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

The Squat – Progressions and/or Regressions

Good morning.

Today is Monday, that means in your regular gym, unless WGF is your regular gym, the place will be wall to wall bench press.

So it’s a great opportunity for you to get your squat on.

NO, Just fucking NO!

NO, Just fucking NO!

No matter what your training goals may be, the squat  will help you reach them. It is more than an exercise, it is a fundamental movement pattern, it is a mobility drill, it is a stability drill.
It tests:

  • Foot stability
  • Ankle Mobility
  • Knee stability AND mobility
  • Hip Mobility
  • Core Stability
  • Thoracic Mobility
  • Balance
  • Coordination

And if you go heavy enough:

  • Strength of Character

And if you go for high reps:

  • Cardio

Not bad eh?

No wonder it gets hailed as the King of weight room exercises.

At WGF I like people to work through a progression on their way to Squat dominance.
It’s a sliding scale that we use as a reference guide rather than a rule book.
It goes as follows:

  1. Bodyweight Squat – this sets the foundation
  2. Single Kettlebell “Goblet” Squat
  3. Double Kettlebell Front Squat
  4. Barbell Front or Back Squat, whichever is most appropriate.

Each version has it’s pro’s and con’s. No one variation is better than the other, but as a progression, they form a logical sequence.

The Bodyweight Squat is your foundation, get this smooth and deep before looking to add any significant load. This is also great cardio, we often finish a lower body sett with 100 reps, sometimes we’ll go for time, 2 minutes, 5 minutes and if I’m feeling mean, 15 minutes.
I consider 500, full ROM reps in a single set to be a goal we can all achieve.

Good form.....

Good form…..

The Single Kettlebell, or Goblet Squat is next on the list.

Dan John says do Goblet Squats. So DO Goblet Squats!

Dan John says do Goblet Squats.
So DO Goblet Squats!

This keeps the load light, but also places the load out in front. This forces good positioning, if you lean too far forwards then you’ll drop the bell.

Double Kettlebell Front Squats are the next logical step, just now more load is available.
These are very tough and usually highlight any weaknesses in the core before the legs fail. I class them as torso training, rather than a leg exercise.

Neghar Fonooni shows you how it's done.

Neghar Fonooni shows you how it’s done.

I class this as the top tier. In many ways the kettlebell squats are harder, but that’s simply due to the difficulty in holding them. A bar sits closer to your centre of balance, it sits on the structure of the body and can be loaded to a far greater degree than any other method.
If you want to get strong and powerful, the Barbell is your friend.


I’ve no preference for my clients over front or back squat. I personally prefer the front squat, it’s safer, it’s largely self correcting and puts less stress on the low back, which if you’ve beaten up your spine as much as I have, is good news.
The back squat though can be used to load the hips better and allows for greater loading. The pay off is increased risk of back injury.
We use the best squat for the athlete rather than insisting on one over the other.


So this is the progression we use. Read the list backwards and you have regressions, which are equally or even MORE useful.

The video here shows each progression and explains foot position, spine position and the commonalities that link each method.

Have a look:

Happy squatting.


Dave Hedges

Bodyweight Minimum Standards, How Do You Measure Up?

What a weekend!

Saturday just gone I was over in Galway teaching the Bodyweight Workshop.
Sunday I was with Wild Geese Martial Arts founder, Paul Cox where we presented at the Filipino Martial Arts Exchange, then when I got home, the wife and I took a rare night out together at the movies where we saw Mama.
The Missus spent most of the movie clinging onto me with one hand and shielding here eyes with the other hand. Big scaredy cat!


But anyhow, back to the workshops..

Galway was cool.
I’ve run the bodyweight workshop in a few gyms now and always been blown away but the response I got from the attendees. In each workshop, at least half the attendance are instructors and coaches in their own right, and still they leave blown away by the possibilities of training with zero equipment.

Duckwalks - feeling the buuuurn!

Duckwalks – feeling the buuuurn!

Now I’ll admit, we did digress once or twice and grabbed the odd bit of kit to illustrate a point or show how to progress a movement by adding external resistance, but the majority of the work requires nothing more than your body and few feet of floor space.
The best thing is that when I created the workshop I actually wasn’t that confident that the first half would stand up to scrutiny, after all, how long can we talk about a simple Push Up and a Bodyweight Squat?

Well? How long?

An entire hour on each movement is how long. And that’s not even going into mad variations. We take the movement and dissect it, we strip it back to its absolute foundations, look at regressions, common errors and then progressions. The progression we build to are the unilateral versions, the Pistol squat and One Arm Push Up.

What makes the day workshop special is that it seems this level of technical detail in these simple exercises is largely missing, or possibly more accurately, it’s forgotten.
Very few people give these movements their due.

And that is a problem.

