Mitigating Injury Risk

There are many ways a coach can mitigate injury risk during training sessions. By emphasizing the proper use of technique and skill injury risk will be minimized. Some gyms have a main emphasis only on performance, with strenuous training that eventually lead to accumulated stress and injuries (Wojtys 2010).

The BJJ athlete him/herself serves as the first level of injury prevention. The athlete should develop a high level of physical fitness and understanding or strategy and techniques before participating in hard rolls. The athlete should be able to recognize when he or she is at risk of injury and be willing to tap out before injury occurs. During training students should be taught to tap early and tap often in order to save their joints. Students should be taught not to outmuscle or endure submissions to prevent an opponent from “winning.” While some coaches will tell students to endure a guillotine or triangle until the the opponent fatigues, the damage to the vertebrae and discs are long lasting and heals slowly. Students should be taught not to try to endure submissions and just allow their opponents to “win” during training sessions.

Another way a coach can help mitigate injuries is by enforcing the use of weight classes during training classes. Students have a higher likelihood of getting injured when rolling with a heavier opponent. This is due to overexertion of muscles and joints, and due to supporting an opponent’s weight. When students must be paired with heavier opponents, the lighter practitioner should keep in a top position in order to reduce stress and strain.

Practitioners must often perform maneuvers that require motor coordination, strength, and flexibility simultaneously while under load and in an unstable position. By incorporating a strength and conditioning program, risk of injury can be mitigated during training and competition. By increasing the athlete’s flexibility, strength, and endurance we can increase the body’s resilience to injury. Injury prevention should be a part of every practitioner’s training program.

Strength and Conditioning

Students must train their strength, joint flexibility, stability, power, and endurance. By enhancing their muscular strength, students will make the muscles around their joints stronger to provide stabilization for joint, eliminating unwanted movement. Strength training will also increase bone strength and reduce incidence of bone stress fractures. Strength training will also increase the strength of the tendons and ligaments. By increasing their full range of motion and joint flexibility students will decrease their susceptibility to injury. Stability training can be incorporated into a warm up routine in order to reduce the injury risk. By training power, students will be able to withstand the strain caused by explosive movements. Endurance training will reduce injury risk by preventing fatigue related injuries. All these attributes can be trained with a proper strength and conditioning routine.

Injury Analysis

By participating in sports one must acknowledge that injuries are always a risk. NCAA sports average an injury rate of 14.5 per 1,000 athletic exposures (AEs )across 15 sports, ranging from a low of 1.9 injuries per 1,000 AEs (men’s baseball)  to a high of 35.9 injuries per 1,000 AEs (football). (Hootman et al.). BJJ in contrast has an injury rate ranging from 9.2 per 1000 AEs (Scroggin et al, 2014) to 24.9 per 1000 AEs (Kreiswirth et al, 2014). These data would indicate that BJJ is no more prone of injury than other sports routinely played at the college level. Among the various competitive martial arts, BJJ has a lower rate of injury per AE than judo, tae kwon do, wrestling, and MMA. This is mainly due to the ruleset of BJJ disallowing strikes, reducing the risk of lacerations and head trauma. Since BJJ is primarily focused on ground combat, it also has a lower injury rate than other grappling sports due to the decreased rate of being thrown. The risk for injury is also lower due to the ability of a competitor to “tap out” surrendering the match and stopping

However, injuries do occur in BJJ tournaments. The most common injuries that occur during competition are musculoskeletal, followed by rib injuries, lacerations, and cervical strain.The most common musculoskeletal injuries were elbow injuries due to attacks on the arm such as armbars and kimuras which cause powerful direction hyperextension force to the elbow and kimuras which create excess internal rotation of the shoulder and elbow. These attacks cause LCL and MCL sprains, elbow dislocation, tenderness, and  anterior sprains. Knee injuries also occurred due to direct pressure, overexertion during guard passing and sweeping, and impacts during takedowns. These injuries consist of mcl, lcl, acl sprains, and meniscus tears.

