I recently wrote a post about dealing with size differences when grappling. One thing I forgot to mention is that flexibility, especially in the hip and inner thighs, is another way to combat an opponent with greater size and strength. I find it particularly useful when I’m in the open guard.
People who are bigger and stronger often aren’t as flexible and this can be a way to prevent such opponents from passing your guard without using as much strength. That’s why I tend to favour open guards when grappling, no matter who my opponent is. I simply keep my legs loose and active and use my speed and flexibility to stop my opponent as he or she tries to power through my guard. A closed guard, on the other hand, tends to utilize more strength when keeping your opponent within your guard or preventing him or her from passing.
Here is a video of me using my flexibility against an opponent who is 25 lbs heavier than me (please excuse the fogginess, it was a steamy day in the dojo when we filmed this):
Flexibility doesn’t come easily for everyone, but you can always improve it with a regular stretching regime. If you’re serious about improving your flexibility, you shouldn’t just be doing it at the dojo. Here is a good video that demonstrates various ways of doing the butterfly and other related stretches for increasing hip/ inner thigh flexibility and leg rotation:
Another stretch I like for stretching these muscles is the pigeon pose from yoga. I find it provides more leverage for increasing the stretch even further. You can see it here in this yoga video:
Even if you’re not planning to use flexibility as a cornerstone of your ground game, it’s a good idea to work on it to increase your range of motion, which helps to improve your overall ground game. This is true whether you’re training the ground for competition or self-defense. Check out my new book When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-jitsu Strategies & Tactics for Self-Defense for more information on my approach to ground defense.
Sometimes when I do intense sessions of grappling, throwing or breakfalls, I’ll wake up the next day or two days later with sore, aching muscles due to the strain of the training. Here are a few treatments for muscle soreness that can help.
1. Gentle exercise. Medical research suggests that you shouldn’t completely avoid exercise when dealing with muscle soreness. It’s quite the opposite. You should instead do light exercise that keeps the affected muscle(s) in motion. Blood circulation helps clear up the lactic acid build up that causes muscle soreness.
2. Ibuprofen (aka – Advil). While Ibuprofen doesn’t speed up muscle recovery, medical studies suggest that it does decrease the pain in the meantime.
3. Baths. A hot bath won’t cure muscle soreness, but it does help to take the edge off. I find it helps to throw in a cup of Epsom salts, which is said to help reduce muscle stiffness. According to a student of mine who is a doctor and avid fitness enthusiast, cold baths are a great way of preventing the soreness before it sets in. She says that if you can stand to immerse yourself in ice cold water for 5 minutes soon after you do an intense work-out it can do wonders for muscle soreness prevention. I’ve used cold water immersion for treating joint injuries, but I just can’t bring myself to fully immerse my body in ice water.
4. Stretching/ Yoga. They say that stretching doesn’t really do anything for reducing muscle soreness, but many people find that it helps make them feel better. There are some studies that the regular practice of yoga does help prevent muscle soreness. I find that yoga helps me, but only when I do it regularly.
5. Proper warm-ups. Medical studies suggest that properly warming up helps reduce post work-out muscle soreness. Experts suggest that you should do 3-5 minutes of exercise that gets your heart beating faster, like skipping, running, or gentle shadowboxing. This can take longer though if you’re training in a cold environment. Once you’re warm, it’s also a good idea to do some dynamic stretching, using movements that are similar the ones you’ll be doing in your work-out. These kinds of stretches should be done with steady, controlled movements, not explosive ones, which can injure muscles.