With 2x European Champion, Emilia Tuukkanen || Instagram @emiliatuukkanen
Even if you’ve only been to one BJJ class, you will know that it is not the most injury-free sport out there. Sadly, many jiu jitsu guys and girls skip taking care of their muscles and ligaments in different forms of body maintenance. None of us wants to be one of those dudes in their 30’s who can’t stand longer than 20minutes because of back pains, or walk more than a few miles because their knees can’t take it.
What can you actually do to keep yourself healthy and injury-free, whether you are training hard and competing or doing jiu jitsu just for fun?
1. Stretch. A lot.
No matter how often you train jiujitsu, you need to stretch. Some positions and moves affect your muscle and ligament health more than others, for example if you invert from guard a lot and roll on your shoulders for berimbolos, ‘kiss of the dragons’ etc, your neck and back are for sure going to be sore. After awhile you might get used to it, but I promise you that after 10 years, you will be paying back for not stretching. Take some time to think about what you actually did to your body in training, and focus your stretching those areas more. There are many conflicting opinions about WHEN to stretch, so find what works best for you. Right before class is not the time for long stretches, but otherwise do them whenever you have time. Good stretching helps your recovery, loosens up muscles and ligaments, increases blood flow to muscles and of course makes you flexible and able to do more positions without restrictions. Remember to also stretch your toes and fingers, as they are under a lot of pressure during jiu jitsu.
Don’t be the guy who can’t touch their toes!
2. Never ever skip warm ups.
I can’t emphasise the importance of properly warming up every inch of your body enough. You need to prepare your body for the sport you are doing, and unfortunately jiu jitsu is extremely demanding and requires a thorough warm up that improves circulation and gets your heart rate up, as well as muscles and ligaments ready for weird and unexpected positions to prevent injuries, such as pulled and strained muscles or overuse injuries. Warm ups should be specifically planned to support the training of the day and focused on the muscles and movements that are needed. Warming up is also a good opportunity to take a moment before real work starts to prepare mentally for the challenges ahead and get your head on the game.
3. Think about your fascias.
Fascia (connective tissue between bones, ligaments and muscles) are some of the most underestimated parts of the body and many athletes have never even given a thought about them. The foam roller is a great way to keep your fascia tissue happy and elastic, which directly means more flexible and healthy muscles and joints. Tennis ball works great too if you don’t want to invest in a real foam roller, and feels amazing on your soles. If you have no idea how to treat your fascia, many fitness centers and gyms have foam roller classes, and Youtube is full of useful videos and tips. You can even get fascia massages, but I got to warn you that it hurts more than anything you have ever experienced!
4. Get full-body massages at least once a month.
Massages are not just about relaxing. For athletes sport massages are about promoting circulation by dialating blood vessels. And that means getting more oxygen and all other good stuff to muscle tissue and also removing toxins and waste that can get stuck in un-treated and inflated muscles. Massage effects your body positively in so many ways: more flexibility, faster recovery and less soreness, inflammation and tension in muscles. Not to mention the psychological effects after one hour relaxation. Just remember to reserve the rest of the day for relaxing and rest after getting a massage. Tip: Ask your massage therapist to focus sometimes on your hands and fingers. You can thank me later.
This in one of the biggest reasons I think many young competitive athletes are getting injuries regularly. You have to rest to let your muscles recover and let your body strengthen worn out ligaments and joints. You should have rest WEEKS regularly, when you train only a few times the whole week, and every week at least 1 full rest day. Resting is a huge part of any sport and many athletes feel like resting is somehow a sign of weakness, that true athletes train hard all day every day all year around. Without proper rest you have a huge risk of over training yourself, which can lead to even years of not being able to train hard. You also have higher risk of injuring yourself in training, when your body is tired all the time and hasn’t had a chance to rebuild itself. Sleeping enough is a crucial part of resting, since sleep is when our brain and muscles really recover.
6. Taking proper care of already existing injuries.
If you have torn a ligament or pulled a muscle etc, take care of it! Don’t hurry back to training too early, and when you finally get back to sparring, be careful and protect the injured part well. You might feel like you are missing out while recovering, but you will miss out even more if you go back too early and injure yourself even worse. Be patient and smart.
7. Think about what you are putting in your mouth.
It is not a joke that you are what you eat. Depending on the nutrients what you give your body, you can effect recovering and development. This shouldn’t come as news to any athlete, but it is still a good reminder that you have to think about food as well if you want to perform your best as an athlete. Enough calories doesn’t automatically mean enough nutrients, and even if you are putting on weight you can still be malnourished. Malnutrition means your wounds won’t heal well and your muscles will constantly hurt since they don’t have the ingredients for recovery. Poor nutrition often leads to different states of inflammation in your body, which easily leads to injuries, especially torns in joints and ligaments. Poor nutrition also makes recovering from injuries slower, since the body doesn’t get the “building blocks” it needs to rebuild injuried parts. Water and hydration is just as (if not even more) important, not only for your performance, but also to prevent injury.
8. The right mindset
You have to know your own limits, be able to let go of ego if necessary and be aware of your body and how to protect it when sparring hard. Training hard doesn’t mean training mindlessly. Tap before you get hurt, be humble and remember: tap today, train tomorrow. No need to break your arm just so you can avoid tapping to a lower belt.
9. Sometimes it is okay to choose your training partners
You can’t really get to very high level in jiu jitsu without sparring, and with sparring comes the risks. Don’t roll with that one huge crazy white belt who destroys everyone with brutal force if you’re small, and tell your training partners about your already existing injuries so they know to be careful. You can tell your partner if they are hurting you unnecessarily even in the middle of a round. It is a lot better to be known as the complainer than the one who is always injured.