Knee pain and jujitsu / wrestling seem to go hand in hand, but does it have to be this way?
My opinion is no, it doesn’t.
Due to the nature of the game, you are going to pick up injuries, and the knees are vulnerable. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. No, you can go a long way to preventing knee issues with some smart training.
In this article on knee injury for i wrote for the GAA website, An Fear Rua, I spoke about how strength and mobility through the hip joint is a major player in knee health. For a GAA player I simply suggested that they spend time with the Kettlebell Swing to develop the power endurance and range of motion through the hip.
But for a grappler, wrestler it’s a little different. Yes the swing is still an extremely valuable exercise and should definitely be utilised, but a JuJitsu man must develop strength through extreme ranges of motion. Not just in the hip, but the knee as well.
While range of motion can be developed with some stretching and mobility work, the strength aspect is too often forgotten about.
Before I go on, I’d just like to point out that many of the stretches I see in a BJJ class are a cause of knee pain. It’s not that the stretch is particularly bad, it’s more often that the student isn’t ready for it yet. An important phrase to remember is the following:
“The knee is the release valve for the hip” – Tom Furman
Tightness in the hip often manifests itself in the knee. If you try to rotate the hip, say you’re attempting a rubber guard, but you haven’t yet developed range of motion, your knee is going to pick up some of the slack, and it won’t be happy about it.
Two very common hip stretches I see are these:
Nothing wrong with the stretches per se, but they both will put a rotational strain on the knee joint, if your baseline hip flexibility isn’t up to scratch, both these stretches can aggravate the knee.
So, what, don’t stretch?
Of course you need to, there are better ways. These are my hip stretches of choice:
1 – Hip Extension & Internal Rotation Combo
2 – Hip Flexor and Quad Stretch:
3 – Glute Stretch:
Between these three actions, you will most likely find one that hits a problem area for you, and likely relieves back and/or knee issues that you already have.
Next have a look at this sequence, it’s a yoga based set that we use a lot. It’s put together from a few sources and has had a profound affect on my guys overall health. We generally cool down with this after training:
Now we come to the strength issue.
You need to squat, end of.
The single leg squat is one of the best leg training drill available, done right with proper balance and mobility you will get down into full range of motion, developing strength in the hip and knee.
The balance and stability needed to perform single leg work, as well as the fact that the back is safe even if rounded (no little or no external load is needed for single leg work) make this an effective and safe training drill, just so long as you progress slowly.
And don’t take my word for it, here’s world renowned Strength Coach, BJJ Black Belt and World Champion Steve Maxwell giving his opinion: