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Other/Mixed Is strong really important for combat sports?

Other strength modalities (e.g., Clubs), mixed strength modalities (e.g., combined kettlebell and barbell), other goals (flexibility)

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
Now, I don’t mean this in a bad way, I’m just disappointed with my last six months so I’d like some opinions.

I was out of BJJ for 16 months or so, and during that time I spent the first 8 months being lazy then I did S&S plus a little bit of naked warrior practice for about 7 months. After hitting timeless simple, I started doing the 10,000 swing challenge and the first couple days were miserable but it got better and better. I was only using a 24k bell, so strength wasn’t the issue, but strength endurance played a huge part.

After two weeks, I got to roll with a few guys and I spent two hours dominating everyone and never got worn out. Then, every month or so since I have rolled with the same guys.

After finishing the 10k swing challenge, I completed timed simple, and thought I should work on my base of strength. I have since spent the last 5ish months doing mostly barbell lifting, and have gotten much “stronger.” My deadlift 5RM has increased over 50 lbs, bench press about the same, and OHP about 25 lbs. In all measurable ways, my base strength has gotten much better. However, every time I roll I do worse and worse, and my strength gives out quicker and quicker. My conditioning is now terrible, which I totally understand why and am not too concerned about since I plan to work back towards going conditioning, but I thought my strength would increase and instead I now feel overpowered by people that are my size and have done zero strength training in the past two years but focused on aerobic exercise.

Am I wasting my time with base strength work? What made the 10k swings so useful for grappling, and is a workout like that sustainable or just a peaking program? My plan was to work more base strength, then soon I was going to switch back and do some q&d/S&S/A+A in addition to barbell work, but now I’m questioning whether there’s any point in strictly strength work for athletes outside of the strength sports. Should I just go back to kettlebells and skip all the other strength work?
 
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BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
I should add that yes, I know skill development is priority number one, but we’ve all been on the same playing field for that since we all have been off the mats. I also dominate the first 10-15 minutes until more fatigue kicks in, then I just go down hill quickly.

I have heard the saying about not worrying about strength endurance until you have strength to endure, and I’m curious as to others experience whether that has shown to be true or whether I should just focus on strength endurance for combat?
 

Steve W.

Level 7 Valued Member
For most sports, when it comes to weight room strength, there's "strong enough." Strong enough is the point of diminishing returns, where more might be better, but only marginally, and perhaps not worth the opportunity cost in terms of other training and recovery capacity.

What constitutes "strong enough" varies by sport and individual. Several years ago Steph Curry reportedly was pulling 400lb trap bar DLs. That's strong for a tall (relative to average) skinny basketball player, but not for an American football player or powerlifter. For him, that's strong enough and being able to DL 500lbs would not make him a better basketball player.

It also varies by the needs of the sport. For my lifelong sport of basketball, I've gotten a lot of carryover from barbell training.

I started strength training long before I'd heard of a kettlebell. I'm very glad I developed that base of strength and found it carried over a lot to my performance on the court. I can root and wedge and use leverage to hold position against bigger players, and often move them, while staying on balance and not having to lean my bodyweight on opponents. Opposing player often comment on how strong I am, how strong I am for my size, and how much stronger I am than I look. That's due to strength skills that I developed from barbell training -- not necessarily because I can lift x pounds on a bar, but because the skill developed by lifting that weight on the bar carries over to the court.

That being said, if all I did was PTTP for a few months and then tried to play a game, I'd be (to quote Charles Barkley) "sucking wind through every hole I could get it in." Also, having put in the time over a number of years to get baseline strong (425lb DL/465lb trap bar DL at 180lbs BW at the time) and develop the strength skill from that, I haven't done much barbell lifting for a long time and haven't noticed any obvious decrease in my effective playing strength.

Long story short, barbell training can be very helpful for sports, but isn't necessarily a complete or sufficient way to prepare for competition.
 
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Adachi

Level 6 Valued Member
So, I've rolled a few times. And, I'll say, I thought to myself two things needed to improve, big time for me.

1. Flexibility
2. Conditioning

A 100 lbs female put me in my place with a couple joint locks, which I've learned were easier for her to use because I'm so inflexible.

