A great question and was asked by one of the football players when working with them at the M606 football camp earlier in the month.

Clench jaw when exercising

Have you seen those guys in the gym clenching their jaw so tight or really pursing their lips when lifting heavy weights? Or have you seen people grind their teeth at night?


Your jaw is often used as a compensator when your body can’t work out how to get control it needs elsewhere (with an ab exercise for example).



Let’s begin discussing the footballer to find out more


His complaint was that he was experiencing regular lower back tightness and said his hamstrings are tight. He doesn’t feel it when he is playing but at the end of the game the restriction and discomfort begins. In a forward bend he can touch his toes so his hamstrings were definitely not the problem!

He had tried many different things in the past to help him from such as stretching hamstrings and core work and none of which made a long term difference.

He even came to camp last year with the same complaint and we worked on his glute strength, and even though it gave him a little more relief it didn’t solve the problem.


I knew I needed to try another method to work out what was going on.


Clench Jaw massageI have been studying neurokinetic therapy which is a type of assessment we use to help find a movement pattern that compensates for other patterns.



We asses to find one line of muscle tissue may have its amplifier switch turned up and another has its switch turned down as this imbalance may cause dysfunction.




By finding the two patterns and using neurokinetic therapy we can help return the pattern to a more balanced state and maintaining the balance by releasing and strengthening the appropriate patterns.

During the session with the football player, we found that when we tested his rectus abdominus (the abdominal muscles at the front of the body) he would clench his jaw sharply to gain control and ‘pass’ the test. (the muscles around the jaw had their amplifiers turned up).

Note here that the testing wasn’t about passing or failing but has a human we do not want to ‘fail’ at anything which is where we use those compensatory patterns to ‘pass’.


By using his jaw he was able to get more control in the abdominal test (even though there was a little subconscious cheating going on) so the player would have never noticed in training and playing that this was happening.


We repeated the test and asked him to relax his jaw by opening his teeth, placing his tongue on the roof of his mouth but keeping his lips softly closed.

And guess what; he wasn’t able to re-create the movement pattern he needed for the test.


What is causing the extra work?12744702 - illustration of the anatomy of the male human face isolated on a white background

The area of the jaw in question is the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) which is where your jaw and skull are connected. This joint is significant as it has more proprioception nerve endings per surface area than any other joint in the body. Proprioception is the tool that the brain uses to always know where our body is in space without actually having to look at them (you may have attempted the rub your tummy and pat your head test as a child; that tests proprioception).




The one part of your body your brain always needs to know its position is your jaw to prevent you from falling over and hurting your head. So when you are moving and need to get extra support clenching your teeth is a really common faulty stability strategy to help you get from A to B (along with holding of the breath).

Who else can be affected by jaw clenching for the core muscles?

One of our main clients we see is the post natal woman. Women generally tend to have more problems with pain and dysfunction around the TMJ than men, which may be due to the increase amount of oestrogen receptors in the joint, but also the forward head and neck position new mums fall into post birth.

After delivery new mums will experience pelvic floor and core dysfunction, and rather than weight lifting but car seat lifting requires stability and the brain may use the go to pattern of the jaw or diaphragm for that control.


What can you do to help this?

Focus on head and neck positioning

This maybe with a corrective exercise strategy, manual therapy such as massage or Alexander Technique. But better placement of your head and neck takes the pressure of the TMJ.

Pelvic floor and core strength

There are many strategies around this, but it is about being functional, being able to be strong and get into positions with ease.

Rockabado 6 x 6 exercises

These exercises covers the first point quite well and can be performed at any point throughout the day. (Maybe not in the office as colleagues may think you are a little strange tongue clicking at your desk).


Want some extra help with this? Give our team a buzz for more information on how to help!


  1. Michelle Lyons talk from Burrell Education Woman on Fire Conference 2016
  2. http://www.drdooleynoted.com/anatomy-angel-why-you-use-jaw-for-motor-control/