How To Progress Your Jiu Jitsu While Injured And Prevent Injuries Altogether

In a recent jiu-jitsu class, an instructor of mine shared his stance on the reality of sustaining injuries while training jiu jitsu. 

“As much as some of you might not want to hear this, the longer you train, the greater the chance you will inevitably hurt something. There is, however, a clear distinction between being ‘banged up’ and ‘being injured.’ You will get banged up, what we want to avoid are injuries.”

The distinction he cares to make is regarding the length of time one would need to take off to recover between minor versus major injuries. Bruises, contusions, sore muscles, sprains; these are all inevitable realities of consistent mat time. If you train long enough, simply put, your body will require maintenance and rest to a certain degree. You may need to take a few days off, perhaps even a week or two, to tend to a lingering issue. 

An injury, on the other hand, knocks you out for months. These are one’s where it is wise to acknowledge they are not worth getting no matter what is on the line. Through education, mat time, and healthy living, we can hopefully avoid such instances through the application of sound biomechanics and a healthy mindset towards the intensity of our training. 

As an early purple belt, I was shelved for two months with three bulging discs in my lower back, one of them severely debilitating me to the point of being couch-ridden. I was recommended for surgery, which I ended up performing within a few days of the diagnosis. The surgery was an L4-L5 microdiskectomy, with a recovery period set at six weeks. I watched jiu jitsu everyday, limping to the academy to watch class, and inevitably came back mentally sharp as I worked to get my body up to speed. I had technically speaking, for the most part, not missed a beat in my progress. 

What could I have done to prevent this? By the time of the injury, I had allowed myself to reach a point in my training where stretching, proper nutrition, and a moderation in the intensity of my training were not controlled. I had a routine going of six to seven days a week, usually twice a day; however, I did not find the time to stretch or do corrective exercises. I neglected any form of weight lifting, core exercise, or any other physical activity other than jiu jitsu. A year removed from surgery, I am currently training as much as I ever have. Here is a list of six things I could have done that may have prevented me from becoming a surgical case. These six recommendations have helped me in my recovery and continue to help me maintain regular training at a sustainable clip. 

1) Include an Isometric strength training protocol. Building muscular core strength is a well-circumscribed way of preventing lower back injuries. The neurosurgeon suggested planks as the primary method for which to help my recovery. Chiropractors, physical therapists, and high level personal trainers have specialized training in exercise protocols to strengthen and rehabilitate anatomical structures. 

2) Consume an anti-Inflammatory diet and optimize your supplement intake. A recent study found that the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio in one’s diet ought to be at 1:1, whereas in the United States the average diet has an alarming 1:15 ratio. Omega-6 fatty acids are 100x more inflammatory than their Omega-3 counterparts. Ways to combat this? Sea protein instead of animal protein. Avocados, nuts, olive oil, fish oil. Less red meat. These are all proven ways to favorably alter this ratio. 

3) Dedicate time to stretching before and after training. Your body is your temple. Growing up in the cold winters of Chicago, we would never drive our car before warming it up first. The same idea applies when taking your body out for a spin. Engage the range of motion of all your joints, move around, flow roll. Perform corrective exercises suggested by your health professional. Engage your core, and allow your body to adapt to it’s surroundings before throwing it into the fire. 

4) Monitor your training partners and who you roll with. New white belt comes in, 10 years of wrestling, has thirty pounds on you? Think soundly before engaging in live, unfiltered sparring with them from the first class. They have not embraced the jiu jitsu philosophy thus from experience, I’ve found them to be out with a chip on their shoulder and a greater liability than it’s worth.

5) Do not obsess about winning in training, obsess about becoming technical. The biggest tip I could ever give anybody in their training is to become fascinated with the art. Appreciate the mechanical advantage used against you by higher belts, in a quest to move you further along the spectrum. Needless to say, your body will thank you down the line. 

6) Carve out regular time for sauna use in your protocol. I’ve recently made strides in my flexibility and therefore my rubber guard simply by using my gym’s sauna for a few 30 minute sessions each week and stretching while I’m in there. Although I personally don’t include yoga in my regimen, it could be a useful adjunct in building up your body, particularly hot yoga, which I have memories of walking out of feeling more loose and limber than any other activity. 

Whatever the protocol you engage in to improve your training output, take one thing from my experience: training on its alone is usually not enough.


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