Ask Dave: Shoulders, BJJ, and a Shed Load More!

23 04 2014

GeriHello Dave!
Firstly congrats for your new book, I find it very interesting, and mostly important, extremely useful. Indeed, after a few months of intense bjj practice, I’ve started to develop internally rotated shoulders, which led to an acute bicep tendon inflammation.

Needless to say, stops from the training became necessary.

I remembered your pieces of advice, so started to train turkish get ups, as well as swings, and used some stretch band.

Now, in my bjj school they also train in what you don’t like, functional training for BJJ. I must admit that it’s been great to get in shape, but yes, they also stress those body parts already stressed by the sport (push ups, sit ups).

Some exercises like kipping pull ups, the use of clubbells and american swings also did not do a good favor to my already weak shoulders. Long story short, I would like to strengthen the complementary parts of the body as suggested by your book. In particular the shoulders, of course. I was wondering if you could advise me if there’s any difference between KB shoulder press, and KB see saw press; and so between double KB swings or one-hand KB swings?

Sorry for bothering you, and thank you for your time.
Also, have you really thought in some on-line training? That’s be great!!!
Cheers, Geri


Hi Geri!
Always good to hear from former clients, hope you’re keeping well mate.
Now lets go through your question as there are several parts:

My New book: Thanks mate, I’m delighted it’s got you thinking, that’s always my aim, which is why I’m not one of those trainers that just releases workout program after workout program.

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So Called “functional training”

As soon as someone says those two words my eye’s roll back into my head and I start to nod off, usually into a dream about beating said training to death with their own bosu ball.
Push Ups, Sit Ups, Kipping Pull Ups (why?), Clubbells and “american” swings (again – why?) are simply exercises. They’re not necessarily functional unless we first define the function we require.
In your case, the function is as follows:

General fitness and strength for BJJ, specifically strengthen the shoulder complex to better resist injury. 
To prevent the recurrence of the biceps tendonitis/osis

Now this is defined, we can decide which exercises will be functional and which ones will not be.
Lets take the choices your instructor has made for you:

Push Ups – done right, these are a great drill, but if these are simply pounded out for reps, they’re a terrible drill. And guess what most martial arts coaches do…….
For the time being, slow your push ups right down, I’m talking 2-3 seconds on the way down and 2-3 seconds on the way up. Make sure the elbows flare out from the body by NO MORE than 45º and the hands are directly under the shoulders.
Tuck the tailbone under to keep the abs and glutes engaged. In fact, do everything in THIS ARTICLE from Bret Contreras on the subject.

Will this reduce the number of reps you can do? Absolutely, but at least you’ll develop some strength and control.

Sit Ups – I’m not a fan. Poor form in the sit up can lead to tightening of the hip flexors which often inhibits the abdominals so ends up being counter productive. You have my book, if you go to Page 26 where I list the 10 abdominal exercises I’d rather see you do instead of crunches. But first and foremost, get the Dead Bug dialled in, Tony Gentilcore has a great article on it HERE

Kipping Pull Up – Seriously? Why? These are a disaster waiting to happen and serve little to no purpose in the context of BJJ. I’ve written about them before HERE so won’t go into it again. Instead do lots and lots of Inverted Rows, be sure to elevate the chest and get the shoulder blades (scapula) sliding back and down before you even begin to pull.
When you’re getting good at these, start on Chin Ups with the palms facing you, but still focus on the scapula sliding back and down.

Club Bells – I’m surprised at this, very few people use them at all and those that do are usually fairly skilled. Clubs are excellent for the shoulder if done right.
I can only assume you’re not doing them right or you’re going too heavy. 1-2kg is plenty for most peoples needs unless you wish to specialise in clubbell training.
Here’s a clip I made a while ago on how I apply the clubs in training:

“American” Swings – again, why? This is another one I’ve covered before (HERE) so won’t go into detail on. Needless to say, it’s not going to do your shoulders any good at all.

More About Swings:

You asked about the difference between 1 and 2 handed swings, and also double swings.
Basically it’s this:
2H swings are a basic introductory exercise where both hands are on one bell. This is fine, but when you change to one handed swings the value of the exercise skyrockets. Now we have the whole weight in one hand, which causes the core to have to work that much harder to control the rotational force. The weight also goes through one shoulder, which asks the upper back to work a little harder to keep the shoulder secure in it’s socket.
And your grip is under more stress.
All these are good things for BJJ, and everything else in your life.

Now the double swing is a different animal again, we use it for developing explosive power. It’s in the same category as the barbell high pull and power clean, but many find it less technical to master. Plus we have some interesting physics to deal with as the bells accelerate back through the legs into the backswing, by the time they reach the terminal point on the backswing we have taken our hamstrings, glutes and back into a stretch position and then loaded them with a weight that is moving away at speed. We need arrest that movement before we can reverse it and fire the weights forwards again.
This is really where the value of a swing lies, it’s tricky to replicate with any other tool. Having a bell in each hand, means twice the load and many times the power requirements to get the bells flying.


The Kettlebell Press and the See-Saw press, why one and not the other?
They’re both great presses, but I like the See-Saw with a lot of my guys rather than the straight press where both bells move together.
To be fair this is a blog post in itself, I may sit and write that next, but in short there are two main reasons.
The first is the positioning of the body. If we’re dealing with people who are a little banged up from their sport, the see-saw press can be more forgiving as the body can lean away slightly from the bell travelling up. With two bells the lines are that much tighter and some individuals simply can’t tolerate it.
The second reason is that there’s no opportunity to relax during the See-Saw as both bells are in constant motion meaning the waist is in constant motion. With the double press they both come to rest on the chest allowing time to breath and relax.
Yes, I think a full blog post on the See-Saw press is needed.

Online Training
This is a service I kind of offer. I have a couple of people I help out through online service, but it’s not something I make a habit off. Mostly because I can’t see the person and get my hands on them while their training.
I’m looking into working around this, but lets just say, to get me to train you onine will require some persuasion at this moment!

I hope this goes some way towards answering your questions and helping you on your training journey.
All the best and keep in touch

Dave Hedges

A Quick Guide to Upper Back Strength & Shoulder Health

22 04 2014

Your shoulders take a beating.

Especially when your training partner knows 99 ways to hyper extend the joint to cause enough pain to make you tap before ligaments & tendons begin to tear or the joint becomes dislocated.

It’s not just your opponents attempts to submit you, but the general posture of a fighter that can stress the shoulder joint. Having a rounded (kyphotic for you anatomy nerds) upper back encourages the shoulder blades to “wing”, which stretches out the muscles in the mid and upper back region preventing then from doing their job.
And their job is to control the scapula (shoulder blade) whose job it is to keep the shoulder joint stable.

Poor scapula control leads to poor shoulder stability and a vastly increased risk of shoulder injury.

You must keep the upper back strong and get the muscles firing.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Joe DeFranco, but he’s one of the world’s top strength coaches and an influence of mine.
It’s through his work that I learned of an exercise called the handcuff drill. It’s the first drill featured in this clip:

The other exercises shown are also of great value for resetting the shoulders and strengthening the upper back, but the handcuff drill, being equipment free is one that should be added to your BJJ warm ups, in fact I feature it in the Fighting Back manual when I discuss how to warm up.

As part of your supplemental strength work for the upper back, there is a one drill that is a must.
It is the Inverted Row, ideally on rings or a TRX unit.

The Inverted Row is classed as an upper body horizontal pull. Which if you think of the direction of pull used most in your BJJ, it’s against an opponent to the front of you, so mostly horizontal.
But why this drill really works is that it is closed chain. That means your body is moving through space.

Using the rings allows the hands to rotate and move relatively free which will allow the scapula to retract as you pull and protract as you lower. Add a 2-3 second pause at the top of the pull and you’ll feel your rhomboid muscles scream for mercy!

Here’s a clip:

Shoulders are one of the most commonly injured joints across the athletic spectrum, but in a sport like grappling where it is actively attacked.
Take care of your upper back as a priority, your training efficacy and longevity will appreciate it.

