3 Training Points for Bulletproofing the BJJ player

I work with a good amount of martial arts guys, many of whom train BJJ.

This isn’t news, I know, I mention it a lot.

Romulo Barral having his knee checked out

Romulo Barral having his knee checked out

But today I was working with a very experienced practitioner and we ended up chatting about the sport and its effect on the body.

Due to the nature of the game, BJJ is very much an upper body game. The legs are usually trained for flexibility and little more.

Yet most players fall victim to lower body injury. Knees are commonly injured, hips are stressed and the low back gets hammered.

It’s the reason I wrote Fighting Back in the first place, as more and more of the lads were coming to me with a very un-manly complaint of low back pain.
Why mention “un-manly” because they lads are proud of the shoulder pain they received as they resisted and escaped that submission attempt, the knee was hurt when so and so did this super-mega-awesome sweep.
But the back, well that just niggles away.

But there is a way around this, in fact three ways.

1 – Stop doing crunches for abs

2 – Open up those hip flexors

3 – Learn to deadlift, swing and squat

For abdominal strength, switch to various plank style drills.
A favourite version of the plank is the push up, I highly recommend this, especially if you utilise the posterior pelvic tilt as described in the clip below. If you simply hold the top of the push up, then that’s a plank. Here’s the clip:

For hip flexors, try Tom Furmans Activate Bridge.
It’s incredibly effective at opening the hip flexors via the process of reciprocal inhibition. By bridging up and pushing against the band we get a deep contraction in the glutes our hip extensors, which will allow the hip flexor to relax for a while.
The active stretch in between puts some length into the muscle before it begins to tighten up again.
Have a watch here:

If you wrap a resistance band or your belt around your knees and push out against it, the result skyrockets.

And then get strong. Like proper strong.
And there’s doubt that real strength comes from training the Deadlift, supported by the kettlebell swing.
Learn to squat deep, all the way down until the calves touch the hamstrings. Learn to rest in this squat position, move around in this position before we start to load it up.
I wrote a series on the knee which you can get hold of HERE

These few points can be done around your regular BJJ training, for example, open the hip flexors prior to training.
After training hit the deadlifts followed by a super set of Kettlebell Swings and Planks.

Or do a dedicated gym session 2-3 days per week.

You’re back and knees will thank you for it.

If you want to know more about the topic, don’t forget to check out the Fighting Back book

Click the image for more info

Click the image for more info


Dave Hedges

Minimal Training, Maximal Results

Once again the blog has been a bit on the barren side.

It seems that it is now October and Autumn has set in, last time I looked up It was the start of September and the Missus and I were preparing our kids to start back at school.

The last 4 weeks have been off the wall.

Off the wall in a good way, but off the bloody wall!

While my group classes have been a little quite of late, but hell, with the unseasonally good weather, why wouldn’t people want to be outside, but my private/semi-private services have been nuts.
Add to that the weekend workshops and September has been a blur.

That said, even though time has been against me, I feel I’ve made great gains in strength and mobility.


By taking on a minimalist training program built around the big rocks and then taking movement breaks whenever I can.

Lets explain.

The big rocks of training:

Upper Body Push
Upper body Pull
Lower Body

In my case they’ve comprised of:
Dips on the rings
Pull ups, again on the rings
Back Squats


As I have good mobility I can use a high bar position on the squat to go full range, ie my hamstrings touch my calves on every rep.
If you can’t et this deep, you’ll need to add in some extra work on the hamstring/glute with some kind of deadlift.

These three drills, hit 3-5 times per week with high intensity in the 3-5 rep range, albeit never to failure have helped with strength and muscle density.
Working the rings has been lovely on my old dicky shoulder.

Now for movement breaks.

Before you say it, yes I spend all day every day in my own gym, so I can train whenever I want to. While you are stuck behind a desk or whatever it is that you do to earn a crust.

But we all work.

Yes I work in a training environment, but I’m still short on time and have a family life to get home to.

This is where the concept of exercise breaks comes into its own.

It’s ridiculously simple.

Whenever you have 5-10 minutes, get down on the floor and move.

That’s it.

You may be working on specific actions, I do a fair bit of crawling and hanging. Sometimes I move into and out of various bridge type positions or work hand stand progressions.
Maybe it’s merely a few reps, other times its several minutes of unbroken motion.

Hovering is an advanced form of movement....

Hovering is an advanced form of movement….

All in, I think I train three days for around 40 minutes at a time, and then accumulate another maybe 30 or so minutes per day of non specific movement work.

If you’re a busy person, and lets face it who isn’t, this is more than adequate to keep you strong and healthy.

When you have the concept of exercise breaks down, the idea of not having time to train goes straight out the window.

Try it for yourselves.


Dave Hedges

How to Develop a Wheelie Strong Anterior Core

I know, terrible pun, but forgive me…….

