Wednesday 30 September 2009


It has been a while since I last updated because I have been feeling demotivated with training. My elbows are slowly improving but they are still bothering me enough that I cannot grip a gi. I have been trying to work on my guard but as my game is very reliant on controlling the gi, I have been feeling very frustrated and despondent. I have also stopped Judo and weights completely which upsets me as I enjoy doing both.

A few weeks ago I realised I needed to pull myself together and stop feeling sorry for myself: I should stop yearning for the things I could not do and start finding ways to train that do not aggravate my injuries. Instead of Judo class on Mondays I am now attending no-gi class. My no-gi experience is fairly limited compared to my overall BJJ training history. I have ocassionally dabbled with it in the past but I did not like it very much because I felt like I was drowning in the sea with nothing to hold onto. Now that I have more BJJ experience I am finding I enjoy no-gi. It is forcing me to be quicker and tighter in the way I control and apply positions. I think in the long run I may even find that no-gi grappling suits me more than BJJ in the gi.

In gi class I am developing my guard to become less reliant on the gi: Instead of pulling on the sleeves and lapels to control I am now pushing and blocking my partner's head, shoulders and hips to escape my hips and create space. It is forcing me to use my arms less and use my hips and legs more which can only be a good thing in the long run. I always enjoyed attacking with gi chokes but now I am unable to grip to apply them I am relying more heavily on joint locks and trying to see them from all positions.

At first, I saw my injury as a handicap: It was a limiting factor that prevented me from playing my usual BJJ game. Now I see my injury as an opportunity for me to learn other ways of using my body. By shifting my focus from my short-term setbacks to my middle- and long-term development, I have rekindled my enthusiasm for BJJ. Although it may be difficult to see it at the time, sometimes injury can be a blessing.

BJJ Elbow, Part Three: Soft Tissue Release

The purpose of this post is to show the lay person a simple way to relieve tightness in the forearms, it is in no way intended to replace treatment by a qualified professional.

Soft Tissue Release (STR) is a form of manual therapy used to treat soft tissue, in this case muscle, fascia and tendon. Quite often tightness in soft tissue is not uniform and there will be specific areas of myofascia that are restricted or that may contain scar tissue and adhesions.

Traditional stretching methods normally involve movng the muscle insertion (where one end of the muscle attaches to bone) away from the muscle origin (where the other end of the muscle attaches to another bone). This will usually result in the less-restricted portions of the muscle stretching first with little effect on the restricted portion. By determining which parts of the muscle are tightest and 'locking' it with various tools (digits, forearms, elbows, massage tools) to create a false muscle origin before moving the insertion away from that false origin, it is possible to isolate the stretch to the portion of the muscle that needs it most.

To perform STR on the flexors of the wrist and fingers:

  • Determine which portions of the muscle are restricted. Such areas will normally seem tight during movement and will feel hard or 'grisly' to the touch.

  • Apply a 'lock' to the muscle just above the area of tightness. The lock should be applied obliquely at a 45° angle and all excess tissue should be moved away from the wrist. The effect of applying this pressure is to create a false muscle origin. (You may notice that I have applied the lock with my thumb, this is fine for me as I am accustomed to applying pressure through my thumbs. If your thumbs are weak or hyperextend please use a massage tool to avoid injury.)

  • Whilst maintaing the pressure of the lock, extend the wrist (bend it backwards) to apply the stretch. By locking the tissue to create a false muscle origin all the tissue below the lock will be stretched and the tissue above the lock will be uneffected. By performing STR it is possible to isolate the stretch to the tightest parts of the flexors. It is also possible to avoid aggravating the muscle tendons which are currently inflammed.

  • Repeat the process several times until the muscle feels 'stretched'

Please note that I have only demonstrated how to apply STR to the flexors because I have pain at the medial epicondyle. If your problem is elsewhere you can still use the same principles but you will need to adapt the technique accordingly.

Sunday 2 August 2009

BJJ Elbow, Part Two: Training the Extensors

To train my finger extensors (the opposing muscles to gripping) I will be using a set of 'Expand Your Hand Bands' purchased from Ironmind ( 'Expand Your Hand Bands' are a set of rubber bands designed specifically for training the finger extensors and can be used for prehab, rehab and active recovery. They come colour coded and graded in four strengths, from light to heavy, and the set should be suitable for most people.

