Avoiding injury in Judo, exercise?
October 17, 2011 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Avoiding injury in Judo, exercise?

I lift weights and cycle regularly, and have some nagging minor injuries and pains. I'm sometimes at a loss to figure out what to do differently to prevent them. For example, I do a lot of deadlifts, with proper form I believe, but they seem hard on my knees.

But on to my question: I plan to start Judo, and want to stay injury free. There's a lot of strain on the lower back and the knees in Judo. I don't want to be one of those guys hobbling around in my 50s or 60s (I'm in my 30s now).

What can I do to minimize risk of injury? Recommendations from experienced Judoka and/or exercise people?
posted by 4midori to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
-Always warm up. IMHO it's more important than stretching. In my experience it can take as much as 20 minutes to warm up, but it is absolutely worth it.

-Stretch target muscle groups before hand if you're experiencing cramping.'

-Talk to your instructor. It's their job to ensure that you're advised to any potential health risks and to ensure that you're training in a safe environment.

-Some amount of ache and strain is inevitable, but you shouldn't have to suffer serious injury. Learn the difference between some temporary discomfort and a real injury. Trust your body, and if you don't feel comfortable, check with your instructor before continuing.

Hope that helps. Have fun.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:49 AM on October 17, 2011

Both my husband and son are judoka. Husband started in his 40s, and already has 1 new knee because of it. Son is made of rubber.

My advice is this: do not let your ego carry you away. There will be other guys your age at the dojo who have been playing this sport for more than twenty years already. You are absolutely not in competition with them, though you will be put up against them in randori. Go slowly, learn from them, and for heavens' sake, tap out if you need to. Don't wait until something pops. If something does pop, go directly to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and don't fool with anyplace lesser.

Good luck.
posted by apparently at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

What Stagger Lee said about warming up. You can get to class early, jog around the mat, do jumping jacks, etc.

Tap out early: preserve your joints if you're being locked. Juji gatame comes on a lot quicker than you think, for example. Don't necessarily try to fight it.

You will be taught how to properly fall and receive technique (ukemi). Pay attention to this. Pay more attention to this as a beginner than anything else. Remember to exhale sharply as you hit the mat on a fall (I've had aikido and judo classes where they do not emphasize this enough) (though, really, that's not a big injury issue, more like a way to avoid a lot of momentary discomfort).

I've never had lower back issues with judo. I think some people might, but I think it's because they're trying to muscle the technique (i.e., using a lot of strength to do the ippon seionage instead of letting your friend, gravity, do most of the work). When judo technique works -- when you've off-balanced uke and gotten your leverage right for the throw -- it tends to work effortlessly. It should not feel like you're trying to lift 200 pounds of squirming human. Really, gravity is your friend, not your enemy. You get uke to fall; you don't lift him up and drop him.

The knee issue: my impression is that this tends to be from a badly done tai otoshi, where uke drops on your knee instead of over your knee and on the floor. Your knee is also in a bad position to take the sudden weight across the side. To a large extent, to avoid this, pay attention to what your instructors are showing you and do the technique correctly. Don't get sloppy. (I dinged my knee for about 6 months actually on an ogoshi, where I let go of my 200lb training partner, who slid down my side when my knee was in a vulnerable position. This happened because I was taking the throw too casually.)

I should note that it's probably impossible to avoid some form of injury, because this is a contact sport that involves throwing people into the ground or by making their arms move in ways that elbows were not meant to move. But the main ways to avoid serious injury is to pay attention to ukemi and to do your techniques properly.
posted by chengjih at 11:07 AM on October 17, 2011

Don't let the guy who just transferred in from some "other" Judo-related art practice his throws on you until he has passed his stuff off with your instructor.

This dude transferred in as a black belt in some weird branch of Jujitsu and wrenched me over his back like he had never thrown somebody before in his life. I wasn't prepared for it and hurt my back.

What I learned is to have the guts to say (to an approaching partner): "No, I'm not going to practice with you today. I'd like to work out with somebody else since I don't know you." Or similar.
posted by circular at 11:19 AM on October 17, 2011

Which particular aspects do you think are going to be hard on your back and knees? I did Ju-Jitsu for years and I don't recall anyone experiencing any back or knee trouble. People got injured but not permanently. One of my instructors was pretty old (he was "63" the whole time I knew him) and was very experienced in several martial arts, including Judo and he didn't hobble.

