Combat athletes are prone more than any other athlete to superstitions and weird ascetic practices. Weird diets, behaviours and other practices are all pretty common among high level and amateur competitors and practitioners. I can understand why this is appealing, I have met some BJJ athletes many of whom interpret zone of optimal functioning or heightened arousal states as a near religious experience. Now we all love a good post roll endorphin glow, but you probably haven’t touched the face of Buddha. For some reason Brazilian jiujitsu has a propensity to appeal to new agey types who bring alternative practice with them. Considering the modern martial arts movement is so fixated on outing quacks, its surprising that they still get a pass in topics suck as wellness, health and sports performance.
I can’t help but shake my head when I hear a legit fitness personality and BJJ Black belt such as Steve Maxwell speak on Joe Rogan’s podcast and espouse a known pseudo science such as Ayurveda (Ayurvic medicine – Good examination on quack watch here). I have in the past had to explain that keeping blood pH neutral via Gracie diet is physically near impossible, seeing as the body is very good at maintaining its pH levels. Another one that I think has peaked was the brief obsession with Acai that everyone seemed to have, eating Acai because you do BJJ is like chowing down on kimchi because you do taekwondo. The studies on the benefits were not particularly convincing either. While eating fresh fruit, drinking veg smoothies and doing kettlebell swings is great we have to divorce the pseudo science fluff from the legitimately beneficial stuff. What works, what is placebo and what is down right waste of time?
So toss out your tongue scraper, maybe keep your blender, but listen up because there some practices that are particularly useful.
Deep Breathing & Meditation
Eastern mysticism, Gurus and new age consciousness expanders has done much to undermine two of the perfectly legitimate practices of meditation and deep breathing. Western scepticism means they wind up being shelved shrugged off as new age wishy-washy crap with everything else.
First up Deep Breathing. Rickson and Kron are defiantly on to something here and its great that some BJJ practitioners do examine deep breathing practices.
There is some evidence that it can help with CNS recovery by decreasing the amount of time it takes an athlete to return to a parasympathetic state. Most combat athletes I’ve met are very sympathetic dominant types (probably why they are great at fighting), who can trigger a strong fight or flight response, but have a hard time coming down after training. I’ve had clients especially those that train in the late evening report back that they have trouble sleeping.
This fight or flight ‘high’ puts us in a state of elevated cortisol levels which is useful short term, but repeat exposure can be destructive as it eats away at the body’s recovery capacity. By performing deep breathing we can get the body back into a parasympathetic state and get cortisol back under control
Other Research has shown that it can also improve posture, improving lumber lordosis which is great if you spend time stuck in lordotic or kyphotic posture. This is particularly useful post training after heavy loading of the posterior chain. We often perform deep breathing drills as part of recovery or in warm-up to encourage proper breathing patterns for lifting.
Mike Guadango has talked about deep breathing drills over on freak strength website, applying the method to baseball players.
Try this post workout and see how your recovery improves:
50 Belly Breaths or 5-15minutes of belly breathing after your workout
- Supine (laying on back) with feet elevated
- Seated with back against the wall
- Prone (face down)
- 5 seconds in 5 seconds out or 4:6
Meditation is another practice bound up in eastern mysticism. A broad term but for us its a practice that promotes relaxation. We know that stress, devastates recovery , impairs immune response and influences your perception of things like energy levels and muscle soreness. So with a proven practice like meditation it is shocking we don’t do it more. With benefits as wide ranging as improved cognitive functioning, the need for less sleep and improved recovery times. Some people take it further and claim it improves emotional states and sense of self, this is some what subjective, however research does state it improves mental health measures. While similar it does differ to deep breathing drills.
How to do it. (abbreviated from nate greens 5-minute monk)
1. Find a place with no distractions, turn off phone, computer.
2. Find a comfortable sitting position with a tall spine, cross legged, chair key is comfort.
3. Eyes Can be open or closed.
4. Focus on breathing but don’t actively try to control it.
5. Distracting thoughts will appear but push them aside and go back to focusing on breathing.
6. Focus on this process of breathing and keeping your mind free of intrusive thoughts
7. Set a timer, theres one here you can use http://www.fungie.info/bell/#
Nate suggests trying it for 5 minutes a day for a full 30 days and then gauge how you feel. While this just one way to approach it, I personally find walking, sauna’s and steam rooms meditative. While the last two can be stressful they do allow opportunity for quiet and introspection.
In a mile a minute society people are moving but not being productive especially when you look at the average population. People have a real problem being comfortable with silence and presentness, I see this in athletes who reach for phones during rest periods, chat endlessly and look for distraction. I even see it in coaches who find a quiet gym perplexing. Stillness is something that is almost reviled and thats a shame.
This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK.