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Lifts to Benefit Combat Sports

Just gonna put some things out there from my own opinion. Please feel free to argue (with something constructive) or add too. Hoping this is the best place on the forum for this if not Chris please move to where you think appropriate.

My opinions on which lifts people who do combat sports (my main focus being BJJ/MMA) should focus on for sport specific

Lowerbody strength - I believe the squat or deadlift both play equal role, but I believe only one should be done per week so you can recover. Picking between the two I think depends on your own leverage, I myself prefer squat as I am short and find I am stronger in the squat, more explosive, and can recover better, where as a taller/longer armed person may favour the deadlift

lowerbody accessory - for this I think the zercher squat, glutebridges, rdl’s and lunges , these could be mixed up every other session / training block. Zsquats work the upperback and underhooks, glutebridges obviously will carry over into a good bridge, while single leg work is a must for take downs

upperbody strength - Floorpress , for me I think this is better than the normal bench IMO as its more likely you will be on your back in a combat sport than on a bench! I also find its a little kinder on the shoulders which already take a beating!

upperbody accessories - facepulls for shoulder health. Tonne of backwork, whos ever said their back is too strong? maybe some incline bench because who wants a pigeon chest?

Power - Full clean over high pull, simply because for me with the clean, you either make the lift or you don’t … high pull I find as the weight goes up I cant help but feel like I’m ‘meeting’ the bar shortening the RoM.

Intrested in your thoughts!

there’s a combat forum subsection


I don’t believe in sport specific lifting as the term is commonly used. I prefer to think in terms of transferability (which may not be an actual word). When people usually use the term sport specific they try and do exercises in a way that imitates an actual movement they perform in their sport. So the idea of the floor press being superior because it “looks” like what you would do from the bottom when grappling doesn’t take into account that you shouldn’t be trying to bench press someone off you in the first place.

IMO, if you need to get bigger and/or stronger then just do a traditional type of program to achieve that. If you hit all of the basic movement patterns, as Dan John has defined and suggested for a long time, you will get stronger in a way that will transfer to most sports. There are sports that are very specific in what they demand from an athlete, sprinting for example. That would require an approach that is taking into account one or two goals: running speed and explosiveness out of the blocks. Combat sports require a lot of different physical attributes so a more general strength program would be, IMO, better. Also, an important thing to consider is strengthening the body to endure all of the training and make it less injury prone. I know a lot of guys my age and even younger who have hip issues. Some have had hip replacements. There are guys with knee issues and back issues. I don’t have those problems but I do things like squat and deadlift. One of the things that I believe weightlifting can do is address strength imbalances. People tend to do the same movements in training and lifting can keep you from developing imbalances.

To me, specific training would be carrying sand bags, for example. Maybe the Prowler to focus on driving through on a TD attempt.

Brooks Kubik has a book called 100 strength tips for combat athletes. Give a read it’s very informative.

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What do you think of military presses and other standing exercises value? I feel the carryover should be there with the added core work and neurological effects but idk if all that is already taken care of in training

I think military press is as good of a lift as any for combat sports. I’m just a hobbyist, but the serious guys I train with tend to use an array of compound lifts. I think there is a lot of value in having a strong overall body, especially as you get older and want to keep banging with the young and aggressive guys.

5/3/1 style programs, CrossFit style training and Olympic lifting are what I’ve observed and discussed among the mma/bjj guys I know and respect.

I’ll bite-
I think if your a hobbyist- I always say - keep doing what you are doing.
til one goal or one practice inhibits another.

what ever lift and rolling you are doing - keep doing it until
it affects, recovery, flexibility/mobility or progress or your work or your life.

its cool to crush squats or what ever and not be able to walk at work-
if you are able to still perform your job.

training for combat sports is no different.

I always also advocate-
1 skill work
2 conditioning ( however you do it)
3 strength work
in that order.

If you want to get into specific lifts, those conversations can be entertaining.
or they can often turn to pissing contests.

I did a variety of supervised lifting- with S&C types some good some junk
but they where aware of my entire training regimens as I was a college athlete and post college greco roman and Judo and BJJ

put emphasis on core/torso neck and grip work.
put the same emphasis if not more on
building mobility flexibility and joint health.

build a strong body -however you do it-
I can add what I liked or what worked for me if people are interested
Im older and broken but did different stuff and some of the same stuff.

