Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a whole body sport, and for this reason the entire body deserves to be stretched. The most important areas to be stretched for optimal flexibility, smoother moves, and better breathing, are the shoulders, back, hips, and legs. Grappling is fairly unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared for any situation. Many BJJ enthusiasts have turned to yoga to prepare them for the mats.
“I was relaxed doing yoga and this gave me the equilibrium to fight well”, said Wallid Ismael, a Brazilian mixed martial arts champion, just before his fight against Royce Gracie in 1998.
Many of the top Brazilian competitors in Jiu-Jitsu practice yoga religiously as it helps contract only the necessary muscles needed to hold a posture, and relax the other ones — a beneficial situation for grapplers. The general rule of stretching is to stretch at the point of tension, and not at the point of pain. Stretching before and after training is extremely important, and should never be skipped. Before training, it’s best to do dynamic stretches, and after, static ones. Here are a few that will aid in achieving greater flexibility:
- 1. Butterfly Stretch
This position stretches the adductors and the hamstrings, and is great to open up the hips for butterfly and X-guard poses. How to perform: Sit on the ground and place the soles of the feet together. Then, grab the ankles and pull them towards the pelvis. Make sure you straighten the spine and hold a good posture. Slowly, use your hands or elbows to put pressure on your knees, and let them drop down as far as possible. Renowned Jiu Jitsu instructor Eddie Bravo refuses to give a black belt to anyone in his class who can’t perform a proper butterfly stretch.
- 2. Lying Spinal Twist
For this exercise, lie on your back with your arms stretched out to your left and right sides. Hold your legs together, then take your left leg and lift it over to the right side of your body. Grab your left calf with your right hand, and pull it towards your shoulders. Then, turn your head and look to the left. Hold this position for ten to twenty seconds, and then repeat with the other leg. This pose helps relax and realign the spine, as well as stretch the back muscles and glutes. It’s good for people with limited lower back and hip mobility.
- 3. Leg over head
Lie on your back with your arms to your sides. Inhale, and slowly lift your legs up, so that they form a perpendicular angle to the rest of your body. Continue to move your feet backward, above your head, until your toes touch the mat. You can use your hands to support your lower back if needed. After about 30 seconds to a minute, slowly bend your knees and take your toes off the ground, to avoid a sudden shock to the neck. This is a great stretch for your shoulders, spine, and neck.
- 4.V Hamstring Stretch
Sit on the ground with both legs extended and pointed outwards. Keep the chest pointed towards the ceiling, and place both hands on the ground. Lightly hinge forward from the hips, until you can feel a gentle stretch. This position is great for stretching the hamstrings, adductors, and calves. It is useful for those doing spider guard, and relieving tight hamstrings.
- 5. Child’s Pose
Kneel on the ground with both knees, and place both hands in front of you, on the floor. Lower your torso towards the ground, while letting your chest sink downwards. Reach your hands forward as much as possible, until you feel the stretch in your spine. This position is great for stretching the glutes and mobilizing the spine. It’s ideal for those doing the “berimbolo,” and inverting.