Warm Up to Win: Essentials of an Effective Pre-Fight Routine
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an extremely dynamic combat sport. During BJJ training or competition the athlete’s use a large number of muscle groups, energy systems, and put their bodies through a variety of contortions. Therefore the sport requires a targeted and specific warm up. Many BJJ schools and competitors have a very “old school” approach to warming up which typically consists of a few jumping jacks and poorly executed calisthenics, some quick static stretching, and a couple neck circles and then they are ready to roll. Science has shown that to be an extremely ineffective approach. In this article I have outlined the purposes behind a BJJ specific dynamic warm-up, and some of my favorite warm up exercises for fighters. I have also included the pre competition warm up used by my Gracie Barra fighters before training and competing. The warm up
Step 1- Roll & Stretch
Grab a foam roller or lacrosse ball and spend some time preparing your muscles for the upcoming session. Foam rolling and other types of self myofascial release are excellent ways to begin to increase blood flow to the muscles, release the tension or “knots” left over by sore muscles and traumas caused from training. Spend about 8-10 rolls along all the major muscle groups; glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads, groin, IT bands, spinal erectors, lats, pecs and T-spine. (For more info on how to target each area stay tuned to www.coachpjnestler.com coming soon, in the meantime there are plenty of videos youtube). Spend a little extra time on anything that is particularly tight or sore. You can also use a lacrosse ball to target smaller muscle groups and areas that are tough to get to with the roller. This should take anywhere from 3-6 minutes. After that you are ready to stretch. The muscles are slightly warmed up and you have worked out those knots, now it’s time to increase flexibility. Flexibility can be a huge advantage in BJJ allowing you to move your body into more positions and therefore increasing your ability to perform certain techniques. Flexibility is also a major factor in injury prevention. That slight extra range of motion could be the difference between a close call and a torn hamstring. Again focus on your problem muscle groups and spend some time elongating those muscles.
*IMPORTANT* Try to focus on your breathing as you stretch. Take deep breaths in your nose and down into your belly and then deep powerful exhales. Think about relaxing and stretching the muscle further during each exhale. Instead of holding stretches for 30-60 seconds, try holding for 6-8 deep breaths. You will get exponentially more out of your flexibility time. This should take about 5 minutes.
Step 2- Start Moving
This is the thermogenic portion of the warm up. Now our focus is on increasing core temperature and elevating the heart rate to increase blood flow. This is a great time for calisthenics such as jumping jax, squats, pushups or movement drills like jump rope, shuffles, high knees, and shadowboxing. This section can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes and you should break a light sweat by the end but should not be fatigued.
Step 3- Get mobile
We now want to start to move ALL joints through a full (or optimal) range of motion and prepare the muscles for more specific work. I like to use a top to bottom approach here starting with the neck and moving down to the lower body. This is where we start to incorporate large and small joint movements such as shoulder circles, lunges, Straight leg toe touches, fire hydrants…the possibilities are endless. Just make sure to select a movement for each joint/body segment. I like to try and make the movements flow together as much as possible.
One of my favorite sequences is the spider lunge sequence in the video below.
This hits all major lower body muscle groups while also incorporating the shoulders and thoracic rotation. If I had to pick 1 warm up exercise before BJJ training I would go through this sequence 5-10 times on each side. There are hundreds of great exercises/movements that can be incorporated here but check out some of my favorites on the BJJ Competition Warm-up (Below). This section should take about 4-8 minutes.
Step 4- Prepare to FIGHT
This is the final segment before hitting the mats and it can change depending on what type of activity you are warming up for. If you are getting ready to compete, this time should be spent with a training partner or a coach drilling specific takedowns, sweeps, submissions, that you plan to use in your fight. Your body is now fully prepared for physical activity and the focus now is to get yourself mentally and physically focused on your fight. If you are warming up for training then this time could be spend drilling shots or hip escapes or other mat drills. If you are prepping for a strength and conditioning session then this might be when you begin some med ball work or foot speed drills. The final important piece of the warm up for my fighters before competition is STAYING WARM. Anybody who has competed in a large BJJ tournament knows what it’s like standing around waiting to be called out to fight. During this time it is important to keep moving and not let your body cool off. As long as you are not sitting down in the cold for 20 minutes you should stay warm and your warm up benefits will not be lost. I put a few quick explosive movements into their warm up to help fire up the central nervous system right before they step on the mat. Just a few quick tuck jumps and a few quick clap pushups is enough to stimulate the high levels of CNS activity. They perform 1-2 sets of each depending how long they are waiting to fight. Now you are ready to step on the mat and DOMINATE. I’ve included a sample warm up below that is used by my fighters before competition. I wrote it to be simple and effective and able to be done in place with no equipment so you can perform the warm up before a training session on the beach, in a large school full of people, or backstage before the World Championships. Feel free to use it yourself or try creating your own warm ups based on the guidelines above. As always contact me directly with any questions along the way and TRAIN HARD, TRAIN SMART, MAKE EVERY REP COUNT!!