ULTIMATE GUIDE To Staying Injury Free In Jiu Jitsu
If you train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it's not a question of If you are going to get hurt but when and how often. Personally, I’ve had rib, neck, shoulders, and knee issues, not to mention the number of fingers and toes I’ve sprained/broken. BJJ is an amazing martial art and the community you become a part of can really give practitioners a sense of family. The problem that I see in most guys/gals is that they don’t put in extra time to take care of their bodies off the mat. Yes, to get better at jiu jitsu you have to train more jiu jitsu, but to continue to train requires a level of self care that sometimes individuals forget to do. Even if you are time crunched, I highly recommend integrating these 5 elements in order to stay injury free in jiu jitsu. And if you have trouble putting these simple steps into practice, hire a coach to help you stay accountability. I pride myself on being able to deliver big results for all my BJJ clients. Having a coach who can integrate small steps by creating a tangible plan can make all the difference in your BJJ game.
Of course strength training is at the top of my list. I’ve been a strength coach for the last 25 years and have personally seen what strength training can do for athletes of all levels. It helps you get stronger, improve joint integrity, improves your hormone production, and helps you drop unwanted fat. Everyone is busy and has limited time but making time to lift is essential for health and wellness. If you are in you mid 30’s or older your testosterone is on the decline and a good lifting program will boost your T. Also, let me clarify that its imperative that you are not training to be a bodybuilder. Bodybuilding workouts are great for developing muscular shape and size but can tax your body to the point that your jiu jitsu suffers. It’s unnecessary to spend hours lifting and not be able to move the next day. If the gym scene isn’t for you, you can make a small investment and train at home with a few pieces of equipment. Here is a simplified version of what your workouts should look like and can be done in as little as 20 min 2x a week.
* Hinge or Squat -“It’s all in the hips” powerful hips go all long way in bjj so don’t neglect them. Hinging refers to kettle bell swinging of all types, deadlift variations and all squat variations. Find out which one works for you best, which means gives you the results you are looking for on the mat. Just making your sore doesn’t mean it’s the best. Getting stronger means it works.
* Push it- Get in one pushing movement. Presses are essential for developing chest, shoulder, and tricep strength and will help to keep you shoulders healthy. Pushup variations, dips, presses of all variations qualify as pushing exercises. Pick one per workout and get after it.
* Pull it -Do 2-3 movements for your pulling muscles. The back or pulling muscles are more important than the pushing movements. Pull-ups, rowing movements, pulldown variations are all great pulling movement. If your shoulders don’t like those movements try TRX inverted rows. If you want to blast the body, rope climbing of all sorts goes a long way to developing grip strength along with pulling power.
* Core Work- Keeping your abs strong will protect against low back issues. My favorite movements integrate strengthening the obliques and deep ab muscles. My favorite movements/ equipment are ab wheel, pallof presses, counter lateral flexion with a land mine and hanging leg lifts. Think about limiting momentum and feeling these movements in the the abs. If your hip flexors dominate the movement and change your back position, you are going to make a good ab exercise into a bad hip flexor movement. You don’t want that.
2. Eat Right
The amount of information that's available can simply be overwhelming for most people. Again, time spent in the kitchen meal prepping seems to be the greatest issue in eating right. Most individuals know that to be their best they should avoid eating fast food, junk food, processed food, and excess sugars. Yet, the average person is eating out 3-4 times week and still snacks on processed foods. Having a whole foods diet is the first step. Eating only things that grow or had a mama will take you a long way. Depending on your goals, the amount of starches you can get away with eating daily will vary, but if you stick to eating large amounts of protein and veggies, it’s a great start. Fat will help you feel full and is essential for hormone production, personally snacking on nuts, avocado and or coconut help me feel good and manage my blood sugar. Use crock pots and slow cookers to make cooking more efficient. Having great tasting food ready when your hungry is key to success. If you are “hangry”, you’re going to make bad choices. Choosing a day to cook a few meals ahead will help in making good decisions. Another important element is to give yourself a cheat day if you’re on a carb restrictive diet. There’s only so much that you can rely on will power and limiting food intake, as well as carbs, can create a sluggish thyroid that signals your body to start storing more fat. I help all my clients time their carbs properly so their metabolism speeds up and they burn more fat.
