Most fighters fear the doctor’s office more than the cage. Usually, it means you’re badly injured and need more help than tape, tiger balm, or icing can offer.
But, in reality, seeing the doctor regularly should be a normal part of your training routine.
Whether you’re competing regularly or just a hobbyist, seeing the doctor regularly can help prevent injury, hasten recovery, and help you spot underlying conditions before they become an issue — as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
De-Stigmatizing the Doctor’s Office
As an athlete, visiting the doctor should be normal. Competitors in other sports like tennis and athletics keep their doctors close at hand, and research suggests that you will perform your best when doctors and coaches come together to provide you with a bespoke routine that suits your schedule and accounts for any injuries or conditions you may have.
But getting help from a doctor carries something of a stigma in the amateur MMA world. This is bizarre, as top-level athletes like George St. Pierre are famous for working closely with doctors in the build-up to their fights. A few years ago, GSP even developed Ulcerative Colitis and was reliant upon working closely with his doctor to fight for the title against Michael Bisping.
The stigmatization of seeing a doctor in amateur MMA likely stems from the reality that the sport is dominated by men, yet many men feel shame around seeking help from doctors. Unlike women, men do not have specialist physicians. This isn’t necessarily reverse-sexism, but more likely because gender-specific healthcare traditionally focused on “protecting” women. The tides are starting to change, but many men still associate visiting the doctor with weakness and treat diagnosis with irreverence.
As an MMA athlete, you have to ignore the stigma that surrounds healthcare and seek out the right doctor to help you.
Finding the Right Doctor
Not all doctors understand the health benefits of MMA, and you may have previously consulted with physicians who simply told you to stop sparring or rolling. But you shouldn’t let one bad experience deter you from getting the healthcare help you need.
When looking for a good doctor, ask around your gym and look for folks who work in the healthcare industry. Plenty of physicians, physical therapists, and doctors train across MMA disciplines and can point you towards a doctor that understands your passion for fighting and will help you take your performance and wellbeing to the next level.
The right doctor will fit seamlessly into your health routine and can help you track your progress, spot hidden health issues, and improve your overall health.
Tracking Your Attributes
As an MMA fighter, you probably do everything you can to optimize your performance. This might involve weightlifting, yoga, calisthenics, or cardio. But when was the last time you actually looked back on your physical progress and registered the improvement you have made? Most fighters fail to track their attributes accurately and rely more on guesswork than performance analysis.
By visiting a doctor, you can track your basic health attributes and get a more accurate picture of your overall health and performance. For example, if you notice that you’ve lost strength over the past 6 months, you can book a visit to the doctor’s office and have some blood work done. A doctor may be able to spot that your testosterone levels have dipped, which may be the cause of your loss in strength.
Asking a doctor to track your attributes can also help coaches identify areas for improvement in your game. For example, if your doctor notices that you have an elevated resting heart rate, then you can report this information back to your coach. A good coach will program a little extra cardio for you to reduce your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular system.
Finding Hidden Issues
As an MMA fighter, you probably spend a considerable amount of time in discomfort or mild pain. Sometimes, you just have to accept that aching joints and a bruised body is a normal part of life as a fighter. However, some aches and pains shouldn’t be ignored and may point to underlying health issues.
Identifying and treating hidden health issues at an early stage is vital if you want to push your body. Just ask Gordon Ryan: the no-gi BJJ phenom has been sidelined for nearly two years after a staph infection catapulted into Gastroparesis. By regularly checking in with doctors, you can prevent issues like staph or ringworm from becoming any worse and impacting your career as it has Ryan’s.
Your doctor can also use tech to spot underlying health conditions like heart arrhythmias and insomnia. Doctors today benefit from advancements in wearable tech which monitors your health and collects data on everything from sleep schedules to blood pressure. This kind of tech gives your doctor access to real-time and historical data, so you can assess the effectiveness of treatments on your performance.
Of course, to take full advantage of wearable tech, you’ll need to wear monitors during your training. This can be a little tricky, as you don’t want to break the device while going through hard rounds. To overcome this, try using sleeve-like designs instead of watches as these are better insulated and a little sturdier.
Optimizing Your Overall Health
When training for a fight, it’s easy to forget that your general well-being is still important. It’s easy to become hyper-focused on things like your power output and VO2 max while neglecting other aspects of your overall well-being like your mental health and digestion.
But life continues long after you hang up your gloves. Unless you want to be a walking wreck, you need to get in regular contact with a doctor who can help you maintain your overall health and wellbeing.
In particular, try talking to your doctor about your mental health. Many fighters struggle with the stress of fighting, and it’s okay to admit when you need help — just going harder in sparring is not a solution for anxiety or depression. A good doctor can put you in touch with a sports psychologist who can help you deal with the pressure of competing and help you become a happier, more well-rounded person.
Regularly seeing your doctor is an essential part of any athlete’s routine. As an MMA fighter, doctors are particularly important as you’re almost always banged up and need constant help to take care of your body. Start by finding a fighter-friendly doctor, and speak openly with them about your goals. They’ll likely run a few tests to gather data and may even ask you to use wearable technology to help track your health and achieve your goals.
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