One of the biggest cliches you’ll hear in jiu-jitsu is that it is a marathon, not a sprint.
What this cliche means is that for everyone who falls within the 95% of the bell curve, getting better at jiu-jitsu will take a lot of time and a lot of practice. If you attempt to do too much, too soon, you will set yourself up for monumental failure. The truth is not everyone’s genetics and environmental influences allow their body/mind to train like an outlier (the other 2.5-5%). For most people, training too hard and with a lot of intensity is unsustainable and leads to injury, burnout and eventually, quitting.
What I have found is that learning how to pace oneself is one of the most important things to longevity in jiu-jitsu. One of the reasons is, training jiu-jitsu requires a conditioned body. In order for your bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues to adapt, you will need to condition them. You condition them by training consistently over a long period of time. If you notice that muscle soreness go away much quicker than aches and pains at the joints, it is because your connective tissues do not recover as quickly. Therefore, it is important you give it time to adapt.
The Importance of Pace
If I asked you to run a marathon, would you run at a sprinter’s pace? Probably not. You probably would not run a marathon right off the bat, either. Likely, you will practice, put in some miles and when your body is conditioned, run your marathon. A serious obstacle for most beginners is that nobody likes being bad at jiu-jitsu. We all aspire to be great in a short amount of time but we tend to go about it the wrong way. Going faster is not better, it is just faster. Doing more is not better, it is just more.
“Slow and steady wins the race”
Another cliche in Jiu-jitsu but there is immense truth to it. Moving slowly and steadily in your journey is going to allow your body to condition itself while also mitigating the risk of any injury. Training fast increases your risk of circumstances that might keep you off the mats and hinder your abilities to train. This was my big mistake when I first started. I would train hard and develop tendonitis in both shoulders that would eventually radiate down to my wrists at its worst. I would train hard then have to take two weeks off and then train hard and had to take another week. Finally, I ended up just taking a few weeks off and then easing back into it. Now, whenever I feel inflammation in my shoulders, I know it’s time to take a small step back before it becomes worse.
In my eight plus years of practice, I’ve had many injuries but only one has kept me off the mats for longer than a month. In many respects, I am lucky. In other respects, however, I have manipulated my training in order to make sure that the chances of getting injured are fewer and further between. I also follow a few general practices for lowering my risk of having to take any time off.
1. I do not train at 100%.
Unless I have a competition coming up, I do not train at 100%. Practice is for practice. The majority of the year is spent practicing new techniques, operating at less than 80% of my capacity. I also make sure that I get plenty of rest in between days when the intensity is a little higher. This is easy because I do not have a social life so my time spent not teaching or training is sitting around, eating, and watching Netflix. Try training at less than your capacity and see how that allows you to train more or less. [There’s a great podcast on Joe Rogan with Firas Zahabi on the benefits of training lightly with more volume. Check it here]
2. I avoid training partners that are erratic/spastic
As the head instructor of a school, I have that luxury. Most people, however, do not. Training with spastic partners can be scary. Every school has students that act as if they’re training for the world championships without being able to control their bodies. Learning how to control your body is important for keeping yourself and others safe. In the past, when I didn’t much have the option of choosing my training partners, I used to get to dominant positions and hold them as long as I could. If I was in guard, I wouldn’t take many chances and I would only attack sweeps or submissions if there was a high certainty of executing them. I don’t usually exercise this level of caution unless my chances of injury are high. There is no shame in keeping yourself safe.
On that note:
3. Exercise body control.
When learning new techniques or movements, I try to practice as slowly as possible in order to understand the nuances of each movement. An added bonus is that moving slowly allows you to develop better control of your body. This is one reason why breakdancers and gymnasts tend to excel at jiu-jitsu: They can control their body impeccably. When you can control your movement, you reduce the risk of causing “accidents”.
4. Take care of your body
This should go without saying but alas, the majority of people do not take care of themselves besides a few minutes of stretching after class. Lately, I have been spending about 15 minutes a day, 3 days per week foam rolling, working on mobility exercises and stretch. I get it, it’s a lot to do but mobility is important to your ability to do jiu-jitsu for the long-haul [I’ve been asked to write about various mobility exercises I do. Standby].
5. I eat a lot and sleep well
Eat a lot and sleep just enough. These should also go without saying. Again, the reality is people do not take care of themselves the way they should. Over the last few months, I decided to move away from the Keto-ish [I ate a few carbs here and there] diet I was on and decided to give a nutritionist a shot. After explaining my Intermittent fasting and diet protocol, the first words she said to me were “Dude, you’re starving yourself”. A few short weeks later, we increased my calorie intake by 1500 calories. The amount of energy I had for training was INSANE plus I was actually sleeping less [I’ll write more on this in another post]. I mention my diet only because I also noticed that despite my training, I was not as sore and was not dealing with as many aches as I used to. It was as if eating 3300 calories a day was the cure-all for all of my training woes. Food is fuel for your body and sleep is how your body repairs itself. You need both.