All grappling sports require strength in order to better dominate the competition, arts such as wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling, judo and sambo can truly benefit from increased strength.
In this article we will focus on exercises that build strength for grappling, we will have other articles about conditioning and power training but for the moment this article is about creating raw strength.
It is vital to understand that grapplers need to be full spectrum athletes, this means that if a grappler is going through a strength training program that they do not neglect flexibility, cardio and technical training as when all of the above are put together, it creates an incredible athletic base.
Let’s Talk The Big Picture
Different grappling arts require different rep ranges and rest periods according to the rules of the match, that said there are some commonalities that each sport requires.
The first being overall power to weight ratio, this means that an athlete needs to be as powerful as they can be within the weight class they are competing in.
The second being overall strength BUT without impacting an athlete’s cardio and stamina. This is absolutely key as adding too much muscle can have negative bearing on an athlete’s cardio as bigger muscles need more blood delivered to them thus the heart works harder.
The third being that base strength will always come from practicing the grappling art itself. Moving oneself and others requires strength and thus develops a great strength base. Even without lifting any weights, grapplers will develop strength by just performing the art itself. It is important that athletes go through full practices and classes as the warmup and plyometric conditioning will effectively build the functional base that the sport requires.
The fourth being that all grappling sports require a great deal of posterior chain strength. Most of the moves and techniques are performed off a pulling motion. At the end of the day – push is for show, pull is for go, remember this saying as pushing muscles looks great in the mirror but when you need to dominate on the mats, your pulling muscles are the ones that will really matter.
The fifth being that all grappling styles will benefit from the athlete having a stronger grip, the grip is the connection between the 2 athletes, the stronger the connection the more control an athlete will have over the opponent.
Rep Range And Rest Time
Grappling sports are extremely dynamic, requiring cardio, strength and power. When training to be a stronger grappler you need to work within your optimal rep range, rest time and weight range in order to give you the best possible physical condition.
Certain exercises will need a lower rep range as they are pure strength and power building exercises, generally compound movements and should be taken advantage of to build raw strength and power. Other exercises are better suited to do high reps and in supersets as to build a type of cardio friendly strength, getting the muscle conditioned for longer activity periods.
Generally speaking the rep ranges are usually 3-5 reps for raw strength and power building movements with longer rest periods of 90 seconds to 5 minutes for rest and 15-25 reps for cardio friendly strength exercises with 15 seconds to 60 seconds for rest periods between sets and supersets.
The Exercises That Make a Difference
The Hip Thrust
The first exercise is the hip thrust which has many variations and is an excellent exercise for grapplers wanting to get stronger. There are many variations such as barbell, dumbbell, with resistance bands, no weights, single leg hip thrust and more.
The hip thrust has direct benefit to many moves in grappling such as the hip bump, the bridge and finishing strong off a takedown.
Try to keep in the 3 to 5 rep range here as this is an exercise that is more geared towards building total strength in the position and movement. You will be doing bridges in your grappling practices anyways so here you can focus on strength building.
An often looked at exercise for grappling is the reverse hyperextension. This is an absolutely amazing exercise for building lower back, glutes and hamstring strength as well as it can help you with keeping proper stance when standing as well as proper positioning when in the guard and passing. The reverse hyper is one of the exercises that is fundamental to the Russian national wrestling team and you should be doing it.
In regards to the rep range that you want to perform for the reverse hyper, try to get to 10 to 12 reps and if you can get to 20 reps then add some weight by placing a dumbbell between your ankles.
There are 2 specific squats that have great benefits for grapplers, one of them is the Zercher squat. The biomechanics of the Zercher squat will greatly increase your strength in the standup portion of your grappling game as it resembles someone with the same stance and weight positioning that you will encounter when trying to lift someone up. Another benefit of the Zercher is that it really attacks the core muscles in a way that is similar to wrestling.
Make sure that your technique is spot on as this squat takes time to master. The optimal rep range for Zercher squats is 3 to 5 reps.
If you feel any pain or discomfort during the Zercher, then an alternative is the goblet squat.
Goblet squats are the 2nd squat that have great benefit for all grapplers, they really attack the core and arms and you do not need a squat rack to practice them.
The fact that the goblet squat works out the core in a standing position is perfect for building all the auxiliary muscles that will help with defensive grappling and wrestling.
The optimal rep range is 3 – 5 reps with a heavy weight.
Single Arm Farmer’s Walk
If you want to develop a gorilla like grip as well as real world functional strength then this is the exercise for you. There are many different ways to do the single arm farmer’s walk, our personal favorite is to do it with a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell and walk to a certain distance, let’s say 20 meters and then switch hands and walk back, keep repeating for laps until you have reached 15 minutes. You will notice that your entire body and core has gone through a workout and more interesting is you will notice that many smaller stabilizer muscles have gotten a workout as well.
Hex Bar Deadlift
The Hex bar deadlift is an excellent variation of the number one strength builder as it is easier on the lower back as well as is an amazing deadlift for those with upper body joint injuries. The deadlift builds total body strength like no other and helps athletes with developing a strong base for when they escape the guard or go for a throw.
The optimal rep range for the Hex bar deadlift is 3 to 5 reps.
Turkish Get Up
If there was one full body exercise that was perfectly made for grappling, it would be the Turkish get up. The Turkish get up works the legs, core, arms and back as well as balance and coordination like no other exercise, it can be done anywhere and all you need is a kettlebell to perform the exercise. Another thing we love about the Turkish get up is the fact you can break the full movement into many smaller sequences and workout each sequence separately.
Getting up from a position is vital to building a good grappling defence and this is the best exercise to help you gain strength for those times you want to escape to your feet.
We recommend that you perform any of the turkish get up variations in sets of 3 to 5 reps per side.
The Original 3 – Pushups, Pullups and Dips
Pushups, pullups and dips have been a regular for different grappling arts, wrestling rooms, judo dojos, sambo clubs and BJJ schools all have athletes doing these 3 exercises and for good reason, because you build a great base strength by doing so.
The Pushup builds an excellent core and upper body strength, it has many different variations that are great for grappling – especially the dive bomber pushup and simply are one of the best strength building exercises for any grappler wanting to get stronger.
The Pullup is vital for throwing and guard play, it builds great grip and shoulder strength and will help grapplers keep opponents tight like an anaconda.
The Dip is an amazing exercise as it gives you strength to help you get your body away from the opponent and create room from all different positions. It also is excellent for developing strength for defending the takedown.
These 3 can be worked in supersets, we recommend a rep range of 15 to 25 reps per exercise, if you cannot reach that rep range don’t worry, build up gradually and you will get there in no time. A great benefit of combining these 3 is you keep your heart rate higher and always are in constant movement which somewhat resembles a grappling match heart rate wise.
Building strength for grappling is a great way to increase your performance on the mat, it also can prevent injuries and help you in your daily life.
Try to get these exercises in your strength training regimen a few times a week for best results, every athlete is different as well as their training schedule so it is up to you to find the perfect training schedule to fit your strength training needs.
Remember that strength training is secondary to actually learning your grappling art but if added correctly, will enhance your abilities effectively.