Self care for BJJ athletes over 40
Professor Vernon Kirk, BJJ Black Belt, Judo Black Belt, 2020 member Team USA Sambo Masters World Competition Team, “Relentless Martial Arts,” N.C.
Self-care after 40 is essential whether you train or not. But the more you do the higher priority it should be. Most men have either played sports, or have had jobs with some sort of physical labor for most of their lives. Their body carries a lot of mileage, so when you start a sport like BJJ that care means a lot more. In April of this year I will 43 years old. I started training at 31 and I was roughly 290 lbs. I've competed in 95 events and had roughly 250 matches since beginning. I have done them in all different rule sets and sports. Not to mention since 10/7/2016, which was 6 months after major shoulder surgery I've competed in 51 events, had over 100 matches, turned 40, gotten my brown and black belts in BJJ. I also played football for 12 years including a few years at a Division 3 college. In all of those years I have had only one surgery and only a couple of other major injuries and those were typically freak accidents. So how have I been able to maintain that?
So where do we get started?
First thing is nutrition. We have to look at what we are putting into our bodies. Food is fuel for recovery and performance. The biggest problem with nutrition is everybody wants a “one fit” solution. There’s lots of different diets and many of them have pluses and minuses. The right answer, however, is whatever works for you. You need to experiment with your nutrition. Figure out what makes you feel and perform the best. The best advice I can give has nothing to do with macros it’s about eating the closest thing to coming out of the ground as possible. Some people need a higher carb, protein, or fat count. It depends on you. You have to do the experimentation to figure out what that is. I, personally, do better with higher protein/higher fat/lower carb ratio. I do need carbs during heavy workouts, however, too many, especially processed ones, make me feel bad. My performance suffers.
The second thing is some sort of fitness regimen. This needs to include cardio, strength, and stretching. Some people like to power lift, myself included. I’m a recovering meathead, and I enjoy lifting heavy weights. It can be beneficial, if done in moderation, however the main issue ends up being most of us don’t know what that means (myself included). So the best place to start are things like Yoga and swimming. Those 2 things will build your cardio for BJJ as well as strength. I am 43, been training for around 12 years and didn’t really add anything extra, until about 6 years ago. I went in training, like I did when I was in my teens and early 20s for football, but what I have learned the hard way is that I’m old and I can’t get away with that anymore. I can’t lift heavy as hell then go train, it doesn’t work, I break down without time to recover. When I lift now I take on more of the Russian method and don’t go to failure, take more time between sets and use less weight.
The third is yoga. Yoga is something I’m getting into more and more, and I absolutely love it. Flexibility and core stability is huge in BJJ. It’s needed to survive in bad spots on the mat. Strength training helps, but Yoga is something I should have started way sooner. If you are wondering where to start, start with Yoga. Then start to add things like cardio and strength training.
The fourth is self care, which is a broad term. Obviously the first three fit in here,
but what else does that mean? It means making sure your body is functioning as
optimally as possible. So it all starts with rest. Sleep is crucial, but some need more
than others, but it also means how you train. I train or workout 7 days a week and
usually twice a day, but what does that mean? I workout every morning during the
work week at 5:30 and then teach classes Monday through Thursday. But, when I
teach, I’m not working as hard as I would, as if I’m taking a class. I can choose to
roll, or who I roll with. I roll with all of my students, but on days I don’t feel it, I’m
hanging back and just watching. As an older athlete, even as a white belt you have
the right to be picky about your rounds. Make sure you’re getting work in, but you
don’t have to roll with every 20 year old in the gym. I go to some packed and high
end open mats on the weekends, with a lot of upper belts to get my training in. I
also monitor myself every morning. I check my heart rate to make sure I’m
recovering. Self-care modalities like Chiropractic, Massage, Acupuncture, Cupping,
etc. all keep me in the game and healthy.
In June of this year I’ll be 45. I’m not sure what 45 is supposed to feel like, but I
feel great. I credit this to the following: good lifestyle habits exemplified by my
father (he’s 73 & works out 5-6 days a week), diligent cross-training, careful
attention to nutrition, and a consistent meditation practice. All of these things play
a role in my daily routine.
Yoga has been a vital part of my life, since I went to India, for the first time at 17.
There, I learned about the medical system of India termed “Ayurveda.” Ayurveda
translates to “the science of life.” It’s a full encompassing health care system,
practiced in hospitals throughout India, Nepal & Tibet.
Ayurveda stresses emphasis on nutrition, yoga, meditation, and daily herbal tonics.
I’ve been studying Eastern philosophy & Eastern medical systems since my teens.
I’m now a licensed acupuncturist & certified fitness trainer in Bend, OR., where I
treat/train athletes of all kinds.
As a medical provider I can attest to the following: many injuries that come into my
office are due to a lack of stretching. Stretching seems to always get shoved by
the wayside. And, while it’s true that I see more female patients with a consistent
stretching &/or yoga routine in my practice, that doesn’t let the men off the hook.
In fact, my observation is that they often need it more. Through years of impact
sports, such as football, rugby, wrestling, MMA, etc. their muscles are typically
more damaged & tight than the majority of female athletes I treat.
Chinese, Tibetan & Ayurvedic medical systems all state that after 40, stretching
becomes more imperative than ever. The ligaments, muscles & joints get more
stiff & brittle by the year. To counteract this process, stretching should be
considered a non-negotiable for any Masters athlete of any sport. There are a
variety of yoga systems, styles & lineages. I would “shop” a bit, & find one that
works best for your body & recovery goals.
Almine does regular yoga at "Bend Hot Yoga & Wellness" in Bend, OR.
I’m also a big believer in water fitness. My 73 yr. old dad is in great shape. Yes, he
has an active stretching & 3 day a week strength routine, but he swims 5-6 days a
week. His lean muscle mass, not to mention his cardio, is excellent for his age.
He’s been known to say several things to advocate for the pool: “Swimming is the
one sport you can age with.” “There’s no downside to working out in the pool.”
“The water will prevent injuries & will heal existing ones.” Water fitness can entail
many things. Not just lap swimming, which I enjoy, but some find boring. Check
out more ideas at: www.speedofit.com The local "Parks & Recreation" center,
where I live, also offers "deep-water running" classes. This is a challenging
workout. Your legs are toast afterwards. There are many options in the pool. Get
creative. Also, see the post on water fitness I've previously published at:
When I started BJJ, in my late 30’s, I was coaching/practicing “CrossFit” 4-5 days a
week, plus climbing. I soon realized I could do 2 out of the 3 sports, & maintain
recovery, but not all 3. After 10 yrs. doing “CrossFit” I had to make a choice. I
chose climbing & BJJ. Those 2 sports offered me the mental stimulation, in
addition to the physical, that makes me so addicted to them. My point is the
following: to cross-train with impact sports, on top of already doing an impact sport
(BJJ) won’t serve you. I get the feeling of a 1-rep max. PR, and the enjoyment of
strength sets. But, I would advocate you keep those to 1 day a week, & have your
strength training come from plyometrics, & body-weight placement exercises, the
rest of the days of the week.
You only have “so many chips” your body can cash for impact, after the age of 40.
You will need to prioritize where you want to cash those chips…in Jiu-Jitsu, or in
other sports, and plan your fitness routine accordingly. You can’t do impact sports
4-6 days a week, consistently, after 40, without ample recovery time. Food for
thought, when you outline your next week’s fitness schedule.
I’m a big advocate of meditation. Like yoga, there are many forms & styles. Again,