BJJ: Don't follow Keenan Cornelius' routines!

I was recently listening to a great in depth interview of competition phenom Keenan Cornelius by BJJ black belt and the man behind Stephan Kesting. Stephan is an expert journalist and really presses his interviewees for thorough and detailed responses. I liked a lot of Keenan's answers and it's always enlightening to hear what competitors in the top echelons have to say so expect many more posts inspired by that interview. Nevertheless, he said a few things that I disagreed with and want to bring up here.

Keenan has great hip flexibility (the kind that allows you to put your foot close to, or even behind, your head). He does not, according to his own account, have much hamstring flexibility. He told Stephan that he actually struggles to touch his toes with straight legs! Keenan had recently attended a yoga session, as he admittedly does very little stretching, and said uhe discovered he was no good at yoga positions and he decided he didn't want to do it anymore. He felt yoga 'makes you flexible for yoga, not jiujitsu'.

Yoga means unity, referring to harmony and unity of purpose and intention between mind, body and spirit. The goal of yoga is for you to become a complete, well-rounded person. From just the physical point of view, yoga aims to balance you. Back to front. Side to side. Upper to lower. Strength to flexibility. Perfect balance.

By his own admission, Keenan said he had a very clear imbalance in his lower body flexibility. He even admitted that other parts of his body, such as his back and neck, have to occasionally compromise for his hamstring inflexibility. That just screams "risk for injury" which Keenan had had a few of but being young and carefree he saw injuries as opportunities to rest when burnt out.

I will never achieve half of what Keenan has in BJJ nor is that important to me, but I feel his routines and attitude towards yoga would prove hazardous to most part time grapplers. Obviously, he's not necessarily preaching to them, but idol worship is a mean mistress.



Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

Proudly sponsored by Predator Fightwear: Built for the kill and Brutal TShirt: Made By Grapplers For Fighters


Dan Van Zandt said...

Good article as usual Liam :)

Your post highlights the need to develop flexibility in a way that fixes existing muscle imbalances without creating new ones. I think a lot of people don't realise flexibility is affected by many factors, joint and position specificty being just two (hence why Keenan is flexible in his hips and not his hamstrings). I also think it's worth noting that the body remembers movements and positions the most and/or with most intensity. BJJ players are therefore at risk of developing short and tight muscles from spending a lot of time in the more common positions (rounded t-spine due to being hunched over when grip fighting or anterior pelvic tilt from excessive hip flexion in closed guard for example). Focused training to increase range of motion BJJ-specific problem spots should absolutely form an integral part of even a recreational player's regimen.

But - and you might disagree with me here - I put yoga near the bottom of the pile for developing flexibility (second only to ballistic stretching) in adults. Yoga traditionally relies on static stretches to increase ROM. This is great for kids who are young enough for such stretches to bring about permanent changes in the length of connective tissues. Past a certain age however, such changes are impossible without damaging those tissues. Static stretches in adults rely on the ratio of elastin to collagen in connective tissues, but this ratio changes more in favoir of collagen as we age. The result is a progressive decrease in flexibility. Adults should therefore alter the nervous system's response to increases in range of movement by doing exercises which increase strength and range simultaneously. The myotatic reflex (the tension felt during a stretch) is the body's way of telling us that we have exceeded the limit in which our muscles have sufficient strength to support the load of our body. Making the muscles stronger will decrease resistance, allowing us to stretch further. And because the mechanism is a neurological one, flexibility gains are for life (albeit some maintenance work is required). Exercises such as PNF stretches and heavy squats and deadlifts through the full range of motion will achieve this. It can be done by anyone with healthy joints, at any age.

Keep up the great work with your blog. And congrats on the brown belt! :)

Dan (from Sophie's judo class!)

Liam H Wandi said...

Hey Dan

Many thanks for the kind words.

Where do you practice yoga?