Jiu-jitsu/MMA Abs Program

What follows is the written instructions or manual for the abdominal/core video exercise program I was hired to put together a few years ago. What made this ABS program unique was that it was entirely based on the “open guard” drills and exercises that have always been a fundamental part of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The manual was written more for laypeople who did not necessarily have any prior jiu-jitsu experience so I included written descriptions of the movements as well as brief explanations of how these motions would be used in a self-defense or jiu-jitsu context. Therefore, it is a pretty solid program even in just its written form so I thought I would share it with you.

 

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS Abdominals

Welcome to MMA Abs! Mixed martial arts fighters and in particular Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners have core strength and abdominal development that far surpasses most other athletes. The main reason for this are the unique body motions that Jiu-jitsu trained MMA fighters use to move, fight and defend themselves on the ground.

 

(1) The “rocking chair”

Simply sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the ground, rest your hands on the floor out to the sides. Gently rock back until your shoulder blades are flat on the ground and your legs are off the floor with your feet pointing forward. Then rock yourself back to the upright position, lock your body in this position, like a rocking chair, so your abs/core will act as the hinge between your upper and lower body. Let your abs pull you up and lower you down in a controlled way. Try not to use your hands to push you up or your legs to force you down more than is necessary to get you rocking; move from your core.

Duration: 30 seconds to 2 minutes

Note: This exercise is the most fundamental Jiu-jitsu/MMA grounded defense method and a deceptively potent core developer. In particular it targets the lower abs that are notoriously hard to hit even with Hi-Tec equipment. Imagine you are on the ground with a standing aggressor in front of you; this rocking motion pulls your head away from danger and places your legs, as a defensive barrier, between you and the attacker.

Warning: Remember to lower your chin to your chest when rocking so that you do not hit the back of your head on the ground. Use your arms to gently brace against the ground.

 

 

(2) Intermediate and advanced variations of the “rocking chair”

 This seemingly rudimentary exercise is so simple that it can be done anywhere by anyone but has a lot of built in sophistication. It can be ratcheted up or down by degrees to be as demanding as required. Furthermore, by making small adjustments you can tailor what specific areas of the abdominals you are targeting.

  1. Speed and Velocity: The slower you make the rocking motion the more demands you are putting on your core. This is very important in the rocking back motion, instead of just letting gravity pull you down you can use your core to control your decent and slowly lower yourself all the way back. When you sit up you are fighting against gravity and this is an even more challenging movement when done very slowly. Avoid the temptation to use momentum, such as rocking your head or kicking your legs to help force yourself up. Instead squeeze your abs and pull yourself up from your center.
  2. Half Motions: By stopping half way down when neither your feet nor your back is touching the floor you place an incredible demand on your core which has to hold and stabilize you in this position. Make sure you take your hands off the floor as well and now your core and abs have to both hold you and balance you in this position. Most people will find that their abs are literally quivering in just a few seconds by holding this position which is otherwise easy and comfortable.
  3. Leg Extension: The more your legs are bent the more you have to rock up before your feet will reach the ground. Conversely, the more you straighten your legs the less work your core has to do to sit you upright. (In a jiu-jitsu/MMA context you use the extension of your legs to control how much distance you want between the opponent and yourself.) Therefore, the most advanced version is to rock as slowly as you can with your legs bent as much as you can. Furthermore, as you change the amount of flex in your knees you will feel the section of your abs, that are doing most of the work, shift up or down as you change the angle of your legs. This allows you to specifically target different muscles.

 

  • “Bicycle” kicks

From the down position of your “rocking chair” motion, lay on your back with your hands out at about 45 degrees with the palms down. Extend one leg straight out and bend the other leg, bringing your knee as close to your chest as you can. Kick the bent leg straight out while pulling the straight leg back into your chest. Alternate your legs in a piston like motion, kicking one leg out at a time.

Reps: 15 to 50

Note: This is your most basic Jiu-jitsu/MMA attack method from your “rocking chair” position. Imagine using your legs to kick at the attacker to keep him away. Turn your toes out to the side to kick at the knees of a standing opponent or point your toes up, to kick to the body or head with your heel. Kicking with one leg at a time would make it very difficult for the opponent to control your legs.

