I still get goose bumps when I think of how John Smith, two time Olympic Gold Medalist was training when I attended his intensive wrestling camps. He always brought two nationally ranked D 1 wrestlers with him to assist in the camp and to train with. He drilled so aggressively and so intensely that the two best collegiate wrestlers in the country couldn’t keep up with him!

They were sweating bullets and breathing like they just finished a deep water dive with out oxygen! What Smith did during all his drilling was pushing himself so intensely it looked as if it were a wrestling match. His high speed, high intensity drilling was very likely his best form of conditioning, not running or jumping rope or any of the other methods he used.

One thing John did on many of his drills was to incorporate some form of lifting in most of his take down drills. He would shoot his low single or high crotch but for the finish he would throw them over his shoulder or lift them off the ground and then bring them to the mat. Coach Ethan Reeve told me a similar form of conditioning for his wrestlers when he was coaching. He had them perform hundreds of lifts during the takedown drills to improve their strength and power endurance for when they competed. These lifts represent a squatting and dead lifting motion mixed in with rotational movements. If your partner weighs 175 lbs and you perform 200 takedowns each with a drill that is one hell of a work out!

When I spoke to Louie about conditioning he spoke about time under tension with weights and drilling mixed in. I would be an idiot not to listen, so we began mixing in some wrestling and strength training for time. The result? I have watched these grapplers increase toughness big time (they fight like deadly Gladiators out on the mat) and their “mat conditioning” has soared! I watched one of our guys have a few close matches through first and second periods and then during third period he simply out conditions his opponents and scores again and again.

This improved conditioning is a by product of the SPP we have incorporated into the program in an effort to prepare him for the big tournaments that he was entering. In the Q & A, you see James speaking about how he does the same for his Football players. The closer he gets to the season, the more SPP he implements for his players.

Let’s get to the real meat of the training and see how we used loaded conditioning and time under tension to prep these grapplers for tournaments. We head to a field with dragging sleds & kettlebells. The group is often 3 – 4 athletes together. Performing various dragging, rowing and pressing movements for about 2 minutes they immediately go and perform what we call sumo or brawling drills and some take down drills. They work on hand fighting, head and neck control, snap down drills as well as shooting high singles while their partner uses a defensive move to get out of the single. The pace here is very hard fought and intense. It is a complete stray from the normal theory of conditioning, which is that of performing a movement such as sprints, jogging, jumping rope, etc.

This goes on for an explosive bout of 1 - 2 minutes give or take 15 seconds or so. From the brawling drill they move immediately into some kettlebell training using a simple exercise such as 2 hand swings, the clean and press and sometimes snatches. This will be performed for 5 – 10 reps per hand when doing single handed movements, or 10 – 15 reps on the swing.

What we’ve done is mix in some “loaded conditioning” with the weights as well as some actual wrestling training. This style of training can be implemented in a dojo or MMA school where the athletes can use the heavy bags or sand bags for exercises such as Turkish get ups, squats, rows, presses & lunges. What I would NOT do is perform the conditioning before actual training. The intense drilling of takedowns or stand up fighting will serve as a form of conditioning first of all. Secondly, performing the conditioning first can fatigue the grappler or fighter too much to a point where they begin drilling with poor technique, or, they get injured due to the muscular fatigue. So, either perform the loaded conditioning after technique work or as a separate work out altogether. If you have absolutely NO equipment for loaded conditioning, try performing loaded conditioning by lifting on EVERY take down for a time that simulates your rounds.

Choosing a list of favorite indoor tools that can be used for loaded conditioning would be the following:

  • The Grappler (Louie has fighters use the grappler for 5 – 10 minutes non stop, performing various movements with the empty bars, and, he also uses it himself for GPP work)
  • Kettlebells and / or Dumbbells
  • Rope climbing
  • Sand bags and / or heavy bags (sand bags will be more versatile)
  • Bodyweight exercises (pull ups, push ups, burpees, squats, lunges, etc.)

Sample indoor loaded conditioning work out (tweak the specific drills for your sport, whether it be Grappling, MMA, or Muay Thai):

  1. Takedowns with and with out lifts and submissions for 4 minutes
  2. Sandbag Turkish get ups x 1 minute
  3. Sandbag Squat x 1 minute
  4. Pull ups with towel x 5 reps
  5. Repeat skills / drills for 3 – 5 minutes (takedowns, stand up, etc.)

Repeat the above loaded conditioning as you feel is needed, or, repeat for the same amount of time your fight / match will last for. Add an over time round to really step it up, and change the exercises every round.

For outdoor loaded conditioning:

  • Sleds
  • Kettlebells
  • Sand Bags
  • Stones (You heard me correctly! You can carry stones, perform rows, dead lifts and much more!)
  • Ropes (performing hand over hand pulls with the sled)

Remember, this is one variation / option you have for using a form of conditioning. I always emphasize tweaking things to best suit yourself or your own clients / athletes. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box to take your conditioning to the next level!