Surviving the Marathon

On the one hand, I’m 49 years old with a desk job and several nagging old injuries. Things don’t heal as fast as they used to, and I was never any kind of remarkable physical specimen to begin with.

On the other hand, I’m training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 5 days per week.

These two hands don’t always play together nicely. BJJ can be less than kind to the body. It’s not a good situation when I need to get some sleep but I’m aching too badly to get comfortable. As a result, I’m trying to be more disciplined about taking care of myself so that I can still be having fun on the mat 30 years from now. As Helio Gracie showed us, Jiu-Jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint.

Here’s some of what I’ve found to be helpful:

Yoga is excellent not only for maintaining the flexibility to avoid injury, but also for working out the deep muscle knots that develop after a hard jiu-jotsu workout.

Keeping it playful. Ryron Gracie has been spreading this message and I believe it’s vital for those of us who are creeping up in years. When I fight like crazy for every point on the mat in your regular rolling, then my body just takes too much abuse. When I stay relaxed, go with the flow, and see what happens from every position without too much concern for who is winning, then I walk away with a lot less soreness.

Train core strength and suppleness. A strong midsection does a lot to protect the back.

Don’t rely too much on flexibility. I’m flexible enough to pretzle-ify my body a fair bit while fighting off a guard pass. Sometimes it’s better for long-term back health to just give up the pass, maintain a more anatomically correct body position, and work on escaping the side mount.

Look ahead to danger spots. Related to the point above, if I can maintain awareness of positions which are likely to be bad for me (getting tangled in a knot, having someone grab my head, being excessively twisted, etc), then I can try to avoid the movements which are going to get me hurt.

Ice. I’ve been having some success treating a chronic wrist injury with contrast therapy (alternating ice water with hot water). My newest experiment is replacing my traditional post-workout hot bath (intended to relax my muscles) with a post-workout ice-water bath (intended to reduce joint inflammation).

Rest. Getting adequate sleep is vital to recovery. Knowing my body well enough so that I can tell when I need to back off and skip a workout is important as well.

If anyone else has suggestions for maintaining long-term health while training hard, please leave them in the comments.

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