Why is Your Spine So Important in Jiu Jitsu?
Happy March, Bots! Can you believe we’re already in the third month of the year? Where does the time go? Since the New Year we’ve talked a bit about the fundamental concepts of Jiu Jitsu, namely fixed points and slack. Our resolution was (is) to go through as many of the foundational principles we use to teach, learn, remember, and implement techniques efficiently in order to have a reference for our common language. Keeping in line with this goal, this month we’re going to talk a bit about the importance of spinal alignment!
What is a good spine position?
You hear it all the time “Posture, Posture!” Sure, avoiding the slouch and keeping your head up and away from your opponent’s attacking arms and legs is important (not to mention polite ;]) but what is really meant by keeping good posture is keeping a straight and strong spine. Imagine yourself in your opponent’s closed guard. As they try to break you down, pulling your collar, over hooking an arm, and/or grabbing your head, their goal is really to get you to put a bend in your spine. The idea behind this is that in order to optimally generate force from your shoulders and hips (our biggest weapons in our jiu jistu arsenal) your spine needs to be organized and straight. In general, if our core (the center of our body) isn’t strong, our extremities won’t be either. Our force production works from the inside out. Having a stabilized core is a requisite for our strongest force production.
Try this. Extend your arm straight out in front of you at shoulder height with the palm facing down. Keeping your head, shoulders, and hips all stacked on top of one another have a someone try to press your hand down as you resist. Now, do the same thing but instead of looking straight, bend your head up or down. You should notice it is much harder to resist the force when there is even just the tiny crick in your neck. Now imagine what a cross face does!
Why is good spinal position necessary?
We’ve already addressed some of these ideas tangentially. Our main concern in general is that of force production. Keeping spinal alignment allows us to generate the force to defend ourselves and apply techniques efficiently. We all know the feeling of defending in side control by pushing on our opponent’s shoulder only to have our head captured and a cross-face eliminates all of the progress we made. Similarly, we’ve all tried a take-down where our spine comes out of alignment and we end up getting reversed and somehow end up flat on our backs. The reason that both of these techniques end up failing is our spines come out of alignment and thus we can’t generate enough force to accomplish our goals.
Similar to the above, we compromise mechanics when we allow faults in our spines. Not only are we not maximally efficient in generating force, but we also limit our range of motion. You can imagine why this might be important in jiu jistu. So much of our sport relies on the ability to be mobile and fold ourselves into interesting positions. Having some extra mobility would probably be useful. If you’re looking to increase your mobility, first check to see that your spine and core is in a good position when you’re drilling!
Finally, and arguably most importantly, bracing your spine and keeping it in alignment eliminates many threats to the central nervous system (AKA injuries!). Your CNS is the most important part of your body. Keeping your spine organized and your core braced helps you to defend against threats (and knee rides!).
How do you brace your core?
Keeping your spine in alignment is only half of the battle. If you’re just in line and not braced, then a light breeze might just take you out of alignment! Bracing refers to tightening your core muscles to keep your spine in position and begin to generate force. To brace your spine before you start moving or applying force, first squeeze your butt. Yes, your glutes are part of your posterior chain also! This will ensure that you put your feet and hips in a good position. Next, pull your ribcage towards your hips. Remember, we’re doing this without rounding our backs so you may not see this, but your muscles will feel it. Third, tighten your abs. This one should go without saying, but tightening your abs allows you to keep your pelvis and ribcage in position while moving your legs. It’s pretty hard to move with clenched glutes! Thought we’d forget, didn’t you! :] Finally, set your head and shoulders into a stable position. Try to center your head above your shoulders and look forward. Try to draw your shoulders back. We know thinking about all of this during a roll may be a bit much, but simply start by focusing on a strong core. If you make a concerted effort to brace your core you’ll probably start to see improvements in strength, mobility, and guard passing right away!
Pay close attention to the upper belts when you roll or see them rolling this month (Paul does this really well). Like most things in life, organization can be incredibly helpful! Try to focus on keeping your spine organized and straight when you’re practicing your techniques this month!
-Coach Drew & Coach T