It’s All in the Hips: Hip Care 101 for BJJ Practitioners
by James Nunn (Editor)
BJJ is a martial art that requires good posture and proper body mechanics. When you are training your joints need to move freely without pain or restriction. Proper joint positioning will allow you to perform better moves with less risk of injury. The most common problem I see when teaching students how to train properly is improper alignment of their bodies during training sessions. Many times students have trouble maintaining proper alignment while they are trying to do things like pull guard passes, roll around on the mat, or even just stand up straight!
The first thing I want to address is correct body position. There are many different ways to maintain proper body position. Some people prefer a high arch back, some prefer a low arch back, others prefer a neutral spine and still others prefer an open stance. These are all valid options and each person needs to find what works best for them. However, it is important to remember that if you are not doing any kind of stretching or strengthening exercises then you will need to strengthen your core muscles in order to maintain proper body position.
If you are new to training, it may seem counterintuitive but it is always better to keep your spine as flat as possible rather than having a slightly arched back. This will make it easier for you to extend your hips and perform movements like hip escapes, without putting unnecessary stress on the low back.
If you already have a lot of experience with lifting weights or doing regular exercise, then it may be helpful to slightly arch your back. This will put some of the strain on your back rather than your hips and knees. It is important that whatever position you choose, you are consistent with it.
Let’s look at a few common positions and variations of the positions.
If you are standing up and not doing any kind of action that requires you to move your legs too much, then it is best to keep your feet at least shoulder width apart. This wide stance will allow you to distribute your weight evenly across both feet. It will also allow you to keep your knees slightly bent at all times.
If you need to move, then it is best to move your hips rather than your legs. This will help protect your knees from straining or locking.
If you need to move side to side, then try to twist your upper body and shift your weight rather than lifting your legs to walk. This twisting motion should come from your core and not just your arms. If you find yourself needing to move more quickly or in a fighting situation, then it is best to rely on a quick burst of speed and then consolidate your position. If you have to keep running, then it is best to skip rather than keeping your legs completely straight.
It is also important to remember that being on one leg or the other can throw off your balance if you’re not used to it. This is why it is generally better to be in a slightly crouched position, with one foot hovering just above the ground at all times.
If you’re on your back and need to move, it is best to first stabilize your upper body by pushing down on the floor with your arms. Then move your hips from that stable position. If you’re lying on your side then it is best to keep your core engaged and your weight centered. Don’t prop yourself up on your arm or elbow as this may cause strain to your shoulder.
For those of you who either insist on wearing pants or for those of you that wear loose track pants, it is best to either pull them down a bit so that they don’t hinder movement or to just go without. Wearing anything while doing these techniques is only going to hinder your movement.
Fighters need to be able to move quickly and efficiently in all positions. Otherwise they will get taken down and controlled by their opponent. There is no excuse for not being able to do this. If you want to be good at fighting or self defense then you need to practice your footwork AND your hip movement. This can be easy to forget about during class since you’re engaging in various techniques that seem more important at the time.
But in reality, none of those techniques are going to do you any good if your opponent is keeping you just out of their reach and controlling the distance. Your ability to move in and out, side to side, and around the mat will determine whether or not you’ll be able to land that punch or achieve a take down.
It is important to always keep your hips loose and your knees bent even when you’re not actively moving. Otherwise, you’re going to be putting unnecessary strain on your back or your legs. Always keep in mind that if you’re going to be engaging in any kind of punching or arm use technique then you’re going to need to twist your body and drive from the hips. That twisting motion is what gives you additional power. If you don’t engage your hips then all of your punches are going to lose a lot of power as well as not being nearly as accurate.
The same goes for kicks.
As with all things in BJJ, you need to keep your hands active. This not only helps with your balance but it keeps you from falling into the common BJJ mistake of putting all of your weight on one arm when trying to control or submit your opponent.
Since we’re on the topic of controlling your opponent, we’ll talk about the various hip motion techniques that are commonly used in BJJ.
The first one is for moving forward and controlling your opponent. It is called the “Rock Back” motion or sometimes the “Clam Motion”. To do this, you need to keep your knees slightly bent and then drive your hips forward while twisting them at the same time. This will cause you to bring your opponent towards you or cause them to fall back.
You can also use this technique by having one leg back and one leg forward or both legs forward. If you want to you can make a step with one foot followed by a twist of the hips.
There is also the “Twist” hip motion which is done when you twist to one side and drive the other hip forward. This is usually combined with other techniques.
What you don’t want to do is to cross your legs as this can cause strain on your inner thighs or knees. You also don’t want to bend your legs too much as this can cause your opponent to gain control over them. Bending at the knees is fine, but you need to keep your legs fairly straight so that they are still in a position to push or pull your opponent.
Hip motion is very important in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and especially important when it comes to controlling and countering your opponent. The better your hips, the better you’ll be able to move on the mats.
There are also a few general rules for moving on the mats in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The first rule is to keep your hands active at all times. When you’re attempting to move your opponent, putting pressure on them or even attempting a technique, you shouldn’t have a death grip on their shirt or their skin. It is very easy in the heat of battle to squeeze a little too hard and end up giving your opponent leverage over you instead.
You should also keep your knees slightly bent at all times too. The reason why is simple, you never know when you’re going to be called upon to spring into action. Having your knees bent and legs ready to push off of the floor instantly is going to give you that added speed and power that you may need to get out of a tight situation or to put the final nail in the coffin by finishing your opponent.
The third, and final rule is make sure that you’re always aware of what’s going on around you. At all times, it is important to keep your head on a swivel so that you know what your opponent may or may not be up to. Also, keeping an eye on your opponent will let you know when they’re attempting to move in for the kill.
When you’re on your back, you don’t want to solely rely on your legs to get you back into a more advantageous position as this will most likely result in you getting your guard passed. You also don’t want to get lazy with your arms and have a death grip on your opponent’s gi. If they can get in close enough, it’s very easy for them to rip your arms off of them or even go for your arm or shoulder.
The most ideal way to get up from your back without the assistance of your legs is to ‘slingshot’ your arms underneath their armpit and push off of their chest.
Turning into a pretzel in order to get your legs free is a surefire way of getting your guard passed or even caught in a sub.
As with most things BJJ, it is critical that you drill this movement several times from different positions and scenarios until it becomes second nature to you.
You should also be sure to incorporate some speed drills and also slow, methodical movements as well.
The reason for this is because you do not want to only be adept at one type of movement, having a wide variety will better prepare you for anything that your opponent throws at you.
Also, be sure to be working on your cardio because people can go at it non-stop for several minutes without taking a break and you need to be able to do the same. If you are not in the best shape possible, then it is most likely that you will tire way before your opponent does and as we all know, that is a fast track route to defeat.
Don’t forget to drill these movement techniques in every position possible as well. You never know when you’re going to be in a bad spot, so always keep several ‘escape plans’ in your head for any situation.
After several months of drilling and training hard, it is now time to test all of your new skills. You’ve got an entire competition schedule in front of you and have been looking forward to this day for quite some time. Winning tournament after tournament, you prove that there is a new force to be reckoned with in the BJJ world.
After your championship run, you are now unquestionably the best in the world. Not just of your size, but of all sizes. The media takes notice of your rise and you are now being called ‘The Giant Killer’.
You are very happy with your new nickname because it shows that you’re living up to your name. Your goal is to keep winning and defend your championships next year.
Your black belt is soon coming and you know that it’s all because you dedicated yourself to this art and worked harder than anyone else.
If someone were to say ten years ago that a person your size would be a successful mixed martial artist, they would have been laughed at but you proved that theory wrong, and you proved that a giant can be just as quick and elusive as any other person and that size doesn’t matter when it comes to the human spirit.
Sources & references used in this article:
Follow-up after arthroplasty of the hip and knee: are we over-servicing or under-caring? by TM Lovelock, NS Broughton – The Bone & Joint Journal, 2018 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
Can the Oxford Knee and Hip Score identify patients who do not require total knee or hip arthroplasty? by ME Neufeld, BA Masri – The bone & joint journal, 2019 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
What is the incidence of late detection of developmental dysplasia of the hip in England? A 26-year national study of children diagnosed after the age of one by C Broadhurst, AML Rhodes… – The bone & joint …, 2019 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
Guidelines for the follow-up of total hip arthroplasty: do they need to be revised? by RS Cassidy, SO hEireamhoin… – The bone & joint …, 2019 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
Clicky hip alone is not a true risk factor for developmental dysplasia of the hip by K Nie, S Rymaruk, RW Paton – The Bone & Joint …, 2017 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
Results of universal ultrasound screening for developmental dysplasia of the hip: a prospective follow-up of 28 092 consecutive infants by R Biedermann, J Riccabona, JM Giesinger… – Bone …, 2018 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
Debridement and implant retention in the management of hip periprosthetic joint infection: outcomes following guided and rapid treatment at a single centre by P Sendi, PO Lötscher, B Kessler… – The Bone & Joint …, 2017 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk
Neonatal screening and selective sonographic imaging in the diagnosis of developmental dysplasia of the hip by QA Choudry, RW Paton – Bone Joint J, 2018 – online.boneandjoint.org.uk