Straight out of the gate I gotta say if you're on the older side of 50 and you're looking at a way to bounce back from poor self-care and a litany of injuries, this ain't the blog for you.
What we are going to explore is how to stay optimised through some key practices that will keep you on the mats for longer.
Not just physically, but mentally too.
If you're trying to mitigate the amount of niggling or "chronic" injuries you already have, check our previous post here.
Now I started in an MMA gym because well, I wanted to train MMA.
But most of my partners my size weren't my size at all, I was just bigger than most others so I got lumped in with the 'big guys'.
If the white belts at my gym were introduced to grappling the same way I was, I doubt we'd have any white belts at all.
Fortunately, as the sport has become more refined and shared we are finding new ways of making grappling safer and more inclusive to just about anyone.
In saying that, I wanted a hard look into the world of fighting and that's what I got. So it would be counter-intuitive of me to get exactly what I asked for then quitting, like ordering a steak and then finding out some cow had to die for me to eat it.
Anyway, here are some bang-up ways to stay on the mat well past your use-by date, and like said, it's about more than your body so keep an open mind.
1. KEEP YOUR REASONS FOR STARTING CLOSE TO YOU.
This is by far the most important truth in staying on the mat in times of great struggles and mental hardships. Without something spurring you on you will find any reason to abandon ship and call it a day.
With your reasons why close to your heart you will always find a way.
For instance, my reasons were (and still are):
- Manifest my own destiny.
Never be bullied again, humiliated again, or under someone else's control.
- Keep away from negative patterns with a constructive one.
- Give my son something that money can't buy.
- Stay in shape, get the weight off and keep it off.
- Don't be an armchair critic, get involved.
If I'm injured I can pick any of these things top to bottom and find some motivation in getting back on the mat.
If I'm sick I think of these and I want more, even after throwing up all night has left me weaker than American beer.
Write your reasons down right now.
If you have time to read this you have time to write, even if it means you don't finish reading this blog.
I can't stress this main point enough.
2. BABY YOUR INJURIES SO THEY DO NOT BECOME CHRONIC.
Last chance to check out last weeks blog here before we continue on.
Our look into the prevalence of injury in grappling lead us to a pretty obvious truth;
WE ONLY SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE WHEN WE CAN'T ROLL THROUGH IT.
This is really bad.
This means, as a subculture, we nurture being macho more than we nurture our injuries and then said injuries are with us for life like a rock in our shoe.
When something sounds, feels or looks not right. Take the night off.
If it continues to be so the day after or the day after that get it checked out.
If not that injury is going to become part of you, trust me.
My go-to sub is the triangle, so much so that my knee is busted from doing too many poorly attempted triangles.
So what do I do?
I've had to detour the way I triangle on that leg which has made that specific - and favourite - part of my game a weakness.
If you're not sure the level of injury, get it checked at your GP.
It might be only a day or two off the mat, but trying to roll on a compromised body can mean the difference between a 12-day and a 12-month injury.
3. TRAIN WITH PEOPLE SIMILAR TO YOURSELF.
Part 1.: Body.
Sorry-not-sorry to all huge freak strong white belts out there, but you guys suck at not hurting your training partners.
As a general rule, don't train with massive white belts for your body. Leave that for someone who can handle them, like other huge white belts or higher belts.
I've trained with naturally very big guys on their first day.
Whilst they attempted to rip my head from my neck from inside my guard they say things like "am I doing this right?".
Not sure what he meant, but if the outcome was to stack me on the neck so hard I let loose a crazy armbar that makes his eyes go wide., sure, buddy.
Not his fault, he didn't know any better.
But if I have the choice between my neck and his arm, I'm taking his arm every-damn-time.
You what the third and best option is?
Avoid that situation altogether.
Part 2: Mind.
An addendum to this is rolling with people closer to your rank or level of experience.
Don't only train with black belts for your mind if you're a much lower belt.
You'll feel inadequate from not keeping up with their understanding of theory. Besides, you need to roll with people you have relative success against.
If you can allocate yourself a partner that's as consistent as you are, around the same size and belt rank then you're working in the sweet spot.
Share everything together.
Your strengths & weaknesses, your tendencies and thinking patterns.
Because this will force you to think deeper about your game. The goal is to be a deep well, not a puddle.
Constant injury and rolling outside your mental means alone will not achieve this goal.
4. TAP EARLY AND TAP OFTEN.
The reason we say this isn't just so you don't get hurt.
Although, that's definitely reason #1.
In fact, we've written pretty extensively about how often should you tap here.
When I know my partner has a good grasp of when to tap, I can really turn on the roll and hit subs hard.
This is fantastic training.
Partners with a strong grasp of submissions and their body are the best kind of rolls, in my opinion.
