BJJ Frames: What They are & How to use Them

At the simplest level, a frame is a part of your body that is used to create and maintain space. To take it one step further, a good frame is a part of your body that relies more on the bone structure of your body than it does muscular strength.

The Basics of Frames

A Defensive Context

Typically, the concept of framing is discussed in a defensive context, in which you are framing from a bottom or disadvantageous position. When in a top position, your opponent will have the advantage of gravity on their side. With good frames, you can distribute the weight of their body across your bone structure, instead of bearing their weight with your muscles. The concept of framing doesn’t really exist from a top position in this particular context. That being said, the skills you develop from good framing techniques will likely carry over across your entire game.

Use Your Bone Structure

When framing, you are generally looking to lessen the effect of your opponent’s body weight. If you use muscular strength, you will tire out quickly. A frame that utilizes your bone structure, however, is incredibly strong without actively depleting your energy. As you progress in the sport, and you become more efficient with your frames, you will use less energy when framing. Until you reach that point, framing will probably tire you out very quickly. Don’t become frustrated by this, just keep making note of how you can do better next time.

Control the Movement

A frame can prevent your opponent from moving one or more directions, and it may provide you with a measure of control over your opponent. Your opponent will look to undermine this structure and this control. You will need to adjust dynamically to maintain control, and this can be tiresome at first. It will take you time to learn the intricacies of these small movements and adjustments. Don’t get frustrated by this process. Everyone goes through it, and each failure will make you better at framing.

How Frames are Used

While holding a small object, stretch out your arm above your head. Do not stretch out your arm at full extension. Keep it slightly bent. Take note of how long before your bicep starts to get tired. By comparison, stretch out your arm at full extension. When your arm is bent, you are actively using muscles to hold up the object. When your arm is stretched out, you are using the bone structure of your arm. This is exactly how frames work.

Frames use Structure to Create Space

Once you have established a frame against your opponent, you are now effectively creating space between them and you. It will take experience to maintain that frame, and it will take skill to use the frame to your advantage.

Once You’ve Created Space, Don’t Give it Back

Ultimately, the frame is no good if it does not create space, or if it only creates temporary space that isn’t taken advantage of. New grapplers will inevitably use a frame to create space, only to give the space back. This will tire you out, because it takes energy to create the frame. The frame itself should require little energy, but getting and keeping the frame will, and so a frame that is made and lost is wasted energy.

Use the Space you Created to Move or Escape

Once you have established a frame, you will need to do something with it. Even when you get experienced at all of those little dynamic adjustments that allow you to maintain frames, you can’t hold your frame forever. Eventually, you will need to move, escape, reverse, or whatever you decide is the best course of action in that specific situation.

Don’t do Nothing with Your Frames

It doesn’t matter how good at framing you are, if you don’t do anything with your frames, you will stay stuck in a disadvantageous position forever. Even with great frames, you are likely to eventually get tired if you never try to escape. If you find that you are getting better at framing, but you are still staying stuck in bottom positions, trying taking more risks to escape the position. Don’t be afraid to make escape attempts and fail. By failing, you will discover all of the ways you need to protect yourself during your escapes. Failure during live sparring is a critical component for learning both frames and escapes.

Details of a Successful Frame

Getting the Frame is Hard Work

We’ve established that the frame itself should not solely rely on muscular strength, but it’s important to understand that actually getting a good frame in place is going to be hard. Don’t give up halfway through getting your frames. You’ll only end up creating more work for yourself.

Use the Structure of Your Body

The best frames rely on the strength of your bone structure or skeletal structure, and not on the strength of your muscles. You won’t always be able to get the perfect frame, but do your best to not rely on constant muscular strength.

Don’t Work Hard, Work Smart

When you insert a good frame against your opponent, don’t give that space back. Fight to maintain the space and adjust according to how your opponent is trying to break through your frames.

Keep Moving at all Times

Even if it’s just small, fine-tuned adjustments, make sure you continue moving. Remember, you are in a disadvantageous position, and you need to get out. Never settle for what you have. Continue to take more and more from your opponent. If you get a frame and stop moving, you allow them a great opportunity to take that space back from you. It’s much harder to hit a moving target than a fixed target.

Use Your Frames to Escape

Once you get your frames, make sure you didn’t waste all of that energy for nothing. It will be tough work to get your frames, and you don’t want to have to repeat the process. Go for your escape, even if you’re not entirely confident in it.

Why are Frames so Difficult to Learn?

The concept of frames in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the core fundamentals you need to develop in order to have a successful defensive game--but it might also be one of the most confusing ideas to initially grasp as a newcomer. This is because framing techniques are extremely simple, but the concept behind them requires a fine-tuned sensitivity that only comes from practice sparring against experienced, resisting opponents. Against these opponents, the difference between a successful frame and a failed frame may come down to a small detail that happens during a split second. It is in these small failures where you will learn the most about what frames are and how to frame effectively.

Why it’s Hard to Escape Even After Getting Frames

Some people may find it difficult to attempt an escape, even after getting great frames. If you find yourself in this spot, here are some things to consider.

Are You Afraid to Risk an Escape?

If you find yourself afraid to escape, you may be scared of getting back into a significantly disadvantageous position after all of the work it took to get this far. This is completely understandable. Find a training partner you trust that you can drill this with. Recreate the situation, but jump to the part where you have your frames, and you are ready to escape. Now, practice just your favorite escape over and over again. Once you are more comfortable with the escape itself, you should feel more confident in taking the risk.

Have You not Learned any Escapes?

Perhaps you are getting good at framing, but you don’t have an escape, so you’re not sure what to do next. Talk to your instructor, and ask them to show you some escape options from this particular situation. The concept of framing is very important, but ultimately the frames will be useless if you can’t ever escape from the position. Once you have a few escapes, you can start trying them out with your frames.