Inverted Gear Blog / Shawna Rodgers
One of the first remarks I often hear whenever I roll with someone new is “Wow, you have such strong grips.” While I do have that annoying safety blanket habit of holding on to my grips for dear life, my grip strength is more than just sheer stubbornness.
Thanks to years of working on arm balances and inversions in yoga, my forearm strength and wrist flexibility has become a huge advantage in my jiu-jitsu game. Don’t worry though. You don’t need years of yoga for great grips. You just need to know the right tricks.
The same techniques used to prepare for handstands can be used to help with grip strength and wrist flexibility. Here are some of my favorites*:
1. Bear Claws
Nope, not bear crawls – bear claws. This movement may look deceivingly simple, but you’ll be surprised to find yourself checking the clock.
This takes the same basic concept used in egg beaters and uses deliberate rotation to strengthen the wrists and forearms.
- Begin by making a claw with your hand as if you’re grabbing a grapefruit.
- Make sure you’re keeping your fingers engaged and not being lazy with your grasp.
- Keeping your arms up and parallel to the ground, begin to rotate outwards, making sure to be moving from the wrist, keeping your arms as straight as possible.
- Continue for 1 full minute (or as long as you can go to start).
- Switch the rotation direction and continue for another 1 minute or more.
2. Flash Fingers
So, think spirit fingers… just kidding.
Flash fingers look even easier than bear claws, but you’ll be wanting to tap out in less than a minute if you do them properly.
I have such a love/hate relationship with this exercise. It’s a killer, but it is one of most effective ways to build stamina and strength for great grips.
- Begin with arms out straight, parallel to the ground, with your fists tightly clenched.
- Energetically open your hands as wide as possible, as if you’re flicking water off your hands.
- Quickly re-clench your fist, doing so tightly as if you’re squeezing.
- Repeat this motion for 1-3 minutes (or as long as possible).
- Don’t be lazy! This movement can get really hard, really fast, but don’t give up. Push yourself to make at least a full minute.
*This pose can make your forearms feel very tight. I suggest following up with the self-forearm massage described below.
3. Palm Down Wrist Stretches
- Begin on your hands and knees, table top pose/turtle position, with knees hip distance apart and shoulders stacked over the wrists to make sure the pressure is even.
- Start with palms down and flat, fingertips facing forward.
- Slowly begin to rotate your wrists so fingertips are facing out to the sides.
- Gently sway back and forth, alternating pressure between sides, only going as far as feels comfortable.
- If this feels okay, you can gradually rotate the wrists fully and bring the fingertips to face the knees.
- From here you can slowly begin to sit back, bringing the butt towards the heels, while trying to keep the palms flat.
4. Palm Up Wrist Stretches
This stretch has two variations depending on which you feel more comfortable trying.
Option 1: (This option is the safest to try if you know you have sensitive wrists as it lets you have full control of the pressure).
- Begin either standing or seated upright.
- Bring the tops of your hands to meet the sides of your ribs, below the armpits. Imagine you’re about to do the chicken dance.
- Palms facing outwards, you can begin to apply pressure by gently pushing in toward your body.
- You can bring your hands higher or lower, whichever gives you the best stretch through the tops of your hands, without being uncomfortable.
- Begin once again on your hands and knees, but this time sitting slightly back so your weight is more on your knees than your hands.
- Flip yours hands so that the tops of your hands are on the mat, and your palms are facing up with fingertips facing your knees.
- You can slowly begin to sit back, trying to keep the tops of your hands on the mat.
- Take this one slow, and only go as far as feels comfortable.
- Remember to keep your weight back toward your knees as to not put too much pressure on the hands.
5. Self-Forearm Massage
This technique feels great and has a fun little surprise reaction when done correctly.
This method is a great way to release tension in your forearms after trying the strengthening exercises above or after rolling some grip-heavy rounds.
- Begin in turtle once again on your hands and your knees.
- Bring one forearm flat to the mat, at a 90-degree angle and parallel to the top of the mat with your palm facing up.
- Slide your arm back, closer to the knees, but keep that parallel angle.
- Keeping your palm-up hand totally relaxed, take either your opposite knee or opposite elbow and begin to apply pressure to the forearm moving laterally. I prefer to use the knee myself, as I feel I’m able to apply more even pressure.
- If you’re doing this properly, your hand will start to embody Thing from The Adam’s Family and begin to open and close on its own. It’s a little creepy but also awesome.
- Continue this movement for as long as feels good, and repeat on both sides as needed.
