Getting in shape for grappling. The hardest thing you’ll ever need to do off the mats. It is not just hard as a workout, it is hard to find the method that really works for you. We all know that it is very easy to get lost in all the mumbo-jumbo available on the Internet. Well, it is easy to get lost even if you’re looking in all the right places. There are so many books, videos and all kinds of material that simply getting through them all is going to require a few years. let alone giving it all a try. So is there a tried and tested method, something that builds grappling conditioning and strength, something fairly easy to learn and something you can do in as little time as possible? There’s only one method that ticks all these boxes that I’m aware of – complexes. While this narrows down your search, you still need to focus on the correct complexes for BJJ.
Back in the day, people often divided their training between pure strength sessions and pure conditioning ones. People that train grappling, though. do not have the time to train like this, Yes, even if they are professionals, training like this requires too much time and has very little actual return. Going with everything in one session is also not an opportunity. It simply takes too much time and doesn’t illicit enough adaptation to improve grappling conditioning. However, hiding somewhere in obscurity there’s a methodology that people have been using for years to develop incredibly well-conditioned boxers, wrestlers, and even MMA athletes. Yet, for some reason, people seem to skip over this method in search for something “modern”.
Modern methods, as impressive as they might look do not have the pedigree some of the old-school stuff do. Still, people tend to dismiss them as completely ineffective, even before trying them. Those that give grappling conditioning methods like complexes a try, soon develop a specific relationship with them. Once you grind them out for a while, just like with BJJ they grow on you. There’s a love-hate relationship that most grapplers have with complexes. they can get you in truly incredible shape but they’re going to squeeze every last drop of energy from you.
Simplifying Complexes For Grappling Conditioning
Okay, what exactly are complexes? They are a series of exercises, performed with just one training tool, done back to back with no rest for a certain number of reps. For example, you pick up a barbell and go through a series of exercises for, let’s say 10 reps each. When you’re done with exercise one, you do not take a break, nor put the barbell down, but instead, goto the second exercise. You keep going like this until you finish all exercises, thus completing the complex. then you get a couple of minutes of rest and you go back in.
The use of complexes as a tool for training athletes is mostly due to a man named Istvan Javorek. Javorek is a Romanian weightlifter who became famous for training college athletes in the USA. He used complexes to get his athletes in tremendous shape, thus exposing the world to a hugely underrated training methodology. For grappling conditioning, there’s hardly anything better that you can do.
With complexes, you can1 achieve everything people used to achieve by training strength and conditioning separately and more! Complexes build endurance, a gas tank like nothing else, explosive power, strength and mental toughness. Plus you can use countless variation to keep things interesting. You can change up reps, sets, weight, training tools and more. They have a fairly easy learning curve, especially if you choose kettlebells, and can provide great benefits, even with light weights.
If you’ve never attempted a weighted complex, it’s best that you start at the bottom. Bodyweight complexes are also known as circuits. While they can consist of everything, in terms of grappling conditioning, throwing in specific move along with basic calisthenics is always a smart thing to do. Here’s a fool-proof bodyweight complex to get you going for BJJ:
- Jump Squats
- Bear Crawl
- Mountain Climbers
- Standing Pass Drill
- Wrestler Sit Outs
Aim to hit 3 rounds of the complex, with 2 minutes of rest in between. Go for reps, in the beginning, starting at 10. Once you’re comfortable with reps, move on to timed sets, working without rest for 30 – 60 seconds. Expect an incredible gas tank very soon!
Kettlebells are probably the number one tool for grapplers. There’s something about training with a cannonball that has a handle on it. Plus, the movements are incredible for specific grappling conditioning. The kettlebell is both easier to master technically than the barbell, and is a great tool to introduce you to barbell training. Since kettlebell training uses a lot of Olympic style lifts, you’ll learn the mechanics you need to do complexes with dumbbells or a barbell.
There are plenty of examples, but one proven way of conditioning is with the following complex (done with two kettlebells):
Reverse lunges on each side
- Clean and press
- Front Squats
- Figure 8s
Look to complete 4 rounds, 1-2 minute rest in between. 10 reps on every exercise and make sure it is a weight you can handle. Since snatches are the most demanding exercise here, use them to figure out your weight. Just one hint, go lighter than what you think you can handle at first. You’ll thank me later.
Dumbbell complexes are either for people who do not have access to kettlebells or those that have shoulder issues and need to avoid barbells. that said, they’re nothing if not effective as a grappling conditioning tool. Actually, they offer much more variety than barbells, although they are somewhat easier to perform.
A basic dumbbells complex for grapplers should look something like this:
- Upright Row
- Hang Snatch
- Shoulder Press
- Bent Row
- Thrusters (squat with a push press)
- Good Mornings
- Triceps extensions
The recipe is actually one of Javorek’s and calls for 6 reps of each, for 3-5 rounds. Rest a minute between sets and jump straight back in. Again, your hardest exercise is the one dictating weight. Here it is either triceps extensions or the shoulder press.
Finally, the truly brutal representative of complexes – barbell complexes. These were the bread and butter for Javorek. They’re also the preferred method of plenty of wrestling and boxing coaches. About a decade ago, Randy Couture came out with a complex that the grappling/MMA community went crazy about. It was nothing special but it was short, brutal and effective. Since we’ve come some way forward since then, we’re going to offer a slightly different complex than Randy’s. If you, however, prefer to go with his complex, by all means, go for it. It’s not like it won’t do wonders for your grappling conditioning.
We’ll use just six exercises for the complex here, and keep it pretty basic. The reason is that you actually do not need anything more than this:
- Front Squats
- Military Press
- Back Squats
- Good Mornings
I’ll offer you a couple of options in terms of reps. One is to go for 8 reps of each, the usual 3-5 rounds with a minute or two rest. Another is to start at 8 reps and lower a rep each round, while you increase the weight. This translates to 8 rounds total, again with a couple of minutes rest. Be careful, though, as these are harder than anything you’ve tried before, grappling included!