Black belt breakdown: how to avoid injuries after time off the mats

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Black belt breakdown: how to avoid injuries after time off the mats

By Dr Marc Barton, chief instructor at Kingston Jiu Jitsu

After more than a year of disruptions, we are finally daring to hope that jiu-jitsu life will get back to normal soon. But with so much time away from the mats, there are many pitfalls to avoid as you start training again.

Before leaving the medical profession to teach jiu-jitsu full time, I was a doctor working in the Accident and Emergency department of a busy London hospital. It was an incredibly stressful job, and involved, as you can imagine, a lot of harrowing scenes.

While many of my colleagues took to alcohol to deal with the stress, jiu-jitsu was my salvation. So I understand that for a lot of people being able to train regularly is not some insignificant pastime, it is the thing that keeps them sane.

That is great, but the problem then comes when you can’t do the thing you love. During the lockdowns we have done everything we can in terms of online classes, and encouraging everyone to keep healthy and active. But nothing can replicate actual rolling with other human beings.

The danger is that we go back too hard, too soon. This is what our instincts tell us to do, we have missed a year of training and we want to make up for lost time. But it doesn’t work like that, and if you go into it recklessly you risk getting injured and then having to take even more time off.

The first thing to do is accept that your level will not be where it was. You can’t expect to be able to move in the same way you did before a lay-off, so you have to be gentle on yourself, treat yourself like a beginner for a bit, take time to recover. You shouldn’t spar hard every day – instead take time to do active recovery, a yoga class or at least some stretching at home.

You also can’t expect your level to be the same in comparison to your training partners. You know how much you have done over the last year, and everyone’s lockdown experience has been different. If you’ve kept your fitness levels up, you still need to be cautious, because rolling and riding a bike are not the same thing. But you will be better off than someone who has spent a year on the couch.

However much you have done physically over the last year, the approach should be the same: listen to your body, see what it can do. As always pick training partners carefully and try shorter rounds of specific sparring, making sure your body is ready to move in ways it might not remember.

You might be pleasantly surprised, but it is going to be a challenge for everyone. Sooner or later we will all be back training. But remember to take it easy for a while – the gym wars can wait for another day.