You’re Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link: 20+ Drills and Exercises to Make You a Stronger, Healthier Fighter
by Corey Beasley
We all have weaknesses and strengths...all of us.
Strengths and weaknesses usually develop from our lifestyle, our job, or how we move everyday.
For example, someone that ties rebar all day long is probably going to have a strong grip. Someone that works at a computer is probably going to have tight and weak hips. This isn't always the case, but you get the idea.
The goal of this article is to address 5 common weak points that I have noticed when working with my athletes.
Most of them develop because of our sedentary lifestyles.
Our feet/ankles are typically weak and immobile because we don't challenge them enough. Our hips are typically tight and weak because we sit too much. Our stomach muscles don't fire correctly, again because we sit too much and haven't used them the way they are designed. Sitting, starring at our phones, rolling, and other necessary habits from fighting create poor posture, leaving our upper backs rounded and weak. The last, but not least, is the strength in our hands. Very few of us work with our hands daily, so they are not strong. Remember the old term "Use it or lose it"? Well, the bottom line is that most people don't use these muscle groups enough, it causes weakness and dysfunction, which can lead to poor performance, aches and pains or eventually some type of injury.
Lets walk through each area and I will explain a few of my favorite exercises to strengthen those weak links!
DISCLAIMER: If you have any injuries, please consult a doctor or therapist before performing any of these drills or exercises.
1. THE FEET
Our feet connect us to the ground, provide stability, give us feedback and help us move around. While most people think about squatting, lunging and other leg exercises to build up the legs, very few people give the feet much attention. Without proper stability in foot and ankle, it is nearly impossible to efficiently transfer power from the legs, through the feet and into the ground. Power will be lost, or worse yet, the foot or ankle will give way and lead to injury. So, in order to avoid the catastrophe, we need to get those feet and ankles strong.
The first place to start is mobility and making sure that the foot and ankle can move. One of the most simple and effective ways to accomplish this is called the 3 Way Ankle Mobility Drill. I like this one because you can do it anywhere and it challenges the foot and ankle from a few different angles. Here is a short video with several foot and ankle mobility drills.
Foot and Ankle Mobility Drills
Once we have some decent mobility, then we need to work on the stability of of that joint. PT Julia Juliusson walked me through these simple isometric drills that have really added a lot of value to myself, our staff and our athletes. This series is also very simple, but humbling to say the least. By elevating up onto the toes, in multiple directions, we are able to challenge the foot and ankle in 360 degrees. Since most of us have probably rolled our ankle several times in our life, this can help solidify our foot and ankle from all angles.
Multi Angle Isometric Holds
Once you are able to hold these positions for 1 minute in each direction, then you will be better prepared for movement drills on your feet.
2. THE HIPS
Just like the feet and ankle, the hips are commonly tight and immobile. Before attempting high level strength work, we should mobilize the hips and make sure that the appropriate muscles are firing. Since the hips are so involved in our movement, our strikes and our control of our opponent, it is critical that we create a mobile, strong and powerful hip complex.
The basic muscle groups involved with the hip include, the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, adductors (Groin) and Glutes.
Here is a great warm series from for the hips:
Once we have opened up the hips a bit, then we can begin challenging those muscles in a variety of ways. Here are a few exercises that will challenge your hips in new ways.
Multiple plane lunges
Our bodies are designed to move in every direction, but the fitness world has most of us working straight forward. In order to perform at your best, I believe that we need to challenge our bodies in every direction. I learned this series from Todd Wright and after testing it on myself and walking several of our athletes through it, it has become a staple of our programs. I like it because it challenges the feet, ankles and hips in a variety of ways, plus almost every person says that they feel their glutes afterwards. Strong glutes are a good thing for any athlete!
Glute bridges have been around for years, but Bret Contreras made band/barbell hip thrusters a staple in the strength community. While deadlifts are great, hip thrusters activate the glutes like no other exericse and like I said before, strong glutes are great for any athlete! We use these almost every week at our gym and they have helped everyone from people with back pain to our most advanced athletes. You can do these with just your bodyweight, resistance bands or with a barbell. Simple and effective!