Core strength is important.

No news there eh?

For years now the emphasis has been on developing the posterior chain strength, which is basically your hips, hamstrings and back. This includes your core with a posterior emphasis.

The strength and fitness industry as a whole pretty much threw out all anterior core work outside of planks and turkish get ups.

But as good as these movements are, their still not enough. Our anterior core, aka “da six pack” deserves more.

This is where the Ab Wheel roll out comes in.

If you deadlift, squat, swing snatch, then this is the opposite action.

The reason I like so much is simple.
It keeps the spine relatively neutral, which is good news for many people with a forward flexed posture, thunk of your fighting posture or even how you sit at your desk.
It loads the abdominals in a lengthened position. What the hell does that mean?

It means that as the wheel rolls out, it is stretching out the abdominals and the lats, while at the same time loading them. This pretty close to the way in which the abdominals fire in real world movement, the muscles are usually stretch loaded prior to firing. Have a look at this thrower to see what I mean:



What do you think, has she stretched out the anterior chain, including the abdominals in order to generate more power for that throw?
Now what if you were throwing a punch or a person?

There are a few important pointers that you must adhere to in order to both keep the spine safe and also get the most out of the exercise.

This video shows how it ought to be done:


Once the basic gets easy we have a few ways to progress the drill:

“Pennate Roll Outs”


Decline Roll Outs


Standing Roll Outs to a Ramp

Obviously the standing roll out is serious work, so be sure to have a solid base of kneeling work before even attempting it.
On any variation, stay within your safe range of motion, if you lose control at any point, then simple drop to the floor, trying to save it can put tremendous strain into the lower back.

This cheap piece of kit is highly underrated but if used well can and will build some serious core strength and give balance to a body.


Dave Hedges

If you want to know more about strength training for BJJ,check out the Fighting Back eBook:

Click for more info

Click for more info

Which includes a discount code for the new Fighting Back Rash Guard

Fighting Back sales

Bullet Proofing the BJJ Player


Sports science has just proven that strength training is key to preventing injuries in contact sports.

The guys at BJJ Eastern Europe published this post the other day which is going round the BJJ circles on Facebook and rightly so.

Click on the screen shot and it’ll open in a new window, be sure to come right back though…..

Click the image to open the article

Click the image to open the article

The thing that most stood out to me was the comparisons to rugby and American Football. Two sports that are known for their levels of contact and also the incredible physical condition of the athletes that play them.

The article then goes on to say how players still pick up injuries even though they strength train, but the injuries are far less sever and take far less time to recover from.

So players from two sports with the biggest impacts become more difficult injure if they undergo a strength and conditioning training program to support their game training.

As a BJJ player, you too are getting slammed around, bent and twisted into potentially dangerous positions as your opponent deliberately targets the bodies weakest parts through the use of leverage.

A rugby player may have his shoulder dislocated by bad luck, he got hit at an odd angle or landed poorly.
A BJJ player may have his dislocated because it was deliberately put in a position of mechanical disadvantage by their opponent.

It’s not a leap of faith to think that a stronger shoulder would resist injury more than a weak shoulder. And if the injury did occur, it would potentially recover at a faster rate.

Amongst the BJJ guys I work with, I see a huge discrepancy in their upper/lower body strength. I also see a lot of low back complaints and knee pain.
This is nearly always a result of one thing.


Ok, sometimes tightness. But some would argue its the same thing……

Most of the BJJ guys I know have broad shoulders, ripped abs and itty bitty matchsticks dangling out of their shorts. They’d make Johnny Bravo proud.


Train my legs?!?!?

Train my legs?!?!?

This impressive upper body and underdeveloped lower body is partly due to the nature of the game, the hips and legs are often used as a guard rather than for propulsion/power development and most of the fight is won by the torso.
And the physiques of the lads reflect this.

Which is why when they come to train with me I have them Deadlift, swing kettles and learn to squat deep.

All upper body work, other than the inverted row, is secondary to the Deadlift and squat.
Most of the time I’m not interested in them squatting heavy, but I want it deep.

As a BJJ player spend most of his time in a fully flexed position, hips and knees bent. I want them able to sit and be strong in this position, hence the emphasis on a deep squat over a heavy squat.
In that deep position we are stimulating the VMO (knee muscle), the Glutes and also asking a lot from the deeper muscles such as the pelvic floor and diaphragm.

The deadlift is all we need for the extension pattern. It’s pretty much all we need to load the nervous system and develop brute force. But for the fine tuning and range of motion, we squat.

