How To Strengthen The Neck For Brazilian Jiujitsu
Brazilian Jujitsu is not only a martial art but also a competitive sport, and with the rise in popularity in mixed martial arts and the coverage that the UFC is getting, its no surprise that participation in the sport is on the rise. BJJ is a ground based grappling sport that was adapted from judo with the principle that with proper technique, leverage and by taking the battle to the ground, a smaller fighter can still defend against a bigger stronger opponent. Strengthening the neck is often an area that is overlooked. In this article, we will talk about how to strengthen the neck for Brazilian Jiujitsu.
(RELEVANT: CONDITIONING FOR MIXED MARTIAL ARTS)
With the nature of the sport and the movements involved when sparring (also referred to as rolling), players spend a lot of time on their backs and attempting to change positions on the ground, all whilst wrestling and defending an opponent. One of the major injury sites for any grappling sport, especially BJJ is the neck. Players will bridge their hips and roll out of holds with their head on the ground, putting a lot of strain on the neck. Also being rolled both forwards and backwards over the neck can cause a lot stress in the cervical region of the spine (the vertebrae in the neck). We can’t always control what’s going to happen within the chaos of competition so we need to be ready for the unexpected.
To prevent injury we need to 1) address any issues in movement and 2) ensure that the neck is strong enough to easily handle the stress that it may come up against whilst on the mats. This way we can prepare for the unexpected as well as possible.
The neck is made up of several vertebras that are mobile at each joint between the bones. This allows for a range of different movements, turning, twisting, rolling and bending in every direction. We are going to focus on three movements to both assess and mobilize the neck that you can put into your warm ups whether you are starting a session in the weights room or on the mats. All of these movements are done slowly with control.
- Bending – you can bend your neck in four ways, forwards, backwards, left and right. Pause in each position and take ten breaths, deepening the stretch with each exhale. If you have any tightness in the muscles around the neck, you can use your hand to gently apply some pressure and stretch these muscles. Keep the shoulders down and back to use the full range of the neck.
- Turning – Your neck should turn within a range of around 180 degrees. Turn the head to the left and focus your eyes past your nose on the left side, pause for a second then return to center, then repeat on the right side. You should be able to turn your head within the same range on each side, if one side is more mobile than the other this needs to be addressed and you should practice turning in the direction with less range.
- Rolling – Rolling your neck requires a combination of bending and turning, you can roll your neck clockwise and anti-clockwise. Pull your chin to your chest whilst keeping your shoulders down, then roll your head clockwise throughout its entire range until you come back to center, then repeat in an anti-clockwise direction. Note that this is done slowly and with control. If there are any tight spots within the neck you can pause and attempt to stretch the muscles in the neck around that point.
Now that we have full range in our neck, we need to make our necks strong so that we can brace and anticipate any movement that we might come across, with a strong neck we can protect our head and our spinal column.
As mentioned before, a lot of time in BJJ is spent on your back bridging in and out of positions with the head on the ground. So to strengthen the neck this exactly what we are going to do.
- Lay on the floor with your knees bent and your heels up towards your trunk. Lift your hips in the air and come onto a bridge position on the back of your shoulders. Now force the back of your head into the ground and lift your shoulders off of the ground as well. Hold this position for 30 seconds and keep your hips and shoulders off of the ground.
- To regress this, you can rest your head on a bench or a soft block to change the angle of the bridge.
- To progress this, you can start to rotate your body left and right to bridge on your neck through different angles.
- Come onto a kneeling position and place your head and hands on the floor as if you are bowing, you may want to place a soft mat under your head.
- Bring your hips over or even in front of your knees so that you are placing some of your bodyweight onto your head and hands. Hold for 30 seconds.
- You can regress this by raising the platform you place your head on or by bearing a higher percentage of your bodyweight on your knees.
- You can progress this again by rotating the shoulders so that the angle of the tension changes through the neck.
Here are some simple things you can add to your warm up or even into your training session to better prepare your neck for the demands of BJJ and other grappling sports, making sure that your neck has a full range of movement and ensuring that it is strong enough to handle the forces put upon it when you are rolling or fighting will dramatically decrease the likelihood of injuring your neck.