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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)

Brett Jones

StrongFirst Director of Education
Master Certified Instructor
Beast Tamer
Specific to your comments about "keeping the main dish the main dish and side dishes side dishes"

This is more of an exercise selection issue not a "program design" issue (hopefully this makes sense).

A well designed program will include all GPP areas (strength, power, flexibility, mobility, etc...) and if needed it will have some SPP (BJJ practice/drilling for example).

Spices vs. Main Dishes: How to Program a Proper Training Menu | StrongFirst
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
Let me counter this with another anecdote: I vividly recall the day I witnessed two national wrestling champions face off on the mat in our training room. One was still a kid (under 18, under 62 kg), the other was a grown superheavyweight (28 years, 110 kg, national champion under 120 kg). Both were my training partners later on, and while the heavyweight was not the strongest heavyweight out there, he was one of the quickest guys I ever met in that weight class, which is arguably worse at superheavy. The superheavyweight failed to get a single working hold on the lightweight for a full two minutes (back when we still had two-minute-rounds), then he got tired, had his back taken and was taken down. Does that now mean that weight isn’t important and we should cancel weight classes?

As for the anecdote about Brad Sanchez: It is recounted by a former rugby player and amateur powerlifter, who then did some Judo on the side and right in the beginning got manhandled by a bigger, stronger guy who apparently had enjoyed some success on a more or less regional level, at superheavyweight (the weight class with the fewest competitors that usually have the least varied technique). Please excuse my French, but duh. None of the guys mentioned seems to have gotten anywhere nationally, let alone internationally in their sport. Interestingly enough, there is a number of former wrestlers in sports like crossfit, but I have yet to meet a former crossfitter that made it to a serious level in judo or wrestling. I’ve heard of one former powerlifter that became a good wrestling coach – he was my coach’s coach – but interestingly enough, he never told his wrestlers to lift heavy weights, and so they didn't.

As for strength levels that overpower: the idea behind the strength standards for wrestlers was, as far as I understand them, exactly to get them to a level of strength where they shouldn’t lose based on a strength disadvantage. Of course, all standards may have to be updated at some point based on the competition.

And as I have said before – I am happy to set up a match between a powerlifter and a wrestler of the same weight class who doesn’t even train with weights, as long as somebody sponsors a nice car for the winner and flies the powerlifter over to Dagestan.

This year in the Olympics, here in Finnish wrestling we had a problem with two candidates in the same weight class for the chance to compete in the Olympics.

The man who came second got a wild idea and decided to go up in weight, from -97kg to -130kg. He wrestled through the qualifiers and actually got the spot! I suppose it was a bit of an international sensation that he could do it, or at least I got that picture from the media here.

However, come the Olympics... He was a rag doll. Zero chance, zero points.

His solution? He went to the Olympic village gym to do some squats.
 

Period

Level 6 Valued Member
This year in the Olympics, here in Finnish wrestling we had a problem with two candidates in the same weight class for the chance to compete in the Olympics.

The man who came second got a wild idea and decided to go up in weight, from -97kg to -130kg. He wrestled through the qualifiers and actually got the spot! I suppose it was a bit of an international sensation that he could do it, or at least I got that picture from the media here.

However, come the Olympics... He was a rag doll. Zero chance, zero points.

His solution? He went to the Olympic village gym to do some squats.
It is actually not such an oddity – I was told repeatedly that a good light-heavyweight or heavyweight was often more of a problem for a superheavyweight than an average superheavyweight. The general problem at superheavyweight is also that fewer people have the right physique to compete there (without going into too much details: the crucial point is whether your bones and especially joints can take it – if you have an average frame, you won’t last long at superheavy no matter how strong you are), so you have fewer competitors, lower athleticism, and on average a lower technical diversity. This in turn allows a lighter guy some advantages, as long as we aren’t talking about the top-tier guys. One example: much to my surprise, the superheavyweight I mentioned often had quite a bit of trouble with me in training (naturally, I’m a lanky welterweight who sometimes moved up to light heavyweight or heavyweight if my team needed me to), and regularly failed to turn me in a gut wrench, simply because he wasn’t used to squeezing tight on somebody quite a bit narrower in the hips than his usual opponents. So yes, there are some potential advantages.

Of course, once the competition gets stiffer (the Russian, Georgian, Iranian teams etc. have a number of top guys lined up for every weight class, since every kid wants to wrestle and nobody with enough talent is tempted to play, say, football instead), things change, and you can’t afford to give up too much of a weight disadvantage, because weight – even more so than strength – is what allows for more power on the mat (power being produced in many situations by hanging your weight onto your opponent), if it is combined with enough speed, and you simply will need a certain amount of power with some opponents. So bulking up can actually be a valid strategy.