Those who refuse to tap when something is completely torquing their limbs suck because you look like the bad guy or hitting a sweet sub.
There's plenty of time to tough things out in this long journey, plus you can always compete and not tap to your heart's content.
Another 2 pronged tip: tap early for your body and be a good partner by tapping early for your partner's ability to hit hard submissions.
5. FUEL THE FIRE
There's a massive toll to pay for training as hard as grappling requires.
Not just the up-front payments that require X amount of calories for energy, but the nutrition required for healing tissue at a rate that will keep you on the mat.
This doesn't mean you need to starve yourself or whatever the latest fad diet that requires zero effort says.
What you need, as a general rule, is more whole foods like vegetables, fruits and healthy fats to compliment wherever you get your protein from.
- Eat veggies with every meal.
- Eat about 40g of protein with every meal.
- Eat 5-10g of slow-release/brown carbs (depending on your goals and training load) 4 or 5 hours before training and then half that soon after.
- Try not to eat bulk carbs and fats in the same meal. Either go easy on both or pick one.
- Limit water to 500mL per hour for a total of about 2L before training.
Any more than this will actually kickstart your diuretic hormones and you'll constantly need to pee, dehydrating you in the process.
- Eat one piece of fruit a day. If you're especially run down, eat it about 1,5 hours before training for a little pick me up.
6. MAKE SLEEP AN ART.
You know your body really heals when you're asleep, right?
Those gains you make pumping iron are actually made in the bedroom after the tissue damaged from training is repaired bigger and better than before.
So think of training and sleep as an equation:
Ability to Train = Sleep - Training Load.
Sleep comes first and training subtracts from this, not the other way around.
The most effective ways to get to bed after an adrenaline-fueled grappling session is to have a routine filled with calming tasks that drop your blood pressure making you feel drowsy.
Here is mine:
Turn off all devices.
This was a huge turning point for me.
Once you're home, dim the lights or turn on candles and do not touch your phone, computer, TV etc.
The blue light from these is close to the type of light that the sun emits and will confuse your body into thinking it is day time.
When we eat all the blood rushes to our stomach to load up on the nutrients in food and away from our organs, including our brain, which makes us sleepy.
Besides, you need it for recovery remember.
Might seem counterintuitive, but when you step out of the shower into the cool air this simulates the feeling of the setting sun on our monkey brain.
I eat before a shower because I want maximum comfort in bed. Although a very hot shower or bath with a full stomach is uncomfortable, so to each their own.
For me, it's nothing that will stimulate me to the point of wanting to keep turning pages. Some light fiction or a book on whatever philosophical kick I'm on.
Bonus point: Do it under a ceiling fan to really exaggerate the effects of the above point.
Before you turn in completely, take a deep breath through the nose for four seconds, hold it for five, then exhale through the mouth for 6 seconds.
These numbers are a guide but you shouldn't labour any of the processes, just do what feels comfortable.
This starts up your parasympathetic system which regulates sleep. Especially useful after intense training.
While I breathe I play some soft sounds like rain or the ocean and I'm pretty much on my way to catching Z's.
PS: If you aren't asleep after 25 minutes, get up, chill out a bit and then try again when you feel tired enough.
Staying in bed while you roll around and get frustrated creates negative connotations with your bed, which you don't want.
7. HAVE A LIFE OUTSIDE TRAINING
We all get FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but you have to change your thinking to understand that the 'grind' is actually wearing ou out.
Ideally, the perfect training week would involve training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with the rest designated days off.
That Wednesday in the middle is a life-saver and if you think you don't need it you mightn't be training enough. Or you should move to a few two-a-day training sessions.
Mentally, doing things day in and day out has been shown to hamper mental thinking and critical thought processes. That day off can be the catalyst for a higher-level of problem-solving on the mat.
Put it this way, absence makes the heart grow fonder and you'll have more of an appreciation for training when you're geared up to go.
I train with guys who are monsters on Monday and kittens on Thursday because they aren't hitting the grind, the grind is hitting them.
Just so something that will make you come back with a vengeance.
Your body and mind will thank you.
8. PRACTICE SELFCARE.
Prevention is better than cure.
Just like preventing the submission is better than the escape.
By not giving your body adequate preventative care or TLC when it's run down, you're not putting your best foot forward in grappling late into your century of life.
These are some things that will help you in the long, long run:
- Strength Training
- Hot and cold training e.g. contrast baths
- Dynamic stretching/Movement training
Take the above steps to heart and never forget why you started.
Who knows, we might even share the mat together when we're octogenarians?
Jake Anderson is a Bachelor of Sport Development and Mixed Martial Arts commentator with over 18 years of combined training in various Martial Arts and tertiary education in health & sport. His blogs on the foundations of health and martial arts are dedicated to the communication and education of leading a holistically fulfilling life.