In this article I would like to discuss one of the primary ways in which MartialBody training can be used by the combat sports Athlete or anyone who undertakes heavy daily training regimes, rehabilitation, and recovery.
I have been a martial artist for most of my life, competing at a very young age in Judo & Karate Tournaments and in my 30’s competing around the UK and Europe in Brazillian JiuJitsu & Grappling. In this time, I have trained with, met, and competed against many combat sports athletes of different levels, from world champions, Olympic hopefuls and many an average joe at their first tournament. One thing that was striking in these encounters, especially in my time as a master’s athlete is that almost everyone has a niggle or is recovering from an injury.
It is extremely rare to find a competitive martial artist who doesn’t have something, somewhere taped up, or that they are battling with a ‘sore’ shoulder, hip, ankle or similar. These injuries are simply accepted as part of being a combat sports athlete, and as is typical of the type of person who is a long-term competitor, they are ignored or just battled through. But this article will look at how we can both minimize the chance of un-necessary small injury, and how we can approach recovery from an injury should one occur via the slightly unusual lens of the MartialBody approach.
Starting from a point of imbalance.
Why do injuries occur? Well, sometimes they are the result of a single catastrophic event in sparring or fighting, a ‘freak’ accident shall we say that no one saw coming and you would struggle to recreate if you were asked too. These types of events are few and far between in fact and, despite some of the classic advice, there is very little that can be done to avoid them. The most well conditioned, strong, young, athletic competitors in combat sports regularly get these freak injuries. We need only look at the amount of times a UFC fighter must pull out of an event to observe this occurrence. So, ultimately, this sort of injury is not something we can prepare for to any significant degree, of course general strength and fitness will help to avoid them somewhat but as evidenced above, those qualities are no guarantee.
However, there is a completely different type of injury that occurs far more often and generally with far less catastrophic consequences. How many times have you seen someone get hurt and them say ‘it just popped’ or ‘I was just doing this and it just went!’. Usually the person will be performing a motion they have performed 1000 times, something they have never had a problem doing, then one night an injury occurs, seemingly out of nowhere.
Well, I am here to tell you that it hasn’t occurred out of nowhere!
That injury was bound to happen at some point. Most people will point to ‘weakness’ in the specific area of pain as a reason for this type of injury but I think there is a much more compelling reason. Imbalance.
Imbalance is the uneven distribution of something, in this case muscular effort or tension. Imagine if you will the area of the pelvis, the many different muscles, tissues and organs that are present here. This area is a fine balance of pulls, tensions and contractions to keep us upright or moving with freedom and agility. But imagine now if the back were extremely strong and the abs were very weak, what do you think would happen to this area in this scenario? There is usually a cascade of imbalances that occur as a result and an individual can develop what is knowns as ‘lower crossed Syndrome’.
Imbalance at this scale is actually rather common, indeed lower and upper crossed syndrome are being identified more and more. These types of imbalances need a specific routine of ‘release’ and ‘strengthening’ to overcome and will need the watchful eye of a trainer to monitor the corrective measures.
But aside from this large-scale imbalance, and frankly far more common, are very small imbalances around the body that accumulate to segment our posture, slicing up lines of strength with bands of tension and destroying our efficiency.
One of the ways the classic methodology would look to address imbalances would be to gradually ‘strengthen’ the weak or opposite muscle group to the one that is ‘stronger’ in order to balance out the tension. This is a method you will see advocated in many physiotherapy rooms and from PT’s around the globe, but can anyone see the problem with this approach?
Layering tension on top of imbalance.
Picture if you will the bodybuilder with large biceps causing the arms to habitually bend slightly through tension. If we wanted to help them reverse this, what would be the best approach?
Well obviously, the main way would be for them to reduce the size of the bicep to avoid the cross pull on the muscle belly. But let’s say they did not want to do this. Would the best solution be to build up tension in the triceps until the arm straightens? What would the effect be on the arms mobility? What would happen if the arm was taken out of alignment with these tensions present?
This is the approach that is commonlytaken to address imbalances, the method of strengthening the 'Weak' side in order to achieve balance. The problem of course is, how do you know when the weak side is strong enough? It is a fine balancing act trying to build up one side to balance the other and if the tense side is becoming tenser then how do you accurately find the right balance?
It is my opinion that often the side that is defined as ‘stronger’ is rarely such. It is in fact simply ‘tenser’ and the body is having a hard time relaxing the muscle. If this is the case then layering more strength ontop of this disfunction will not be the answer, instead it will create the scenario where the body is like an elastic band, ready to snap at any time. This body state is what results in the small ‘niggles’ so many athletes feel.
The opposite approach and one which I advocate in the HeavyBody section of MartialBody, is to work on releasing the habitually tight problem areas. Reducing the imbalance by removing unwanted tension, instead of increases opposing strength.
This is perhaps the greatest thing the hard charging athlete can learn, the ability to let go. But it is also a method that is perhaps the hardest for them to adopt and embrace.
Letting go of tension
Athletic competitors of any discipline are, by their very nature often focused on improving their performance, this mindset points them towards ‘building up’ themselves in some way. Either by developing greater cardiovascular capacity, increasing their strength, or training longer and harder than their competition. This is clearly a very direct route to performance gains and has been used by athletes of all methods and sports for hundreds of years. But we are now finding out that there is another equally important side to the training puzzle. This is the process of recovery from such training pressures and immediate rehabilitation of any identified ‘niggles’.
Many of the top athletes are now turning to complimentary methods to help them resolve, control and avoid ‘niggling’ injuries or pains and allow them to recover at the optimum rate. Injuries that are not enough to stop competition but are enough that they will suffer the day after can hamper the effectiveness of future training. Techniques of massage, acupuncture, Chi Gung, Yoga and meditation are being utilized by many of the top sports teams of the world and are proving to be effective for athletes. Of course, MartialBody draws on many of these techniques to achieve some of its attribute driven goals.
However, most of us do not have access to the facilities elite athletes do. As a master’s competitor I can confirm that most of the other competitors I speak too off the mats are nursing some sort of injury. For a competitive person above the age of 35 there always seems to be some sort of issue, somewhere, but when I ask them ‘What are you doing about it.’ They almost all respond in the same way. ‘Its just old age, if it gets worse I will go have it looked at’.
I hate to break it to you Ladies and Gentlemen, but that is a stupid approach.
If we are intelligent in our recovery, rehab and maintenance using specific softening work we do not have to live with these problems. Simple, daily, dedication to softening, alignment and breathing work can begin to avoid or recover from these niggles.
The processes found in many of the MartialBody sections, especially the early modules like HeavyBody or Stable Body are as much about removing things as they are about ‘developing’ them. HeavyBody training is specifically concerned with releasing unintentional or unconscious tension so that when we begin the align and balance our body using StableBody training we are not attempting to align a habitually tense structure.
In conclusion, I have personally found that daily training in soft methods and focused attention on releasing problems as soon as I feel them arise has allowed me to remain competitive, as strong, and as capable as Athletes in the their early 20’s as I fast approach 40 without constant niggles, pains and imbalances across my body. The process requires daily, dedicated and focused prioritisation of these softer methods but the result is that I feel as capable of competing now as I did in Judo all those years ago as a kid.
So do you try soft work … or live with the Niggles?
To gain access to the soft work found in MartialBody foundations, you can use
OFFER CODE ‘niggles20’
to get the ‘HeavyBody & StableBody Bundle’ with 20% further reduction.