Stretching: The Number One Thing We Don't Do Enough in Jiu-Jitsu

Stretching in Jiu Jitsu

 

Stretching is one of the most important things we skip out on in BJJ.  We often jump right into rolling or stretch for a short amount of time.  Want your BJJ journey last longer? Want to avoid injuries throughout your journey? Want to come back more quickly from injuries you do sustain? Then you have to start stretching and warming up properly.

One of the greatest Jiu-Jitsu practitioners of all time Rickson Gracie put a huge importance on stretching. Rickson had one of the most dangerous guards and his flexibility/dexterity helped make it even more dangerous.  He often did Yoga and Ginastica Natural. Both of which are forms of active or dynamic stretching.  

There is large debate whether static stretching is beneficial or harmful before doing an activity. Static stretching is the classic style of stretching where you move into a position and hold it for a period of time. I prefer active or dynamic stretching where you are actively warming up the muscles and tissues.  I do believe that there are times where static stretching is beneficial, but only after active stretching or exercise.

Active stretching should be a priority every time before you train. You should be doing a minimum of 10 minutes of active stretching for moderate classes and 20 minutes for more intense classes. Below are some examples of active stretching.  

Yoga Vinyasa’s and Ginastica are also very valuable ways of active stretching. It’s also important to do some active stretching after class. Although, it is not necessary to do as intense active stretching or for as long. Notice how movement and stretching is combined. This helps warm the muscles and prepare for a better stretch.

When it comes to static stretching there is evidence that the classic way we’ve learned to stretch can actually be harmful and cause injuries.  I do believe it is possible and have even heard from various people telling me that they believe their injuries came from static stretching. I feel static stretching is only harmful if you don’t warm your muscles up before hand or stretch beyond your limits. Stretching while your muscles and body is “cold” is a terrible idea. I grew up being taught that you should always warm up or break a sweat before you stretch. I still believe to this day that you can static stretch as long as you follow those guidelines.

The reason I am so passionate about this subject is due to a few reasons.  One, I grew up being told the importance of stretching by my father.  He would preach how I should focus on flexibility and dexterity before competing in wrestling or other athletics.  He would tell me the story of how he would drive by a local track field multiple times a day and see the same guy (Olympic hurdler) stretching.  In the morning he would be stretching. During his lunch break the guy would still be stretching. And, when he would go back to work after lunch the same guy would be stretching.  He stopped one day and asked him if he ever actual practiced the hurdles or just stretched all day.  The Olympic hurdler told him he spent most of his time stretching and less time running in the off season. The Olympian told my dad he found it more beneficial and got injured way less when he focused on stretching.

Secondly, I found that flexibility greatly improved my wrestling abilities. Being able to use my body in ways others couldn’t made my style unique and difficult. Lastly, I found myself getting injured much less and when I would get injured I would be injured for a much shorter period of time than when I wouldn’t stretch.

The benefits of stretching not only help with flexibility and dexterity. It also helps you focus your breathing. If you are stretching correctly you should be focusing on your breath as you stretch. This will help you center your mind and increase your cardio. When you hold your breath in or fail to breath efficiently your cardio takes a drastic hit.  Breathing correctly increases your mental focus and helps you last longer on the mats.  

You can learn all the techniques. You can lift all the weights. You can even do more cardio than everyone else. But, if you are missing out on stretching and breathing your body is not gonna be able to perform at its best.  It will simply be too hard for your body to recover in a timely manner. You will also find yourself injured much more consistently and your career will be much shorter.