Upside-Down Tips For Inverted BJJ Game

inverted_gameIf you prefer to tumble into an upside down position like a playful lion every time someone tries to pass your guard or gets into a north-south choke, then this article is for you. The name inverted guard explains it all, it completely inverts the old school concept of a closed guard in Jiu Jitsu. Instead of using your hips and legs predominantly, you now face the opponent with your head towards him first while you manipulate him with cross sleeve grips and the legs that are free to hook on the insides of the thighs, knees and ankles. You can create more depth and space in your attacks as they look harmless and confuse your opponents about the closing in distance.

Inverted Guard Fundamentals

The stages in an inverted guard attack can be viewed as:

  • Setting up the distance and position to spin on your back and shoulder (keep the neck free)
  • Cross sleeve grip or ankle/elbow/wrist grip (in case of No Gi)
  • Finally execute the spin while you use whatever leverage you gained with a grip and hooks with the legs around the opponent’s knees and ankles

Some of the attacks possible from the inverted guard spin are numerous leglocks, triangle and inverted triangle, omoplata and helicopter sweep. But of course this is only limited by your flexibility, physical conditioning and creativity.

No discussion on inverted guards is complete without the mention of Roberto Magalhaes aka Roleta who made it a staple of the new school of Jiu Jitsu. In 1996, Carlos Gracie Jr. promoted him to the rank of black belt and he competed in the Mundials that year. Wallid Ismail was a favorite and known for his crushing guard passes which was effectively neutralized multiple times in their faceoff with the inverted guard. Check around 0:50 and the sweep at 7:40 with a beautiful back take that gave Roleta the win.

Roleta x Wallid

Work on your flexibility

A lack of flexibility in the major joints of the neck, shoulder, spine and the large muscles of the leg will make you susceptible to injuries from the accumulated strain in the ligaments and tendons. Being flexible also has psychological benefits for BJJ as you are more open to try out new sweeps and submissions since your mind already feels the litheness of the body and the possibilities it can explore. You can read more about it in 13  things that affect your bjj performance.

Neck Flexibility

The cervical spine, commonly known as the neck, is one of the most delicate and important structures in the body. It carries nerves that immediately originate from the brain and any kind of injury or trauma to this region has severe repercussions like loss of motor functions, speech and even paralysis.

Ensure that you work on moving your neck through its entire range of motion (or whatever your current condition allows) daily or at least 3x a week so that you keep it injury free and resistant to different kinds of stress that is so common during grappling.

  • Tuck chin and extend chin
  • Tilt the neck back and forth
  • Tilt neck sideways and try to touch the ear to the shoulders
  • Combine tilting sideways and back and forth to create a gentle roll
  • Also work on shrugs, squeezing and opening up the shoulder blades to lengthen the neck (protraction/retraction)

Shoulder Flexibility

To spin on your shoulders, the ball and socket joint should be able to handle the weight of the body torquing around it. The shoulder joint is a complex equipment that is also connected to the upper back and neck and also determines the health of the spine and mental calmness and relaxation. Also since most strength and Jiu Jitsu training is flexion heavy, it tends to round the shoulder and create further dysfunction.

Shoulder stretch and scapular mobility tutorial

Shoulder internal rotation stretches

This is also a great resource for exercises to relieve the neck, shoulder and upper back regions –

Spinal Flexibility

When it comes to spinal flexibility, it is best left to the Yoga practices to rejuvenate and realign the spine which we will cover in the next section. In this section we will instead turn our attention to the thoracic spine which is subject to heavy flexion in Jiu Jitsu and MMA whether it is because of being on your back or holding up a guard to protect the head for prolonged periods of time. Not paying attention to thoracic mobility means you could soon end up with a certain degree of kyphosis in spite of being active and athletic. Lack of thoracic mobility also limits the torso’s ability to twist freely.

This article on Mark’s Daily Apple contains quite possibly all the information and drills you will ever need to release and loosen up the thoracic spine. Make sure to follow all the drills sequentially with the warmups mentioned in the article.

Yoga Asanas to levitate your inverted guard game to the next level

Yoga Asanas are not just great for building flexibility, they also build tremendous powers of concentration and when done with the right attitude of breath, our muscles and sinews are filled with unmatched vitality. Even if you don’t have a teacher nearby, you can safely practice these asanas if you are already training in BJJ as you would already developed quite some familiarity with your body.

