This article will cover two areas:
- Your approach to training
- Recovery strategies.
Your approach to Jiu Jitsu and strength training
First, what are you doing it for? What is your why?
This relates to both your jiu jitsu and strength training. Why do you train jiu jitsu? Is it for self defence? Is it to be the next world champion? Is jiu jitsu a fun way to stay in shape?
Likewise, why do you strength train? Is it to be better at jiu jitsu? How good do you want to be? Is it to protect against injury? Is it to be more explosive in competitions? Is to improve the way your body looks?
Keep asking yourself why until you get to the real reason(s) why you're training.
When you get your reason(s) it then leads onto the next questions.
How hard do you need to train? How much is enough?
Let's suppose you answered 'self defence', 'staying fit and healthy' or 'having fun' to the above. Do you need to train jiu jitsu 6 times per week AND strength train three times per week? I'm going to say no. On the flip side, what if you said 'I want to be a world champion'. Maybe training jiu jitsu 6 times a week is not enough. I'm not a world champion (yet....I'm keeping the dream alive!) so I couldn't tell you.
However, someone wanting to focus on self defence etc, will not need the same training as a world champion fighter. If you train more jiu jitsu, with good practice, you'll get better, quicker. It's fun, it's addictive and it can be hard to stay away. But if you want to stay in shape, have fun, how hard do you need to push yourself? How quick do you need to achieve your next belt?
There is no right or wrong answer, it's your life, you decide how to live it. Although if you know why you're training, you can determine how intense your training needs to be.
So, next time you're feeling sore and tired from training, ask yourself why? Should I tone it down and focus on consistency over intensity? Do I need to adjust my sessions with some light and some heavy training? Do I need to do more? etc
You don't need to lift heavy every strength session. You don't always need to go to failure when strength training. You don't need to roll hard every jiu jitsu session. That's true if you're a hobbyist or a full time jiu jitsu fighter. Research actually shows increased training at high intensity correlates with increased injuries. You don't need high intensity all the time.
Remember, more isn't always better. How much is enough can only be determined by your goals, your why. As long as you're progressing to that goal, that's what's important. Too much can hinder rather than help your progress. So, your first recovery strategy should be to experiment how intense your training needs to be. Can you tone down the intensity and still progress?
Now, maximising performance is about getting the balance right between you’re jiu jitsu and strength training and recovery. When you do train intensely you want fast recovery to get the most out of your next session. So, what strategies and tactics can you use?
I would highly recommend reading 'strength training for Jiu Jitsu - 9 key concepts' if you haven't already. Even if you're not strength training, it talks about the importance of structuring your strength training. To use a military adage 'Proper planning prevents piss poor performance'.
1. Hydration with salt
You should drink at least 500 ml 2 hours prior to training. This ensures you have enough in your system before starting. Drink at regular intervals during training, before you're thirsty. Then drink 500 ml for every pound of weight lost as sweat during training. Or if you haven't weighed yourself, use the colour of your urine as a guide.
It shouldn't smell too bad and be a light straw, almost clear, colour. If it stinks and is a darker yellow, you need to drink more water. Hydration is something that needs to happen all day long, not just when you train. A personal habit that has helped me is drinking between 500 - 750 ml when I wake up every morning. Then keep hydrated from there.
As for adding salt to your water, read the article '7 nutrition principles for jiu jitsu and life' for more detail. In summary, adding a pinch of pink salt to each 500 ml of water you drink will help rehydrate you and replace lost minerals.
2. Getting enough protein
3. Good nutrition, especially post training
This has particular relevance post training. We all love a beer and a burger after training from time to time. Yet, its not going to be the best recovery strategy long term.
Make sure you have a solid meal covering all macro nutrients 1 to 2 hours post training. Plus, you should aim to eat between 0.7g to 3.0g of carbohydrates per KG of bodyweight in the 4 to 6 hour window after training. This will replenish your glycogen levels. Again refer to '7 nutrition principles for training and life' for tips on good nutrition.
If you have another training session the same day or within 12 hours, you may want to refuel immediately after training. This will help speed up the process of replenishing of glycogen.
Supplement companies will have you thinking that there is an 'anabolic window'. Its a bit of a myth. Get the right amount of protein in 24 hours. Eat a solid meal 1 to 2 hours post training. 0.7g to 3.0g of carbs per KG of bodyweight in the 4 to 6 hours after training. That should have you covered. Anything in addition to this, you're talking about marginal gains.
