Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is known as the gentle art, although some of the people I’ve trained with have had quite a few laughs while joking around with this saying. Usually after training you’ll have days where you feel sore and need a few days off. For me, I’ve had these days and worse. I’ve had injuries, such a disc herniations in my neck, but is BJJ bad for your neck?
Jiu Jitsu will pose risks to the neck, because in this sport you will find yourself having to defend against chokes, neck cranks, and sprawls where people lay their bodyweight onto your upper body including your neck. In order to keep your neck safe you will need to incorporate healthy habits into your training regime. These include stretching, strengthening the neck, and practicing good neck defense habits.
By following the recommended training tips in this article, you will develop healthy habits that will protect your neck and help prevent neck injuries during training. Many people who instantly assume BJJ is bad for the neck or ask “Is BJJ bad for the neck?”, are not aware of safe training habits. Train safely and you can greatly improve your chances at avoiding injury. Lets go over the ways I recommend to stay safe during Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training.
Study and Practice Neck Defense Techniques
I believe from the beginning of your journey in BJJ you should focus on technique and defense. Do not try to tap people out early in your career. If you have trained BJJ for a while, you’ll already know this or have heard this. While studying defense I suggest studying ways to defend against neck attacks, such as guillotines, rear naked chokes, and any other chokes.
Some techniques will include hand positioning when you are caught in turtle position for example, or even when you know your neck is about to be attacked. Others include tucking of the chin so your opponent cannot wrap their arm around your neck, your chin will block them. But the tucking of the chin does have an issue we will talk about next, and is why you need to learn various defense techniques to protect your neck. Many who wonder “Is BJJ bad for your neck?” do not perform these techniques or have not sharpened them.
Do Not Let Your Neck Get Cranked
Going off the first tip, I mentioned you should tuck your chin to protect your neck when it is getting attacked. There is one issue with this, some people, especially new practitioners, will try to brute force their way to making you tap. Meaning, they will try to crank the choke, or crank your neck. They will use brute force to tighten the choke, even if their arm is being blocked by your chin, this will feel like your jaw is about to get broken in some cases and against some people who are very strong.
There are also situations where people will have the choke on you incorrectly, you wont feel the effect of a choke and therefor you will not tap. They will proceed to then tighten the choke and crank your neck, their hope is that you will become so uncomfortable that you will tap. I was stubborn when first starting and didn’t tap to this, the problem is, after you have had people do this to you a lot of times, your neck can become very damaged. In my case I had gotten my herniated discs in my neck from having this happen too much.
My main recommendation is to tap from this, because this position will damage your neck, in many cases if someone cranks too much, you will hear cracks and pops in your neck, tap immediately or tap before this happens. Is BJJ bad for your neck? Yes it is, if you ignore this important rule, keep your ego off the mats. Please do not let your ego take over because you will end up with a lifelong injury.
Be Careful in Turtle Position & When Sprawled On
For those who do not know, getting sprawled on is a defense technique for when someone tries to take you down. For example, if someone tried to single leg me or double leg me, I will sprawl by shooting my legs back and my hips down to the ground. My upper body weight will be fully pressed onto my opponent driving them down to the ground. As for turtle position, this is a position someone can end up in when defending against attacks, its a position used to close any openings that someone can take advantage of. I suggest looking up both of these techniques/positions.
My main tip in this positions is to defend your neck, always keep a hand defending against the side of your neck that your opponent is trying to target, do not let anyone wrap their arm around your neck because if they do a front headlock, they can stand up and hip out, thus lifting you up and cranking your neck hard. If you’re wondering “Is BJJ bad for your neck?” situations like this will make it very bad, you need to defend against all of these positions, which is why I am giving you all these tips and advices on what to look out for.
This seems obvious, but lets be honest, anyone who has trained has had a moment where they didn’t want to tap and wanted to fight out of a position. I suggest if you’re new, tap early, no matter what. Your main priority when starting out is to learn and stay on the mats. Stay safe so you can train consistently, because if you get injured, you wont be able to train for a few days or sometimes a few weeks, and sometimes worse. When you’re new to BJJ you will be tapped very often, almost all the time. Expect to tap out at least 30 times per class minimum if you’re rolling with others.
Choose Training Partners Wisely
Please do not train with the big guy who likes to train roughly on every roll with every person. If you’re the smallest guy in the room, choose good training partners, get to know everyone you can and select only the people who will train safely with you and help you work technique. Do not think of this as a fight, it is training to better yourself. Your main goal is to learn technique and master the basics, later on you will begin to naturally tap people out because your techniques will become sharpened.
Too often would I roll with people who enjoy what we call “spazzing out” during training and too often would I react off their energy and it would turn into a semi real fight almost, this is not something you ever want to do. If you’re wondering “Is BJJ bad for your neck?”, it is definitely bad if you train this way, leave the ego at the door. Work on technique every single day, screw trying to win fights in the gym, you’ll do that in competition when the time comes. Work technique, stay safe, and most importantly stay on the mats injury free.
Stretch Before and After Practice
This is extremely underrated and many people, including myself did not do this enough. I know many of us are extremely busy, but I highly suggest stretching before and after practice. If you can’t do it before, at least make sure you make some time to stretch after, I recommend doing it immediately after, but if you are busy I suggest doing it at least sometime that same day or night. Stretching every day will prevent your muscles from tightening up, improve the blood flow, and help your recovery.
I once asked my coach “Why am I always so sore?” and he responded jokingly but still being serious “Look at what we do. We are literally getting hit by trucks every single day”. This might be called the gentle art, but it can be very brutal, it is a combat sport after all. I suggest you stretch every day to help keep your body in good condition and stay healthy.
One major reason I recommend stretching often is because it will improve your flexibility. I am naturally flexible and this has saved me in so many situations where I should have either broken something or gotten injured. One thing my coach did say is “Although I am flexible, I try not to rely on my flexibility because it gives a false sense of safety. Often putting yourself in those situations which require flexibility to save you can leave you will a horrible injury.” This is why I recommend following all the tips and techniques I have mentioned over anything else. Flexibility will just be the icing on the cake when it comes to safety.
This is a great neck stretching article I recommend everyone check out!
One thing that stuck with me for the longest, was something that was said to me by my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach, and I’ve repeated it multiple times in this article. “Train safely and make sure, no matter what, stay on the mats. Try to stay injury free so you can consistently train everyday”. Training everyday is the most important thing, you will get much better than anyone who isn’t training consistently every day because while they are injured due to training with bad habits, you have been keeping yourself safe, tapping early, and protecting yourself. That is my most important advice, train safe so you can train consistently.
Check out our neck stretching and exercise articles!
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