Although the incidences of injury during tournament competition is low, athletes spend a small fraction of their athletic life performing in competition, and will spend hundreds of hours in training practice per tournament. Due to this, 79% of injuries occur during training (Del Vicchio et al 2016). The accumulated hours of training can result in chronic injuries such as low back pain and tendinitis. Some injuries are “freak accidents” are caused by unforeseen circumstances. These injuries are considered non preventable injuries due to the inability to protect against them. Some of these injuries are due to the inherent techniques that are purposely used to attack joints and due to overexertion and strain of joints during movements. (Scoggin et al 2014). Some injuries that occur due in BJJ develop over time due to the style adopted by the athlete, whether to athlete adopts a guard passing or guard playing style. By adopting a certain style and repeatedly performing the same movements with less variation an athlete will develop muscular imbalances and joint injuries due to stress. Guard players often load their knees and hips in order to withstand an opponent’s movements during guard passing, placing much stress and strain on their lower body joints. Guard passing players experience greater stress on their shoulders and elbows due to the greater chances of being caught in armbars and other submissions. (DelVicchio et al 2016)

Strength Training

            Strength is an essential part of BJJ. Strength is required to advance positions, stabilize positions, and execute maneuvers. Many difficulties found in performance will be due to lack of strength, an athlete may know the correct mechanics of a movement, but if they lack strength, no amount of discussion will allow them to complete the movement. Practitioners require both concentric and isometric strength. BJJ requires concentric force in order to push and pull opponents and isometric strength is required in order to hold positions and resist opponent’s force. A good BJJ strength program will incorporate both concentric and isometric strength. Strength can be increased through strength training. By utilizing the SAID (specific adaptation to imposed demands) principle, we can progressively and gradually increase the stress placed on muscles to increase strength gains. The strength and conditioning session can be structured through the amount of sets and reps in order to achieve increases in strength, power, or endurance. The basic exercises that should be incorporated into an athlete’s exercise program are:

  1. Push (lower and upper body): Practitioners must push their opponents away with both their upper body and lower limbs.
    1. Upper body: Pushups, bench press, overhead press
    1. Lower body: Squats, bridges, lunges
  2. Pull (lower and upper body): Practitioners must pull their opponents towards them with both their upper and lower limbs.
    1. Upper body: Pull-ups, back rows
    1. Lower body: Deadlifts
  3. Core: Practitioners must have a strong core in order to withstand the push and pull of the opponent. The ability to retain a rigid posture is important in many situations in BJJ. If posture is broken, the athlete will be at the mercy of their opponent’s attacks. I
    1. Planks, side plank
  4. Plyometrics: Plyometrics must be incorporated in order to give students explosive strength. This will help the student utilize takedowns and escapes from positions. Plyometric exercises will also help with balance and power.
    1. Squat jump, split jumps, box jumps, medicine ball slams, medicine ball throws

We can combine all the previous movements in order to create a strength and conditioning program that can target all the needs of the athlete. The following tables are example templates of three programs that can be used to target the athlete’s endurance, strength, and power. Since the athlete should spend their time doing technical tactical training in class, the strength and conditioning template only consists of two days per week.

Biomechanics of BJJ 8: Hierarchy of Positions


The following positions are ordered from the best possible location to be in to the worst possible position to be in. It should be recognized that the best positions are good because they allow one to take advantage of gravity and provide the option of being mobile or stable. Bad positions are disadvantaged by gravity and one must expend energy in order to gain mobility. Note that the neutral positions can be advantageous for either the top or bottom player based on the amount of mobility and stability each has.


Top rear-mount
Top mount
Top side-mount
Top half-guard

These positions are advantageous because they allow the elimination of an opponent’s mobility. By putting more mass on the opponent’s body parts they become more stable and less mobile so they will be unable to escape or reverse the position.


Open guard
Closed guard

The objective for the player in the top position is to pass the guard, while the player in the bottom position must either sweep or submit the other person. Some guards (closed guard, spider guard, traditional half-guard) are used to lock down the opponent’s movements, taking away their mobility. Other guards such as butterfly, de la riva, x-guard, and deep-half maximize take advantage of creating an unstable opponent in order to gain sweeps. The top player can pass by eliminating the bottom player’s mobility or by using their own mobility in order to pass the guard.


Bottom half-guard
Bottom side-mounted
Bottom mounted
Bottom rear-mounted

These positions require the practitioner to carry the weight of the top player. The bottom player will be forced to expend energy in order to prevent the top players advancement and submissions while at the same time trying to escape to a more favorable position, most likely a guard position.

Fighter Pull-up Program

This program is to be done at the end of each training session. The program is taken from Pavel Tsatsouline .

The 3RM Fighter Pull-up Program

Day 1     3, 2, 1, 1
Day 2     3, 2, 1, 1
Day 3     3, 2, 2, 1
Day 4     3, 3, 2, 1
Day 5     4, 3, 2, 1
Day 6     Off
Day 7     4, 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 8     4, 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 9     4, 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 10   4, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 11    5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 12    Off

Once you can do 5 pullups in a row (Day 11) switch to the 5RM program

The 5RM Fighter Pull-up Program

Day 1     5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 2     5, 4, 3, 2, 2
Day 3     5, 4, 3, 3, 2
Day 4     5, 4, 4, 3, 2
Day 5     5, 5, 4, 3, 2
Day 6     Off
Day 7     6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Day 8     6, 5, 4, 3, 3
Day 9     6, 5, 4, 4, 3
Day 10    6, 5, 5, 4, 3
Day 11    6, 6, 5, 4, 3
Day 12    Off
Day 13    7, 6, 5, 4, 3
Day 14    7, 6, 5, 4, 4
Day 15    7, 6, 5, 5, 4
Day 16    7, 6, 6, 5, 4
Day 17    7, 7, 6, 5, 4
Day 18    Off
Day 19    8, 7, 6, 5, 4
Day 20    8, 7, 6, 5, 5
Day 21    8, 7, 6, 6, 5
Day 22    8, 7, 7, 6, 5
Day 23    8, 8, 7, 6, 5
Day 24    Off
Day 25    9, 8, 7, 6, 5
Day 26    9, 8, 7, 6, 6
Day 27    9, 8, 7, 7, 6
Day 28    9, 8, 8, 7, 6
Day 29    9, 9, 8, 7, 6
Day 30    Off

Motor Control for BJJ 8: Assessing Learning

BJJ is a unique martial art due to the testing of abilities being an inherent part of the martial art. Tests occur every training session during live rolling. Love rolling serves as both a form of practice and also as a skill retention test. Many students will also take part in tournaments where they will test their abilities against opponents of similar skill level (belt color).

The student’s knowledge of a technique can be tested by their execution of the technique on a passive partner, then during a live rolling situation, and then finally with execution of the technique during a competition setting. The skill level of an individual can be easily assessed by their performance in these setting. However, sometimes it will be useful for you to test a student on a specific technique.

A retention test is a test used to assess how much learning a student has for a very specific situation. While a student may be able to perform a scissor sweep during practice after being shown the technique, it will be harder for the student to perform the same sweep after a period of no instruction. A instructor can test how well a student has retained a technique by asking them to perform the same technique after a period without instruction. One way to do this is to teach a new technique every day and have students drill the technique during the day. Then after a week or several weeks, test the student by having them perform said technique without prior instruction. A student who can perform the technique after a long period of not using the technique will have “learned” the technique.

A retention test can be used to assess the learning of a single maneuver.  While this is useful for lower belts, the utility of this type of test is limited and fails to provide valuable insight for more experienced practitioners. The reason should be obvious – a retention test is limited to a single maneuver done at a single time. BJJ is a dynamic sport in which both practitioners possess agency. The sport is controlled chaos, and a practitioner will never be in the perfect position to execute a technique unless they force the position. This leads us to the use of a transfer test:

Transfer test is a test used to assess how well a learned technique can be applied in different situations. The most basic transfer test we can use is having the practitioner perform the technique against different opponents. We can test a skill during different levels of aggression of the opponent. For instance, while trying to perform a scissor sweep, we can have the opponent resist the sweep only, or resist the sweep and try to pass. The ultimate transfer test for our advanced practitioner is to have them try to perform a technique during live training.

Motor Control for BJJ 8: Feedback

Feedback is another common and important tool to help students learn. Many instructors use feedback during class portions on a daily basis. Belt stripes and colors are also given as a form of feedback as well, once you find one person has advanced their skill level sufficiently you award them stripes.

Feedback should be provided to increase a student’s intrinsic awareness of their own movements. A new student will probably lack the kinesthetic awareness to move their bodies in the correct way and since they will not be able to visually inspect their movements, you will have to provide feedback in order to correct their movements. Since a beginner lacks awareness, feedback given to them must inform them of their error pattern and also must provide information about what to do on future attempts. Beginning students must be told “what to do” and “how to do it” in order to improve. For more advanced students, you will only need to provide information about the movement error because they will be able to self-correct.  Feedback should be given to increase the student’s subjective analysis of their movement.

