Absolute Strength for Grapplers
The different grappling sports all have a few things in common; you need to be skilled, strong, tough and possess a high level of endurance. You must do more than show up to practice to reach the highest performance levels possible. This is where a strength training program becomes necessary.
While sports practice will improve your sports skills, endurance, and strength to some degree, the strength adaptations won't be as great as sports practice combined with a properly written Conjugate Method strength training program.
One of the common misconceptions about strength training for sports is that the more an exercise imitates a sport-specific motor pattern, the greater the effect the movement has on strength development. The correct approach is to identify the STRENGTHS required to excel at the sport and program exercises in a pattern that develops those strengths to the highest degree.
Practice + Strength Training = Improved Athlete
It's a simple concept; sports skill is developed at practice. The strengths that allow an athlete to excel at the sport are developed in the gym. An athlete's overall success depends on their ability to combine the two in the most optimal way possible.
One important attribute in all sports, especially grappling sports, is absolute strength. Absolute strength represents the maximal amount of force an athlete can produce. Gains in absolute strength for a grappler lead to stronger takedowns, better sprawls, improved control, and the ability to use strength to force submissions when technique fails.
Not only will you be stronger, but you will also become more resilient. Absolute strength development is achieved when an athlete trains at intensities above 90%. This training will also cause physiological adaptations such as increased bone, muscle, and tendon density. These are all things that greatly benefit an athlete, especially grapplers.
Understanding Max Effort
At Westside Barbell, we utilize max effort lower and max effort upper training days to improve absolute strength. Westside Barbell has been on the cutting edge for many years regarding understanding and developing ways to safely and effectively improve absolute strength for athletes. We understood long ago that if you want athletes to run faster, jump higher, and reach the next level, they don't need endless wind sprints - they need to get stronger.
The average strength coach often misunderstands max-effort training. Max effort training does not mean going to the gym and lifting the heaviest weight you've ever lifted in your life; that would, of course, be unsustainable week to week. The idea behind max effort training is to go to the gym and lift the heaviest weight you can lift FOR THAT DAY. PRs are great, but the 90%+ intensity exposure is what we are looking for and is how we trigger the intended training adaptations.
It is unlikely you will PR every week when performing max effort lifts. For athletes, it is even recommended to leave a set or two in the tank on most max-effort days. These saved reps will decrease the recovery debt incurred by the training, which an athlete must be constantly conscious of when combining strength training and sports practice. The goal is to hit PRs as time passes, meaning a few PR lifts every 6-8 weeks. We aren't expecting strength levels to chart to the moon; a stair-step pattern is the goal.
Only the Strongest Survive
Undoubtedly, all athletes can benefit significantly from improved levels of absolute strength. As a grappler, improving your absolute strength will amplify your skills and make you a better overall athlete. When two opponents meet with matching skill levels, it will always be the stronger and better-conditioned athlete that wins.
In the future, I will further discuss the maximal effort method, along with the other strength training methods we utilize at Westside Barbell, and how they can be applied to any grappling-based martial art. In the meantime, check out our Starting Conjugate series to begin learning some of the basic ideas behind Conjugate Method training.
Simmons, L (2015). Special Strength Development for All Sports. Westside Barbell
Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.