Jiu Jitsu sometimes requires you to use strength and force, while at other times you must accept and go with the energy. This is the yin and yang of BJJ and can be applied to many aspects of life, especially with respect to training. Over-stimulation (yang) of the body via consistent training will lead to overtraining and imbalances. There must be an effort to stabilize the body with recovery (yin) in order to maintain balance and promote optimal health and performance.
We’ve discussed how to enhance recovery through heart rate assessment and temperature shock therapy in PART 1, as well as nutritional and supplement strategies in PART 2. In our third segment, we will discuss methods of active recovery, rest, and alternative treatments.
It may seem counterintuitive but performing some kind of light movement between training sessions has shown to help with recovery. In a study of rugby players, markers of muscle damage (creatine kinase) were lower in a group who performed low-impact exercise immediately after a rugby match, compared with those who only rested passively. Although no specifics were given on the “low-impact exercise” protocol, another study of elite male rowers confirmed these results. This study showed improved lactic acid removal after 10 minutes of active recovery compared to those who rested passively. Additionally, those who performed active recovery at 50% of max power output showed higher levels of lactate removal than those who performed active recovery at just 25%. In other words, doing light, low-impact movement (bicycle/rower) for 10 minutes post training will help to clear lactate and markers of muscle damage from your system.
Many of us have tried or thought about trying yoga to help our flexibility, and there are some Jiu Jitsu players who swear by the benefits of yoga for their game. And yes, yoga can definitely help you become more flexible, however it can also help you recover from tough training.
In multiple studies, regular yoga practice was shown to reduce markers of inflammation in test subjects. One particular study had two groups, those who practiced yoga and those who didn’t, who were tested for markers of inflammation before and after moderate and strenuous exercise. Those who practiced yoga regularly had lower levels of inflammation before exercise and experienced less of an increase in inflammation after exercise compared to those who did not practice. Therefore, regular yoga practice will help to lower inflammation in the long term and limit spikes in inflammatory markers post-exercise.
In this study, subjects with no prior yoga experience yielded lowered levels of stress and inflammation as soon as 10 days into regular yoga practice. The type of yoga used in these studies was not listed, however it’s recommended to practice a form that isn’t overly taxing on the body. Yin, or Restorative Yoga, is a smart choice to experiment with, while the more “power yoga” styles should be skipped if recovery is your goal.
Other forms of active recovery include hiking, walking, bicycle riding, and joint mobility exercises. You want to get the body moving with minimal impact to the joints. Running may not be a great recovery option but an argument can be made for short distance beach running.
Steve Maxwell, an expert on physical training for Jiu Jitsu, is a big proponent of joint mobility exercises and for good reason. Not only do they help regain range of motion in the joints and prevent injury, they also help move synovial fluid within the joints. Cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply like the muscles do and gets its nutrients from synovial fluid. Joint mobility exercise creates changes in pressure within a joint, which helps drive synovial fluid to the cartilage of the joint. These types of exercises are also minimally strenuous and a smart idea for your recovery day.
Self-myofascial release is a fancy term for self-massage. Over recent years, foam rolls, lacrosse balls, and other massage tools have become increasingly popular as methods to reduce soreness, increase circulation and range of motion, decrease muscle tension, and overall, speed recovery. Although self-massage for exercise performance and recovery is a relatively new practice, there are a few studies proving its effectiveness.
In this study, foam rolling was proven to: decrease perceived muscle soreness post-exercise, improve muscle activation and jump height in subsequent training, and improve passive and active range of motion. With these kinds of results – improved recovery and performance – foam rolling is a must in your training regimen.
In another study, two groups were tested; those who foam rolled for 20 minutes directly after 10 sets of 10 back squats at 60%, 24 hours after, and 48 hour after, and those who did not foam roll. Those who foam rolled had lower perceived muscle soreness and less negative effects on speed, power, and strength endurance when training in a sore and not fully recovered state than those who did not foam roll.
If you are frequently sore or lack full range of motion due to muscle stiffness from training, foam rolling your muscles immediately after training and again the next day will improve soreness, range of motion, and subsequent performance.
Many times in competitive sports we are told the importance of hard work and dedication, often inspired with images of Rocky running the streets of Philly before sunrise. We’re showered with quotes like “hard work beats talent when talent won’t work hard” and “no pain, no gain.” Of course greatness takes enormous commitment, effort, and will, but the mentality of going all-out all the time will leave you fatigued, over-trained, and ripe for injury. A lot of guys feel if they take a rest day they’ll look weak or lazy…or they worry their opponents will gain an edge on them while out. As hard as it is for some of us to stay out of the gym or off the mat, we must remember changes are made when your body is at rest.
