What To (Possibly) Expect When You Come Back To Jiu-Jitsu After Taking Time Off

Image Source: Trinity SP Photography

Knowing that you have to take a few months off of jiu-jitsu due to an injury or personal issues can be frustrating and even scary. Even if your absence wasn’t planned (I see you, “I Stayed Home One Night & Never Went Back” friend), the idea of returning to the gym can be intimidating for a whole host of reasons. The self-doubt and questions that pop into your head (“Will I even remember how to do an armbar?”), the fear that you’ll have fallen behind all your teammates, and the dread of having to rebuild your technique and fitness level from scratch can make your big return even more intimidating than the idea of spending some time away from the mats.

My own three-month break was, thankfully, not because of an injury or other health reasons, but due to a temporary farm job that had me working from before the sun came up until just before the sun went down, at which point I’d get my writing work done until it was time to sleep. I was located an hour and a half from the nearest BJJ gym, and even if I’d had the energy to train, I wouldn’t have had the time. The nature of the work meant that I gained a lot of upper body and core strength, but the cardio I got was far less than what I was used to from BJJ training.

I knew that as far as my body was concerned, I’d be returning to jiu-jitsu very different than when I left. I was lazy about stretching, so I’d accepted that the flexibility that I relied on for defense would be compromised. I worried, however, that my technique would suffer as a result of being away for so long. Since I started training seven years ago, I’d never taken such a big break, and with how long it took me to learn techniques in the first place, I had to wonder if even “just” three months would cause my progress in jiu-jitsu to take a big step back.

While everyone may have different reasons for taking time away from BJJ in the first place and my experience can’t apply to every athlete’s unique situation, here’s what I found upon my return to the mats:

Cardio is hardio. I went from being a no-rounds-off, don’t-breathe-through-your-mouth practitioner to a just-give-me-five-minutes, I-hope-someone-here-knows-CPR grappler. My cardio has always been “jiu-jitsu cardio,” so I didn’t expect to come back to BJJ feeling like I could run a marathon, but yikes. I gassed out a lot quicker than normal, and after going a few rounds in a row, I had to duck into the bathroom to vomit. The only thing that saved me from being completely passed out on back the whole time was the built-in strength training I’d gotten at work. I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been quite as rough if I’d done any form of consistent cardio during my time away, but if you also spend your time away from the gym doing absolutely nothing that increases your heart rate, prepare to suffer the consequences upon your return.

Everything hurts more. As I expected, my flexibility had significantly decreased between my last jiu-jitsu session and my first one back. But I was not expecting the leg cramps that came on every time I played guard or attempted a triangle. The decrease in flexibility also meant that many movements I’d once done without a second thought — inverting, for example — were once again a strain on my body. Since everything was a bit tighter, I also had to worry about tapping earlier instead of trusting my flexibility to give me a little wiggle room to get out of submission attempts.

Instincts may suffer, but memory will be fine. I’m pretty open about the fact that I am, uh, not athletically gifted. Given that I regularly get my left and right confused and forget techniques the second my coach sends us off to practice amongst ourselves, I thought for sure that I’d forget how to do jiu-jitsu. Instead, I was pleased to realize that I hadn’t forgotten anything (at least, not that I’d realized). What had diminished, however, were my instincts. I was slower to pick up on submission opportunities, and more alarmingly, I also took a little longer to realize when I was in danger.

Your teammates won’t forget about you. While this wasn’t a concern of mine, I’ve had friends who’ve worried about not feeling like “part of the team” upon their return to training. I’m lucky to be a part of a welcoming, friendly team, and although most of them knew about my temporary departure before I’d left, it was still nice to be welcomed back with open arms. No one gave me flack for being away, and if your team does make you feel like an outsider when you come back, it may be time to reevaluate your decision to keep training there.

Everything comes back quickly. In my case, it only took a couple of training sessions for me to start feeling like my old self again. While some of my anxiety about returning was valid, even my depleted cardio and decreased flexibility had nearly returned to normal after my first week back on the mats. It was encouraging to realize that I wasn’t going to be stuck feeling like my pre-jiu-jitsu self for months on end after taking just a few months off.

My departure from and return to jiu-jitsu was my own unique process, and depending on how long you spend away, your experience and fitness level, your health, and how your time is spent while you’re not training, you’ll be faced with your own individual challenges (or lack thereof) when you come back. The big thing to remember is that you shouldn’t get discouraged when those challenges do arise. They may be frustrating, but as long as you don’t give up, you’ll be back on track to your BJJ goals before you know it.

Featured image by Trinity SP Photography


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here