Credit image & photo: Pedja Milosavljevic / STARSPORT: Belgrade Open 2016 BJJ
A competitor has just finished the first match of their day. It was a tough one that went the distance. Sweat on the brow, chest heaving and leaden forearms the competitor leaves the mat realizing they only have between five and ten minutes to recover for their next match. The body will cool and the lungs will settle in that time, but forearms caked with lactic acid and swollen with blood that feel like 20-ounce steaks attached to your biceps? Now that is a problem. Everyone from every grappling sport whether jiu-jitsu, judo or wrestling has experienced this and many have lamentably come to accept this as another “it is what it is” moment. Newsflash: Forearm burnout is preventable. Here is how.
Firstly, why one’s forearms get burnout especially bad after their first match has to do with multiple aspects of the human body.
Number 1: Muscular System: Do you even lift? Seriously, if the forearms are not trained then they will burnout quicker. Forearm specific workouts are great, but tedious and time consuming, so at the very least incorporate deadlifts, shrugs and pull-ups. These exercises are great for grappling and all integrate the gripping muscles of the forearm. The stronger the forearms, the less the burnout.
Number 2: Cardiovascular/Circulatory System: A proper warm up is necessary to ensure your blood is pumping and your joints are lubricated. When muscles are cold and instantly forced to work hard, blood will be pumped in quickly but due to the staleness of blood vessels from lack of warming up the blood will remain and take longer to circulate out. Instead of letting the first match be a warm up, do jogging or body weight exercises for twenty minutes before stepping onto the mat. This will help the body push blood in and out of its muscles more efficiently.
Number 3: Endocrine System: Whether conscious of it or not, the body is in a different hormonal state than normal during competitions. “nerves” or “butterflies” are a telltale sign, but some are more subtle. The body produces the stress-hormone cortisol which coupled with the speed and intensity of a competitive match can cause an adrenaline dump. This is especially common in less-experienced grapplers, who lose control of their bodies during the dump and grip much harder than they are used to, leading to burnout. The mind has little control over hormones so a physical response or a “blow” must be elicited to combat the adrenaline dump. A “blow” is a situation in which the body is pushed hard enough to simulate a competitive scenario. The “blow” will expel cortisol from the muscles and allow the competitor to think clearly about relaxing grips during their matches.
Aside from training grip strength, the best thing one can do do avoid forearm burnout is get a proper warm up in before their match. Beginning to warm up about an 45-minutes before the first match with 20-minutes of jogging or bodyweight exercises like jumping jacks and squats will lubricate the joints and improve circulation. Transitioning to high intensity exercises like sprints or sparring will expel stress hormones and decreases chances of an adrenaline dump. Then finally by using the last few minutes to hydrate loosen up is an easy way to eliminate the dreaded forearm burn after your first match.
Contributor Bio: Grant Bogdanove was a high school wrestler and is a black belt in judo and purple belt in BJJ currently based in Japan.