For wrestling, it will in my experience be more relevant whether somebody can actually move his new bulk effectively – rapidly gaining 15 or 20 kg will affect coordination quite a bit, regardless of how you gain that weight – for the duration of the match, than how high their maximum lifts go in the process. When I had to do that, I usually opted for a reduced program of 20 rep squats and made sure to do some extra tumbling at least three times per week, to constantly adjust my coordination and reactions to the weight gain.
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
For wrestling, it will in my experience be more relevant whether somebody can actually move his new bulk effectively – rapidly gaining 15 or 20 kg will affect coordination quite a bit, regardless of how you gain that weight – for the duration of the match, than how high their maximum lifts go in the process. When I had to do that, I usually opted for a reduced program of 20 rep squats and made sure to do some extra tumbling at least three times per week, to constantly adjust my coordination and reactions to the weight gain.

In my personal case, I haven't gained 15 kg, but rather 15-18 pounds, so not as much of a jump over the last three months but I can definitely tell my coordination while rolling is definitely off. There was a few times when I did rather routine things and ended up flopping over because I wasn't positioned quite right, when normally my BJJ balance is one of my better attributes.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
It is actually not such an oddity – I was told repeatedly that a good light-heavyweight or heavyweight was often more of a problem for a superheavyweight than an average superheavyweight. The general problem at superheavyweight is also that fewer people have the right physique to compete there (without going into too much details: the crucial point is whether your bones and especially joints can take it – if you have an average frame, you won’t last long at superheavy no matter how strong you are), so you have fewer competitors, lower athleticism, and on average a lower technical diversity. This in turn allows a lighter guy some advantages, as long as we aren’t talking about the top-tier guys. One example: much to my surprise, the superheavyweight I mentioned often had quite a bit of trouble with me in training (naturally, I’m a lanky welterweight who sometimes moved up to light heavyweight or heavyweight if my team needed me to), and regularly failed to turn me in a gut wrench, simply because he wasn’t used to squeezing tight on somebody quite a bit narrower in the hips than his usual opponents. So yes, there are some potential advantages.

Of course, once the competition gets stiffer (the Russian, Georgian, Iranian teams etc. have a number of top guys lined up for every weight class, since every kid wants to wrestle and nobody with enough talent is tempted to play, say, football instead), things change, and you can’t afford to give up too much of a weight disadvantage, because weight – even more so than strength – is what allows for more power on the mat (power being produced in many situations by hanging your weight onto your opponent), if it is combined with enough speed, and you simply will need a certain amount of power with some opponents. So bulking up can actually be a valid strategy.

For wrestling, it will in my experience be more relevant whether somebody can actually move his new bulk effectively – rapidly gaining 15 or 20 kg will affect coordination quite a bit, regardless of how you gain that weight – for the duration of the match, than how high their maximum lifts go in the process. When I had to do that, I usually opted for a reduced program of 20 rep squats and made sure to do some extra tumbling at least three times per week, to constantly adjust my coordination and reactions to the weight gain.

If we look at the weight classes as a bell curve, it stands to reason that as there are less athletes in the weight classes in the extremes, the competition and therefore athlete quality is not as strong as in the more populous weight classes.

I don't know how good a wrestler the Finn in question, Kuosmanen, actually is. He has won a couple of bronze medals in European championships.

I understand he bulked up quickly but didn't really fill up the new weight class. But sure, all the extra weight, no matter what kind of weight, demands new skill learning and coordination. Even basic motor skills need to be relearned to a point. Of course, being a top athlete, it's not as hard as it is for us mere mortals.

The last I heard Kuosmanen hadn't yet decided which class he will continue in. He broke his elbow in the first match in the Olympics and I understand he's taking a forced break.

You have an interesting point about bulk having use in itself. What kind of body compositions do wrestlers have in different weight classes?
 

Period

Level 6 Valued Member
If we look at the weight classes as a bell curve, it stands to reason that as there are less athletes in the weight classes in the extremes, the competition and therefore athlete quality is not as strong as in the more populous weight classes.
[...]
You have an interesting point about bulk having use in itself. What kind of body compositions do wrestlers have in different weight classes?
I agree about the bell curve (it’s a bit asymmetrical, though – 57 and 120/130 kg drop off quite strongly in comparison to the others, and the difference between the lighter weights and the superheavies is that most wrestlers go through them on the way to reaching their eventual weight class, so you have a number of younger wrestlers in the lower weights, which makes them more competitive), but would like to add one aspect: quite often, in the lightweight category you often will find people with excellent and extremely varied technique. In the lighter weights, the relative strength is higher, so the weight of the opponent is less of an issue, and the higher quickness of lightweights also helps in this aspect. Many of the best coaches I met were former light- or middleweights. That is not to say a heavyweight can’t become a great coach, but quite usually, former heavies focus on training heavyweights, while former light- and middleweights tend to coach all weight classes.

