• Photo for Fighter Training: Site-Specific Functional Workout for Hips and Core
    Photo Credit: James Parker

Fighter Training: Site-Specific Functional Workout for Hips and Core

By James Parker

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series of exercises for the hips and core. We will run the second part of this sequence next week, to be followed by further articles on site-specific training courtesy of James Parker. Stay tuned!

Even guys going after the beach body should give some thought to site-specific training. There are plenty of areas on our bodies frequently ignored, that need minor to major tune ups. These areas can be worked in a secondary fashion by training with compound (full body or major muscle group) exercises, but can typically be missed in routines dominated by machines. Adding in a day of site specific exercises, or even adding one or all of these exercises in to one of your regular routines, could raise the bar on how close to your fitness goals you get. Site specificity doesn’t work for fat loss (doing tons of crunches won’t reduce belly fat, for example), but is a proven way to increase strength to lagging body parts. For a series of articles, I will pick a few exercises aimed directly at increasing the functional strength of particular body parts. Today, it’s the hips and the supporting muscles therein and nearby, a routine perfect for the beginning, intermediate, or even advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player. This routine is an excellent addition to a lay off week or recovery month, or even to your regular schedule and regular routine.

A quick background on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ): An offshoot of the Japanese family of Aiki-Jitsu (Jiu-Jitsu specifically), BJJ was developed by the now famous Professor Helio Gracie. A smaller man than most of the people he trained with, Professor Gracie developed techniques that worked best from the positions he consistently found himself in—that is, on the ground. BJJ has devastating chokes and limb destruction techniques (called submissions), performed by a fighter lying on his back while his opponent seems to hold the upper hand in dominance above him. All of it depends on the strength, power, and suppleness of the hips. That means that even guys who are not BJJ fighters can benefit from these techniques for any form of functional training demanding speed and strength through the mid-section and hips (soccer players, rock climbers, surfers—listen up).

Warm up
As I have stated before in previous articles, always warm up thoroughly to prevent injury. Start with a minimum of five minutes on a cardio machine of your choice, some light bag work, or your particular martial arts repertoire of forms. After this warm up, you’ll want to activate the muscles you’ll be focusing on for the next hour or so. Begin with what’s called a fire hydrant: on your hands and knees, you start by raising the knee on one side of your body towards the ceiling. Raise as high as you can without losing your form or the stretched feeling on the inside of your legs, aiming for 10 repetitions per side. Keep your leg bent and calf tucked against your hamstring the whole time—no laziness here! Next, and in the same position, you’ll perform forward and backward circles with both legs, using the same muscles. Circular motion works to help get the hip joint activated as long as you have the room and you won’t accidentally smack another gym member. When you are done with that, take another minute to rotate your torso, hips, and ankles through the same type of circular motions. Here’s what the basic fire hydrant should look like:

Hip Exercises
BOSU Balance Twist: Let’s start with one of the more difficult exercises, but one that gets all the muscles in that region working at the same time, as well as having the extra benefit of working our legs and core muscles. I was first introduced to this by sports therapist Chris Gerona during a performance and structural evaluation. Begin by taking a BOSU and turning it so that the blue dome side is down. Using support if necessary, stand on the black platform side in a semi-deep squat with legs parallel to the floor. Finding your balance, begin to rotate your torso to the left and right sides of your body while simultaneously reaching your arms to full extension to the side your torso is facing. The trick to this, and what makes it so hard, is to keep the platform stable while you rotate and change your balance. Eventually you’ll need to add resistance and the best way is to try extending your arms with small weight dumbbells in your hands (kind of like a cross body punch with weight). Do as many reps as you can, while keeping in mind you still need enough energy to get off the BOSU.