If you have a pre-existing injury you should make your instructor aware of it at the start of your first session but if you're just 'injury prone' then maybe a full-contact sport isn't the right choice for you. You might also want to have a personal trainer check out your form and a doctor check out your knees to try and get to the bottom of your injury/pain issues.

If you're dead set on Judo, do not try to be macho. When I first started, my first wrist lock (no-one told me about tapping out!) hurt like hell, after a few years there was no pain at all but I learned what the holds feel when done correctly, even if it didn't hurt so I could tap out when they had it. My instructor once tried to see how far he could go without hurting me - he had to stop when he felt my shoulder starting to dislocate.

If you get a macho/show-off partner, try to switch. The only time I ever got hurt was when my partner (and instructor!) was showing off in front of his new girlfriend. He threw me way too fast and followed through too far so my top leg landed first, I really only stubbed my toe on the mat but at that speed I sprained my ankle and had to have 6 weeks of physio.

If they let you do throws before you've thoroughly mastered falling, find a new club!
posted by missmagenta at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2011

Oh, I should have noted earlier about the weight lifting: you're not going to do dead lifts or squats, etc., in judo. This is because the barbell does not succumb to kuzushi. You should not treat judo as weight lifting.

Don't be seduced by the power of your highly toned muscles to haul people up and over your shoulders! Use technique, and uke will be like an ocean wave effortlessly breaking over a rock. Don't use your mighty biceps to resist the arm bar! Tap out, since the guy locking your elbow is going to use both his mighty biceps (and his back, his legs, his weight, etc.) against your one isolated arm.
posted by chengjih at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

24-year-old judoka here, I've done judo for five years and did aikido for two years before that. I've grappled at every weight from 135lbs to 155lbs. What I have learned about injury prevention:

1. Practicing ukemi (proper falling technique) is incredibly important. If I hadn't drilled the shit out of it in aikido (the falls are basically identical between the two martial arts), then I never would have survived starting judo at 135lbs. You need to practice front, back, and side falls and rolls until you automatically assume the right position to protect yourself. If your instructor doesn't agree with me on this, come to class early and roll and fall on the mat yourself as a pre-warm-up.

2. As a beginner, have no regard for how your fall will be scored for your opponent. Do not try to fall in such a way that turns an otherwise "textbook" throw into a shitty throw. Do your best to fall in a way that is safe for you, always. Don't get competitive about this, especially as a beginner, or you will inevitably cause an injury to yourself or someone else.

3. If someone feels or looks to you as if they really want to "win", or seems scared of you, let them throw you. At least once. Anticipate it, go with it, and fall safely. This takes the fire and fear out of a lot of people, because you've just shown them that you're not treating this as a "the-mat-is-deadly-lava" death-match. If you cannot fall safely, you will always be afraid to fall like this, and you will inadvertently turn friendly matches into fearful death matches. Don't be that guy.

4. Regarding the above: find a friend to trade throws with. Just move around the mat and take turns throwing each other. That is, to me, the foundation of safe Judo practice. From that starting point, you can gradually add resistance and aliveness until you're doing Judo safely at high and realistic speed. (and it does wonders for your technique and understanding of dynamic stepping patterns)

5. Size matters. Be careful grappling with people significantly larger than you, especially standing up. Be extra defensive, and especially on the ball with your ukemi and just focus on protecting yourself. Actually throwing the big guys comes a lot later. :)

6. And as others have said: tap out early. Injuries from joint locks can sneak up on you, with the pain usually setting in about 3 or 4 AM...

Even taking all this into account, Judo is a dangerous sport in terms of injuries. I'm currently off the mat nursing an injured trapezius, and it's kept me out of commission for weeks, in addition to keeping me up nights with pain. What did I do wrong? Nothing. Someone in my class was over-zealous defending against a throw, and landed on me, forcing me face-first into the mat. Injuries happen, even if you do everything right. But over five years I've only had two serious injuries including this one, and I'll be back on the mat as soon as it feels safe for me again. It's worth it for me, and if you find a good club I hope you feel the same way!

(One more little thing: I recommend adding high pulls to your weightlifting routine if you don't do them already. They aren't precisely what you do in Judo to pull someone off-balance, but I find that a high pull approximates it reasonably well, and can help you learn to pull with your whole body)
posted by edguardo at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2011

In the dojo or in the gym I am amazed at how many people go from the locker room straight to static stretches. Static stretches aren't going to do you much good and might even lead to injury if you are not warmed up first.