How important is sleep to recovery? Research on sleep and recovery and performance is a little sparse. Yet, we can look at it from a different angle. Sleep plays a big role in the release of growth hormone and can be hinder by sleep deprivation. Growth hormone, amongst other things, regulates muscle growth. Muscle growth is needed to repair damage done from training, even if not trying to add mass. Sleep deprivation can raise perceived levels of stress and anxiety. Stress levels are an indicator of over training, so adding more stress is going to push you closer to over training. Sleep deprivation was also shown to increase cortisol levels 1 hour after training. Raised cortisol, not only an indicator of stress, inhibits the production of hormone production. Hormones play a huge role in how we feel and perform.
Then the good old intuitive indicator, we all know how much better we feel after a good nights sleep. So, I feel its fair to conclude, even if more direct research is needed, sleep plays a key role in your recovery.
If you're not already optimising your sleep, then you should be. How?
It will be too long to do a full depth review of sleep strategies here, so I'll highlight a few. I would say that if you're not getting at least 7.5 to 8.0 hours of quality sleep each night, research and test how to improve your sleep. Don't accept that 'I'm a bad sleeper', all habits are learned and can be un-learned. Research, experiment and see what works for you.
Good places to start based on my own experiences (in no particular order) are below. Some of these I first found in Tim Ferriss' 'Four Hour Body'. A highly recommended read for so many other areas related to the body.
- Cutting out use of devices that omit blue light 2 hours before bed. E.g. smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs etc. You can get apps on some devices to alter the light ommitted. You can also buy blue light blocking glasses, although not tried them myself.
- Eat a small handful of almonds, or tablespoon of honey if you wake up at night. In particular if you struggle to get back to sleep. Sometimes waking up at night is because your blood sugar is low and your body has become 'alert' for food. This mini snack can help satiate you just enough to fall back to sleep. You might notice this more when trying to lose weight.
- Meditation / breathing exercises before bed. This can reduce stress, help you relax, switch of the whirring thoughts in your mind, helping you sleep.
- Lie on an acupuncture mat before bed. I believe the mechanics behind this are that it forces you to relax your muscles so the spikes stop hurting. After a few minutes this becomes VERY relaxing, much more than you may think.
- Cold showers before bed. Being able sleep is in part reliant on your body temperature dropping. Cold showers can help this. Once you get used to the idea and learn to breath and release muscle tension in the water, its more relaxing than you think.
- Make sure your room and bedding keeps you at the right temperature. For me, I prefer a cool room. You may refer a warmer room. Find out what you like and adjust your bedding, open/close a window until you get the right balance for you.
- Outside the blue light issue, avoid 'just quickly checking your emails' close to bed. This can be a sure fire way to trigger the mind where you just 'can't switch off' when you try to sleep. The same can be said for social media and other 'inputs'.
- Read fiction paper (not electric) books before bed. This can help distract you from the stresses and thoughts of the day. Reading non-fiction can have the opposite effect.
- Get a better mattress and pillow. A good mattress may seem expensive. Given how much time you spend sleeping, it is worth every penny. Find a mattress that supports your spine in a neutral position based on your sleeping position. Likewise, do the same for a pillow.
- Sleeping position. If you wake up feeling stiff in the neck, back and shoulders, this could be due to a poor sleeping position. Your spine and head should be in a neutral position, not bent and twisted. Play around and test what is a good, comfortable position for you.
Don't get discouraged if you don't get the perfect sleep straight away. It may take months, although keep chipping away at it. Over time it will get better if you research and experiment.
5. Power of the power nap
6. Ice baths / cold showers
I use cold showers and alternating showers regularly. I feel better when I do them than when I don't.
Also, outside the physiological effects, I have my own theory. When you step into cold water, the natural reaction is to tense up. Over time this trains your body to breath and release the tension. I think this has a broader effect of teaching you to relax and reduce stress levels. Which in turn has a knock on effect of helping you manage the stresses of training and potential over training. Although for now, just a theory....
7. Active recovery
So, there seems to be evidence to suggest low intensity exercise is a good form of recovery. Low intensity can vary, I would suggest anything lower than 50% of max effort. It doesn’t need to be that hard. It could be as simple as taking a walk with the family. Going for a light swim. Low intensity yoga. Low intensity cycling. Low intensity weight training, etc. The mechanisms of why active recovery may work is unclear. It could be that increased blood flow helps deliver nutrients to the muscles. It could help deliver nutrients to the joints by delivering synovial fluid.
