Here’s a bullet list on what you need to do in order to prevent injuries while practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (and most high intensity sports) at the later ages. I’ll go into detail on each item:
- Strengthen your lower back and core
- Reduce Inflammation
- Get adequate sleep to ensure your body is recovering
- Fuel your body for performance and avoid garbage food
- Focus on functional strength training
- Stretch. Stretch. Stretch.
- Massage Therapy can work wonders.
- Epsom Salt Soak
- Listen to your body and understand when to rest and recover
- Jiu Jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint
I’m still relatively young. I started BJJ at 37 with a good health and fitness foundation. I started CrossFit about 2 years before when I weighed in at 235. Over two years I dropped down to about 180 and have been hovering in that range ever since. During my years in Crossfit I realized that pushing my body would really put strain on my joints, cause intense muscle soreness and test my ability to recover. I saw people get injured from pushing too hard on days they should have rested. People got injure from using poor technique (usually because they were fatigued and getting lazy).
I’ve learned over the years that a primary focus of training should be preventing injuries so that training is not interrupted by stoppages due to injury. I’d rather pull back and push on a bit slower than let my ego take over and put myself in situation that could result in setbacks of weeks, months or more.
I think its important to start Jiu Jitsu with a decent level of cardiovascular endurance. People think strength is important, but after a while you realize that strength can cause you to gas out quickly if you are using force over technique, which most white belts are guilty of.
BJJ is a contact sport and also asks a lot of your body. You twist and turn and press in ways that many people have never done before. You will quickly find the weak links in your muscles and joints and hopefully focus on strengthening those areas before an injury presents itself.
Strengthen your lower back and core
I’ve had lower back pain for a long time due to sitting all day as a programmer so I’ve had to be vigilant at stretching my hip flexors and hamstrings while performing lower back strength exercises. When we sit all day our hip flexor and psoas muscles shorten which causes an imbalance in the muscles that support the hips. Often this leads to over exertion on the lower back muscles and shortening of the hamstrings. I found that being consistent with my stretching routine would help overcome these issues and make my low back feel better.
Jiu Jitsu is going to put a lot of stress on your joints. Knuckles, Shoulders, Elbows, Knees, Feet, Spine. Everything. This can make you reach for a bottle of Ibuprofen, which can help, but is only a band-aid and can actually be detrimental to use long term.
Taking common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen for only a week may increase heart attack risk by as much as 50%.
There are several ways to treat inflammation and joint pain, here are a few things I use (in order of importance):
- Eat Keto – research is showing that following a low carb Ketogenic diet may reduce pain and inflammation: Ketogenic Diets and Pain (1)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) for discogenic pain. (2) I like this brand: Nature’s Bounty Maximum Strength Fish Oil 1,400 mg – 980 mg Omega-3 be sure to look at how much Omega-3 you are getting per dose. Costco has fish oil, but its lower in Omega-3 and priced similarly. Also, keep it refrigerated and it will last longer.
- Glucosamine / Chondroitin – Glucosamine is a fundamental building block for proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans. Glucosamine sulfate (GS) helps to maintain joint health through its ability to both act as a component of and stimulate formation of cartilage glycosaminoglycans and the hyaluronic acid backbone essential for the formation of cartilage proteoglycans. (4)
- Ice Baths / Cryotherapy – This is pretty simple, I fill my tub with cold tap water and put in about 50 lbs of ice. Typical rule of thumb is: 5 minutes at 50 degrees F, 6 minutes at 60F or around there. Be careful with fingers and toes at really low temps. Just try to keep them moving and don’t soak them for too long. Try and keep your armpits below the water level to stimulate the lymph nodes and try to keep as much of your body below the neck submerged. It’s best not to do an ice bath within 2 hours of an intense workout as your body needs inflammation to heal, but after that an ice bath can work wonders to reduce swelling and inflammation. I try to do this twice a week and use cold showers in between. See this article for some helpful info: 8 Ice Bath Dos and Don’ts
- Turmeric Curcumin Capsules (3) – I’ve been taking this for a while know and have noticed benefits when it comes to reduced joint pain. I’ve heard of this being recommended by Doctors after a friend of mine had back surgery and my mother had shoulder reconstruction. Both were advised to take Turmeric/Curcumin supplements. See this article for more info: 10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
- CBD Oil – I just started using CBD before bed to help with reducing inflammation and getting better rest. I’ve heard many good things but have yet to really experience the benefits myself. I’ll update this once I’ve had more experience.
