Strength & Conditioning Tips for Grappling II

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In this artice we go through more strength and conditioning tips for grappling performance

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Skip the Introduction if you’ve read through Part 1 already!


As athletes, we all want to improve ourselves to be the best that we can be. Other than practicing our sport, we can also improve our abilities through other methods of training. Strength & Conditioning is the physical and physiological development of athletes for sport performance. The aim of S&C is to use exercise prescription to help with injury prevention as well as to improve performance for athletes.

Improve Performance & Prevent Injuries
We improve performance by improving our components of Athletic Performance. This include:

  • Maximal Strength
  • Anaerobic Power
  • Anaerobic Capacity
  • Local Muscular Endurance
  • Aerobic Capacity
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Flexibility
  • Stability
  • Body Composition

By developing some or all of these qualities (depending on our needs), we can get an edge over our opponent by being stronger, faster or just being able to last longer and push harder. This can also help us reduce the chances of injuries as our body can withstand harder forces and move better (less injuries also equates to less down time and more time spent in training!).


1. Anti-Rotational core training can help you become an immovable force.

Other than working on rotational movements for core strength & power (as mentioned in Part 1), working on anti-rotational movements can also help greatly. Anti-Rotational exercises trains the core by resisting a force trying to move our body out of place. This will help us learn how to stabilise our hip and spine during movement.

This is especially important during grappling when your opponents are trying to move you out of place through pushing and pulling to score or to gain a superior position over you. Having adequate proper core strength to resist such an effort and then react powerfully can be of great benefit to you.

Check out some anti-rotational exercises in my other article here!

2. Sandbag training can help you get brute strong!

Training with sandbags will help you get stronger in dealing with loads that do not have equal weight distribution (similar to picking up an opponent in wrestling). This provides a training stimulus that normal barbells and dumbbells can’t replicate. While you do not need to ONLY use sandbags, adding some heavy carries, slams and throws can definitely help improve your grappling strength.

Sandbags are also highly versatile in their use. Some examples of exercises you can perform with them are squats, lunges, presses, cleans and loaded carries. Being quite compact and inexpensive, sandbags can be a good addition to any home gym set up too!

Photo by Garage Gyms

3. Choose the right conditioning tools.

If you are aiming to improve your aerobic conditioning, remember that grappling is a sport which involves full body movement (unlike a sport like soccer or basketball where a lot of time is spent running up and down the court/field). Your aerobic conditioning exercises should also reflect as such.

While drilling and sparring are the best conditioning tools for grappling, we are not able to do so. Using the rower, assault bike or ski-erg which involves the upper limbs as well would be more effective in building your grappling conditioning as compared to running.

Photo by Stack

4. Long distance/duration vs short bursts for conditioning?

Both have their places in a training program for grapplers. Long distance cardio can be beneficial in building a base level of aerobic capacity during the off-season or general preparatory phase for a grappling athlete. However as we move through the season and closer to competition, more focus should be on shorter bursts of cardio with the duration and intensity depending on which phase they are in.

A general rule of thumb would be to match the duration of each round of cardio to the length of your matches, increasing in intensity as you progress closer to the competition date.

If you want to know how to structure your grappling specific conditioning circuit, check out this article here with full details and sample exercise!

Photo by Stack

5. Work your S&C training around your grappling sessions and not the other way around! Grappling training already takes a big toll on your body because unlike other sports like basketball or soccer where you might be working on mostly aerobic conditioning, you are also working on several different energy systems and athletic components (endurance, strength, power, cardio etc) at the same time.

Aim to have about 2 – 3 S&C training sessions per week, leaving most of your available time to focus on grappling questions. Another good way to minimise being overly fatigued is to utilise full body sessions instead of body part or upper/lower splits. This can help decrease your volume for specific muscle groups which can reduce the potential for DOMs. Also plan your routine in such a way that you can avoid heavy or intense lifting prior to hard sparring days.

6. You don’t have to squat, bench or deadlift.

You are not training for powerlifting and there are many other ways to build strength for grappling (and for athletes in general). Some people might have issues doing the big 3 due to injuries or have poor biomechanics specific for those exercises.

Other great exercises to build strength include the trap bar deadlift, lunges, weighted pull-ups and weighted push-ups. Even half-rep squats have been shown to improve explosive power more so than full range of motion squats. The most important thing is to have the exercise fit you and your goals and that you utilise the exercises with the correct understanding and reasons.

Photo: Gordon Ryan

7. Train your arms more!

Yes you heard me right. Grappling requires a lot of localised muscle fatigue resistance in the arms due to all the gripping, holding, pushing and pulling required over the course of a match. Of course, I’m not asking you to do cheat curls or heavy barbell curls. A better idea would be to utilise direct arm exercises such as curls with a moderate load from 15 – 20 repetitions or utilise isometric holds for time.

Hammer curls are my favourite as there’s a lot of focus on the forearms too. Your elbows will also thank you for this! Some other great exercises to build more arm endurance include Farmer’s walks, Battling ropes and using the Bulgarian bag.

Photo by Gym Pump

8. Work on your rotator cuff muscles, posterior delts and traps.

Neck and rotator cuff impingements are one of the more common injuries in grappling. This is due to the use of chokes, front headlocks and movements such as posting on the head. As a result, if you strengthen these muscles, you can reduce the risks of such injuries, any of which can put you out of training for a while (and that really sucks!).

Some great exercises to add in your routine include face pulls, band pull aparts and rear delt flyes. You can even do some of this exercises daily as a light workout. I recommend 4 – 5 sets of 15 – 20 repetitions with a light to moderate load.


Take your grappling performance to the next level by adding some strength and conditioning to your training routine. Start incorporating these tips to help build you a stronger and powerful grappling body! Take care, train hard and let’s get stronger tomorrow! Oss!

Author: Leon Tan, CSCS

I'm a certified Fitness Coach with a degree in Sports Science. I am passionate in Health, Fitness and helping people become a better version of ourselves.

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