I’d suggest anything that gets the body moving through good ranges of motion, takes away the stiffness and leaves you feeling better than when you started. You also don’t need a dedicated active recovery session. It could just taking a 10 minute walk in the morning, or switching a strength session for a light recovery session if you’re feeling particularly tired. Generally think about moving more just to get rid of the stiffness in your body.
8. Foam rolling & self massage
A fantastic resource for self massage (or myofasical release) is MobilityWOD.com, founded by Kelly Starrett. I can’t speak highly enough of his work. It is more targeted at mobility to improve function, although you’ll learn how to target areas that need attention. Also a fantastic resource for any tweaks and twinges you have that may need fixing.
9. Reducing caffeine
I have seen research that ‘caffeine improves replenish muscle glycogen levels’. So, if you train in the morning and then have another session in the afternoon, maybe it can be a useful strategy. Although as a long term strategy, I’m not buying it.
Yes, I love a coffee in the morning. Sometimes a second later in the day. Although try to keep it limited. The overall negative effects may be inhibiting your hormone levels, sleep and ability to recover. If you just love the habit of a hot drink, switch coffee for herbal caffeine free tea. Still quite relaxing and gets you away from work for 5 minutes.
The podcast is called ‘Historic Performance Podcast’. I recommend listening the episode with Dr Brandon Marcello. Dr Marcello's current clients include the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Braves, Chinese Olympic Committee, amongst others. He talks about sports nutrition and its interesting hearing him talk. There is very little of ‘take supplement X to fix Y’. Rather it focuses on good solid nutritional principles. He does talk about some supplements, water (yes, water), vitamin D, fish oil, amongst others. Although again, its minimal and refreshing to hear. Check it out.
11. Meditate, breath and relax
I’m a huge advocate of meditation based on my personal experiences. It will benefit you far beyond just recovery. Even being more focused in your jiu jitsu training. It doesn’t need to be meditation per se. Just taking the time to stop, breath and relax, I feel can have a big impact on how well you recover. Take a few minutes each day to stop and relax and see what impact that has on your recovery.
12. Gut health
There are various companies and products out there that claim to promote better gut health. None of which I’ve personally tried. Yet, I have had positive experiences eating fermented veg, such as sauerkraut. As well as a daily ‘curry ‘shot’ to help with digestion to help fight inflammation. It’s a mix of dried garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin and a small amount of black pepper.
Anyway, for now I’m just putting the idea out there (until I know more) that researching how to improve gut health could be an option.
What's the rush and where is the fire??
If you’re training for a big competition, maybe you need to put in the extra work. Although that’s likely only going to be short term. Even then, is your success in that competition more important that how you feel in your day to day outside of training? If you feel tired, stressed and unable to enjoy your other daily activities because of so much training, is it worth it? If you are in the very, very small percentage of people who can make those sacrifices, great. I’d say that’s less than 1%. Yet, if like most people training jiu jitsu you have a career, a partner, children, is the sacrifice worth it. There are only 24 hours in the day. Not all of us can focus 100% on jiu jitsu. There is also more to life.
Another example, the journey to black belt. I know very people who train jiu jitsu who don’t want to get a black belt one day. Talking from personal experience, I wanted to get my black belt as quickly as I could. Or any belt for that matter. White to blue, blue to purple, purple to brown and brown to black. Every time I wanted to get to the next belt as quickly as I could. I knew many of my training partners were the same. Particularly at brown belt, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get my black belt. I competed about 10 times per year, trained 5 or 6 times per week, even doing so after my daughter was born, albeit slightly toned down. Yes, that commitment was great and helped me get my black belt in 8 years. Although something happened after I got my black belt.
I realised I now have the rest of my life to enjoy being a black belt.
At 33, I’m hoping there will be many, many more years training jiu jitsu as a black belt than any other belt. I’d been told this by other black belts, but it didn’t sink in until I was there. If it had taken another few years, it may have frustrated me at the time, although I still had so much time to enjoy being a black belt. Suddenly having the black belt was far less important when compared to a life long practice and enjoyment of the art.
So my final point is this; training jiu jitsu and strength training for jiu jitsu is a life long practice. Something you should enjoy for years to come, if you train smart. There are ways to recover quicker and get more out of your training. Yet, being smart about how you train to stay on the mats for as long as possible and achieving balance to enjoy the rest of your life, is probably the most important strategy of all.
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