In part one we introduced the idea of posture and why it’s an important factor in keeping your back healthy for jiu-jitsu. We also looked specifically at upper back posture and techniques we can use to limit the alignment problems participating in BJJ can cause.
Here’s the link to Part 1 if you haven’t seen it yet:
This time we’re going to look at lower back posture. More specifically what doing lots of jits can end up doing to it.
*as always if you have specific pain / injuries then always get them checked out by a professional first.
To start with it’s important to understand that the shape of our lower back is massively impacted by the alignment of our hips. And that the alignment of our hips can be dictated by the muscles surrounding them.
With that in mind let’s look at some very common positions for the hip to be in whilst training jiu-jitsu.
If you look at the photo above you’ll see that nearly everyone that’s grappling has their hip flexed. Whether you’re on the top, the bottom or even standing, there is usually a constant bending at the hips.
Unfortunately this is also consistent with sitting postures such as at work, driving and watching tv. All of this means that the muscles involved in flexing the hip are spending a fairly large amount of time in a short position. When this happens they can become chronically overactive and reluctant to stretch when we actually extend at the hip to stand up. If they don’t stretch then they can actually end up tilting the pelvis forward (anterior pelvic tilt) causing excessive extension in the lower back.
Once you end up in this position it is extremely common to start to feel discomfort in and around your lower back / hips. Not only can it be an uncomfortable position to be in for long periods of the day, but loading this position in the gym, or sparring in a compromised position, can lead to damage in the long term.
So it’s definitely a position we’d like to avoid or limit as much as possible. To do this one of the first strategies we can use is to calm down the hip flexors.
Hip Flexor / Lunge Stretch Position
- To start get in to a lunge position with your back knee on the floor.
- Make sure that your back foot is in line with your knee and that your heel is straight up in the air and not angled inwards.
- The next step (and most important) is to tip your pelvis backwards. As if you were tucking your tail underneath you. This will flatten your lower back and begin to stretch the hip flexors.
- Once you have your pelvis tucked underneath you can move your hips forward to increase the stretch if needed.
- Just make sure while you’re doing this that you don’t begin to arch your lower back. If this happens you’ll be allowing your hip flexors to move back into a shortened position.
- From this position there are lots of things we can do, including static stretching, contract / relax stretching and neural flossing. A great start is to just take 5 deep, full, slow breaths. Really focus on expanding as you inhale and relaxing further in to the position as you exhale.
Once we’ve addressed the hip flexors the next consideration is often to strengthen the abs. As the abdominals sit above the pelvis we want to activate them so they can resist the pelvis being pulled forward.
However we want to avoid using a lot of the common lower abdominal exercises which use hip flexing movements as this will also be activating the hip flexors.
One of the most effective exercises to use for this is the plank.
- To perform a plank get on to your forearms and your toes.
- Position your feet slightly wider than your shoulders.
- From there make sure you’re in a straight line from your toes to your head.
- Most importantly make sure you control your lower back and pelvis position. To correct an anterior pelvic tilt we actually want to tip our pelvis backwards (just like in the lunge stretch) so that our lower back is slightly flatter than usual.
- This will allow us to strengthen our abs while our hip flexors are in a slightly elongated position.
- Hold this position for 30-60s. Make sure you don’t begin to arch through your lower back during the hold.
- If you’re struggling to get in the position, first conquer it from a kneeling position.
- Once you’ve mastered this you can begin to progress to different variations such as single leg or on a swiss ball.
Remember, as with any health & fitness advice, go steady at first and make sure that the techniques are going to work for you and not against you. It’s always best to have someone coach you through these ideas if you’re unfamiliar with them. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.
*It’s also worth remembering that there are plenty of other areas to explore which might be contributing to your back pain. Things such as hydration, food, sleep and other movement considerations can all play a role in how your back feels.
If you want to understand these exercises in more detail, plus learn some more, keep your eyes peeled for one of our workshops. The workshops will cover techniques in more detail with the chance for you to ask questions and be coached.
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If you’d like to explore your specific back pain or injury in more depth then why not book in for a chat (it’s free!)? You can tell us all the details and we can work out the best way for you to get pain free and back to the mat better than ever!
Until next time.