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Train Smart, Train for Life: A physiotherapist's guide to injury prevention in martial arts

Updated: Jun 9, 2019

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

Congratulations, you have survived the first month of martial arts training. Suffice to say, you have loved every moment of it! But while hanging around the locker room after training one day, you overhear someone speak briefly about going to the physiotherapist to rehab a bad knee injury sustained over training. You can’t help but wonder, is this common? What have you gotten yourself into?

Before you spiral into an episode of paranoia and regret, hold that thought! Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Muay Thai can be strenuous physical activities. Without proper awareness, injury and strain can be a possibility. Yet, it does not mean that debilitating injury needs to be an inevitable part of your journey.

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

We had an opportunity to glean insights from physiotherapist Conor McHugh at his seminar, Lower Limb and Lower Back Injury Prevention in April. Conor has also been training BJJ at FaMA - Fitness and Martial Arts since 2017, his consistency earning him his Blue Belt in June 2018. Through his expertise, Conor was able to approach the practice of the martial art in a more insightful manner.

The perks of strength and mobility for training

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

It is a common saying in the BJJ community that the best way to get better at BJJ is “to train more BJJ.” While this is true, there’s no denying that strength and mobility conditioning are good compliments for safe and injury-free training.

"A minimum range of motion in your joints is required to complete certain movements in a sport. For example, if you lack adductor length you will not be able to kick well in Muay Thai. If you lack lumbar spine or hamstring flexibility, you will not be able to deal with certain positions in BJJ, such as stack pressure or inverted guard. Strengthening helps armour your joints. It protects you from trauma to some extent, and helps with your load capacity.”

Ready to attend regular BJJ or Muay Thai classes each week? Supplement it by doing basic strengthening at least twice a week, as Conor does in his own personal regime.

Training for longevity - stop these common bad habits and extend lifespan on the mats!

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

Striving for constant improvement and positive results on the mats is, without a doubt, something that every practitioner desires. At what cost, though? Conor identifies a few common bad habits seen during training, and how they can be detrimental to long-term progress.

1. Skipping warm up

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

"The number one bad habit is without a doubt not warming up, or executing it half-heartedly. I hear lots of people saying, "I'm skipping the warm up because I'm injured”, when they are the very people who need a good, long warm up. You should be perspiring and feel loose after the warm up, not cold and stiff.”

2. Tapping too late

“I see some people resist neck cranks and chokes too much. I worry for their discs or worst of all, a catastrophic neck injury. When in doubt, tap early, or you'll be booking in to see a physiotherapist or doctor.”

3. Training when you should be spending that time recovering

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

Got an injury but itching to get back on the mats? "You need to be honest with yourself on healing times. Not rushing back too soon to the mats is the hardest part. If you have a lumbar disc issue, it can take three months to heal. Don’t come back at one month and expect miracles. You can't rush physiological healing.”

Conor also recommends other good habits that will add gradual, progressive improvement to your practice, such as getting as much sleep as possible, hydrating regularly, and listening to your body.

“If you feel tight, sleepy and lethargic, sort out your routine before you start ramping up your martial arts training.”

Training after the age of 30

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

Is your age and lifestyle deterring or dampening your hopes of starting BJJ or Muay Thai? Even if you are past 30, 40, or 50, it is still possible to enjoy martial arts training. Conor recommends a few tips for older practitioners, and those interested in taking up the art at an older age.

1. Start gradually

fama singapore injury prevention physiotherapy conor mchugh

Fitness is specific to the sport you are participating in. BJJ and Muay Thai fitness are different from soccer or basketball fitness. It takes time to build up the motor components, muscle strength and cardiovascular ability for these activities.”

2. Be aware of your physical abilities

“For much older practitioners, I would avoid playing an inverted game for the lower back. I would also focus on hip mobility and strengthening.”

Conor will be back on 18 May for another seminar on Cervical Spine and Upper Limb Injury Prevention. Click here to register your slot. The seminar is free and open to the public.


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FaMA - Fitness and Martial Arts Established in 2016, FaMA is a world-class martial arts training facility located in the heart of the Central Business District in Singapore. Walking distance from the Clarke Quay MRT station, FaMA’s main goal is to help people improve their lives through martial arts regardless of age or athletic capability. Each program is led by experts in their respective fields. Whether it is weight loss, a fun workout, camaraderie, competition training, or just to break a sweat, FaMA has something for everyone.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, or The Art of Eight Limbs, is a martial art developed in Thailand thousands of years ago to help the Kingdom protect itself against invaders. Using the human body as a weapon, Muay Thai practitioners are well-versed in punching, elbowing, kicking, kneeing, and clinching with their opponents. What was once only used for self-defence and protection of the Kingdom, Muay Thai has grown to become one of the most popular sports not only in Thailand but in the world. Muay Thai is known to provide a complete total-body workout that will help build lean muscle, core strength, and help with weight loss. At FaMA, Muay Thai classes are taught daily by Tanaphong Khunhankaew, or better known as Kru Ping, and Kru Jerel Louie.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ as it is commonly known around the world, is a self-defence martial art that enables a smaller, weaker person to protect themselves against a much larger attacker using leverage and pressure. Formed from Kodokan Judo in Japan, Jiu Jitsu found its way to Brazil in the 1910s through Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese judoka and no-holds-barred prize fighter. During his time in Brazil, Maeda accepted a young Carlos Gracie as his student. Carlos would later pass on his knowledge to his brothers, most notably Helio Gracie - the father of modern Brazilian Jiujitsu. The Gracie family would go on to spread BJJ through The Gracie Challenge and eventually the creation of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Today, BJJ has grown to be more than just an effective unarmed fighting system. It helps young children deal with bullies and adults live a healthy lifestyle. BJJ classes are offered daily at FaMA under the tutelage of Black Belts Zoro Moreira, Robyn Goudy and Thiago Gaspary.


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