Let’s be honest, the “gentle art” is not so gentle. You can name any body part and I’ve had multiple injuries there from minor tweaks to ruptured pec tendons (ouch). While not all injuries are catastrophic there are definitely a fair share of minor “tweaks”. Well, the martial art is a fantastic way to train your mind and body, so what exactly can we do off the mats to help avoid injury and keep us on the mats?
First and foremost. Stretching isn’t the answer! gasp! I know, your high school gym teacher lied to you. As newer research has come out it’s shown that traditional, slow static stretching doesn’t do much, if anything at all, for injury prevention and rehabilitation. That doesn’t mean having full range of motion is bad for you body. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. It just means that slow static holds don’t do much for actually increasing muscle length. Static stretching is great for down regulating your nervous system. So if you’ve had a long day then stretching before bed is a great way to relax your body to help get some shut eye. So if stretching isn’t the answer then what is?
Having full range of motion is key, but you need to have strength through that full range of motion. We can call that mobility. The difference between flexibility and mobility is as such. Remember any Jean Claude Van Damme movie? I’ll bet you remember him holding himself up in a split. Well that’s considered mobility. His body had the ability to do a split while using the muscle being stretched to hold himself there. Someone who is flexible can also do a split but can’t necessarily hold themselves up over candles while in that split. See the difference? So by adding some strength to your stretches is paramount. Mobility is what you’re chasing. The good news is there are an immense amount of various exercises that can achieve this. The bad news is not to many people are familiar with this type of training.
If you don’t have the audacity or knowledge to work on these exercises (I know someone who does… shameless plug) another option for aiding in avoiding injury is strength training. Good old-fashioned hot nasty American strength training. This means completing a few lifts that will help to build muscle around the joints to strengthen and stabilize them. Some of your go to lifts should be a squat, deadlift, pulling exercise, and twisting/anti-twisting core exercises. If you pick just a couple of these exercises you could do all of them two times a week without missing your favorite take down class (said no BJJ person ever).
When it comes down to it, there’s definitely things that you can do off the mat that will help keep you on the mat. Talking to a professional about exactly what those things are will help expedite your training program so you can train as efficiently as possible. So you can get back to trying to break your friend’s arm… with love?