By Rob Gramer
The stand-up game in BJJ is critical to determining the final outcome of a match. Whoever sweeps or successfully takes down their opponent has a better than 50-50 chance of winning either on points or by submission. Whether initiating a sweep from the “clench”, jumping guard, or attempting anything from a double legged take-down to a variety of throws, it all takes a combination of timing, technique, footwork, leg strength and balance.
No question that it would give you a significant advantage if you were to increase you balance and agility making yourself more “sweep-proof” either from an attack or after you’ve been knocked off balance. So what if you were told that you could train your muscles to become extremely sensitive and neurologically conditioned so that they could react with lightning speed the millisecond you lose balance? Would you be interested?
Well, according to a study reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research this type of reaction conditioning is very possible. The researchers used a comprehensive neuromuscular training program (including an exercise I’m about to show you) to increase single-leg hop distance by more than 4 inches not so much my increasing strength per se, but rather by training the athlete to better coordinate synergistic muscular contractions so that power output increased. Now four inches may not seem like a lot. But imagine if an opponent was reaching out to grab your leg during a sweep. The significant reaction and explosive contraction could very well translate to making you much more difficult to sweep, or get you off balance to initiate a throw.
During the hay-day of Soviet Olympic weightlifting dominance, balance squats were used to increase their lifts. After just 8 weeks of bodyweight squats and one legged squats, their lifts went up! Nowadays, just about every professional athlete, especially NFL and NBA teams as well as dozens of others, use balance exercises to help improve their performance and there are proven exercises you can use to build balance and coordination and agility.
One of the most popular tools is called the Bosu Ball. It’s basically one of those big plastic balls cut in half with a plastic base attached to the bottom. Since it is made of pliable rubber, when you stand on it you wobble around.
Here are four exercises that use the Bosu Ball and two extra…all of which works wonders on your balance, agility and strength:
1. Upside Down Bosu Ball Squat
This is a great “starter” balance exercise that is easier than it looks. All you have to do is take your Bosu ball…flip it upside down…and stand on the platform and squat. Balancing on the platform can be a little tricky, so if you need to…use a wall or a ceiling beam for support.
2. One footed Upside Down Bosu Ball Squat
If you thought those regular squats were hard, just wait till you try and do them on one foot! While this may seem advanced, it’s really not that hard once you get the hang of it…and it’s great for building stability and sweep defense for passes where you put a knee up and try and cut through.
3. Bosu Ball Squat
You may be wondering why I suggested flipping the bosu ball upside down first. It’s because it’s actually easier to do squats this way. When you flip it up right the base is stable, but your ankles and knees wiggle around like a newborn baby deer. This is GOOD! It means all those little muscles that help you balance are firing like crazy getting a heck of a workout. Try it out and see for yourself.
4. One footed Bosu Ball Squat
Take a close look at the second picture in this series and you’ll see just how hard this exercise is (notice how blurry my hands are, that’s me trying to hold my balance and not fall off). I like the way this exercise “rolls” your ankle around. It forces you to work your foot in a wide range of motion – which will help stabilize your ankle when you are jumping around avoiding sweeps.
5. One Foot Bladder Squats
These squats work the same muscles, tendons and ligaments that the Bosu ball works, except these little bladders are about 1/4th the price of the bigger Bosu ball. While I think the Bosu ball provides for a greater workout, this little bladder gets the job done on a budget.
So there you have it. Five exercises that build balance and BJJ sweep defense. Oh wait, I promised six didn’t I? The last one is easy and it doesn’t require any special equipment. Just stand on one foot and squat. It has almost all of the benefits of the other squats (increased strength, coordination and balance)…but you don’t need any special equipment.
Works these six exercises into your routine and you’ll be sure to notice better balance, stability and agility on your feet – and watch your sweep defense improve to boot!