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Facing the Inevitable BJJ Injury
Now that I'm in my mid-40's and been training BJJ consistently for almost 10 full years, I've come to accept the daily aches and pains associated with training. There's an old joke that if you train BJJ and wake up one day and nothing hurts, then you actually died. Truer words have never been spoken. Training jiu jitsu, as amazing and positively life changing as it can be, is still a tough physical activity where some of the best people in your life are trying to kill you for fun.
Over time, normal muscle soreness will give way to sore or aching joints and stiffness. If you're lucky you will have many years where these are the only things you have to deal with, but if you're like the majority of practitioners, sooner or later you will deal with a more serious issue or injury.
Let's take a look at some things that can help you get through those injuries whether minor or more serious. One of the biggest factors to concern oneself with besides the actual injury is the sense of guilt or anxiety that comes with missing jiu jitsu. Are my skills going to go away? Am I going to forget everything? Is everyone going to pass me up? Should I even keep training? These are all questions that plague someone who is working through injury and missing the mats at the same time. Let's look at some strategies now related to injuries.
Is there anything you can do to be proactive and possibility prevent injuries? While freak occurrences or accidents can happen at any time, by training smart and investing some time in some pre and post-jiu jitsu work, can go a very long way to making sure you stay healthy on the mats.
1. Don't skip the warm up.
The warm up is designed to prepare our bodies for the training that is to come. It is meant to get our muscles and our joints loosened up and ready to practice techniques or spar. There may also be some intention by instructors to fatigue the students to ensure that they are using technique at all cost, instead of relying on strength. By skipping the warm up, you are risking injury by jumping into class before you are adequately prepped and in the right mindset.
2. Consider adding yoga to your agenda
One of the best investments you can make in your body is adding some yoga to your weekly training. With the investment of just 10-20 minutes a day, you can prep your body, increase your strength and flexibilty and also help with recovery by keeping sore muscles and joints loose and flushed with nutrient rich blood.
3. Consider adding some strength and conditioning
Bodyweight and weight training exercises, like kettlebells, can be some of the best tools to keep our muscles and connective tissues strong and ready to perform their best on the mats. The addition of strength and conditioning training will go a long way to expose any weak points in our bodies and give the proper attention to those weaknesses to help create balance which can be beneficial on the mats.
Typically we think of being proactive as being positive and being more reactive as being negative, but not in this particular case. By being reactive, you are listening to your body and not ignoring the injury or potential injury. If you end up getting hurt despite your best efforts to be proactive and build your strength, flexibility and conditioning, here are some things you need to think about that could help you maintain your BJJ sanity.
1. If you're injured, take care of it.
Seems pretty obvious, but jiu jitsu folks are used to getting beat up. I think that naturally makes us more likely to ignore that nagging pain and work through it. There's a big difference between soreness and actual pain, so make sure you are being honest with yourself and air on the side of cautiousness whenever you can. As frustrating as it might seem as first, ignoring an injury could potentially make it much worse and I'd prefer to miss the minimum amount of class time, so I'm going to get it checked out.
Also if you're injured in a way that could require some rehabilitation or physical therapy, make sure you attack that as voraciously as you would attack some half guard instruction or some other position you wanted to learn in class. Think of the physical therapy as extra drilling if you have to. Whatever it takes to get through it as quickly, but as effectively as possible and have you back on the mats as soon as humanly possible.
2. If you're injured, work some other areas.
Let's say you're working with a knee issue. If you are able, try to get on the mats and work other areas. Keep in mind that the development of the position we now know as half guard, came from Roberto Correa dealing with a knee injury and being unable to work his full guard like he wanted to.
I recently incurred an inner thigh injury when someone doing a knee slice pass landed with all of their weight into my groin/hip flexor region near my pelvis. This has made it difficult working my half guard and Z guard, as well as trying to finish straight ankle locks. So in training today, I spent my time working on other things. I was able to land a few sweeps that I don't recall hitting because i was specifically trying not to stress that leg and inner thigh.
Slow methodical drilling can also be an effective way to work without fear of putting too much stress on an injury. Any jiu jitsu related movement you can do while injured will keep your mind and skills sharp, allowing you to feed the BJJ fix. By taking the time to focus on other areas that you can work without aggravating your injury or working on additional drilling activities, you are turning a negative situation into a great positive and whereas you may have had a decrease or regression of skills, you're actually adding new and stronger skills.
3. If you're injured, watch class.
There's nothing wrong with simply coming in and watching class if you're dealing with an injury. There is still a great deal you can learn and absorb by observing class. This gives you a chance to be the "fly on the wall" and watch your coaches and instructors guide the classes from an entirely new vantage point. Another fun activity is to watch people rolling and try to figure out their game plans and pick up nuances that interest you from afar.
4. If you're injured, recharge your batteries.
You can further make the best of this situation by using the time off the mats to recharge your BJJ batteries a bit. Do some studying at home, watch some YouTube or BJJ Fanatics instructional dvds. The John Danaher leg lock system is a solid 10 hours of great content. That should give you plenty to watch and rewatch as you work through the recovery and rehabilitation processes. It's also important to stay positive and stay connected to your academy. Continue to visit and interact with your teammates. Stay active on social media if that's your thing. Post updates about your injury so that your team stays on top of your expected return. The worst side effect that can come from any injury is to lose jiu jitsu completely by closing oneself off and drifting away.
In the video below, world champion Bernardo Faria shares his thoughts on what to do if you're injured and how to approach your training. As someone who has experienced nearly every injury you can imagine during his competitive career that led him to five world championships, he has some great advice for how to deal with this heart wrenching time.
So it's never too early to start being proactive by adding some yoga and some additional training into your schedule. If you look at your body as a bank and jiu jitsu training as your withdrawals, there will come a time when we run out of "money" in the bank. Yoga and strength and conditioning can be the investments we put into ourselves that allow us to keep training at the best of our abilities for our entire lives.
And should you find yourself injured, first and foremost remember it's not the end of the world and that you can come out of the situation a better and stronger grappler. You will just need to get creative and try some of the strategies outlined above and by Bernardo Faria.