Competing in mid-adulthood: How to train to win after age 35
I love training for competition almost as much as I like competition itself - I love the hard rolling sessions, purposeful drilling, and competition focused energy. I have been training and competing jiu jitu for almost 7 years now and I don’t want to stop, like ever. But, as I settle into my mid-30s, the way I approach training now has shifted somewhat from when I started. I have to be smarter. Now at the ripe age of 36, this is how I approach training before a big tournament:
I need to actually warm up
I used to be able to show up at open mat and jump right into hard rolling. Now, I seek out 1 or 2 light rolls before I find my most competitive rolling partners. It just takes me a bit longer to rev up to full intensity and my joints respond better to hard rolling after they are warm.
I am selective about my training partners
I believe that it is good and valuable to train with everyone. There aren’t many people who I flat out avoid training with all the time. But now, especially leading up to a competition, I want to make sure that the majority of my rolls are with training partners that most closely resemble those in my competition bracket. I try to train with more women, with more people around my size and skill level, and with people who present challenges similar to those I am facing in competition. If I am having trouble passing spider guard in tournaments, I need to go train with people with good spiders.
I also try to minimize my higher risk rolls - those who use excessive force, spaz out when they lose position, move quickly without purpose, or crank on submissions. I need to save my muscles and joints for more productive rolls and also reduce my chance of being injured at the tournament.
Take hard/easy days
Back when I was a blue belt, I used to roll ten, 6 minute rounds every day. Now I still have marathon training sessions, but I just can’t do it every day. I alternate between hard training days and easier days. On days that I am sore and my joints don’t feel great (usually from very hard training the day before), it is tempting to stay home and rest. Instead, I go to class and seek out light, technical rolls. I almost always benefit more from drilling and rolling light than not training at all.
Pay attention to recovery
Epsom salt baths, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and massages are helpful. Cutting out sugar is one of the best things you can do.
Treat micro injuries
We often get hurt while training jiu jitsu. Sometimes we get injured. These days, I am listening more to the “hurt” to avoid the injured. I’d rather rest a few days to treat something early on, than rest a few weeks or months to treat a later injury.
When it comes to physical attributes, it’s use it or lose it. Much of the decline that is attributed to age boils down to not training to maintain or even increase what you have. Now is the time to embrace your old woman/old man strength – strength train! Do yoga to preserve your flexibility. Do Olympic lifts to increase explosiveness. Do high intensity interval training to enhance your cardio. If you don’t have time to do it all, choose what you actually enjoy doing. That is probably what you are going to stick with.
Tap when a grip breaks
I can’t emphasize this enough. DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU FEEL PAIN IN YOUR JOINT! Tap when your last defending grip breaks and you can no longer safely defend the joint lock. I will fight a choke as long as I can breathe through one half of one ear. But an arm bar? A heel hook? Unless it’s the finals of the mundials, I tap as soon as I don’t have the grips to intelligently defend the submission.
To all the folks 35 and better – how do you train to perform at your best? What tips do you have to recover and stay healthy?