Making the Most of Pressure: Side Control

There few terms in jiu-jitsu that get tossed around more than pressure.  You might hear ‘base’ or ‘posture’ more frequently, but understanding pressure is a vital component of any BJJ top game.  Pressure refers not just to physical weight (or the sensation of weight) but also constant attacks that keep your partner on the defensive.  This post will focus on the physical pressure, and at another time I’ll revisit this issue to address attack pressure.

Occasionally referred to as the “100 kilos position,” side control is best known for immense pressure.  Learning to apply more pressure from side control can make the difference between your rolls ending in a draw and having them end in a submission.

Pressure isn’t Weight, its Using Your Weight

Your maximum capacity to apply pressure is constrained by how much you weigh, but most people don’t come even close to applying as much pressure as they are able to.

More pressure is generally almost enough.
Weight on knees means less weight on other person

The most common mistake people make when it comes to pressure is putting too much of it directly into the ground.  Any time your weight is on the mat instead of on your partner then you are missing out on some pressure.  Often times you’ll see people in side control on their knees, with their butt high in the air.  While this makes their chest heavy all of the weight of the hips and legs is going into the ground via your knees.

Its hard to tell, but I promise his knees are off the ground!
Your knees barely have to leave the ground to increase your pressure.

In order to maximize your pressure from side control you want to be up on your toes, driving your body into your partner.  Sometimes people will bring their knees and body high off the ground in order to get this pressure – but this means you are exchanging space for pressure.  While more pressure is good, more space is bad.  The good news is the trade off is not one you are forced to make.  Your knees only have to be off the ground the tiniest bit to get all of the benefits!

Another consideration from side control is your arm placement.  If you are resting on your elbows then you are squandering pressure pounds that could go into making your partner uncomfortable.  Try to control your partner’s body with your arms while avoiding contact with the ground.  Some contact is both acceptable and unavoidable – but in general your elbows do not need to be on the mat in side control.

Pressure is Measured in PSI

Ok – perhaps you measure pressure in metrics (Pascals) but however you measure it you have to remember than pressure is not force, instead it is force over area.  A one pound weight applies 1 PSI if its effective surface area is 1 square inch, but the same weight applies only half as much if we double its surface area.  The same applies in jiu-jitsu.  The more surface area between yourself and your partner the less pressure you will be delivering.

Ribs to ribs
You can tell this fellow on the bottom is not enjoying the pressure!

Classically side control is described as a “chest to chest” position.  While correct, this understanding is also relatively simplistic.  When you are trying to generate the most pressure possible you want to minimize both the surface area you are applying force with, and minimize the surface area you are applying weight onto.  For side control this can be done by rotating your body slightly such that you are putting your weight through your ribs into your partner’s ribs.

The Anatomy of Pressure

The final consideration when applying pressure is anatomy.  This means that you want to use rigid parts of your own body whenever possible.  From side control this means using your rib cage instead of your stomach.  Using your stomach will diffuse the weight over a larger area (no matter how strong your abs are, they deform more than your ribs!).   Additionally, using your stomach brings your center of gravity too far over your partner’s center-line, making you considerably easier to sweep.

The next consideration of anatomy is where you are applying pressure onto your partner.  Certain parts of the human body are really good at withstanding weight.  The legs, and hips are quite resilient to pressure.  The legs don’t contain any squishy organs that your body wants to protect and the hips are huge bony structures that effectively channel pressure to the ground without much discomfort.  The diaphragm however does not like having weight on it, and pressure applied here will make it harder for your partner to breathe.

While it is unlikely you’ll be able to submit your partner simply by putting pressure on the diaphragm, they are more likely to expose themselves to an attack or enable you to mount if they are busy alleviating the pressure.

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