Hip Flexor Raises: Once you’ve tried a few sets of the first exercise, you can move on to slightly more isolated hip exercises. One idea (and one I discussed before) is the use of bands and cables for controlled leg front-raises and side-raises, similar to the fire hydrant warm-up only standing. Most gyms have attachments for the cable stations that consist of a strap of some sort that can be wrapped around your ankle. If not, you can find the gym’s band selection (or even purchase your own). Make sure you start with the lightest weight possible to get a feel for the exercise and the muscles you are trying to target. Keep your knee bent, do not extend your leg or lock the leg out straight as it can place undo stress on the knee joint. Starting with the front knee raises (to simulate a knee strike), balance on the leg opposite to the one you are exercising, curl your leg up so that the foot is as close to your glutes as your flexibility allows while keeping your upper leg (from hip to knee) perpendicular to the ground. From this position simply raise your knee up to a point just past parallel to the floor. With the side raises, start the exact same way, but raise the knee up towards the side of your body. You might want to avoid the resista-band for this one unless you can find a non-dangerous way of attaching the band to your leg. The range of motion for you might be much shorter on this one because of flexibility, so be sure and stretch in a controlled fashion after your routine to help increase your range. Perform a variety of sets based on strength (lower repetitions with heavier weight) and endurance (higher reps with lighter weight) week to week to give these muscles complete coverage. If you don’t have a cable attachment that straps to your ankle, try bands. With bands you can do these exercises anywhere you can attach the band, in the gym, in your home, outside, etc. [For a sense of how this should look, see the warm-up photos, above, and perform the same motions standing.]

Semi-Mummy Wraps: If you want, you can cut out the side cable/resista-band raises in lieu of this next exercise, since it works many of the same muscles, or do just this one. You will need a Pilates style resista-band without handles for this exercise, or a few smaller full circle bands. Take the band and wrap your legs, beginning at the ankle and ending just below the crotch, or place each small circle band at the ankle, just above the knee, and at mid-quad. Avoid placing the band directly on or encircling the knees, as this can cause trauma to the patella. Technique is the name of the game on this exercise. Stand facing a mirror, and spread your legs just outside of shoulder range, giving yourself a little range to still move further to either your left or your right. Pick a side and take baby steps (a couple of inches) in that one direction, making sure to keep your wide stance. When you step with one foot, resist the band while you follow the same small distance with the other foot. This one takes some getting used to as you learn to feel the muscles you’re targeting. Try this in a more bent, almost squatting, position. The number of “steps” you move in one direction is the same number you must move back to get to your starting spot, which ensures both sides of your body get equal coverage. This exercise in particular also hits the often neglected minor gluteal muscles on the sides of your posterior. Amazingly, weakness in these little guys can be responsible for back pain, knee problems, ankle problems, IT band trouble, etc. and so on. As weird as the semi-mummy wrap exercise can look, those in the know will recognize the look of intense concentration and pain you will express.

Now that you know how to do the basic exercises, here’s how you can put them together into a workout:

Exercise Muscles Worked Sets Recovery Notes
BOSU Balance Twist Hips, quads, glutes, core 2 - 4 60 seconds Focus on balance, keeping your platform steady, core tight, and movement steady
Semi-Mummy Wrap Minor Glutes, hips, adductors, abductors, core 2 - 3 60 seconds Do not over shoot the range of motion, going only as a far as to stretch position
Hip Flexor Raises Hip flexors 2 - 3 60 seconds Keep your back straight, chin up, focus on resisting the band through this very short range of motion
To Finish
Remember when isolating smaller muscles to pay special attention to avoiding over-training. Smaller muscles notoriously need less work to achieve the same results that more sets would get on larger muscle groups. If you’re a BJJ practitioner and you’ve not heard of these exercises, try them out and see if your triangles, arm bars, sweeps and butterfly guard aren’t a little harder for your training partners to deal with. Like I said in my other articles, please be safe and leave your ego at the door to the gym. Know and be honest enough with yourself to recognize your limits, so that you can eventually exceed them. Anything less and you not only risk derailing your continued success, but your health as well. Train hard, be safe, whup that ass.

About James Parker: James Parker is a certified personal trainer, mixed martial artist, mixed martial arts conditioning coach, and freelance writer in Los Angeles, California.