Two qualities of feedback that matter – quality and quantity. Feedback can be detrimental if the instructor gives incorrect feedback such as providing the wrong movement fix or telling the student they did a technique correctly when they did it incorrectly, or if the feedback requires the student to focus on their body. Feedback is best when it is focused on movement effects instead of movements themselves (Push off the floor explosively vs explode through your hips). Feedback can be detrimental if it is provided too often because students can become over reliant on it.

Motor Control for BJJ 7: Drilling

Drilling is an important aspect of learning for a new student. The purpose of drills is to have an athlete create an automatic response to moves and setups commonly seen during live rolls or competitions. Due to a beginner’s lack of experience and ability to control the pace and positions during a roll, a beginner will rarely be able to implement techniques they have learned during the rolling portion of class. Drilling is an easy way to to increase the amount of physical practice of techniques and maneuvers, and thus learning.  The following are important factors to consider when introducing drills to a class:
⦁ Drills should be practical and relevant to the real situation
⦁ Drills should possess variability
⦁ Start with simpler techniques before advancing to the “real thing”
⦁ Techniques in drills should be sequential in nature to help develop the concept of flowing
⦁ Drills can be used for conditioning as well as learning techniques

The first point of practicality and relevance may seem intuitive, but many instructors fail to implement this. All drills should be within the realms of practicality and relevance to the real situation. Some instructors may use drills that seemingly help improve some aspect of BJJ but may actually be detrimental to the student’s learning. For example, some instructors may use a game such as shooting single leg takedowns where the goal is to just touch the training partner’s knees. While this is an easy drill, it does not allow the student to develop a deep shot which will impair the student. All drills should try to replicate the technique or maneuver in a realistic scenario. Practicing a drill on a partner that provides no resistance will not allow the student to learn how to perform the technique on someone who is resisting.

To maximize the learning a student receives during during drilling, variability must be introduced to their training.  The simplest way to add variability is by having students perform several different techniques during a drilling session, such as drilling armbars, triangles, and omoplatas. Variability can also be introduced by changing the starting position for a single technique – for example if you are drilling armbars, you can add variability by drilling armbars from three different positions: mount, guard, or side control. Variability can also be added by changing the tempo of techniques, the training partner’s body size, or the amount of resistance a training partner provides. By increasing the amount of variability encountered during drilling, the student will increase their performance in the long term. One thing to look out for is that students may make more mistakes during a drilling session with increased variability, but these mistakes are important in that students will learn from the performance errors. It is important to understand that there is a difference between performing well during drilling and having better performance during live rolls. High variability may make students perform worse during drills, but will have them perform better during live training. Performance errors allow students to learn from their mistakes.

Many beginners will have great difficulty performing a technique during drills. In order to rectify this, we can drill simpler component techniques and advance until the student can perform the real technique. For instance, one of the first techniques a student will learn will be to escape from mount with a hip bump. This technique is simple, yet very difficult for beginning students to perform properly. We can break this technique down in the following way:
⦁ Practice the basic movement by alone: practicing hip thrusts/bridges.
⦁ Practice the technique with partner who is not resisting: the opponent is only placing their body weight on the practitioner when they bridge.
⦁ Practice the technique with a resisting partner: the partner is actively resisting the student’s technique by shifting their body weight
a. Note that the resistance provided by the partner can change in intensity from a very low amount of resistance to a very high amount
⦁ Practice the technique with a partner who is trying to accomplish their own goal: have the student attempt to escape while the partner is resisting and attacking.  

Another important aspect of drilling is to connect different techniques in a sequential manner so that the student can move from one technique to another immediately. Instead of having a student drill one technique repeatedly, we can have the student drill a series of techniques. This can be as simple as having our student perform the hip bump escape from mount, followed immediately by a guard pass, and then to a mount. By drilling sequentially we will have the student advance positions and chain techniques. Another way we can chain techniques in this manner is to have several techniques link together. For example, if we are teaching a guard pass we can teach three different techniques for passing guard and have the student shuffle between the three techniques while the training partner is actively preventing the guard pass. The student will first try to implement the first pass and when it is prevented they can shift to their second pass and then to their third pass when that is prevented. This type of drilling will emphasize the continuity of BJJ.

Drills can be used for conditioning as well as learning techniques

While the main purpose of drills should be to help students increase their learning of techniques, drills are also useful as a conditioning device. This concept will be elaborate in the strength and conditioning portion of this handbook.

