Most people will suffer from some back pain or injury in their lifetime. Jiu-jitsu practitioners are very prone to having back issues due to the nature of the art. Average hobbyists, can and should avoid lower back injuries to the best of their ability since they are not making money from practicing Jiu-jitsu, and their priorities are different compared to professional Jiu-jitsu competitors. If you are struggling with back pain or want to prevent it here are a few ways to do so.
Train hard, but smart
There is nothing wrong with training hard, but doing it intelligently. If you are a beginner, it is crucial to master the general principles of Jiu-jitsu. Learning the principles will allow you to avoid positions that may jeopardize your lower back. Something worth paying attention to especially during live training is the alignment of your spine mainly if you are putting too much unnecessary stress on your lower back.
Certain positions such as someone stacking you, going inverted (sometimes getting stuck there), and guard recovery from bottom put your back in flexion which causes irritation and micro-injuries that may become chronic over time. If you have to give up a particular position in training to preserve the safety of your lower back that is fine. Another valuable lesson is to check your ego in these sort of situations. The Braulio Estima in you may want to come out at that moment, but remember to check your ego otherwise, the pain will do that for you.
Your core muscles keep your lumbar spine (lower back) stable. The safety of your lumbar spine depends upon the strength and stability of your core muscles. A weak core usually means more stress on the spine. The key is to build stability and strength efficiently by minimizing or creating further damage. Six-pack abs ”crunches” and sit-ups are not considered core strengthening or stabilizing exercises. Leave those for the ‘’bros’’ at Gold’s, no disrespect. You should focus on performing planks, swiss ball exercises (stir the pot), and ring fallouts.
People enjoy other activities outside of Jiu-jitsu such as weight training or yoga. Make sure that your strength program is not creating more harm. When you are combining Jiu-jitsu with strength training, for example, you might have to decrease the frequency on one of them. Maxing out on deadlifts before Jiu-jitsu class is not a great idea. You will be begging for a back injury. Work with a performance trainer that will help you create a program suitable for your needs and goals. Before I continue, I want to mention that Yoga is not a weak form of exercise. The popularization of yoga for Jiu-jitsu has been rising. With that said, if you are going to do it be careful. There are positions in yoga that require twisting and flexing of the spine which might not be such a great idea because you are already performing similar positional movements in your BJJ class. Repeating them and in some cases overdoing is not beneficial. Not all yoga instructors are equal. Choose intelligently and always consider your level of fitness and experience.
Higher level practitioners have more ‘’skin in the game’’ so they can get away with more. It is essential to understand your current limits and respect the process. Growth takes sacrifices or challenges but within reason. Every level in Jiu-jitsu will teach you lessons applicable to the next stage in your progress. Beginners, for example, are not able to safely practice Jiu-jitsu at a maximum intensity due to lack of kinesthetic and body awareness. More skillful players, on the other hand, know how to protect themselves from lower back injuries better. Experience equal knowledge and practice equal skill.
Jiu-jitsu will keep your body young if you train smart. Take responsibility for your health because back injuries are not a joke. Preventative strategies such as improving core strength and stability, and making the right choices when it comes to other activities are insurance for your spine. You want to be still practicing Jiu-jitsu with your grandkids. Enjoy the process and learn as much as you can at each step of the journey.