Alive and Kicking – Martial Arts Over 40
Monday 5 March 2012: Issue #23
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Published by Brett Kraiger. Your comments are always welcome.
Welcome to this week’s Alive and Kicking, the newsletter for martial artists over 40.
Today I want to talk a little bit about injury prevention for older martial artists. As we age, whether we want to accept it or not, our bodies change. We start to lose strength, endurance, flexibility, and speed.
For me it also means losing my hair and 20/20 vision! At this rate all I’ll have left soon are my good looks and stunning personality 🙂
By engaging in regular physical activity, such as your chosen martial art, you are doing the best possible thing for your body. It’s now scientifically proven that these changes that occur as a part of aging can be drastically slowed if you maintain a workout regimen. The article I wrote about the benefits of martial arts for middle aged people really showed this quite clearly. And those benefits will continue to extend beyond middle age and into your senior years.
But this doesn’t change the fact that your body is undergoing change. It has been since the day you were born, and it will continue until you die. And over time there is an inevitable decline in your body’s ability to recuperate and repair itself.
This is why it is vitally important that you include elements of injury prevention into your regimen. As a martial artist you are going to be asking more of your body than the average person in the street. So take care of it!
Here’s my list of things you should be doing for Injury Prevention as an over-40 martial artist. Actually it’s two lists.
3 Injury Prevention Tips for Inside the Dojo/Dojang
1) Awareness and Acknowledgement
Before you start any physical exercise, become aware of any part of you that is stiff, sore or “not quite right”. Actually take the time to assess your body through a range of gentle movements. Rotate your arms, circle your hips, do a couple of squats. You know your body – you’ve been living in it for decades – so you will instinctively know what doesn’t feel quite right. Try and get a feel for whether this is just a little niggle or something more serious.
2) Proper warm up
By warm-up, what do I mean? Well what I don’t mean is getting all hot and sweaty. Although it is good to raise your core temperature, this might not be warming up your entire body. Sure your heart and lungs might be going flat out, and buckets of sweat dripping off you, but it is still possible that you have not warmed up enough. You need to get the joints moving and lubricated, and the muscles and tendons nice and loose. Start with gentle movements, and slowly make them more vigorous. I like to start at the top and work my way down… I turn my head side to side, up and down, and ear to shoulder. Then some arm swings and arm rotations. Rotate my hips with full range of motion, Then the legs go forward and back in a “rising” kick, and also do some rotations bringing my knee across my body and rotating outwards. Finish off with some deep knee squats, and maybe some ankle raises. I will then just start moving around a bit more, still getting things moving, and actually still doing part 1 – assessing how I feel.
3) Lose the ego!
Look – if you have injuries, the worst possible thing to do is aggravate them. You can turn a minor injury into a major one very quickly. One minute you’ve got quite a tight lower calf that needs a week’s rest, and the next minute you are in a cast for 6 weeks with a ruptured achilles tendon! I have seen this happen. Luckily I haven’t had it happen to me (touch wood). If something hurts, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better during training, then you must stop. Don’t worry about looking like the old fogey who can’t handle the pace. Screw those guys. Look after yourself. Sometimes an injury will just happen all of a sudden. There is not much you can do about that. But other times you will know that things are slowly getting worse, and you are the only one that can know that. Use your brain and pull out while it is still a minor problem, and not after it becomes a major problem. In martial arts this can be quite hard sometimes, but for your own good you have to look after yourself. Lose the ego and pull out while you still can.
3 Injury Prevention Tips for Outside the Dojo/Dojang
As well as the practical tips above for injury prevention inside the dojo, there is a lot you can do at home or in the gym as well.
Often as martial artists we are asking our bodies to do strange things such as put our feet above our heads or submitting ourselves to painful joint locks. (are we all mad?). We want our limbs to go places that limbs normally do not go. And to be able to do this safely and without injuring ourselves we need to be flexible enough to enter those ranges. Flexibility for most people is not easily gained, and as you age it becomes harder to maintain. As such it is important to have a regular stretching regimen at home. Ideally, do something every day. One thing I like to promote is for people to maybe use the commercial breaks to get out of the chair and do a few stretches. They only take a few minutes and a commercial break is about the ideal length of time. Every commercial break, get out of the chair and stretch something. Do this over the course of an evening and you’ll be super-bendy in no time at all!
I do have to mention something about the above advice… I’m terrible at it! If anything, this is probably my weakest point. And guess what I have now because of it… a chronic painful shoulder. If I’d been more flexible, or more persistent with my stretching, my shoulder may well be significantly more functional than it is now.
Strength helps you in so many ways I just don’t have enough room to describe them all. Probably the most important (and often neglected) aspect of strength for a mature martial artist is their core strength. The core is all the muscles around the middle, and provide your body with all its stability. Even standing on the spot involves the core muscles to keep you upright. Because we are often asking a lot of our bodies, and in particular putting our limbs into strange places, we need to be able to maintain strong posture and good balance even if we are in an awkward position. Being able to regain our balance, turn quickly, and get up and down off the floor becomes so much easier, and puts so much less strain on the body, if we have good core muscles. A simple core exercise is the “plank” position, but I prefer to have a more functional exercise. Doing the plank position while waving one foot around in the air is “fun”. Or doing the plank with your arms on a chair, and then alternately stepping your feet forward while maintaining a straight back is another variation. Another really simple one is to sit on the floor, and move something really heavy from one side of your body to the other (over and over again). The options are endless.
Your body needs time to recover and rebuild from its exertions. Especially if you’ve been training hard in the dojang, and doing your strength training and flexibility as well. You need sleep to be able to repair all the little microtears that you have caused in your muscles. (That’s how you get stronger.. lifting heavy stuff actually tears your muscles, and your body repairs them and makes them stronger so they can cope with the load). If you are not getting enough sleep, then you are putting yourself at increased risk of further injury, especially if you are training two (or more) days in a row. Give your body the help it needs
If you are serious about preparing yourself physically outside of the dojang then “You Are Your Own Gym” is an awesome read. A bit scary, but brilliant book about bodyweight training as done by the special forces.
If you’re still reading, then good on you. Once again the newsletter got a little longer than I was anticipating!
Actually I was going to also talk about the magic “get fit in 3 minutes a week” fitness regime I found on bbc.co.uk, but I’m going to save that one up for next week. And then there’s the information about how regular exercise improves your brain power too.
Please, let me know if the topic of injury prevention is something you would like to know more about. I have learned the hard way that you ignore this at your peril, and it is probably a subject we could explore at some length. Fire me your questions or observations, or leave them in the comments field on the website. And of course there is the facebook page too.
Alternatively, let me know what else you would like to know more about. What are your burning questions?
Thank you for subscribing (and reading!). Back in a week.
All the best!
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Quote of the Day
I never struggled with injury problems because of my preparation – in particular my stretching.
– Edwin Moses (400m Olympic Gold Medalist)