When you’re involved in a combat sport you’re going to get hurt. It’s never a question of will it happen, but when. And we all know, injuries suck! They usually take the wind out of our sails right when we’re sailing along nicely. They’re debilitating, frustrating, and zap our motivation and momentum.
Fighters and BJJ players are competitive by nature, so being sidelined with an injury, no matter how minor or severe, takes its toll seemingly even more so. That’s why injury prevention should be a staple in all of your strength and conditioning workouts. However, if the deed is done, and you find yourself mat-side for the time being, getting trapped in a cloud of depression is not productive for anyone. It’s time to reframe the injury predicament and look at the upside of getting hurt.
PUMP THE BREAKS
Many times, especially in combat sports, where athletes keep their foot on the gas day in and day out, injuries are the body’s way of pumping the breaks. How many times have you been cruising along, making great progress, getting in plenty of training, then BAM! you’re sidelined indefinitely with a stupid, often avoidable injury. If you’re going full speed, neglecting rest, recovery, the yin to the yang, you’re missing a big piece of the combat sports puzzle.
Gone are the days of grinding athletes to the bone with a “no pain, no gain” mentality. Of course, there is no substitute for consistent hard work, but with everything we now know about overtraining, recovery, and performance training, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by adopting the old school approach.
Part of being a complete athlete means having the mental toughness to say no to more work, and the discipline to take your recovery seriously. This means getting on that damned foam roller for the second time that day, or stretching out before bed when all you want to do is crash out hard. This will go a long way in preventing future injuries and overtraining, and assuring continual progress with regard to your performance.
To look at the upside, we can thank injuries for break checking us when we’re too driven to do so ourselves. Often, smaller injuries slow us down before something severe takes us out for the long term.
HEAL UP OTHER ISSUES
You know that nagging pain you’ve been ignoring the last few months? That one that’s been bothering you but seems too insignificant to warrant a doctors visit. Sustaining an injury is a great time clear that up. Maybe it’s a dull pain in your wrist, or that low back pain you sometimes get after class. Whatever it is, injuries afford us the time to heal up and resolve other issues that we may have been neglecting.
Sometimes we don’t even need to rehab these other issues. Simply, rest is all the body needs to heal these things up on their own. Taking some time off to allow the body to recover may be just what you need to come back stronger than before. In a sport where we’re never to be outdone by our competition, rest is thought of as weak or will put us at a disadvantage. In reality, just the opposite is true.
IDENTIFY OTHER POTENTIAL INJURY SITES
Unless you’ve sustained some kind of unavoidable random injury, like a finger caught in a gi, etc., frequently, injuries are preventable and can spur from a muscular dysfunction within the body. These dysfunctions can be identified, and often develop from repetitive movement patterns and muscular imbalances.
In the Jiu Jitsu world for example, the hip flexors are repeatedly flexed, leading to tension in the front of the hip and weakness in the opposing glutes. Over time, this can lead to lower back pain.
If you’ve sustained an injury this is a great time to identify some of these imbalances and resolve them before another one occurs. Your best bet would be to find a specialist who can identify these dysfunctions through a movement assessment, or start working on some of the most common issues, which should be included in your injury prevention work anyway.
Injuries can take anywhere from two weeks to a year to fully heal up, depending on the severity. This leaves you with some downtown that would otherwise be filled with training. Don’t waste it. Instead, use your time to study instructional videos and watch competition footage. Become a true student of the art, and immerse yourself in study.
Study new techniques and new positions, and review old things you’ve already learned. Even if you’ve “mastered” a technique, watch how different instructors break it down. Get into the details. Maybe you’re forgetting a small step that could dramatically increase your success rate in the future. Play a technique on repeat, day after day, until you can play every detail back in your head with your eyes closed.
Watch competition ad nauseam. See how different competitors apply different techniques. Understand styles and match-ups. Which techniques have high success rates? Which competitor has your body type and effectively employs a style to complement it? How do competitors manage the clock? What competition strategies do they use? Notice grips and how competitors use their weight. Do they use speed or strength? Geek out on Jiu Jitsu.
REEVALUATE GOALS AND BREAK DOWN YOUR OWN GAME
Injury time is one of introspection. Use this time to do a self-analysis and reevaluate your goals. Could your injury have been prevented if you were stronger? More stable? More flexible? Did your ego get in the way and force you to get hurt when you should have tapped? Are you placing too much emphasis on using strength over technique?
Once you’ve evaluated the injury, break down your own game. What are you weak at? What are your strengths? Do you need to drill more? Do you need more mat time? Do you need to build your gas tank or add more strength? Is your passing on point but your guard lacks?
After you’ve broken down your game, develop some goals and build a plan of action to reach them. In part 2 of this article we’ll get into ways of training around an injury, but for the time being, write down what you’ll commit to work on when you’re back on the mat. If it’s strength you need, find a program to use. If flexibility, determine what yoga class you’re going to attend. If the big hole in your game is takedowns, decide what techniques you’re going to drill to improve going forward. Build a game plan.
GET YOUR NUTRITION IN LINE
The last thing you want to do when injured is waste away on the couch and get fat. This will make your comeback even harder when it’s time to get back on the mat. Not only will good nutrition help with your transition back to action, but it can help speed up your recovery time. Foods that cause inflammation, like sugar, alcohol, and trans fat, will slow the body’s natural healing abilities.
Study up on nutrition. Understand that if you were eating poorly before you got hurt, or snuck in a few cheat meals here and there, you won’t be able to get away as easily while you’re sidelined. In order to keep the balance, you’ll most likely have to take in less calories because you’re burning less each day. This is a good time to educate yourself on sport nutrition and the different types of diets out there. Some to check out are the Paleo Diet, Anti-Inflammatory, Gluten-Free, Warrior Diet, Intermittent Fasting, Ketogenic Diet, etc. Staying strong at the dinner table will pay off big when it comes time to roll again.
Injuries don’t have to be a time of dark clouds and depression. When we reframe the situation and look at the upside of this downtime we can make the best of it. Use your time to develop other non-physical aspects of your game. Hone in on your recovery methods, heal up old issues, identify and prevent future injuries before they happen, study tape like a scout, break down and reevaluate your game and goals, and tighten up your nutrition. Developing these qualities while you’re hurt will do numbers for your performance when you’re ready to roll. Resolve to come back better than before.