Stretching to Improve Flexibility for MMA and Jiu-Jitsu 🥊🧘🥋

Stretching to Improve Flexibility for MMA and Jiu-Jitsu 🥊🧘🥋

What is BJJ?
What is MMA?
The Importance of Stretching in BJJ and MMA
4 Dynamic Stretches to Improve Flexibility for MMA and Jiu-Jitsu
4 Static Stretches to Improve Flexibility for MMA and Jiu-Jitsu
Putting It All Together

Currently, as lifestyle-related diseases are becoming more prevalent, more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of staying fit for their performance and longevity. Some may say that fitness is a form of ‘self-care’, but I’d like to keep things simple and instead call it a discipline. To quote Jocko Willink, “Discipline equals freedom”, and I couldn’t agree more (Source).

It is also one of the most challenging goals to achieve for many people. Hitting the gym takes a lot of motivation. Often, this motivation deteriorates when we receive validation from our peers or whenever we hit our arbitrary powerlifting goals. Whether its 2 plates on the bar, triple bodyweight deadlifts or a nice low-bar squat, the passion for lifting becomes bloated and subsides.

The weights are passive, they don’t fight back, and we find that we need new challenges to overcome the monotony of the weight room.

Enter Combat Sports

Until recent decades, martial arts were primarily viewed as tools for combat and self-defense. However, this quest for alternative ways to stay fit has played a pivotal role in establishing martial arts as a sport. There are many health benefits associated with martial arts. Other than helping people lose weight and achieve their fitness goals, martial arts also improves concentration, focus, athleticism, and upgrades your confidence.

In recent years, two martial art forms have especially resonated with those seeking to improve themselves: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA.

What Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has its origin in Judo and Japanese Jujutsu. Depending on which sources you use, Geo Omori opened Brazil’s first Jiu-jitsu school somewhere between 1925 (Source) to 1931 (Source).

However, it is the Gracie family that is given credit for inventing the current-day Brazilian jiu-jitsu. BJJ focuses on the art of controlling one's opponent through the use of grappling and ground fighting techniques. The final aim is to make one's opponent submit. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is often also referred to as a "gentle art" as the various methods used in this martial art form allow even a weak and small person to engage with bigger and stronger opponents. Moreover, this martial art form can be practiced by men, women as well as children, and in recent years, it has gained immense popularity with new classes being offered internationally.

Traditional BJJ requires the use of a gi but no-gi jiu-jitsu has emerged through pioneering individuals such as Eddie Bravo (Source), inventor of complex moves such as ‘the twister’ and the ‘rubber guard’.

In the rematch to one of the best fights of 2011, Chan Sung Jung taps out Leonard Garcia with one of the rarest submissions in MMA history.

What is MMA?

MMA gloves are padded and semi finger-less to allow for approved grappling techniques while protecting the athlete’s hands.

MMA gloves are padded and semi finger-less to allow for approved grappling techniques while protecting the athlete’s hands.

MMA, also known as mixed martial arts, is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. MMA takes inspiration from several combat sports, such as Thai boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and judo. It also borrows from various Olympic sports, such as freestyle wrestling, Tae Kwan Do, karate, boxing, etc. MMA became popular after the 1993 show 'The Ultimate Fighting Championship' hit the American television sets. Thus, many people confuse MMA with UFC. MMA is a total body hand to hand combat system that burns more calories when packaged into a workout than most forms of exercise. Other than promoting physical fitness, it also promotes mental and spiritual health. This attractive combination of ‘athletic mindfulness’ and physical competition is why an increasing number of gym members are switching to MMA to achieve their fitness goals.

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The Importance of Stretching in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA

If you have recently moved to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, you will appreciate the importance of flexibility and regular stretching. While performing various martial art forms and combat sports, it is imperative to be flexible. Flexibility not only protects athletes from injuries (Source) but also allows them to reach their potential. During stretching, the body works to repair the microscopic tears present in the various muscles. Thus, stretching keeps the body muscles strong and healthy.

There are two different kinds of stretching that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA practitioners must do: Dynamic Stretching and Static Stretching. Let us study the difference between both.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching refers to the process of stretching the muscles through motion. Thus, dynamic stretches are functional. Most dynamic stretches mimic the activity or sport the performer is about to perform. For instance, light shadow kickboxing. While light shadow kickboxing, MMA practitioners perform kicks and punches as well as indulge in other activities that elongate the muscles in the knees and elbows. Thus, dynamic stretching is important as it activates the group of muscles to be used in the sport you are about to perform.

Dynamic stretches are especially helpful right before you are about to play a sport. Several studies have studied and established the effectiveness of dynamic stretches for athletes (Source). These exercises are also beneficial before heavy weightlifting as they help improve muscle extension and performance. When aiming to prevent injuries by improving long term flexibility, dynamic stretching is effective without compromising workout performance (Source).

