Guest post by Will Safford, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach who trains under Andre Galvao in San Diego, CA. He received is purple belt in December of 2013 and competes occasionally in the heavyweight division. Will specializes in mobility training, injury prevention, and kettlebell strength and conditioning. Visit his website at www.ironwillathletics.com and check out his new e-book about Strength Training for BJJ:Strength Without Size.
Certain jiu jitsu styles tend to lend them selves to different body and personality types. Long, lanky players are often naturally inclined to play guard, using their extra leverage and physical attributes to unbalance or trap their opponents from bottom.
Compact, aggressive wrestler types typically choose to pass the guard, and prefer to dominate from the top position. Whatever your genetics may be, you will inevitably find yourself in both situations on the mat. Regardless if you like to pull or pass, this article will provide some good exercises to improve your passing, or continue your reign on top.
Good passers have a unique blend of balance, speed, strength-endurance, mobility, stamina, and mental toughness. How often have you found yourself completely gassed from continuous passing efforts, that when you finally reach side control, you opt to forgo the immediate attack in exchange for some much needed rest.
Or you unwillingly concede a sweep because that pesky guard player frustrated you long enough to capitalize on your moment of mental lapse.
Guard passing is a skill, but often when opposing skill sets are matched, the opponent with superior physical and mental conditioning will prevail.
The following exercises can be split up and added individually on separate training days to the end of your workout as a finisher, or they can be combined into a tough circuit to bring your passing to the next level.
Many of the modern guards today force the passer to attack from their feet. Passers often find themselves in a crouched, athletic position, and many times only on one foot. Balance is crucial in these moments and the single-leg deadlift (SLDL) is one of the best ways to get strong and confident in this position.
When executed properly, this exercise can be used to improve a variety of qualities. One can opt for heavy barbell or kettlebell SLDLs with low reps to develop serious strength in the posterior chain. A significant contribution will be produced from the core and hip muscles when on one leg. This is particularly evident when using only one weight in the opposite hand of the leg doing the work (see video.)
Rep sets of 8-20 using moderately weighted kettlebells or dumbells will develop strength-endurance (the ability to maintain strength over time) and will serve the passing player well.
Rep sets over 20 using low weight or bodyweight are excellent to build endurance and stability in the ankle, knee, and hip, lessening the risk of injury to these areas.
The Hindu squat is an ancient exercise that has lasted the test of time and understandably so. Although this exercise targets the quads, when done properly and for higher repetitions, it quickly becomes a fully body exercise with benefits to the hips, core, shoulders, back, heart, lungs, and the frequently neglected calves.
The movement is performed without weight, for high repetitions, often above 100 for advanced athletes. When performed with the feet together and each repetition to maximum depth, one’s balance, cardio capacity, and mental toughness are seriously challenged.
The Hindu squat also uniquely develops the lower quadriceps muscle above the knee. This gives stability and strength to this area, which help to prevent future injury.
Beginners should perform sets of 20 reps, while advanced athletes should aim for 50-100 reps per set. It is also important to incorporate the arms in the movement, as they help to maintain balance and develop flow. This is absolutely necessary for those grueling marathon sets over 100. Passing from the standing position won’t compare after a few long sets of Hindu squats.
Kettlebells are quickly becoming a staple of combat fitness and for good reason. The swing, which is best performed with a kettlebell, is an excellent option to develop strength-endurance, power, and stamina.
Swings can be performed a variety of ways and with varying loads. The standard two-handed kettlebell swing, performed with heavy weight (above 24kg for men) and moderate reps (8-12), can work wonders developing an athlete’s explosiveness and power through the hips.
Swings done with moderate weight and higher reps (15-50) develop the strength-endurance of an athlete’s gluteus muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, lower back, and grip. Higher rep sets will also challenge and improve the cardiorespiratory system and an athlete’s mental toughness.
When special attention is put on maximal tension through the upward and “top” positions of the swing, followed quickly by maximal relaxation on the downward and “bottom” positions of the swing, one can develop the useful ability to manage their energy. This is akin to when a karate master is completely loose until the very last second when a punch is thrown, and maximal power and tension is transferred at the moment of contact. Managing energy in this way will help an athlete to become more efficient on the mat, more deliberate in their attacks, and thus, more successful in their game.
The Cossack squat is a unique squat variation that has a list of benefits for the passing grappler. First, this movement can be used as a warm-up or mobility drill to stretch the adductors, hamstrings, and hip muscles, and mobilize the hips, knees, and ankles.
If it is difficult to achieve the bottom position of the Cossack squat, then it’s best to improve one’s mobility and continue with bodyweight alone before adding a load. When weight is added, this exercise becomes a dynamic lower body exercise that works the musculature of the inner and upper leg in a way that very few exercises do.
In addition to developing functional strength in these areas, the Cossack squat is a single leg exercise that develops balance and coordination in the frontal plane (laterally or side-to-side). Frequently, while strength training, we work exercises straight-ahead, such as, forward lunges, deadlifts, and squats.
It is important to work all planes of motion, as Jiu Jitsu is a dynamic martial art performed not just back and forth, but side to side, with twisting and turning. Training in this way, as the Cossack squat does, will help to maintain balance and provide the necessary mobility when in awkward positions like X-guard, De La Riva, and Reverse De La Riva.
The Cossack squat is a great option for any top player and should be done at bodyweight until the movement is mastered. When stability and fluidity of movement are developed, weight can be added progressively.
As always, technique is king and should be the focus of your training. However, supplemental exercises designed to help your BJJ game can further develop some of the qualities needed to perform at a high level. If you’re looking to improve your passing game, try some of the aforementioned exercises in your next training session.
SAMPLE WORKOUT WITH FINISHER:
Warm Up: Cossack Squats
Workout: Single Leg Dead Lift (heavy)
Finisher: 2 Sets of 50 Hindu Squats
2 Sets of 50 KB Swings
Do each exercise for 40 seconds with 15 seconds of rest between exercises, and 90 seconds of rest between each round.
Use bodyweight for the Cossack and Hindu squats. Try moderate loads for the SLDL and Swing.
Cossack Squat (alternating sides for 40 sec)
Single Leg Dead Lift (40 sec per leg)