Last week I spoke about how I do next to no conditioning work, and prefer to spend my time playing my sport at a higher intensity. I thought I’d flesh out the last post as to what you should and shouldn’t be doing to get stronger and to stay on the mat for longer.
Let’s start with the 5 things you absolutely should do to remain on the mat.
I know it sounds obvious and I know it comes up every time, but if you’re not stretching, you really only have yourself to blame when something goes snap, crackle or pop in one of your joints. And I’m not talking about some easy touching of the toes before class. I’m talking about a good 20 minutes to an hour of flexibility work, a couple of times per week. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t discerned a difference in their general well being after embarking on a good flexibility routine for a month or so. The real problem is retaining the discipline to keep doing it ad infinitum. That being said, 5-10 minutes when you come off the mat every session won’t hurt you.
2) Warm up dynamically and properly
A short glossary is required here. Dynamically- moving a lot. Properly- focussing on some specific areas. In general, I like to warm my guys up with as many movements from the sport we’re playing as possible. So for example shrimping, technical stand ups, bumps, sit thrus etc. all play a role in the warm up. However we need to understand what we’re warming up in the first place. The prevailing wisdom is that we’re trying to raise body temperature (the “warming” to the “up”). This is why many warm ups contain a bit of jogging on the spot, or some jumping jacks and then off we go, or are a sort of mini-conditioning session with higher intensity work. There’s nothing really wrong with either of these methods, but if you want to look at the bigger picture, it’s better to have some degree of foresight when warming up and to include movements that will promote greater overall mobility or stability in your athletes. Some examples would be single leg work and shoulder mobility work. I think this subject is a blog post in itself, so I’ll come back to it.
3) Look after your neck and back
Do as I say, not as I’ve done. I’ve been criminally negligent with regard to my neck over the years, with the result that I have regular problems with it that do keep me off the mat. BJJ and MMA are heavy on the neck and back, and are comparable to rugby for impact and strain on the spine. Rugby players are well aware of this, and a lot of time is spent strengthening the muscles of the neck and back to maintain good spinal health. In BJJ however, aside from some bridging work, very little is done to strengthen the back or neck. Bridging is an exercise inherited from wrestling and is the most common form of neck strengthening. It’s also one of the most hazardous. The neck bridge (who remembers Matt Furey by the way? I wonder how many guys can’t look left because of him.) involves flexion of the thoracic spine and axial loading through the spinal column in an arch-like fashion. Some compare it to the crab movement in basic gymnastics but there is one key difference; in the crab, the weight is supported on the hands, in the bridge, the weight is supported on the head, meaning the initial loading is through the cervical spine. This is fine when adequate neck strength and thoracic mobility exists so as to allow a stable bridge and flexion through the thoracic spine, but where this doesn’t exist, or a pre-existing trauma exists, it can exacerbate neck and back pain and issues. You’re far better off using progressive loading in the standing position. This is initially done with light isometrics and advances into some dynamic work. All you really need to give yourself a better chance of avoiding neck injury is a rubber band or a cable pulley machine and a head harness.
4) Drink more water
What? Really? Water? Yes. The humble combination of two parts Hydrogen, one part Oxygen can help you with innumerable things, and I’m sure you’ve heard them all before. A good way of knowing if you’re drinking enough is to go and have a wee right now. If it’s the colour of a 1981 Datsun Sunny (they came in a dayglo orange), then you’re not drinking enough. If however, you can see enough to know that you need to use the toilet brush more regularly, then you’re probably doing okay, and should applaud yourself. Just make sure you’re fully finished peeing first. And applauding yourself in public toilets is a bit of a faux pas.
5) Tap. Tap a lot.
So here’s an easy way to get me to tap- footlock me. That’s just an example. I give myself exactly 5 seconds to escape a footlock at which point I tap regardless if there’s any pain or pressure. I’ve come to look upon leglocks as a kind of checkmate. If I was foolish enough to get stuck in one then I just assume I was finished and tap immediately. I do the same with neck cranks or pressure (which in fairness, almost all chokes are) due to my pre-existing neck injury. Tapping is only losing in competition and the difference between me tapping to a footlock or getting my knee rebuilt because one of us twisted suddenly is 6 months off the mat and a few grand for the operation, versus just slapping hands and starting to roll again. Now I’m no economist, but that seems pretty good math to me.
I’ll deal with some of the points raised in this another time as some of them warrant further explanation. In the meantime, I hope you can get something out of this. I’m not saying this is the 100% method of avoiding injury or lay-off time, but it’s what helps me. The really crucial bit is maintaining the discipline to keep doing them all the time!