However, it should be noted that dynamic stretching does not acutely prevent injuries for the subsequent workout and flexibility can be improved through strength training as well (Source). This can seem contradictory at first but there appears to be a cumulative effect to stretching and that is where the main benefits reside.

Static Stretching

Static stretches are ideally used to cool down the body after a rigorous MMA or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu session. Static stretches involve stretching a muscle to a specific position and then holding the muscle in that position for a short while. This short while is usually any time between 10 to 30 seconds. In most cases, 3 to 5 sets are recommended. Though static stretches are a great way to cool off the body, they are generally considered to be less effective than dynamic stretches in terms of improving flexibility. Static stretching is effective at improving your range of motion (ROM) (Source) and has recently been shown to improve muscle hypertrophy when stretching between weight training sets (Source).

slim girl with yoga mat in the gym

4 Dynamic Stretches to Improve Flexibility for MMA and Jiu-Jitsu

1. Dynamic Hamstring Stretches:

To perform a dynamic hamstring stretch, extend your arms in front of you to their fullest length. Next, slowly swing your right foot in an upward motion and try to kick your hand. Bring down the right foot and repeat the movement with your left foot. If you want to make your dynamic stretches more robust, you can perform this exercise while walking.

2. Rolling Foam Stretches:

The rolling foam stretch is one of the most effective stretches for MMA practitioners. To perform this exercise, sit on the ground and place a foam roller under both of your hamstrings. Next, stabilize your upper body on your hands and push all your bodyweight into your legs. Once in the described position, roll back and forth on the foam using your hands. This stretch is perfect for MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu performers as it improves circulation in the body and helps repair any scars or injuries in tissues and muscles.

3. Dynamic Arm Swings

Extend your arms in front of you and walk forward while swinging your arms. If your left arm is reaching your chest, the right arm should extend fully on the side. While walking forward, remember to keep your torso straight. The only movement in your upper body should be in the shoulder joints. Keep reversing the direction and repeat the exercise five times on each side.

4. Dynamic Lower Back Stretches

The Lattissimus Dorsi is a big muscle group that must be stretched using varying shoulder movements. It is crucial for enhancing MMA and BJJ flexibility. Dynamic lower back stretches are a good exercise for your lower back. Stand straight. Next, lunge your right foot forward and simultaneously, drop your left knee to the ground. Once on the ground, place both your hands down, palms facing downward. Next, move your right hand upward towards the ceiling and turn your body to the right. Come back to the original position and repeat.

4 Static Stretches to Improve Flexibility for MMA and Jiu-Jitsu

1. Static Hamstring Stretches

Place your foot on a raised object. The height of the object should match your hip height. Next, pressing down your opposite thigh, bend the opposite knee and lower down your hips like you are about to sit in a chair. Repeat on the other side.

2. Static Calf Stretches

The downward dog makes an ideal static calf stretch. Place your body in a high plank position. Your hands must be directly underneath your shoulders. Next, aim to create a V-shape by shifting your body's weight to your butt. Press your heels into the ground. The more your heels are close to the ground, the stronger the stretch will be.

3. Scorpion Stretch

To perform this stretch, lie down flat on the ground with your face facing downward. Next, stretch out your arms in front of you. Your palms should face downwards. Raise your right leg and try to bring it to the left side of your lower back. Using your hands to hold the ankle, try to press the heel towards your butt. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Bring the leg back to its original position and repeat the exercise on the other side.

4. Assisted Reverse Stretch

To perform this stretch, you will need a table or any other object to provide support. Stand with your back facing the table. Next, place your hands on the edge of the table and try to lower your body while bending your arms slowly. Hold the position for about ten seconds and then come back to the original place. Repeat for a few times.

For more warm-up and stretching techniques, check out the video from multiple black belt MMA athlete, Stephen Thompson, below 👇

UFC fighter, Stephen Thompson, details his preferred warm up and stretching routine.

Putting It All Together

Gym members around the world have embraced both MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as excellent fitness programs. The effectiveness of these combat sports in promoting physical and mental well-being cannot be debated. However, both of these alternative exercise methods involve rigorous and strenuous movements which can easily lead to injuries. It is, therefore, of utmost importance for practitioners of these forms to warm up and cool down before and after their training sessions. Dynamic stretches are an ideal way to prepare the body for the upcoming workout to improve performance, and static stretches are a great way to cool down while increasing the static range of motion (Source). Sleeping well is one of the best habits an athlete can maintain. You can read more about its importance here (related article).

Bonus Video: Improving Mobility For The Guard 👇

Physical therapist, Kelly Starrett, demonstrates how to improve mobility for the guard in BJJ and MMA with former MMA fighter, Glen Cordoza

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