What is the most important body part for grappling? Some say it is the core, others point to the hips, there are even those that say legs… The truth is, I have no idea. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and all grappling martial arts are so versatile, that there’s really no one body part that you need to use all the time. That said, developing your entire body takes a lot of time and effort, oftentimes more than is available. One thing that you can’t go wrong in any grappling art is to work on your legs. Balance, power, strength, dexterity, mobility, and just about any other quality you can think of. And, contrary to popular belief, the best leg e development exercises for grapplers do not involve using massive weights.
Leg training is an aspect of strength and conditioning, not many people outside of bodybuilding love. To be honest, I doubt even bodybuilders do. However, they do recognize the importance of training legs. When you need to use your legs to move around, balance, jump, or try and push people off you and sweep or submit them, the importance of having your legs operate at maximum potential is even greater. That’s where grapplers need to turn towards gymnastics rather than powerlifting or other “functional” craziness. The best exercises for grapplers are those that will build both muscle and connective tissue, rather than just bulk up parts of their legs.
If there’s one thing that is really hard to do, it is beat dogmas. After a decade in BJJ, I seem to be making it my mission to beat grappling dogmas and explore different ways of doing things. Challenging dogmas and absolutes is fun, and oftentimes yields very interesting discoveries that truly change Jiu-Jitsu.
The same notion holds true when it comes to strength, conditioning, and mobility exercises for grapplers. Why keep training like powerlifters when there’s ample evidence to suggest that other avenues of training might just offer better results? Training with weights still has a place, and if you like doing it, and it works for you, by all means, keep it up. However, if you’re interested in developing your legs to the maximum, I’d suggest looking into bodyweight exercises. In fact, I’d point you towards gymnastics in particular.
The first benefit of going weightless is developing just about everything in your legs. You’ll not only hit all the visible muscles from different angles but also develop the underlying layers of muscles that often play a key role in the movement. Exercises for grapplers need to develop qualities required on the mat, rather than just size. Moreover, a lot more connective tissue gets developed with gymnastic exercises, although it takes considerably more time than muscle tissue. However, the benefits are through the roof once you manage to achieve it.
Another really important thing to consider is fatigue level. Recovering from bodyweight training,. Regardless of how demanding it ma be, is a lot easier than recovering from a 1 rep max lift. For people that grappler a few times a week in addition to training strength and conditioning, this is crucial.
Nothing Beats Gymnastics
When GSP first started publishing videos of him doing gymnastics instead of Olympic lifting most people thought he was nuts. He may be a bit out there, but all those cartwheels, L-sits, and handstands really proved to work for him. The thing is, gymnastics have been proven to work for everyone, regardless of age or athletic needs.
I’ve written articles before on how gymnastics fit the bill for grappling perfectly. Summing it all up quickly, if you ask a gymnast to do any other sport, including grappling, they’ll manage to figure out how to do it, way better than anyone else with any other background. That’s because they have extreme control over their bodies and are able to adopt really quickly. Plus, there’s that crazy gymnastic strength that is down to connective tissue development. It is clear why the best exercises for grapplers, whether it is leg development or something else, are ones we borrow from gymnastics rather than weightlifting or other sports.
The Best Leg Exercises For Grapplers
To be fair to gymnastics, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of exercises and variations when it comes to training any body part. It is no different with the legs, and there’s a myriad of exercises you can do. Some are overall leg developers, while others target specific characteristics like power, strength, or mobility. Moreover, there are progressive variations of everything, and some of the stuff is really acrobatic and difficult to even watch, let alone try. In the quest for the best weightless leg exercises for grapplers, I focused on several entry-level gymnastic moves that will challenge even the toughest among you.
I’ll start with the twisting squat. It is deceivingly hard, which you’ll notice the first time you try it. You start sitting cross-legged on the ground, with the outer edges of your feet placed on the mats. The aim of the exercise is to lift yourself up just by pushing with your legs, keeping both arms in the air for balance. AS you lift, given that your legs are crossed, you’ll go in the natural direction motion takes you and turn so that your legs are parallel. However, that’s not the end. You need to keep turning until you complete a full 360-degree turn and your legs are now crossed the other way around. Then, you squat back to the ground, completing one repetition.
If I had to choose just one exercise for grapplers, I’d definitely go with this one. It has got everything, from eccentric to concentric work, balance, dexterity, strength, power, and every other athletic quality you can think of.
Natural Leg Extensions
This exercise will have you screaming with pain. You’ve probably done a leg extension exercise on that chair contraption present in every gym across the world. Well, a natural leg extension requires no equipment at all. Using just your bodyweight you can challenge your quads in ways you never thought possible. The exercise is really simple.
Start kneeling, with your shins parallel to the ground, and your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keep your body straight and rigid. The aim is to use the knee hinge to tilt backward, as far as possible, while maintaining the body straight. Extend your arms forward as a counterbalance so that you can add more reach to the exercise. It is brutally painful and tailor-made for grapplers.
Natural Leg Curls
Of course, every time you do leg extensions, it is wise to hit the hamstrings as well, giving your legs some balance. Natural leg curls, for some reason, are a lot more popular than natural leg extensions. You will require a partner though, or any other means of wedging your ankles in order to perform this one. Very popular in functional fitness, this is one of the absolute killer exercises for grapplers and fighters.
You star in the same position as with leg extensions, just with your ankles wedged or held by a partner. The goal is to go forward with your body straight, using only the knee hinge. Going completely down is the goal, but if you’re not willing to smash your face you’ll have to use your arms to catch yourself at a certain point Just remember to use them at the last possible moment, otherwise, they’ll take a lot of potential out of the exercise.
I truly really love this exercise. It seems easy, but when you do 20 or 30 of them you’ll change your mind. The goal is to start standing, then do a break fall while keeping your core tights. The moment you get on your shoulders, use your core, and not momentum to get back to your fit and squat up. If you’re using momentum, you’ll only gain half the benefits of this exercise. Instead focus on deliberate and precise movement, aiming to plant the feet and get up using your legs.
Progressions include using jump squats, pistol squats, and even weighted variation with an Olympic plate or kettlebell. After you master the basics, of course.
A notoriously difficult and very rewarding exercise, both mentally and physically. The pistol squat will work on everything, from core to legs, from mobility to strength. The goal is simple- raise a leg straight in front, preferably parallel to the ground Now squat using just one leg. The trick is to squat as deep as possible, while also keeping your foot flat on the ground. Pistol squats are among the very best exercises for grapplers, but also among the hardest exercises to master. Plenty of progressions are available if you’re not there yet, as are even harder variations of the move.
Power Exercises For Grapplers
Here’s an example of how you can develop extreme power in your legs using nothing but your own body weight. Sit down on a chair or anything else that’s placed so high above the ground, that you’re able to go deeper than parallel when sitting. Sit up from a dead stop and immediately jump as high as you can, returning back to sitting immediately upon landing. If you really want to make this challenging, do it with a pistol squat.
Gym antic exercises are extremely beneficial for grapplers. When it comes to developing legs that are able to propel gymnasts across the air, performing multiple crazy flips, these are the exercises that help them achieve it. These are exactly the exercises for grapplers that can help you develop meaningful athletic abilities to go with your technical knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu.