Jiu-jitsu can be one of the best things you do for your body. It’s a full body workout, a strength and cardio package deal. It’s also stress relief. It’s social. It builds confidence as fast as it builds muscles. The benefits of training go on and on. But there can be too much of a good thing. Overtraining is a real hazard in this sport, and spending too much time on the mat is dangerous.
What causes overtraining?
Jiu-jitsu is an intense physical and mental workout. Physical exercise can lead to elevated levels of adrenaline and the feel-good neurotransmitters (endorphins, serotonin and dopamine) in the brain. And for many practitioners, rolling in jiu-jitsu produces a mental flow state which is highly enjoyable and relieves stress. In other words, training jiu-jitsu can make you feel really good! It’s no surprise some practitioners may choose to train more often than is healthy.
Another cause of overtraining in jiu-jitsu is the misguided belief that pushing one’s body to the absolute limit will result in faster learning. While it’s true that a regular training regime is important for acquiring and retaining skills, training too often can actually reduce one’s progress in jiu-jitsu.
Wear and tear on the body
Intense physical activity puts a lot of stress on the body, and time is needed to recover from the brutal workouts involved in serious training. After a serious training session, it’s advisable to allow yourself between 24 – 48 hours for your joints and muscles to recover. If you are new to training, you may need more time to recover than experienced athletes. Many other factors will also come into play, such as age, fitness level, and the amount of sleep you can get. Above all else you must listen to your body! Don’t train if you still feel “beat up” from your last session.
Not allowing yourself proper recovery time leads to an increased risk of injuries during training. A serious injury can result in lots of lost mat time (not to mention medical expenses!). Even if you don’t experience a serious injury, you may find your body constantly plagued with soreness, aches, and pains if you train too often. It is difficult to train well or learn new moves if your body doesn’t feel good. You will make the fastest progress in jiu-jitsu if you give your body the time it needs to recover between workouts.
So how much is too much?
It is generally advised to train at least 2 or 3 times per week if you want to make progress and retain your skills. This is probably a good limit for new students who will need time for their bodies to adjust to working new muscle groups. More experienced students may be able to safely train up to 6 days per week. But even the most experienced students should allow themselves at least one day per week to rest and recover.
Another good strategy for recovery is to alternate hard workout days with easier days. You don’t have to roll hard after every class; instead, alternate between hard training days and drilling or “flow rolling” sessions.
The bottom line: to succeed in jiu-jitsu, you need your body to be injury free. So listen to your body and take good care of yourself. Remember that martial arts is a lifelong journey, and your primary goal is to stay healthy so you can continue training for years to come!