Five Things You Should be Doing to Support Longevity in BJJ
We all have goals in our jiu-jitsu careers. For some, it’s to compete and win a notable title. For others, it’s simply to be able to call yourself a BJJ black belt one day. For most, it’s to continue improving, each and every day, and have fun doing so. For everyone – regardless of age, gender or whether you’re a competitor or a hobbyist – the most important goal should be to increase your longevity on the mat. Obviously, this last is a key ingredient toward achieving any of those other goals you might have.
It should be obvious already, but an injury can easily put all of that at risk.
In jiu-jitsu, we often put our bodies into unpredictable, compromising situations. So, the risk for injury is always present, despite our best efforts. Besides “tap early, and tap often,” there are more constructive ways to help prevent most BJJ related injuries, and promote greater longevity on the mat… so you can continue doing what you love, long into old age.
Here are the five things you should be doing toward that goal:
1: Consistent and Safe Training
Training consistently, and safely, is by far the best way to promote longevity. In jiu-jitsu, we often must make split-second decisions that are geared toward keeping our bodies safe, in response to our training partner’s movements. For example, if your partner goes for a double leg takedown, you must break your fall correctly, or risk injuring your wrist, elbow, or head. Or if your partner tries a double under stack pass, you have to roll over your shoulder, rather than straight over your head, to avoid straining your neck or back. If you’re not training consistently enough, your reaction times won’t be as quick, and you may put yourself at risk of injury by moving incorrectly. In addition to this, you also should be wise about your training partners, picking those who will challenge you, yet are still safe enough to train with. It doesn’t make sense for a smaller practitioner to train with a giant white belt, no matter what color his/her belt is.
2: Individualized Prehab Programming
Regardless of how consistent you might be, or how careful you are in selecting your training partner, if your body can’t move in the way it should. Maybe your flexibility is extremely limited, or you lack sufficient mobility in certain joints. Maybe the strength of the musculoskeletal connections in your shoulders or knees had already been compromised by an earlier injury, since healed, but never fully recovered. Or just general age, and the wear and tear of your everyday life, has weakened them. Whatever the case, these will significantly increase your risk for injury. An individualized prehab regimen [INSERT LINK: “What is difference between rehab & prehab?”] will specifically address these issues, with exercises that aim to strengthen the muscles and joints, increase flexibility, and improving range of motion and motor control. This helps the body to be better equipped to handle the stress, pressure, or impacts to the body that might otherwise cause an injury.
3: Supplemental Strength Training
Your prehab routines may incorporate some strength training exercises, but you might also consider adding a supplemental strength training regimen [INSERT LINK: “How Prehab is different from S&C”] to your weekly schedule. A typical strength training program is designed principally to make you stronger, targeting the major (and sometimes minor) muscle groups. In jiu-jitsu, we emphasize the ability for proper technique to overcome brute strength… but when it comes down to it, the stronger you are, the better you’ll be able to execute the techniques, or defend against them. This is especially the case with when you’re training with someone larger than you, or even someone of similar belt rank (given equal technical ability, strength really does matter). The stronger you are physically, the better able you’ll be in keeping yourself out of compromising situations, or at least keeping your body in a safe posture or position if you are getting smashed.
4: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Jiu-jitsu is highly dynamic, and depending on who you’re rolling with and how hard you both are going, it can get pretty intense, fast. The last thing you want is to gas out in the middle of the match. Not only will that increase your likelihood of losing to your opponent, but when you’re gassed, your reaction time slows and your body isn’t able to move efficiently, thereby increasing your risk of injury. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts are those in which you do certain exercises at a hard pace for a relatively short period of time, followed by a period of rest, over several rounds. These aerobic-style workouts not only increase your cardio and your body’s ability to recover during rest, but they also do a pretty good job of mimicking the fluctuating pace of a typical jiu-jitsu match. The better able you are to keep up when the match becomes intense, and rest efficiently when it slows, the lower your risk of injury.
5: Proper Diet
Finally, proper diet also plays a role in your ability to avoid injury and increase your longevity on the mat. Think about if you put the wrong fuel in your car’s engine. It probably won’t run very well, if at all. You must think of your body as a machine that requires the proper fuel to perform effectively and efficiently during a jiu-jitsu match. This applies to your long-term nutrition and weight goals, as well as what you eat immediately before training. The more balanced your nutrition is, and the closer you are to a healthy weight, the better your body is able to move, function, perform, and recover. This is all very important for keeping you injury-free on the mats. Additionally, try to avoid that greasy double cheeseburger with fries just before training. Forcing your body to deal with a burgeoning gastrointestinal issue, while simultaneously asking it to go to battle on the mat, will not end well generally, and very well could put you at risk of injury in the heat of the moment.
Again, regardless of your individual goals, if you love jiu-jitsu as much as the rest of us, longevity should be a priority. Consistent training, a solid prehab regimen, a supplemental strength training and HIIT program and proper diet will all help you to stay on the mat, longer and in better health.