I’m a fan of the Goblet Squat, Barbell Front squat and the Pistol Squat for just about everyone, but especially the grappling community.
Goblet squat as it’s accessible and difficult to get wrong.
Barbell Front Squat as it’s the Goblets big brother and easy to load up for when the athlete is ready to go heavy. Still hard to get wrong though.
Pistol Squat is one I had almost forgotten about until our Physio friend Andy Watson put Seb on a daily routine of Box Pistols. Now these are a common feature of many of my programs, especially if knee pain is an issue.

The pistol squat gets some flack in other circles, and to be fair their arguments are valid.
The spine is rounded and it is easier to maintain neutral spine in other single leg variations.
The leg outstretched to the front causes a flexibility issue for many.

I fully agree.
However, for a grappler flexibility should be good, and the pistol often highlights a weakness to work on.
The rounded low back is not much of a problem as the lift is generally performed with an unloaded spine.
BJJ is played with a posteriorly tilted pelvis, which the pistol squat works into.

On most other single leg variations the loaded side of the pelvis rotates posteriorly (relative to the spine) while the unloaded leg, being below or behind often rotates anteriorly. This is perfectly relevant to an upright athlete, someone fighting on their feet, but for our “Butt-Scooting” friends, is less relevant.
Developing strength in this bottom position is vital for the hip and knee health as a fighter progresses in both training age and real age.
There’s a lot more about the knee and how we can apply the pistol squat in THIS POST

Once basic strength and mobility have been established we can add in some power work with Heavy Kettles and Olympic Variants of barbell lifts, we may even do some jump training.

Of course there’s more to it.
But this is as much as you need to start in your journey towards insuring your joints against injury.


Dave Hedges


Fighting Back – my eBook on supplementary strength training for BJJ that focusses on the low back and removing low back pain has been very well received since I released it.
I got several requests that we take the rope design from the cover and turn it into a Rash Guard.

Well, it’s here……..

Check this out:

Click for more info

Click for more info

Now the good bit.
If you buy the eBook, I’ll send you a discount code for the Rashie. Those who already have it, already have an email from me with the code.
If you buy the Rashie, I’ll email you the eBook.

Fighting Back sales

Better Mobility for your Squat, Lower Body Mobility and BJJ

Movement has been the hot topic of 2014.

Since learning the Anatomy in Motion system for Movement Therapy at the start of the year, attending the Ido Portal workshop a few months ago and generally fielding more and more questions from my clients about fundamental movement as opposed to just strength and endurance.

And I’m having a ball with the rise in interest in this topic.

I especially like it as it’s the anti-thesis of so much of the current fitness world, which is run by strength coaches promoting, well, strength; Physique coaches and their obsession with symmetry; Fat loss coaches flogging insecurity for the low price of €49.99 (with over €200 worth of FREE bonuses!!!) and Crossfit turning everything into a competition.

Movement for the sake of movement is being lost.
Movement quality is declining, being lost in the search of extreme weights, extreme power, extreme physiques, extreme WOD times.

But in one area, the thinking is relatively pure.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu possibly has the most varied and complex movement potential of all the martial arts at the moment. Of course we have wrestling and Capoeira, but BJJ is where it’s at right now.


With it being such a young art with such a hotly contested competition circuit, many practitioners are looking outside of the BJJ box to learn about better movement so they can take it with them onto the mat.
Strength is useless if you can’t move, endurance can be worn down if your fighting against your own physical restrictions as well as your opponent.
So movement, mobility, the ability to move freely and with confidence is becoming more and more recognised.

This is reflected in the rise in popularity of systems like Ido Portal’s, the MovNat and Primal Move and guys like Dewey Nielson.

I only heard of Dewey this year as my thinking moved back towards movement (it used to be my prime focus back as a martial artist living in the mountains), and he has some great drills.

When Seb, the BJJ guy who trashed his motorcycle and had to have his knee almost completely reconstructed, came to me and mentioned that he’s still not comfortable in the bottom of the squat. Well, we moved away from the barbell and towards the movement prescription.

After one round of this drill, his squat significantly improved:

This is a task focused exercise that is challenging all his joints, but particularly the ankle, knee hip and spine. Because of his focus on the task, he’s not thinking too much about controlling the movement, which means the body is free to do whatever is needed.

His joints are being taken outside of his conscious comfort zone, the muscles that are there to support the joint and decelerate movement are kicking in like a charm and his entire system wakes up as a result.

In one session his mobility increased several fold. After 2 sessions, he’s bouncing around. Imaging how he’ll be in a few months time?
And since the deep squat position is fundamental to any grappling game (think of the position you are in as you turtle up, side control, hold guard….it pretty much all deep squat)

For more on Conditioning for you BJJ, click this image

For more on Conditioning for you BJJ, click this image

Strength and endurance are key components of fitness but they form an incomplete picture, it’s an unstable model.
Mobility, ie the ability to move freely with strength and control, is the third side.
And three sides make a triangle, the most structurally sound geometrical shape.