  • Intermediate “bicycle” kicks

Instead of lying all the way back, rock half way up onto your bottom. Do not use either your hands or feet to support you by keeping them off the ground. From this, balanced at the half way position, perform the alternating “bicycle” kicks.

Reps: 15 to 50

Note: In jiu-jitsu/MMA, you would use this method less for actual kicking at an aggressor because it brings your head back into range but it simulates using your legs for hooking and blocking the legs of the standing opponent.

  • Advanced “bicycle” kicks

This variation puts a new twist on the “bicycle” kick. Stay in the half way up position with your arms and legs off the ground. Put your hands behind your head. As you kick, twist your upper body and touch your elbow to the opposite knee, as the leg is drawn back.

Reps: 15 to 50

 

  • “Rock and kick”

Add the bicycle kicks as a “half beat” in between the up/down motion of your “rocking chair” movement. Rock back, execute bicycle kicks, rock up and repeat. You can control the intensity of the abs/core stress by how far you rock back and how long you stay in the half way position.

Duration: 30 seconds to 3 minutes

Note: This exercise links the defensive and offensive aspects of the “rocking chair” type defense while targeting different sections of your abs/core. Imagine that   a standing assailant attacks, pull your head away and kick at the attacker until he backs up. When he backs up you are safe to sit up because he is too far away to reach your head. If he attacks again, rock back down to create defensive space and kick again.

  • Intermediate “rocker”

Exaggerate and increase the motion from the “rocking chair” exercise. Keep your hands off the ground, rock back all the way onto your shoulders as far as you can and with your knees by your ears. Then rock back and extend your legs straight out and parallel to the floor. Repeat back and forth.

Reps: 5-25

Note: This variation will intensify the demands on the, hard to hit, lower abs/core by increasing the range of motion. Imagine that the attacker has gotten too close for you to kick. You may have to pull your knees in close to support his weight as he tries to get on top of you, and then push him away with both feet on his hips.

  • Advanced “rocker”

When you rock back bring your legs all the way over your head and touch your toes on the ground then push yourself back. As you rock back, extend your legs all the way out with nothing touching the ground except your bottom. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds then rock back over and repeat.

Reps: 5-25

Note: This very advanced version adds elements of back and neck muscle flexibility with more ballistic movements and extended holding times. Someone trying to force themselves past your leg defense could suddenly place you in this position. Therefore, you can develop a supple neck and back to support the increasing power of your core and be able to produce more explosive movements from your center.

Warning: Be careful not to strain your neck or back muscles, which can happen easily if you do this motion too quickly or before you have developed the requisite flexibility.

  • “Rocking chair” circles

Rock up and down as in the “rocking chair” exercise but add a circular rotation so that your legs are moving like the hands of a clock. Imagine someone is walking around you and you want to keep your feet pointed at them. Use your hands just as a “rudder” to gently brace yourself as you move up and down and rotate in a circle. Use your head to pull you to different angles and stay locked in your “rocking chair” position so that your abs/core does the work.

Duration: 30 seconds to 5 minutes

Note: This is your Jiu-jitsu/MMA 360 degree defense. When the attacker discovers that he cannot reach you by getting past your legs, he will try to circle around you. Imagine that you must keep your legs pointed at the attacker and play “follow the leader” as he walks around you.

Warning: Your neck may become tired when doing longer sets because you must hold your head up with your chin near your chest. Simply use your hand to cup behind your head to give it more support.

  • “Hip turns”

Now you are going to traverse that same circle but without the rocking motion. Your feet cannot touch the ground. Use your arms to lift your hips/buttocks off the ground and swing them to one side as you move yourself in a circle just like you are tracking a person walking around you. With each lift travel as far around as you can. After you have completed a full circle in one direction repeat in the opposite direction.

Duration: 30 seconds to 3 minutes

Note: This is the same 360 degree defensive concept from Jiu-jitsu/MMA but imagine that the opponent stays too close for you to rock up safely so you must be able to move with him without being able to put your feet on the ground. This kind of movement will tend to target the side areas of the abs/core.

  • “Foot turns”

In this variation you put one foot on the ground while leaving the other leg pointing ahead. Instead of using the rocking motion or your arms to help rotate, you will use your foot to move you around in a circle. Do not step with your foot then drag your bottom along the ground but use your posted foot to lift your hips off the ground and swing them out to the side. This way you are moving from your abs/core.

