10 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Fighters and Grapplers
by Corey Beasley
Let me start out by stating that there is no BEST exercise for everyone... Depending on your ability level, goals, exercise history, etc, I would customize the right exercise for you. That being said, I've organized a handful of my favorite bodyweight exercises. All of these, just like any exercise, have regressions and progressions to either make them easier or more intense. They key is understanding how to manipulate the variables to fit your goals.
10 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Fighters
There are huge benefits to bodyweight exercises for fighters. Not only can you perform them anywhere, but they can also yield great results. The key, just like using any tool (dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, etc) is to understand when to use, why and how to manipulate the variables to get the desired result you're looking for. No matter if you are a enthusiast, competitor or seasoned professional, you can benefit from these types of exercises.
1. Crawling Patterns
Crawling patterns are often overlooked, but an essential piece of all of my training plans. The contralateral pattern (opposites working together) is more challenging than people realize and this bodyweight exercise does a great job challenging the body from head to toe...especially the hips, trunk and shoulders. With shoulder injuries being so common in combat sports, these crawling patterns are a great addition to warm ups or as conditioning at the end of a session.
2. Circle Shuffle
Moving side to side is an important part of offensive and defensive movement in the cage or on the mat. Shuffling and changing directions quickly is a simple, yet effective way to add athleticism to your physical arsenal. These quick bodyweight drills are simple, don't require much space and translate well into the cage or the mat. You can get creative with this and perform partner chases, races, distance covered and more.
3. Switch Feet
This rotational bodyweight exercise is another staple for our fighters. Stagger your feet over a line, get on the balls of your feet and simply switch back and forth as quickly as possible. Be sure to drive the arms during the exercise to maximize the benefit and tie the upper and lower extremities together. Count the repetitions during each set to monitor output and speed.
4. Staggered Stance Squat
Bodyweight squats and great for beginners, but one way to increase the difficulty is by staggering the feet. This simple adjustment can expose deficiencies from right to left. Keep the load even between the feet, and keep the front heel down. This is a great transition towards performing single leg squats.
5. Single Leg Deadlift
This hip dominant bodyweight exercise challenges the posterior chain, specifically the hamstring and glutes. It is a simple exercise that focuses more on hinging than squatting. This compliments other lunges or single legs squats, by emphasizing the posterior chain. This variation was made popular by Ian King and is a great way to strengthen the posterior chain, one leg at a time.
6. Push Up Plus
Push ups are a staple for anyone bodyweight program. One way to increase the difficulty is by raising one arm at the top of each repetition. Do not allow the hips to shift. This puts extra emphasis on the trunk and core to stabilize. Great for anyone looking to strengthen their core muscles!
7. Climber Pull Ups
Climber pull ups require one arm to do more work than the other. This is a great way to raise the intensity over traditional pull ups, while exposing strength deficits from right to left. This is a simple, yet effective way to train your pulling muscles, without any fancy equipment.
8. Single Arm Row
This horizontal pulling exercise can be performed with any strap, suspension trainer, rope, low bar or similar. Body rows are a great way to train the upper back, lats and biceps without the need for extra weights or machines. By performing this bodyweight exercise with one arm, we increase the intensity on the pulling muscles, as well as the trunk to stabilize.
9. Handstand Touches
Handstands are a great way to challenge the upper body vertical pushing muscles. A staple in gymnastics, handstands develop massive stability and strength throughout the shoulder complex. By adding the touches between reps, this forces one shoulder and arm to support our weight. This is a great way to increase difficulty while layng the groundwork for more intense handstand variations.
10. Skater Lunge
The skater lunge is a bodyweight drill that I learned from the US Speed Skating coach. Wide feet, low center of gravity and lots of time under tension...whats not to like. These bodyweight drills are a great way to challenge the body in the frontal plane and are absolutely brutal on the hips and legs. Great for any grappler, wrestler or fighters looking to develop a solid base.
Other bodyweight exercises to consider adding to your training plans include
- push up
- handstand drills
- pull ups
- animal patterns
- gymnastics progressions
- balance work
- agility drills
- and more
The reality is that you are only limited by your creativity and knowledge. Some of the strongest guys in history never stepped foot in a gym and were absolute beasts. So get moving, keep learning and always keep your eye out new ways to challenge your body!
What is your favorite bodyweight exercise?
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