Anyone who takes their sport seriously has to put in the time to stretch. Yoga is great. Personally, I would enjoy going to a class daily if I could manage it but there are only a certain number of hours in the day so often its unrealistic to go to a class after already spending two hours training BJJ. The secret is to use your down time effectively. When you’re home, instead of planting your rear on a couch, use that time to foam roll and stretch. The actual stretching sequence you use isn’t as important as understanding that to loosen tight muscles you need to stretch muscles at low intensity and for some time. I recommend at least a minute, if not more, on each stretch. If you can’t hold a position a minute because it hurts, you’re stretching too intensely. Try using props or variations of the stretch that allow you to hold it without a lot of discomfort. When you use your foam roller, use it, don’t abuse it. Since foam rollers are self massaging tools, I find most individuals will gladly roll but forget to integrate stretching. Another helpful hint is to stretch between sets when you lift weights or foam roll between stretches. I make all my clients do their stretching as part of their 5 by 5 program and it gets big results.
One of the most under utilized tools to make you bette is sleep. The vast majority of individuals I start working with are under resting. As a general rule you should awake feeling refreshed are ready to take on your day. If you wake up more than a two times a week feeling tired and could climb back into bed for a few more hours of sleep, you need to address recovery. Life is busy and hectic but you can’t cheat the sandman, and if you do, you will pay in the form of injuries and decreased productivity. So I recommend getting to bed early enough to get your 7-8 hours a night. Take CBD oil, this Pearl Tea, or ZMA to improve your quality of sleep. Another strategy for recovery is taking a 15 minute power nap in the middle of the day. These are highly effective after training and a meal and will boost your recovery.
The last element is enjoyment of life. You don’t want to get to the point where you’re telling yourself “I just can’t do this anymore, life is just to hard”. You can train jiu jitsu as often as you want but you also need to notice subtle body cues before they get out of hand. Are you feeling exhausted, wired but tired, irritable, angry, or having trouble managing your blood sugar? Your emotional state can tell you a lot about your body and vice versa. I know plenty of guys (and gals) who love to train so much that they don’t see that their bodies are breaking down. The key to avoiding overturning and potential adrenal burnout is having an activity or hobby that “fills the tank”. Find out what those thing are for you. If you love bjj so much that all you want to do to is train, then flow rolling is an amazing way to restore. Flow rolling or light rolling requires a partner who understands what you want out of the roll, so choose wisely before you start, you don’t want to go from 10% to 100% in two minute. Try to find other forms of play for your restorative activities like surfing, climbing, hiking, or even just sitting in a hammock with a good book. Restorative or yin yoga are great ways to recharge the batteries so you can get more out of your time on the mat.
We all have to choose what important to us. If training BJJ and an active lifestyle is at the core of who you are, you have to make time to strengthen your body, eat right, improve your mobility, get some sleep and actively recover so you don’t end up hurt. I have studied exercise science for the the last 25 years and the more I study the more I realize that the body and mind are incredibly connected. The state of the mind will have a powerful affect on the on the body. It is the very same reason that when stress is at its highest, I see my clients struggle much more with aches and pains, nutrition habits, and motivation. It’s easy to create strength programs that are intense and progressive, but most people’s bodies just can’t handle that today. What makes me a great coach is how I help my clients work their way around stress management and provide just the right amount of training to make them better. If you need help putting it all together, set up a consult with me and I can break it down an tell you where you may have gaps in your program. Get in and train, take care of your body, eat great food that makes you feel awesome, and enjoy your life.