Open up your bag of tricks for us bro. Always good to hear from people who have been there and done that.

I personally try to do as little heavy OHP as possible , only because I feel your shoulders take a hammering with grappling and heavy bag work already.

Only shoulder work I tend to get in is face pulls regularly and the odd bit of upright rowing or rear delt work

Also I know guys who can bang but can’t overhead press shit so there’s probably little correlation IMO

I did allot of bad training

whatever Dan Gable had his people doing we emulated.
we had no equipment at my first college-
just a universal machine .
so we ran allot .
hills track work
backwards hills
backward sprints.
and shit ton of milage- 8-12 miles 6 days a week.

a teammate turned me on to the erg.( rowing machine)
and another bro got me into swimming- I swam allot.

when I could get to weights
I front squatted
did power cleans
and some single leg work
lunges and what I skater squats.

I transfered to a Proper D 1 college and had an S& C type
over the summers I did clinics and they always had a bunch of info on weight training - like many of my contemporaries in the early 90’s we really didnt lift and placed most of the emphasis on conditioning.

a chiropractor I went to turned me on to an excerse bike - a primitive spin bike and he had what we now call an assult bike- I used the shit ouf of intervals on those.

so - long runs - 10 miles or more - but aiming for 6 mins miles or better.
hills hills hills - track work sprints etc.
and an ass ton of
neck bridges pushups wall hand stand pushups and tons and tons of jumping.

more on that.


SO that is ALOT of bad training-
lots of road work .
no actual strength work
a SHIT TON of calisthenics

I did something like 600 plus squat thrusts ( burpees) at a summer clinic and got a medal for it.

remember I was a smaller athlete- 140 ish lbs cutting to 125 2x a week typically.

I transferred after 5 semesters to a D1 school.
they had a s&c guy I had better ones later and at some camps clinics I went too.

we squatted mostly front squat

did the Olympic lifts - power clean and snatch
triples ruled here.

and a shit ton of single leg work.
lunges all kinds
and much jumping-
jumps onto boxes
depth jumps off boxes
repetitive broad jumps - those are amazing.
and lots of variety of jumping- single leg - land on one - jump off on one.

lots of lifts for time meaning squats for a 3 minute block
or seated ( on the floor) OH press what I hear called z press.
I would use 95 lbs for like two minutes straight - and you did it against someone- so it was always for most reps on the timed lifts.

we also did some good shit and some dumb as shit.
max reps cleans with bw 135 for like 30-50 reps
max rep squat with bw - so I used 135 and had to do over 100 reps
these sucked and in retrospect did more damage then good.

the bad thousands of pull ups.
great for grip-

the good - tempo pullups-
slow negatives- explode on the up

and I did allot on my own.
same 10 - 12 mile runs
same hills
same bike rowing machine swimming etc.
I cut allot of weight and needed the extra work.
I jumpe rope allot too- like allot
and I read and did allot of intervals-

one of the first days of practice- some jerk drove us out more then ten miles to the facility - and stopped the van and we ran back.
make it back or dont.

this is a rather long snap shot.
if you ask me what did the most.

I would say jumping-
from kneeling to broad jumps
continuous broad jumps

the power clean.
3x3 or 5x3 good to go.

and the seated z press for time.

I did more ‘advanced’ shit later.
when I traveled abroad
and trained at the olympic training center.

weights and strength where something I did half assed and only when the dude was looking- I had a coach a great one -
tell me every second off the mat
was off the mat.

I took it literally

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That first D1 school the coaches Name was Tom Minkel
go google it - he was legit.

So I went from never lifting to having access to bumper plates.
shitty bars shitty racks and places to do pullups. I didn’t see allot machines.

with out going thru the entire chronology- of where I went or any of that .
I wen to russia - this is like 1990 - for three weeks.
I realized what I thought of ‘hard conditioning’ I was mistaken.

I later went to Cuba too In my mid 20’s- and saw more amazing things.
I went to Tibilisi in Georgia Russia he very edge of Europe and Asia and kind of the strong hold of Greco Roman- which I turned to at my first college- that coach had an incredible greco background and that and judo is what I liked best.

