The Race For Training Solutions Against MMA-Induced Concussion

MMA, despite being more visceral, has a reputation of being less damaging in the long-term than boxing. However, it was hard to ignore the clear warning signs sounded by Claudia Gadelha when she announced her retirement in Dec ’21 – as USA Today notes, the women’s UFC strawweight challenger was forced to retire due to post-concussive injury. While torn muscles can be repaired and broken bones put back into place, the impact of MMA on the brain is poorly understood, just as the brain itself remains something of an enigma to doctors. Slowly but surely, training protocols are making headway in providing fighters with protection against long-term damage

Learning about your body

Training is key to MMA, as any fighter will tell you. The hard work put in before the fight will give you the power for each and every round. What training also does is enable fighters to learn about their bodies and their limits. As The Guardian notes, one of the biggest reasons that fighters end up injured is from fighting outside of their weight bracket. It’s tempting to move up weight classes when they feel underchallenged by their current opponents. However, that’s a one-way ticket to injury. The differential in body weight includes wider body physiology. Increasingly, trainers are looking for methods to help fighters feel comfortable, and powerful, at their natural weight, and helping them to stay there.

Learning the protocol

The exact wording and stipulations of new protocols are also instructive when it comes to crafting training toward injury prevention. The UFC now has a published protocol which is considered a leader, at least in professional sports, according to ESPN. Part of the protocol talks about having downtime after matches and after training when a head injury has been received. Given that any competitive bout, or even high-pressure sparring, can result in head blows, this gives a hint as to how to change training in a positive way. Looking at taking extended breaks may result in some loss of performance in terms of resilience and being able to take a hit, but could preserve long-term health.

Being confident

MMA is a high-pressure, high emotion sport that demands constant action. However, new studies suggest that this may be unnecessary in training. A study published on the PLOS ONE journal service found that monotony between training sessions and bouts, as opposed to intensive training sessions, had little impact on performance – either in the gym or in the ring. It’s well known that rest and sleep have a significant positive impact on recovery, and that includes potential head injuries or fatigue from the fight. Being confident enough to take a break and know when to taper off training will be key in preventing injury.

It sounds simple, but the key message to take away when it comes to head injuries is to take it easy. Stepping back from the fast pace of MMA training and learning to cherish rest between bouts will help the head to recover from the inevitable blows.

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