The Litvinov Grappling Workout – Are You Strong Enough?

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Have you ever heard of Sergey Litvinov? How about the Litvinov workout? Unless you’re a competitive hammer thrower on top of training grappling, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Bear with me for a minute. Litvinov was an Olympic and world champion in athletics, and also the person responsible for one of the most brutal workouts you’ll ever do. Whether you’re preparing yourself for hammer throwing, a marathon, a BJJ tournament or just want to be a badass, try doing what he did. And worry not when you come up short – I did as well. That’s why today we’ll offer a few variations to the original Litvinov workout, making it more of a grappling workout to improve strength and conditioning really fast! If you’re not of the mentally strong variety, you’re better off closing this tab right now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 

In strength an conditioning, much like in Jiu-Jitsu, it is easy to get lost. There’s so much conflicting material on what to do and not do, that you end up confused. Since I find the Occam’s razor approach to be one that really helps in BJJ, I also gave it a try in the realm of physical preparation. The result was the Litvinov workout. The trouble with it is that it seems very easy when you’re reading it on the screen. Giving it a try is a whole different animal, though. What you get with this grappling workout is a full body blast from every aspect. You train the full body, you train strength, you get conditioning and you get to work on your mental toughness. With a few tweaks, you can even use it to cut weight, or perhaps even build some muscle.

Sergey Litvinov

Sergey Litvinov, as we mentioned was an Olympic champion hammer thrower. He competed under the banner of the former Soviet Union. He won a silver medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics and a gold one at the 1988 Olympics. Also a multiple times world champion, the elite hammer thrower was not just known for his throwing accomplishments. At 5’11” and 234 lbs he was an impressive specimen, with extraordinary levels of strength.

Sergey LitvinovOn top of winning multiple different titles, Litvinov also managed to set three world records in the process. In his discipline of hammer throwing the Russian is a real legend. However, his legacy extends to much more than just his athletic discipline. The way he trained while getting ready for competition resulted in one of the most brutal workouts ever, a workout that’s named after him.

What Litvinov did, back in his glory days, was redefine strength and conditioning. In order for someone to be efficient at throwing a hammer, they need strength and, in particular, power. While technical training is, of course, the priority, specific conditioning needs to be factored in as well. This is where Litvinov went simple but hard, with a workout that’s all about intensity. As you’ll see, what he did is the perfect grappling workout, and will get you lean, strong and improve your gas tank.

Sergey Litvinov died less than a year ago, on the 18th of February 2018.

The Original Litvinov

The original workout that Sergey Litvinov did was all about increasing strength and power. the “side effects” of leaning out, dropping fat and increasing conditioning didn’t seem to be high on his priority list. To this day, the original Litvinov workout is an effective and brutal man maker.

What Litvinov did was get a squat rack on the athletic track. He then went for a set of front squats, doing 8 reps total. Immediately after the last rep, he racked the weight as fast as possible and went for a 400-meter sprint. Easy, right? Not so fast. First thing first, Litvinov did 8 reps of front squats with 405 lbs. Yes, you read that right, 405 lbs for 8 reps. He then went on to sprint the 400 meters with maximum, lung-busting intensity. Still seems easy? Litvinov did this combination 3 total times, resting to recovery between rounds.

As you can see, the workout is simple. it is also very fast – it’ll rarely take you more than 20 minutes, including warming up. However, this workout is going to leave you gasping for air and with aches, all over your body. As a grappling workout, it is absolutely perfect, give the front loading on the strength exercise. However, there are a few changes to the workout you can do to either target more grappling specific strength or more conditioning if you’re cutting weight.

The Litvinov Grappling Workout Challenge

In order to use the Litvinov for grappling, you can change several parameters. First up, the rhythm and order of the workout are not up for debate. First, you do a heavy exercise and then you go all out, the full intensity with a max effort conditioning exercise/movement. The choice of exercises is variable, but you’re still restricted to a certain style of exercises. For example, biceps curls won’t do the trick. In order to keep you honest on the conditioning part, we also filtered a few exercises that fit the bill. We did this to stop you from cheating by just jumping on an elliptical to pedal at what you consider to be “high intensity”.

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In general, the workout is not effective unless you’re contemplating suicide by the end of it. It will also save you time and bring you the best athletic benefits ever! One major problem is often the original choice of exercises. There are not many stadiums that feature a squat rack near their track. The same goes for any place where you can hit a 400-meter run. On the other hand, only a handful of training facilities have sufficient length for sprinting. What you can do though, is choose a different lift, one that doesn’t require a rack, or chooses a different conditioning tool, one easily accessible in a commercial gym. We’ll go ever a possible option for an intense and easy to access grappling workout below.

