Updated: Mar 22
Within the jiu jitsu community a large portion of people fall into the category of hobbyist competitor. What I mean by this is somebody whose primary goal within the sport isn’t to simply win medals. Don’t get me wrong a nice new shiny medal hanging on the wall is always nice, however not everybody is driven by this. Some simply enjoy competing to test themselves or expose weaknesses that may not be revealed in the training room.
However just because you don’t compete as much as a “full time” athlete it doesn’t mean you are excused from holding yourself to the highest standard as (I assume of course) the primary goal within this sport is to enjoy it and be on the mats for as long as physically possible whilst still taking your training relatively seriously. To enable this there are certain variables we can implement and improve upon so that you may continue to make the most of what this wonderful sport has to offer. So, here are 4 tips to ensure you are constantly improving physically and mentally as a grappler but also maximising longevity for the hobbyist competitor.
1. Train hard, recover harder:
Recovery is somewhat of a buzzword within performance environments at the moment. However, this is mainly because the importance is really coming to light. Being “recovered” isn’t currently a specific measure. It is the combination of various different factors which make up an individual’s ability to perform consistently not just on the mats but in everyday life activities. Training works in a similar way to energy balance within a diet. Training, work, lifestyle etc act as stressors and deplete energy stores, specific recovery measures work as a counter balance and restore the energy that has been depleted.
There are lots of different measures we can use to monitor and optimise recovery. However not everybody has the time or money to implement these variables. The big 3 fundamental areas that can have the biggest impact on your recovery, that are also the easiest to implement are: Sleep, Nutrition and Active Recovery Workouts.
Sleep is probably the number 1 recovery tool. It is the bodies go to healing phase and missing out on sleep may mean you are missing out on valuable resources. Now there is some validations towards to argument of genetics and daily cycles which may affect the total of quantity of sleep you get/need. But realistically the overall aim should be 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep. If you struggle with these kind of numbers here are a few tips to help yourself improve:
- Reduce contact with blue light 1-2hours before bed time – phones, laptops TV’s all emit blue light. Blue light basically disrupts the natural production of melatonin (the hormone that signals sleep time) and can negatively affect sleep patterns.
- Do not disturb – either turn off or activate the do not disturb feature on your phone. Even on vibrate the constant influx of emails and messages can disrupt sleep cycles and lead to the feeling of a restless night.
- Cease caffeine intakes after 3pm – caffeine is a stimulant and can have negative effects on the body’s ability to enter into deep sleep cycles.
- Supplementation – certain companies are now producing sleep stacks which contain vital vitamins which can help maintain a healthy night’s sleep. Although not essential using supplements high in zinc and magnesium can support sleep quality and quantity throughout the night.
Nutrition again plays a massive role in the body’s ability to perform and recover. Insufficient intakes of certain macros and micros can leave your system scratching for nutrients. Especially when it comes to recovery. Failure to treat your nutrition seriously based on the theory of not being overly committed to serious competition is a recipe for below par performance in the training room.
- Protein arguably plays the biggest role when it comes to recovery. As the primary macronutrient required for the growth and repair of skeletal tissue ensuring adequate intakes (1.6-2.2 g/kg BW) can help boost recovery levels.
- Carbohydrates are the primary energy source when it comes to activities such as Jiu Jitsu. During hard sessions we begin to deplete glycogen stores within tissue. So ensuring good intakes before and after training can help maintain correct function of the working muscles. A simple recommendation for a hard session is around 1/4g/lb BW pre and ¼-1/2g/lb BW post session. Utilising high GI foods will enable fast absorption and a quick release of energy during the session.
Recovery workouts are simply another name for low intensity aerobic activity. They work as a method of increasing blood flow to muscles and joints, potentially helping reduce lactic acid build up and minimise the feeling of soreness within the muscles. As well as aiding regeneration within tissue they can also act as a performance boost. Utilising low impact, minimal eccentric exercises such as swimming or rowing can be used as an a way of improving aerobic fitness which will carry over directly into performance on the mats.