I saw their wrestling room was barren - a mat . a pile of plates in a corner
a bunch of kettle bells and the goat bags- bags you see russians training with . like a car or truck inner tube filled with sand or BB’s and you could squat do swings lunges etc
they ran allot maybe 3-4 times a day 5-8 miles and maybe a faster shorter run.
they did allot of gymnastics and tumbling- shit I did in judo but not in folk
( american) wrestling
cartwheels neck bridge flips- lots and lots of good shit.
I could see our 'weight training 'was a watered down similar system
they had primitave primative shit.
but effective.

they also took it further-
the jumps form kneeling-
they loaded.
either a med ball or goat bag or a full barbell
they would jump from kneeling-
to a full clean or full snatch from kneeling for 3 to 5 reps.
amazing power.

they liked both reps in the 3-5 range ( cleans snatch pushp ress squat )
and for time - smaller stuff.

they used stahl bars the gymnast bars mounted to an entire wall-
at many heights and had entire calisthenic systems built on them.
pullups - pushups - all manner of feet supported rows- pullups twists sit ups etc. and rings - ring and rope work

I saw Hanging leg Raises there for the first time and they have become a staple for over 20 plus years.
from the pull up position - feet to bar or feet to face . best ab and low back work. It helps with grip and traction for the back.
probably the best thing I took away from the entire trip
as far as S&C stuff

they banged out the strength work and concentrated on the work on the mat.

later I went to the olympic training center.
we had an eastern block coach with square balls- Ive mentioned him before
and he tortured us.
RDLs for time
Zpress for time
squats for 3-6 reps heavy or for time
jumps jumps jumps
and arguably the best thing he did was complexes.

Barbell complexes.
just like team quest back in time ( they where there too)
these will crush everything.
grip to calves
arms shoulders low back upper back hips glutes legs calves.

little guys like me used 95 or 75 lbs
and did something like

upright row
BO row
clean and press
front squat
OH squat good morning
for 4- 5 sets foe either time of for 8-10 reps.

the bigger guys did bigger weights- and did smaller complexes

3 dead lifts 3 rows 3 power snatch
and maybe do that for 5 rounds.

this prick was a Javorek devotee and we used the shit out of complexes.
truth be told the greatest gift of the S& C world to me.

the worst thing this prick did - I read about later here and wrote about my own experience with it.
we often dragged weights outside and would
squat - then broad jump
squat then jump over hurdles
or cleans then jump over hurdles.

the worst- and best
we dragged out a bunch of bumpers and bars
to the track

cleaned that shit from the floor did 8 front squats and ran 400 meters
to get back in line and do it again.
I want to say we did 3-5 times
under 150 lbers did it with 100kg or 225 lbs pretty sure the bigger guys where using 275(125kg) and 315lbs (140kg)
these sucked - to say the least.

we used to do pullups - then hold pullup for time.
then they had an exercise bike propped up
with the brake on and we pedaled the shit out of it with our arms then went back to pull ups and holds.

I know nothing about hypertrophy
the take ways for what worked for me

Hanging leg raises feet to bar
power cleans
barbel complexes - kill conditioning and strength.
the jumps from kneeling or continuous broad jumps

somewhere did allot for grip
holds of db’s or bars from a deadlift.
I used tennis balls on pull-ups- I dont remember where I stole this but its
put the balls in your hands on top of the pull up bar and squeeze the fuck out of them.
and wrist roller- I did this allot.

(reverse curls and wrist curls are garbage)

I did allot of neck work- mucho

bridges - even benched in the bridge position
and drills with people pulling on your neck .( duh)

was this healthy.
was running 60 plus miles a week healthy

I cant do it again. or change it.

what I did more of as I got older
was rowing machine
tabata anything
complexes barbel or db
stairs weighted vest
jump rope
versa climber
OH squats for balance
shit ton of mobility work
single leg work
air hump aka glut raise
focus on flexibilty

Im 47 now and old and broken
what works now is different.

wishes ?
that I won it all ?
now that I did less damage to me.
more swimming more bike less road work.
more correctives