Part 1 – Strength

The first part of the workout is all about lifting a heavyweight. Again, overhead presses won’t do the trick. BOSU ball pushups with a weighted backpack do not count either. Actually, any kind of isolation movement (and yes, this includes your favorite bench press) is off limits. The only exercises worth considering are multi-joint exercises done with a heavyweight! A barbell also has priority over any other kind of training equipment. While dumbbells and kettlebells are also a possibility, machine exercises or band/cables are a great way to mess up the Litvinov.

So, the only things worth considering are the following:

  • Full clean and press 
  • Full clean and jerk
  • Deadlift
  • Front squat
  • Overhead squat 
  • Full snatch

Once again, the barbell is your best friend here. The only limiting factor is your mobility and personal restrictions. For example, if you have tight shoulders, do not go for overhead squats. Next, use a barbell-only lift like a deadlift or snatch/clean and press if you do not have access to a squat rack. And finally, consider doing the Olympic style lifts (clean and press/jerk, snatch) with heavy dumbbells or kettlebells. As you can see the main topic here is to go heavy. Since the norm is 8 reps, you should choose a weight near your 10 rep maximum.

There’s also the options of going for heavy kettlebell swings but in a different rep range. If you’re doing anything less than thirty, you’re doing it wrong.

Part 2 – Conditioning

For the second part, which is the conditioning movement or exercise, your options are much more limited. This is only because it is really easy to cheat on it and render the complete workout ineffective. This usually leads to labeling this grappling workout as a miss, and claiming it doesn’t work. It won’t if you won’t, it is as simple as that.

Sprints, of course, are the best full body high-intensity exercise you can do. Yet, due to the obvious logistical difficulties, when training indoors, you need other options. A great thing to consider for both indoor and outdoor training are sleds. Load up a sled with a challenging weight, and give it you’re all. Pull or push, it doesn’t matter as long as you do it with maximal intensity. There’s also another exercise everyone loves to hate – burpees. If you’re really in a tight spot (literally), simply rack the weight and go straight to the ground. The rules here are to do the burpees as fast ad explosively as possible, aiming for maximal height with every jump at the end. 10 burpees like this are great, and 15 with you going completely down (i.e. including a pushup) is near perfect!

Or consider this simple variation – a heavy kettlebell and a hill to sprint up. Funny how minimal equipment and time can give you one of the best grappling workouts of all times!

Intensity And Programming

With intensity, there’s only one thing to remember – go all out. You’\re only doing 3 sets of the two exercises anyway. The Litvinov grappling workout leaves no space for fumbling around with your phone. Get in, warm up, hit the weights and the high-intensity cardio, wish you were dead and go to sleep. Done and dusted in less than 20 minutes, which is perfect for people training Jiu-Jitsu a few times a week.

Litvinov Grappling Workout
Click to watch Litvinov Grappling Workout

Also of the utmost importance is not to rest at all between the exercises. The reason back squats are not good for this is that they take too much time to rack the weight. Lift, drop the weights and go straight into a sprint, grab a sled or drop for burpees. Do not even think about stopping there needs to be no time spent in transition between the two exercises. Once you’re done with the conditioning portion, rest 3-5 minutes, or however long you need to recover for another set.

Litvinov Prowler Exercise
Click to watch Litvinov Prowler Workout 225

Finally, you should consider hitting Litvinovs no more than three times a week, preferably on non-BJJ days. Two days a week is what works best for me. If you’re dead set on doing a Litvinov on a grappling training day, do it after grappling, preferably at the tail end of the day. That said, 4-6 weeks of this before a competition will have you tearing people apart. The beautiful thing is that you can stick with the same exercises while changing the weight or intensity. Or, you could switch the exercises up after a couple of months. Whatever you do, make sure you do exercises you know well or you won’t be able to go all out.

The Benefits

IF it is not apparent by now, the Litvinov is the perfect grappling workout because it offers you the silver bullet everyone is looking for. You get a great full body workout, completely transferable to grappling. You also get to finish in less than 20 minutes. The most incredible thing is that you get to train both strength and conditioning in a progressive manner in the same workout, with just two exercises!

From a practical standpoint, apart from getting stronger and have a gas tank that lasts, you’ll also see changes in your body composition. You’ll most certainly lose fat, due to the high oxygen demands the body has for hours after completing the workout. You’ll also improve your lean muscle mass, contributing to easier weight cutting. Actually, if you leave your self a couple of months fro Litvinovs before a tournament you might end up extremely close to your target weight without even trying to cut. All the while, you’ll keep and perhaps even add a bit of muscle. It is the perfect grappling workout that everyone can do, practically anywhere.

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