Reducing the aches and pains of all that mat time mileage
Whether you’ve found BJJ later in life, or you’ve just been in the game long enough that your body is lodging regular complaints, jiu jitsu eventually takes its toll on us all. As a sport, marital art, pastime or extracurricular obsession, BJJ is a hell of a lot of fun. During an hour or two class we can forget our worries, shake off our anxieties, relieve our stress and earn our carbs, all while making friends and learning how to squeeze their heads off at the same time. But, for all the mental and physical benefits of BJJ – as well as judo for that matter, just replace ‘squeeze heads’ for ‘slamming torsos’ – our bodies will inevitably take some punishment. For some, the cauliflower ears and carrot fingers are a small price to pay for the empowerment and skills BJJ awards us, but for others, especially the older grapplers among us, the chronic back pains and swollen joints can become a costly investment that gets increasingly difficult to reconcile as the years go on. Often, the longer we train, the more the pain, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are a few easy tips I’ve found useful in battling the effects of the grappling grind…
I’d love to say that what you eat doesn’t affect your rolling recovery, and maybe it doesn’t so much when you’re young, but past 30, what you shove in your cakehole can hugely impact how your body reacts to a couple of hours of groundwork punishment. In recent years, keeping a predominantly clean, balanced diet has no doubt helped my body feeling energised and rested for back-to-back days of training. An expert on sports nutrition I am not, and obviously everyone’s nutritional needs are different, but I can confidently say that keeping dairy and gluten as low as tolerable and kicking refined sugars and highly processed foods to the curb will only benefit how your body (and subsequently mind) feels day to day. Throw in some occasional intermittent fasting, the odd veggie day and plenty of good fats and leafy greens and your body will show its gratitude.
LIMIT THE LIQUOR
I’ve trained BJJ now for over ten years, starting when I was 25. For probably just over half of that time I could quite happily go six rounds at the pub and then do the same on the mat the following morning. But, now that I’m in my mid-thirties and basically an extreme lightweight, a couple of beers is all it takes to write off any decent rolls for at least a day. Perhaps drinking and drilling isn’t a problem for you, and this is not to say you should stick to the tomato juices every night before you have BJJ, but if you don’t want to wake up feeling nauseas at the thought of that first forward roll, maybe call it quits after you’ve got a little buzz on rather than getting completely blitzed.
EMBRACE THE COLD
Muscle soreness and fatigue following training is, unfortunately, all part of this irrationally addictive game. Add to that the inevitability of injuries, and for the especially unlucky the need for surgery to fix them, pain and inflammation management soon become a perpetual preoccupation for long time grapplers. Personally, I’ve had my fair share of injuries and a few intimate arthroscopic encounters of my own, and my best recommendation for keeping the sore shoulders and swollen knees from tapping out permanently is: the cold. Regular ice baths would be ideal, if you have the time, tub and tenacity for them, but a quick cold shower in the morning followed by contrast (flipping between hot and cold) showers after training are the next best thing in keeping the pain at bay without regularly hitting the meds.
To many this will probably sound obvious, or even pointless to mention, but hear me out: not only does the quantity of sleep you get directly affect your recovery, but also the quality. If you’re training late in the evening and have an early start the following morning, there’s not much you can do about increasing your hours of slumber, but in order to make sure you get the best quality of deep sleep during that precious time, you may want to consider what you do before you hit the sack. Inhaling a huge meal just before bed could make you, and your stomach, restless in the night, so a lighter meal or replacement shake before lights out may be a better alternative. Talking of lights out, it’s been proven that staring at our phones and devices before bed can disturb our sleeping pattern and postpone quality sleep – the blue light from the screens suppresses our production of melatonin, the hormone that tells our bodies to shut down and catch some Z's. So, instead of flicking through youtube technique tutorials until your eyes get heavy, try reading a good old fashioned instructional book.
My final tip won’t exactly be ground-breaking news, and it’s something we all know we should do more of, but I can’t stress enough how important stretching is. Whether it be before training, during training, after training, away from training while watching Netflix, if you want to prevent injuries or already suffer from any joint problems, stretching is essential. The more flexible and supple your muscles are, the less strain you’ll feel on your joints – particularly in the nonsensical positions we often find ourselves in – and the less risk of injury. In the typical class, we tend to warm up, drill techniques and roll right up until it’s time to leave, but stretching after sparring should be as an imperative part of BJJ as washing your gi after you wear it. I’m not saying you should be nailing a half hour yoga flow immediately after every class, but even a few minutes of toe reaching and back bends before hitting the showers will gradually increase your flexibility and make climbing out of bed in the morning that little bit easier.
Words by Si Tutton