As for body composition, it varies a bit. I should point out that basically everybody at international level cuts weight (5-10 kg on average, sometimes more), except for the heavyweights, of course. So at the lower weights, most people tend to keep their weight down. From -57 kg to -97/100 kg, the average body fat percentage is probably between 8 and 12 %, maybe slightly more at walkaround weight. There are as always some statistical outliers, you will meet people with 6, 15 or (at heavyweight) possibly also 20% of body fat, though that is unusual in international competition. At superheavyweight, I’d say the average body fat percentage is more between 12 and 20 %.
I should mention that I don't routinely walk around measuring people's bodyfat, so these numbers are educated guesses based on my experience and on the people I've trained with / competed against (you tend to get a better idea that way compared to watching matches on TV in my opinion, because vascularity, hydration levels etc. can vary quite a bit even at similar body fat percentages), so about two hundred wrestlers of different levels as a baseline. I'd say the guys I've only seen compete - live or on video - still tend to fall in that average.
 
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Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@BJJ Shawn,

Who knew there would be strong opinions about this ;-]
It's not often I get to laugh out loud at 7 am - thank you, Mr. Jones.

I think this is a great thread, even though I still know nothing about combat sports! :)
Yes, indeed!

I will offer a personal anecdote about finding the right type/amount/schedule of supplementary training.

As I began to recover from my herniated disc (a bad one, kept me bed-ridden for 2 months and walking with a limp for over a year), I knew I needed stronger abs. My problem? Every time I did ab work, my back hurt later or the next day because my abs were too tired to support my back. I never found a "solution" - I just backed off, allowed myself to progress more slowly, and paid attention to timing so that, e.g., I wouldn't do abs in the morning on a day when I knew I'd really need them later in the day, wouldn't do them the day before I knew I'd need them the next day, and so on.

In the end, I think one needs to monitor both ends of the spectrum, keeping a strong focus on the goal while also not obsessing about any particular method or path to get you there. If your sport isn't lifting weights, I think trying to sort out whether, e.g., your max deadlift is 1.75 or 2 times your bodyweight is a waste of time. Be simple and just spend your time practicing your chosen sport and look for most of your benefits to come from that. Change other things in small amounts, and monitor the results closely. Keep what helps, don't be afraid to try something new while at the same time, try not to move away from what you know is effective for you. And if you don't know enough about strength and conditioning training, get someone to help you with it. Maybe better lifting technique helps you need less recovery from lifting and think of all the good things that this would bring to the big picture.

Just my opinion; your mileage may vary.

-S-
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
As someone who's thrown their weight around a lot I can say two things:

- you will need to work to gain the same level of proprioceptive awareness you had before - 15-18 lbs is a lot of lean weight difference to manage and you'll want to adapt how you move to take advantage of it. Maybe allow yourself to strike with entire body a little less restrained, or force the opponent to fight your dead weight as much as possible. You may be able to drive harder with your shoulders etc - tactics that weren't effective before might now have a subtle but real multiplier. Also, 18lbs in 3 months is a solid jump, how much much of that is inactive mass?

- if you are stronger at the top end and are not pulling up your endurance doing a non-training patterned activity then its either a programming problem or you have a lot of strength leakage for the amount of carryover = its an exercise selection problem. It really cannot be anything but one of those two (or both) - we aren't talking about a decline in skill or mobility here. Maybe for you the barbell is a poor surrogate for the kind of strength you really need.

Step back and imagine you are the trainer observing these conditions arising in your client. How would you approach it from an impersonal perspective? Maybe you need more info from the client re training goals, or maybe as a trainer you're using the wrong tools. Possibly you've thrown something at the wall and it stuck, but (between strength and weight gain and lack of mat time) with unintended consequences.
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
As someone who's thrown their weight around a lot I can say two things:

