Upper Body Workout for Fighters and Grapplers

by Corey Beasley

When I am designing workouts for fighters, I have to consider their limitations (injuries/ailments), mobility, strength, goals and the time frame that we have to work. That being said, a lot of you have been asking for workout ideas, so I wanted to start sharing a few of my favorites.  Below is a simple workout to challenge the upper body and offers some unique twists on common exercises.

Upper Body Workout for Fighters and Grapplers:

Warm up

Here's a simple upper body warm up that I did with Reuben Duran. You could also add a few crawls, if you are feeling ambitious.

Partner Med Ball Throws

This med ball variation simulates 'knee on the belly' and will help develop rotational speed and explosiveness. Keep pressure down on the ball, maintain good posture and deliver the ball as fast as possible.

Power Wheel Crawls

This exercise is very tough. With the wheel strapped onto your feet, you simply crawl forward and backward for the desired distance. Key points: maintain good alignment from head to toe. No sagging hips or low back, avoid swaying aside to side, watch for collapsed shoulders and keep your head up. You should be able to maintain a straight body from ears to heals. This will challenge your arms, shoulders, upper back and core like no other!

*If you do not have a Power Wheel, you can simply put your feet on towels, furniture sliders or similar. They will not be as challenging, but will still be effective.

Climber Pull Ups

Similar to a pull up, but you pull your sternum toward one hand for each rep. This puts more emphasis on one side of the body and is a great progression from traditional pull ups.

*If you cannot do pull ups, stick to traditional variations until you can perform at least 10, strict pull ups, before moving on to advanced variations.

Farmer Carries

These are one of my favorite exercises for grapplers and fighters. They are simple and brutally effective for developing grip, upper body and core strength. Grab the heaviest weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, etc) you can hold, without losing posture and walk for the desired distance. Head up, shoulders down and back, stand tall.

Tsunami Circles

Most gyms have Battling Ropes these days. Anchor one end of the rope to a post or the wall and pull the rope out. It will probably be about 50' in length. Get in a good athletic position, both hands on the rope and quickly draw circles with the end of the rope. This will create a cork screw wave down the rope and the waves should reach the anchor point. You can make the exercise more difficult by increasing speed, using a longer rope or by using a heavier rope. Most ropes are 1.5" thick and 50' in length, but thicker/longer ropes are available.

Upper Body Workout Details

  • Warm Up - 10-15 minutes, prepare the body and mind for the work its about to do.
  • Partner Med Ball Throws - 5 reps, 5 sets per side. Rest about 1 min between sets.
  • Power Wheel Crawls - 50-100ft crawls, 4 sets. Rest about 90sec between sets.
  • Climber Pull Ups - 6-12 reps, 4 sets. Rest about 90sec between sets.
  • Farmer Carries - Walk 150ft, rest for 30-60sec and repeat for 4 sets
  • Tsunami Circles - 10 sec bursts of effort, as fast as possible for 5-10 sets. Rest 60-120sec between sets. Goal is to maintain that explosive effort on every set, without slowing down. Be sure to work both directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Workout for FightersSo there you have it. A simple, but effective upper body workout that should offer some new twists on common exercises.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Corey Beasley works with some of best grapplers and fighters in Southern California, like Ian McCall, Erik Perez, Ricardo Abreu, Jessica Pene and many others. His training methods have helped develop multiple world champions in MMA and JiuJitsu.

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