Why you MUST cross-train for BJJ - Hint: It's not optional!

When I started training jiu jitsu I thought that time on the mat alone was enough to replace the exercise regime of lifting, cardio, and yoga that I had before. At the end of a training session, I was wiped.  I felt exhausted, like I had gotten a complete workout and to do anything more would be over-kill. So I stopped training other disciplines and eventually, I paid the price. It came in the form of an aching shoulder, a torn hamstring, and persistent neck-pain; sound familiar? 

We all know that jiu jitsu takes wear and tear on our bodies; and many of us accept it as the “price we pay” to train.  In some ways it is, injury and physical degradation is part of a contact sport like BJJ. However, there are ways to combat our existing aches and pains and prevent future injury. More importantly, taking care of our joint health is essential to our movement longevity.  Not only in jiu jitsu, but in our life in general. We shouldn’t accept BJJ as a “life-sentence” for poor, painful, and disordered movement. 

Changing my training regime to include more resistance training and mobility work has made me a happier and more functional human.  I find myself more resilient and strong on the mat than I have ever been and I wish that I had taken cross-training more seriously early-on. 

When I started to think about writing an article on the purpose of cross-training in BJJ, I reached out to Coach Christina Marie, a mobility specialist and brown belt from Peerless Jiu Jitsu, for advice.   I was expecting a few quick tips to guide me in the right direction, but she provided much more. I decided that I couldn’t do her knowledge justice by paraphrasing so here is her response below. 

If you are interested in seeing more from Christina, I strongly encourage you to visit her instagram @coach_christinamarie for more information.  She is a wealth of knowledge and advocate for strong femininity! 

Christina:

“The "gentle art" of jiu jitsu is in fact quite taxing on your body.  Whether you're new to the sport or a long standing practitioner, you realize pretty quickly that unless you make time to intentionally take care of your body outside of the mats, you're going to feel pretty beat up on the regular.  That being said, there are plenty of steps you can take to mitigate injury risk, and feel like you'll be able to roll for the long run. My primary priorities would be these and in this order: Maintain and improve your joint health, and strength train.  

Our joint health should be of highest importance for a few reasons:

  1. We are humans first, and athletes second.  Our joint health is the basis of our physical health, and if we don't intentionally work to maintain or improve what we have, we'll lose it.  Range of motion works on a use it or lose it basis. Think about it: When we were babies, we all had a beautiful deep squat, but as we aged and stopped using it, we said goodbye to it.  However, if you look to some cultures who use it daily throughout their entire lives, guess what? They still have it. Would you not still love to move well and pain free as you age? If each of our individual joints work as they should, and they have normal human range of motion, that pain, stiffness and discomfort tends to subside as well. 
  2. If we don't move well, we likely aren't going to feel well.  A lot of practitioners who don't move well or have good, useable range of motion (mobility), find it difficult to execute any number of techniques because their body just does not move that way.  It can be incredibly frustrating when things don't seem to click, but in reality, your body is just not yet capable of moving in that way. However, when we improve our joint health, we can also improve our usable ranges of motion.  When we expand range to meet normal human function, we can then train it specifically for ranges of motion we need in jiu jitsu.  
  3. In jiu jitsu, all submissions except for chokes, occur at our end range of motion of our joints:  Think armbars, knee bars, wrist locks, kimuras and Americanas (shoulder locks). We are put all the way to our end range, and then forced to go further where we will either tap or snap.  If you had more range of motion available to you AND you learned how to be strong in your end range of motion, you not only would have more time to escape submissions, but you're more likely to actually mitigate injury, and be even more of a beast on the mats.

Strength training:

  1. Has anyone found a situation in any kind of physical training yet where being strong is a weakness?  While jiu jitsu is a highly technical art, when you and the person you are matched up with are of equal technical level, the one who is stronger will then have the advantage.  Strength is not a requirement, but it is an advantage, and we must at least be strong enough to execute the technique we are after. 
  2. Our goal should be strength throughout our entire range of motion.  If all someone does is passively stretch to gain more range of motion, when it comes time to use that range actively, they won't be able to.  Solution? Strength train at your end ranges, and then strength train throughout the entire range. The same thing goes for traditional strength training.  If all someone does is bodyweight squats and push ups, what happens when it comes time to stand up in someone's guard, and you only have the strength to stand up with your own weight? Or when you're stuck in side control and you need to push up on someone who weighs more than you?  Yes, we utilize timing, space, and technique to escape as well, but if we had the strength to match our technical intelligence, our chances of success increase as well.  

Moral of the story: 

The idea that "to get better at jiu jitsu, you must just train jiu jitsu" is a bit outdated.  Show up to train. Train often. Train smart. Recover smarter. Take the time outside of the mats to maintain the biggest tool you have: Your body.  They are meant to be strong and resilient. They are capable of a lot more than you think. Eat well. Sleep well. Take care of your body so it can take care of you.

If you're interested in more information regarding joint specific training, I recommend following @hunterfitness @drandreospina @functionalrangeconditioning @chungychung @getchimpy @beardthebestyoucanbe @briangfox @drlocrao or myself @coach_christinamarie .  If you want to find a coach near you, head over to www.functionalanatomyseminars.com and click "find a provider" under FRC.  If there is no one in your area, check out the online community through www.hunterfitness.com and join the waitlist for his online Kinstretch group.” 

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