- you will need to work to gain the same level of proprioceptive awareness you had before - 15-18 lbs is a lot of lean weight difference to manage and you'll want to adapt how you move to take advantage of it. Maybe allow yourself to strike with entire body a little less restrained, or force the opponent to fight your dead weight as much as possible. You may be able to drive harder with your shoulders etc - tactics that weren't effective before might now have a subtle but real multiplier. Also, 18lbs in 3 months is a solid jump, how much much of that is inactive mass?
I'd wager it's probably 50/50. Arms, chest, and back are noticeably larger and thicker, but my waist did go up about an inch so I definitely added a bit of fluff.
- if you are stronger at the top end and are not pulling up your endurance doing a non-training patterned activity then its either a programming problem or you have a lot of strength leakage for the amount of carryover = its an exercise selection problem. It really cannot be anything but one of those two (or both) - we aren't talking about a decline in skill or mobility here. Maybe for you the barbell is a poor surrogate for the kind of strength you really need.
I would think a bit of both. I knew going into it my endurance would suffer as I was focused on strength/hypertrophy and was taking a couple things to heart. Both Pavel in his Russian Bear programming and Wendler in the section on rest/pause recommend eating a LOT and not doing any extra work outside of the heavy lifting in order to maximize size gains. I have been enjoying both ;) but I think I would have been better served doing more conditioning work even if my gains slowed down.
Step back and imagine you are the trainer observing these conditions arising in your client. How would you approach it from an impersonal perspective? Maybe you need more info from the client re training goals, or maybe as a trainer you're using the wrong tools. Possibly you've thrown something at the wall and it stuck, but (between strength and weight gain and lack of mat time) with unintended consequences.
I guess my current goal is one that is not very in line with my sport. Normally the goal is to get stronger/faster/better conditioned without adding weight or even cutting weight as competition gets nearer, but since I have not been able to train BJJ regularly I thought now would be a good time to recompose my body a bit. Since my 12 week cycle is done after this week, I do plan to change my routine up quite a bit after a deload next week so we'll see how it translates in the months going forward.
 
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Adachi

Level 6 Valued Member
I recently received an interesting 30,000-foot idea from @Geoff Neupert.
I get the sense that the OP might be on a different part of this strength cycle than he thought.

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I don't think it's a crime for one training aspect to fall by the wayside for a bit. you can always get back to it, in time.
 

Dayz

Level 6 Valued Member
@BJJ Shawn What is your plan for your next training block? Let us know how you go because I'd love to read about your progress and how you feel training modalities affect your performance
 

Period

Level 6 Valued Member
I haven't completely decided yet, but this thread was created to help me decide and there are a couple good options found here: Other/Mixed - Another Barbell/Kettlebell Mixing question
As a hobbyist, you have the freedom to set your own priorities, including choosing lifting over grappling. However, my opinion is that you won’t do your grappling a favor with it, because not only your technique is not getting better, your work capacity is probably getting worse currently, which will make the first few weeks or months of re-entering BJJ probably rather unpleasant. If I had to design a program that would make re-entry into grappling as easy as possible, it would probably revolve around a bunch of intense solodrills, which should make up both the endurance and power component of the training, and finish with some push-ups with increased difficulty, L-sit pull-ups or 90° holds (ideally L-sit rope climbs, if you have the possibility) and 1-2 sets of partner squats (if no partner was around, I’d use a heavybag and/or bands, or switch to pistols… whatever was available). Basically the polar opposite of the approach you seem to be currently favoring.
As for recomposing the body - if I was your coach, I'd tell you that that is done firstly in the kitchen, and secondly on the mat. Grapplers manipulate their weight up and down all the time, and while weight training can be used to help with that process, most of it is done on the mat by giving you appropriate training partners - if you want to cut weight, you'll be pared with a quick guy from a lower weight class who ideally has more endurance than you, forcing you to be extremely active. If you want to go up in weight, you'll be paired with a heavyweight and be told to move like a heavyweight.
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
As a hobbyist, you have the freedom to set your own priorities, including choosing lifting over grappling. However, my opinion is that you won’t do your grappling a favor with it, because not only your technique is not getting better, your work capacity is probably getting worse currently, which will make the first few weeks or months of re-entering BJJ probably rather unpleasant. If I had to design a program that would make re-entry into grappling as easy as possible, it would probably revolve around a bunch of intense solodrills, which should make up both the endurance and power component of the training, and finish with some push-ups with increased difficulty, L-sit pull-ups or 90° holds (ideally L-sit rope climbs, if you have the possibility) and 1-2 sets of partner squats (if no partner was around, I’d use a heavybag and/or bands, or switch to pistols… whatever was available). Basically the polar opposite of the approach you seem to be currently favoring.
As for recomposing the body - if I was your coach, I'd tell you that that is done firstly in the kitchen, and secondly on the mat. Grapplers manipulate their weight up and down all the time, and while weight training can be used to help with that process, most of it is done on the mat by giving you appropriate training partners - if you want to cut weight, you'll be pared with a quick guy from a lower weight class who ideally has more endurance than you, forcing you to be extremely active. If you want to go up in weight, you'll be paired with a heavyweight and be told to move like a heavyweight.
Ha, yes, I can appreciate everything you said. My two problems are that I CAN’T get back on the mat, and it may be some time before I can. And second, I really enjoy lifting weights, especially barbell. Being near to my 40’s and not training for any competition, I don’t need to worry too much about my skill level not being ideal (unfortunately, I really miss BJJ). But I do think I will add in more solo mat drills and calisthenics in my next block.
 

