I received a request for information about some basic muscle exercises.
"I am pretty out of shape, I started Jiu Jitsu as a fun way to get back into shape. I have noticed that certain muscles seem to be more important than others while fighting, such as forearm muscles to maintain a strong grip. I was wondering if you could go over some basic muscle groups that are important that people may not always think of, such as forearms and neck muscles, and how to strengthen such muscles at home. Core strength is important, too, would not exclude that."
The simple answer is to continue grappling. Those muscle groups will get more work and will grow and become stronger over time. Many of the warm up drills we do in class are also designed to simulate the movements needed for grappling.
While there are some muscles that tend to get overworked while grappling, I'm still a firm believer in the importance of finding a better way to grapple so as to not to use so much muscle strength.
Yes, hand grip strength is important, as well as squeeze strength in the legs. Strong abs are good, as is neck strength, and the list goes on. However, if someone were to come to me and tell me about the forearm pump they got from their last grappling match, I could show them a better way to grapple to avoid overworking those muscles. I'm fairly confident I could come up with alternative techniques for many of the common problems resulting from over exertion.
Let's talk about body mechanics. The goal is to teach students how they can maneuver either their own body or their opponent’s body through the use of technique rather than brute strength. For instance, it’s important to learn how to off-balance your opponent. Just as one would do standing up in Judo, the same principals apply on the ground.
I’ve caught myself using phrases such as, “When you’re faced with a brick wall, don’t try to go through it, but rather go around it." "When you can’t move your opponent, move yourself.” “There’s always a path, you must find the right one.”
Of course I realize that not everyone will understand at first. It’s a slow process of developing these skills over a long period of time. One of my favorite sayings comes from Roseberry Shihan, “Let it make sense.” I always understood this to mean that I shouldn’t make things too difficult. Instead of getting all wrapped up in trying to think about a new technique so much so that I can’t even do it, I should just do it. Don’t think about it too much, just let it make sense.
These examples are but a few. These same principals are valid in the application of submissions as well. Rather than trying to force on a submission, one must have the proper position. We then must have at least a basic understanding of body mechanics in order to obtain the desired result.
The bottom line is that body mechanics are the most important. It's not enough to know how to "do" a submission or how to do a movement. You must learn how to "get" the move or submission. This is where all of the fine details come into play. This is where a better understanding of body mechanics pays off.
Let's take, for example, the problem commonly referred to as forearm pump. This arises from gripping tightly for an extended period of time. Getting a good grip is a good thing, but there are limitations to our body and over exerting a specific muscle group can be detrimental. So, if you feel like a specific muscle group is getting a good workout from your grappling matches, there may not be a need to work it even more elsewhere. Learning how to underhook and overhook your opponent's arms is equally important and can reduce the strain on those muscles.
If your neck muscles are sore from getting choked out, there's not much you can do off the mat to make it any better. Ensuring your neck muscles are stretched out, loose and warmed up prior to the choking fest is a better option. If your neck muscles are sore from trying to keep your opponent from breaking your posture in their guard, you may want to consider some alternative ways to free your head so as to minimize the stress on your neck. There are weightlifting and other exercises that strengthen the neck muscles, but let's also simply consider a better way. Rather than trying to use your neck muscles, which are generally weaker than arm muscles, we must learn how to use the stronger muscles in our back, shoulders, and arms to frame and swim our way out.
Without going into every muscle and every alternative, suffice it to say that with a good coach and time on the mat, the necessary skills will be developed. Over time, the muscle strength will be replaced with solid technique.