Training Jiu-Jitsu With Chronic Injuries

Being well rounded in BJJ means training both in the gi and no-gi.

When I first started training jiu-jitsu, I was nervous about rolling. After all, even though this is the “gentle art”, we’re still hyperextending each other’s joints all day long, which is tough on even healthy people, never mind those who have chronic injuries. 

In addition to being stiff and tight from sitting all day long (yay desk jobs), I also suffer from kyphosis (rounded upper back), a slight twist in my mid-spine, hip pain from a car accident, plica syndrome in my left knee, and a bum right ankle from an old karate injury. I have more misalignments and joint issues than a chiropractor and a physical therapist can shake a stick at, and there is rarely a moment when I’m not in some kind of pain.

And yet, I train jiu-jitsu 5-7 days a week.

How? You might ask. And why? Wouldn’t jiu-jitsu make these issues worse?

Well, maybe. If I rolled hard every single day, definitely. And if someone ankle locks my bad ankle six times in one day, that usually means I’m out for a few while it heals up. But for the most part, I’ve figured out how to train around my injuries. 

In these cases the best you can do it is to find yourself a personal trainer, if you are in Virginia this Personal training Mclean can help you with the routines.

Here’s what works for me:

Stretching before AND after class

When I first started training jiu-jitsu, I could only come to class once a week. Not because of my schedule, but because every single time I went to class, I would pull a muscle. I mistakenly thought the warmups would loosen me up enough to train without injury, but I was so stiff from sitting all the time that just wasn’t the case.

Eventually, I got tired of pulling muscles, so I started stretching. I’d arrive 30 minutes before class and stretch and stay 30 minutes after. 

Is that an extra hour of time? Yes. 

Can it be a little tedious? Maybe.

But aside from no longer pulling muscles, stretching has made jiu-jitsu so much easier for me. I can invert now, something I never considered possible before because of my back, and I can hold in a variety of uncomfortable positions (including being stacked) that in the beginning were too painful for me.

Not to mention, even though I no longer HAVE to stretch before a jiu-jitsu lesson, stretching just feels good. I look forward to it every day, and I use that time to listen to podcasts or just meditate. It’s a great way to get yourself in the right headspace before a training session.

Tell your partner about your injuries

Before I train, I always tell my training partners about my injuries. Most partners don’t want to actually injure you, so knowing where your weak spots are will help them to be able to take care of you when you’re drilling or rolling.

Keep in mind, however, that sometimes people forget things in the heat of the moment. So if someone is about to kneebar your bum knee, make sure to stop them and let them know. 

Don’t go ham on every roll

It might be tempting to go hard every time you roll, especially when you’re training for competition. After all, rolling hard is how you test whether your jiu-jitsu will hold up against a real competitor, or even an enemy in a self-defense situation.

But when you have joint issues and chronic injuries, you can’t afford to roll hard every time. That’s a sure-fire way to make your injuries worse, and pretty soon you’ll end up having to miss classes or quit altogether.

Instead, try mixing up your rolls. You can roll hard with some partners, but with others, consider asking them to roll at half-speed or strength. Going slow will give you more time to sharpen up your technique, which is actually a good thing because you’ll retain that muscle memory for when you go hard later.

Come to class even when you’re injured

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to train while you’re injured. After all, you’re supposed to keep weight off injured joints and limbs so they can rest up and heal. 

But giving an injured joint or limb time doesn’t mean you have to stay off the mat. You can still drill techniques, or flow roll, or even just sit and watch others. Watching other people practice or roll gives you opportunities to study what they’re doing and take notes on possible moves or variations that you haven’t tried out yet. 

Plus, sometimes you’ll get to sit next to the professor and grill them or get them to show you a move you had questions about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that, and it’s awesome. You’re basically getting a private lesson for free.

I hope you found this article helpful. Do you have any tips and tricks for training around chronic injuries? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.


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