Period

Level 6 Valued Member
Ha, yes, I can appreciate everything you said. My two problems are that I CAN’T get back on the mat, and it may be some time before I can. And second, I really enjoy lifting weights, especially barbell. Being near to my 40’s and not training for any competition, I don’t need to worry too much about my skill level not being ideal (unfortunately, I really miss BJJ). But I do think I will add in more solo mat drills and calisthenics in my next block.
I hear you ;) To be honest, getting on the mat isn't even something I'd recommend for recreational grapplers in the current situation, as I'd consider it an unnecessary risk, but that is my personal opinion.
I've been bitten by the iron but myself early on in my mat career, so I can relate; still, I should point out that - as Dan John has aptly put it "The goal is to keep the goal the goal", and there is a certain innate risk of getting side-tracked by lifting and eventually giving it preference over mat work (though, I should add, that risk is bigger for competitors than for hobbyists, since the latter group is training more for health and enjoyment and can therefore do whatever they please).
Finally, for drills etc: if you mainly do gi, you might want to check out a product called Jitsgrips (sells for around 50$ in the US, but you could make your own version for next to nothing). It's basically a short piece of rubber tubing connecting two grips made of Gi material, and is used to duplicate and drill common situations in BJJ. But there are plenty of other options, using an exercise ball (see Jeff Glover's videos), a CXT Combat X Trainer (exercise ball with head, arm and leg stumps), a heavy bag or nothing at all. One thing I personally observe when drilling is that it makes me feel more close to my sport (if that makes sense) then lifting does, since I am always visualizing actual mat situations. I used to do the same during roadwork or even on an exercise bike or airdyne (side note: one fun way of doing otherwise boring cardio on a machine is watching matches at the same time and trying to adjust your intensity to what you see there; I picked up this idea from former Greco wrestler turned submission grappler Matt Holt, who posted it on sherdog a while back).
 

Geoff Neupert

Level 7 Valued Member
Beast Tamer
@BJJ Shawn -

When I was in charge of the wrestling team at Rutgers, we settled on using a 3x week pre-season and off-season 2x week in-season and post-season lifting schedule.

Off-season season was summer when the guys worked jobs, maybe hit a camp or two, but nothing formalized and structured as far as wrestling was concerned. That's what the S&C program was for. During off-season, we focused on maximum strength, hypertrophy (where necessary), and aerobic conditioning.

Pre-season, we started "converting" that max strength to power and the aerobic work to anaerobic work.

In-season, max strength was maintained, and converted to strength-endurance. Power was converted to power-endurance and anaerobic capacity was our focus. Everything was designed to peak for Conference championships.

Post season was recovery work from a long season and a build up to the off-season.

Using this as a framework, and knowing you've been on the mat 4 times since covid started (I think I read that correctly), what season would you say you're in?

Once you figure that out, you can program accordingly.

Hope that helps.
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
@BJJ Shawn -

When I was in charge of the wrestling team at Rutgers, we settled on using a 3x week pre-season and off-season 2x week in-season and post-season lifting schedule.

Off-season season was summer when the guys worked jobs, maybe hit a camp or two, but nothing formalized and structured as far as wrestling was concerned. That's what the S&C program was for. During off-season, we focused on maximum strength, hypertrophy (where necessary), and aerobic conditioning.

Pre-season, we started "converting" that max strength to power and the aerobic work to anaerobic work.

In-season, max strength was maintained, and converted to strength-endurance. Power was converted to power-endurance and anaerobic capacity was our focus. Everything was designed to peak for Conference championships.

Post season was recovery work from a long season and a build up to the off-season.

Using this as a framework, and knowing you've been on the mat 4 times since covid started (I think I read that correctly), what season would you say you're in?

Once you figure that out, you can program accordingly.

Hope that helps.

That's extremely helpful, thank you! I believe I am transitioning from off season to pre-season, as I can see light at the end of the tunnel that hopefully I'll be back on the mats in the next couple months, and I have begun rolling more recently than at any time during COVID. I did slack on the aerobic work (oops), but I did have the idea of trying to convert my max strength to power at this time. Thank you!
 
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