When I began training in jiu jitsu there were a few older guys at my academy who would always say things like “It’s different for you, you’re still young.” and “It’s not the same when you’re older”. I used to think that it was just them being lazy and negative.
Now that I’m in my mid-30’s I finally understand what those guys where talking about. Grappling after 30 becomes a very different experience.
When I was younger I never realised just how hard jiu jitsu and grappling can be on the body. Sometimes, after a hard sparring session I will be sore for 2 days. And injuries…they take so much longer to heal.
Reflexes slow too. I often find myself a split second too late for sub and sweep openings which I would have hit easily a few years ago.
But despite all this, I still believe that the years after 30 can be the most enjoyable and beneficial time in your training. You can still continue to improve with age, you just have to be smart about it.
Below I have listed 8 tips which I believe will help you enjoy your time on the mat well into your 50’s, 60’s and beyond.
1. Adopt a Positive Mental Attitude
Your mental attitude (not circumstances) is the most important factor in the quality of your experiences, especially in jiu jitsu.
If you keep telling yourself that you’re too old, then it’s going to come true. But if you’re focused instead on what you can do and adopt good thought patterns you will be much more likely to grow and improve. Here’s a few to start with:
– As you get older, your kinaesthetic awareness improves. Because you’ve been in your body longer, you know it better. You are much more in-tune with your capabilities and limitations, and so you can use your ‘physical tool’ much more efficiently.
– Also, although cardiovascular fitness is harder to maintain, you can get way stronger after 30. This is because your tendons and ligaments harden, imbuing you with the oft-touted ‘man-strength’.
– Look at all the competitors over 30 who have a achieved and still hang with the young guns. Hell, Rickson was 30 when he won the first pride tournament. And what about Eddie Bravo, Mario Sperry, Fabio Gurgel, Megaton Dias…are you telling me these guys aren’t still total bad-asses on the mat?
2. Approach your training intelligently
The ‘more is better’ approach can work really well when you’re young (it can also lead to overtraining and burnout), but it’s not the way forward if you’re older. Even though you might be inclined to train harder to in an attempt to make up for your waning attributes, this is the least beneficial thing you could do, because your capacity for recovery is more limited.
Instead of training harder, make your training time more efficient by approaching it intelligently. There are many strategies for achieving this and you will need to do your own research, but here are a couple to start with:
– Drill more. I would suggest that you make drilling (and not sparring) the focus of your training. Although sparring is arguably the most fun aspect of bjj, drilling a technique or sequence can be an almost meditative experience, and it also brings about huge improvements in skill. Drilling also mitigates the effects of the slowed reflexes I mentioned earlier.
– Choose your training partners wisely. This means avoiding 250 lb meat-head who is always injuring people, and instead seeking out those who are devoted to their health and the learning process instead of medal-chasing.
3. Monitor the Health of Your Joints
Scott Sonnon, one of the most progressive coaches in the martial arts, is fond of saying “You’re only as old as your joints.” and nothing could be more true. If your joints are stiff or damaged, you move like an old person. If they are healthy your movement is youthful. Adopting a sequence of joint mobility exercises which take each joint through its full range of motion is one of the wisest investments in your grappling future you can make. I find Scott Sonnon’s Ageless Mobility program to be excellent.
4. Stretch Consistently
Because flexibility is one of the first things to decline as you age, it (not strength) should be the focus of all your supplemental training. The best time to stretch is when your tissues are warm, so after bjj class is perfect. I’ve found that yoga offers the most precise and intelligent approach to stretching correctly, and so that is the focus of my stretching routine.
5. Warm Up Correctly
This is a big one. When I was 20 I could walk off the street into the academy and start sparring literally instantly. If I try that now I’m pretty much guaranteed to injure myself.
Contrary to conventional jiu jitsu wisdom, a good warm requires more than jogging a few laps around the mat and doing a couple of lengths of shrimps and breakfalls.
Your warm up should include a good selection of dynamic stretches and joint rotations (focusing on the neck, shoulders, hips and knees). My personal warm-up also includes giving each of my major muscle groups a few hard contractions as I feel this approximates the type of loading they are subjected to in training.
Although it’s technically your instructor’s responsibility to get you warm for class, ultimately only you know when your body is prepared for jiu jitsu – so make sure you’re warm before you begin.
(Note – avoid static stretching before training – that should be saved for after.)
6. Maximise Your Sleep
This was a big one for me. As mentioned previously, your recovery time is longer after you are 30. Quality sleep is the best way I have found to minimise the effect of this. You can read an in-depth article on this here.
7. Be Impeccable With Your Nutrition
This is important when you’re a young athlete, but it’s absolutely vital as you age. You can get away with eating pizza and ice-cream several times a week during a training cycle when you’re a teenager, but for the more mature of us that’s a privilege we don’t have access to anymore.
The quality of your nutrition determines the quality of your tissues. As Rickson Gracie says, “You are what you eat”. Low-quality food, and alcohol all lead to inflammation in the body. This delays repair and recovery (notice how that word keeps coming up?), so it’s wise to avoid them. For more information read my in-depth article on Nutrition for Jiu Jitsu.
8. Consider Supplementation
More and more research is showing that quality supplements can slow the effects of ageing and lead to improved health. I have written an in-depth article on this here.
You might also want to consider a more powerful approach: Including TRT, Steroids and Human Growth Hormone. Your hormonal profile changes significantly as you age, and using some (or all) of these can offset the resulting decreases in tissue repair which is so taxing on the jiu jitsu athlete. Keep in mind that these substances are usually illegal without a prescription and can be dangerous when not used properly – check local laws and consult your doctor before you do anything.
Now please, please don’t sent me vitriolic messages whining about how steroids are unhealthy and immoral. I’ve studied them for long enough and from my current perspective, when used correctly they can greatly improve your quality of life. I’m also not telling you to do them. I’m just letting you know that they are an option and that you should be mentally flexible enough to consider them and do your own research.
See you on the mats!