GB Lifestyle: Maintaining Your Machine

If you have been training jiu-jitsu for any length of time, you will recognize the considerable stresses that your body is subjected to. After all, what other art and sport have your best friends trying to choke you unconscious and bend your limbs to near the breaking point several times each week? All joking aside, jiu-jitsu is at once called the “gentle art” but at times is not quite so gentle on our bodies.
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Jiu-jitsu addicts understand the passion for rolling with their friends and try to stay healthy and on the mats as much as possible. Some degree of sports injuries seem inevitable, but this can be mitigated by following a few practices to maintain and care for what I like to call your “machine”. Your samurai spirit might be strong and your desire to train may be great, but if we don’t take care of our machine, we aren’t going to be able to perform near our best and stay on the mat without injury interruptions.
Here are a few tips for Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu students to maintain their machines.
1- The right amount of training. If you are constantly aching, icing, and covered with so much athletic tape that you resemble a mummy from a horror movie, then you might be overtraining. In addition to feeling physically worn out, your mental state may also suffer negatively from training too often. The accumulation of small injuries is evidence that your body is subjected to too much stress to fully recover.
Now if you are training extra hard to prepare for a tournament, this wear and tear and aches and pains are part of the deal. But this must be balanced with recovery time in order to allow the body to heal and return to a normal state of functioning.
2- Allowing injuries to fully heal
If you have ever had one training partner who suffered some sort of training injury, only to show up to class limping and insisting that they are fine to resume training, you will understand this point. If you have sustained an injury that forced you off of the mats for a period of time, you must allow the body enough time to heal. If you try to jump back into training again too soon, what happens?
That’s right. You aggravate the injury and now it will be even longer before you can return to training. Uugghhh! You need to know when to take advice on when to stay off the mats for your own good.
3- Yoga and mobility work
Mobility may be defined as the ability to move our joints through their full range of motion. It’s a cliche, but that old adage “Use it or lose it” is true when it comes to our body’s joint mobility. Many long-time BJJ practitioners will swear by yoga (or another structured mobility program) for keeping their machines well greased and running smoothly.
We do some stretching as part of the Gracie Barra warmup, but if you are demanding a lot out of your body, you will want to regularly perform some mobility and flexibility work to ensure against joint pain.
4- Eat well. One of the main causes of joint pain for BJJ athletes is inflammation. And one of the best treatments for inflammation is eating a healthy diet – focused on natural foods that have not been processed and as close as possible to their natural state. Think a real chicken breast as opposed to chicken nuggets. They are NOT the same thing!
Now most of us know that we SHOULD be eating well. But if ask yourself “What did you eat today?”, you might be mildly embarrassed to admit your meal choice. I’m not going to give specific diet advice in this short article but simply reminding you that if you truly want peak performance and longevity, you are going to have to pay attention to your nutrition. Focus on real food, unprocessed and nutrient-dense.
5- Leave something in the tank
The hardcore mentality of “go hard or go home!” and “No pain…no gain!” is a mindset that unless you are pushing yourself to your limits, you are not training seriously.
MMA coach and BJJ black belt Firas Zahabi recommend lower intensity and training more often in a week than high intensity and fewer weekly sessions. Zahabi explains that over the course of a year, those extra hours of training at lower intensity add up and ultimately are more effective at improving our jiu-Jitsu. Leave something in the tank so you look forward to the next training session.
See also on GB Blog: GB Values: Body & Mind with Master Carlos Gracie Jr.
Writer: Mark Mullen, Gracie Barra Black Belt