When you participate in Jiu-Jitsu (or any type of grappling) injuries are always a possibility. It’s also likely you’ll experience injuries to pretty much every part of your body!
People often expect to pick up an injury to their neck, back or shoulders but you might be surprised with the amount of injuries sustained to the knee.
In reality it isn’t that surprising.
Knees can be injured through:
- impacts sustained during takedowns and guard passes,
- sudden twists during scrambles and sweeps,
- and even violently contorted during submission attempts.
They can also get extremely sore through a basic lack of TLC, being pummelled by hours of training without any real thought to rest and recovery.
Once injured, a bum knee can have a real impact on your game. Takedowns become almost impossible, scrambles are painful and in the end certain positions and submission attempts wind up hurting you more than your opponent!
So what can we do about it?
Obviously you can’t prevent all injuries, but what we can look to do is make the window of opportunity for injury as small as possible.
Two of the biggest factors in determining how likely an injury is to occur are how much range of motion you have and how much control you have over that range. If your knee, for example, get’s bent somewhere it can’t usually go, something is likely to get hurt. Likewise if you’re knee joint is in a position you have no control over it’s now up to fate as to whether the joint stays safe or not.
Controlling these factors won’t guarantee your safety, but it will give you a much better chance of avoiding injury in the first place, reducing the seriousness of an injury or having a speedy recovery from injury.
(It’s important to note that other movement factors such as hip control and core stability will have a big bearing on knee health, as will things such as nutrition and rest strategies, but these are topics for another article).
Restoring/Improving Flexibility Levels
Jiu-Jitsu training can be pretty intense and coupled with strength training, running or other sports and activities it’s very common for people to end up a little stiffer and tighter than they should be. The following is a guide to the stretching technique we like the most here at aps and a couple of go to stretches we’d recommend. Though once you’ve got the idea of how to stretch you can then apply it to any area you might need.
The stretching method we use most commonly is referred to as the contract/relax method. It means that once you’re in the stretch you gently contract (20% of your strength) the muscle you’re stretching for 5 seconds. You then stop contracting and relax into the stretch for 5-10 seconds, going slightly deeper if you can. This can then be repeated for as many reps as you feel you need (usually 3-6).
Hip Flexor / Lunge Stretch
- Get in to a lunge position with your back knee on the floor. Your hips should be level.
- Start to tilt your pelvis backwards (as if you were tucking your tail under you). Then without losing that tilt gently push your hips forward.
- Inhale for 5 seconds whilst gently kicking your back leg down in to the floor to activate the hip flexor muscles.
- Stop kicking, and exhale for 5 seconds. Instantly push your hips slightly further forward, reach your hand up to the sky and lean away from the leg you’re stretching. Make sure to keep your pelvis tilted backwards throughout.
- You’re looking to stretch the front of your leg towards the top, right in front of the hip.
- Once you’ve finished your breath out, begin again by breathing in and kicking gently into the floor.
- Each time you breathe out try to relax slightly further in to the stretch.
- Repeat this process about 5 times.
- Set up in a half kneeling position with your back foot up on a swiss ball or against a wall (the closer your knee is to the ball or wall the stronger the stretch is likely to be). Make sure your hips are level and your pelvis is tucked under you to flatten your lower back.
- Try to be as tall as possible and sit back towards your heel.
- Inhale for 5 seconds whilst gently kicking your back leg into the ball/wall to activate the quads.
- Stop kicking, exhale, and relax further in to the stretch if you can for another 5 seconds.
- Once you’ve completed your breath out begin gently kicking again.
- Each time you breathe out and relax, see if you can move a bit deeper in to the stretch.
- Repeat this process about 5 times.
- Start by sitting in the 90/90 position. Your hips and shoulders should be facing the same way and your lower back should have a natural curve in it. You may have to focus on tilting your pelvis forward a bit (as if you were trying to stick your bum out).
- Inhale for 5 seconds whilst gently pushing your front leg down in to the floor to activate the glute muscles.
- Stop pushing, and exhale for 5 seconds. Instantly begin to lean your body forward towards your front leg.
- Focus on hinging at your hips and keeping your back in a neutral position throughout.
- You’re looking to stretch the underneath of your front leg.
- Once you’ve finished your breath out, begin breathing in again, pushing gently into the floor, followed by breathing out and relaxing further in to the stretch.
- Repeat this process about 5 times.
Improving Fundamental Strength and Stability
In the early stages of creating healthy knees we don’t need any fancy exercises, we can use the basics, but improve them by putting more of an emphasis on knee integrity.
A great example of this is the swiss ball hip extension. It’s a great exercise for strengthening the glutes during hip extension and is also great for practicing how to stabilise and control the knee through external rotation of the hip.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit on a Swiss Ball with feet hip width apart, roll back as you walk your legs forward to the point where your head, shoulders and upper back rest on the ball.
- Make sure you’re set up with your feet firmly on the ground (all your toes, your heel and the outside of your foot should be in contact with the ground) and position them under your knees.
- As you inhale lift your hips by pushing your feet through the floor until your shoulders, hips and knees end in a straight line. Just like a table top.
- Pause in this top position and then as you exhale slowly drop your pelvis back to the floor and repeat.
- As you perform each rep keep your knees tracking over your feet taking care to not let them cave inwards (key point for healthy knees!).
- You want to create an up down movement not letting yourself roll forwards and backwards on the ball. Imagining two puppet strings lifting your hips to the ceiling can help you to feel the movement and encourage glute recruitment. The balls going to move a bit but try to keep your shins vertical with knees over ankles.
- Work up to 12-20 reps at a medium tempo and build up to 3 sets. There’s some great ways to progress this exercise by adding weight, mixing up tempos and eventually doing it on one leg.
The idea of knee integrity, and where the knee tracks during movement, can also be applied to exercises such as normal lunges and squats.
All of the above techniques should be viewed as “prehab”. In other words exercises to be done now so that you minimise the chance of sustaining an injury later. They can also be used during the rehab process, but best practice when rehabbing anything is to always consult a professional first to make sure you’re doing the correct thing for your particular situation.
Make sure to check out part 2 of our healthy knees series where we’ll be looking at more advanced exercises we can use to make our knees even more robust.
And if you want to truly get hold of any of these exercises, and learn some more, keep your eyes peeled for one of our workshops. The workshops will cover these, and other techniques, in more detail with the chance for you to ask questions and be coached through them.
To keep up to date with news of our workshops please sign up for our newsletter below.
If you’d like to explore your specific knee 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.
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