Grip strength is one of the most essential aspects of a grappler's physical preparation program. While some of the athletes that I train like to add direct grip exercises to their strength training program, I do like to emphasize my athlete's training economy and get the most out of the least number of exercises whenever possible.
An excellent way for a grappler to develop grip strength indirectly is by using a gi for many of their pulling exercises. My athletes do the majority of their pull-up and row exercises by attaching a gi to our pull-up bars, barbells and lat machine.
One thing we've been experimenting with lately is incorporating gi work with some kettlebell pulling exercises. Most BJJ athletes have access to some kettlebells and an old gi top. Here are three exercise variations that we've used at my training center that require nothing more than a gi and kettlebells.
Bent Over Row
The bent over row is one of the best exercises you can do for the back. In addition to hitting the muscles of the upper back and lats, it works the rear delts, biceps and forearms. By looping a gi top through the handle of a heavy kettlebell, you can now hold onto the lapel or sleeves and build your grip strength as well. We usually perform 4-6 sets of 8-12 reps.
The kettlebell swing is probably the most used kettlebell exercise and for good reason. This exercise strengthens the muscles of the back, glutes, hamstrings and torso which translates to powerful and explosive hips. By adding a gi top to this exercise in the same manner as the row, it will place a greater emphasis on your grip as well. We like high rep sets here usually doing 2-4 sets of 25-50 reps.
Curls often get a bad wrap in the strength training industry and are usually looked at as a joke. There is nothing funny about rupturing a biceps tendon. We do a wide variety of curls, often working in isometric and static hold repetitions as well to build muscular endurance. A great variation of the curl is to attach a gi top to a kettlebell handle and hold the lapels or sleeves of the gi in a hammer grip (palms facing each other) position. In addition to doing regular full range of motion repetitions, I recommend working static holds at 3 or 4 different positions of the exercise's range of motion. We usually do 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps or 20-30 seconds (or longer) of the static holds.
Check out this video to see these exercises in action!
Hopefully you enjoyed this article and have some new exercises to add to your training program. Don't be afraid to think outside of the box and try new things, that is often where the key to new progress is waiting. A wise man said, "If you're afraid to fail you'll never succeed."
Scott Shetler is the owner of Extreme Performance Training Systems in Atlanta, GA with 20 years of experience as a trainer and strength and conditioning professional. He trains a wide variety of clients and athletes including his fight crew athletes and offers remote training and consultation services through his online coaching program. He has authored numerous books on kettlebell training and strength and conditioning, has written for Fight! Magazine and Dubai-based Physique MMA Magazine and was selected to be the kettlebell training specialist for the TapouT Virtual Training Center (VTC). To learn more about his services visit his website at https://www.eptsgym.com.
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