Conditioning aspect is interesting. I never paid any attention to conditioning. It's rare that I have to attend a level 1 combatives course.

1. pavels BJJ product would probably be a great place to start. I'm sure the clean & jerk would be of help.
2. I like to think that strength aerobics would be of help for the kind of metabolic conditions that are encountered on the mat. Extended period of activity with short bursts of force.
3. I'd be willing to bet that Q&D will help with the conditioning side as well. And A+A would definitely be a part of that too. Increasing the muscles ability to harvest arriving oxygen is always a good idea.

And base strength levels are subject to the time domain as well. Pure single rep strength is great. But that's only across seconds. It's not the same version of strength to be harvested across many minutes on the mat. It's not specific enough to the sport I think.

My guess is that eliciting greater strength at the muscles is a deposit in the bank as far as your sports performance is concerned. But to cash out you'll need to harvest that strength base via increased conditioning.
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
My guess is that eliciting greater strength at the muscles is a deposit in the bank as far as your sports performance is concerned. But to cash out you'll need to harvest that strength base via increased conditioning.

This was my original thinking and what I’m now questioning. I know that’s what I’ve been told, and I’m not a big enough sample size to question it, I just want to make sure that path really is true.


For most sports, when it comes to weight room strength, there's "strong enough." Strong enough is the point of diminishing returns, where more might be better, but only marginally, and perhaps not worth the opportunity cost in terms of other training and recovery capacity.

What constitutes "strong enough" varies by sport and individual. Several years ago Steph Curry reportedly was pulling 400lb trap bar DLs. That's strong for a tall (relative to average) skinny basketball player, but not for an American football player or powerlifter. For him, that's strong enough and being able to DL 500lbs would not make him a better basketball player.

Steve Bacardi suggested that magical number for combat athletes is 2x body weight deadlift, which would also be in line with Curry deadlifting 400 lbs. I’m fairly close to there, not there yet, but other than guessing how would one know if that’s accurate for their personal situation?
 

Wyanokie

Level 1 Valued Member
@BJJ Shawn I'm a blue belt, haven't trained in a few years but I clearly remember that I also felt slower when I was doing barbell work. I have not a clue why, it was as if I detrained my fast-twitch fibers and my slow-twitch fibers grew tired quickly during a roll (probably because I was hitting them regularly with the iron), so I wasn't left with much gas in the tank.

What is your programming looking like? Do you have enough rest time between workouts? Nutrition, sleep, hydration patterns solid?

If all is well with all of those parameters, and you want to keep doing barbell work, I wonder what would happen if you rotated some barbell cleans/snatches into the mix? Might be an interesting experiment to see if the increase in power translates to the mat the way kettlebells would.
 

Wyanokie

Level 1 Valued Member
@BJJ Shawn I wanted to add another thought that I had after looking at the title. I realize that your question centered on whether being strong is important for combat sport performance, but I think that the barbell work that you are doing will pay massive dividends in protecting you from injury and reducing wear and tear on the body. So even if you're not rolling for as long as you had been per evening, you'll probably rolling for longer through the years because you're doing it. I know that you are already aware of this, but it's good to keep in mind!
 

Coyotl

Level 6 Valued Member
Short answer is yes.

Medium answer is that strength developed without concurrently developing conditioning will have that "lag" where you are gassed and it takes time to "translate" that over.

Long answer is ... it depends. ROFL There's a "pace of progress." When starting a sport, you rapidly improve in skill which makes you quickly better. The most effective thing you can do is get better at your sport. As you get better though, it takes longer and it has less and less of an impact on the field until eventually you can train for months on end to get just a little better - and it has a very minor improvement on your sport. Strength follows a similar curve - initial improvements are rapid and obvious, and eventually it slows until folks train for a year (or more) just to add 10lbs to a lift. Depending where you are in your journey with your sport or with strength will change what will have the biggest impact. With something like a combat sport, it isn't even as simple as saying there's "strength" and "skill" - there are so many other components (such as conditioning or flexibility) that maybe neither strength or skill needs to be your focus. You can be strong and skillful and get gassed easily - which might mean the hole in your game might need to be solved with some road work or liberal applications of a jump rope (or snatches), hopefully while maintaining or improving your strength and your skill.

