In the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu injury is something that happens to everyone at some point, but hopefully the injuries are minor. Many times people end up with a tweaked toe, finger, lower back, or shoulder. This is a normal thing in bjj, but hopefully this is not happening to you often and when it does happen you recover fairly quickly. If you are finding your getting injured more often, such as weekly injuries, you may be lacking something in your fitness. If you are one of those people who is constantly injured this article is for you.
I would like to start off looking at why people get injured in our sport. One of the major causes is overtraining. Some students can’t get enough training time lifting weights and running daily in addition to coming to bjj practice 5 or more times per week. This type of training is okay for short periods to prepare for a tournament, or fight, but this pace cannot be continued for long without inviting injury. If you want to train this hard it is okay, but every 4 weeks you need to have a back off week training light and cutting your total training sessions in half. Back off weeks give your body a chance to recover, repair, and prepare for the next upcoming 3 week cycle of hard training. Every 12th week should be taken completely off to allow the body to have a much needed break from all of the hard training. Many people worry they will lose skill, or strength, during this week, but the truth is most people come back better than ever after this short break.
Another cause of injuries in bjj practitioners is taking time off and then coming back in full force. This also is true for new bjj students. If you are new, or have had some time off, your body will not be used to this hard training and needs to be eased back into it. If you start off at 5x per week doing all of the warm ups, technique drills, and then sparring very hard you are asking to get injured. A much better way to approach this is to ease in by starting out training only 3x per week. By training less days you give your body a chance to get used to this new stimulus and start adapting. As your body gets used to this training you can start adding in more days. You also could start out training 5x per week, but I would advise making some days very light training days. In this example you could train hard 2-3x per week and the other 2x per week would be light, possible doing just the technique portion of practice and sitting out of sparring. I understand the urge to train all the time so you can learn, and progress, as quickly as possible, but if you are constantly injured you will miss a lot of practice and will actually progress much slower.
The last reason for injury is a lack of general physical preparedness. This concept could get a whole article on its own, but I want to at least address this subject. If your overall fitness level is low you will generally have a higher risk of injury. Now the question is what constitutes good fitness? This is not as simple to answer as one might think. Some people think lifting a large amount of weight makes a person fit. Others think running long marathons will make you fit. The truth is those things are specialized and while it takes fitness to perform them it does not make you fit. Lifting weights, running, calisthenics, flexibility, balance, nutrition, and agility are all parts of being fit. If you take a weight lifter and have him run sprints or long distances he will have difficulty because he specialized in only one form of fitness and ignored the rest. The same is true for a marathoner that is put into a weight room. It is okay to specialize in something, but you also need to bring up your general fitness to prevent overuse injuries. In our case Brazilian jiu jitsu would be our specialty. If we trained only bjj we could improve our fitness at bjj and probably see some increases in our general overall fitness. Over time if we did not do anything else we would probably start finding our rear deltoids were always sore, as well as our lower back, hips, and knees do to the fact we over developed the muscles used in bjj while neglecting other muscles in the body. How do we correct this? By adding in a general fitness program including calisthenics, weight lifting, flexibility and cardiovascular work. These sessions do not have to be long since their main purpose is to supplement our current specialty, bjj. These sessions could be as short as 10-20 minutes per day and in the form of circuits. An example could be Monday morning you perform 3 sets of 30 push ups, 30 sit ups, and 30 squats as quickly as possible using correct technique. This circuit would tax the cardiovascular system, muscular endurance, and would help to increase overall work capacity. Another example could be picking up a heavy object and carrying it for distance, or pulling a weighted sled for 10 minutes straight. These different options will tax you in all different ways and will only help to improve your overall bjj game. In the next article we will explore more about general physical preparedness, or GPP.