Duration: 30 seconds to 3 minutes

 

  • “Hip shuffle”

This is the most advanced and difficult of the “follow the leader” type exercises. Now you cannot use your arms, legs or rocking motion to help turn your body in a circle. Use just your core/abs to lift your hips off the floor and shuffle them around in the same circle. Pretend you are playing “follow the leader” by keeping your legs pointed at a person walking around you. Neither your arms nor legs can touch the ground as you turn your body around in a circle. Make a full circle to the left then repeat to the right.

Duration: 30 seconds to 2 minutes

Note: This exercise is very demanding on your abs/core and in actual application would be used only to make smaller adjustments in your position relative to an opponent while leaving your hands free to do other defensive tasks.

  • The “perpetual circle”

With this exercise you can link and combine all the previous “follow the leader”/circling movements for an unprecedented abs/core blast. As one section of your abs/core becomes too tired from one exercise switch to another and continue to circle as you target a fresh area. If you need a rest period you can lay back and include your “bicycle kicks”. You can do two full circles, one to the left and one to the right, of any exercise then switch to the next exercise. When you have completed all the exercises this would be one full cycle.

Duration: 1 to 5 cycles

  • “Hip lifts”

Lay on your back with your arms out at 45 degree angles. Use your arms to lift yourself up and off the ground as you straighten your legs. Try to roll back right onto your shoulders and lift your legs until you are 90 degrees to the floor. Drop your hips and repeat.

Reps: 5-25

Notes: For Jiu-jitsu/MMA you need to be able to reach the head or upper body of a standing opponent, with kicks or submission holds, your abs/core must be able to propel you upwards.

  • “Oblique twists”

From a position similar to the “hip lifts”, use your arms to lift your hips off the ground then twist your torso side to side. You do not have to lift your hips up more than an inch or two. When you begin, your hips will be between your arms, when you twist to your right try to move your hips as far as you can, like you are trying to put them over your right hand. Then rapidly twist to your left in the same way. Twist rapidly from side to side as far as you can.

Reps: 10-50

Notes: This exercise is second to none for targeting the oblique muscles that make up the sides of the abdominals.

  • “Lift and twist”

Combine a “hip lift” with an “oblique twist” by pushing yourself higher into the air then twist your torso. In contrast to the “oblique” twists that are rapid and a shorter motion, these can be done with a wider range of motion.

Reps: 5 to 25

Note: For a more specific Jiu-jitsu/MMA application all the “hip lifting” drills can be done with specific submission holds in mind. For example, at the apex of each hip lift you can “figure 4” your legs by placing your foot behind the opposite knee. This simulates the application of the famous “triangle” choke. The “lift and twist” motion would be used in applying an “arm bar” from the bottom.

  • Inside “egg beaters”

Lay on your back in the same position with your arms out at 45 degree angles. Stay stationary but move your bottom side to side in a similar way to a “hip shuffle” as you circle your bent legs inward like you want to slap the inside of your thigh with the opposite foot. Alternate your legs and as the foot circles back to the outside you hip would swing out a little to that side. This motion is an “inside” “egg beater”, because your leg circles inward or towards you. The idea is to do this as rapidly as you can so that the legs look like an egg beater.

Duration: 30 seconds to 3 minutes

Note: This exercise will loosen your hips as well as force your core to work in a new way. This leg motion is common in Jiu-jitsu when someone grabs your feet or pant legs in order to move your legs out of their way. By circling your lower leg over top of their gripping hand and forcing it out, you would break their grip on your leg. It is important to swing your hip out at the same time since this will create more space and a better angle; not to mention, give you more strength. In Jiu-jitsu/MMA you learn to fight with your core not just your legs.

Warning: Some people find that the inside “egg beater” exercise causes pain or discomfort in the knees. If this is the case simply skip this exercise.

  • Outside “egg beaters”

This exercise is the same as the previous one, with the exception that we circle the lower leg to the outside and away from us. Alternate the legs in the same way and don’t forget to let the hips move side to side.

Duration: 30 seconds to 3 minutes

Note: This motion could be used in the same way to break grips on your pant legs or ankles. If an opponent held your pants at the knees you can circle your foot on to his bicep and push his arm off. Or if he was holding your ankle you could circle your leg out against his thumb in a similar way as a wrist escape.

