I started doing NoGi grappling training at Ultimate Athletics in Ithaca, N.Y., about two months ago. Grappling training is all about getting the best position against your opponent and finding ways to get him to submit through intricate maneuvers.
Just the other day I was talking to my coach after a practice and he said two things that stuck:
1. "You might be stronger than the other guy but you shouldn't fight like you are."
It made sense. Against opponents with the same skill level, I didn't really have a hard time getting them to tap because I was much stronger. However, when I went against skilled fighters who were weaker and at least 20 pounds lighter than me, I had no choice but to tap out because they were far more technically sound. In fact, when I tried to get into positions that would allow me to use my strength, it actually put me at a disadvantage.
After being put in three consecutive arm bars by a guy much lighter and weaker than me, I agreed with my coach. We spoke about conditioning as well. He said, "The best way to condition yourself for grappling is to do it live."
If you haven't done grappling training before, three rounds at three minutes each will wear you out. After two months, I can't say it's gotten much easier.
The conversation moved to strength training. Even though we agreed I shouldn't rely on my strength alone to win fights, I shouldn't ignore it either. Which brings me to his second point:
2. "If these guys (and girls) got stronger, they would get better."
I've seen this in action. I can beat people with the same skill level because of my strength, and I can hold my own against people who are slightly more skilled because of my strength. Since I started grappling, I've been fiddling around with my own training to help me out. I've noticed that hip, core and isometric biceps and grip strength are crucial.
That said, here are three of my favorite ground-based exercises for grappling training along with three bonus exercises to help with isometric biceps and grip strength.
The first exercise is the Turkish Get Up. This one has quite a few intricate steps, so it takes a little while to get it down. But this exercise trains just about everything—the trunk muscles are working, shoulder stability is being trained and the hips are being worked as well.
I touch on all of the steps in the video below:
The next exercise is the Weighted Glute Bridge. This is one of my favorites for developing glute strength. I've found there are times when I am grappling with someone and I can bridge and roll them off me if they don't have a steady base.
This final ground-based video is something I stole, then modified, from strength and conditioning coach Tony Gentilcore. This exercise hits everything. You start lying down with your knees bent, then raise your hands up, lift your hips and roll to the opposite side.
For a bonus, I've added three exercises that work on isometric biceps strength. There have been times when my forearms and biceps have been screaming at me when training—times when they just stopped working. My coach told me that however tired my arms are, the other guy's are probably just as tired. So it ends up becoming a game of willpower.
Willpower is great, but extra strength and endurance never hurt anyone.
The first one is Chin-Ups for 10 reps (video started late; I swear I did 10) followed by a 30-second hold. Try this three times. First hold is 30 seconds, second hold is 25 seconds, and the final hold is 20 seconds.
The next one requires a TRX or rings. Hold the handles in a bear-hug position. Twenty to 30 seconds on each arm is good.
The last exercise is a loaded carry with your arms in front of your body, elbows flexed and palms facing in to get the most biceps work.
I think these six exercises translate quite well to the grappling part of mixed martial arts. That being said, I don't believe all training should be totally specific to the sport. Remember, all other things being equal, the stronger athlete is going to win, so it's important to use this training in conjunction with exercises like heavy Squats, Deadlifts, Rows and Presses to really build overall body strength.
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