Do your Shoulders, hips and back hurt scrambler? You are not alone in your suffering. A lot of prolonged back, shoulder and hip pain is the manifestation of structural issues caused by the sports we play and postural habits we adopt. Ive talked before about uppercross syndrome in MMA fighters. This isn’t the same as the micro trauma you get from holding that arm bar a little too long or the friendly white belt who decided a can opener was a good guard escape. These are generally persistent aches and stiffness that never really seem to go away.
Jiu jitsu and grappling athletes also usually have what’s called flexion-dominance in the lower back and pelvis. Most training drills involve repetitive flexion at the waist causing the tightness of the hip flexors and weakness of the hip extensors. Think about how much time in a BJJ class you spend bent over or sitting, drilling hip flexion over and over.
Over time, the lower back muscles become underutilized while the hip flexors become shortened. This is further compounded by our habit of sitting, all the time in our day to day lives! Sitting shortens hip flexors and weakens the glutes, compounded with the flexion-dominance (active sitting, imagine sitting in guard) I mentioned earlier. Over time adaptive shortening due to sitting leads to tight hip flexors.
Meanwhile up at the shoulders we slouch and crane our heads forwards which causes our upper back muscles to weaken and shoulder muscle to tighten, we wind up with the bent forwards posture, often we assume this position when sitting or guard or even trying to pass guard, I see the development of UCS in MMA fighters too who take to the posture because its great for defending the chin.
Another thing to consider is tonic vs phasic muscle groups and boy does BJJ tend to strengthen Tonic muscles. Where as sitting for long periods does’nt help by encouraging weakness in the phasic muscles.
|Muscles That Get Tighter|
|Muscles That Get Weaker|
|Pectoralis Major (Chest)||Mid-back|
|Pec Minor||Gluteus Maximus|
Solutions for fixing structural balance
Simply Stretch, mobilise and strengthen. So what can you do to straighten yourself out? Hip Flexor stretch variations are a good start for opening up the hips. There are quite a few muscles that actually flex the hip, but two that are specifically referred to as hip flexors. The Illiopsoas group consists of the Psoas and the Iliacus. As mentioned before, hip flexor tension is exerted on the pelvis pulling it into excessive anterior tilt.
Most Hip flexor stretches are predicated on achieving the position pictured above, Kneel with one leg in front of the other and place left foot flat on the floor in front of you, knee bent and aligned with ankle. Place hands on opposite thigh. Press hips forward until you feel tension in the front of your thigh or where the crease of your hip would be. Optionally you can extend you arms overhead, Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. This can be done for sets of 2-3 and during workouts I sometimes suggest doing them between sets of jumps, squats or cleans.
There are also plenty of exercises for fixing poor posture and flexion dominance, below are some of ones I have been putting to use.
Split Squat Sots
A lot of people struggle with the sots press so for hip and shoulder mobility I started having clients do the split squat sots. Despite looking like a shoulder press you should feel this largely in your upperback. This open the shoulder engages the back and core and forces correct posture in the upper back, combined with static stretch of the hip flexor it is one hell of a warm-up. Most people feel looser immediately.
Simply a behind the neck snatch grip press, terrific for opening the shoulders. The squatting version is harder and needs balance and good upper back extension.
Modified Batwing Rows
This is great for fixing a slouched posture, hitting the mid and upper back with every rep im trying drive my thumbs to my arms pits like on an ordinary batwing row. You are looking for higher reps here with an exaggerated squeeze at the top
Band Pull Aparts and No Moneys
This targets the external rotators of the shoulder, which can be left weakened in those with a tight chest and shoulders.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but there are tons of variations that can be added to your training. Relating back to idea of phasic and tonic muscles, it does’nt hurt to think stretch tonic muscles and strengthen phasic for fixing postural issues. If you want to enjoy your sport for longer recognising and addressing these issues can help go towards living a longer and happier BJJ/MMA training career. Even if you don’t try these exercise im sure some of you are sitting up straighter after reading this.
This is an ongoing series of articles from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through.