How to Survive and Thrive in Martial Arts Training

Recently, I’ve started running again after a nineteen year layoff due to a knee issue. I like to think that I’m an athlete and that I can do anything but the reality is that I’m old and fragile so the only way I’m going to achieve longevity on the road, and on the jiu jitsu mats, is by playing it smart.

Running wisely is a work in progress for me but I am confident that I’ve figured out training wisely. I’m a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, I’m 43 years old, five feet tall and I’ve been training with people twice my size for over eleven years. I think the hardest thing for all of us is just stepping on the mats. If you’ve already done that, congratulations!

If you train at Titans and this article is in your newsletter, welcome! We are happy to have you on our team. Now – the tips. Prepare yourself, I cover a lot of ground so it may be best to focus on one at at time. Who can change their whole lifestyle overnight?

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Warm Up

There are a lot of different ways to warm up however top athletic coaches like Buddy Morris of the Arizona Cardinals says you should warm up to train, you shouldn’t train to warm up. What this means is you should find out what works best for you to get your system primed for training. Most martial arts classes will have a basic warm up but your body is unique and you are responsible for ensuring that you warm it up properly; after all, you are the one who will suffer the consequences if you don’t! Show up early and take care of yourself.

Start at the feet and work your way up the body using consistent, repetitive movements to warm up the body. I’ve added a basic playlist below.

Slow Your Roll

All of us want to do a good job and get better faster but the reality is you most likely don’t know how to control your own body yet when you’ve just begun sparring in martial arts. Almost all beginners are clumsy and spazzy because the movements are so new. Most people come in fast and burn out right away because they have poor cardio and blow out all of their strength in the first ninety seconds of the match.

Did you know that when I’m rolling with someone new, I just chill for the first minute and a half because I understand that lactic muscular endurance only lasts about that long? It’s true. And if you have poor cardio after blowing out your strength, guess what? C’est fin. You’re done.

If you go fast and hard, either due to nerves, or because you’re trying to prove something, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your partner. No one joins jiu jitsu to smash people weaker and smaller than they are. We can already beat them. We are there to learn to beat people we can’t already beat.

Go slow, practice your technique, make it fun for you and your partner, ie. let them try stuff, too, and enjoy the rewards of being a good partner. Maybe people will like you and want to train with you more than once.

Cool Down

Your cool down is very important, especially if you’re new to training in the evening. Our bodies have two states: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic state is the fight or flight (FoF) state (think, sorry I must kill you) and the parasympathetic (RnR) state is the rest and relaxation state (think, floating in a PARAchute to relax).

In a tough workout, you are in the FoF state and if you’re not used to it, you may have to guide your body back to the RnR state. If you don’t, you may have trouble getting to sleep and recovering from your workout. A good way to cool down is to use mobility tools such as the RAD product line and their free app, slow mobility work and/or breathing exercises.

Notice as you get submitted that tight areas such as shoulders will cause you to tap sooner than your more flexible teammates. If this isn’t a reason to work on mobility, I don’t know what is!

Get Those Zzzzzzs

Studies have shown that people who get 5.5 hours of sleep per night, as compared to people who get 8 hours of sleep, see a decrease in fat loss of 55% and an increase in lean muscle loss of 60%. What that means is if you’re not getting enough sleep, you could be negating all of your hard work in the gym.

A lack of sleep can increase the possibility of injury due to lower cognitive function and reaction time. Additionally, your memory capacity can be decreased so all of the technique you’ve learned may not be retained!

Check out Matthew Walker’s podcast with Joe Rogan and Dr. Ronda Patrick to get an overview of how important sleep is in all aspects of your life. For practical coaching on sleep, you can get in touch with someone like Nick Lambe, who teaches sleep hygiene and behavioral methods to improve your sleep quality.

Hydrate Properly

Did you bring something to drink? Hydration is very important to prevent headache, fatigue, injury and low mood during training. Dr. Stacy Simms provides a guide to hydration in her book, Roar:

Eat for Performance

This is absolutely the hardest part of training for me but the truth is, you can’t out-train a bad diet. I’ve noticed that when I eat poorly, I have a harder time breathing when I run. I’m tired because my body is busy processing garbage. I retain fat. I’m irritable. I get acid reflux. Etc.

Since I’m not an expert, I won’t give advice however I will point you towards two resources I’ve found very valuable. For women, the book Roar by Dr. Stacy Simms and FitnessVT. I’ve tried a lot of different diets and for me, these two resources have been the ones that I consistently revisit when I need help.

A Positive Mindset

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I’m writing this article a few days after returning from the 2019 Bioforce Conditioning Coach seminar in Seattle, Washington. Joel Jamieson assembled some of the best in the world at what they do to teach us about optimal performance and recovery. One thing that was consistent in every presentation, and in conversations with the many high-level coaches attending the seminar, was the way they spoke. They were all positive that we could accomplish anything we set our minds to.

As I listened to each person, my favorite quote from Henry Ford kept repeating in my mind, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

The unfortunate reality is some of us just aren’t that confident and some of us give up easily but that’s OK. The good news is you can build both by slowly and steadily TRYING and building on incremental success. Congratulate yourself for the small victories as you evolve and forgive yourself for the setbacks; we learn from both. If you do quit, remember that feeling of regret afterwards and promise yourself that next time, you’ll try a bit longer, and then a bit longer. Be thankful that you have the opportunity every day to test yourself and improve.

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In her presentation, ultra runner and coach Becky Rogers told us a story about one race where she ran over 125 miles, collapsed just before the finish line and was deemed DNF: Did Not Finish. She was most displeased. Since then Becky has developed a mantra: run through the line. When she feels weary, exhausted, done she just keeps repeating… run through the line, run through the line, run through the line… and eventually, she does.

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What is your mantra? On a more negative note, I see a lot of dummies doing things that scare me. What I sometimes tell myself is if they can do it, I can, too.

In his book The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler explains that every time human beings think they have reached the limits of their potential, someone moves past it. You are capable of more than you can imagine. Give yourself the opportunity to find out what you can do!

The first few months of training are the hardest, just like the first few months of running have been for me. I’ve followed all of the above advice: I warm up, I run slow but steady to get my body used to it, I cool down, I do mobility work, I hydrate and I am careful about what I eat before I run. Additionally, I’ve seen competent sports therapists to clear up old injuries and prevent new ones.

Be proud of yourself for trying something new. Maybe it’s for you, maybe it isn’t but you will learn some valuable skills along the way. Most importantly, have fun!

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