Structure & Design of Grappling Specific Warm Ups

The process of ‘warming up’ before sports has pretty much been accepted (excluding those who turn up late to skip it). However, for some reason, within grappling sports the norm has become 5 minute flow roll followed by a static stretch. At its basic form, a warm up should be designed to both reduce the risk of injury and improve performance. Within grappling sports the incentive favors injury prevention and preparation for the tasks ahead (drilling, sparring, etc).

Evidence has suggested that a well designed and implemented warm up has the ability to:
  • Increase muscle contraction and relaxation times
  • Improvements of force production
  • Improved reaction times
  • Increased blood flow within working muscles
  • Better mobility and flexibility within muscles and joint structures
  • Improved oxygen delivery and utilisation

Now I guarantee if you travel among different clubs and teams, warm ups will differ from place to place, and each style will probably have its own positives and negatives. Within this article I will try and put together a simple warm up routine specific to grappling sports to help minimise training injuries but also improve performance on the mats.

Warm ups essentially should be short and sharp (10-30 minutes) as to not take away from the specific skill training. However, although session to session the warm up may seem short, over time it adds up. For example, 3 sessions/week x 20 minutes warm up = 1 hour of training time. Over a year that equates to a massive 52 hours of training time. Rather than seeing the warm up as a hindrance to your skill development, consider it as a chance to develop specific qualities that over the calculated time frame will potentially improve not only your longevity on the mats, but performance levels as well.

A basic warm up routine should follow the R.A.M.P principles:

R – Raise

A – Activate

M – Mobilise

P – Potentiate

  1. Raise – This section of the warm up has simple aims and the basic premise is too increase core body temperature, increase heart rate and in turn increase blood flow. Often this is achieved through “jogging round the mat” and essentially this is a practical way to do so. We can implement multi-directional exercises within this such as side steps, high knees, heel flicks, etc. As we get more specific we can start to add low intensity techniques that are more applicable to the session ahead but still provide a technical stimulus. For example – hip escapes, forward hip escapes, forward rolls, backwards rolls, technical get ups, etc.
  2. Activate & Mobilise – The main aim of phase two is to activate relevant muscle groups and mobilise joints/ranges of movement that are going to be applicable to the tasks ahead. Obviously when we are being specific to grappling this is going to place the majority of the focus on hips, lower backs, hamstrings, core & shoulders. On an individual level more time can be spent on specific troublesome areas however when looking at a large class the overall theme should be on basic movement patterns and joints that are going to cause the biggest influence on the ability to partake in the class. Examples of this phase may include – press up walk outs, spider man walks, cobra stretch, granby rolls, donkey kicks & hip rotations, overhead reach lunges, etc.
  3. Potentiate – this is where the warm up moves on to the primer phase. In this phase we begin to use sport specific exercises with higher intensities. This has a two point focus: (1) increase intensity to match demands of task ahead, and (2) make use of post activation potentiation to lead to improved performance. Exercises in this phase typically will include short sprint bursts (depending how big your mats are), sprawls, double leg shots, partner lifts/drags, frog jumps, and so on.
A warm up has the potential to be as general and as specific as you wish.

The main elements should be tailored around the task ahead. For example, a drilling class may involve higher mobility elements and positional specific warm ups. In sparring sessions with a high intensity and performance focus, a greater emphasis should be placed on potentiation and cardiovascular function. If we are looking at a sparring class where highest portion of injuries are likely to occur and has the highest intensity, the warm up breakdown may look a little like this:

Raise (5 mins) – moderate-high pace, emphasise technique and movement fluidity
  • Alternating circuit – Hip escapes, Forward hip escapes, forwards rolls, backwards rolls, technical get ups, bear crawls and sit through.  
  • Or jogging round the mat including technical elements such as alternating floor touches, side steps, and hip step overs.
Activate & Mobilise (5 mins) – reduce intensity, quality of movement focusing on specific muscle groups and joint ranges of movement. Apply specificity to techniques used.
  • Bridges, granby rolls, press up walk outs, over-head reach lunges, spider man crawls.
Potentiate (10 mins) – increase intensity, explosive movements specific to session, can include specific technique drills.
  • Short Sprints, Frog Jumps, Jumping Rolls, double leg shots & partner lifts, guard jumps
  • Step out guard passing, leg drag guard passing, guard retention drills etc.

Using this format should provide a high warm up stimulus and provide a degree of athletic development. However, this structure is not set in stone. This is entirely subject to the design and implementation of the warm up. Considerations should also be made in regards to class size, facility size and technical ability of the students. If a class is full of novice individuals, more emphasis may be placed on the raise and activate/mobilise phases. This will allow for development of fundamental techniques and practise.

Now for what seems a controversial topic when it comes to sport specific warm ups:


Stretching is a bit of a hot topic when it comes to sport specific warm ups. Research has shown that static stretching has little to no impact on injury reduction. In some cases, it can even dampen the effects of power output, joint stability & strength endurance. However, if you feel that static stretching benefits your ability to train and perform, then go for it. Grappling as an art places extreme force and tension on joints and limbs. Due to this we develop tightness in problem areas such as the hips, neck, lower back, etc. If a small amount of static stretching pre- or post-session benefits your ability to perform techniques and get into relevant positions then go ahead and complete it. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but as long as you are not experiencing negative effects then stretch away.

Dynamic stretching has shown to have a much greater benefit on performance so larger emphasis should be placed on this. On top of that, if you are struggling with joint/limb mobilisation, time should be spent doing specific strengthening and mobilisation exercises externally to your skill specific training to correct flaring imbalances and issues. However, if you feel that static stretching is benefiting your ability to train, then let loose! Just remember to make the development of sport specific attributes a priority.

For more info, check out Andrew at Brotherhood Health & Performance.

Looking for help with a BJJ injury? Book an online video consultation with BJJ black belt and osteopath Rosi Sexton.