Grip strength is an important physical characteristic of successful grappling athletes from all disciplines, with higher handgrip measurements seen in high-level, compared to lower-level athletes in BJJ, judo and wrestling. Furthermore, grip strength may also be seen as an important factor in injury reduction in these sports. 

The high-intensity nature of gripping actions in grappling is primarily governed by peripheral, as opposed to central fatigue, and there are a number of factors that contribute to this, including:

  • Impaired Ca 2+ release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. 
  • Waste product accumulation from anaerobic glycolysis
  • Impaired blood flow delivery due to intramuscular pressure from sustained muscle contraction
  • Grapplers are often upper-limb dominant, and the upper limb generally has reduced O2 update and metabolic efficiency

This peripheral fatigue may then lead to secondary central fatigue and decreased force output

As grapplers are often already performing high volumes of sport-specific gripping in their skills training, this needs to be complimented with higher-load maximum grip strength work, which will lead to improved neuromuscular efficiency. This should be a combination of eccentric, concentric, and in particular isometric exercise. 

In addition to this, specific strategies should also be incorporated to maximise the different facets of grip endurance, and these may be, high-intensity intervals of 30 seconds to improve Ca2+ release, intervals of 120 seconds to improve muscle buffer capacity, and intervals of 240 seconds to improve stroke volume. 

Example exercises may include:

  • Pulling exercises with thick handles
  • Finger stretching with resistance band
  • Grip crushers
  • Wrist curls (pronated and supinated grip)
  • Plate pinches 
  • Weight dead hangs
  • Fabric hangs

Due to the importance of grip strength in grappling, athletes should include a structured grip performance regime as part of a periodised strength and conditioning program.1. Øvretveit K, Laginestra FG. Mechanisms and Trainability of Peripheral Fatigue in Grappling. Strength Cond J. 2020;

About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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By Sam Gilbert