It’s All in the Hips: Hip Care 101 for BJJ Practitioners
The majority of students in a Brazilian jiu jitsu academy are not the competitors you see on the cover of the latest BJJ magazines. The majority of Brazilian jiu jitsu students are recreational participants who have families, go to school, or work full time. The majority of people in the workforce spend most of their day sitting, followed by a long commute home or to the academy, which again involves sitting. Sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your mobility. Unfortunately it is one of the things we do most often. Without proper mobility, performing some of the fundamental Brazilian jiu jitsu techniques and warm up movements will be very difficult.
Perhaps the most fundamental of these movements is the hip escape. The hip escape is going to be difficult to complete without good range of motion in the hips. Brazilian jiu jitsu is difficult to learn even for the most flexible and athletic student, but when you are limited by mobility it makes it even more challenging. Every technique in BJJ requires some use of the hips, and in order to have a good guard you need to be mobile in the hips.
Having proper mobility in all your joints is important for performance and health. Future articles will focus on other joints and how they affect your Brazilian jiu jitsu. The focus of this article is on the hips.
The Purpose of the Hips
The hip joint is a ball and socket synovial joint designed for movement. The round head of the femur forms the ball of the joint and the acetabulum forms the cup-like structure that the round head of the femur fits into.
The hip joint is made up of the following ligaments - iliofemoral, pubofemoral, and ischiofemoral. These ligaments combine with the muscles around the hip to provide stability to the joint. The muscles that surround the hip joint provide the joint with movement. The gluteals, quadriceps, iliopsoas (primary flexor of the hip), hamstring, and groin muscles all surround the hip. The graphic to the right only shows a portion of the muscles involved. As you can see, there are many muscles that provide movement to the hip, and weakness or overdevelopment in any of them will affect everything in the surrounding areas. Often, tightness in the hips can result in low back pain.
The hip is designed to move in multiple directions. A hip joint that has normal range of motion should be able to move through the following without restrictions or pain - flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, lateral rotation, and medial rotation.
The Hips and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
In Brazilian jiu jitsu the hips are used in every position. From arm bars to controlling someone in the mount, the hips need to be strong and mobile. Since the average BJJ student works full time or goes to school, they spend most of the day sitting. As we know sitting is one of the worst things we can do for our hip mobility. Learning Brazilian jiu jitsu can be very difficult, and students get frustrated when they are unable to learn techniques. They get even more frustrated with they are trying to learn technique and are unable to move their hips properly to complete the technique. For the students who have been training for a while, maintaining hip mobility will keep them training longer. Every single person who trains Brazilian jiu jitsu should spend some time on mobility.
Exercises and Corrective Work for the Hips
Before every training session, whether it is Brazilian jiu jitsu or strength training, mobility work is important. For the hips, break up mobility work into two types:
First, smashing movements. Smashing movements are anything that involves a foam roller or lacrosse balls. Smashing movements should be done before more strenuous activity or, done on their own, they can make a great recovery workout. Use a foam roller or lacrosse balls before your next training session and attack the following areas for two minutes each - thoracic spine, lumbar spine, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
Second, do stretching-type movements. These are things that look like stretches but involve resistance bands, or holding a position for a long time. After training, stretching-type movements can be done to cool down. Try some hip extensions using a resistance band. Spend about five minutes on each hip.
On the days you do not train BJJ and instead head to the gym for a strength workout, focus on hip movements. Start with any type of squatting movement. Front squats, back squats, and box squats all are great for Brazilian jiu jitsu. Second, do a variation of the deadlift. Sumo, conventional, and trap bar deadlifts provide some variety. Keep your compound lifts heavy and for low reps.
Next, add in some accessory movements. A great accessory exercise is leg curls using a resistance band. When you use a resistance band the tension increases, as you get closer to the end range of the movement. Attach a band to any stable surface - a power rack works well. Place a bench or a plyometric box in front of the rack. Place both feet in-between the band and perform leg curls. The further you move the bench away from the rack the more resistance you add. Try fifty repetitions. Break them up any way you want - 10 sets of 5, 5 sets of 10. It does not matter, just try to hit fifty.
Finally finish off with some step-ups on a plyobox. Hold two weights at your side. You can use dumbbells or kettlebells. Place one leg on the plyobox and step into your front leg that is on the box. Your leg that is not on the box should come off the ground and you will end up standing on the plyobox. Return to the starting position and repeat. I like my athletes the complete all the required reps on one leg before switching to the other leg. Pay close attention to your glutes. When you reach the top position squeeze you glutes. The single-leg work will help balance any asymmetries developed from Brazilian jiu jitsu.
There are things in life we cannot avoid. Sitting is one of them. The goal is not to avoid sitting; it’s to minimize the damage. The average person who does not participate in Brazilian jiu jitsu might not notice how tight his or her hips are until it is too late and he or she experiences back and or knee issues. In Brazilian jiu jitsu, limited range of motion in the hips shows up right away.
Limited hip movement makes it difficult to perform some of the Brazilian jiu jitsu techniques. In addition limited hip movement will increase your chances of injury. The goal is to be able to train Brazilian jiu jitsu for a long time. Taking the time to focus on your mobility and the strength of your hips will keep you on the mats for many years to come.
Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.