As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner who is 40 plus years old, I’ve found that it’s not possible to train with the same intensity as my younger teammates. My body doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to, so I can’t train as many days per week. Also, my body doesn’t tolerate the strain of sparring as well as it could twenty years ago. Therefore, I’ve made some adaptations to my training that I’ve found to be quite effective.
Choosing which classes to take
By alternating between traditional classes that include sparring and more drilling focused classes, I can get the necessary mat time without inflicting too much abuse on my body. Of course, this may not be an option at every school, but if your Jiu Jitsu academy offers more self-defense or drilling oriented classes, I would recommend including these into your routine. I get a lot out of learning the Gracie Combatives curriculum and find that I can always learn things that can be applied directly to my sparring. Nearly every class includes takedowns, submissions, and/or escapes, which I find to be immensely valuable. Also, the minutes immediately before and after class can be an excellent time to drill with my teammates to help me to solidify any moves I’m currently working on. By adding in drilling classes, I’m able to train an extra two to three days per week without have to be overly concerned about overtraining. I usually take four classes per week, of which two are traditional sparring classes and two are self-defense drilling classes.
Attending open mats
This may seem fairly obvious, but open mats can be an excellent time to dial in the skills learned during the rest of the week. By using this time for drilling and light flow-rolling, it enables one to be much more focused and efficient with their energy during regular sparring sessions.
Working on your “game”
I often make a point of focusing on one particular aspect of my game during sparring sessions. For example, if I know that I need to work much more on a particular guard pass, I’ll make a point of allowing my opponent to pull guard so that I can work on that position. I’ll focus on finding openings to use the intended guard pass, even if it’s not necessarily the best choice at the time. Either way, I’m still learning, even if I’m simply learning when not to use that particular pass. Regardless, I’m still becoming more familiar with the move.
Slowing things down
I believe it’s especially important for practitioners in the 40 plus age range to focus on slowing down their game. We’ll never beat the younger and faster opponents using speed and power. Instead, our strength is in our patience and wisdom, which can both be applied directly to our game. When rolling with a younger opponent who is faster and more aggressive, I try to compensate by slowing down my game and looking for openings. I focus on keeping my breathing controlled, and moving deliberately. I patiently wait for my opening before utilizing explosive power. This conserves my strength and energy, and often will tire out the younger opponents. It’s all about economy of motion and energy. I learn a lot from rolling with more advanced players and I try to observe how patient and deliberate they often are.
Proper warmup and cooldown
I make a point of stretching before and after training. Even just a few minutes makes a huge difference. This eases the strain on our bodies and reduces recovery time.
After putting our muscles through such an intense activity, it’s especially important to hydrate enough. If I’m feeling particularly dehydrated, I’ll sometimes grab a Gatorade on the way home. However, I try to avoid such drinks because of all the added chemicals. Instead, I’ll reach for a banana or a peanut butter sandwich as a means of replacing lost electrolytes. But mainly, I focus on drinking a lot of water.
For BJJ players who are 40 plus, it’s especially important to maintain a strength and conditioning program. I find that even just twice per week is plenty, and it shouldn’t be too strenuous. Just something that focuses on the major movements can be enough. I do a simple barbell or kettlebell routine that provides training of the hip hinge, squat, push, and pull. The emphasis should be on training the movement with some added resistance. It’s not important for us to constantly be maxing out, but instead to make our focus training the movements. Adding some resistance will help us to develop added strength. And we should never sacrifice form. Using proper form in our strength and conditioning routines will help us to train our bodies to move properly while sparring, which will help to reduce injuries and will reinforce the various movements we learn in class. As an example, the Turkish Getup is an excellent complement to the standing guard pass and the technical standup. It’s also a crucial part of Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister strength and conditioning program.
I’ve found that using these techniques allows me to train much more efficiently and more safely. I’ve found my game improving more rapidly and I’m able to spend more time on the mat. I hope you find some benefits in these observations, and I welcome your feedback as well.