Strength Training for Judo: Part 2 – The Turner

In part two of this five-part judo series we look at the Turner – a specific type of judo player – and give them a template on how to get stronger for their game. Workouts and schedule included.

In part one of my five part series on strength training for judo, I talked about two of the consistent needs for judo athletes, specifically cardio and grip strength, and I also defined the three types of judo players – Turner, Charger, and Grappler. In part two, let’s take a look at the type of judo athletes most commonly seen: the Turner.

The Turner’s image is perhaps the “prettiest” of all the judo styles. Their arsenal of high sweeping throws, dramatic turns, and acrobatic body movements will most often elicit applause and cries of appreciation from the crowd. In addition, the throws used by the Turner can often be employed in the blink of an eye, making them some of the most dangerous opponents on the mat.

Needs of the Turner

  • Horizontal pulling strength. Most of a Turner’s throws will depend on a strong horizontal plane throw. This will pull their opponent off balance to the opponent’s frontal plane, the thrower’s (initial) rear. As such, a strong horizontal pull is needed.
  • Turning speed and tightness. The key for most Turner’s techniques is quickness. A tight, sudden turn can create more off-balancing opportunities for the Turner than all of the strength in the world. As such, the hips, transverse abdominals, and legs are all important.
  • Knee, hip and shoulder stability. The simple fact is, the human body was not intended for the types of rotational stress placed upon it by elements one and two above. Add in the fact that an athlete’s opponent will usually do everything they can to avoid being thrown, and you have a recipe for intense pressures upon the knee joint. Even in a defensive role, the knee is often placed under severe stress. As such, stabilization for the knee, especially in the realm of hamstring and hip strength, is key for a long, pain-free judo experience. For the Turner who favors the seio nage shoulder throw (especially the version known as morote seio nage), shoulder stability is also key. Many promising judo athletes have had their careers cut far too short due to pain caused by lack of stability in the knees, hips or shoulders.
  • Abdominal rotational (and anti-rotational) strength. In conjunction with number one, abdominal rotational strength is very important to the Turner. Think of it as horizontal pull initiates the throw, while rotational abdominal strength completes the throw. Of course, the abdominals also have a very important role in turning speed and tightness as well.

Main Exercises for The Turner

  • Front Squats – In watching Turners, you will notice when they squat to get under their opponent’s center of gravity, they commonly will do so with knees going forward, with the torso remaining vertical over the hips. Now, what does this sound like? If you answered front squats, you would win the prize. Alternatives include overhead squats and Bulgarian split squats. In fact, if the Turner very much favors the tai otoshi throw, a split squat of some form becomes almost required.
  • Romanian Deadlifts – Why not deadlifts, you ask? Two reasons. First, in competitive judo, lifting an opponent in a deadlift manner will not gain you anything. It’s even possible to get disqualified if you throw an opponent in such a manner. However, for the Turner, the more important reason is to really target the hamstrings and erectors. Throw in a strong glute contraction at the end, and you have a very effective targeting of the posterior chain.
  • Rows – Whether they be Yates rows, Pendlay rows, Kroc rows, or even cable rows, rowing is essential for the Turner. Throw in a variety of rows, from multiple angles and grips (overhand, underhand, dumbbell, etc.) to fully stimulate all the angles that the Turner will be pulling from.

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Example Exercise Templates for a Turner: 3-Day Template

The general idea for a 3-day template for the Turner is to cut the body into three main areas (push upper body, pull upper body, and legs) and focus on one area each day heavy, another area as speed, and the final area as hypertrophy. If an athlete is already at their desired size, or does not wish hypertrophy, than the third area is rested.

Note that the pulling/back exercises are more level in average intensity than the others. I do this because of the complexity of the back, which has so many different muscles and planes of movement that dividing up the back can be useful. Also, grip work is not shown, because it can be done at almost any time on any day as mentioned in part one of the series.

