Strength Training for Judo: Part 4 – The Grappler

The Grappler is the most eclectic of judo styles, and therefore the training program for this athlete is eclectic, as well. Read for for workouts and training tips for competitive judo athletes.

So far, we’ve gone over strength training programs for two of the most common styles of judo athlete, the Turner and the Charger. Previous to that we also examined the general training needs for every judoka. In this installment, we’re going to look at perhaps the most difficult of judo athletes to train and program for, the Grappler.

Grapplers are a relatively newer breed on the judo scene, arising from the influx of athletes in Europe, Russia, and the Americas who either came from a different sport before entering judo or have a background not beholden to any particular style or teaching tradition. What makes Grapplers a problem in both the weight room and on the judo mat is that they are eclectic. The style emphasizes taking elements from every tradition and mixing them to produce whatever works best for the particular athlete. The Grappler will be the player with the most unorthodox grips, the strangest throws, and maneuvers that often leave coaches and opponents going, “WTF is this guy doing?”

As such, truly creating a template for a Grappler is also very eclectic. What is tailored for one particular Grappler is not going to be a match for almost any other Grappler. As such, the following templates are going to be highly customizable to fit the particular needs of the particular athlete.

Needs of the Grappler

  • Overall body strength. If the move exists somewhere in judo, then most likely the Grappler will have tried it. They will need the strong hip sweeps of a Charger, the strong quads of a Turner, and enough variety of their pulls that they’ll almost never pull in the same direction twice.
  • Explosive movements. Even more than the other styles, a Grappler will often depend on their power and speed to transition from one body position to another. Their style doesn’t lend itself to as many positional setups as Chargers or Turners. Instead, they will take whatever is given to them and try to make something work from it.
  • Ground Strength. As their throws do tend to be “dirty,” Grapplers will not as often have the beautiful throws that earn ippons as Turners or Chargers. Instead, they need to have the ability to finish fights on the ground, grinding out points (or grinding out the clock) using newaza. As such, the needs of a Grappler will often overlap those of a wrestler or a Brazillian jiu jitsu player.

Main Exercises for the Grappler

  • Bench Press Variations – Again, this will change on practically a daily basis. Incline, decline, flat, barbell, dumbbell, throw it in there. A good idea for this and the following two is to find four good variations the athlete can enjoy and work hard at, and rotate through them on a regular basis. Also track those four exercises, knowing approximate 5RMs for each. My personal favorites are the flat bench, the incline bench, the incline barbell bench, and the reverse banded incline bench.
  • Squat Variations – Again, changing the variation of the squats used is essential. As long as they follow the basic ideas of squat, front squat, and split squat, your athlete will do fine. Again, my personal favorites are the back squat, the split squat, the reverse banded squat, and the box squat.
  • Pulls – Vertical pulls, rows, 1-arm, 2-arm, 3-arms? Whatever it needs, vary it.

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Example Exercise Templates for a Grappler: 3-Day Template

Day 1: Pull Focus/Push Speed/Leg Hypertrophy

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Horizontal Pull Variation 5RM 5 Note above, find 2-4 variations and rotate through them on a weekly basis.
Pullups 3 Max
Vertical Press (barbell or dumbbell) 3 5 Speed here.
Pushups 3 Max
Front Squats 4 8-12
Wheeled Rollouts 3 15

Day 2: Leg Focus/Push Hypertrophy/Pull Speed

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Squat Variation 5RM 5 Use a two leg squat variation, preferably using a barbell.
Single Leg/Split Squat Variation 2 10
Hamstring Curl 3 10
Bench Variation 3 8-12
Dips 2 Max
Romanian Deadlifts 3 5 Speed
Band Rows 3 7 Speed
Hanging Leg Raises 3 15

Day 3: Push Focus/Leg Speed/Pull Hypertrophy

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Bench Variation 5RM 5
Bench Variation 3 10 Use a different variation from the 5RM exercise.
Dips 2 Max
Jump Squats 4 5 Pick a weight that lets athlete get 6-12 inches off the ground.
Reverse Extensions 3 15
Supported Row Variation/ Vertical Pull Variation 4 8-12 This can be either with one hand on a bench, chest against a pad, whatever. Try not to use a variation that places stress on the lower back.
Rotational Chops 4 15

4-Day Template

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

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Bench Variation 1 5RM 5
Bench Variation 2 3 8-12
Pushups 3 Max
Vertical Pull Variation 3 5 Speed
Row Variation 3 6 Speed
Lateral DB Raises 2 15
Roman Chair Situps 3 15-20

Day 2: Legs Max/Hypertrophy

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Squat Variation 5RM 5
Split Squat Variation 3 10
Hamstring Curl 3 10
Reverse Extension 3 12-15
Hanging Leg Raises 3 15

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

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Row Variation 1 5RM 5
Row Variation 2 3 8-12
Vertical Pull 2 Max
Vertical Press 4 5 Speed
Dips 3 Max
Band Rotations 3 15

Day 4: Legs Speed/Power, Other Assistance Training

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Romanian Deadlifts 5RM 5 Another glute-centered exercise can also be done.
Jump Squat Variation 5 5
Hamstring Curls 3 8-12
Bicep Curls 3 10
Crunches 3 15-25
Leg Raises 3 15-25

So, that’s about it as far as the programming. Check back next week for a list of FAQs on strength training for judo and my answers. I hope that you can use these programs above as either a template for your workouts, or that you use them as a springboard into the personalized, tailor-made workouts that are needed by your judo athletes to prepare themselves for competition.

Strength Training for Judo

Part 1 – Training Grip and Cardio

Part 2 – Workouts for the Turner

Part 3 – Workouts for the Charger

Part 5 – FAQ About the Program

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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