Keeping Your Hands Healthy For BJJ

Grip strength is a telling tale of who has paid their dues on the mat. Grip breaks and setting good grips will give you positioning, strength, and possibly injured fingers. When you are working grips, grip breaks, and grip strength you should always be taking precautions to keep your fingers healthy. But what can you do when popping a digit seems so inevitable?

The answer to this question is more than a simple one. It requires time before and after training, along with preemptive attempts so you can stay healthy and training.

Warming up isn’t just for your legs, arms, and core. Making sure you are fully warmed up before jumping into training is a necessary task even for your fingers. This doesn’t mean you need to be stretching your fingers for twenty minutes before class, but doing something is much better than nothing when it comes to the tendons in your fingers.

Getting An Iron Grip For BJJ

When I’m hitting my usual warm up routine I like to throw in a couple sets of pull ups. After running, or some other dynamic movement to get my blood pumping, a short strength workout makes sure I’m warm and ready to work.  Pull ups are a great way to rev up your back, arms, and hands for a minute. They will ensure your grips have gotten at least a bit of time to get ready for the following training session, and will work on the strength of your tendons in the long run.

When I’m getting ready for some stand up in the gi (or even Judo techniques), I get a partner to start off doing some grip breaks with me. Having them do a round of slowly increased yanks on my grip helps me get warm and ready for the more serious grip breaks that are soon to come. This means keeping my grip strong while they slowly try harder and harder to break it. Don’t let yourself fight until you literally can’t stop the break, at least for the first round of breaks.  This activity is meant to warm up your grips, not work them out completely.

After warming up well, you should keep the idea of staying safe in the back of your mind. This is obviously the case for training all around, but people can easily leave their fingers out of the equation resulting in injuries. Like with tapping to a submission, getting your grip broken can be about knowing your limits. If your grip is doomed to be broken by your partner’s foot, or the power of their leg, fighting to keep the grip is understandable, just don’t make it a choice of getting kicked off and popping a finger. The reason for training is not having to fight to win, but fight to learn. Just accept that they won the battle of breaking your grips, and learn to stop them from getting that position next time.

Following IBJJF rules, you should always keep your fingers out of your opponent’s sleeves and pants. The point of this rule is to protect your fingers, not your opponent’s guard game. It might be a supplement to your grip strength to get deep inside the gi, but it takes one invert or sideways yank to snap your fingers like a lightly ripened banana. I have noticed lately in IBJJF tournaments that the ref’s are allowing the use of grips inside the gi pants at the belt line. I feel that this oversight of the rules will be changed when enough people are injured using such a grip. At any rate, don’t risk breaking your fingers for a cool back take in class, it’s just not worth it.

After training is as important as before to keep your fingers healthy and set your grips to concrete crushers. Make sure to stretch your fingers out, and ice as necessary. The buildup of injuries is easy to ignore, and can leave you with some ugly angles of fingers. And besides, nobody wants to get directions from the guy who points sideways on accident. Stretching your fingers is as easy as bending them in as far as you can without pain (using your other hand to aid the push), then repeat going as far backwards as possible. The latter stretch will also stretch the tendons running up your forearm.  This will give your grips that extra strength, because tendon strength is one that comes after years of work.

As is reality with Jiu Jitsu, you can’t always keep yourself from getting injured. At some point, you are bound to pop a finger or jam it when reaching for a grip. This is painful, but not the end of the world (or training for that matter). There are several things to consider when dealing with an injured finger, and plenty of helpful ways to prevent further injury.

Many people seem to think there is only one way to tape a finger: supporting it by taping it against the adjacent finger. This can be a pain to do, and I find it to be less effective than a separate way of aiding your injury. If you have not seen the “single finger” technique to taping your fingers, this is a life saver. Check out this video for a simple instruction.

Using the two base rings, you tape an ex on both side of your finger, on the lower half. This works as a tendon strengthener, and does a great job of supporting your bones and muscles. I will use less, tape, and just put a single ex on either side, or on ex running along the bottom of my finger if I’m low on tape.

It is always good to overprotect injuries, but sometimes it can be a hassle to use that much tape every time you train.   I also have used this taping technique on my toes, so you can do it to a very small scale. The key is to tape around the joint that is injured. For even more support, you can use another finger for support after you tape the injured finger this way. Make sure to ice your finger after training if it hurts, and stretch it out after you warm it up only. Make sure your finger is warm (I do it after a shower) and stretch it until it feels tighter that usual. Do not stretch to the point of even small amounts of pain. Since your finger is injured, now is the time to move slowly through the stretching process.

Keeping your fingers healthy is a practice that is very necessary the further into your Jiu Jitsu career you go. It doesn’t take long to figure out how strong a black belt’s grips are, and that comes from years of training and practicing the art of healthy hands.  Take care of your hands and they will only get stronger.