Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a combat sport that might not seem like a good fit for older adults, but many of my best training partners are of an older demographic. Let’s take some time to evaluate the idea of starting BJJ as an older adult.
You are never too old to start training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it is a martial art that is well-suited for novice adults. Differences in factors such as training volume and intensity do exist based on age, but growing in skill and even competing in tournaments is achievable no matter what your age is.
Let’s talk about how older adults should navigate BJJ training and what they might need to consider when making a decision to get into the sport.
Can I Start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu At 30, 40, Or 50?
Start training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in your 30s, 40s, 50s is very achievable. Jiu-jitsu culture often promotes gentleness while still being a combat sport, so you have the ability to train at whatever intensity suits you.
People over 40 at Atos frequently train at their academies. This is something that is common in most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools.
From my personal experiences in the schools that I have trained at, it is pretty common to see people ages 30 through 50 training regularly. These folks are not only high-ranking belt levels that have stuck with it through their 20s but are a mish-mash of experience levels just like you might see within the younger demographic of students. So if you’re worried you might be the only older white belt you can set those worries aside and start your BJJ training even if you are a bit older.
That all being said, in many ways you will need to handle training and recovery a bit differently than if you are in your teens through twenties. Also, you should consider what your goals for jiu-jitsu are, and realize that while it might be too late to become a world-class competitor, you can always become better than you were and end up with grappling skills far beyond any but the most elite BJJ athletes.
What Type Of BJJ School Is The Right Fit For An Older Beginner BJJ Athlete?
Choosing the right BJJ school that lines up with your needs as an older athlete will greatly affect how fun and effective your training will be. Find a culture that fits your needs, for older hobbyists family-oriented schools or self-defense-oriented schools are usually the best option.
These schools tend to design curriculums that do not typically require a high level of physicality and are easier to join as an older athlete. They also tend to do a better job protecting their students than a purely competition-oriented school.
If you are looking into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a way to enhance your self-defense capabilities or to get in shape, stay active, or build a community you’ll need to seek out a family-oriented gym or a self-defense-oriented gym.
There are many ways to evaluate a school that tend to correlate to good environments for older athletes. The first thing that I like to look for in a school is seeing athletes of varying ages and fitness levels on the mat. Other things to look for include a children’s program or a women’s program. If these demographics of people keep coming back it is pretty likely that the classes are safe and the culture is healthy. This dynamic is usually more welcoming and sustainable for an older athlete that wants to get started in jiu-jitsu.
If you are a highly competitive athlete and are looking to find an outlet to continue competing in a sport, you might need to search for a competition-oriented school. However, keep in mind that most people do not fit this bill, even if they think that this style is what they actually want. If you’re certain that you want to go on the BJJ tournament circuit, then seek out the regional jiu-jitsu schools that rack up wins in the area. You can take a look at sites like Smoothcomp and check out the results from regional tournaments in your area to get some ideas on where to look.
What Is Different About Training BJJ Over 30?
The biggest change that older athletes face is the increased recovery time for high-intensity training and injuries. Older BJJ athletes can keep up and do reach high levels of fitness, health, and combat ability.
Some of the common challenges that we need to address right off the bat as an older BJJ athlete are the factors of getting adequate recovery time, mitigating the increased injury risk, and addressing lagging general fitness levels. These factors increase in importance as you age since recovery time, injury risk, and effort required to maintain overall fitness levels go up as you age.
In order to work around these factors, let’s go into some of the shifts in your recovery routine that you might need to incorporate into your lifestyle and training to keep going strong as an older grappler.
What Kind of Recovery Routine Is Needed After BJJ Class After 30?
A crafted recovery routine after BJJ class is essential as you get older. Incorporating mobility work, hydration, nutrition, sleep, and heat therapy are all accessible and highly useful recovery techniques that should be used.
This Gracie academy addresses the importance of recovery if you are an older adult.
- Mobility Work & Stretching: putting forth some effort into a mobility and stretching routine pays dividends for a BJJ athlete. Not only do you get the benefits of increased mobility and flexibility over time, but it will also reduce your injury risk and muscle soreness while improving your recovery due to the additional blood circulation through your muscles. This can be incorporated rather painlessly into your schedule by doing some basic mobility work before class and static stretching after class.
- Hydration and Electrolyte Intake: getting adequate water intake and maintaining sufficient salts and minerals in your body play a huge role in helping digest food and move nutrients into your muscles to repair exercise-induced damage. Keeping salt intake at good levels will also reduce your likelihood of experiencing muscle cramps.
- Eat Enough Macros and Calories: making sure you hit your macronutrients will have a great impact on your body’s ability to recover from intense exercise. There are a lot of diet models out there that can be used successfully by a BJJ athlete, but as a general rule ensuring you get between 0.6-1.0 grams per lb of bodyweight alongside at least 40-50 grams of total fat seems to be a commonality for active individuals. For combat sports athletes, eating high carbs, especially around training time slots seems to maximize recovery speed and performance.