Long answer shorter - it isn't a dichotomy. It isn't a choice between one or the other. It is a nice dinner; the main dish is your sport, and the sides and sauces and drink you pair with it should complement and improve it. You don't want your steak smothered in A1 sauce, but maybe a little you like; and maybe that pairs with a nice shot of whiskey - but not the whole bottle or you won't even taste the steak. You keep the main thing the main thing, but enhance it (without overwhelming it) with what you serve it with. (And maybe this analogy misses the mark because all you eat is raw beef and sneer at those who cook or have things like rolls dipped in butter or sweet potatoes.)
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
Short answer is yes.

Medium answer is that strength developed without concurrently developing conditioning will have that "lag" where you are gassed and it takes time to "translate" that over.
This is the answer I was hoping is accurate, as I don’t mind a lag. I’m just dreading that this whole journey turns out to be a waste of time and if I only stick with cardio/hiit then I’ll end up ahead. I know that’s not what StrongFirst says, but I’m just frustrated with my performance so I want to make sure sticking to the plan is worth it.
 

Andi-in-BKK

Level 4 Valued Member
I’m currently having a similar experience. I did strictly doubles Clean and Press for about 5 months. I noticed significant increases in strength and muscular hypertrophy.

I got back into BJJ, which I’ve been training consistently for 6 years, for the first time this week. I could tell I felt stronger and long-time training partners commented as much, but my muscular gas tank was much smaller. I didn’t feel slower or heavier, but my muscles would “bonk” after a few rounds and took a bit to recover. Good news for me at least was that my endurance started to come back (which may have been because my skills were being refreshed). And I have a Strength-Endurance program that I’m going to be running next month so that should help as well.
 

godjira1

Level 5 Valued Member
there is BJJ specific endurance - it is some sort of weird mix of muscular endurance with cardio. You don't actually use very much MAX strength in BJJ but it is a stat that feeds thru.

I am not elite BJJ competitor, but have done well as an amateur (asian masters 3 purple belt gold, pan pacific masters 2 blue gold) and there is just NO substitute from time on the mat for the skill development. If you are rolling to exhaustion every time on the mats you are doing it wrong. Like strength training/running, you have hard days (perhaps 1 randori day that you go 6-10 hard rounds to simulate a comp setting) and easy days (specific position training, flow rolling).

I keep my strength training very very simple. 99% of the time I do one upper day (Bench Press following a 5/3/1 prog with 5x5 at the first set, Pullups 30 or 40 or 50 for time); one lower day (Front Squat 5/3/1, 5x3 with the first set, followed by Trap bar deadlift 5/3/1 no extras). It serves me well - it takes quite a while to progress because it is not a priority but I am still making PRs yearly (ok not for bench) at 43. To me the importance of strength training is to keep your body balanced and injury proof. Don't kill yourself for the 1RM.

my 2c worth
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
I get a feeling we're comparing conditioning and strength. I don't think it makes sense.

The conditioning simply has to be there. Then, we can debate whether adding strength training on top of it all will help or not.

In the end, it's a discussion of goals, means, time, planning, etc.
 

pet'

Level 8 Valued Member
Hello @BJJ Shawn

Most of the fighters, regardless their sport tend to 'focus' on strength-endurance, power and speed, and conditioning. Limit strength is mostly used as a baseline to develop other abilities.

The stronger you are - regarding an opponent of the same weight, the same conditioning and the same technical abilities - the better. However, this is in the ideal world. In reality, you'll never face your 'twin'.

Do not misanderstand me, strength has to be developed, but not at the expense of something else.

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Justin_M

Level 5 Valued Member
I suppose it depends a little on style and whether a person is a pressure or agility style grappler.

What I notice in the gym is that people that are faster and more explosive tend to find opportunity easier as long as they don't get tired and slow down.

Conversely, the pressure oriented folks tend to go longer, catch less, but control more.

I think strength is only valuable if converted to power endurance for grappling. Reactive strength and being able to quickly apply opposing force is important. I think about all the people not as strong as me that tap me every time we roll. Most often better technique or agility get the best of me. It's not that often that a person simply overpowers me to victory.

