Martial Arts Practice, Postures & Pain

Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling enthusiast, Ken Primola, posed a question on Facebook the other day. The way I understood it was he was trying to get input on the relationship between the practice of the sport, posture and pain. It inspired this post, so if you like this, thank Ken.

Practice, Posture & Pain
What is the relationship between practice, posture and pain?
As a fitness educator, I deal with this in quite a bit of depth.
Let me see if I can give you the short version here.

A Limited Set of Movements
In THE MOVEMENT’s BioMechanics Level 2 course, we use a Mel Siff inspired definition of sports,
“A limited set of movements…”

Wrestling and BJJ, like all sports, are limited sets of movements…
and that means wrestlers and BJJ players practice of limited sets of movements. There’s good and bad to that.

The good is that they generally get better at that they practice. So what’s the bad? Keep reading.

An Average of Movements
Walk onto any BJJ mat and I’ll bet you can pick out who are the top players and who are the bottom players. My teacher, Carlos Machado, is a bottom player, and it shows. His brother, Rigan, is more of a top player, and it shows, too. Bottom Playing involves a lot of flexion while top playing involves more extension.

In the beginning of a movement practice, we make our movement. Over time, our movements make us. As we say in fitness, “Form follows function.” And so, posture can be thought of as the average of all of our movements.

Carlos flexes a lot so his posture is stooped. Rigan extends a lot so his posture is tall. And that difference can make all of the difference.

A Lack of Movement
In BioMechanics Level 3, we examine the nature of pain. Just as pain is correlated to injury and damage, it is also correlated to lack of function. So someone, can have no injury, no damage, but if they lack movements, they may very well have pain…and that is where sports practice can do the most harm.

Muscle Memory Brain Body
When people look at how sports practice changes the body, they often focus more so on how it changes the brain, but they use the strangest term, “muscle memory.” Practice does, in fact, change the brain. What once took a lot of “brain power,” now takes very little. While memory may be consolidated, it is the “muscle” portion of the equation that athletes should pay a bit more attention to.

When I refer to “muscle,” consider that a gross generalization. It would be better to think of it as the rest of the body (other than the brain). Just as practice changes the brain, practice changes the rest of the body. This is intuitive for most of us because we have seen the effects weights has on the body, especially the bodies of bodybuilders. But the resistances we encounter as grapplers are just as substantial.

They are so substantial that they change everything. It makes Carlos stooped and Rigan tall. But understand the consequences…it makes it harder for Carlos to be tall and Rigan to be stooped. The practice of movement in one direction makes it harder to move in other directions. And a lack of movement in one direction starts us on the path towards pain.

So what can we, as both top and bottom players, do to stay off the path to pain? Practice less BJJ? Nope, but I’ve already given you a hint.

S&C & Specificity
On a whole, strength and conditioning for Martial Arts is bastardization of specificity. On one end, you’ll see Martial Movements being trained as exercise (with numerous studies demonstrating clear contraindications) and on the other end, you’ll see conditioning, aka energy system training, trying to mimic a specific physiological state with movements non-specific to the sport.

What if Strength & Conditioning weren’t about specificity at all?
What if the key to longevity in a sport has nothing to do with the sport?
That is exactly what we’ve found.

Cross Training
This approach has been been presaged by the practice of Cross Training which UFC champ, GSP, has made so popular (without calling it that). I think that’s better than the solitary practice of any one thing, but that doesn’t mean there is a better way.

With everyone, even professional Martial Artists (athletes), the limiting factor is time. These athletes can only do as much as they can recover from…they have to recover from a lot…including S&C. But S&C doesn’t have to be something to recover from…it can be a method to recover with.

Recovery is one of those nebulous terms that remains unquestioned. No longer. In recovery, what exactly are we recovering? If sports practice depletes us, what does recovery recover?

While we could approach this from a physiological perspective and talk about energy reserves, nutrition and sleep, that’s been done quite a bit. I think the far more important perspective is the anatomical one.

Many athletes favorite recovery methods include the manual interventions of physical therapy, chiropractic, massage and stretching so that therapists can move them in ways they aren’t moving…But there is another way to recover movement.

S&C as PT
Let’s review:
Practicing Martial Arts not only helps us get better at Martial Movement but limits our non-martial movements.
This shows up in everything, most evidently in our posture.
Pain can occur not only with injury but also with the precursor: a loss of function.

So how can we stave off the negative effects, the negative transfer of specific practice? How can we regain function?

Generalize your practice. Practice those movements that you aren’t doing in the dojo. The Yang of Specificity requires the Yin of Non-Specificity.

And there is a place tailor made for it: the gym. ┬áThe gym is not only a place to tear one’s self down, it can also be a place to build one’s self up.

At BioMechanics Level 2, we teach our coaches to tailor S&C programs specifically for their athletes’ bodies that address movements not trained in sport. Guess what happens?

Pain goes down.
Body composition improves.
Sports Performance improves.

And you can do the same for yourself.
I’ve developed a S&C program for all combat athletes called THE MASTERPLAN. It’s unlike any other Martial Arts S&C program you’ve seen. Click here now to find out more.