 

  • “Hip shuffle” with “egg beater”

While doing your “hip shuffle” in a circle “egg beat” with one leg on the side you are moving to. After completing a full circle switch directions and legs.

Duration: 30 seconds to 3 minutes

Note: Imagine that a Jiu-jitsu/MMA opponent is both trying to control your legs with his hands while also trying to move around you. This exercise will tax your coordination as well as your abs/core in unheard of ways, as you simulate simultaneously staying in line with the opponent and breaking his hold on your legs.

  • “Twist overs”

From the down position of your “rocking chair” motion, keep your arms out at 45 degrees and your back on the ground. Keep your legs bent about half way and pointing straight ahead as in the basic “rocking chair”. Twist side to side with just your lower body and let your legs cross over onto one side of your body. Keep your legs bent about the same as in the starting position and don’t let them touch the ground. Remember to keep your arms on the ground and your back flat so that you are twisting with just your lower body.

Reps: 5 to 25

Note: This motion is a common leg defense or “guard recovery” used in jiu-jitsu/MMA. Imagine that someone has moved to the side of you by grabbing one leg and swings you to the side, while you are using your “rocking chair” defense. You would scissor the other leg over to make contact on the opponent’s waist with the outside leg and use it to pull yourself back in line with the opponent. In actual application you should let your shoulder and arm come off the ground and turn onto your side, this makes you mechanically stronger to stop an attacker but does not place as much demand on the abs/core.

  • MMA “crunches” with punches

Lay in your down position with your knees about half bent, but cross your ankles. Pull your upper body off the ground and punch as far as you can past your crossed feet, like you are trying to touch them. Lie back down and repeat with the other arm. Try to leave your feet where they are and pull yourself up towards them.

Reps: 15 to 50

Note: Imagine that your MMA opponent is no longer standing but is on his knees and you are holding him between your legs. As he tries to sit up and make space, you must sit up far in order to be able to reach his head with a punch, or to grab his neck and pull him back down.

  • Jiu-jitsu “crunches” with chokes

From the above position, sit up in the same way but pull with your legs at the same time. Cross your arms in front of your face and crunch up so that your knees and elbows are coming together. Lie back down and repeat with both arms moving at the same time.

Reps: 15 to 50

Note: This motion simulates the collar chokes used in jiu-jitsu. In order to be able to choke your opponent from the bottom you have to get very close to him and get your hands in very deeply into his collar. When you pull with your legs, this unbalances him forward and when you sit up at the same time, this allows you to get your hands in deep enough to choke him effectively. This exercise develops the abs/core by pulling from both ends.

  • “Butterfly crunch”

Sit on the ground like in the “rocking chair” position but this time put the bottom of your feet together and let your knees point out to the sides. Place your hands behind your head, lower yourself down then rise back up to the sitting position. Do not pull on your neck with your hands, let go of your head and just keep the hands near it if necessary. Try to “roll” your spine off the floor and not spring up.

Reps: 5 to 25

Notes: In Jiu-jitsu/MMA this is another way to control your kneeling opponent with your legs. You hook your feet between his legs and underneath him. However, you must stay up in a sitting position for this defense to be effective and this can be more difficult without the help of your legs to pull you up. This version of the “crunch” isolates the abs more because it limits the use of other core muscles such as the hip flexors and develops the strength to sit up without the pull of our legs.

  • The “V crunch”

Laying on your back, raise your knees up higher than in your “rocking chair” position, straighten your legs out and spread your feet apart. Keeping your legs as stationary as you can, crunch forward while extending your arms out in the same grabbing or choking manner.

Reps: 5 to 25

Notes: This variation of the “crunch” targets the upper abdominal muscles and further simulates fighting from the bottom position, the most abs/core killing aspect of Jiu-jitsu/MMA training.

  • Progressive “crunches”

In this exercise we combine each of the “crunch” variations progressively. Start with your legs in the “butterfly” position, perform a set of “crunches” then move your legs to the crossed ankles position and do a set. Then spread your legs apart and continue with a set of “v” crunches. For an even more intense and total abs/core workout, reverse the order and work your way back down.

Reps: 10 to 30 in each position

Notes: This exercise reproduces the intensity of fighting from the bottom in Jiu-jitsu/MMA, when you must constantly adjust your defensive position and stay one step ahead of the opponent.

 

 

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