I wrote most of this post awhile back when I started training more frequently and was feeling sore all the time. These methods are just a few different ways to deal with the soreness without limiting or reducing your training. As the body adapts to training, the soreness usually subsides.
Soreness is a big part of jiu jitsu, especially for those just starting out. For many, that aching feeling, which usually appears the morning after a good training session, is a reminder of the hard work they put in on the mats. However, when it is persistent, it interferes with both daily life and training. Stiffness and a lack of strength often accompanies soreness, preventing us from training to our full potential. While rest is often exactly what you need to get over it, there are other ways to deal with soreness. It is important to recognize the differences between soreness and an actual injury. If there is any acute pain, swelling, or discolouration, it is probably best to see a professional or at least take some time off. Proper rest and nutrition is still number one in my books, but these methods can help alleviate soreness and speed up recovery.
I’ve found movement through drilling, flow rolling, or light non-BJJ activities like running to really help with recovery. The gradual, low impact, and controlled movement can increase circulation and help the muscles recover from soreness, even faster than inactivity and rest. Activities like swimming, biking, or yoga are all good choices. By scheduling lower impact exercise between more intense BJJ training sessions, you can actually manage the soreness, while improving your athletic base. Rolling hard everyday is not sustainable for long periods, but there will be times when you don’t feel like you need a rest day physically and/or mentally. In this case, lighter BJJ training or exercises can give your body an opportunity to recover with the added benefit of working more technique or cardio. One of my yoga teacher always says, “Motion is lotion”.
A recent study by Jessica Hill and associates from St. Mary’s University College in the UK (2013) examined 12 studies on the effect of using compression wear (rashguards, spats, compression shorts, etc.)during and after exercise on soreness and other measures, like muscle breakdown chemicals in the blood. They found that the use of compression wear reduced soreness and sped up the recovery process. Although the mechanism is still unclear, potential explanations include the added pressure reducing the opportunity for swelling, and the increased blood
circulation removing waste from the muscles (Hill et al, 2013).
Compression wear is also especially nice to have in the colder months, especially if your gym doesn’t crank up the heat. They also help the body warm up and protect against gi burn and microbes that pose health problems. As if you didn’t have enough reasons to wear that fancy rashguard.
The use of a foam roller or other device like lacrosse ball for self-myofascial release has been growing in popularity over the years. The benefits of myofascial release includes both reducing soreness and improving mobility, making it a valuable treatment for recovery. A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise found improvements in soreness, athletic performance (in this case, vertical jump), and range of motion (both passive and dynamic) following the use of a foam roller (MacDonald, Button, Drinkwater & Behm, 2014). Self-myofascial release tools are great because of their accessibility, convenience, and physical feedback/control.
There are plenty of resources available online like Breaking Muscle or Kelly Starrett’s Mobility WOD. Breaking Muscle has a good article breaking down different tools. Any of the tools mentioned in the article is better than none as long as you are using it properly, thoughtfully, and carefully. If you have the opportunity, seeing a sports therapist for a massage can also completely change how your body feels.
Heat is another popular treatment for soreness. Generally speaking, ice is recommended for immediate application post-exercise or injury to prevent swelling, but heat may be better for persistent soreness. I’ve seen some conflicting support for both modalities and believe it’s best to try both to determine what works best for you. Many cultures from around the world have their own version of heat therapy. They divide into two categories, dry heat (electric pads, dry sauna, etc) and moist heat (hot baths, wet saunas, etc). Both have a beneficial effect on relieving soreness, and the research seems split as to which type is better. A recent study by Petrofsky and associates (2013) however suggests that moist heat can be as effective as dry heat, with a shorter application period. It comes down to personal preference and the type of heat, as with any treatment, should be up to you and medical professionals.
Hill, J., Howatson, G., Van Someren, K., Leeder, J., & Pedlar, C. (2013). Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2013.
MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 46(1), 131-142.
Petrofsky, J., Berk, L.,Bains, G., Khowailed, I. A., Hui, T., Granado, M., … & Lee, H. (2013). Moist Heat or Dry Heat for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Journal of clinical medicine research, 5(6), 416.