To begin the exercise, place a band around your closed fingers:

To complete one rep, open your fingers against the resistance of the band:

It's no surprise to me that my finger extensors are weaker on my left side, the side on which I have been experiencing more tendinopathy. I will be doing 3 sets of 12 reps on most days as well as the other strategies I outlined in my previous post on the subject.

Half Guard: Getting Deep

My half guard has come on in leaps and bounds! It used to be one of my worst positions; if someone passed to my half guard I would suffer. I ended up flattened out with someone's shoulder pressing into my face. It was only a matter of time before I was passed.

These past six months or so I've been experimenting more with the X-guard and this has made me feel comfortable getting right underneath my opponent's centre of gravity. I've tried to apply this knowledge to the half guard. Now when someone passes to my half guard I don't let them control my head and neck, I stay on my side and I immediately go straight to the deep half guard. As well as feeling safe from the pass or submissions I also feel offensive from this position. I'm finding that I can consistently sweep people from the half guard now (something I've struggled with before).

Deep half guard seems to suit my body type as I tend to be smaller and more compact than the people I roll with and compete against so it's relatively easy for me to get into this position. I feel like this development has really opened up my game and I'm looking forward to trying more sweeps from the deep half guard.

BJJ Elbow

My elbow tendonitis has flared up again. It started a few months ago and I thought it was almost resolved but it is now back. My tendonitis is at the medial epicondyle (the little finger side) which is the common attachment site for the muscles that flex the fingers and wrist. These are the muscles that tend to get overworked when someone does a lot of gripping, which I tend to do in my work (Sport and Remedial Massage) and leisure time (BJJ, Judo and weights training).

To treat this I will:

  • Try to refrain from activities that aggravate my problem. This will be difficult unless I intend to give up BJJ and work! I will modify the techniques that I use in my work to try to mininise the amount of gripping I do.

  • Ice my elbows to reduce inflammation.
  • Strap my forearms before training and possibly for work. By strapping my forearm two or three centimetres below the elbow I will take some pressure off the common flexor tendon.
  • Receive soft tissue work on my wrist and finger flexors to reduce their tone.
  • Train my wrist and finger extensors (the muscles responsible for the opposite actions) to improve the balance of strength around the these joints.
Hopefully a combination of these methods will help me to manage and resolve this problem.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Sandbag Training

I've taken a few pictures of my training. Logistically it's not the easiest to take photos in my garage so I didn't take many.

The first picture is of a side-loaded squat. Compared to a bilaterally loaded squat I found it challenged the musculature of my torso as opposed to my legs.

The second picture is mid-point of a Turkish get-up. It is originally an exercise developed by Turkish wrestlers and involves getting to your feet from a supine position with a weight. Previously I have done this exercise holding a dumbbell overhead.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Women's Open Mat at Dartford MMA

I will be attending the Women's Open Mat at Dartford MMA on 12th July 2009. I'm looking forward to meeting and rolling with other BJJ women. It should be a great opportunity to train with so many other female BJJ players. Please contact Meg for more information


Following my previous post, I thought it would be useful to clarify what I intend to do for the 'regeneration' component of my planned training week, partly because it is an important part of a complete training programme and partly because it is an area of training that seems to be ignored by a number of BJJ fighters. By the term 'regeneration' I am referring to activities that improve the body's recovery from the rigours of exercise, assisting to restore the body to its pre-exercise state and improve soft tissue (particularly muscles, tendon and fascia) quality. In spending time on improving my body's ability to recover I can train harder, with greater frequency and a reduced risk of injury.

It's important for me to schedule regeneration into my weekly plan otherwise it's just so easy to overlook it: In dedicating a time slot for it, I make it an integral part of my training program. I tend to plan this area of my training somewhat instinctively, varying the type, frequency and quantity of work depending on how I feel. Below are some of the modalities I have found useful; it is by no means an exhaustive list and I am certainly not using all of these methods all the time.

