Tired of being sore and in pain post-roll? We might just have the right routine for you, Joe DeFranco’s Limber 11. It’s a 10-minute lower body stretching routine to help you warm up before Jujitsu.
Check out the full video below:
Limber 11 routine will help you avoid soreness and raise your core temperature to perform better during your BJJ training. Most people just rush through the warm-ups, and A LOT of the exercises performed are either outdated or unstructured. Here’s the public service announcement: take care of your joints, or you will be paying the price down the road with all kinds of joint pain (back, knee, hip, and elbow pain).
A good BJJ warm-up and cool down is as important as the training session because we all know how demanding Brazilian Jujitsu is on our joints and muscles. You need technique, cardio, strength, and, most importantly, flexibility!
The problem with many of these mobility drills scattered around the internet is that they are either not BJJ specific or are too long! Yoga is okay, but specificity is key. Just like a grappler wouldn’t lift like a bodybuilder, a grappler wouldn’t stretch like a master yogi.
The Limber 11 Routine
Limber 11, as the title indicates, is a flexibility and mobility routine with 11 exercises targeting all of the lower body muscles. That is beneficial for BJJ since our hip mobility and agility play a significant role in performing on the mats. With limber 11, say goodbye to any mobility restrictions and jumpstart your mat skills to another level.
Limber 11’s programming is pretty straight forward: 10-15 with rolling exercises and 30 secs to 1 minute for static ones. Check out the limber 11 gifs below for a quick run-through of the movements.
We will provide you with some basic anatomical details so that you’ll be able to self-assess if you’re hitting the movements correctly. All you need is a foam roller and a Lacrosse ball. Without further ado, let’s go through the Limber 11 list of exercises.
Foam Roll IT Band: 10-15 passes
IT band is a long connective tissue that runs laterally from the hip to the knee and shinbone. Many jiu-jitsu movements involve this tissue, and with time it could get tight and cause knee pain.
- Lay on your side
- Cross your off leg over
- Roll: Slow and controlled
- Flex and extend the bottom knee when you find a tight spot/ The goal is to find those painful areas and put pressure on them to release the tension
If you’re in pain or want to avoid any risks altogether, you could benefit from wearing knee pads as well.
Foam Roll Adductors: 10-15 passes
Adductors (inner thigh) is a muscle group essential for hip strength and mobility. It’s your “guard game” muscle, so take care of it! Tight adductors could cause groin pain and injuries, which is not too uncommon in BJJ.
- Place foam roller at a 45° angle
- Start in the upper area of the groin
- Roll Slow & Breathe!
- Roll up high in the groin area halfway down the thigh
- Roll from halfway down right to the inside of your knee
- When you find a tight area: stop and flex/extend the knee
SMR Glutes (lacrosse ball): 30sec. – 2min
The Piriformis and Glutes tend to get tight in general and can be extremely uncomfortable at times because it radiates pain to the lower back. Think tight glutes, tight lower back. The lacrosse ball is more effective here because it helps dig into smaller tight areas.
SMR is short for Self-Myofascial Release, comes from the Greek word “mys” which means muscle. We’re trying to break the tight areas of the glutes and improve your hip mobility. Next time you can be savvy when explaining the movement to someone. Seriously though, don’t skip this one.
Do not neglect this exercise! It is the foundation for what comes next.
- Put a lacrosse ball on the ground
- Sit on it with your glute: slightly tilted position
- Cross the targeted leg across your opposite thigh
- Start Rolling: it’s very uncomfortable!
- Breathe deeply!
- You could extend the targeted hip
Bent-knee Iron Cross x 5-10 each side
This one is a mobility drill for the lumbar spine. Rolling from side to side is a crucial skill in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (hip escapes, half guard, etc.), but the lumbar spine doesn’t always get love, so let’s work on it with this drill:
- Lay down flat on your back
- Bend the knee like an ab-crunch exercise
- Drop the knees side to side
- Palms down
- Feet and Knees together
- As you move the knee to one side, the head looks the other side
Roll-overs into V-sits x 10
This dynamic warm-up helps mobilize the glutes, lower back, and groin while giving you a better bang for your buck. It makes for a great warm-up pre-competition as well! You could start slow with this drill and build up speed at your own pace. To start:
- Sit in a V-position
- Grab your calves and rollback
- On the way back, you could reach forward
- Try and come more forward
- Open your legs to a wider V if possible
Rocking Frog Stretch x 10
This exercise targets the adductors and groin area, a more dynamic exercise complementing the foam roll done earlier. Many athletes, especially in BJJ, tend to pull their groin because of the high stress placed on the adductors.
