Squeezing the life out of your opponents in grappling

I consider isometrics in the row or pull position to be of great importance in developing the physical qualities of grappling athletes, especially squeezing/applying pressure.


What makes a good squeeze?

If you go meet an accomplished grappler, and trained with them, you’d no doubt find they possess a superhuman ability to squeeze you and apply pressure in the traditional sense of the term as it exists in grappling. Even if they’ve never lifted weights – so that’s not where the quality comes from.

But can we train it? Can we develop that squeeze in the weight room?

Yes, I think so.

However – squeezing and pressuring in this sense is very much technique – no debate on that. Specifically, it’s weight distribution, grip distribution, body contact, awareness of the space around you and your partner, among many other factors.

These factors are technique driven, and technique will improve them further.


Can we stack physical quality on top of that technique?

Fuck yeah we can.

Where do we go in search of this then?

2 positions/strategies we look to here – one of which is up for discussion today – row isometrics.

I believe a lot of the musculature relevant to these squeezing positions can be trained to produce higher and more co-ordinated intramuscular force, as well as psychologically allowing the athlete to push in these positions and have an opportunity to explore the demands of these positions without the input of a resisting opponent.

Furthermore, we can progress these ISOs and experiment with different positions and time lengths in the set. We’ve worked up to 30-35 sec ISOs with some athletes for 2-3 sets, in an effort to introduce some endurance work into the sets also, a feature of how the position is often applied in sport – i.e. for long periods of time, sometimes even minutes.

Additionally, much higher force can be applied over shorter periods of time. ISOs performed for much shorter intervals, but aiming for max force, can be further useful tools in allowing the athlete to experiment with higher levels of force in the weight room – potentially increasing motor unit thresholds over time – potentially unlocking even higher levels of recruitment over time?

What movements are we dealing with here – two favourites.

Inverted row Isometrics – pulling to a bar, feet up on a bench.

Seal row – lying face down and rowing.

We like these two movements as they allow for both manipulation of bodyweight and loaded  variables – especially useful if bodyweight is a challenge. Seal row can have added partner resistance also, you just need lots of training partners!

Where to start?

We usually start easy introduction, isometrics up to 8 – 10 sec, in tolerable positions. From there we increase it up, usually 5 sec per 2 – 3 weeks, not routinely pushing past the 20 sec mark with most folk and programming!

For what it’s worth – we’ve had a lot of reported success in this area, particularly with female athletes who were beforehand struggling to produce sufficient force to stabilise these positions in sparring – now reporting much higher levels of force, stronger squeezes, less effort to hold these positions for time etc.

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