Just remember:

  • Asanas are designed to remove tension from the body and make it supple. So don’t force the holding phase of the Asana and try to overstretch. Rather concentrate and keep sensing the limit of how far you can relax into the final posture and adapt your muscular tensions to it.
  • Also the breathing is effortless. The qualities used to describe the breath of any practice in yoga are deep and subtle. This is the time to soften up and cut down the instinct to breathe heavy like a bull. We begin to regain control of finer motor control with the subtle quality of the breath and the depth of it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, increases lung capacity and cardiovascular endurance.

Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) to Plough (Halasana)

Make sure the weight doesn’t come on the neck and is rather is distributed across the shoulder blades.

Next transition to Karnapidasana

Fish (Matsyasana)

Extended feet (Uttana Padasana)

Neck roll (Chakrasana)

Garbha Pindasana

Camel (Ustrasana)


Double toe hold (Ubhay Padangusthasana)

Develop strength in inverted and related uncomfortable positions

The exercises listed above mostly test and improve the limits of your flexibility in all the major joints of the system. In this section we will take a look at exercises that add strength on top of the improved flexibility which already gives you an edge over the athletes who don’t train similarly.

Back bridge

Neck bridges

Tumbling, rolling and the likes

Los Angeles Martial Arts Cobrinha BJJ Rolling Drills

These ground flow and acrobatics from the Russian Martial Art, Systema will open up your mind and body to the possibilities once you become smooth like a serpent. Systema (RMA) Joint Mobility & Combat Acrobatics Flow

Vestibular System Training

The vestibular system along with the proprioceptors and optic nerves are necessary for efficient movement and balance (check out our specific article on balance training for BJJ). The ears contain an apparatus known as the vestibular system that consists of three canals. These canals are filled with a fluid known as endolymph and together they detect gravity, linear and rotational movements.

Hearing loud music for a prolonged stretch can affect these receptors so it’s essential for athletes involved with BJJ, grappling and any other form of martial arts to avoid this.

You can do a few simple drills that challenge your vestibular system and your sensitivity to such information.

    • Walk on edges of walls, park benches with limited lateral space to place your feet. You should be able to manage walking without falling off if your vestibular system is functional. You can attempt to balance on swiss balls or BOSU balls. Parkour athletes practice a similar kind of drill known as rail walking

  • Walk on the balls of your feet, heels and the instep and the blade without losing balance.
  • Perform unilateral exercises like pistol squats and one-armed/one-legged planks while you engage your gaze to be fixed at a specific point. This will also train your visual system of balance.
  • Consuming natural foods like Gingko Biloba, Ginseng, Spirulina, Ginger and those rich in Magnesium enhances the functioning of this system.

Inverted Guard Drills

With all the fundamentals of flexibility, mobility and balance in place it’s now time to challenge these skills with drills that specifically improve your inverted guard skills.

Jiu Jitsu Inverted Guard Drills by GRAPPLERSPLANET.COM

Drill to help you Invert: Grappling and BJJ

Tornado Guard drills by its inventor Roberto “Cyborg”

Inverted guard and berimbolo drill by Jason Scully

Berimbolo – The Crazy CONTINOUS Drill

Inverted guard drill spinning around partner’s legs

Inverted Guard Tips and Submissions

Ryan Hall covers the very important fundamentals of creating and breaking structure to disbalance your opponent, the cross grip from the spider guard and creating room to invert.

Ryan Hall Inverted Guard – Cross Grip Fundamentals, Inverting

Roberto “Cyborg” expands upon the ‘new school tornado’ in this video. This covers tactics like the cross collar grip, keeping the feet stacked to prevent a guard pass

“Roleta” the inventor of the inverted guard covers some finer points of the famous helicopter sweep that gave him a win over Wallid in the 1996 Mundials.

Roleta BJJ Inverted Guard Triangle Variation

The key principles that you always keep in mind while drilling inverted guards are simple:

  • Ensure a robust structure when you are on the bottom so that you just don’t get smashed by someone with a strong top game.
  • Avoid rolling over the neck and instead focus on the shoulder blades.
  • Don’t leave your legs and feet free and instead use them to hook onto various places on the opponent’s body like his hips, knees, ankles. This way you also have lesser chances of getting caught in leglocks.
  • A cross grip on the collar or the sleeves will help you torque your opponent and initiate the spin by pushing off against his firmness and pressure.
  • If you lose the spin, return to the usual guard, open or closed or half, so that you don’t give your neck and arms away for easy submissions.


The effectiveness of the inverted guard and its variations are beyond doubt now that they have been proven to be successful for all the major world champions. It’s time to catch up with this exciting and innovative development so that you are not left scratching your head the next time you get hit with an inverted triangle. The loss is only for the person who refuses to open his mind to the unusual attacks and sweeps that an inverted guard offers. We hope this article gets you to take a fresh look at this marvelous technique and helps you become a winner. OSU.

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