We’ll get into the benefits of sleep a bit later, but good ol’ passive rest has its place too in the training spectrum. If you’re worried about losing what you’ve gained when resting, this study proved how muscle size and strength was preserved in men who took 3 weeks off from a 15-week training program after the sixth week. You may not need to take this much time off, unless you’re trying to heal a chronic injury, but a few days or a week may be exactly what you need to heal up, get out of a rut, and come back better than before. This time off is also a great opportunity to study technique and apply some of the nutritional and recovery strategies mentioned in parts 1 and 2.
If your budget permits, or you have good health insurance, there are other alternative treatments and therapies that will help to bring balance to the systems of the body. Many of these treatments are used to heal chronic injuries or health issues, however, regular weekly or monthly sessions could be an intelligent way to combat the effects of continual training. Personally, I don’t like to overcommit to any one type of therapy, but find semi-monthly sessions of chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture treatments, and sports massage keeps me moving well, injury free, and well recovered.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that involves inserting small needles into specific points around the body to balance the body’s energy flow. If you’ve ever tried acupuncture you know that the needles don’t necessarily hurt when they’re in place, but a small yet brief pinch can be felt when they are inserted. It’s a small price to pay for the wealth of benefits acupuncture promotes, including decreased stress and inflammation, improved sleep, decreased pain, lowered blood pressure, and improved digestion.
With respect to recovery, this study found lowered heart rates, VO2 maxes, and levels of blood lactic acid in elite basketball players who were given acupuncture treatments in specific points before exercise. From personal experience, I found acupuncture doesn’t “work” on the first try, but requires continual sessions at least for a few weeks to notice the benefits, then shifting to bi-weekly or semi-monthly sessions for maintenance. Again, some health insurance policies cover acupuncture and sometimes you can find local schools, or “community acupuncture” with discounted rates.
Many of the benefits of self-myofascial release can be had from regular massage therapy, however you’ll have to pay a bit more for them. If funds are available, there are many different kinds of massage therapy than can help to decrease soreness and improve recovery including sports massage, Thai massage, deep-tissue, and Structural Integration. Multiple studies that can be found here, here, here, and here all prove the benefits of massage for post-exercise recovery by reducing markers of inflammation and mostly, by decreasing perception of muscle soreness. According to these studies, receiving massage two hours after exercise appears to be the best time to yield the most benefits. Again, this can get expensive over time but a good strategy might be to combine self-massage with massage therapy to receive the recovery benefits without breaking the bank.
ELECTRICAL MUSCLE STIMULATION
You may have seen pictures of athletes with electrodes and wires attached to their muscles and wondered what that was all about. Electrical muscle stimulation or EMS is the use of electrical impulses to elicit muscle contractions and is becoming increasingly popular in the realms of sports, fitness, and sports medicine. With regard to recovery, EMS has shown to reduce indicators of muscle damage post-exercise, improve perceived muscle soreness, and improve performance in subsequent training sessions compared to passive rest.
Overall, EMS will speed recovery and leave you better able to perform in future training as proven by this study. EMS also shows promising benefits (lowered blood lactate/improved subsequent performance) for athletes who compete in games or matches with multiple periods, or who have successive rounds where they can perform EMS between bouts of action. Although EMS units run from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000, if you’re a professional who earns money or sponsorship from competition, it may be worth the investment.
As with the previous recovery strategies, these are options for recovery and can be used one at a time or in combination. The best strategy is the one you’ll actually commit to. Experiment with any or all of these ideas and see what works best for you. After three articles on recovery, you now have an arsenal to choose from. Just don’t forget the main objective, which is progress. The goal is not to recover faster to get back and beat yourself up with more training. The goal is to prevent overtraining. Continue to train hard but also seek balance in your routine to recover faster, prevent injury, and ultimately, improve performance overall.
- Doing light, low-impact movement (bicycle/rower) for 10 minutes post training will help to clear lactate and markers of muscle damage from your system.
- Regular yoga practice will help to lower inflammation in the long term and limit spikes in inflammatory markers post-exercise.
- Foam rolling your muscles immediately after training and again the next day will improve soreness, range of motion, and subsequent training performance.
- A few days completely off from training will promote recovery without compromising gains in muscle size, strength, and performance.
- Acupuncture can lower heart rate, VO2 max, and levels of blood lactic acid post-exercise.
- Massage therapy has similar benefits to self-myofascial release and can decrease inflammation and muscle soreness post-exercise. The best results are experienced with massage two hours after exercise.
- Electrical muscle stimulation has shown to decrease levels of muscle damage and muscle soreness post-exercise and can be of particular benefit to athletes for fast recovery between repetitive bouts of action.