I think strength training for grappling should take a bias toward power development. Cluster training to keep power development high while accumulating enough volume for adaptation being highly valuable.

A&A and Q&D are good kettlebell examples. When I did an analysis of different barbell protocols, 80% for doubles (80/2) stood out. To use similar concepts, cycles that add volume of 80/2, i e., 80/2 x4-20 or break up sets into clusters of doubles, i.e., instead of 5x5 do 2-2-1 x5.
 

JumpTheGilly

Level 1 Valued Member
Now, I don’t mean this in a bad way, I’m just disappointed with my last six months so I’d like some opinions.

I was out of BJJ for 16 months or so, and during that time I spent the first 8 months being lazy then I did S&S plus a little bit of naked warrior practice for about 7 months. After hitting timeless simple, I started doing the 10,000 swing challenge and the first couple days were miserable but it got better and better. I was only using a 24k bell, so strength wasn’t the issue, but strength endurance played a huge part.

After two weeks, I got to roll with a few guys and I spent two hours dominating everyone and never got worn out. Then, every month or so since I have rolled with the same guys.

After finishing the 10k swing challenge, I completed timed simple, and thought I should work on my base of strength. I have since spent the last 5ish months doing mostly barbell lifting, and have gotten much “stronger.” My deadlift 5RM has increased over 50 lbs, bench press about the same, and OHP about 25 lbs. In all measurable ways, my base strength has gotten much better. However, every time I roll I do worse and worse, and my strength gives out quicker and quicker. My conditioning is now terrible, which I totally understand why and am not too concerned about since I plan to work back towards going conditioning, but I thought my strength would increase and instead I now feel overpowered by people that are my size and have done zero strength training in the past two years but focused on aerobic exercise.

Am I wasting my time with base strength work? What made the 10k swings so useful for grappling, and is a workout like that sustainable or just a peaking program? My plan was to work more base strength, then soon I was going to switch back and do some q&d/S&S/A+A in addition to barbell work, but now I’m questioning whether there’s any point in strictly strength work for athletes outside of the strength sports. Should I just go back to kettlebells and skip all the other strength work?
Although they may not be StrongFirst affiliated, there's a gym called Electrum Performance that works with a lot of guys from Atos, and on social media they break down things that work very well for BJJ practitioners regarding S&C. I can attest to the fact that there's two different kinds of strength: traditional and "mat strength," which is something they've also found to be true. People can have mediocre lifts (myself included) but still feel very strong on the mat. Electrum splits it up into four components: isometric strength, work capacity, strength through a significant ROM, and grip strength. The examples of exercises they discuss that contribute to "mat strength" are the pull-up hold, farmer's carry, deadlift, deficit Bulgarian split squat, floor press, Pendlay row, inverted row, and pause hip thrust. That may be a good place to start building mat strength if that interests you. Personally, I've tried the mostly-barbell approach, and didn't see any significant improvement. However, there's two kettlebell exercises that work absolute wonders for my game every time I'm consistent with them, the floor press and heavy-as-possible swings (not for endurance by any means). Starting with the swings, I'll take the heaviest bell I have and do two handed swings, putting as much power as I can in each swing and stopping as soon as I feel any decrease in the snap. Sometimes it's as little as five reps, and I'll take as much time as I feel I need to project the same power for the same amount of reps in the next set, with total reps not exceeding 50. Including a brief warmup, this can take about thirty minutes. Personal anecdote isn't real evidence, but sometimes I swear I can feel the difference when I train the day after I practice those swings. I can do more with a lot less leverage, especially from the bottom. BJJ is a very unilateral sport, and I think training in that way can help immensely. Benching didn't translate much on the mat, but lifting two kettlebells in a position grapplers often find themselves in, with each arm working "independently," definitely has its benefits. The range of motion is much more similar to a grappling situation than the bench press, you can lift your hips for an isometric contraction, etc. Both the swings and the floor press are done in a strength or power-based manner, no expectation to gain any endurance from it. Depending on how many times you train a week, mat time really is the best form of conditioning for grappling. There's a reason why kettlebells are so popular with BJJ practitioners. The barbell certainly has its perks, but the bell or a mix of the two might be better for sport-specific purposes. I'm neither a black belt nor a certified instructor, but I hope at least the mat strength idea helps.
 