2. Supplement your training
Before I confuse you all I don’t mean supplements in terms of pills or powders, I mean additional supplementary training. This may fall into many categories whether it simply be 15 minutes of mobility within a morning or 3 strength and conditioning sessions a week. The fundamental aim behind any supplementary training should always be to provide a positive addition to your specific sport, if you can’t give a solid rational as to why you are doing something then you either need to tweak a few things so that it will provide you with some benefit or find something else.
Although slightly biased I am a massive believer in additional strength work, done correctly it has the ability to carry over into many different commodities on the mats, including conditioning, mobility, relative strength, injury prevention and so on. If you are considering adding some additional strength training, I would always recommend speaking/working with a coach whether it be in an online or 1:1 format. This is will allow your movements to be assessed and a plan of action put in place specifically based around yourself which in turn will have the greatest impact on your training. You wouldn’t use a brick as a boomerang, so don’t rely on extremely generalised workouts based around somebody who may not be even in the same sport as yourself! Applying yourself correctly and efficiently off the mats will have the greatest impact on your longevity with the sport, regardless of whether you are a competitor or not.
3. Plan your week & learn to pace
One of the biggest flaws I see within any individual who partakes in Jiu Jitsu is a lack of planning and structure. Now some may argue that this role falls under the head coach to plan and implement certain sessions to develop certain areas. However, I would argue that this entirely falls on yourself. Your coaches’ role is to provide every individual will a specific experience whilst keeping it generalised to the masses. Therefore, it is down to you to make decisions based on intensity and the overall theme of each class. A full-time competitor potentially has room to argue that they need to be training as hard as possible as often as possible (I would argue differently but we are not here for them today), but you are not a full time athlete, your primary goal is the development as a grappler and to enjoy the sport for as long as you physically can.
It is easy to get into the habit of thinking that if you wish to develop you need to be training as hard as possible. However, consider the term “training”, training refers to the development of specific skill sets. Going 100% all of the time isn’t really training, its testing. If we look at the simple development of strength, applying various markers in terms of volume, intensity, tempo and frequency are going to have a greater impact on development than simply testing your 1RM every day. This is the same for Jiu Jitsu.
By having a basic plan set out based on your weekly training habits allows you to structure your training. For example, a few of my clients are not full-time athletes. They have full time jobs, children, and other lifestyle factors which affect their weekly routines. Therefore, it is imperative we develop a simple weekly structure to ensure they are actually improving, recovering and still leading a productive life. We do this by initially assigning a certain intensity percentage to each day, so that they have some days where they are training at 100% intensity. This may be a competition class or open mat. Other days may be slightly lower at 70-80% or 50% so they can work on technique or develop game plans or strategies. If the percentage model doesn’t work for you, consider using high, medium and low days and assign a certain goal for each of those sessions in which you can put your entire focus upon.
Having routines and structure to your training will allow you to assess correlations of what does work and what doesn’t. Allowing for fine tweaking to always ensure progress. Making it up as you go along in a sport as complicated as this is essentially just pissing in the wind.
4. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be
The basic principle as to why we all get into this sport and stick around is simply for love and enjoyment. I could give you a list of things as long as my arm going into specific detail as to how and why it will benefit your performance and longevity on the mats. But I’d be willing to take a guess that most of you will neither care or can be bothered to implement them into your lifestyles and training routines. Therefore, I will say this, keep it simple! You don’t have to make drastic changes all at once. If you make minor improvements, let’s say you strive to improve a certain area by 0.5% every week that’s a 26% improvement over the course of a year!
By simply tweaking and changing your training habits and routines you can make drastic improvements in your development as a grappler, and as stated numerous times in this article isn’t that the overall goal? To be constantly enjoying and improving on the mats for as long as possible?
And who knows, they may even be a shiny medal or two along the way!