Your first and most important job is to last.
Most of these ideas are good advice for younger people too. They are of increasing importance for those training sustainably over 40. I’m currently 41, and have been doing this for 16 years, full time for eight years. Most adults are not in a position to miss work because of training, and our training should reflect this. I worked with my hands for 15 years, and couldn’t afford to be injured for any length of time. Actually, I still don’t want to be injured for any length of time. There are many different correct ways to do everything, but this is what has worked for me.
Know the situations where injury is more likely.
Three places. Takedowns, leg locks, and stacking. Don’t totally avoid these things, but approach them with caution. I train all day every day, and spend the majority of my time looking at other positions. As a general rule, I will stress my muscles within reason. I make an effort to avoid stressing tendons and ligaments at all.
Personally, I mostly work takedowns with experienced people who are about my size that I know and trust. I will test out a new person’s takedowns only if I feel comfortable. Pulling guard is a reasonable strategy if someone is bigger, significantly better at takedowns, or leans towards dangerous movements. Do not allow tough guy talk get you seriously injured. They are just talking, you have to live in your body for the rest of your life. Takedowns always have a measurable degree of risk. Instead of only seeing a takedown, look for the safest way to get to the ground in a position that you are likely to win from.
You can be stacked any time your hips are off the mat. This is sustainable only if you are flexible enough and your partner is not adding additional weight. We can handle it and push back to a limited degree, but there are a limited number of times we can do this. I only invert in certain situations, and experiment carefully with people who are experienced. Learn how to avoid this situation as much as possible if you want to train sustainably.
The ability to walk is not something to take for granted. Straight ankle locks are the only allowed leg attack in competition until Brown Belt. Just like takedowns, I only work on these things with experienced training partners who I trust. My knees were in very bad condition before I started training, so heel hooks are not a part of my daily training. The reaping rule is a fairly safe place to draw the line positionally. Training sustainably means at least understanding what the dangers are, then deciding how much time to spend on these things.
Don’t be afraid to turn down a roll for any reason. Every gym has at least one dangerous partner. You are not required to risk your health for their training. We may need a little time to recover, but can still be on the mats getting technically better. We need to challenge ourselves occasionally to get better, but we need to be increasingly specific about what we are trying to accomplish. If I’m fine tuning my finishes on my back takes, I don’t need to be pushing my cardio doing something else. Many people completely avoid training because they have a high expectation of themselves and are afraid of not meeting their own standards. Training sustainably is always a top priority. We don’t have to overwork to accomplish our goals. Instead, pick a simple small task and accomplish it.
Sitting out doesn’t have to mean spacing out.
Be productive when you need to rest. We can detect different details watching rolls in person than watching on video. Watch the best people in the room and look for patterns. Scan the room for a situation that you struggle with. Develop the ability to put what you see into language and ask questions about the situation. Notice trends in the room, as well as outliers that prove effective. Don’t be afraid to ask about techniques!
Plan carefully and execute decisively.
I used to pick one objective every day and write it on a 3×5 notecard because I knew that I wouldn’t remember after drilling technique. For example, I would try to sweep using a butterfly hook and watch to see how others are finding the position. Also, make it a point to ask people about their preferred techniques. People enjoy telling you about what they have put effort into. How can we not take advantage of that? Conversely, be ready to share anything that you pick up without holding back. If you’re on the mats putting in legitimate effort, we will keep learning more without worry about running out of information.
Learn and Remember the Feeling of Danger.
When one or both parties is trying too hard, injury is simply more likely. Training sustainably over 40 can mean tapping earlier, avoiding certain partners, or just giving yourself more time to recover. You don’t need a long explanation, we all set our own limits. Remember Safety First!