|Technique matters, but so does strength and conditioning.|
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
I was recently asked on Quora:
What's the best resources and information for strength training and conditioning for BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)?
Here is my expanded response:
I don't know if there is any one resource. Breaking Muscle writes a lot about it, as a few of their contributors train BJJ. Steve Maxwell also speaks in-depth about BJJ strength (he's a black belt and a world class strength coach). I find most strength articles relating to BJJ to be lacking (I've been training BJJ and MMA since 2002).
Nothing can mimic BJJ cardio, only rolling. Same goes for MMA sparring. I do think however a Versaclimber, rower (especially water rowers), and the Airdyne bike comes very close. There are things tougher or easier, but to mimic the conditions of sparring outside of sparring is very difficult.
BJJ is very grip, shoulder, and hip intensive. Kettlebells addresses all three. I would recommend the sport style of kettlebell instead of the hardstyle made popular here in the US. It's pretty brutal on the body and we need our bodies fresh for more sparring and drilling. Since fighting involves so much shoulders, be careful with overhead movements, cleans, and snatches.
A good combination of cardio and strength needed for the fight are battle ropes. It involves lots of grips, whether MMA or BJJ, the last thing you want to wear out are your grips. The tighter the fist, the tighter the punch. The tighter the grip, the better the fight. You look at the best BJJ competitors and you will find their grips are insanely hard to break. It's intensity with very little damage to the body and is why you'll see it incorporated to every elite training program.
Squats and deadlifts are important, they strengthen up key areas for fighting, they also wear out the parts of our bodies that are always being overused in training. With any lifting, I would avoid going close to your max. Imagine your body having a life bar, save your life bar for the mats.
I also think drilling is important, not just for technique, but so you rely on less energy and strength when executing moves. A move that's less practiced will require more energy.
Body movements and crawls are important for all the unusual movements of a fight. Any combat related warm up, especially BJJ relies heavily on crawls. The genius of it is, you are getting as low to the ground as possible without allowing your body to collapse and rest. Gravity is what makes all work outs difficult, being in that prone position where gravity pulls down on you as if you were a heavy blanket, where breathing gets difficult, and your body feels heavy -- this is the beauty of crawls. It also makes you flexible, mobile, with very low risk for injury. It does however take some time to learn how to crawl again.
Injury resistance is probably the single most important thing for combat. It's the difference between showing up to the tournament or fight injured and having to grit it out, and going in there in the best shape of your life. If you already have injuries, it's best to address what they are and what the potential causes are and incorporate rehabilitation into training. A complete work out session should address everything.
Symmetry is also something to consider. When you train BJJ and MMA, you typically use the same stance, pass on the same side, drill moves on the same side, same lead hand, same power hand. This creates asymmetry issues. You may have moves for both sides but they may not be the same move, meaning your power punch from the left side is a hook, your power punch from your right is a straight. In BJJ maybe you toreando to the left but leg drag on the right.
This develops your body differently, different parts of your body will be tight and overused compared to the other side. Certain muscles will grow bigger, some smaller, some longer, some shorter. You also won't have the same strength on both sides. Some fighters will notice it's everything on their left side that's always injured, or everything on their right side, or their left shoulder right knee, and so on.
Imagine running a mile with perfect form, but you only have one shoe on. Most likely you'll get hurt because it's not the same. Focus on doing exercises and also drills on your weak side. You may need to stretch differently based on which side your working with and do different amounts of reps as well when you lift. Try to do the lifts where your arms aren't tied together, like use two dumbbells instead of a bar, or two kettlebells instead of one. Do a lot of single leg work as well. That way the strong side doesn't compensate for the weakside.
Include foam rolling and mobility, and last but not least utilize the physioball. One of the most important attributes of a fighter is their balance and their reactiveness (for BJJ think of your ability to feel movements and intents). The ball is a way to mimic this by yourself. Remember Forrest Griffin vs Anderson Silva? Forrest stomped around chasing after Anderson, whereas Anderson danced around shifting his weight from side to side and backwards. Other than the battle rope, the physioball is the other most utilized tool. Instead of brute strength, this is the finesse device.
Properly fuel your body and allow for recovery. Let me close with the cliche that's always been true, listen to your body.
Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletter. You can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.