As a wee bonus, here’s a video of European BJJ Champion Seb going through a conditioning set incorporating the Inverted Row:


Have you got your copy of Fighting Back yet?
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Dave Hedges

A Genuinely Functional Exercise for BJJ

17 04 2014

Sports specific training was a hot topic a while ago, riding in on the back of the whole “functional training” nonsense.

It’s still around, but I think it’s finally dying out.

But does that mean you can’t put together a gym program that is specific to the needs of your sport?

Of course it bloody doesn’t.

It does mean that taking the actions commonly found in your sport and doing them with a weight in your hand is usually a waste of invaluable gym time.

After all a BJJ player spends his life in a curled up (flexed) position working against the resistance of another human being, why then go to the gym and do more of this with only gravity as resistance?
Why would he put his spine under further stress and play deeper into any dysfunction their sport promotes?

Why not get to the weight room and work an exercise that will develop real strength while going a long way to rebalance the body?

In Fighting Back I look into the posture that becomes very common amongst many BJJ players and it becomes clear that all the time on the mat rolling in a foetal position tightens and shortens the musculature on the front of the body.
We’re talking Pectorals, especially the Pec Minor, the Abs and the Hip Flexors.

This means that while strength in these areas is absolutely necessary , there’s a good chance their getting worked adequately on the mat. After all, what do most people do when they don’t have a gym to train in? Push Ups and Crunches!
I’ll bet that your BJJ warm up contains dozens of push ups and crunches.

When you get in the gym you’d be better of with a simple, yet little known variation of classic lift.
I’ve made this lift a corner stone of many a BJJ player’s training program with great success.

It’s called the Snatch Grip Deadlift.
It’s like a regular deadlift but with a wider grip on the bar. This means you start in a lower position, asking more from the legs and with the arms wide to smoke the upper back. So you work the all important extension pattern of the body, learn to tighten the upper back and control the shoulder blades and develop ridiculous core and grip strength.

Here’s a clip I made especially for the Fighting Back manual

If this is a new exercise to you, start light and focus on form. Keeping a straight spine and the shoulders pulled back and down is more important than the amount of weight you can lift.
Limit strength is not a priority for BJJ, but a healthy spine and shoulders absolutely is. This variation on the deadlift will do more to balance the body than just about any other exercise you can choose, follow it with some high rep  1 arm kettlebell swings and you’ve a training program that will do more for you than 99% of all the other training advice you will see on the internet.


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Dave Hedges

Fighting Back – How to Stop Back Pain & Improve Your BJJ Game

14 04 2014

It’s finally here!

It gives me great pleasure to finally announce the release of

Fighting Back – How to Stop Back pain & Improve Your BJJ Game

Click the image to Purchase

Click the image to Purchase

If I was marketing savvy, I’d have a really long sales pitch lined up for you here with testimonials and before and after pictures.
But I’m not, so I don’t.

What I do have is a line of BJJ players coming to me every day at my Gym for training. And amongst the GFT BJJ team that train out of Wild Geese Martial Arts, those that come to me for supplementary fitness work are the ONLY ones that don’t suffer with any form of back pain.
They also recover faster between rounds of rolling.
They pick up fewer niggling injuries.
They are simply tougher, which in a bout where skills are equal or even stacked against. This toughness can become the deciding factor in who comes out on top.

Personally I find BJJ fascinating.
I don’t train it myself, my martial preferences lie elsewhere, but from a strength coach / movement therapist point of view, watching the guys roll is fascinating.

Ok, I said fascinating twice there, but I can’t think of a better word.

The fluidity with which they move about on the ground, the agility they display and mad positions they bend their bodies into is incredible to watch. But the cynical coach in me is constantly wincing as their spines are loaded and flexed to degrees that they really shouldn’t.

Watching them train multiple times per week, and on the odd occasion getting in and rolling with them has had me thinking of what they need to train in order to simply survive the rigours of their chosen sport.
What movement patterns dominate the sport?
What muscles and lines of force (I love Thomas Myers Anatomy Trains thinking) are being prioritised by the sport?
What are the potential ramifications of emphasising these elements?
And what can we do about it.