3. THE CORE
This is word that has gained popularity in the fitness world, but is still misunderstood. In an ideal world, the entire body works as one. Muscles, the nervous system, breathe and everything else works together to help us move efficiently and get stuff done. The CORE is what connects our legs, arms and head together. In order to stabilize the trunk and transfer energy from the arms and legs, the core must be firing on all cylinders.
Here are a few exercises to help you gain some stability and strength throughout your midsection.
Power Wheel Crawl
Jon Hinds developed the Power Wheel while playing around outside his gym in Madison, WI. It is probably the most effective tool I have ever found for developing ridiculous strength throughout your CORE. We do isometric holds, planks, roll outs and pikes, but our favorite CORE strengthener is crawling with Power Wheel attached to our feet. Crawl forward for a 100ft and you will feel your abdominal wall fire like no other time in your life...do 100 yards like Steve Maxwell did in the video and you are a beast!
Medicine Ball Series
Naudi Alguilar demonstrates some of his favorite Core exercises using a medicine ball. Med balls are an incredible tool for developing strength and power throughout the core. This ability to develop power in these position will help you move more efficiently, strike harder and control your opponent in a variety of positions.
Martin demonstrates some great exercises here. These are three great abdominal exercises that are perfect for wrestlers, grapplers and fighters that end up on their back. It's important to have the strength and muscular endurance in this position as your reach for control your opponent, attempt submissions and/or escape.
4. THE UPPER BACK
Protecting your neck and chin all day, combined with several hours looking at our phones, sitting in the car, lounging on the couch and starring at the computer can leave our upper backs rounded, weak and stiff. Here are a few of our favorite way to mobilize and strengthen that upper back.
Thoracic Mobility Drills
Gaining mobility in your thoracic spine is incredibly important for back, neck and shoulder health. There are a variety of drills that you can try, but the ones that Doug featured in the video above will be a great start for you or other athletes that you work with.
I struggled with pain in my trapezius for several months until I started using this simple movement. It was developed by Dan John and is beneficial for just about every athlete. Since the majority of us have rounded shoulders and poor posture, it is important to strengthen the posterior bunch of muscles around the shoulder blades and upper back. Improving our posture will probably reduce or eliminate most shoulder and neck pain, increase our ability to transfer power and reduce the incidence of injury during a fight. Work up to performing a each isometric hold for 1 minute.
Crawling is a fundamental movement patter for all humans. The good news for us is that crawling also trains the legs, core and upper body to work in unison. It also is one of the best ways to condition and strengthen the entire shoulder complex. Start by crawling short distances and then test your ability to crawl for longer periods of time. World renowned strongman, John Brookfield has been known to crawl for up to an hour at a time, but I would start there. Try crawling for 1 minute, then 2, and then 5. It is a simple but humbling drill!
5. THE HANDS
Strong powerful hands can win a fight, but most of people lack sufficient grip strength. Here are a few of our favorite ways to develop a strong, powerful grip. Want a full grip breakdown? Check out 10 Exercises to Build Grip Strength
Fat Grip Farmer Carries
Farmer carries are another foundational exercise that develops strength throughout the entire body. Because grip is such an important element for fighting, we use FatGripz to increase the stress on our hands while performing the exercise. I like this, because it challenges the hands and forearms more, but also because it is closer to the size of a wrist. Use the FatGripz for carries, rows and just about any other pulling exercise. This is a simple, but BRUTALLY effective way to build hand strength.
I have always known that iron workers, mechanics, plumbers and other guys that work with their hands all day, tend to have bone crushing grips. Over the years, I wanted to come up with an exercise that mimicked all the wrenching movements that those workers do all day. The twister exercise shown above, was developed by a client of mine named Tayler. Today, it is one of my favorite hand and forearm exercises. The larger the dumbbell, the harder it gets. You can work for time and build up your work capacity over time. Enjoy!
So there you have it...5 potential weak links and a whole bunch of ways to make them more mobile, stable and strong.
Improve these areas and I guarantee that you will move better, be stronger and be a better fighter because of it.