PREGNANCY AND TRAINING
G R A C E ANDERSON
How did you start your MMA journey? Were you a sporty child?
I have been into sport from a young age, I started horse riding when I was 7 years old and competed in showjumping and dressage for over 20 years. I then started my martial arts journey at 17 when I began Karate, but when I changed my career at 25 to become a tree surgeon that took over and my time was spent working or competing in Tree climbing competitions. However, my true passion lay with martial arts so when I was 27 I started kickboxing, and I absolutely loved it. My instructor approached me about doing MMA (which I had never hear of!) but after he told me what it was, I was up for giving it a go. I began mixing up grappling and MMA drills and five months later I had my first fight!
How do you prepare yourself for the cage?
Over the last few years I have focused more on learning new techniques in different disciplines, in order to widen my knowledge and evolve myself as a fighter rather than competing. Being able to step back from competing has really helped me progress, as I have been able to focus on my weaknesses and continue to build on my strengths. Sometimes when we spend so much time going from comp to comp we neglect to work on our weaknesses or try new things, and end up focusing mainly on our strengths which can only take us so far.
My weakness was always my ground game, so for the last few years I have dedicated all my energy on learning the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Before it was always a part of my training that I did just to know it for MMA but now I am learning to understand it and how it complements my other training.
My advice is to try to stay fresh, keep pushing yourself and surround yourself around people who will push you. It is better to make your mistakes and learn from them at home, than make them in the cage under pressure. Remember knowledge is power, so coming out of your comfort zone will only improve your skill sets.
What’s your weight cutting process? Does the whole process affect your mood/energy?
I’ve learnt the hard way through bad weight cuts, trust me when I say it is NOT worth putting your body through a rapid cut just to be able to fight. When I started competing there wasn’t as many girls on the circuit so finding suitable fights was tough. It wasn’t unusual to be asked to cut stupid amounts of weight to fight. Finding the weight you feel comfortable to fight at is key, once you have done that then the cutting process should be straight forward. You must allow yourself enough time to cut properly with a balanced diet and training program, so that you are not just relying on cutting water, as that can be dangerous and damaging to your body.
How do you tailor your PT sessions very differently from men to women? What do you focus on more/less for women? What are our assets that we should focus on in training in contact sports?
Each individual has their different strengths and weaknesses therefore each person’s training is tailored to them, regardless whether they are male or female. Some people need more mental preparation to execute a workout where as others may need more physically demanding sessions, but whatever the case, everyone is there to train with their own goals in mind.
I find women more methodical in the way they train, I noticed it more in younger students when I was teaching in schools. When giving the girls combinations and/or a sequence of moves to perform, they would analyze it, break it down and perform each section until perfected, this is a great trait to have. Having the skill to watch, learn and feel when something is or isn’t right, is something that cannot be taught. As a female I work a lot on technique, posture and functional movement, I listen to my body and where its strengths and weaknesses are, from there I train accordingly to what it needs. My advice is ‘don’t rush’, think of your body as layers and build each one as strong as the last, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day!
You are an all rounded athlete, touching on many martial arts in your career. Do you have a favorite?
My go to will always be my stand up (Kickboxing), I would much rather go toe to toe with someone, however I am finding a new found love for BJJ, and over the last few years have a greater understanding and appreciation for the art and skills taught. The great thing about Martial arts is that it is always evolving, so you never stop learning. It’s not all about being a fighter, it’s about the mental and physical strengths you can gain through training, whether you want to get fit, gain confidence or learn a new skill it has something for everyone or all ages.
Do you have a strong support network? Do you think this is important to be successful?
Anyone who is involved in sport knows that you have to be quiet selfish to succeed therefore having someone by your side who understands and supports you is so important. My partner supports and pushes me every day. I thought after having our son that would be the end of me competing for a while, but he pushed me to get back to fighting fit and I competed in my first BJJ competition last year and then the Euros this year just a year after giving birth. Having someone who has your back is the best feeling and makes your success so much more worthwhile.
Was the desire to learn self-defense a factor in your pursuit of being a martial artist?
I started martial arts as a way to keep fit and learn a new skill, but what I’ve gained from my time served in this industry is far greater than I would ever have imagined.
How did your training change during pregnancy? What advice were you given and how did it affect you?
First and foremost the safety of you and your baby should be the most important thing. So many people focus on what other people think, how much you should be training or that you need to prove something… its rubbish! What you do through your pregnancy is up to you, but you won’t get any medals for putting yourself or your baby in unnecessary danger. Training martial arts or other contact sports will always be there, so focus on what you can do to strengthen your game for when you return. For example, I spent a lot of time focusing on posture and movement training, corrective work on bad habits I had picked up over the years.
How was training after the birth of your child? Were you apprehensive about it?
Mentally it is very hard to come back knowing that you cannot do all the things you used to be able to do so easily. I struggled to hold myself up let alone do a push up, but it is only a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things, I mean you have just grow a little human for the last 9 months, so seriously give yourself a break. I gave myself 9 months to get myself back to a comfortable position in training, I didn’t push it too hard or force myself to train, I just enjoyed getting back to where I was whilst enjoying being a new mum. The best thing that I did for myself was allowed myself TIME. I looked at my situation as a positive and said that I am now a blank canvas, I can get rid of all my bad habits and put right anything that I hadn’t focused on for a while. Sometimes the basics get overlooked when we are progressing, so being forced into a situation where basics is all I could manage was PERFECT and has improved my game massively.
How has your body changed in terms of training since before the birth?
My body is incredible, if it can produce a beautiful baby then it can do just about anything… once you become a mum you realise how badass your body really is! I’m not saying it is easy to get back in shape, but once you have been through birth everything else seems like a walk in the park.
What advice would you give to all the women who are pregnant but don’t want to give up training completely?
Be safe, remember to look after yourself and your baby and if you have to train then make sure your training partners are fully aware of your situation and are sensible. Also get in contact with a trainer who is a pre and post-natal specialist as there are certain exercises that shouldn’t be performed in each trimester.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Just remember, it is meant to challenge you and there are going to be tough times. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Just stay focused and remember why you started in the first place.