1. Lack of flexibility
I know I’m not the most flexible guy in the gym, but I used to be much worse. I usually shied from rubber guard, and when I didn’t I’d have to compensate space for lack of flexibility. I would always cringe at the idea of being stacked, and when it happened, I was at a loss for whatever submission I had been attempting. Not only was it limiting my jiu jitsu performance but it was also injuring me. Then I met a yoga instructor (who is now my wife). I had no idea how important the mobility aspect was or how much more enjoyable doing yoga would make BJJ for me.
The best thing I took away from it was when I hurt my lower back. My hips, like those of many other jiu jitsu practitioners, are overworked. Because of this my back went out and I bulged a disc. To fix it, I followed a series of stretches for the hips and my back healed right up. I still use those stretches to maintain hip flexibility and increase mobility. If it wasn’t for those stretches, I doubt I would have been able to continue with BJJ. I highly recommend a good yoga program. The type I take is called Hatha yoga and its focus is restorative. Because I already do jiu jitsu, which is very fast and athletic, I don’t want a yoga style that mirrors this. Yoga being so different from a combat art it gives me a very satisfying sense of balance.
2. Strength. It matters
Your bones need a strong frame. Strength and conditioning are a big plus for jiu jitsu and a necessity for competitors. I know this can be somewhat controversial because good technique should be absent of strength, but having muscle means your body can take a little punishment and remain resilient to another person trying to impose their will on you. Do you need to look like a bodybuilder? No, too much muscle usually means that person lacks mobility (see #1). We’ve all seen him, the bodybuilder than came to your school to try out a jiu jitsu class and never came back because he realizes he can’t move functionally. Not ideal.
Personally, I separate my strength and conditioning. For strength, I want functional movements so that my body can rely on a proper body position when under stress. A good general rule is that if your spine isn’t straight during the exercise, your body is compromised. My favorite basic lifts are bench press, dead lift, box squat, power cleans and pull ups. I usually do these in a 5x5 fashion, in order to build dense muscle fiber and greater strength. It’s vital to use proper form during these lifts in order to avoid injury and not create a muscular imbalance. Separating these workouts is key as well; you don’t want to overwork the same muscle group. I try to lift 3-4 days a week with a day of rest in between. Lifting will also give you a better insight of your strengths and weaknesses while grappling. The hard part is staying consistent...which leads us to our next topic.
Slow. Tired. Out of breath. No one wants to feel like that after every roll. I’ve seen guys come to the gym consistently and get manhandled over and over and not understand why. Diet plays a much more important part in jiu jitsu than most think; it’s not until most practitioners reach a higher belt that it starts to sink in. Jiu jitsu is hard. It’s needy too, and if you’re not taking in proper nutrients your body is going to be pissed at you. If you practice it you already know the physical exhaustion that only jiu jitsu can deliver, but like most things there’s a counter to it. Every time your body meets resistance, it breaks down and rebuilds itself. Without the right combination of foods your body will breakdown, and continue to breakdown because it lacks the building blocks to strengthen itself. Eating fast food or “cheat meals” adds up as well. Not only will bad nutrition make BJJ harder but it will also cause long term health problems.
So, what should the jiu jitsu practitioner eat? Real food. No processed junk. Eating optimal isn’t easy or cheap depending on what you value, and it takes planning and time. All of which are worth it. My diet consists of mostly vegetables, carbs usually come from brown rice and beans. Protein is usually fish, eggs, or beans paired with a complex carb. This diet has served me well. Foods I stay away from especially are red meat, gluten products, and dairy. All of these contain more bad than good. Seems extreme huh? So is letting someone crawl all over you and attempt to choke you.
4. Recuperation process
Remember the days as a white belt when you thought the soreness would never end, the bruises never go away? I do. I wish I could have been exposed to the benefits of a sports massage. So many benefits have come from a deep pressure massage; relief of chronic pain, improved blood flow. It breaks up scar tissue and rehabs injuries because it facilitates the movement of toxins from the muscles and helps stretch tight or twisted muscle mass. Deep-tissue massage can help with healing. Because massage also helps relax muscles, it can reduce the pain caused by injuries as well.
With me it helped in several areas, the most painful and prominent being my neck. Neck pain was always an issue, even while wrestling through high school I would get stingers when someone stuffed my shot. It wasn’t until I finally got my first massage (six yrs already into jiu jitsu) that I realized how much pain I could have avoided.
This probably appears to be a lot of requirements just to practice jiu jitsu, but remember it’s a lifestyle. These suggestions will only improve your jiujtisu experience. Many have done jiu jitsu with out ever stepping foot on a yoga mat, or touching a weight, but just think how much greater they could have been if they had followed a more well-rounded approach. For me it’s all about finding a balance that fits. When I feel balanced everything in my life is smoother and easier, just like I want my jiu jitsu to be.