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Seeking Guidance on Mobility, Flexibility, and Recovery for BJJ and Overall Health


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Hi everyone,

I am brand new to the forums. It took awhile, but I am finally getting the message from my body, loud and clear, that I need to focus on flexibility and relaxation as the base on which I build my athletic life.

Background: I'm a naturally athletic 39 year-old male. Over the last 15 years, my activity level has decreased significantly (desk life...), leading me to become more of a weekend warrior type at best. Seven years ago, I powerlifted for a year, which I found deeply inspiring, but which unfortunately led to a lower back injury due to imperfect form. My lower leg strength is good, but I think I struggle with tight hips and hamstrings that leads other parts of my body to compensate.

Recently, I've been working on bodyweight strength exercises and started GMB's "Elements" program to improve my flexibility for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). However, I've experienced knee injuries during BJJ training and lower back pain after performing the Frogger and Sideways Crab exercises in the Elements program. In retrospect, I believe my body has been sending me signals recently about my lower back's tightness that I didn't appreciate.

I just purchased the Overcoming Back Pain course and am willing to follow any program that will take me to the promise land.

Given my history (I have "tweaked" my lower back many times over the years and have learned to respect the ensuing pain), I expect my lower back pain to subside soon, I want to prevent future injuries and improve my flexibility/mobility. My ultimate goal is to maintain my health, train BJJ into my 40s and 50s, and enjoy time with my children. I want to enjoy intense workouts, but understand the importance of relaxation and stretching as the foundation.

With that background mind, I have a few questions:

Once my lower back pain subsides, completely, should I continue with the Overcoming Back Pain sequence, or transition to a program focusing on hamstring/hip flexibility, etc? I am sure there is no canned answer to this question, but are there any thoughts on how can I determine for myself when it's time for a more intense regimen? I want to emphasize that I am willing to put in the time and energy this whole summer, and hopefully for my whole life beyond that, to do whatever I need to do to attain the flexibility my body craves.

Is it plausible that my knee pain and lower back pain are connected due to a lack of flexibility/mobility?

I'd like to return to GMB's Elements program when appropriate, as I appreciate its focus on strength and mobility and have had a lot of fun doing it. How can I evaluate my readiness for this program and avoid injury? Again, I'm not asking for an individual diagnosis from across the screen, but interested in understanding the forum's perspective on how one should approach this question for oneself.

I apologize for the lengthy post and appreciate any guidance you can provide. My priority is to establish a strong foundation in flexibility and mobility as I move forward. I love everything I've read from Kit and others on the forum on many other topics. I am happy to read other posts on the matter, though I didn't find much on these "meta-programming" questions.

Thank you!

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In the spirit of Cunningham's law (the best way to get a good answer on the internet is to give a bad one), I am going to attempt to answer my own questions and ask for feedback on whether I am thinking about this correctly. 

I believe that the key lesson that I need to learn is to *listen* to my body. In that spirit, any decision about exercise program, etc, is going to begin and end with that consideration. That said, my understanding is that my goal order is something like:

1. Wait until my pain subsides, continue to follow the Overcoming Back Pain protocol, walk a lot, relax and wait. I assume this lasts a week.

2. When the pain is gone, I am inclined to add some basic core strength work of the kind recommended by Dr. Stuart McGill to make sure I protect my spine. I know from experience that this does not exacerbate my pain.

3. Continue to follow the Overcoming Back pain protocol, but perhaps incorporate some additional mild strength exercises to ensure that my legs stay strong in new ranges of motion. I believe that my limited hip flexibility is the ultimate source of my problems, and I want to have increased flexibility in the hip and strength in this position.

So my understanding is that I can do all this while continuing with the Overcoming Back Pain stretches, even when my pain is gone. And that I can build -- slowly -- a strength program around these stretches. And I also want to cultivate some relaxation exercises to try to identify the deeper sources of the tension that is keeping my hips/etc tight.

Would love feedback on whether I am thinking about this right. I would also be curious whether anything about my programming should change if I have identified that my hip flexibility is the MAJOR issue I have to contend with. Should I still equally weight all the stretches, or does it make sense to make sure that I stretch the hips every week, at least once, and do limbering with the hips exploring my current range of motion each day.

Apologies for the multiple posts. Although I am in pain, I am oddly excited about the road I have embarked on with flexibility and would love more illumination on the road ahead! I have bought the back pain and stretching/flexibility books and look forward to learning a lot more.

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@jwg: I missed your first post for some reason. Relaxation as an actual experience and not a concept is key; start here:

https://stretchtherapy.net/relaxation-wiki/

And as soon as your pain subsides, move on to the Starter Course. And remember that the most important of the hip stretches are on our YT channel, free and not monetised.

I return to this thread tomorrow. To get a deep sense of the system, start here:

https://kitlaughlin.com/forums/index.php?/forum/32-read-these-threads-please-before-posting-please/

I know you would have received this link in the Welcome note when you joined the Forums; now is the time to actually read it!

Best, Kit

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Thank you for your reply, Kit!

Believe it or not, I looked through most of the posts I was sent before posting, although I did not read them all as carefully as I should have. I tried to rectify that today and read almost everything and listened to some more podcasts/videos, but it is a lot to absorb, and I suspect I will need several re-readings. 

Like many people's questions, I understand that my question is based on the assumption that I am the center of the universe, as you half-joked in one of your videos. Too much extraneous information, and too much sharing without spending enough time doing the work of asking an original question. I apologize for that!

I think my implicit question was about the intersection of flexibility training and strength training, especially at the end ranges of motion. I am trying to balance my newfound recognition of the importance of flexibility as a way of life/being/moving with my prior interest in bodyweight strength and martial arts. I can see that I need to have a deeper understanding of the relative importance and interaction of strength and activity with flexibility.

I understand that your "system" is not, as you say, fundamentally conceptual, but rather experiential - the Tao of Moving, as it were. I do grok that you are pointing to something beyond a formula, although, like any good teacher, you seem to have many useful principles and guidelines to point people in the right direction. It may be that I just need to take my strength training slow, follow the flexibility routine, and "stretch" into other activities, "contracting" and "relaxing" and slowing down when I feel pain...

Thank you for the advice on the program. I will buy the Starter Course when I become pain-free. I appreciate your work!

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7 hours ago, jwg said:

It may be that I just need to take my strength training slow, follow the flexibility routine, and "stretch" into other activities, "contracting" and "relaxing" and slowing down when I feel pain...

Just this. And "Relaxation as an actual experience and not a concept is key". Carry on!

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Thanks! I am already learning a lot from simply paying attention to my body and listening to it. This morning as I was limbering a bit, I perceived that my right ankle is much less flexible than my left ankle, due to a bad sprain in my right ankle 15 years ago. I wonder if the severe imbalance in my right ankle flexibility might have contributed to spinal torque in the bottom of my squat that could have contributed to my lumbar pain. I also sprained my right knee recently, and I imagine a right tight ankle could promote some undesirable compensation in the right knee.

I see that you've written a lot about the ankle and believe it to be important to overcome general ankle tightness, although I haven't found anything specifically on ankle imbalance (there's a lot to sift through, though).

If it's not against the spirit of your back program, I am going to start incorporating some ankle flexibility routine into my life right now, especially addressing the imbalance. I don't think it interacts much with my back pain, but will go slow.

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