that should an athlete be training for a gi competition we advise that they train with either a gi or heavy sweater while getting closer to competition so they can get used to the heat and elevated body temperature that occurs when grappling with a gi.

If you are training for a no gi bjj tournament or submission wrestling tournament than make sure to add a lot of natural gymnastics at the end of your training sessions as it will increase your groundwork conditioning as it is specifically made for bjj athletes.

Final Thoughts

There are many different views on conditioning, the ones presented in this article are based upon many of Grapplezilla’s advisors who have competed at the highest levels of their respective sport. They are proven methods and not the “workout of the week” type of fitness marketing that sells gym memberships. The goal here is to get you ready for battle and give you the absolute best chances of being in better physical shape than the opponent.

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