  • Ice – Reduces inflammation and swelling of muscles and connective tissue; it has an analgesic (pain-killing) effect.
  • Heat – Relaxes muscles and is therefore useful if something feels tight or spasmed. Heat treatment should not to be used during the acute (early stages) of an injury as this may exacerbate the injury and prolong the recovery period.
  • Contrast – Can improve circulation to the muscles by pumping blood in and out of the muscle. If I want a full-body effect I will either use a contrast shower (alternating hot and cold water in the shower, always finishing with cold) or alternate use of a sauna with a cold shower. When I'm using it locally, I alternate heat and ice packs. As per heat treatment, should not be used locally on an injury in its acute stage.
  • Sauna/Steam Room – Relaxes muscles in a similar way to heat treatment. Can't say I use it too frequently as I tend not to like the experience much and I can't sit still in the heat for more than a few minutes.
  • Epsom Salt Bath – About 300g dissolved in a bath can help to relax muscles and reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.
  • Static Stretching – Restores length to tightened muscles and realigns it's fibres, improving flexibility and tissue quality.
  • Dynamic Stretching – Improves the active range of movement around a joint, improving mobility and joint function.
  • Self-Myofascial Release (Foam Rolling and similar) – SMR reduces tension in hypertonic muscles, increases the pliability of muscle and fascia, breaks down scar tissue and fibrotic tissue in the muscle and deactivates active trigger points, resulting in improved mobility, tissue quality and muscle function.
  • Sport and Remedial Massage – As this is what I do for a living, I am very keen on implementing it into my training programme. I usually have 1-3 treatments a month, depending on how I'm feeling. I will write a seperate post about this at a later date.

Friday 3 July 2009

Scandinavian Open 2009

The next major competition I intend to do will be the Scandinavian Open on the 17th and 18th October 2009. Prior to the British Open 2009 I didn't do any General Physical Preparation (strength and fitness training) work: I had spent most of the early part of 2009 nursing various injuries and so decided to focus exclusively on technical preparation in the run-up to the competition, partly to avoid being too rusty when I stepped on the mat and partly because I only expected to have one or two fights, given that there are so few female purple belts in the UK. I ended up having three fights on the day and I really felt that I wasn't fit enough to perform at my best. Leading up to the Scandinavians my plan will be:

Monday: Judo
Tuesday: GPP and BJJ
Wednesday: Regeneration/Prehab or Off
Thursday: Judo and BJJ
Friday: GPP and BJJ
Saturday: BJJ
Sunday: Regeneration/Prehab or Off

The GPP will be divided into three four-week mesocycles (medium-term periods of training) with one week deload (period of rest or relative inactivity) after each:

Mesocycle One: Accumulation Phase
Mesocycle Two: Intensification Phase
Mesocycle Three: Maintenance Phase

The Accumulation Phase will be targeted towards increasing my work capacity and strength-endurance. The Intensification Phase will involve increasing my limit strength and speed-strength, using a low volume of high-intensity weights and jump training. During the first two mesocycles I will aim to maintain my existing level of cardiovascular fitness; I would expect that rolling and randori will be sufficient to achieve this. The Maintenance Phase of my preparation will focus on energy systems (cardio) work, while the volume of strength training will be cut back to maintenance levels.

All that said, my primary emphasis over the next 15 weeks will be on Technical and Tactical Preparation (BJJ and Judo classes) and if I have the opportunity to do more technique training such as a private class or if I can arrange to drill/roll with someone outside of class, that will take precedence and I will drop a GPP session if it falls on the same day. When all's said and done, techical ability is the foundation of progress in BJJ; GPP is merely the icing on the cake.


My blue belt was defined by the word 'insist'. One of the most important things I learnt as a blue belt was that I had to always insist on positions, believe in them and execute them with a 'full heart'. If I'm going for a pass, keep pressuring until I've established it; if I'm going for a choke keep holding until my opponent taps. Never stop until the position has been conquered.

I was reminded of this recently while training Judo. We were told that during randori we need to go to throws with the intention of completing them. The way we spar in randori should be the way we will fight in competition: The body 'remembers' the throws and will perform them the same way in competition as in training. Once again, I was convinced of the importance of insisting: My stand up is nowhere near as good as my ground game and I find I hestitate when I'm going for a takedown, stopping halfway through the entry to a throw as if I don't believe in it and then turning out again. This has translated itself to be a problem for me at the last few competitions I've taken part in.

I am convinced that I should be able to integrate my judo training into my BJJ game, having seen other Jiu-Jitsu fighters implement Judo throws to great effect. While I'm still relatively inexperienced, I believe that a large part of the problem I have had using my Judo in BJJ competitions is psychological. My resolution for Judo, as it was for BJJ, is to insist; to believe in myself and never stop until I've put my opponent down.