Get adequate sleep to ensure your body is recovering
If you are working out hard and really ripping your body apart each day you need 7-8 hours of sleep. Period. Some people can get away with 6 but I can’t. Sleep is when your body repairs your torn muscles, builds muscle, and restores your brain. Get into a good sleep routine and use natural sleep aids like Melatonin if needed. I like to take anti-inflammatory supplements before bed. My before bed stack is: Fish Oil, Tumeric/Curcumin, Glucosamine, 10mg slow release Melatonin, and Optimum Nutrition ZMA Muscle Recovery.
Fuel your body for performance and avoid garbage food
You need to be eating adequate amounts of fat and protein each day to support your bodies need to rebuild. Eat clean carbs and avoid sugar. This is a very large subject by itself but I personally notice a huge difference in performance and recovery when I eat clean.
Focus on functional strength training
When doing strength and condition exercises outside of BJJ focus on functional movements that use multiple muscle groups. Isolation for specific muscles is good for bodybuilding, but in jiu jitsu we need functional strength and call on muscles to work in coordination. Strengthening the stabilizing muscles and groups as a whole will help prevent imbalances.
Stretch. Stretch. Stretch.
Put together a stretching routine and follow it consistently EVERY DAY. If you sit all day at work getting into the habit of standing up and moving at least once an hour will help your hip and low back muscles. Stretch before and after training. Just adding 5 minutes of stretching after a training session can really make a huge difference. Adding some Yoga 2/3 times per week can make a huge difference.
Massage Therapy can work wonders
I love a good deep tissue massage and feel amazing afterwards. A good massage therapist that specializes in sport rehab and deep tissue can work muscle groups to relieve muscle pain, release muscle tension and improve recovery. Sometimes my lower back get extremely tight sand a good massage of my low back, glutes and legs will release these muscles much faster than waiting for them to fix themselves. Massage can be pricey, but its worth it.
Epsom Salt Soak
This is probably one of my favorite things to do. I order Epsoak Epsom Salt 19lbs Magnesium Sulfate USP Resealable Bulk Bag from Amazon. I like to fill the tub as hot as I can handle add about two large 32oz cups and then just soak for 15-20 minutes. I also have a lacrosse ball and a double lacross ball which I use to apply targeted pressure to my back.
Listen to your body and understand when to rest and recover
I try to push as hard as I can and if you are a BJJ practitioner you know how a hard session of several rounds can really put the stress on your body. Some days during the warmup I can just feel my joints and muscles complaining. I know on these days that I need to pay special attention to my knees and maybe take it a bit slower. The next day I’ll take a day of from training and just focus on some light cardio and stretching.
Jiu Jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint
Bottom line: Jiu Jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint. The first fight should be against injuring yourself and your training partners. No ones jiu jitsu improves while they are injured. Check your ego at the door and operate within your bodies capacity. Be smart about pushing it and take the time to focus on recovery and injury prevention.
In this article i’ve linked out to several products that I personally use almost every day. The links are Amazon Associate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase as a result of clicking the link. This is one way to support this site. I don’t link out to anything I haven’t personally tested or used. Please also see my websites Health Disclaimer regarding safety information related to recommendation in this article.
I’ve tried to cite and provide links to more information and sources for the information above, if anything is incorrect please let me know:
1. Maroon JC, Bost JW. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg
Neurol. 2006 Apr;65(4):326-31. PubMed PMID: 16531187.
2. Masino, S. A., & Ruskin, D. N. (2013). Ketogenic Diets and Pain. Journal of Child Neurology, 28(8), 993–1001. http://doi.org/10.1177/0883073813487595
3. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Aug 2009.ahead of printhttp://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0186
4. Kelly, G.S., The role of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfates in the treatment of degenerative joint disease. Altern Med Rev, 1998. 3(1): p. 27-39.