One of my first thoughts, after I signed up for my first jiu-jitsu class, was what types of protective gear I was supposed to wear when I walked into the gym, specifically whether or not wearing an athletic cup, or groin guard, was allowed or even recommended. I looked into some of the pros and cons of using an athletic cup during jiu-jitsu training and wanted to share my findings to help people make their personal decision on using a groin guard during training.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes should not use an athletic cup during training. Cups are not allowed during most BJJ competitions and pose an increased risk of injury as well as discomfort to yourself and your training partners.
Let’s go into some specifics on what I found in regard to using a groin guard during jiu-jitsu training that helped me make my decision to forego the use of a cup in my own training.
Why Shouldn’t I Use a Cup in BJJ Training?
Athletic cups pose a risk to your training partners since they provide a hard fulcrum in the affected area. This can make leverage in armbars and other techniques more dangerous to execute. If the cup slides out of place you could damage your testicles worse than if skipping wearing it altogether.
Athletic cups were designed to protect your groin from trauma common in other high-contact sports such as striking martial arts and football. BJJ has a significantly lower risk of high-impact trauma in the groin region during typical training, which correspondingly lowers the value of an athletic cup.
Additionally, there are a number of compelling reasons to avoid using a cup during jiu-jitsu training. Let’s go through a few of these reasons together.
Wearing an Athletic Cup is Just Plain Uncomfortable In Common BJJ Situations
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu movements take us through a wide variety of movements that require frequent or constant contact in the area that the athletic cup is designed to protect.
Think about all of the positions in the positional hierarchy in BJJ. Now think about the points of contact you have when you or your training partner have mount, back control, half guard, and full closed guard. These positions require contact with the hard plastic athletic cup between sparring partners and movements and techniques will require force transfer through or across that region. This increases the likelihood of displacing the cup and causing injury to the genitals as well as simply pinching the skin around the cup and causing discomfort.
Essentially, since its design is originally intended for different high-contact sports, cups are vastly more compatible with running, kicking, and punching, which are simpler movements without direct force transfer through or across the cup in most circumstances. Any incidental contact with an athletic cup in those applications was also infrequent and accidental.
Wearing an Athletic Cup Can Cause Discomfort for Your Training Partners and Cause Injuries
In the course of a normal jiu-jitsu class, you will often find yourself in a position where you are using your hips as leverage to either maintain control, transition your positions, or apply a submission. In most of these circumstances, an athletic cup will be a primary or secondary point of contact or even will be used as a fulcrum.
One of the most common submissions that are affected by the use of a cup is the simple armbar. It can happen from the mount, from your guard, in a belly-down armbar, and in many other situations. Using a hard plastic athletic cup as a point of leverage is much more painful in my experience and makes the submission far more powerful and dangerous.
In any of the common positions with hips as the primary connection between BJJ athletes, you will have an uncomfortable unyielding plastic digging into one of the athletes. From my experience, this is an extremely uncomfortable addition to the pressure that you’d normally find in those positions.
Wearing an Athletic Cup is Not Allowed in Competition and Changes Movement Patterns of Your Techniques
Athletic cups are not legal in most BJJ competitions. As with any complex physical sport, BJJ requires fine-tuning of movements in your techniques in order to have success in applying them.
An athletic cup will change your overall movement patterns enough to make the execution of your techniques different when you wear one. If you train with a cup your techniques will occur in such a way as to cause minimal discomfort to yourself and your training partner. When you take away the cup all of the patterns change enough to inhibit the smooth execution of your techniques.
Naturally, if you are competition-focused you will really want to have your techniques drilled to be sharp in the situation you will be in during the competition. This means if you can’t wear a cup in a competition, you really need to forego the use of a cup when you are training your techniques in your BJJ gym since the sharpness of your technique won’t transfer completely.
When Should I Use a Cup While Training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
When you have medical concerns that extend to your genitals causing discomfort, tenderness, or increased injury risk in that area then you should wear a cup.
Common testicular injuries in sports can be found here, and it is possible, but unlikely for these injuries to happen while practicing BJJ.
I have found this athletic cup that is available on Amazon to be the best value and comfort and both myself and my training partners have had good experiences using that particular groin protector.
A couple of the most common medical reasons why you would want to wear an athletic cup for extra protection are:
- Vasectomy Surgery Recovery – in order to ensure that everything remains tied off and healing appropriately you need to protect the area for some time after the surgery. If you can’t or won’t take time off the mats for the appropriate length of time you can use an athletic cup to provide some extra protection.
- Existing Testicular Injuries – if you have sustained testicular injuries in the past such as a testicular rupture or contusion you might have significantly increased sensitivity to accidental contact. In this case, it might make sense to incorporate the use of an athletic cup in your training until it is healed up.
Don’t be afraid to use an athletic cup if you have extenuating circumstances that make protecting your genital area of increased importance. If a light contact is going to cause extreme discomfort or you need extra protection for post-surgery recovery then make sure to put one on.
Are There Alternatives to Using an Athletic Cup for BJJ training?
There are some alternatives that can reduce the likelihood of taking an accidental hit to the genitals. These won’t offer you direct protection but will reduce the likelihood of avoiding the hit occurring in the first place.
- Jockstrap Without Athletic Cup – using a jockstrap without a cup will pull your vulnerable bits up and out of the way during your BJJ training sessions so you don’t get knee-sliced across your testicles.
- Compression Shorts – using compression shorts is something that many people already like to do for comfort through dynamic movements anyway. If you pull them up snugly you should be able to get your genitals out of the way.
- Supportive Underwear – the simplest and most accessible change to avoid accidental hits to the groin is to switch from loose-fitting boxers to more traditional briefs which are typically more supportive.
- Awareness – simply being aware of what is going on in your grappling sessions and training will unconsciously allow you to avoid situations that put you at risk of genital discomfort. Training without a cup will naturally cause you to find a frame or a hip repositioning to avoid those situations.
If you’re concerned about getting hit in the groin you can give these options a try in order to reduce the likelihood of a training mishap.
Ultimately it is up to the individual jiu-jitsu athlete to determine if they need to wear an athletic cup or any of the alternatives presented. If you have a medical condition then by all means wear one, just keep in mind that your movements can cause yourself and your training partners discomfort and injury if you are not being cognizant of the presence of the athletic cup.
I have personally found by using compression shorts and developing awareness throughout my normal BJJ training routines, I have alleviated any need I personally had for an athletic cup. You will naturally develop an awareness of the positions of your body and your training partner’s body. I have avoided taking any direct hits to the genitals for about 3 years at the time of writing this article.