How Training in the Cold Affects Your BJJ

Winter is truly upon us and although the UK is currently having a pretty mild winter it’s not unusual for the weather to be in minus figures during the Winter. Including a record low of -22C in the area that I live in (although that was in the 1940s)! So although our gyms try their hardest to keep us warm I thought it was time to do a quick blog on how it affects your grappling and how to counteract it.

Now there has been very little research on the ideal temperature for training BJJ. So as close up photography of snowflakealways we’ll have to rely on other sources. From an endurance perspective, a decades-long study of the Boston Marathon found the ideal temperature range for all athletes (not just the pros) is 7.7–15ºC. The British Health and Safety Executive also gives no absolutes but does state for workplaces if the work involves rigorous physical effort (which you could argue BJJ is), that the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the International Fitness Association recommends that that gyms that provide aerobics, weight training, cardio, and Pilates should have an average temperature of 18-20 degrees Celsius. So based on these I think it’s fair to argue that BJJ is probably a sport that prefers double-digit temperatures! But does it really matter?

Training in the cold is one of those polarising discussions for everyone who hates it there are also a lot of people argue that it doesn’t really matter and that there are benefits to training in the cold. So what do we actually know?

  • Low temperatures put a greater load on your metabolism – This creates a lot of effects but essentially it has to work harder to maintain your body temperature by generating more heat essentially it is working harder than normal before you even start exercising. It does this by using the most available fuel glucose. So your body is using up your glucose for heat rather than muscle usage. But on the positive, once we’ve emptied out glycogen stores it does mean that we start to burn fat as a source of energy. Leading to some evidence that it’s a great time to lose weight ready for competition season!
  • Misbehaving Muscles – Colder muscles are less efficient muscles – Your movement may brown and white bear plush toyfeel much more difficult. It’s just about chemical reactions, which are slower when it’s colder. Meaning our muscles can’t contract as quickly and exert as much force. This is particularly the case with arms and legs as our body gets colder it protects the important bits leaving the extremities to work “if they can”. Plus when muscles operate less efficiently due to colder temperatures it’s a case of “all hands on deck” for the muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers have to help out to generate the required power and produce lactic acid. Lactic acid buts more strain on your body including getting into oxygen debt which has to be paid at some point, either by stopping or reducing output. This means as well as being slower to move your also less efficient, weaker and have reduced stamina. Finally, if that wasn’t bad enough – Colder muscles mean you’re more likely to tweak or injure one!
  • Lowered Immune System – Training in the cold can lead to a depressed immune medicines thermometersystem. The theory is that training in cold increases cortisol which in turn reduced your immune system and makes you more prone to getting ill. It’s essentially a more scientific version of the old wives’ tale of catching a chill! There is evidence to support that if you are frequently exposed to the cold (rather than occasionally) the response is blunted but to be honest I don’t think most BJJ athletes will do that enough for it to truly work!

We all know BJJ practitioners won’t let something as minor as cold weather get in the way of their mat time. So other than nagging your coaches about the heating what can you do to stay on the mat?

  • yoga socksLayers are your friends – It is the time of year not just gi up but also to add layers. I find long sleeve rash guards and spats essentially but also add a t-shirt, sweatshirts, socks and occasionally a woolly hat. Essential layers help to remove sweat away from your skin (think your rash guards) and keep you warm whilst the additional layers help not just to keep you warm up gives you more options if they gym does warm up.
  • Carbs are your friend (kinda) – As mentioned above carb (glycogen stores) get depleted in colder weather and whilst fat loss is highly tempting you do need to think about your training duration and intensity. But that doesn’t give you a free for all or to let that post Xmas fat remain. If your goal is to stay warm while exercising, being fit is definitely better than being fat!
  • Staying Hydrated – Staying hydrated is important and that doesn’t change in cold weather. Even if you don’t feel as sweaty you will continue to sweat and become dehydrated if you don’t keep your fluid levels topped up.
  • Staying Warm – The last thing you that you have something dry (not sweaty) and warm to get you home after training. Depending on your gym getting showered and changed is not always an option but going home in your sweaty kit is not only slightly gross but it doesn’t help you to stay warm on the way home.

I hope you’ve found this blog useful but I know that I have only covered the basic tips and advance so if you have any more tips for happy and warm training then feel free to let me know!

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