Explosive Strength Circuits for MMA and BJJ
In almost every MMA fight, there will be takedown attempts and scrambles on the ground. Technical skill is the most important part of a fighter’s game but when matched against an opponent with an equal or greater skill set, power and endurance may be the factor that wins the fight. The following training circuits are tailored to improve performance in setting up a takedown with punches, escaping the mount, submitting with the Brabo (or D’Arce) choke, and escaping the Brabo.
The Takedown and Mount Escape Circuit
This is one of my and my strength and conditioning partner’s favorite circuits, and she doesn’t even train MMA. It focuses on the high-crotch takedown with a double finish to mount. Demonstrating this technique in the video below is Renzo Gracie black belt Peter Martell and Greco-Roman National Champion Mike LeBlanc at Titans MMA. We will also drill the mount escape to finish our circuit.
Takedowns in MMA are usually set up with punches. The featured technique includes a jab cross combination, which is used to close the distance and shoot in for the high-crotch takedown, with a double finish.
- Step into your jab cross combination and penetrate your opponent’s legs with your inside knee touching the floor (cable punches).
- Your outside leg should be bent and on the outside of your opponent’s knees.
- Slip your arm between his legs and around his upper thigh.
- Switch to a double leg grip and use your legs to push off of the floor and into your opponent, taking him down (barbell lunges).
- Keep control of the legs and mount him.
- Begin punching (kneeling cable hooks, cable punches)
If you were unable to sprawl or otherwise avoid the takedown and find yourself mounted by your opponent, one way to escape is to:
- Use your knee on his back and bump your hips to push his weight forward onto his hands and stop his punches (Smith machine hip bump).
- Find his hip with both hands, one covering the other, and bump again, pushing your hands in a semi-circle (dumbbell bench press, ab rollout) while shrimping your hips out and begin to scramble for a more dominant position.
The circuit I’ve developed to build strength and conditioning for these technique uses supersets to improve endurance and decrease time spent at the gym. It targets the core, upper body and lower body.
Super Set #1
- Cable Punches – In the cable crossover machine, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and take one step forward to get into your boxing stance. Grasp a handle in each hand and alternate between jab and cross.
- Barbell Lunge – With a barbell on your shoulders, take a large step forward. Lower your back knee towards the floor, keeping the shin of the front leg perpendicular to the floor until that thigh is parallel to the floor. Come back up and step back to the starting position; alternate legs.
Super Set #2
- Kneeling Cable Hooks – Kneel on the floor and pull the cable under and across your body, keeping your arm at a 90 degree angle to simulate hooks in ground and pound.
- Smith Machine Hip Bumps – Place a bench under the Smith Machine and lay on it with your hips under the bar. Thrust your hip upwards.
Super Set #3
- Dumbbell Bench Press – Using both hands, balance a dumbbell over your chest and push upwards while lying on a bench.
- Ab Roll Out – Kneel on the floor, bracing your weight with your toes. With both hands on the ab wheel, roll forward in a controlled motion and then roll back.
The Brabo Choke and Escape Circuit
Coming out of a scramble on the ground with punches flying sometimes results in one person in turtle position while the other tries to attack. There are a lot of great options in this situation for the attacker, including the Brabo choke. The Brabo choke is fun to apply but not to get caught in. This circuit will help you develop powerful and efficient body movement to choke and to escape. See the video below where Renzo Gracie black belt Kevin Taylor and Renzo Gracie purple belt Josh Presley demonstrate two very effective escapes.
The Brabo Choke
- Start with your partner in turtle, and you kneeling perpendicular to him.
- Maintain good top pressure.
- Shoot the hand closest to his hip up across his ribs to the far side of his neck and place your ear on his back.
- Reach your other arm across his neck and grasp your hands in a gable grip, keeping your wrist across his neck and pressing downwards.
- Use your forearms as a lever to turn your opponent onto his side
- Slip your top arm forward until you can grasp that bicep with the hand under his neck and fold your arm over your wrist with your hand on his back to finish (cable crossovers).
The Brabo Escapes
- Swing the inside elbow backward (kneeling rows).
- Shoot the outside hand between you and your opponent and do a forward roll over that shoulder, keeping the inside elbow at his armpit
- Come up to your knees
Or if you missed the opportunity to use that escape, once your opponent has the Brabo sunk:
- Grasp the elbow under your arm with the outside hand.
- Thrust the inside hand between your legs (tricep kickbacks) as you smash your hips to the floor and arch your neck upwards (dive bomber pushups, weighted hyper extensions).
- Either peel his hand away from your neck or push the elbow above your neck upwards with your outside hand (kneeling dumbbell shoulder press).
To prepare you for these techniques, I’ve designed the following super sets. This is a great upper body circuit and would be most effective when combined in a cycle including a lower body circuit.
Super Set #1
- Dive Bomber Pushups – Begin with your legs spread wide and put your hands on the floor in front of you so your body forms triangle with the floor. Bend your elbows and move your chest down and forward until your chest is upright and your back is arched. Ensure that only your hands and feet are in contact with the floor. Reverse the motion to get back to the starting position.
- Tricep Kickbacks – Using a bench and a dumbbell, kneel on the bench with one knee and balance your weight on the hand on the same side. The other foot should be on the floor, with the hand on that side grasping a dumbbell. Bring your arm to a 90-degree angle and extend the dumbbell backwards.
Super Set #2
- Cable Crossovers – Standing with one foot well in front of the other, grasp a handle in each hand and with your arms slightly bent, bring your hands together in front of you.
- Kneeling Dumbbell Shoulder Press – Get on all fours with a dumbbell in each hand. Punch the dumbbell vertically over your head. These are surprisingly difficult.
Super Set #3
- Weighted Hyperextensions – Holding a light plate behind your head, use the hyper extension machine to hold you in the proper position to bend forward and pull yourself back up keeping your core tight and your back and neck aligned.
- Kneeling Rows – Kneel in front of a cable pulley and pull it toward you with your palm facing upwards.
When doing exercises specifically designed to improve a technique, keep the correct form of that technique in mind while performing weighted movements. You may want to internally say “TAKE THAT!” or “BOOM!” (I actually internally say two different words but they’re not polite) with each rep to stay focused on being as explosive as possible. It may sound silly but it works for me. I hope it will for you, too.