- Sleep for Recovery: sleep plays an enormous role in regulating the hormones required to stimulate muscle repair. During deep sleep, your pituitary gland releases hormones that directly address muscle repair and injury recovery. Getting enough sleep also has a huge impact on hormones that control appetite, mood, and fat loss. This is probably the most important metric for health and performance and it baffles me that so many people are willing to sacrifice sleep for other health or exercise-oriented activities.
- Heat Therapy: saunas and steam rooms have been used for relaxation for thousands of years. They are primarily useful for relieving stress, reducing inflammation, and easing pain. These are important factors to reduce recovery time for BJJ athletes. Anecdotally, the use of saunas throughout the week has very positively impacted my recovery speed, allowing me to recover adequately from probably 25% more overall mat time using a dry sauna twice a week.
- Cold Therapy: ice baths can also be used to reduce inflammation and improve recovery time when used for up to 15 minutes. This happens primarily through the mechanism of constricting blood vessels (in the cold water) and dilating blood vessels (upon exiting the cold water). This flushes out metabolic waste which helps you feel better while reducing inflammation.
These methods to help support recovery from BJJ exercise are important factors that can be prioritized and deprioritized based on individual needs. In order of importance, I would say that sleep and adequate water and food uptake are the most important factors followed by mobility work and stretching, heat therapy, and cold therapy respectively.
Should Older BJJ Athletes Train Differently?
Older BJJ athletes will need to monitor the frequency and intensity of their sessions throughout their training in order to keep them sustainable. This will help to mitigate injury risk and reduce the overall impact of the exercise on their body.
Older athletes can help to bridge the gap between themselves and their younger training partners by being disciplined and prioritizing their self-care and recovery. This can occur by following an intelligent recovery scheme based on some of the actions we have discussed in the section above.
Additionally, older folks tend to have access to more financial resources which can be brought to bear to help make their recovery or training more efficient. If they have a bit more disposable income they can, for example, do regular sports massage therapy sessions to aid in recovery speed. If they want to maximize their learning to fatigue ratio they can do so by simply purchasing private lessons at their academy.
Older athletes can often do almost anything their younger training partners can do but at a pace more commensurate with the responsibilities and physical realities of their age and life stage. If they have the resources to speed their recovery or commit to private lessons they can often end up with an advantage compared to their younger peers. That being said don’t feel pressured to expend these resources if you don’t want to, it’s just something that can be considered if your situation allows for it.
How Many Days A Week Should Older BJJ Athletes Train?
Older BJJ athletes should aim for at least 3 mat hours a week on average. Training for less time than this will lead to lower skill retention. If recovery is not an issue, and the athlete is injury-free, they can increase their training time.
If and when you increase your training volume, closely monitor how your body feels especially in terms of soreness in your joints. The last thing you need to do is end up overtraining and needing to take an extended break to recover from this overtraining.
For more on how to pick your training volume check out How Many Times a Week Should I Train BJJ? Optimal Training Volumes.
Can Older Athletes Compete In BJJ Tournaments?
Older students can absolutely compete in BJJ tournaments. You should be able to find somebody in your weight, skill, and age bracket. If you have trouble getting matched up with people in your brackets, take a look at competing at a regional tournament or an IBJJF tournament in your area.
While it is not mandatory to compete in tournaments, I feel like anybody who trains BJJ somewhat seriously should do a couple of competitions at some point in their lives. It helps to sharpen your skills and expose your weaknesses and give some perspective on what jiu-jitsu really looks like under a real high-intensity stress test.
How to Deal With Younger BJJ Training Partners
Older BJJ students that focus on keeping their composure and executing frames and preemptive movements can often wear down their younger training partners and have better success in their rounds. Taking this approach can mitigate the youth of their training partners.
Keeping your ego in check and realizing that you are typically working from a physical disadvantage against your younger training partners will lead to better learning and overall success in BJJ. Remember that as an older adult with more life experience you can use the patience and thoughtfulness you have learned throughout your life to work smarter at jiu-jitsu!
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a unique opportunity for older adults to safely enter into a competitive combat sport later in life with comparatively minimal impact on their bodies. It is absolutely a viable activity for people of almost any age to participate provided that they are in decent health.
For older adults to maximize their experience in jiu-jitsu they will need to take their recovery seriously and thoughtfully balance their training volume with their ability to recover as well as their overall life situation and goals. Additionally, approaching BJJ learning with an eye toward focusing on frames and basic movements will accelerate the success of an older jiu-jitsu student.
For more check out Can BJJ Cause Hair Loss? | The Bare Truth