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Site-Specific Fighter Training for Hips and Core, Part 2

By James Parker

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series of site-specific exercises for the hips and core. Click here for the first piece in the series, and feel free to put the two together into a single intense workout, or mix-and-match as needed to supplement your regular exercise program.

There are some frequently ignored areas of our bodies 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. Martial arts training offers ways to fill these gaps, as fighters know that a complete workout regimen needs more than weights and machines—it requires functional training for the total body. But you don't have to get rid of your regular routine to do this kind of training—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.

The trick to site-specific functionality is to pick the parts of your physique that need the attention. For this article, we will select a few exercises aimed directly at increasing the functional strength of the hips and the supporting muscles therein and nearby, perfect for the beginning, intermediate, or even advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player (and even other styles of fighting). This routine is an excellent addition to a lay-off week or recovery month, or even to your regular schedule and regular routine.

Here's 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 late grand master Professor Helio Gracie. A smaller man than most of the people he trained with, Professor Gracie developed those techniques that worked best from the positions he consistently found himself in—on the ground. BJJ has devastating chokes and limb destruction techniques (called submissions) performed by a fighter on his back while his opponent seems to hold the upper hand in dominance above him. Success depends on the strength, power, and suppleness of the fighter's hips.

As I have stated before in previous articles (and no different with this one), 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 ten repetitions a 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.

Hip Exercises
Stability Ball Knee Tuck: Now to the meat of the matter (so to speak). Let’s start with an exercise that gets the entire body working along with the target area. Take a stability ball and begin by placing your hands on the floor and your shins and instep on the ball. For some, just getting your balance can be challenging, so give yourself some time to get your bearings. Once you’re steady, place most of your weight forward into your shoulders and arms as you tuck or bring your knees towards your chest. Focus on pinching the upper legs against your lower stomach/abs, and squeezing. As you’ll no doubt feel, this exercise not only hits your hips, but also your core, shoulders, and arms. For an added core blast, try holding your body in plank position with your feet on the ball in between sets.

Groin Plate Slide: Now that you’ve got your whole body engaged and the blood flowing, you can move on to an exercise that focuses more on your target area: it's time for the plate slide. This one will seem simple, but actually is more complicated than it seems due to the fact that you have to concentrate deeply to make sure you’re using the right form. We’ll take two separate but similar exercises and super-set them together (follow one immediately behind the other). Start with a plate (you can start with a 10-pound plate and graduate up when you feel you’ve got the exercise down) resting flat on the floor against the inside of your foot. Keeping balance in the base leg (the one without the plate), slide the weight plate across the floor in front of your body. You can bend your leg a little to absorb the shock, but try to keep it somewhat rigid to make sure you’re using the right muscles. Slide the plate for either reps (one time across the body equals one rep) or for distance, keeping track of how far you can push the plate, then repeat with the other leg using the same measure.

Photos by Avni Khatri

Wrapping Plate Slide: Follow the regular plate slide with the wrapping plate slide. Take the same plate you used for the previous exercise and stand facing a wall. Brace yourself with both hands on the wall and “grab” the plate with your foot (some do this barefoot to get the proper grip, but you can do it with your shoes on too). Place the ball of your foot on the plate and press with a little pressure into the ground. Begin with the plate directly in front of you and then using a circular motion; drag the weight back to the other side of your body behind you. One rep is completed when you bring the plate back to start position. Since this exercise is unilateral, make sure both legs get the same amount of reps/sets.

Photos by Avni Khatri

Crossover Step-up: This final exercise is the best (and worst, if you get me) of the hip-workers I know. Welcome to the crossover step-up. Start with a bench or a box that can take your weight, plus some. Try the first set with just your body weight to get a feel for what you’re about to do. You can also make the exercise slightly easier by picking a bench or box that is lower than your knees so that your leg isn’t up to 90 degrees—even though 90-degrees is the preferred angle you want to work toward. Standing next to the box or bench, place the leg farthest from it across your body and onto the top of the step. Make sure you’re directly to the side of the box/bench to make this one effective. Without using the base leg, step up onto the top of the box/bench using that outside leg, and then lower yourself back down, under control. This is in many ways similar to a lunge or squat, however this exercise hits the abductors and adductors simply because of the angle at which you’re stepping.

Photos by Avni Khatri

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
Stability Ball Knee Tuck Hips, quads, glutes, core 2 - 4 60 seconds Focus on balance, keeping your core steady, tight, and movement flowing but controlled.
Groin Plate Slide with Wrapping Plate Slide Hip flexors, adductors, abductors 2 - 3 60 seconds Do not overshoot the range of motion, going only as a far as to stretch position. Really focus to hit the right muscles.
Crossover Step-Up Minor glutes, hips, adductors, abductors, quads, core 2 - 3 60 seconds Keep your back straight, chin up, focus on keeping good form in your torso and core.
To Finish
Remember that when isolating on smaller muscles, pay special attention to avoid 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. If you’re a martial artist that trains in other styles like muay Thai, these exercises won’t hurt and could potentially make your kicking ability skyrocket. As I've 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.