Reducing Injury Risk with Biomechanics (The Law of Compensation) - New School BJJ Brixton | London , UK

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Reducing Injury Risk with Biomechanics (The Law of Compensation)

The biggest concern for all combat athletes is injury risk, and while accidents do happen, there’s plenty we can be doing to at least avoid repetitive strain injury. 

Repetitive strain injuries are caused by chronically over-stretched or over-used tissues. Though Jiu Jitsu will require repeated strain (especially if you play a game that biases certain joint positions), optimising your biomechanics can help spread the load.


Biomechanics is the study of the mechanical dynamics of the body. We look at the most efficient ways to generate force, to absorb shock, and generally ensure that we’re using our bodies the way they were designed to move. 


A key principle to understand is that each joint has a specific function in any given movement pattern, with a limit to its optimal range of motion. In order to execute a movement (let’s say, taking a step forwards), your nervous system will orchestrate a firing pattern of muscle fibres, causing the movement of bones, which achieves the movement. 

If you lack range of motion in certain joints, OTHER JOINTS WILL OVERCOMPENSATE.

We are all at risk of compensation patterns, because it can be hard to sense which joints are moving to achieve a movement (ultimately, we take that step forwards whether we’re making it happen mostly from our lower back, pelvis or femurs). 

It’s a misnomer to assume that a stiff person is tight all over, or a flexible person is flexible everywhere. If you were immobile at every joint, you wouldn’t be able to move at all; if you were hyper-mobile at every joint, you would be a heap of bones on the floor (the exception here is congenital hyper-mobility, which can come along with debilitating chronic pain and systemic disorders). 

A general rule is that if a joint is hyper-mobile (moves beyond a healthy range), the next joint will be hypo-mobile (moves less than a healthy range) to make up for the lack of stability. For example, people with hyper-mobile elbows often lack shoulder range of motion. 

If you, like most of us, have compensation patterns, the tissues that are overcompensating will experience repetitive strain. Though this may not cause debilitating injury in the short-term, it will prematurely age your joints and greatly increase your risk of pain. 



When playing guard, for example, we generally need a flexed (rounded) spine. We have 33 spinal vertebrae and over 100 joints overall in the spine. Unless each of those joints moves within its optimal range, there will be some degree of compensation in this position. For example, if your lower back is very stiff, you will have to over-strain other parts of the spine, hips or shoulders in order to achieve the position you need. 


Another example: when passing, we need hip mobility in order to crouch, lunge and change angles. If you have stiff hips, not only will certain postures not be possible for you (giving your opponent an advantage!), you are also likely going to be overcompensating with range from your back, ankles, or — most common in Jiu Jitsu — knees. 

Protect your knees by understanding this concept!

Our knees are designed to have much more limited range of motion than our hips, so if your knees are compensating for your lack of hip mobility, your knees will be taking all kinds of torque and lateral pressure that they’re not designed for. This is why so many Jiu Jitsu athletes have bad knees!


Remedying these imbalances requires us to find healthy joint ranges of motion through isolation exercises. And no, this isn’t just about stretching; the most impactful aspect of this practice is coordinating isolated movement in joints that have become habitually immobile. 

Stretching or massage alone can help relieve tight soft tissues in the short term, but if you don’t learn to coordinate movement at the target joint, then the imbalance will return.  

Once you’re able to articulate that previously immobile joint, then you can begin challenging it so that it learns to be strong and stable throughout a healthy range of motion.


When you’re feeling stiff, it makes sense that you want to release tension. But remember the law of compensation! If you’re holding excess tension somewhere, you must be lacking stability somewhere else. In many cases, it’s harder to feel hyper-mobility, which is linked to a lack of proprioception (your ability to perceive where you are in space). Therefore, the remedy for these joints is training body awareness and stability to rein in the excessive range of motion.


Unless you have a specific issue (for instance, you’re rehabbing an injury, which will require a personalised programme), it’s a good idea to mobilise and stabilise all of your joints as a regular practice. The key factor that most people miss is mindfulness. Mindless shoulder rolls or rushed spinal twists will only utilise your habitual patterns; isolating joints requires a slow pace and high concentration. An understanding of the joints’ design and function is really helpful when teaching them to move optimally. 


At New School Brixton we’re dedicated to developing high calibre athletes, so we’ve created this programme to help our students optimise their movement, body awareness and recovery. Once a month we host a workshop that will include joint isolation work, alongside integrative movement.

We’re currently offering a free trial membership, which includes these monthly workshops and weekly movement classes on Sundays 11:30-12:30.

Sign up here, and book in via the New School BJJ Brixton schedule. 

By Eleanor Forder


Eleanor is an interdisciplinary therapist with a background in corrective exercise, remedial therapy, sports massage, yoga therapy, personal training, and holistic lifestyle coaching. She’s also studying body-centred psychotherapy and is particularly interested in the psychological and stress-related aspects of sports development. 

To enquire about working with her, please contact or visit