Jiu-Jitsu is an amazing art and one of the best self-defense systems ever created. The techniques were developed to give smaller individuals an edge over larger opponents. This is done by creating leverage and focusing force on individual joints. The simplest way to explain this concept is the armbar. An armbar can be created in many ways, but the main concept is to extend the arm away from the body, control the shoulder with your legs, control the wrist with your arms, and focus the pressure on the back of the elbow by extended your hips into the joint. In this example you're plotting your deadlifting power against their bicep curling power. It is easy to see how a small person could easily inflict pain on a much larger opponent.
But what about completion when facing someone with similar weight and a similar skill set? Of course you can easily overpower an extended limb, but it is much more difficult to achieve when the opponent can intelligently defend themselves. This is where conditioning can mean the difference between a win and a lesson. The exercises below will directly translate into the power, strength, and endurance needed to assist the technique from the takedown to the win.
Deadlift - Why deadlifts? Because it works EVERYTHING! Full body power, strength, endurance, neuromuscular facilitation, cardiovascular, and pure ass-kicking, no stop in sight grit. (Want to have a psychedelic experience without pharmaceuticals, do 20 high rep sets and enjoy the ride.) It’s obvious why this is a great exercise for BJJ, but how does it directly translate? It strengthens the body as a whole, while applying force to the major movers, as well as secondary and stabilizers. DLs are used to build the midsection for posture, exploding from the ground, and guard control. It also focuses on grip, which is important in Gi and nogi alike, to help build endurance for grips thoughout the full extent of the match.
Crawl - Mobility is the most important factor in Jiu-Jitsu. Submissions can be modified in many different ways to work for someone with a lack of Mobility, but why not become more mobile to open up those missed opportunities? If someone has a complete understanding of a triangle choke from every position and situation possible, but cannot move their hips independently, then the submission fails. The best solution to this problem is to drill on Mobility and flexibility as often, if not more often, than the technique itself. When performing a triangle, the body must move as five synchronized units. The trunk, two arms, and two legs moving at the same time, but in radically different patterns and opposite directions. If one unit is slightly off, then an instant correction must be made for completion. Also taking into account for different body types and reactions near the starting point of a submission, it is almost impossible to pull off a perfect submission. Crawls, or animal training as some refer to it, also increase proprioception which is the mental capacity of knowing where your limbs are and being able move them independently to where they need to be without visual cues. This is also known as mindfulness among Yogis. This is why gymnasts and break dancers move through the ranks very quickly in the ground game. They have already mastered this skill through their respective sports.
Front Loaded Squat - This movement covers any squat with the weight loaded in front of or over top of the body. While the back squat is great for hypertrophy and strength gains, the front squat focuses on real world strength. It also helps to build anti-rotational strength for the entire mid-section and helps to work the quadriceps, calves, and hip extenders for pushing power making it an excellent exercise for take downs and pummel drills, or pushing and moving an opponent off balance. This helps everything from a clinch battle, pushing back up from the knees, to staying up when someone throws a flying sub or guard pull. When exercises are performed overhead, the shoulders are included in the anti-rotation gain and the load on the mid-section is increased due to the increase of the length of the lever.
Loaded Carries - The unsung hero within the sports performance world. Everyone does them, but very few give them the credit they deserve. This exercise works all muscles of the body in a steady state to increase work capacity proportionally and increases neuromuscular facilitation. This will not only increase endurance, but also speed and balance. The constant resistance will also quickly pack on the muscle (ever seen a scrawny lumberjack?). Though there are many ways of doing this, the most common are farmer walks with dumbbells and training with a weight vest. The weight vest is a great way to train for endurance, but does nothing for grip strength. Be sure to use many different modalities with loaded carries to train the body to react positivity no matter where the added weight or pressure may be.
Row - "Keep your arms in!" This is a common phrase shouted when someone is in danger of getting a "lesson." An outstretched arm is an easy target as stated at the beginning. The easiest way to get out of an armbar is to not get in one, and the easiest way to not get in one is to keep the elbows tucked in. Whether pulling the elbows to the side of the ribs or tight to the chest, this is a row. In turn, the row is also used to complete an armbar, as well as millions of other submissions, by "rowing" the outstretched arm or limb into your control. The row is also used on a constant basis when training in the Gi. Whether its collar, sleeve, cuff, or even low lapel, or any of the thousands of grabs, control starts and stops within inches of your body. No matter how tight a grip is, there is very little control if it is outstretched. The control comes when the grip is rowed into your body and the elbow is kept tight to the ribs.
While some of these exercises are traditional weight training, it is always best to mix up the modalities and equipment. Jiu-Jitsu is a fluid art that forces one to adapt to weird and uncomfortable positions. This is why it is best to change the line of pull and modify the lifting techniques. Instead of constantly doing barbell bent over rows, swap out the barbell for a kettlebell for single arm rows. Also work in some upright row and seated row for more variation. The reps, sets, and pace can also be adjusted to meet any program for individual fitness goals. All of these exercises can be modified for insane strength gains that easily translate into any grappling art.
While these are the best exercises for Jiu-Jitsu, that's not too say that other exercises are useless. The bicep curls is commonly thought of as the most useless ego boosting exercise ever created. What about a rear naked choke? I would rather have a small fleshy arm in my jugular than a softball size chunk of stone.
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