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LAW Strength Training

MMA legend Leigh Remedios discusses his LAW strength training regime.
LAW Strength Training

by JJB Admin

A year ago

This article was written by Leigh Remedios, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Traditional Ju Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do. Leigh is a prolific competitor and has competed internationally in martial arts, including the UFC and Polaris. He has won several prestigious competitions, including the NAGA United Kingdom Grappling Championship belt and European IBJJF no-gi gold medals. Leigh runs a Jiu Jitsu and MMA Academy in Wiltshire, UK.

LAW - Leigh's Awesome Workout

Strength is a factor of 2 components: muscle cross-sectional area and a neural pathway. The neural component crossover to specific movements is very small and virtually negligible outside of beginners. My son is a competitive trampolinist, and his coach asked me what I do for strength and conditioning. I explained that as a martial artist, my goals would likely be different to a trampolinist and suggested plyometrics. She responded that the studies show that, due to the drastically different contact time (the amount of time your feet are in contact with a surface), studies show that plyometrics have no significant benefit to trampolinists.

This really resonated with me; if jumping doesn't help a trampolinist, why am I chasing big bench press and deadlift numbers as a martial artist? My entire philosophy changed, and now when I do strength work, the only things I'm interested in are hypertrophy, avoiding injury and not impeding my sports training. The neural component is built by playing my sport a lot.

I did some reading and looked at Prilepin's Chart, a table of rep ranges at different intensities compiled by Soviet national coach AS Prilepin in 1975 by studying the training journals of Soviet weightlifters. The chart is vague, and most of us are not Olympic-level weightlifters, and we're strength training to supplement a different sport, so I take the information with a pinch of salt. However, it was enough to pique my curiosity as someone who has competed in martial arts a lot and also won a couple of medals in local powerlifting competitions.

The biggest takeaway for me was that world-class athletes were NOT working anywhere near failure, which was the complete opposite of how I had trained for the previous fifteen years. Whilst I never really faced anyone with a significant strength advantage over me in competition, the cost of that was 3-4 days of CNS fatigue and numerous injuries due to very heavy powerlifting. In fact, all of my notable injuries have come from strength training, including a herniated disk, ongoing shoulder problems and stubborn tendonitis (golfer's elbow). Learning that I could potentially maintain or even build my strength whilst drastically reducing my workout intensity was very exciting.

Leigh has used his LAW workout to stay in incredible shape. (Photo credit: Robert Swann)

The protocol I use is to work with approximately 60-70% of my one repetition maximum (1RM). In line with Prilepin's Chart, I settled on twenty-five repetitions spread across five working sets. I kept the same exercises that I used when powerlifting, as they had served me well, and the compound movements provided a good framework for overall body strength:

  • Some kind of benchpress
  • Some kind of row/pull
  • Some kind of overhead press
  • Some kind of squat
  • Some kind of deadlift

I perform these exercises once per week, spread out however I want, although I usually do them all in one session. I tried substituting callisthenics in wherever possible to allow me to train without weights or a gym if necessary. My obvious choices for these exercises are weighted push-ups (my kids like to climb on my back when I do them), weighted pull-ups, and handstand push-ups against the wall. Squats and deadlifts were harder to replicate. I found that front levers on a bar have been a reasonable substitute for deadlifts but took time to develop, and I used some easier progressions at first. I found no practical way to build leg strength without weights; I've tried pistol squats and Bulgarian split squats, and a number of other options, but I didn't get any real results. I've settled on belt squats, where the weight is suspended from your hips on a belt. There was some trial and error, and if the exercise was too difficult, I reduced the number of reps but overall, I'm happy with them, and I have virtually eliminated lumbar loading. My exercise selection was also heavily influenced by the risk of injury, and I ruled out muscle ups and one-armed pull-ups as they aggravated my shoulders quite significantly. You don't have to use the same exercises as me, and bench pressing and T-bar rows are perfectly good exercises if performed correctly.

To determine my 1RM, one method would be to keep lifting heavier weights until I failed. This idea was not acceptable to me, especially as I need to regularly re-evaluate my progress. I decided to use a simple method that was good enough to serve my purposes, which approximately equates the fifteen-repetition maximum lift to 65% 1RM. If fifteen repetitions are my limit, then the weight is perfect for my five sets of five repetitions. I also use a more subjective method, increasing weight when it starts flying out of my hands. I try to go slow on the eccentric (down) phase of the lift and accelerate the bar during the concentric (up) phase, but in all honesty, I haven't noticed much difference in lifting tempo. By far, the most significant factor in my progress has been consistency, by ensuring I strength train most weeks.

So how has this worked out for me? Well, I used to be reasonably strong at powerlifting, exceeding triple bodyweight lifts in the squat and deadlift and double bodyweight bench press. I've always been mat strong. I've been doing this workout for ten years, and if anything, I feel stronger on the mat. I attribute this to the fact that I'm still as muscular, but I have more energy and enthusiasm to work on my skill training. I.E., my muscle cross-sectional area has remained the same, and my neurological input has increased. The athletes I train are also strong and don't get outmuscled, and none of them are lifting to failure. I can safely say I will never lift heavy again.

Because I compete in a weight class sport, I am not looking to increase my mass, as I'm already lean at the top of my weight class. If I wanted to increase my muscle mass, I would increase my protein intake and increase the frequency of workouts whilst still ensuring adequate recovery.

It may be worth noting that this may reduce your maximum lift numbers. This is due to the fact that you aren't practising the skill of heavy bench pressing, but you will still be as strong or stronger in nonspecific movements. If you want to keep your gym numbers high, you should practise lifting heavier weights to develop that neural input. If you're a powerlifter, you need to practise your sport, and that includes heavy lifting.

TLDR; LAW is 5x5 with 65% of your 1RM for bench, squats, deadlifts, overhead press and rows.


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