It’s slightly uncomfortable but will help release groin tightness as well as lower back pain! To start:
- Table Top Position
- Bend knee to the outside
- Turn the big toe outward
- The inside of the knee should be stabilizing your hips
- Lean forward
- Push your hips back (hold it there for 1-2 secs) & Release (that’s one rep)
Start real slow with this one. Move around and find tight spots.
Fire Hydrant Circles x10 forward/10 backward each leg
Hip mobility is essential, as mentioned before. Fire hydrants are great for hip mobility, but the exercise has been sort of gotten diluted because people tend to rush through it. They tend to exaggerate the hip circles when the movement focuses on hip control and slow tempo.
- Start in table-top position
- Keep both elbows straight
- Stabilize your core
- Knee bent
- Heel stuck to your butt (critical)
- Think like you’re drawing a circle around a circle
- Perform ten forward and ten backward circles
Mountain Climbers x 10 each leg
Hips and hamstrings go hand in hand in this one. This exercise has two main focuses: the range of motion and dynamic flexibility. You could perform them with the knee inside or outside of the elbow. Knee outside the elbow will target the groin and hip flexor more and improve mobility.
- Start with a narrow push up position
- Back Flat
- Drive one knee forward
- Sink to increase the stretch on the back hip flexor
- The back glute is engaged
- Then switch
- complete 20 switches in total
Cossack Squats x 5-10 each side
This exercise opens up the long adductors and groin area. The adductors are responsible for bringing your hips closer to the center of your body. There’s so much emphasis on those areas that they’re the ones that tend to get tight. The added benefit of this one is that you get to work on your ankle mobility!
Previously we worked on the adductor longus and brevis (which are the smaller adductors); now, we’re hitting the adductor magnus that runs from the pelvis to the knee.
This one requires a little bit more stability of the knee to be a bit challenging. But by the end of the routine, you will feel more limber.
- Wide Squat Stance as a start position
- Have your toes out to 45°
- Slide to one side
- On the side you slide to, it’s essential to keep the heel on the ground
- The extended leg should have the feet pointing up
- Sink in each side for 1-2 secs
If the exercise is too challenging in terms of stability, you could bring another chair to hold on to. This will allow you to focus more on the mobility component of the stretch.
Seated Piriformis Stretch x 20-30sec. each side
This stretch targets the glute medius and piriformis. We already did SMR on this area, so it should stretch easier. This one is amazing if you sit for extended periods (desk job etc.). For this, you’re going to need a chair or bench.
- Sit down
- Cross one leg to the opposite side
- Lean forward: This increases the stretch on the piriformis
- For an increased stretch: push down on the bent knee
- You could grab the shin of the opposite leg for a better anchor
- Now grab the bent knee and pull it to your chest (keep the spine neutral): this one is targeting the glute
Rear-foot-elevated Hip Flexor Stretch x 5-10 reps (3sec. hold) each side
For this last one, you will target your hip flexors. This one is a classic for hip flexor tightness. You’ll need a bench or chair as well.
- Start in a split stance position with the front leg bent 90°
- The leg you’re stretching should be posted on the bench
- The stretched leg should be having the knee on the ground since hip flexors muscles run from the pelvis down to the knee.
- Don’t overextend your lower back to stretch
- Have your arm on the ground (for balance)
- Lean forward with a neutral spine
- Contract the back glute to increase stretch properly: hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds
- For a better stretch, raise arms overhead while staying upright and tilt left and right
And here you are! All set and ready to scramble or cool-down.
The Science of Warm-Ups
There’s a subtle difference between mobility and flexibility, I know… I know… It could be confusing at times. Flexibility means moving your joint passively through a range of motion (ROM) as opposed to mobility, which moves that joint actively through a range of motion or being strong enough to control the joint during that movement.
