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How do elite judo players, Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters, and wrestlers develop their strength? I am interested in their conditioning as well--running and the like--but primarily in resistance work. I am using this question as research for my own training goals, so my progress and training needs are not relevant. (In other words, I am not asking how I as a judo player should develop strength.)

I will answer my own question, but I know my answer is incomplete. What other lifting programs have national- or world-class grapplers used? (Details such as the development, history, scheduling and success of the programs would be helpful in understanding them.)

I'm interested in commentary about the efficacy of these workouts only relating to their performance in competition or first-hand experience. So if a wrestling team was doing OK, then started training kettlebells and won the Olympics, that's good to know. If a judoka won the World Championships then started training Olympic lifts and gassed at their next tournament, that's good to know. If the athlete, coach, or member of the athlete's team says something in an interview about how effective they found CrossFit for their grappling, that's relevant. Opinions about workout techniques or programs in general are less relevant to this question.

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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I have heard of the One Lift a Day method, described here by bodyweight/movement/gymnastics expert Ido Portal:

after their technical judo workout, the coach will name one exercise and one exercise only, and the trainees will go on to perform 7-12 sets of this exercise. One day it will be squat (5 rep range is optimal here), the next pull ups hanging from their Gi (Kimono - for added grip benefit) and the next will be deadlifts, etc...

Any further detail on that program (who used it, specific implementation) would be greatly appreciated.

I have heard of judo athletes on the national level A) doing no resistance work at all, B) doing a fairly diverse set of low-rep, high-weight barbell exercises that varied week-to-week, and C) doing high-rep sets of various barbell exercises that did not change.

I have also come across elite BJJ players who use A) Olympic-lifting-based programs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-GEoJL-AsY

and B) very diverse, CrossFit-plus-personal-trainer style workouts that involve wearing a snorkel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lmb6oowDStg

Finally, I have also seen this training clip of Soviet Greco-Roman wrestlers, which involves Olympic lifting as well as kettlebells and basic gymnastics (I hear they also squatted like maniacs): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbC6X_JyE1s

My examples only scratch the surface--they have almost no detail about the specific programs, why they're designed a certain way, and so on. I'm still very interested in more answers! :)

Update - the Brits

I found a PDF that details the British judo team's strength & conditioning approach for Beijing. The key components are on one slide:

  • Press-ups, dips, handstand pushups for warmup
  • Deadlifts and squats for strength
  • Weighted pull-ups, various barbell rows and presses
  • Olympic lifts and jump squats (eek) for power, as well as box jumps, drop jumps (I've heard these can be injury-prone), and medicine ball throws
  • Rotational work called "Gunthers" and other ways of moving a plate around the body
  • Get-ups (I assume Turkish) and farmer's walks for grip
  • Barbell rotations (these seem to be popular as a grappling-specific exercise in MMA, BJJ and judo)

Update - Research by John Amtmann, EdD, and Adam Cotton (Montana Tech of the University of Montana)

Amtmann and Cotton have a PDF paper about how judo players should build strength. Mr. Amtmann has a B.S. in Health/Biology Education, M.S. in Cardiac Rehabilitation/ Exercise Science, and a doctorate in education with a major in educational leadership.

Exercises that enhance the strength of all major muscle groups combined with lifts done in a ballistic manner. These lifts include the Olympic lifts and their supplements (power clean, power snatch, hang clean, hang snatch, and high pulls) and other lifts using an explosive phase, such as medicine ball throws, weighted squat jumps, and weighted split jumps.

Neck training should be a special consideration for all grappling athletes. Judo athletes are encouraged to throw their opponents onto their backs with high force. Because of the nature of grappling and combat sports, the judo athletes are sometimes at risk for cervical injury because body positions of the athletes can become quite contorted.

The paper also recommends pretty much every grip strength exercise you've ever heard of.

Update - Iranian wrestlers

See this video to see the Iranian Olympic wrestling team work through a variation of hang cleans/barbell rows, plus plyometrics. I'm sure their routine involves more.

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A nice barbell circuit on top of a powerlifting and GPP (General Physical Preparedness) routine.

Here is Randy Couture talking and demonstrating his barbell circuit:

youtube randy couture barbell circuit

Paraphrased from a CrossFitter's recollection of a Randy Couture seminar where they discussed his strength & conditioning routine:

  • Little to no road work (running long distances)
  • Plyometrics and olympic lifting are the mainstay of his routine - usually 2 of each per week
    • (Plyometrics) "Explosion push ups" - starting in down position with a partner or box to your right, pushing up and over the object and coming down on the other side - repeating back and forth.
    • (Plyometrics) Lots of box hops.
  • He's a huge fan of jumping rope (as he'll confess, when he wrestled in the army he had cement feet from wrestling so much Greco and had to adjust when he went to collegiate style.)
  • He was a big pull up advocate.
  • Typically, 2-3 days of rest each week.
  • He keeps most of S&C workouts to under 30 minutes
  • 20 minutes a day doing active visualization and meditation.

I recommend:

  • Powerlifting routine much like westside method, starting stength or texas method.

  • GPP routine farmer walk , sand bag thrusters, prowler or sled dragging.

  • Barbell circuit like Randy Couture's.

There is power training plus working all energy systems to round it out (in addition to grappling and striking practice).

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Could you add some detail (if available) on why Randy chose to use barbell circuits? What niche do they fill, if he's already powerlifting and doing metcon-style workouts via his GPP? Is it for endurance? –  Dave Liepmann Aug 22 '11 at 15:37
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Judo technique + judo conditioning + lifting + circuits

Kayla Harrison, training for the Olympics in judo, does the following:

Five days a week are spent doing judo: about an hour and a half to two hours in the morning and an hour and a half at night. Usually mornings are devoted to technical work, while nights are exclusively randori, as Harrison puts it, “go-go-go, from start to finish.”

Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays all have daytime workouts with her strength and conditioning coach, which includes everything from lifting to circuit training. As the Olympics near, circuit training will evolve into 10-12 different exercises, among them rope climbs, suicides and sled pushing.

So: gobs of drilling and technique work, plus greater gobs of hard sparring, plus dedicated strength and conditioning work that tapers into nearly all conditioning work as game day approaches.

Via NBC's London 2012 coverage.

In terms of scheduling, it looks like this:

Training became her full-time job. “We do judo twice a day, five days a week,” she says. “I lift five days a week and we run three days a week. So I train three times a day, five days a week, and I also lift on Saturdays.” That’s six days of training per week, with Sunday as her day for recovery.

A sample strength/conditioning circuit is as follows, repeated 3 times with 90 second rests between full rounds:

Complex: Power Clean 1x1, Front Squat 1x2, Push Jerk — 1x6

Rope Climb — 1x20 feet with 5 Pull-Ups at the top

Sled Push — 150 pounds; 1x50 feet

Sled Pull — 150 pounds with rope; 1x50 feet

Med Ball Push-Up — 1x15

V-Ups — 1x15

Med Ball V-Sit Twists — 1x20 (Harrison uses 20-lb. ball) Performed like Russian Twists, but with legs straight in V-Up starting position

Band Uchikomi — 1x50

Via Stack 4W.

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No source since this is hearsay - apparently one japanese judo school has a yard where they tied bicycle inner tubes to trees and posts. The wrestler will cricuit between the posts and mimic throws by grabbing pulling those tubes, to get a strhength (or strenght endurance) training very specific to their techniques.

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Inner-tube uchikomi is indeed a common sport-specific conditioning tool. Judo great Isao Okano used it. –  Dave Liepmann Dec 9 '13 at 12:06
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