Don Fairbanks

SFG II
Certified Instructor
Your experiment gave you some valuable information. Now you can work on programming to put it all together, strength with a big motor.
I would think a high strength to weight ratio valuable for most sports with weight classes.
 
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Alan Mackey

Level 6 Valued Member
Now, I don’t mean this in a bad way, I’m just disappointed with my last six months so I’d like some opinions.

I was out of BJJ for 16 months or so, and during that time I spent the first 8 months being lazy then I did S&S plus a little bit of naked warrior practice for about 7 months. After hitting timeless simple, I started doing the 10,000 swing challenge and the first couple days were miserable but it got better and better. I was only using a 24k bell, so strength wasn’t the issue, but strength endurance played a huge part.

After two weeks, I got to roll with a few guys and I spent two hours dominating everyone and never got worn out. Then, every month or so since I have rolled with the same guys.

After finishing the 10k swing challenge, I completed timed simple, and thought I should work on my base of strength. I have since spent the last 5ish months doing mostly barbell lifting, and have gotten much “stronger.” My deadlift 5RM has increased over 50 lbs, bench press about the same, and OHP about 25 lbs. In all measurable ways, my base strength has gotten much better. However, every time I roll I do worse and worse, and my strength gives out quicker and quicker. My conditioning is now terrible, which I totally understand why and am not too concerned about since I plan to work back towards going conditioning, but I thought my strength would increase and instead I now feel overpowered by people that are my size and have done zero strength training in the past two years but focused on aerobic exercise.

Am I wasting my time with base strength work? What made the 10k swings so useful for grappling, and is a workout like that sustainable or just a peaking program? My plan was to work more base strength, then soon I was going to switch back and do some q&d/S&S/A+A in addition to barbell work, but now I’m questioning whether there’s any point in strictly strength work for athletes outside of the strength sports. Should I just go back to kettlebells and skip all the other strength work?

Lifelong striker and grappler (40+ years of experience) and midly successful regional competitor here.

In my opinión, technique will always be the most crucial attribute for combat sports. Then comes endurance as a distant second (if you run out of gas, it’s game over). And brute strength, while certainly useful, is one of those things… “nice to have”. And that’s pretty much it.

I’m positive I can outlift Pacquiao big time. But I wouldn’t last him half a round boxing. Even taking into account that I’m WAY bigger and stronger than him and I’ve spent almost two decades involved in striking sports (boxing, full-contact, kickboxing, muay thai…).

Many moons ago I spent a few weeks at a high performance Judo facility as a guest of one of the actual competitors. I was bigger, stronger and possibly faster than most of them, and regional champion on top of that. Nonetheless, my sorry butt was handed to me every single time I was on the mat with insulting easiness, by people half my size.

Yes, being bigger and stronger allowed me to survive a little longer, but their superhuman conditioning (I’m serious, those guys and gals were unreal. True android work capacity) and skill level was WAY beyond anything I could possibly do.

It was a humbling yet enlightening experience.

Oh… and another rather unpopular opinion: no amount of non-specific endurance (such as Crossfit, girevoy sport, or whatever) will help you on the mat unless you already posses the sports-specific endurance. Simply put, there’s no substitute for the work capacity created by doing drills, sparring A LOT, hitting the bag, doing countless uchikomis, etc…

That why elite crossfitters (who are very, very, very fit… for their sport) get gassed out after a couple of rounds of hitting the bag or sparring.
 
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solarbear

Level 5 Valued Member
Have you listened to the Joe Rogan interview with Firas Zahabi? Very interesting. Not really addressed to your particular problem but seeing as how you are at a bit of an impasse, you might find it thought provoking as you look at your programming.

Otoh I might take a month and see if the 10000 swing challenge did what it did before to your BJJ. If so, then you have your answer to what you need to do.
 

rwleonard

Level 6 Valued Member
In my experience, such as it is, S&S is really tough to beat for striking that balance of strength (at all sorts of angles), power, and endurance that translates very well to BJJ. All while leaving you fresh for the mats and not being demanding of time or planning.
 
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