If you train Capoeira, then you know that it’s hard to stop. We want to keep going for hours because we’re having so much fun. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t always allows us to keep going. One day, you might feel pain somewhere in your joints or muscles, and when this happens you might curse the heavens for your injury. But there three simple principles that you can use to mitigate injuries from occurring and allow you to continue training.
The most common injuries in Capoeira are joint pains and muscle strains. Common areas for joint pain include the shoulders, spine, hips, knees, wrist, and the ankles. Common areas for muscle strains include the hamstrings, quads, and the back. We receive these kinds of injuries for violating one of the three keys to mitigating injury. The first key to mitigating injury, is making sure we have neurological control over the range of motion we are trying to access. Second is making sure our joints or muscles have enough working capacity for the duration of the workout. And third is having the prerequisite mobility.
Violating the first key means a lack of neurological control over a range of motion. It only sounds complicated. Take off your socks and try to move your ring toe by itself. If you tried, you’ll know that it wasn’t as easy as moving you ring finger. The reason is that you don’t use it often. When you don’t use it, you lose it, as the saying goes. The same goes for neural links between your brain and your body parts. If you don’t move them, then you brain will get rusty at doing that thing you want it to do. So much so that when you do it again, you’re brain won’t know how to deal with what your asking and send signals that can lead to injury.
Lets say you are given a rasteira (sweep) and fall into a split by accident. You can imagine the pain of having your groin feel like it’s being split in two. This has nothing to do with the “tightness” or “length” of your muscles, but by your muscles involuntarily contracting in a position they’re not used to. Sensing you’re doing a split, (something your brain knows you can’t do) your brain goes into fight or flight mode and sends a strong impulse to tense up. The sudden command by the brain to tense up is what causes that pulling sensation and sometimes a muscle strain to occur. In short, you don’t have the neurological links to control you body in this position.
Violating the second key means having a lack of working capacity of a joint or muscle. This idea is very simple to grasp. When you try to do bananeira (handstand) you need to extend your wrist and then put all your body weight on top of that tiny joint. It’s easy to see why so many people get wrist pain. If you want to train bananeira for a long period of time, you need to train the working capacity of your wrists. A wrist routine can help get this done.
Without this working capacity, the joint takes on more and more pressure as the musculature providing support to the joint gives out. This is something that takes a long time to develop, but with enough training can be built up in the same way as you train your biceps.
Violating the last key means a lack of mobility for the movement you wish to achieve. Mobility is often defined as flexibility plus strength. You remember that bendy girl who at any moment will collapse into a full split? She’s flexible. Jean-Claud Van Dam, who to this day can kick someone directly above him has mobility. He has incredible flexibility and incredible strength, even in ranges that are difficult to achieve. Falling into a split is flexibility, while bringing yourself into the split is mobility.
Mobility is not something that is easy to train. It takes months and months of hard work, but training something like capoeira can do wonders. Here is an advanced Capoeira move called Au Trançado that requires a high degree of shoulder and spinal mobility. The need for mobility is why I often dissuade my students from doing Yoga, not because Yoga is bad. Yoga is awesome, but it doesn’t provide the mobility aspects to movement and focuses too much on flexibility. Mobility systems like FRC and PNF are my favorites for these kinds of improvements. Here is a video of me in an FRC 90/90 position working on internal and external hip rotation.
Its not uncommon to hear people talk about problems with your posture or alignment, and how this is a cause of injury. The classic example is not letting your knees pass your foot during movements like esquivas. This is said to provide less support for your knees and therefore is something you should avoid. However, if you have strong neurological control of your body in this position, good mobility, and a knee with a high enough working capacity, then there is no reason you should fear this position. Talking about posture and alignment masks the problem. There are no bad movements, only bad preparation. If you work on your keys enough, you won’t need to fear going out of alignment.
Another issue we face when creating hard rules like, “don’t put your knee past past your foot in esquiva”, is that we’re inherently creating weaknesses. By not training in a position, we assure that if we ever go into that position, we’ll be unprepared and may actually get injured. After that, we’ll curse the heavens and point to our lack of alignment for why we got hurt. For Capoeiristas, the lack of alignment is what defines us. Beautiful movements that look confusing, inefficient, un-aligned, etc. Capoeiristas always train out of alignment. This can be good, but only if introduced at a rate and intensity that does not violate one of the keys. This is not always the case in Capoeira, so people do get injured while training. However, if you avoid injury, then movements like passo a frente, and negativa avançada can be unlocked.
My favorite example by far is a student of Ido Portal, Roye Gold. A monster to be sure. In this video you can see how far you can take your alignment and posture. Don’t get confused, doing what you see in the video is not a function of strength or flexibility. If it was about strength, the world’s strongest man would be able to do this no problem… but he can’t. If it was a matter of flexibility, the yoga teacher down the block would be able to do this… but she can’t. Roye has strengthened his keys to the point where he has enough mobility, neurological control, and a high enough working capacity in derivatives of this position, to accomplish something awesome.
The amount you need to rest depends on two things – your body and the exercises. If you’re doing an exercise that is extremely intense and for a long amount of time, you will need more rest than if you did something light. If you’re body has little experience with the movement, you will likely need more rest as well. Without sufficient rest, you diminish your work capacity. Without sufficient work capacity, you will reach you limit faster and increase your risk of injury.
If you’re healthy and you train on day one a bunch of Capoeira kicks, the second day you will likely be very sore. It would be a terrible idea to do the same workout on day two. By working out very hard on day one you dramatically diminish your working capacity on day two. Even if you have amazing neurological control from years of training and feel very mobile in what you are doing, if you cut down your work capacity, you’ll need to continue resting until you can go all out again. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do a light workout. And in fact, doing some very light movements that train similar body parts is a great way to stay active as you rest and promote blood flow. If you did a ton of kicks on the previous day, doing ginga around the house for a few minutes, going hiking, or lifting very light weights is a good way to actively rest.
If you’re injured you have to think about your work capacity as severely limited. Maybe you can throw a kick, but it won’t be as high, fast or strong. Regress until you get to a work capacity that is pain free. For many people that means working on eccentric movements or isometric positions. This is essentially what your physical therapist does when you go to see them. They give you exercises that work towards the movements you wish to achieve and targeting deficiencies. As you recover, you will increase your working capacity back to where it was before. If you want to prevent further injury, increase your work capacity even more.
The last thing to mention is that you shouldn’t be afraid of injury in Capoeira. Injuries happen in anything that you do. If you stayed glued to your couch all day, you may still gain an injury. When I train my students, our goals are always to work hard in a way that does not violate any of the three keys. Once we step outside of those bounds we increase our risk to injury, which can set us back a fair bit. But if it does happen, it’s not the end of the world. Strains, sprains, and inflammation are all par for the course. The best we can do is to limit the intensity of these capoeira injuries and the rate at which we get them. By doing this, we’ll have more days to train and more time to improve.
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