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Ask Dave: Why Is the Bridge Press a Good Lift For BJJ Players?

Over in Facebookland Chris asks:

"Hello, what is the purpose of the bridge aspect of the press? Asking in relation to how it benefits jiu jitsu."

He posted the question under this video:

Ok, that's the instagram video, the facebook video if you want to see his question is here

So, why the bridge press?

This is not a magic bullet, you can't do a few sets of this and suddenly turn into a grappling monster. But it is a great exercise for anyone who is using strength training to support their grappling training.

You are using strength training to support your martial arts aren't you???

First, why not simply Bench Press?

Now we're asking a good question. While I have nothing against the Bench Press as an exercise, I simply dislike it for a few reasons. Reason 1: I suck at it! Reason 2: It too often becomes more of a dick measuring contest then a training exercise Reason 3: The Barbell, while offering the greatest loading potential, also fixes the hands in place, anchors the scapula in place, and is limited in it's range of motion.

Almost every BJJ player I've worked with, I've taken off the bench. And once they stop with their tantrums and begin to listen to me, their shoulders, almost to a man, start to feel better.

For horizontal pressing, I go to:

Push Ups on the Rings Dips, again on the rings Floor Press, maybe with a bar Bridge Press with Kettlebells

You see BJJ as a sport, actively attacks the joints by putting them into their most vulnerable positions to cause a submission. This means we need to train the shoulders to be able tolerate these positions and maybe have some strength there.

This means we want the scapula (shoulder blade) to be able to move freely, we want the muscles around the scapula and glenohumeral (where the arm bone joins the body) joints to be strong, balanced and pliable. We need to have a nervous system that can fire the muscles adequately, reflexively and accurately as and when needed.

Where the Bridge Pres comes in is that bottom position. Holding a bridge, which is a fundamental for all grapplers, also allows the elbows to come back past the body.

Look at Seb again in the video above, his elbows come down to the mat each rep, taking his shoulders into extension. Could they do so with a bit more control? Absolutely, but this is a training set, not a demo set.

The extension in the bridge press is akin to the extension reached in a dip. This puts a greater stretch on the pecs than if we used a bar, as the bar itself reduces range of motion. Not only that but our scapula now have freedom to move as they somewhat elevated from the floor. So they will squeeze together at the bottom of the lift giving a great stretch load to one of the most important shoulder muscles, the serratus anterior.

As you lift the bells, it's this serratus muscle that will guide the scaps and keep them tracking in a way that supports the glenohumeral joint when it comes under attack.

A couple of watch points.

If the we see the "ball" of the shoulder come forward at the bottom position, then we have a tightness / weakness / motor control issue that we need to look out for. This anterior glide of the humeral head can potentially put excess stress on the shoulder capsule, maybe the biceps tendon, and may indicate a vulnerability in the shoulder. More often than not, improving scapular movement and control solves this, as the scaps "learn" to move back and down as the bells lower, the entire shoulder moves as a unit loading all tissues optimally so that nothing is overloaded and vulnerable.

If we see the arms internally rotating as the bells are lifted, it may indicate an inability to adequately engage the serratus and other rotator cuff muscles. This may simply be a habitual motor control, it's common amongst new lifters and those who've only benched with a bar or never been taught good push up technique (because, who is when they're kids?)

Again, go back up to the video and look at the orientation of the bells as Seb hits the top position.

You will see his thumbs are pointing up as if making a triangle shape. He isn't relying on the big internal rotators of the shoulders, ie the pecs, the lats and upper traps. He is balancing these with the external rotators to build and maintain as much balance as possible around the shoulder.

The final thing to note about the video, this is the second part of a 3 phase training program specifically written for the BJJ player preparing for competition, in Sebs case, the IBJJF European Championships in February.

It is a 12 week program, you can check it out here:

The goal of this training session is power endurance. It's not top end strength, but the ability to generate power over and over despite fatigue. The set lasts for ten minutes, it is 3 reps, 10 second rest, repeat. Each rep is to be as violently explosive as you can muster with the best form you can. By the 6th or 7th minute, you should want to quit, but you persist.

I should maybe note the commentary in the video is our Paulie ribbing Seb about a bet he recently made, which if he loses, means he will have to go Vegan for a week! We're all hoping he loses the bet!

If you are a BJJ player and looking for help with your conditioning, drop us a line and let us help you.


Dave Hedges

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