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Wellness / March 26, 2017

A black belt’s 6 tips to avoid injury

Written by: Mike Powers

I’ve now fought Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for 18 years. And I’m good at it—I’m a 2nd degree black belt, and I’ve won the U.S. national championship three times.

That said, I did pretty much everything wrong in my 20s and 30s when it came to minimizing injury. I didn’t stretch, I didn’t eat well, and I didn’t work out properly. I practiced bad habits that set me up for injury… and they cost me.

Over the course of my career, I’ve suffered:

  • 3 shoulder surgeries
  • 4 separated ribs
  • A separated collar bone
  • 2 pinched discs (in my neck and lower back)
  • Countless knee injuries
  • Broken fingers, toes, and teeth

…and hundreds more minor injuries. Now in my 40s, I wake up every morning with full-body pain. I’ve consulted a variety of medical professionals, and they’ve helped me develop a plan for reducing future injury. It’s a plan I wish I’d adopted 18 years ago.

1. Stretch (No, seriously)

There’s a reason you’ve heard this before—adopting a daily stretch routine is probably the most important step you can take to prevent injury.

I now spend 20 minutes to an hour stretching every day with proper breathing in a warm (or hot) environment. Then I jump into a bath of very cold water.

When possible, I practice “loaded stretching”: adding weights, body weight, and/or resistance to standard stretches. Check the video below for an overview of those techniques.

 

2. Combine heavy weights with light conditioning

Lifting weights is good. Duh.

But most athletes (myself included) neglect to work out the body’s small stabilizing muscles. Doing so is usually boring, and it doesn’t produce immediate results.

For years, I only practiced the bench press and incline. The resulting imbalance ultimately led me to get three shoulder surgeries.

Sloppy weight training will catch up with you like a landslide. To prevent that, design yourself a workout like this one:

 

3. Spar smart

In martial arts, sometimes it’s important to leave your ego behind and slow down the pace.

Older students should always communicate with younger, wilder students before a sparring session. Let them know you don’t want to spar too hard because of potential injuries. Communicate and “remind” them throughout the sparring session if needed.

 

4. Eat right

It was Ido Portal, the movement master who trains Conor McGregor, who gave me the nutritional wisdom I follow today.

“It’s more important for me to add good food to my diet rather than just cut out bad food,” he said. “You don’t have to cut all the junkie food that you love out of your life, because then you’ll be miserable and you won’t follow the diet long term.”

Focus on adding organic meats, nuts, and greens into your diet. It’s also a good idea to mix in tumeric, glucosamine, and protein powder from time to time.

And while cuts shouldn’t be the focus of any diet, there is one thing you should cut out of your diet right now: sugar.

Excessive sugar intake causes all sorts of health problems… and it will make you fat. To avoid that, stay away from sweets, soda, junk foods, and alcohol. The sugar consumed on weekend alcohol binges puts stubborn fat on many athletes.

Oh… and don’t smoke. Duh.

 

5. Invest in some physical therapy

If you’re really serious about training your body, you may also want to get serious about giving it TLC.

I personally book regular appointments with an assisted stretch therapist, an acupuncturist, a cryotherapist, a deep-tissue masseur, and an osteopath. (Those are all different people.)

The deep-tissue massage is particularly important, because it breaks down the body’s myofascia: dense tissue that coats all muscles and bones. Massages that do this are uncomfortable. If your massages are just making you sleep and smile then they might not be doing much good to break down the fascia in your body.

 

6. Sleep!

Your body needs sleep. Respect that, and you’ll recover faster and get injured less.

Commit to seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. This is what most people are missing in their lives. As a result they feel older, look older and accumulate more injuries.

This is mostly common sense… and it’s likely that most readers have heard these suggestions before.

But are you following these practices? Because just knowing about them doesn’t do you any good. Start today.

Do you have a training-related question for Mike? Email it to [email protected].

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about the author

Mike Powers

Mike Powers is a 2nd degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, under Rodrigo Medreiros in San Diego, CA. He now lives in Hong Kong teaching Jiu Jitsu and MMA with hundreds of students.

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