Day 1: Pull Focus/Push Speed/Leg Hypertrophy

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Yates Row Warm ups, then work up to 5RM 5 After warm-ups, start with about 60% of 1RM on the bar. Add 5-10 kilos per set, working to a 5 RM. Keep at that weight for 2 sets.
Pull-ups 2 Max Rep out
Smith Machine Tossing Bench Press 4 5 Use 30-40% of bench press 1RM. If a Smith machine or similar assistance is not available, using ball tosses, ballistic pushups, and other options is great.
Lunges/Bulgarian Split Squats 5 8-12 Use barbells or dumbbells, either is okay.
Shoulder Internal/External Rotations 2 15 Stability work
Cable or Band Chops 3 12-20 Medium pace

Day 2: Leg Focus/Push Hypertrophy/Pull Speed

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Front Squats Work up to 5RM 5 Same as with Yates rows. If the athlete is used to the movement, you can increase intensity by the use of bands or chains to overload the top of the motion.
Step-Ups 3 10-12 Use a barbell or dumbbell for resistance. Choose a step height that brings the athlete’s knee to about 90 degrees flexion.
Hamstring Curls 3 8 Any variation is okay – use what is available. Great for ACL stability.
Bench Press Variation 5 8 Can use flat, or decline, dumbbells, barbells, etc. Use a pain free choice, preferably free weight.
Band/Cable Rows 5 10 Speed is the key here.
Incline/Roman Chair Situps 3 20 Resist the motion on the way down. Explode on the contraction.

Day 3: Push Focus/Leg Speed/Pull Hypertrophy

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Incline Press Work up to 5RM 5 I use inclines because much of the pushing for a Turner is going to be in the incline plane. Dumbbells or barbells are okay.
Dips 3 Max BW is okay, can use some extra weight, try to keep reps above 12. If athlete cannot do 12 with bodyweight, then switch to pushups until dips can be done.
Romanian Deadlifts 4 8-12  
Dumbbell Rows 4 10-12 I love Kroc rows, but any sort of single-arm row can be done here
Box Jumps 4 5 Focus on mastering body weight first before adding any additional weights.
Hanging Leg Raises 4 Max Can also be done in a leg raise chair.

4-Day Template

The 4-day template is meant for the athlete who, for whatever reason, cannot get to practice more than one time a week. This template can also be used as a basis for an off-season lifting program, with exercises tailored to fit the needs of the athlete such as hypertrophy, power, or stabilization.

The main difference here is the split. Each area will be done twice a week, with one day being a max strength/hypertrophy focus, the other being a speed/power focus. Additionally, standing shoulder presses are used in the template for the shoulders. Finally, on day four is a period classified as “Other Assistance Work.” This would be the time for the athlete to work on any stabilization work that they see fit, or work on any “beach muscles” that they want to work on. Limit the beach muscle work, of course, going into competition.

Day 1: Push Max/Hypertrophy, Pull Speed/Power

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Bench Variation A 3RM 3  
Bench Variation B 3 8-10 If Variation A is flat, go incline. If A is incline, go flat. I prefer to use dumbbells for this movement.
Pushups 1 Max  
1 Arm Rows 4 5 Speed!
Shoulder Tri-set 3 10/10/10 Start with 2 dumbbells. Do 10 front raises, 10 lateral raises, then 10 shoulder presses with the same weight without resting.
Rotational Band Twists/ Cable Chops 3 20  

Day 2: Legs Max/Hypertrophy Exercise

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Front Squats 5RM 5 Legs tend to respond better to higher reps than upper body muscles, so this is kept at 5.
Split Squat Variation 4 10 Bulgarian, lunges, whatever. Really gets the glutes for me.
Hamstring Curls 4 10 Like the 3 day template, meant for ACL stability.
Barbell Hip Thrust 3 10 Check out Bret Contreras for how to do these.
Roman Chair Situps 3 20  

Day 3: Pull Max/Hypertrophy, Push Speed/Power

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Yates Rows/Meadows Rows 3RM 3  
Pullups 3 Max  
Lat Pulldowns 2 15  
Standing Press 4 10 Fast reps
Pushups 4 10-20 Superset with the standing press
Suitcase Lifts 3 15  

Day 4: Legs Speed/Power, Other Assistance Training

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Split Squats 3 5 Fast
Box Jumps 3 5 Superset with the split squats
Romanian Deadlifts 4 10  
Grip Work 3 10 Choose your exercise
Barbell Curls 3 12 You know you were going to do them anyway.
Standing Band or Cable Crunches 3 25 I prefer to use latex bands, but cable is also usable.

Well, that’s it for part two, covering strength training for the Turner. If you’re a Charger stay tuned for part three in the series. Grapplers will be covered in part four, and part five will address a series of common questions about strength training for judo players.

Strength Training for Judo

Part 1 – Training Grip and Cardio

Part 3 – Workouts for the Charger

Part 4 – Workouts for the Grappler

Part 5 – FAQ About the Program

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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