Words by Nic Gregoriades
When I began to study grappling, I had an obsession with the quantity of training I would do. My goal was always to do more training sessions and to train harder and longer in each session. If I didn’t train twice a day, I would feel guilty that I had wasted valuable mat time. Like many Westerners, I suffer from the “more is better” mentality. We are all taught through various overt and subliminal sources that we constantly need to be doing more, achieving more and amassing more.
For me, one of the coolest things about jiu-jitsu is that I can use it as a tool for my own personal evolution. It’s enjoyable to watch yourself rewarded for your efforts on the mat with increased skill and ability. And anyone who tells you that you will be able to get the most out of the art without a large volume of training and effort is either ignorant or lying to you. But over the last several years I have radically changed my view on optimum quantity and frequency of training.
I now believe that often, less training is better than more.
In my opinion, many BJJ practitioners are chronically overtrained. Overtraining in jiu-jitsu causes your ability to plateau and eventually decline!
Remember that the training load is cumulative. This means that the stress that is placed on your system from working out is compounded over time. So if you train for too long without a proper break, you incur a sort of ‘recovery debt’. This debt has to be paid sooner or later, or else your system will automatically take steps to protect itself. This is why many BJJ athletes are injured all the time.
Having any of these symptoms below may indicate that you are overtrained:
1. Delayed reaction times
Research with Russian Olympic athletes has shown that overtraining slows reflexes and reaction times. This is the first thing I notice when I am close to burnout.
2. Lack of Motivation to go to training
Sometimes this doesn’t mean that you are lazy – mental fatigue is a tell-tale sign that you are spending too much time doing something.
3. You start gaining fat
You might be training six times a week but notice that your body is actually getting softer. This means you’re endocrine system has become imbalanced from overwork and that you probably have an excess of cortisol in your system.
4. Constant soreness and tiredness
If you are constantly dealing with niggling injuries, muscular pain, and general ‘weariness’, it’s more likely than not that your body is struggling to cope with the stresses of your training schedule.
5. You get sick often
An increase in the frequency of flu and other illnesses may indicate that you are overtrained. Don’t be afraid to take time off from BJJ. Counterintuitively, sometimes training less will improve your jiu-jitsu. The human body and mind, and the organism as a whole, repair and grow during rest. Resting is as important as training. You will learn faster when you are fresh and as a result your training will be more efficient. Doing one class with an invigorated body and mind is better than doing three classes feeling lethargic and bored. You will also perform better after a break. In an interview a few years back, Saulo Ribeiro, arguably one of the greatest BJJ competitors ever, said that he takes a full two weeks off before a major competition.
How to overcome it
As jiu-jitsu practitioners, we are martial artists, and every artist needs to step back from his canvas periodically. A few times per year I’ll just switch off from BJJ completely for a week or two. By ‘switch off’ I mean I put that aspect of my life on hold completely. This means no instructional videos, no hanging out at the academy, and no visualizing the techniques in my mind. It’s difficult to do this with something that is such a big part of your identity, but it’s worthwhile. When I return to the mats, I find that I am sharper, fitter and more excited about the art than before.
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