I recommend starting with some calisthenics to get your blood pumping. Then do some dynamic stretching. This will both literarily and figuratively warm up your joints making them more limber.

Also in the gym, deadlifts are more of a back exercise. They work the muscles around your knee a bit, but not as much as squats. Squats done properly will absolutely help your knees.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:21 PM on October 17, 2011

Squats are all around good for strengthening, but here's the other thing necessary to prevent injuries- training your responses.

Get something like a wobble board or things to practice balance with - this isn't to keep you up if you're going down, it's to train your muscles to a) be quicker/better with compensation and b) train YOU to twist to go down better rather than worse. This will help protect your knees.

For you shoulders, look up anything to strengthen rotator cuffs. As far as training them to be "smart", get two of the small basketballs, and put them on the floor. Then put yourself in push up position with your palms on them, palming the balls (as best as you can). When you feel comfortable with that, try "walking" them around left and right to increase the challenge.

Other than that- much of the advice above- be kind to yourself and don't be afraid to back it down if you're not up for it.
posted by yeloson at 1:43 PM on October 17, 2011

Just my two cents: what helps me avoid injury is mixing it up. I never do the same type of exercise two days in a row. And I do a yoga DVD (Firm Power Yoga) two or three times a week and that has cut my general aches and pains by 80-90%. Yoga is a fantastic complement to other types of exercise as it keeps you flexible and your joints mobile; muscle-building exercise seems to stiffen me up, but yoga keeps me flexible. It also works your whole body in a non-repetitive way, so nothing gets overused. I recently went without it for a week and all my aches and pains came right back. (I'm 47 and female, btw.) YMMV.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:48 PM on October 17, 2011

The best Judo club I went to, had beginners practice falls, for at least the first two weeks *solid*.
Warmup with everyone else, then breakfalls, rolling breakfalls, jumping over an obstacle breakfalls. Occasionally a teacher checking in to correct our style. Then back in with everyone else for warmdown.
Once we had that *entirely*, we were allowed to join in with everyone else. We also got frequent stories about how breakfalling is possibly the most useful thing you will get out of Judo (people don't get into fights that often, but falling? That happens all the time!). One guy came off his motorbike at 100km, wearing leathers, and went into a roll & slide, that he walked away from, no injuries.

Unfortunately, that isn't common for many clubs. There's such a short space of time that people are raw beginners, that people forget to focus on this part. Insist on it for yourself.
Even good clubs for experienced people, are bad clubs for new members (I'm thinking of an Aikido club I was recommended, where, with the impression I was a complete newbie, they paired me up to be thrown across the room - hey, it's lucky I *could* breakfall, right? That's exactly where beginners get hurt!)

Finally, visit all the local clubs for at least one session each. Judo, and even Aikido, Jiu-jitsu and other related sports. The best club will do more for you, than the particular discipline.
Ditch the clubs full of people with 'something to prove', and an attitude (luckily most of those sort prefer something with a name like 'Dragon Flame style kung-fu/karate/MMA/etc' over something low-key like Judo. Lucky Judokas! And I wish I was joking).

Interestingly, someone I know who lifts weights, and does judo, actually got broken bones because their muscles were too strong for their bones - ie, where other people would tap out, his muscles were strong enough that the bones became a weak point. And, he went to a bad club, where someone picked on a new, white-belt for a demonstration throw, because he was 6'4". That sh*t doesn't fly.
Don't be afraid to tap out, and don't be afraid to fall.

As mentioned above, in a good club, seniors will let you throw them, so you can practice, and will be good natured about it. It's a great atmosphere to be in, where everyone is helping everyone else.
Basically, beware and dump any club where seniors get competitive with a white belt/beginner/junior.
posted by Elysum at 4:09 PM on October 17, 2011

I agree with those who said practicing falls helps a lot and those who said people got injured because they didn't want to take a fall/throw.

When I first started aikido I had to practice falls until I got them -- this should be the case with you. You'll never get hurt once you get it.

If you're interested in something vitamin/supplement to take that will help your joints, try MSM (start out in small doses and take with orange juice or vitamin C) and maybe an omega something like omega 3+6+9.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:10 AM on October 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to all--great advice.
posted by 4midori at 8:06 PM on October 18, 2011

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