This is my thought process for developing athlete specific training programs.
This eBook lays out pretty much the whole thought process.
If you read and digest the information in the book, you will be able to take it, and the sample training programs laid out in it and start to figure out how best to apply this to your own training.

I’ve given you details on how to warm up in a manner that will target all the common BJJ problem areas, there’s an equipment free bodyweight workout and gym workouts for training, 2,3 or 4 days per week.
These are carefully considered workouts that if work diligently, patiently and progressively will help you develop a strong body that is resistant to injury while becoming faster and more enduring.

Once you’ve toyed with them and the other information and exercises laid out, you’ll then be able to adjust these programs to make them more specific to your individual needs.

And that’s about as much of a sales pitch as I can stomach to write.

You can read more and purchase the book from THIS LINK


Dave Hedges

BJJ and the Office Worker, how one can help the other

11 04 2014

The clock is ticking down…….

I’ve got the final edit back of the long awaited eBook that is Fighting Back.
It’ll be officially released this Monday.

The whole thing started before christmas when one of my lads, a keen BJJ player and a dedicated lifter asked me why some of the lads were complaining of back ache.

This started a discussion involving the following diagrams being drawn on my mirrors:

The answer to the question

The answer to the question

Anyone who’s asked a good question at WG has at some point had diagrams drawn for them by me. And many of the blog posts on this site are essentially a transcription of these conversations.

When I sat down that evening to start the blog post on why BJJ players suffer back pain the article just kept getting longer and longer. Eventually we had to decide that it would be better suited to an eBook than a blog post.

The a-ha moment for Seb, who asked the question and for many that I’ve since spoken to and even the reviewers of the manual is the bottom left image on the mirror.
I found a better way to illustrate it:

Office posture vs BJJ posture

Office posture vs BJJ posture


Can you see how the picture of the office worker is almost identical to the posture of the BJJ player. In fact both players.

Now, the postural issues associated with sitting for hours have been well documented. But sitting is a passive activity, these guys are assuming very similar postures in a dynamic manner. They are doing hundreds of repetitions of crunches each time they roll with a partner. And the crunch is derided by strength coaches around the world.
A BJJ player goes through so much spinal flexion, very often under load and coupled with a rotation of some sort that it’s make Dr. Stuart McGills hair turn white!

In the eBook we discuss the potential consequences of this and also the methods I use to combat this and not just strengthen the back but to make the athlete as injury proof as possible.

This is a review I just got in from a very experienced and highly respected Combatives instructor, BJJ player and much, much more, a man named Cecil Burch,

I have been intensely involved in the martial arts for over 34 years, and with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for 20. In that time, I have competed at more tournaments that I can remember, and have put in a lot of time on the mat. In doing so, I have done some damage to my body, both through the physical training as well as the wear and tear of life. I wish I would have had Dave Hedges’ book Fighting Back years ago. In simple language even someone like me can understand, he gives you the prescription not just to fix bad backs, but to make them better and stronger so you can keep training hard for years to come. I truly enjoyed this book and have already implemented his advice into my own personal training regimen. I heartily endorse this book, and look forward to more from Dave.
Cecil Burch, 1st degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Learn more about Cecil at his website:

Tom Furman, also a life time martial artist as well as one of the original RKC guys and a guy who I steal a good bit of info from simply wrote, “Really, really, really, good. I love the massive amount of drills and illustrations. This is world class!”
Tom’s known for speaking his mind, he’s not afraid to say what he thinks, so to have him say that is high praise indeed. You’ll read more about Tom at

You’ll be able to purchase and read your copy from Monday.

In other news, remember me telling you about Maria who’s on an 1100km solo trip by bicycle stopping to run the Paris Marathon, the London Marathon and the Dublin half marathon, each on consecutive weekends.
Well she’d hitting London tomorrow, having run the Paris marathon in 4hrs 11min and cycling her way north over the subsequent 5 days.
If you haven’t donated to her fundraising effort, she’s doing this challenge for the Laura Lynne Childrens Hospital and Pieta House. You can donate HERE

See you Monday


Dave Hedges



Warming Up for BJJ, Are You Doing It Wrong?

