Lately I’ve decided to examine some of the best BJJ athletes and examine their athletic movement and also from biomechanical perspective. The goal is to examine how athletes use physical structure and movement in their technical games, how their movement may influence their technique, and how their technique may influence their movement.
The first person I’ll examine is Nick Rodriguez. After having trained BJJ for less than two years, he set the grappling world ablaze by earning silver at the 2019 ADCC. Although most of us can’t become the athletic specimen with an insane motor and hunting mentality as “Nicky Rod”, there are a few physical characteristics and lessons we can focus on that will help our own movement on the mats.
I’ll share certain exercises we can perform and how we can bring awareness to areas of the body/specific movement patterns to gain our version of what this athlete and competitor brings to the table.
As we look at Rodriguez’s technique, we’ll be studying his use of the big toe!
Wrestling Background Creates Beastly Big Toes
Rodriguez has a wrestling background that may not be as long as some wrestling lifers, but he did perform the sport in high school: a time of life when our bodies are making strong neuromuscular connections. Our bodies are more receptive to “motor programming” when we are younger, which gives him an edge over adults who begin BJJ in their 20s at the earliest.
One thing you’ll notice with wrestlers is that having started the sport when they’re still growing is that their bodies are still “malleable.” They develop a strong big toe to spring forward when dropping levels for shots.
Foot and Ankle Mobility
Wrestlers are also tremendous at everting their foot, which helps keep the foot flat, grounded, and neutral (opposite of the classic ankle sprain position you see in sports such as basketball and football). They also develop a lot of ankle mobility from working in these low squat, lunge based positions.
I share a low squat flow below this section title that may help you develop more motor control and ultimately ankle mobility in the low squat.
Age Difference When Starting BJJ vs Wrestling
Most people who start BJJ don’t begin the sport as early as wrestlers begin wrestling. BJJ athletes then lose out on building this “low stance” positioning, ultimately making it more difficult for them to develop athleticism in those positions and range of motion.
This is a big edge I see with Rodriguez. Even if he didn’t start at the age of four, he does have a wrestling background, giving him the “feel” of grappling before even beginning BJJ. Watch his feet next time you see him grapple, and pay special attention to his big toe. The cartwheel passes and “crazy” scrambles will begin to make more mechanical sense. With his feet being positioned as such and the big toe bending and springing his hips and body around the mats, this leads to supreme balance and control of full-body movements.
Final Lessons from Nicky Rod
Develop the big toe and the bottom of the foot!T his gets the rest of leg to fire, allowing you to have grounded stability and equilibrium even when moving quickly and explosively. Tie in some of these exercises I linked above, anchor your awareness to those suggestions and especially to those feet, watch some of his movement, and seek to mimic the forward nature but strong defense.
Mobillity Training in Action
As you’re adding in these hip mobility exercises to your routine, just add this to some of the hip mobility exercises I’ve covered in the past.
You’ll find some exercises you like more than most, and others that may hurt so “good.” More than anything, putting effort into this style of training will help with your longevity, injury prevention, and performance on the mats!
I’m releasing my first video product and 12 week training program “Secrets to Soft, Stable, Strong, and Supple Low Back/Hips”.