Hamstring & Lower Back Flexibility: BJJ & Yoga
Hamstrings, they are easy to injure if you are new to athletics, older and getting back into training, or even a young kid still growing. The hamstring injury, whether it is a strain or a tear, can affect all of us at some point if we do not take proper precautions, but relax, it isn’t hard. It just takes a little bit of time before and after training with a proper warm up, stretching routine and cool down and a little help from knowledgeable and experienced instructors. The Hamstring is made up of three muscles, the Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus, and the Biceps Femoris.
Before starting BJJ I trained in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, a warm up for us was a few jumping jacks, some push ups and some sit ups followed by a few seconds of light stretching. As a young kid that was enough for me, I was limber naturally and always ready to go. A few years later though, around the age of 15 I started experiencing debilitating lower back pain, pinching nerve-like pain in my hips, and a straining feeling in the back of my legs.
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First we went to the chiropractor, getting adjusted made me feel good that day and a little into the next day but quickly the pain would reemerge. It was not until visiting a physical therapist that I learned that my pain was all stemming from inflexible hamstrings. He told me I was not flexible! Impossible I thought, I could kick nearly straight up and was so close to the floor with splits, he explained my hips were very flexible but my hamstrings were not only inflexible but weak as well. Training in BJJ did help to strengthen them and add some flexibility just through training and having a proper warm up, but relief from the nagging pain that so drastically affected my life was still there, just now not as often, but still there. It was not until starting yoga and practicing it consistently did relief begin.
I started with a yoga website but soon plateaued and still had some pain that I felt should not be there for someone still so young and active, once I started practicing with a real instructor who could correct my form did real relief begin (pain is still there but I now have the knowledge to identify it early). The most important stretches that help me are: down dog, pyramid, half split, half butterfly, and ragdoll.
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Soon you will not only notice differences in your pain levels, but your guard will become more dynamic, offering additional options in attacks and ways to move and defend. You will find yourself gaining flexibility in other areas as well, such as your lower back (another common spot for injuries in our sport).
Some of my personal favorite stretches for my back hurts are: rolling it back and forth and side to side, inverted guard (be careful with this one, respect your body and do what feels good), cobra, cat and cow, one legged pigeon, and holding a squat.
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I’m sure my body is different than yours and what I may need to feel better may not work for you: look into yoga, taking a well designed class from a knowledgeable instructor will do wonders for your body and your BJJ. P.S. if you think yoga is “just for girls’ or its “just stretching” it’s not. It is for everybody of any gender, and it can be much more than just stretching. It can be a full body workout that will test you every time you practice, but don’t take my word for it. Here is what Joe Rogan has to say followed by Rickson Gracie flowing, combining yoga and BJJ movements together.
Besides Yoga, adding some movement work into your BJJ training regime can be the best thing you can do for your body. Check out BJJ black belt and Olympic Judo Medalists Travis Stevens' latest instructional Movement for Grappling where he shares his program for keeping himself on the mats longer. You can get it here at BJJ Fanatics!