Improve Grip Strength for BJJ
In the sport of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, there is a ton of grip work. Athletes who can get into a good position offensively or defensively sitting in the guard but struggle with holding onto different positions and moves because of a weak grip, hands fatiguing, lack of feeling strong or explosive in grip work can lead to serious problems in the mat. The athletes end up in precarious positions because they can’t hold onto levers, gi, or their own wrists. Grip strength is necessary to up the grappling game to get to the next level.
Dealing with BJJ, we need to think about all the different grips. Having all these grips in mind, we need to train them all, in some capacity, within the weight room. This leads us into our first exercise
5. Monkey Grip Pull-Ups
Thinking about doing monkey grip pull-ups we need to consider long duration and explosive work. What we like to do with our athletes is have them hang there with fully lengthened lats. We do this because there are points in a match where athletes are hanging in a position for multiple seconds and then have to explode and pull tight, taking advantage of that little glimpse of opportunity the opponent is giving. That’s why in this movement we will train by having the athlete hang for four or five seconds and then explode up and get the sternum to the bar.
Another way we may combat this movement is to have athletes do four or five explosive sets of three to five reps, rest thirty seconds, followed by two sets of ten to fifteen reps to target the lats and grip.
We need to think about what goes into our grip. Training the brachioradialis is also going to help us improve the strength endurance of the brachialis and our biceps. A lot of grip work is going to involve the lats, biceps, and forearms. It isn’t just isolating the brachioradialis and pronator terrace and the rest of the forearm, but also focusing on what happens with the rest of the muscles coordinating. We need to focus on how the forearm can recruit with the biceps and the lats.
4. Robe Climb
At Garage Strength, we love to use the rope climb from different perspectives. We have two ropes with a two-inch diameter. There is a reason behind this size. When grappling, when in BJJ, almost all the work being done is around a two-inch lever. Grasping the wrist or neck almost always comes with an open palm. The thumb will be either under or over typically. This means we got to train through various positions with a thicker rope. This is where the rope climb comes into play.
The rope climb forces the athlete to accelerate through the entire pull. Often times it is hard to train the lats to accelerate; they’re a little slower twitch. When talking grip work, we have to grab explosively when on the rope. It has to be a quick grab. The rope climb forces coordination between the hand strength, forearm, biceps, lats, and recruit from the gut to stabilize. Rope climbs transfer really well to the mat because they teach the body how to brace in the trunk. Bracing in the trunk helps athletes accelerate even faster.
We will use rope climbs on one rope. We will also do an advance rope climb we call Donkey Kongs. Donkey Kongs require athletes to coordinate with two different ropes. This is really challenging and dramatically increases grip strength.
The next step from there is training rope climbs with the thumb-over grip. Start with just thumb over rope pull-ups. Over time, athletes will develop the thumb over grip strength to climb the rope.
3. Roller With Thumb Change
This is a great way to finish a workout. In BJJ there is a ton of isometric work over long durations of times. Athletes have to hold on as long as they possibly can. This is where the forearm roller comes into play.
At Garage Strength, we have two different forearm rollers: one is two inches thick and the other is two and three-quarters of an inch. This goes to training with different body parts. It relates to an ankle, a wrist, an upper arm, a neck, or whatever it might be. Regardless, we develop a wider grip functionality.
On top of that, we like to look at where the rope is on the forearm roller (inside or outside?). We want to think about how we are lowering the weight on the eccentric. We want to think about if the thumb is under, over, or not involved. The thought needs to be how it transfers onto the mat. We need to think about how each finger is contributing to the grip strength. We need to think about the forearm and the bicep.
The brachialis, the underbelly of the bicep, along with the brachioradialis, which is primarily responsible for supination; so, if the wrist is turning and needs to rotate on the mat, the forearm roller really comes into play. The real crazy part is we will have athletes do the forearm roller for durations of time. For instance, we will have athletes’ forearm roll for five minutes to drastically improve their grip.
2. Towel Hangs
This is a big help for BJJ athletes who compete in Gi. With that being said, we recommend this movement for people who compete in no-Gi as well. It will improve finger strength and grip strength tremendously.
We recommend doing towel hangs on some leg days and on plyometric days. On top of that, do towel hangs when doing other grip work. Wrap towels over a pull-up bar and hang with various grips.
A big key is to time how long the athlete is hanging. The first couple of days the length of hanging is going to be horrible, maybe twenty seconds. However, the improvement will happen very quickly. Within two weeks athletes may be hanging for in excess of a minute. This will carry over very well to manipulating opponents because grabbing the gi and holding on longer will become more secure over a longer duration of time.
Do this movement two to three days a week. If really ambitious, go ahead and do trunk work while hanging from the towels: knee raises, leg raises, side-to-side knee raises, and other variations.
1. Plate Flips
This movement teaches explosiveness, coordination, the forearm to recruit in conjunction with the biceps and lats, and, on top of that, it is a movement with varied grip positions. We like to perform this movement with plates from ten kilos to twenty-five kilos.
The weight is one thing. The need for reps in varied grip positions is tantamount. Ten-kilo plate flips are necessary. Now, if strong and explosive enough to do twenty-five-kilo plate flips, go ahead and do that for three to four sets and then drop down and do one to two sets for a minute plus with the ten-kilo plate to build explosive endurance.
This requires a ton of coordination. It requires a ton of hand-eye coordination. It requires explosiveness. We can also add in some twists. For instance, we can do a few flips and then go ahead and do some rows, shoulder raises, or drag curls before transferring back into plate flips. It is a great way to train that explosive grappling grip.
It is important to recognize that grip is not just about holding on and grabbing but also about being explosive and putting pressure on an opponent rapidly.
A lot of guys in BJJ can really up their game by training grip in the weight room. Utilize all these movements to focus on grip work to improve mat strength for offensive and defensive skill set improvement.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.