Motor Control for BJJ 6: Physical Practice

Practice will refer to the physical practice a student will engage in during class. This includes practicing during instruction, drilling, or live rolling. No matter what kind of practice, the goal is to have a student be able to perform better in the future. As the instructor, your most powerful tool to improving your students’ performance in the future is through the design and implementation of physical practice. It should be noted that no matter how you structure your students’ practice, the most important aspect for their learning is their own volition and desire to learn. Many students approach training as a workout, however it should be instilled in them that training is a practice. They should be instructed to treat practice with the intent, purpose, and focus of improving their skills and to understand that a harder workout will not necessarily improve their BJJ.

Physical practice during instruction: When practicing a new technique, it is best to implement a part-practice method due to the complexity of skills and the variability of a moving opponent. When showcasing a technique, you should demonstrate the technique as a whole several times, and then break the technique down into several component parts. The student will then engage in physical practice by practicing the component parts until the parts have been sufficiently learned. This process would involve the students executing the first part of the move, followed by the second part of the move, and so on until the entire move is completed. This also allows for the coach to check on each member of the class during all phases of a technique. Many BJJ maneuvers can be executed in different ways, however every maneuver possesses certain basic principles that need to be met. By practicing moves in this way, a student will be able to learn the proper execution of basic principles and improve the chance for success in live situations.

Motor Control for BJJ 5: Optimizing Instruction

Many gyms structure their instructional portion in the following way: There will be a 30-60 minute block of instruction in which the coach will explain a technique and then have the student practice the technique for a set amount of reps or time, followed by another technique and another length of practice. Oftentimes, the amount of talking is greater than the time of physical practice.

Most beginners rely on the instruction portion of BJJ class as their primary mode of learning. This is due to their lack of knowledge of objectives and techniques, and their need to have these aspects verbally and visually explained to them. Because of this, most BJJ instructors rely on demonstrations of technique and verbal instructions as the primary method of teaching a skill. One area of instruction that is over emphasized is the verbal instructions. Many instructors will spend a significant amount of time explaining the movement related to a technique, as much time or more than is spent actually drilling or practicing the technique.  For example, a viewing of any BJJ instructional video will show the instructor verbally describing their movements as they perform the movements. While this may seem like a good way to impart knowledge of a technique to a student due to the belief that more information is better, we have all seen BJJ players who:

1. Perform expertly without being able to explain the details of their performance.
2. Explain the details in depth without being able to perform the technique live.

Many instructors will spend the majority of valuable class time explaining a technique.  While students may pick up information during these instructional portions, a student will not develop and reinforce the correct motor programs without physically performing the technique and movements. Students should spend the majority of time in class performing and reinforcing movements as opposed to lengthy sections of the instructor speaking.

It is the coach’s duty to say the least amount while conveying the most information.

Coaches should not verbally instruct portions of a technique that can be readily observed by a student, such as gross movements and placement of limbs. Verbal instructions on where to grip can be readily observed and do not need to be restated. Verbal instructions should point out things that are hard to observe or cannot be observed visually at all – such as where weight is distributed, where center of gravity lies, or what base of support is being pushed off of.

Verbal instruction should also be used in order to reinforce the most important aspects of a technique – for example while using smash passes one must control the hips, during demonstration of a smash pass the instructor should reinforce the idea of controlling the hips through verbal instructions. In order to develop a strong side control one must have control over the opponent’s shoulders, so instructors should make it a point to reinforce the idea of controlling the shoulders verbally.  Verbal instructions can also be used to emphasize the parameters of the action – how fast or how much force should be applied. Instructors should also present techniques from different angles in order for students to achieve a full visual inspection of techniques. Students should be encouraged to constantly walk around during instruction in order to view the technique at as many angles as possible.

The amount of techniques and maneuvers presented to students during each training session should also be limited as to not overload students’ with information. While it may be tempting to teach students ten moves in a day in order to prove you have a wealth of knowledge, it is better to introduce three to five techniques and concepts during each session in order to present a manageable amount of information. The instructor should be careful in structuring the techniques presented in order to have all techniques reinforce a concept or have all techniques relate to each other in sequence.

Verbal instructions should refer to the movement effects as opposed to the movements themselves. For example, when teaching the elbow push escape from side-control, verbal instructions should focus on pushing the opponent’s arm across, rather than focusing on the extension of the learner’s arm – “push your opponent’s arm across his body” as opposed to “extend your arm as far as possible”.

The instruction portion should act as a supplement to practice. A common complaint among instructors is that students try to accumulate techniques by watching videos online, but fail to implement the techniques into their games due to a lack of physical practice.