ultimate choke escapes

Injuries can have you tapping out quicker than a tight triangle choke, but while you’ll be back on the mat after a choke, you may be sidelined for an extended time with an injury.

That’s especially true when that injury involves your back. But you can take steps to prevent back injury four simple exercises that will also apply to your jiu jitsu game.

Dead Bug

A strong core keeps your back safe. Dead bug will get you started strengthening your abdominals, and more.

Start by lying on your back. Extend your legs out, holding them above the ground at around a 20 to 45 degree angle.

Now, extend your arms over your head at a similar angle. Focus on keeping the small of your back on the ground while lifting your shoulders off the ground.

Hold that position. You should feel it in your abs.

If you need to simplify the move, bring your knees toward your chest. Slowly build up to holding both legs out by extending and holding one leg at a time. Alternate between both legs.

Step it up

You can make this move more difficult by bringing one arm up and reaching toward the opposite foot. Alternate back and forth, but make sure to hold each for a few seconds.

You can also step it up by rolling from one hip to the next and holding. Make sure to keep your feet and torso off the ground as much as possible.

Jiu jitsu application

Take a moment to watch someone else doing the dead bug, and you’ll see how it applies to jiu jitsu. Doing the dead bug closely mimics ground work. The dead bug helps strengthen the muscles needed to use your legs and to move your torso when you’re on your back.

Bridges

If there’s a move that will look familiar to jiu jitsu players, it’s the bridge. This move is nearly ubiquitous in every jiu jitsu gym, often as a warm up, and even as a drill.

The bridge is simple. Starting on your back, bring your feet toward you until they are flat on the floor. Now lift your backside off the ground, pushing down with your legs and tightening your abs. Hold that position for a few seconds, then lower back down to the ground. Repeat the movement.

Step it up

Making this move more difficult is as simple as lifting one leg at a time. Extend your leg out and hold, then alternate. Extending your leg activates your leg muscles as well as your core.

Ready to step it up even more? This addition will sound very familiar. After bridging, roll to one shoulder and place your weight on the opposite foot. Now rotate so that your hips are perpendicular to the ground. You can also reach to your toes. Rotate back and switch sides.

Jiu jitsu application

If the step it up option wasn’t enough of a clue, then you need to get into the gym more often. Bridging is the first component of shrimping. Additionally, it teaches you more control of your hips.

Front Planks

If squats are the mother of powerlifting, then planks are the mother of core strength. Planks seem simple, but nothing hits more of your core muscles harder than planks. And the varieties are endless, each with different benefits.

If you need a place to start for planks, think push ups. Start on your stomach with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Now push up and hold. This position is called a high plank. A low plank is done on your forearms. As you plank, make sure to keep your head, shoulders, and hips in line. Keep breathing, and don’t hold the contraction too long.

Step it up

There are many different ways you can step up the plank, but they all start with the basic position of either a high or low plank. Here are a few options.

  • Start in a high plank then drop down to one elbow then the other. Reverse the movement to get back into a high plank. Perform several repetitions.
  • Another option is called the bird dog. The actual bird dog movement is performed on all fours, and is a great way to build up to a plank. On your hands and knees, raise your opposite hand and foot (if you raise your right hand, raise your left foot). You can do the same thing with your plank. Raise a leg and a foot and see how hard it makes your plank.
  • A final variation to step up your plank is as easy as taking a step. From the high plank position, bring one foot forward. If you can, bring your knee beside your elbow. To make it even more challenging, try bringing your knee to your opposite elbow. This movement not only strengthens, but stretches your hips and back.

Jiu jitsu application

Unlike the previous moves, planking may not have a readily visible application for jiu jitsu—outside of the strength building and injury prevention benefits. But consider the control you need over your body to maintain the position. If you’re adding to the basic positions, then you’ll find even more control.

Side planks

You may be wondering why side planks aren’t included as an option under regular planks. The main reason is that side planks are great for checking endurance. Side planks recruit your obliques, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and both your abductors and adductors, along with the same core muscles that planks use.

Why is endurance important? Finnish researchers found that people with poor lower back muscle endurance were three to four times more likely to develop on-going lower back problems than those with fair to good endurance. Their recommendation? Strengthening the side plank until you can hold the position on either side for a minute for at least three sets.

To do the side plank, start on your side with your feet stacked one on top of the other. One forearm or hand should be directly beneath your shoulder. Raise your hips off the ground until your feet, hips, shoulders and head are in a straight line. Now hold that position.

Step it up

If side planks aren’t already hard enough, you can make them more challenging with these additions.

  • Raise your top leg (you’ll look like an X). You can hold your leg up or raise and lower; whichever you do, make sure to keep your body straight.
  • With your upper arm, reach through the space between your body, your supporting arm, and the ground. Rotate back to the original position.
  • Using a light weight, add in a lifting motion, bringing the weight off the ground to directly above your shoulder.

Jiu jitsu application

If endurance and strength aren’t enough application, you’ll also find that side planks give you increased balance and control. In addition to your core being strengthened, you’ll also be strengthening your shoulders, arms, and wrists.

A strong back is your best way to prevent back injury. These movements are a great start, but don’t neglect stretching and other strength training exercises. Also observe safety—keep proper posture in your workouts and throughout the day, and always lift with your legs not your back. Injuries happen, but you can increase the odds in your favor with a little work.