Dave Hedges


2 Ab Wheel Variations, because it not hard enough already!

core-training-129x300Anterior core training or “Dem Abz” is important.

It’s kind of fallen out of favour in this era of functional training, especially as any abdominal training is usually seen as vanity work and the domain of body builders and those horrendous group gym classes.

But in athletic terms, having a midsection that is strong and powerful is essential.

Proper full body compound lifts like the Squat, Deadlift, Swing, Snatch, Push Up and Military press all work the core, as do Kettlebell essentials like the Turkish Get Up.

But sometimes, it’s worth giving them some extra love.

There are probably more Ab training tools and tricks on the market than anything else, but one has stood the test of time. The humble Ab Wheel.

It is one of my favorite training tools. One reason is that the roll out takes the abdominals into a stretch position as it loads them. This, I feel is a better way to train for most. Especially as most athletic power movements involve the stretch loading of the core musculature, so being strong at length and resisting that stretch is kind of important.

Here are some abs:

sprint abs

The Ab wheel roll out is rough. There few enough people that have the strength to do them from standing, most struggle to do the standard kneeling roll out.
But once you can do it, the jump from the knees to the feet is huge, too much for most. So in this post I want to share two variations that I like to use with my guys once they’ve mastered the standard roll out.

First the Pennate Roll Out
Roll one to the front, one to the left and one to the right. Here’s a video:


Knees Elevated Roll Out
This increases the load on the abdominals quite significantly so take care to keep the hip tucked under and a rounded back (the opposite of when you squat or deadlift)

Both of these up the ante a lot, but not as much as trying to go from the feet.

If you do want to go from the feet, I recommend the method outlined in Fighting Back and use a ramp of some kind to roll up onto.

Try these, just don’t sneeze the day after!


Dave Hedges


Random Friday Stuff

Had a client cancel on me last minute, so I’ll take this opportunity to write a few words down for you to stare at instead of doing whatever it is you usually do at this time on a Friday….

First this:

1 – Cat saves boy from Dog Attack!


Now I’m definitely a Dog man, but I’ve had a cat in the past. But see this cat? It’s bloody Ninja!

A take away point with some relevance to fitness training and all round awesomeness?


Identify the problem (in this case, a dog is attacking my best buddy)
Formulate a plan (take out the dog)
Execute the plan with maximum aggression (dog gets taken out)
Move onto next thing

You don’t have to be a cat attacking a dog to learn something from this, but you can learn.

In your fitness training, have you identified your problems?
Are your glutes not firing?
Has your progress stalled?
Are you moving towards your goal?

If so, have you formulated a plan to fix this?

Are you now executing that plan like your life depends on it?


2 – Book Review

Mr Gan Power of Tramore Tactical Fitness and Tramore Kettlebell Club has just reviewed my Fighting Back eBook.
You can read it by clicking the image:


3 – A really cool article in the New York Times called “You Walk Wrong – How We’re Wrecking Our Feet Wih Every Step We Take”

Now, this is ironic that I am reading this just after the people behind the Vibram 5-finger shoe are being sued for false claims about the effects of barefoot simulation shoes.
So they took the message and spun it out to make money, well, hopefully they’re now learning their lesson because, as the NY Times points out, our feet are designed to move and shoes are preventing this happening.
However, taking a knee jerk response and simply shedding your shoes and going out pounding the pavement bare foot, is just as bad!
These athletes and tribesmen that run barefoot their whole lives, have run barefoot their whole lives. They don’t sit for 8-10 hours a day and then strap on their Nikes to pound out 10 miles on concrete.
No, they have run about in their bare feet since they could walk. You on the other hand were put in shoes and told not to run in the corridors.
So to suddenly jump up and start running, especially over uniform concrete surfaces, is a recipe for disaster.
You want to run barefoot or in minimalist footwear? Good, but get out to the woods and the hills and do it.
Break in slowly
Don’t throw out your other runners, still use them.

The problem, in  my opinion, is not really the shoe at all. It’s the way we move and what we move on.
Back when I lived in the English Lake District I used to run the fells, along with some of the knarliest bastards ever to lace up.
These guys were balls of sinew, barely human at all. They hardly ever ran on roads or any flat, even surface and other than twisted ankles, they as a group seemed to have fewer leg or running related issues than the road runners.

Uneven terrain forces you to constantly adapt, to constantly change stride length, stride frequency, ground contact times, weight shift. In fact no two steps will be the same.
Whereas on road, each step is like groundhog day. Can you say “Pattern Overload” or how about “Repetitive Strain Injury” ?

Running doesn’t injure you.
Shoes don’t injure you (unless their really don’t fit, or are simply stupid)
The way you run and what you run on is what injures you.

Oh, I suppose I’d better post a link to the article, click the image:

NY Times Barefoot


Dave Hedges