As you dive deeper into using yoga to improve your jiu-jitsu, you might consider some other yoga poses that help wrist strength & flexibility:
Handstand, Downward Facing Dog, Dolphin Pose, Table Top, Chaturanga, Upward Facing Dog, Plank Pose, Side Plan, Crow Pose, High Cobra, and Low Cobra
For today, however, these exercises are a great place to start. Leave a note in the comments if you have any questions!
*Disclaimer: This instruction is provided for entertainment purposes only and does not represent nor is it meant to substitute for the advice of a medical professional or for the direction of an in-person coaching session. Please talk to a physician before beginning any new exercises.
When you think of places that hurt after a long day of training, hamstrings aren’t always the first to come to mind, but you should be aware of how tight hamstrings can affect the rest of your body. Having tight hamstrings can greatly contribute to knee and lower back pain as well as limit hip mobility, which can lead to discomfort and an increased risk of injury.
Visualize your hamstrings as rubber bands that run between the hip and the knee, which end up pulling and putting tension on the knees, hips, back, and rest of your body when they are overly tight. When you work to loosen the hamstrings, the effects can be felt widespread throughout the body and substantially improve your overall mobility.
For jiu-jitsu, having flexible hamstrings will help you to better retain guard, ease post-training pain, and even improve your posture on and off the mat. Get started with these two poses:
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
This may seem very straight forward, but trust me, touching your toes is actually important.
- Begin by standing upright, with your feet hip distance apart with a strong posture. Engage your core & lift through the pelvis while you draw your shoulders back to help create a straight spine.
- Bring your fingertips to your hip crease (where your thigh connects to your pelvis), palms against the hip bones
- Take a bend in the knees as you begin to hinge at the hips, folding over your hands, making sure to be only moving from the hips and not the back. Your back should be staying as straight as possible. You can draw your shoulders back to help you keep posture.
- Once you are comfortably able to lay your stomach on your thighs, you can release the hands to the floor and let your head hang forward.
- From here you can slowly begin to straighten the legs, keeping your back flat and lifting the pelvis and letting the crown of your head draw towards the floor.
- Only go as far as feels good. You should experience discomfort but not pain. Over time, you will be able to extend further and further.
If this pose is easy for you, try walking your hands behind your feet with your legs fully extended or try other variations of this pose by grabbing the big toes with your index and middle fingers and folding deeper, or place the hands under the feet palm up with your toes at the wrist crease.
Reaching behind your legs
Grabbing your big toes
Hands under feet
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Be aware of avoiding hyperextension. Lift through the kneecaps instead of locking them out.
- Make sure not to round the upper back and shoulders. If you find yourself rounding, just roll your shoulders up and back to realign your posture.
Half Split or Runners Stretch (Ardha Hanumanasana)
This pose reduces risk of injury to your lower back & hamstrings while improving your mobility through stretching the hamstrings, thighs, lower back, and groin.
- You can begin by stepping back from the forward fold position above or simply by starting in a lowered lunge with one knee up and one knee down. Note: feel free to put a pillow or folded blanket under the grounded knee if this position causes discomfort for your knees.
- Bringing your hands down to frame your front foot, slowly begin to draw your hips back and down while straightening your front leg out, bending your grounded knee. Make sure to keep your hips squared forward.
- From here, ground the heel on your front foot and flex your toes toward your face to deepen the stretch.
- If this either feels too easy or even slightly awkward, slowly move your front foot further forward until you find your sweet spot where it feels challenging without straining.
- Make sure to not round your spine toward your legs, and instead keep a strong flat back while reaching your chest forwards towards your toes. Note: If you are having trouble reaching your hands to the ground while keeping your spine straight, you can use blocks under your hands to help.
- If you would like to create some movement here, you can gently rock forwards and back from a crescent lunge (front leg bent, back leg lengthened) to this runner’s lunge.
If this is feeling pretty good, you can try to walk your hands either farther forward or back to play around with some different angles. You can also continue inching your feet farther apart eventually making your way to full split.
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Be aware of avoiding hyper-extension. Lift through the kneecaps instead of locking them out.
- Make sure not to round your upper back and shoulders. If you find yourself rounding, just roll the shoulders up & back to realign your posture.
- Make sure to square your hips forward and keep them in line
Always listen to your body first. Be aware of previous injuries and of your own limitations when attempting any stretches or movements. Discomfort is normal, but back off if you feel pain. Just as with jiu-jitsu, yoga is a different experience for everyone. Be sure to be mindful with your movements and take care of yourself.
Disclaimer: This article is for entertainment purposes only and does not replace the guidance of a medical expert or the in-person coaching of an expert instructor. Talk to your physician before beginning any new activities.