7 04 2014

Warming up is a pain in the back side. Everyone hates it, many skip it, other just go through the motions and the rest probably do it plain wrong.

Warming up for a weight session is fairly well documented, I’ve written about it myself in the past and I’ve a request to write about it again from a good and respected friend.

But today I want to talk about your martial arts practice. Specifically you BJJ guys.

Warming up for a sport isn’t much different initially to a gym warm up, we need to follow the same basic sequence:

Raise core temperature
Raise heart rate
Eliminate stiffness
Encourage full range of motion
Practice specific skill
Get the mind and body firing together

So those few minutes of holding a stretch aint going to cut it.

I’m not saying stretching doesn’t work, I am saying it’s a poor choice for a warm up.
What we need is movement. Stretch dynamically, ie go into the tightness and straight back out, do it multiple times, going deeper each time.
After a few reps we ought to feel the muscle just let go as it awakens and starts to fire. It ought to feel awake and ready to go.

Which is the whole point of warming up in the first place.

The next part of the warm up should be dealing with specific issues the sport brings up.
This is almost never done, unless the instructor is extremely switched on.

What do I mean by dealing with specific issues the sport brings?
Every sport has its particular movements and postures that are repeated more than any other.
For BJJ, it’s essentially the foetal position, curled up, spine and hip flexed.

So we often find BJJ players who have terrible extension. So why not work on that while warming up?

If we only ever strengthen the sporting postures, eventually the body will put it’s breaks on and prevent further progress or it’ll get injured. So spend time opening the hip flexors, extending the spine and retracting the shoulders.

The following video is one of the clips I have filmed to support the upcoming release of the Fighting Back eBook.
It shows the suggested warm up sequence from the book:

Now, if there’s a group of you, you may not all have rollers and bands. So here’s a bonus that only needs a skipping rope and less than 10 minutes:

Of course, if skipping is impractical, skip the skipping and instead run on the spot (get those knees HIGH!) or use star jumps.

The Fighting Back manual is still with my editor having the many spelling errors corrected, but we will be releasing it for purchase this coming Monday.

Be sure you get your copy.

Almost there!

Almost there!


Dave Hedges

42km Down, 1058 To Go, Maria is Up & Running

6 04 2014

Right guys and girls, let me tell you a story.

marialimerickI have a woman trains with me on a regular basis, someone who’s presence on the training floor always makes everyone else stand up and be counted.

She deadlifts 100kg
She swings a pair of 36kg bells
She does pull ups in double figures
She captains the Kettleheads Girevoy Sport Team
She holds black belts in Kyokushin Karate
The list goes on

And is now in France where she just completed part one of her next big challenge.

Lets talk about the challenge.

Arrive in Paris and run the Paris Marathon, from there cycle to London to run the London marathon the following weekend. From London it’s another cycle trip, this time across the width of England and Wales to catch the ferry to Dublin, where she’ll finish by running a Half Marathon in the Phoenix Park.

So over three consecutive weekends she’ll have run two full marathons and one half marathon, each in a different country, travelling only by bicycle (yes, and ferry!)

And the whole thing is a solo effort, she is completely unsupported. No follow car, no film crew, no one cycling beside her.

It’s an 1100km solo effort powered by only by her own two legs and indomitable will.

So why is Maria doing this?

Simple, she’s taking sponsorship to raise funds for two charities that she supports, Pieta House and the Laura Lynn Childrens Hospice.

She’s collecting money through her page  <—–that’s a link people, click it!

If you train at WG-Fit, you’ve met Maria, you’ve seen her train and I’m sure you’ve had her come and support you on the gym floor.
Now it’s her turn, she needs you to support her by donating.

In case you missed it earlier, here’s another link t the donation page:


Here’s some links to the charities she’s supporting:

Pieta House – The Centre for the Prevention of Self-Harm or Suicide –
Laura Lynn Childrens Hospital –


And those swings I mentioned, check this out:




Dave Hedges




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