by Nick Knowles
A very common mistake made by wrestling or martial arts coaches when implementing a strength program into their athlete’s training regimen is making a broad generalization as to what exercises will have carryover to their performance.
When choosing exercises specific to any sport, it is important to break down the mechanics of the skill performed. So when considering a complex skill like a leg attack takedown, one must understand what exercises are best suited to improve the athlete’s positioning and execution. Below I will cover four primary strength exercises that will have direct carryover to a leg attack takedown and an explosive contrast movement complimenting each.
1. Barbell Reverse Lunge w/ Clean Grip
An athlete with a strong clean grip reverse lunge will be immovable when under the legs. Just take a look at the ankle, knee, hip, trunk, and thoracic positioning at the bottom portion of the lift. The ankle must be stable: much like the linear foot drive required after the initial penetration of a shot. The knees are practically identical to what you would see during a takedown. The hips are extended, but not the degree at which it would cause the trunk the fall forward: much like what you would feel as your opponent drives into you in defense. The trunk must stay upright as it is loaded in the front (just like your opponent’s resistance would be) and in line with the thoracic spine.
Now why the reverse lunge over the forward lunge? Take a look at the action of the rear foot during a reverse lunge: you are driving forward. During a forward lunge, the back foot does require stability, however, completing the rep will result in a backwards drive from the front foot. Drive backwards in a penetration shot and you will get a nice taste of the wrestling mat.
Contrast- Jumping Split Squat: focus on driving off the back toe as hard as possible and springing of the ground for max speed.
2. Sumo Deadlift
Why the sumo deadlift you may be wondering? Because unlike the conventional deadlift, a properly performed sumo pull requires putting as much lateral force into the ground as possible. Once you have secured your opponent’s legs in an attack, the next step for would be to laterally drive off the far foot. Linear drive while under the legs during a takedown attempt is an easy way for your opponent to simply get their hips back and underneath you, which will extend your hips and arms, forcing you to either give up points or waste loads of energy fighting to get back to your position.
Improving lateral explosiveness will aid in blasting your opponent across the mat or cage.
Contrast- Single Leg Lateral Hurdle Hop: the emphasis is not on vertical height, rather distance traveled horizontally. Generate as much lateral force onto the ground, softly landing on both feet on the other side.
3. Close Grip Floor Catch Press w/ Pause
Though in many cases a strong horizontal press will have carryover to pushing movements during a match or fight, a moderate intensity press for max speed from a standstill position has the potential to improve one’s hand or striking speed. A slow reach during the penetration of a leg attack will result in more time for your opponent to react and defend your move. When observing the upper body during a leg attack, the elbows are usually bent and the hands a couple inches from the chest. The arm reach is often done with no eccentric movement, in other words: a dead pause. This is why the close grip floor catch press with a pause makes for a wonderful exercise to improve the hand strike portion of a leg attack.
Think about it: the elbows are at rest on the ground, keeping the bar in hands a few inches from the chest and the close grip trains a familiar rang of motion during elbow extension since the majority of contact sports pushing movements are done within shoulder width. The catch phase emphasizes on releasing tension at the bottom and exploding for max speed from a dead pause. Chose a weight that doesn’t need to be grinded out. Anywhere in between 75-85% of your 4-6 RM is a good training range.
Contrast- Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Pass w/ Dead Pause: Pause at the chest and explode as fast as possible. Try hitting a target or wall and increasing the distance each set.
4. Inverted Ring Row w/ Iso Hold
Mixed martial arts is unique in that it requires a substantial amount of isometric strength. This is uncommon in most sports as it is rare an athlete will have to hold a position against an opponent’s active resistance for extended periods of time.
I have seen a lot of emphasis on horizontal and vertical pulling strength in wrestling programs for direct carryover to performing a takedown. When penetrating to a double leg position, it would not be in one’s best interest to pull the legs to them.
If this is the case, this means the athlete had poor penetration and the knee/foot placement isn’t proper for optimal execution of the attack. A properly performed penetration shot will have the attacker’s hips in front of the opponent’s feet and the arms wrapped around the legs. The resistance of the opponent’s defense requires great horizontal isometric pulling strength. Whether that be during the finish or fighting to keep one’s offensive position, being able hold your opponent’s legs tight will secure your ability to score or finish on top.
The inverted row is a great exercise for practicing isometric horizontal pulling strength as you will be forced to maintain a neutral spine. When performing this exercise, you will most benefit from a neutral grip. Be sure to pinch the elbows in as hard as possible at the top. Pulling to your chest isn’t enough, you need to crunch your elbows in and get those lats firing. Imagine trying to hold your opponent’s legs as they are resisting in defense.
Contrast- Dynamic Effort Pendlay Row: Anywhere in between 60-70% of your 1RM for reps of 2-3 makes for an appropriate resistance when training for dynamic effort.
Think about driving the elbows back as fast as possible rather than pulling with the arms. Squeeze the shoulder blades together at the top.
Putting It Together
Below is a sample two-day training split implementing the exercises listed above.
There are many ways to organize the exercise order, repetition volume, and intensity, but considering wrestlers and fighters should be focusing mostly on skill development, the two-day split offers just enough stimulus to make improvements to the athlete’s power, speed, strength, and stability.
It is clear that in order to improve one’s skill, one must continuously practice the skill itself. All the strength training in the world won’t pay forward if the athlete isn’t properly executing the technique given by their coaches or instructors. However, by carefully choosing what exercises will be implemented in an athlete’s resistance training program through understanding the mechanics of both the exercise and the components of athleticism required for the sport, one will be making strides towards becoming an unstoppable force.
Nick was a California State Greco and Freestyle wrestling champion and Division 1 wrestler. Now a strength coach in Virginia Beach, his clients range from professional fighters, world champion grapplers, military, endurance athletes, collegiate/high school/youth athletes, and a handful of those from the general population who are looking to improve their fitness and transform their physique. He is currently a strength coach and personal trainer for The Human Performance Initiative (HPI). Learn more about Nick here.