Each time I run the course, I have some very experienced gym goers and athletes humbled by these exercises that are considered basic.
Watching a person doing a Push Up or doing a Squat can tell a story. It shows limitations, structural imbalances and body awareness. It gives an idea of how well a person can move athletically.

So here’s a few minimum standards for these bodyweight exercises, see if you can pass them. Remember, quality is key here, I won’t accept half reps, poor quality reps, so neither should you. Accept nothing less than perfection.

And before you go on, no, I’m not perfect, some of these I struggle to meet:

Elbow Plank – Minimum acceptable standard: 2 minutes

Push Up – 50 real reps (25 for women), chest will touch the floor between the hands and the arms will come straight on each and every rep. Keep the spine in neutral throughout, that means no sagging heads or backs. (I rarely do high rep push ups, so don’t know if I can still do this. I’ll check this week..)

Bodyweight Squats – 500 reps, full range ie hamstrings meet the calves on each rep. Keep the feet flat, although 500 Hindu squats is also good.

Wrestlers Bridge – Weight on the forehead, for 1 minute. (This one gets me!)

Single leg bridge – 50 reps per leg, from floor to full hip hyperextension.

Pull Ups – overhand grip for 15 (5 for women) full reps. I give slight rider on these, I don’t expect guys to relax into a dead hang at the bottom, as that messes with my shoulder so I don’t like it as a technique. Keep the shoulders retracted the whole time.

Once you have these, try then the following:

One Arm Push Ups x 10 each hand.
Pistol Squats x 20 each leg

20 of these per leg please.

20 of these per leg please.

Just to reiterate, quality must come before quantity.
Do your bodyweight numbers add up?

Next week I’m up in Crossfit Causeway teaching Kettlebell Technique. That’s going to be a blast!

See you there!



To Squat, or not

On Saturday I said on Facebook that I would no longer back squat because of old injuries, and a few of you supported this, thankyou. However, it’s been plaguing me ever since. I chose to retire the lift because of an old injury, as injury that once prevented me from putting my socks on, which I can now do, from cycling, which I now do daily, bodyweight squatting, which I do daily, from deadlifting, which I’m stronger at now than pre injury and much more.

So not back squatting because of this injury is akin to giving in to it. It’s compromising because of it.

And Wild Geese don’t like compromise.

So, if an old injury that prevented me from doing a stack of things can be beat, and I can do all those things except one, then I haven’t beat the injury.
I can’t be having that.

So I came up with a plan. It’s a simple plan inspired by two well-known strength coaches/authors, Pavel Tsatsouline and Charles Staley.

Charles wrote an article that I loved, it’s called boil the frog (you can read it here) and talks about how he overcame a knee injury to return to squatting. He started so gently and incremented the load so slowly that his body never noticed. Much like the analogy that if you put a frog into cold water and gradually heat it, it will boil to death, whereas if you heat it quickly it’ll jump out.

Pavel has a book out, one of his best, called Power to the People. Aside from its cheesy title, it has a great philosophy held within it. Strength is a skill and like all skills it must be practised as often as possible while avoiding fatigue.
He advocates a program of deadlifts, 2 sets, 5 days a week. The first set is the “work” set, the second is a lighter back off set. Gradually the weight is increased.

Two very similar approaches. Both tested and proven to be successful. I personally did well on the exact program Pavel outlines in PttP when my injuries allowed me to return to weight training.

So the plan:

Dave Tate teaching the Box Squat, click image for his FULL instructions

Back Squat to a low box, 5 days a week for two sets.
I started today, this is what I did:

12kg Kettlebell: Swings x 2min, 2 swing 1 snatch x 2min, 1swing 1 snatch x 2 min, snatch x 2 min. This was then repeated in the other hand, no breaks.

Barbell Back Squat: empty bar x 5 (warm up), Bar + 20kg x 5 (work set), Empty Bar x 5 (back off set)

The swing/snatch drill is my regular Wednesday drill, just to develop some grip endurance. It also served as a general warm up for the hips getting them good to squat.
The Squats are to a box set below parallel, and they felt surprisingly good. I’ll
stick to the exact same weight on the squats all week, next week and each week thereafter I’ll increase is by 10kg.
On the Saturday, which is my regular Squat day, I’ll switch to Front Squats and keep the volume low, staying well away from failure.

With luck, this will get me back to squatting safely and efficiently with respectable loads. It’s always been a weak lift for me, and that’s unacceptable.

This is an experiment, and I urge you not to follow my lead if you do, well you take full responsibility for your own actions and outcomes.

I’ll be posting regular progress reports on this, here and on facebook could be interesting.

One more thing, did you get Motivation yet?
Click the image, follow the instructions and you’ll get 41 stories from 41 Coaches, Fighters and Athletes and it’s free: