So, you decided to become stronger for BJJ. No more people pushing you around, you’re going to build functional strength and start to do some pushing around of your own instead. The only thing left is to figure out how to achieve it. If you truly want to have the strength to move people around while in crazy positions, then you should look to build that specific type of strength. Training for grapplers does not involve the biggest number on a bench press or deadlift. Instead, there’s a great way to really become the best of the academy: gymnastic rings training.
Gymnastic ring training is not for the faint of heart. Not from a risk perspective, but rather from the perspective of achieving results in relation to time. If you want to become strong enough to actually be able to train for strength on the rings, you’ll need to spend a lot of time doing things that seemingly have nothing to do with actual ring exercises. The key here is delayed gratification. Just like in BJJ, you’ll have to spend some time suffering before you’re able to express yourself. Training for grapplers should reflect grappling, which is exactly what gymnastic ring training does.
The Toughest Discipline In Gymnastics
Have you ever seen how jacked gymnasts are? They are like real-life superheroes, and can move like them too! It is no wonder that if you throw someone with a gymnastics background in any sport in existence, they’ll quickly figure out a way to do it. Gymnastics has lots of disciplines, and there aren’t many athletes involved in it who excel in each and every one of them. However, they do train everyone in order to develop all the qualities one develops with gymnastics. Those qualities include literally every possible athletic quality you can think of.
When it comes to strength, the absolute undisputed champion is gymnastic rings training. Just take a look at how an Olympic gymnast specializing in rings looks and everything will become clear. Even bodybuilders are jealous of these guys, and they’re not actually training for the looks, but rather for functionality. Moreover, that functionality has them performing incredible feats with their bodies from mechanically inferior positions. In other words, if you need strength to move your body in a mechanically advantageous position (pushup, for example) imagine how much more strength it takes to do the same from a disadvantageous position (example: planche pushups)?
The strength developed with gymnastic rings is exactly what fighters, and especially grapples need. In BJJ, we need to have the ability to both moves our body, and that of an opponent who can be of any size imaginable. In the midst of it all, we’re usually in positions that are hard to replicate in training, outside of grappling. Gymnastic rings training for grapples is ideal for two reasons. First, you build functional strength, power, stability, agility, and dexterity. Next, you don’t need to try and replicate grappling situations with barbells or strange training equipment. Instead, you just teach your body how to become strong in any situation that may arise.
Gymnastic Rings training For Grapplers: Progressions and Exercise Categories
How do you begin gymnastic rings training? Order a pair of rings, and figure out where you’re going to attach them. Then you can start doing all the stuff Olympic gymnasts do, right? Well, you can try. If you ever hope to do the things an Olympic gymnast does, you’re fooling yourself. Just like you’ll never do the things Gordon Ryan does. It will take you a lifetime, and an early start in order to achieve excellence on rings. The good news is that training for grapplers does not mean they need to possess Olympic level abilities in the disciplines they use to improve performance. On the contrary, all it takes is developing specific qualities that transfer to grappling, like strength and power.
Be prepared to suffer. Be prepared to fail. You will need to spend years until you learn a basic position like a lever, or be able to do a full range of motion muscle-up on rings. Doing iron crosses and other Olympic-level stuff is also not impossible, but it won’t happen in months. It’ll take in excess of three years (at the least) for you to develop the connective and muscle tissues needed to perform strength exercises on gymnastic rings. However, once you do, those qualities won’t diminish if you stop training. Once you learn to move your body through space with the rings, you have those skills for life.
There are plenty of exercises for gymnastic rings training. They are organized in a progressive fashion that helps you build the qualities rings offer. There’s no way to explain how ring routines work in an article – there are books on the subject. However, what I can give you, is an overview of exercises and their benefits, to get you going.
One reason why gymnastics is a great method of training for grapplers is because of all the static (isometric) strength training it involves. As such, holding static positions is where you want to start off, especially with rings. Of course, there are different grips that you’ll need to figure out, but that’s a subject for another day. The static exercises you want for BJJ are levers and planks.
Planks are fairly easy – hang the rings so that they’re only a few inches off the ground, and do a plank, with your arms on the rings rather than on the ground. Levers are a bit more complicated and will require progressions, especially the back lever. For them, you need to hang off the rings, either holding them in front of your body or having your back facing the rings. For a lever, the aim is to hold your body at a 90-degree angle in relation to the rings. Your arms need to be straight, as well as your entire body. Sounds easy but is extremely hard, as you’ll figure out the first time you try it.
Dynamically, you want to start off with things you’re already familiar with. Pushups, dips, pullups, and rows are the four musketeers of bodyweight training. Try doing them on rings. However, and you’ll notice that things are very different when you’re not on the ground. It takes a lot more stabilization, which is exactly why you want these exercises. You already know how to execute them, (or you should) and they’ll help you settle into ring training for grapples. Plus you can use a difficult progression of these exercises on the rings to really challenge yourself.
Speaking of progression in gymnastic rings training for grapplers, there ear some exercises, both of astatic and dynamic nature that should be your goal when it comes to ring training. Dynamically speaking the goal is easy – learn muscle-ups. However even if you can do them on a pullup bar, you’ll find that it takes a lot more strength, technique, and body awareness to pull off muscle-ups o gymnastic rings. Simply put, if you can do more than 10, you should already be one of the strongest people on the mats.
Isometrically speaking it is L-sits and tuck planches. The L-sit is simple but you’ll need to be able not just to hold it, but do dips and transitions while never letting your legs and core waiver. Extremely hard, an ultra-useful for grapples. The tuck planche is just a tucked L-sit done from a different plane of motion. However, it is an absolute must if you want to transition into becoming a real beast.
Becoming a real best on the mats, and on the rings, means you can do a couple of exercises, that Olympic level gymnasts are being judged upon (among other things we mortals will never achieve). Those two exercises are the iron cross and the straddle planche. Doing the straddle planche on the floor or on bars is of course a prerequisite to even think about executing it on rings.
The iron cross is the ultimate measure of strength in gymnastics. In fact, for gymnasts, it is a starting point –when you can do it, you can start thinking about training gymnastic ring routines. For us grapple, doing the perfect Iron Cross is more than enough to be able to cope with everyone on the mats, at least strength-wise.
Gymnastic rings training for grapplers is not easy. It will take years for you to master the movements. However, before there’s any hint of improvement on the rings, You’ll actually start noticing big differences in how you move your body on the mats. That and you’ll notice strength and stability improve a lot. If you truly want to become a beast on the mats, you need to dedicate years to your strength and conditioning just like your technical training. The good thing about rings is that you can take them everywhere, and recovering from training is fast and easy.