Testing the Grappling Athlete

It’s been an exciting week at Dark Horse, we’ve been testing all of our athletes.

We’re looking to put together a battery of tests to represent the physical and performance characteristics the jiu jitsu athlete would need to possess. Let’s dive in:

When testing an athlete, we perform a needs analysis on the sport – what does the athlete do in their sport (sporting actions) and how can we relate this to physical characteristics needed to lend more to these movements.


A jiu jitsu round usually lasts 5 – 10 min, depending on belt rank and competition. This is primarily an aerobic effort, among many other things. Therefore increasing an athlete’s aerobic capacity may well lend to an increase in output over the round time.

Testing Battery:

This is taken directly from our athlete testing sheet and shows the full battery of tests + units and relative markers.


Testing both general strength (upper / lower* 2RM) and local specific areas – grip, adductor, neck**

*Aiming to replace this with IMTP equipment permitting in the future.

**We put this in endurance due to the demands and nature of the test, aim to improve and change this test in the future.


Broad jump for basic horizontal force production test.

Muscular Endurance

Testing upper push pull with max press up, max inverted row.


Capacity & Power.

Test Selection

Let’s take a look at why we chose the tests we did.


It’s no secret that if you’re strong in grappling – that’s going to help a lot and be the one of the most optimal situations to be in, once all other things are equated and considered.

But WHERE should you be strong?

Overall yes, very important, argument to be made for a 50/50 balance upper/lower.

Local areas of strength are of specific interest to us – we’ve chosen grip, neck and adductor.

Grip is your connection to your opponent – if you don’t have this you have nothing. No brainer.

Your neck takes a beating in grappling – uncommon outside of other contact sports. We need to build up our strength here and this will also mitigate concussion risk[1]

Adductor is where we’re taking a bit of a punt – looking for something to represent compressive squeeze though the lower body – vital for positional awareness & control, as well as submission attempts.


You need to be powerful for shooting, having strong intent on sweeps, takedowns etc. Power is good. I prefer horizontal due to sport demands. Broad jump.

Muscular Endurance

Grappling exchanges and positions are often held for equally long periods of time, and it’s vital to prepare the athlete for the demands of longer round times and greater demands on specific tissue groups. We like upper body endurance exercises here but will definitely look to add lower body additions in the future also.


Everything we’ve covered so far has been effectively neuromuscular. Dipping into the cardiovascular realm here – it’s very important that we excel here also.

Grappling matches are aerobic events, sprinkled with anaerobic, isometric, endurance and explosive efforts, all nicely rolled into a 10-minute package. Having a strong, robust aerobic system will get you very far here.

We test aerobic power – 2000m bike, and aerobic capacity – 12-minute bike.

I heard a great Firas Zahabi quote years ago – “We weaponize our pace, we make that one of our tools.”

How fucking cool is that – love that concept. Make pace a weapon.


We’re finished our first round of testing – and aim to complete another in 12 weeks’ time. I’ll post another article then with a number of the results – and we can dive in to what the scores were across our professional and amateur athletes.

I’m aiming to test more jiu jitsu athletes in the coming months and years, we’re going to build a library of data around this!

If you found this topic interesting – here’s a link to to a podcast series where these concepts are discussed at length.



1.       Collins CL, Fletcher EN, Fields SK, Kluchurosky L, Rohrkemper MK, Comstock RD, Cantu RC. Neck strength: a protective factor reducing risk for concussion in high school sports. J Prim Prev. 2014 Oct;35(5):309-19. doi: 10.1007/s10935-014-0355-2. PMID: 24930131.

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