All martial artists and athletes must have a strong core to compete at a high level. This is particularly true for grapplers since their cores are engaged during most grappling movements and help generate power. Having a strong core also helps to minimise the stress placed on the body while training or competing and reduces the risk of injuries.
The term “core” refers to the muscles in your torso that stabilise your spine. These include your lower back muscles, abdomen, internal and external obliques, and your lower back muscles.
Your core connects your upper body with your lower body, so any weakness there prevents your upper and lower half from working together efficiently. Remember the old saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link?” The same applies to your body. A weak core will significantly impact your ability to generate power regardless of how strong other areas of your body are.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of having a strong core for grapplers. The core is engaged during most movements grapplers make, primarily providing stability and transferring force from other parts of the body. For example, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players use their core to transfer force from other parts of their bodies to finish techniques like triangle chokes.
Five Core Exercises All Grapplers Should Add to Their Workout Routines
You should aim to add exercises that engage all the different muscles that make up the core when building a workout routine that targets your midsection. Remember that your core is only as strong as the weakest muscle in the group so you don’t want to neglect any of them.
Ready to find out what the best exercises for your core are? Let’s jump right into our list:
Planks are a classic isometric hold that targets the stabiliser muscles around your core like your lower back, abdominal muscles, and obliques. It’s an effective way to strengthen these stabiliser muscles and that will carry over to the mats.
Here’s how to perform planks:
- Place your hands on the ground and kick your feet out behind you as if you were getting ready to perform pushups.
- Place your forearms on the ground, so you’re now in the starting position for the exercise. Focus your eyes on a spot about a foot in front of your hands to ensure your head is properly aligned with your back.
- Hold the position for about 20 seconds if you’re new to planks. Aim for 60 to 90 seconds if you’re familiar with the exercise and keep building up from there.
It’s almost guaranteed you’ve done this exercise before if you’ve ever trained in a grappling-based martial art like BJJ, Wrestling, or Sambo. Burpees are a bodyweight exercise that does wonders for your core as well as other areas of your body. It gives you a full-body workout that also helps to improve your coordination as it forces the upper body, core, and lower body muscles to work together to complete a rep.
Burpees should be your go-to exercise if you’re short on time since you can get an excellent workout with as little as three sets of as many reps as you can do.
Here’s the proper way to perform burpees:
- Start in a squat, with feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, your back straight, and your knees bent.
- Place your hands on the ground in front of you, but keep them inside your feet. Shift your weight to your arms as you kick your legs back so you end up in the starting position for push-ups.
- Perform one push-up and jump your feet forward so you’re back in a squat.
- Stand upright and jump up quickly while reaching above with your arms to complete a rep. Return to a squat immediately after your jump and perform another burpee. Keep going until you can’t do one more rep. Aim for three to five sets of burpees based on your current fitness level.
3) Bird Dog
The bird dog is another useful movement for BJJ players to incorporate into their strength and conditioning routines. The exercise targets your back, core, and hip muscles. It strengthens them, encourages your spine to be neutral, and improves their stabilising effect on the spine. It also helps to improve flexibility and improve posture.
To perform this exercise:
- Start with your hands and knees on the ground in the tabletop position. Keep your spine neutral when in this position. This is something you should do whenever you perform exercises that target your abdominal muscles. Drawing your shoulder blades together helps with this.
- Raise your left arm and right leg simultaneously while keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the ground. Hold the position for a few seconds before lowering your limbs back down to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement with your right arm and left leg to complete a rep. Aim for three to five sets of as many reps as you can get.
4) Leg Lift Hip Raises
This is one of the best exercises for strengthening your core that will pay major dividends on the mat. It engages multiple muscles in the core simultaneously like your abdominal muscle fibres. Mastering this exercise will increase your ability to break opponents’ posture when in BJJ positions like the closed guard. It gives you the leg and hip strength you need to pull opponents down into you on the ground.
Here’s what the movement should look like:
- Lay flat on a bench and grab the top of the bench with your arms bent. Keep your elbows tight while doing this.
- Contract your core as you lift your legs upwards until your hips are raised off the bench. Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can get.
Curl-ups are a popular core exercise that focuses mostly on the abdominal muscles. The movement also strengthens the stabilizer muscles around the pelvis. It can help to relieve pressure in your back and improves overall endurance.
To perform curl-ups:
- Start laying on a mat while looking up at the ceiling. Bend one of your legs while keeping your other leg straight.
- Place your hands on the mat with your palms facing down and slide them under your lower back.
- Use your abdominal muscles to lift your head, shoulders, and chest off the mat, while exhaling. Hold the position for 5 seconds before lowering yourself back to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for a set number of reps before switching legs. Aim for three to five sets.
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