A reader writes:
Q: “I’m in my forties and and started MMA training a few years ago. Since then I have had many injuries including a shattered elbow, a torn knee, separations in both shoulders, and many, many more minor injuries. A sane person would stop training MMA, but i just can’t give it up. I try to minimize injuries by warming up and stretching and doing some light weight training, but even now, just rolling with other guys, I get injured. Is it possible that my body just isn’t cut out for this stuff? What should I do?”
A: It sounds like you have had a very bad string of injuries. There is definitely a problem, but without knowing you personally it is really, really hard to diagnose what is going on. This rate of injury is NOT normal, even for most MMA clubs. In addition to the pain of injury and the consequences for your body down the road, being injured all the time really cuts into your training and prevents you from reaching your full potential.
An obvious possibility is that you are training at a club full of very aggressive people, for whom every sparring session is a battle to the death. An alternative possibility is that it is YOU who is going way too hard in sparring, refusing to tap, etc. Either way, a simple way to diagnose whether you are in a hyperaggressive environment is to think about the other MMA and grappling clubs in your town: if you think that they are all way too mellow and laid back then it could actually be indicating that YOU are in the dysfunctional and counterproductive training environment.
You might be overtrained which could also lead to more injuries. Many people misunderstand overtraining – “but I’m not training that hard” they say. Overtraining isn’t just about training too hard, it’s also about under-recovering. You can overtrain doing only moderate amounts of training if your diet, sleep or stress management is inadequate. All this becomes even more important as you age – you just can’t neglect your recovery the way that the average 20 year old punk can.
Finally consider that you are training in MMA, and that injury rates in MMA tend to be higher than in submission grappling (which in turn are higher than in BJJ). It’s not always true, but as a rule MMA tends to attract younger, testosterone-fueled, ego-driven competitive types, and they can often make very dangerous training partners. In addition, MMA is a no-gi sport and that means that you have a faster, more explosive pace in sparring. By contrast, the gi in BJJ slows things down and makes it more of a mental game with strong aerobic and muscular endurance challenges without as strong a focus on explosiveness.
That being said, I’ll share some ideas of where to go from here. Not all these suggestions necessarily apply in your case, and only you can figure which are relevant to your situation.
- Make a mental commitment to tap out early and often when caught in bad positions.
- Ask yourself it your training partners are concerned about your physical well being; are they trying to preserve their training partners?
- Visit other clubs and try a class: maybe you’ve just taken up with a bunch of psychopaths at your current school. I’m not telling you to change schools, but the experience of training at another school (or even just watching a class there) can be quite informative.
- Try BJJ with the gi, rather than MMA. You may find that the challenge of BJJ satisfies the same needs as your current MMA training but that the slower, more technical pace leads to less injuries. There are a lot of old, torn up Judo players in Japan who can’t do much standing Judo anymore but still tear things up in newaza (ground grappling).
- Find a sane, laidback training partner and do most of your sparring with him
- Do more technique drilling and less sparring
- Find out about overtraining and try to figure out if your rest and nutrition is providing the recovery you need.
Good luck with your situation – I really hope that you figure it out!
P.S. After I mailed this article out to my newsletter I got a ton of emails back from my readers. Here’s a link to the readership’s feedback and advice for our always injured friend.