“Strength fixes everything.” -Mark Reifkind
Short intro – I started to work with some of the best judokas in Hungary about five years ago, and somehow it was logical I would end up training ground fighting. I joined Carlson Gracie Team Hungary three years ago, and today I mainly focus on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, primarily in gi. For the last two years I have worked with several CGTH black belts as a strength trainer and as a blue belt BJJ practitioner. I say I am a strength trainer, not strength and conditioning, for a reason. You will figure out why soon.
Now, if you are an SFG instructor and are dreaming about learning from the best BJJ fighters, you already have the best currency in your hand – the StrongFirst knowledge. How do I know? I use this knowledge to work with the best BJJ fighters in Hungary. We all became better. They became stronger, and I was able to learn directly from black belts which is not something easy to do in the BJJ community.
How strong should a BJJ practitioner be? Well, first of all, they should be entry level strong. What I always tell the guys is that they don’t have to be SFG-standard strong, but they have to be strong enough to dominate on the tatami, and feel confident, not only because of their skills, but because they can be sure they are more likely stronger than the other guy. Now I’ve heard BJJ is only technical; there is no need to be strong. I am not arguing with black belts, but I know, in fact, from experience when skill levels are fairly similar, the extra strength somehow seems desirable.
First, as I turn to my fellow BJJ practitioners, I want to tell you something important. BJJ is a skill, and strength is a skill too. The more you practice; the better you become. Period. The better you practice; the closer you get to perfection. No, I am not saying you will ever reach perfection either in BJJ or strength training, but every single day we must take one step closer. Let me stop here for a second. If you are hoping I will give you sets/reps schemes or a 12 week program, I have some news for you. Strength training is an art, a philosophy, and just like BJJ, it can’t be squeezed in to a 12 week program. I will give you principles, because principles can do a lot more than a program for you. If you need a program, turn to any of my StrongFirst brothers or sisters for more help; they are all awesome.
So, the more you practice, the better you become. But you can’t practice every single day, every training day with the same intensity. If you do, the price you will pay after even a short period of time is just not something you will like. In my case, I train BJJ 5-6 times a week, and I have my own principles how I train. I train with the black and brown belts one or twice a week. I don’t fight with them; it makes no sense. These trainings are helping me to find my way and to see what is good and what is not so good for me. I also roll 1-2 days with purple and higher blue belts. These trainings are not easy at all, normally four to five 10 minutes rounds, and the intensity is extremely high. One to two days I train with lower white belts, even training a few guys. These are my easy days, where even if we fight, I don’t really use more than 50% max effort. So, just as in strength training, I have my easy, medium and hard days along with training focusing more on techniques or on fighting skills. When I teach white belts, that helps me a lot too as I learn just as much as they do through their questions. Now, my StrongFirst friends may start to see an analogy between BJJ and strength training. Cool. But how do you fit the actual strength training into an already tight schedule?
Rule number 1 – When your sport is as complex as BJJ, your strength training must be as simple as possible. In fact, your strength training should be simple anyway. No, I didn’t say easy, but simple means I don’t have to worry as a coach too much if the guys learned the techniques well enough which they did. Their training looks boring on paper, but it is challenging in real life. If they need more excitement, they roll. Believe me, that is crazy enough.
Rule number 2 – BJJ is quite demanding on the body, and keeps the practitioners in constant flexion. You make turns and rolls; you pull and you get pulled; you push and you get pushed, and you pull and push at the same time, quite often, while you opponent does the same. So, against the all the flexion, we do a bunch of extension, and we neutralize the rotation with anti-rotation exercises.
Rule number 3 – When you train BJJ more than 2 times a week, you have no business with cardio, strength endurance, or any type of crazy interval program. If you have no strength, what will you endure? (Pavel). True that. Instead of adding more risk factors to your life, let’s work on your body armor. Strength is some of the best armor, unless you can combine it with some extra muscle. But in BJJ, many times weight can be an issue. What you need is simple, effective strength training, neutralizing all the negative adaptations you might build while fighting on the tatami.
Rule number 4 – You can have many variables when you work on your strength, but changing exercises often is the poorest choice. Again, many trainers use exercises as a tool to entertain clients. BJJ is already very entertaining. You need an effective, low-risk, simple strength program, based on principles, targeting movements versus muscles.
Rule number 5 – Movements we should train to support rule number 3 above: deadlift, one-hand floor or bench press, single leg deadlift variations, kettlebell two hand swing, pull ups, and some dips.
Rule number 6 – Movements you should practice to maintain quality movement: goblet squat, kettlebell front squat, Turkish get-up, partial get-up, pallof press, single leg deadlift variations, one hand swings, one hand rows, and lunging presses.
Rule number 7 – Strength moves should be 2-3 exercises maximum, and normally a total of 9-12 total reps, somewhere in 75-90% of the 1RM. How many sets? Well, it takes normally 3-4 sets to accomplish the given number, in good quality movements, where all repetitions are challenging but not hard, without going to failure at all. Oh yes, the above principles are good for all the listed exercises, except heavy swings. Heavy swings are a different category. Normally I use 5×5 or 10×5 of a very heavy swing. No cardio here.
Rule number 8 – Practice moves should be 2-3 exercises, and normally total 18-25 repetitions, mainly with a 60%-80% of 1RM. Again, all reps must be good quality.
Give this program a try with your students. This program works. Guaranteed.
Article by Peter Lakatos, Master SFG Instructor and creator of Primal Move
Rolling Strong combines scientific exercises and routines specifically geared towards grappling.
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