Lower Body Strength Training for BJJ
It has been our experience that a lot of grapplers in BJJ do not want to go in the weight room. They don’t want to spend time doing different lifts. They’re concerned that if they do leg lifts they will get too big and not be able to execute as well as they want to out on the mat. They are concerned about getting bulky, slow, and finding it hinders their performance in tournaments or participating in MMA. However, if athletes train properly with a proper periodization system, it is perfectly fine.
So getting into the weight room two to three days a week along with training on the mat five to six days a week, it will be all good. The program will function synergistically so that everything this is being done on the mat and the work in the weight room to improve leg strength which will enhance athletes’ overall game.
1. Split Squat With Kettlebells
The split squat is performed in a nice unilateral position with the kettlebells being held in the hands like a farmer’s carry. One leg is positioned in front of the torso, similar to a lunge, and the other leg is behind the torso. The difference between the split squat and the lunge is that when performing the split squat the feet remain in the same contact position with the ground during the reps
Keep the knee of the leg behind the torso stacked under the torso during the squat. Start by squatting for five reps and on the last rep get an isometric hold for up to thirty seconds at the bottom of the split squat. Then switch legs and do the same thing with the other leg.
Utilize the unique loading to train the unilateral perspective of being on the offensive on the mat. On top of that, there are a lot of isometric contractions and isometric actions that athletes have to go through during a match. Factoring the isometric actions into strength training will help later on in matches when more fatigued and under a decent amount of stress.
2. Medball Walking Lunge
We love this movement because it forces an isometric action throughout the entire spine, gut, and trunk. In BJJ, there are often times when athletes are internally rotated, flexing throughout the abs, and the trunk has a little bit of flexion. These positions are often hit while in a unilateral position as well. The unilateral positions require athletes to be strong on both sides of the body. In addition, BJJ athletes need to be able to work through moments where breathing is difficult--the medball on the chest mimics that.
Holding the medball to the chest, do walking lunges forward for a few steps. After a few steps forward, take steps backward as well. The key is to do the lunges back and forth for a long duration set; two minutes is ideal.
Constantly holding the medball on the chest while working through the unilateral range of motion for a long duration for three sets of two minutes, athletes will feel stronger later into the match, have more leg strength, and greater core and trunk stability that will carry over well to mat strength.
Utilize this movement once or twice a week. It will tear up the abs and back but will also help strengthen the entire posterior chain.
3. Front Squat
A lot of athletes doing BJJ will start to shy away from doing bilateral movements. The thing is that bilateral movements are key components behind increasing general strength overall. The beauty of the front squat is it is front-loaded. Almost everything done in BJJ is front-loaded. It is really, really important when training on the mat is learning how to hold different positions from bilateral and unilateral positions.
Included with the front squat, is the ability to get a full range of motion. BJJ demands mobility. Athletes for BJJ (and the front squat) need to be mobile through the ankles, lower back, hips, and do all of this while still holding a front-loaded position. Using a clean grip is best when front squatting, but not mandatory. The important thing is to maintain the front-loaded perspective. Sometimes go ahead and hold a pause in the bottom of the squat to train that isometric position. Just remember to move through the full range of motion.
Perform the front squat twice a week. One day push the weight and go heavy to get stronger. Three sets of five reps is a good place to start. The second time in the week go lighter and go for a really high duration of time under tension while focusing on squeezing the abs and keeping an upright spine.
4. Cossack Squat
This exercise drastically improves hip mobility and throughout the lower back. As the movement gets stronger, athletes can start to utilize weights in different positions to try and strengthen the thoracic spine and trunk stability. Every BJJ athlete needs to be doing this movement.
The cossack squat is performed with the feet split apart but on the same X-axis. The goal when squatting is to get the butt cheek over the corresponding ankle. So left butt cheek over the left ankle. Alternate side to side. While working through the sets, athletes can go heavier with the weight being held, can pause in the bottom position, and start to widen the feet even further to increase mobility.
It is extremely important to be more mobile on the mat. Being more mobile allows athletes to make quicker moves and adjust quicker. It also helps when in a precarious position to be more mobile because it allows athletes to defend opponents easier.
Perform this movement once or twice a week for three sets of eight reps to each side. We even recommend using them every day in a warm-up to drastically improve hip mobility.
It is key when training legs for BJJ to consider the positions athletes are put in while on the mat. BJJ athletes are often front-loaded, in unilateral positions, and need to work through full ranges of motion. These positions on the mat are held for long durations of time. In addition, the ability to breathe is often quite precarious. The above-mentioned leg exercises: split squat with kettlebells, medball walking lunges, front squat, and cossack squat address all of these scenarios that arise in BJJ. The movements improve mobility, front load athletes posture to develop trunk stability, and train in a manner that conditionals muscles for necessary durations; the movements also get athletes stronger to be more explosive on the mat.
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.