5 Essential Strength & Conditioning Principles For Grapplers

5 Essential Strength & Conditioning Principles For Grapplers


by Matt D’Aquino, a multiple Australian and Oceania Champion and a 2008 Beijing Judo Olympian. He has been studying Judo for over 23 years. He is a 3rd Degree Black belt in Judo and a black belt in BJJ. 

As a strength and conditioning coach there are a number of principles that underpin each and every program I write. It doesn’t matter whether I am writing a kettlebell program, bodybuilding program or a program for athletes each of my programs will contain these five principles.

Principle #1 More pulling movements than pushing

I tend to schedule more pulling movements than pushing movements. This is due to the fact that 90% of the population uses a computer each and everyday and in doing so, have tight chest and shoulders. This tightness can often give you that hunched over look. In my programs I tend to schedule two pulling movements to every one pushing movement. So if I program in a three sets of bench press, I will also program in two pulling movements such as three sets of deadlifts and three sets of chin ups.

Sometimes if I schedule in 3 sets of a pushing movement I may counteract that with 6 sets of a pulling movement. For example if the athlete does 3 sets of bench press I may prescribe 6 sets of chin ups to help balance out any imbalances in the body.

Pulling movements are also super important for us Judoka, as the stronger you pulling movement, the stronger your kuzushi will become.

Principle #2 Work on weaknesses


Each and every one of us have weaknesses. These weaknesses might include our cardio, max strength, flexibility, agility, mobility, endurance, speed, power, leg strength, forearm strength and the list goes on. As athletes it is important to KNOW our weaknesses and work on them. There is no point being able to bench press 160kgs if you cannot last a four minute roll in your BJJ class. There are times when you need to cut a strength session and replace it with a cardio session and other times when you need to cut a cardio session and replace it with a yoga or Pilates class.

As a strength and conditioning coach I look over peoples strength and weaknesses and work out what needs to be done to make these weaknesses become not so weak.

For example if your grip strength weak? Then do something to fix it!

Are you slow? Then start some sprints to develop your speed!

Principle #3 Keep it simple

I try to make my programs as simple as possible. I use simple movements with simple pieces of equipment. There is nothing worse than seeing an athlete not enjoying their program because it is too complex. I remember when I was an athlete my strength and conditioning coach would make me stand on one leg and perform a single arm shoulder press while having a power band around my supporting leg to rotate my hips. The movement was way to complex and the benefits were fairly minimal. I also hated doing it when I could have performed a simpler movement that got me the same, if not better results.

Judo is complex enough as it is, try to keep your strength and conditioning program as simple as possible!


Principle #4 Deadlifts, squat, overhead press

I am a firm believer that all of your strength programs should include variations of the squat, deadlift and overhead press. These three movements are fundamental movements needed to build overall strength, stability and power.

Variations of the squat includes:

Front squats
Back squats
Zercher squats
Sandbag squats
Variations of the deadlift includes:

suitcase deadlifts
dumbbell deadlifts
partial deadlifts
depth deadlifts
Variations of the overhead press includes:

push press
shoulder press
seesaw press
push jerks


Principle #5 Schedule Rest days

As athletes you MUST schedule in rest days. If you don’t schedule in rest days then you will probably get overtrained and sick. I urge you to pencil in your rest days BEFORE writing your program.

These are the five principles that underpin all of my programs and I encourage you to look over your program and see if my principles are seen in your program.

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