Example: you’re on top with an Americana, and your opponent wouldn’t tap because he “doesn’t feel” the pressure; that person has flexibility. If you put that same person in an armbar (assuming he’s a muscular jock) and he’s able to escape while semi-curling his hand or preventing lockout, then he has mobility in this extreme range of motion.
Without mobility and flexibility, you will not be able to perform at your best. Being more flexible and mobile on the mats will not only protect you from injury but will improve your performance.
The more flexible you are, the more seconds you save to escape sub, and on competition, day seconds could mean the difference between first place and second place!
Long story short: The warm-up should be a passive stretch for the overactive muscle (flexibility) and an active stretch for the underactive muscles (mobility)
Who’s Joe DeFranco
If you’re a pure martial artist with little experience in the weight room, then it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him. But if you’re a Strength & Conditioning enthusiast, his name should ring a bell.
Joe DeFranco is an elite strength coach with the remarkable ability to improve strength, speed, power, mobility, agility, and sport-specific endurance. His clients include NFL players from all 32 teams, MLB and NBA players, WWE superstars, UFC fighters, Olympic athletes, and high school and college All-Americans.
Frequently Asked Questions
What muscles are targeted in the limber 11?
The hip flexors, piriformis, glutes, groin area, lower back muscles and adductors, ankle joint are the main targeted muscles. It is a complete mobility routine for the lower body.
Why do a warm-up/cool down?
Well, typically, a good BJJ warm-up and cool down is as important as the training session because we all know how demanding Brazilian Jiujutsu is on our joints and muscles. If you don’t take care of your joints, you will be paying the price down the road with all kinds of joint pain (back, knee, hip, and elbow pain).
How long should the limber 11 take?
This routine should take you 10-20 min tops.
Limber 11 how often a day?
Do the limber 11 lower body routine after your strength and conditioning, during the day (if you have a small break), or as a warm-up before your BJJ Class starts.
Is the limber 11 a warmup or cool down?
The limber 11 could be performed as a warm-up and cool down since it’s general maintenance for your joints and ligaments.
What is the limber 11 program for?
The limber 11 is a comprehensive 11-exercise routine designed to release lower body tightness, reduce pain, and improve mobility.
What equipment do you need?
A Lacrosse Ball and a Foam Roller. The harder the foam or ball, the better because it helps dive into smaller areas and giving you a complete myofascial release.
How important is the warm-up in BJJ?
It is as essential as you deem your training to be. Often, martial artists forget that their bodies should be listened to if you don’t take care of the smaller things warm up, rest, nutrition, etc. You will not get very far in Jujitsu. And yeah, that goes for you too, purple belts! Thou shall not skip the warm-up.
Not to mention that the International Journal of Sport’s Physiotherapy of 2017 stated that an appropriate level of flexibility is necessary to allow joint mobility for BJJ athletes. Not only does it protect from injuries, but it also allows them to execute and learn techniques better (ex: rubber guard, x guard, etc.). According to Lima et al.: “Athletes who prefer training from various guard positions require more posterior chain flexibility, especially hip flexibility.” As we mentioned, hips are a big part of jiujitsu. This is why we recommended the limber eight lower body routine.
What’s the difference between the Agile 8 and the Limber 11?
The original routine was the Agile 8. It was initially a blog post without video instructions. The upgraded version added three exercises and a full video. The Frog stretch, the Bent Knee Iron Cross, and the Cossack Squat were the latest addition.
Lima, P. O., Lima, A. A., Coelho, A. C., Lima, Y. L., Almeida, G. P., Bezerra, M. A., & de Oliveira, R. R. (2017). BIOMECHANICAL DIFFERENCES IN BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU ATHLETES: THE ROLE OF COMBAT STYLE. International journal of sports physical therapy, 12(1), 67–74.
Andreato, L. V., Santos, J. F., Esteves, J. V., Panissa, V. L., Julio, U. F., & Franchini, E. (2016). Physiological, Nutritional, and Performance Profiles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Athletes. Journal of human kinetics, 53, 261–271. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2016-0029