After watching Anderson Silva break his left tibia and fibula at UFC 168, many of you might be wondering how it could have been prevented.
Well the answer to that isn’t so simple. When engaging in a contact sport there is always the risk of injury, some of which may include the breaking of various bones. However, wise martial artists spend years conditioning key contact points to resist stress through both specific exercises and proper nutrition.
In short, you should “Condition Your Bones!”
OK. Great! How do you do that? It’s actually simpler than you think, but the process takes patiences and a good deal of endurance. Bone conditioning involves the generation of micro fractures. Micro fractures are tiny cracks in a bone that occur when the force applied to the bone is greater than it’s structural density can support. Strenuous but simple activities like running, dancing, and gymnastics can all apply the necessary force to create micro or even macro fractures. (A macro fracture is essentially considered a broken bone.)
Micro fractures result in a temporary weakening of the bone due to the simple fact that osteoblasts must now, not only begin repairing the damage but also, replace bone that is normally broken down by their counterparts the osteoclasts. Similar in principle to muscle growth during body building, when micro fractures occur, osteoblastic activity will catch up and completely repair the bone if sufficient rest is given.
Thus the same principles of stress, rest, nutrition apply to bone, as they do to muscle. The result is the formation of more complex bone structure (due to the patch fixing of micro fractures) which results in more resilient and dense bone material. Naturally, every individual has a certain potential and thus careful judgement and supervision should be applied when engaging in specific bone conditioning exercises.
Now that we’ve covered some basics on the principles of bone conditioning here are three simple steps towards building denser and stronger bones.
1) Lightly Stress Your Weak Points
As you engage in training you will undoubtably notice that some things come more naturally to you than others. More specifically, some things may hurt when you do them, while others will feel easy as pie. The trick here is in understanding how much pain you want to bear and how safe it is to bear that pain. Most people aren’t experts out the gate so always seek some guidance and/or supervision from a professional trainer or coach. Some examples of common weak spots are:
- Knuckles and Fists
- Ribs and Collar Bone
- Heels and Toes
We won’t get into the specifics of each exercise to perform in this article, but we will say that you should properly wrap each area before engaging in any striking practice. And in general you want to start very gently and work your way up to greater and greater stress factors on each of those points.
Most martial artists will be most focused on the first two in the list, while others may wish to consider safe conditioning for the others.
We are NOT advising you to go out and take body shots all day to strengthen your ribs or stress your collar bone. But the unavoidable facts are that normal sparring will result in body shots that will cause micro fractures in those areas. When they occur you should rest before returning to the mat or ring or cage.
Heels and Toes will be more difficult to address and there are many different interpretations on how best to address them. Damage to your feet can be very debilitating so our simple and safe advice is to focus your efforts around building better muscle tone in those areas. Even simple resistance training can result in micro fractures from the sheer stress imposed by the ligaments attached to the bone. However, if you feel pain, then it likely means you need more rest and more nutrition. Which brings us to step 2!
2) Supplement Your Normal Diet
Increasing your consumption of key nutritional elements like Calcium, Magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin D, and gelatin will result in faster healing of bones due to the need for those elements in the reconstruction of bone material by your osteoblasts.
Calcium should be paired with Magnesium for optimal absorption and should also be taken at night. Body repair occurs most efficiently during the 6-8 hours of REM sleep you get when resting each evening. And since many supplements can pass through the body quickly, it’s important to consume them as close to the time they are needed as possible. Taking a simple Calcium / Magnesium supplement at bedtime will help with bone repair.
The other vitamins (D and K) also impact the body’s ability to absorb and properly metabolize Calcium, however the specific ratios and quantities needed are hotly debated so we won’t get into those specifics here. We advise you seek counsel from a doctor, licensed nutritionist, trainer or coach.
Gelatin is less commonly prescribed as part of a dietary plan for conditioning, though it should be more often. A key component in gelatin is collagen, which is also a component of cartilage. Many people have reported great success with alleviating joint pain from an increased consumption of gelatin and collagen. While there aren’t many scientific studies that have “proven” the use of gelatin to be a specific benefit to the body, it is not specifically harmful so as a preventative measure, when stressing your bones, throw a bit of gelatin in the diet. And that brings us to our last and one of the most important steps.
It seems so obvious yet is apparently so difficult to do. Especially for a generation of individuals who have become easily distracted by the very toys and technology that likely make reading this article possible! Yes we are being facetious with that last statement, but there is a good deal of truth to it. Getting necessary rest can be tedious. Especially for a highly motivated athlete. The worst cases of injury often come from over training (which typically results from a lack of rest) and using unnatural supplements to take short cuts. We all know what many of those are, so we won’t go into detail here. But nothing, absolutely NOTHING beats proper rest for true recovery and strength building. Yes you should hydrate and do all those other great things to help your body heal but the most overlooked step in any physical condition is often getting the necessary rest between stress periods.
And rest doesn’t just mean an off day where you don’t hit the gym, but it also includes (and should NOT exclude) SLEEP! Get 6 to 8 hours of REM sleep and you’ll be golden. Some people claim they can live on less, and while that may be true, it doesn’t hurt to rest a little more when possible. So we will be conservative here and stick with tried and true numbers.
So no matter how tedious or annoying or boring it may be to stay away from the bags, mitts, mats, gym, ring, cage or your training partner’s head (ok we are kidding there, don’t go hitting their head, at least not all day), you must try and do it to get the rest you need to succeed!