A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Grip Strength

I’ve read quite a few articles lately about how to strengthen your grip for Gi Jiu Jitsu. We all know about Gi pull ups and the various tools and gadgets that are designed to increase the strength of your hands and arms. Most of these articles have been well written and full of some good info which I will definitely apply to my routine! This is meant as a supplement to the articles already written.
Side note: training partner profiles will continue. There was a death in the family and I have been sidetracked.

IMG_0101.JPGphoto by Janet Wohler – used with permission

One of the fun things about being a massage therapist, is the opportunity for continuing education. I often times will take a course on something completely off the wall, but usually stick with subjects related to sports massage. In a recent class I learned some rather interesting things about how trigger points in the muscle tissue influence the movement of the body to a much greater degree than I was aware. This knowledge actually saved my own iron grip!

From the first time I stepped on the mat, the guys always commented about how strong my grips were. I chalked it up to doing hours of deep tissue massage every day as well as a bulldog mentality that got me into a lot of trouble sometimes…

Shortly after receiving my blue belt, I felt like my grip was starting to weaken. It weakened to the point that I started using different techniques that were less grip dependent. It continued until toward the end of 2013 the doctor informed me that I had torn a pronator and supinator in my right arm (think inside lapel cross choke muscles). It was an overuse injury that thankfully healed quickly on its own. However, even with the rest I couldn’t seem to recover my grip strength.

Six months later, I had THE MOMENT. Sitting in that class about trigger point therapy, I realized what was wrong and how to fix it. I learned in this class that pain is NOT the first sign of a problem – weakness is. Before you feel any pain or restriction, you first loose 50% or more of the strength and use of that muscle.

Armed with that little nugget, I decided to put it to the test and called up my old Neuromuscular Trigger Point Therapy instructor for a therapy session devoted to my forearms. The 3 days before, I tested my consecutive gi pull up count and got to the grand total count of 6 before my hands gave out.

After a two hour session of release work (and many tears shed!) my arms felt brand new! I rested for three days in order to let my body adjust to the new feeling in my fingers before I attempted the gi pull up max out again. I made it to 11 and it was my shoulders, not my arms that gave out.

I highly recommend having access to a good Neuromuscular Therapist (NMT)! Quite often those aches and pains you feel coming off the mats can be resolved (or healing time shortened) by quickly releasing associated trigger points. If you want to find a good NMT, try a Google search for “neuromuscular therapy in (your city)” and call or email the therapist about what work you are needing.

On that note: I think I’m almost due for a session myself…

I Really Am Fragile…

No, I didn’t break myself again!

I don’t think people really understand how easily I am broken sometimes though…

I have a pretty severe case of hypermobility in almost all of my joints – elbows being the only exceptions. This is quite hazardous for me really. It doesn’t mean that I am just “really flexible” like many seem to think.

Basically, it means that the ligaments holding my joints together are too loose. Ligaments are not meant to be stretched, but mine constantly are because of the looseness in them. Loose ligaments means that it takes VERY little pressure to sublux (minorly dislocate) my poor overworked joints. In other words, I’m a chiropractor’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, I know of no supplements or treatments that actually reverse this condition.

So I’m always having to be on guard and extremely careful when sparring. Shoot! I dislocated my hip while dodging Disneyland crowds with my small nephew on my shoulders and I’ve had my acl sprained just from a leg drag.

Injury Prevention
This is critical for me if I am to continue competing at the level that I desire to!

First: the docs have all told me the same thing. I need to strengthen all the muscles surrounding my major joints (so basically, everything!) muscles will fatigue eventually, but they can help pick up the slack from my ligaments and help stabilize my joints. Putting on muscle may put me up a weight class, but if I’m healthy, I’m down for it!

Second: regular professional care. I have regular massage bodywork done, and in addition have an amazing structural integrationist whom I see as often as possible. I also have the worlds greatest chiropractor, who happens to train as well!

Third: this may sound odd, but I stretch. A lot. But it’s very specific stretching. If I have a muscle that tends to pull more strongly on one side of a joint than the antagonists on the other side do, that’s just a recipe for disaster! So I work to keep everything as balanced as possible.

I’m gonna close with what I told my grandma when she was worrying about me getting hurt. “I may get hurt at some point. But the amount of joy and fulfillment I get out of pushing myself and learning every day… It’s worth it.”