Developing Grappling Strength For MMA

Whether you are a grappler or a predominantly a striker, everybody needs to maximise not only their grappling technique, but also grappling strength. What I am going to address primarily here is upper body holding strength. Many people underestimate the importance of raw strength when it comes to putting on hold, or trying to undo one.

The rear naked chokeentire upper body is used in applying holds. When viewing a rear naked choke for example, it can look as though the arms (mainly biceps) are doing most of the work. But in fact, there is a whole chain of muscles involved. The key to getting stronger in grappling is to work the muscles as a unit. This is very important because you need to strengthen not only the muscles themselves, but the tendons, ligaments and nervous system, that makes the hold effective.

Another consideration is to work across several types of strength. You have to develop the ability to apply a hold fast, powerfully, and with speed. That means you need a high level of absolute strength, speed of force development, and muscle stamina. In this article I will outline the principles involved in developing these three types of strength for grappling applications. In following articles I will show you exactly how to use specific key exercises in order to train yourself beyond what you could imagine you were capable of – in terms of strength and and endurance.

Key Principles In Developing Strength For Grappling Holds

First and foremost, you need to get strong on compound bodyweight moves. Why? Well, if you are trying to hold another body (your opponent) in a certain position, you need to have the strength to work with bodyweight! Trying to control a fellow heavy weight takes more than bicep curling 30 pound dumbbells!

Taking the example of a classic bodyweight move, the pull up, we will analyse what you need to do be able to achieve with that movement to get anywhere near what I would deem strong.

  • perform at least 20 strict reps with your own bodyweight
  • maintain static holds for 30 seconds in the fully contracted and halfway positions
  • be able to perform the movement on wider bars than normal so your hands are flattened out a little
  • get at least 3 reps with 25% extra of yor own bodyweight (e.g. holding a dumbbell between your feet)

If you are not capable of 5 pull ups right now, you have got to address a couple of serious issues: you are either:

  1. too fat
  2. too weak
  3. or both of the above

If you are capable of repping with 300 lbs on the lat pulldown but weigh over 400 lbs yourself you are in no position to accomplish the above bodyweight strength targets! You have got a weight loss issue and need to deal with that. If you are lean but weak, then you need to start pushing yourself well above what you can now achieve by starting off with negative pull ups. That means you start on a bench and jump up into the top position, hold yourself as long as you can, and then lower as slowly as you can. This eccentric type movement will soon get you stronger. 6 sets twice a week should be your goal. Once you can manage 3 peoper reps, then go for 8 sets every 4-7 days.

Grip Variations

Once you can manage close grip plams facing pull ups (chins), start using different grips. Here is how you can vary your grip:

  • width – go narrower or wider
  • use ropes, Gi’s and different handles placed over the pull up bars
  • use just one hand hand on the bar and the other around your wrist
  • change the angle of your palms e.g. plams facing you, palms facing each other etc.

I guarantee, once you have gone from Mr Lat Pulldown, to Mr 20 pull ups, your grappling strength will increase beyond what you could have imagined.

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