Are you the type of athlete that is extremely serious about your training, whether that be martial arts training or otherwise? Do you feel guilty or short-changed when you have to miss class? Do you enjoy those incredibly intense workouts that leave you feeling exhausted, like you really accomplished something?
If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, then I have something you not only need to read, but absolutely must read, because over-training is one of the most common problems among serious athletes.
Martial artists are especially vulnerable to this insidious enemy. An enemy that halts what once was, rapid progress, or even diminishes hard earned progress. One cause for this, is the mental conditioning that martial artists undergo, you know, the notion that one has to endure limitless punishment in order to make significant progress! Do you know any serious martial artist who is satisfied unless they are at the top of their game? Are those same serious athletes willing to do nearly anything to get there? Are you perhaps one of those intensely dedicated athletes?
I rest my case. Now that you agree this sounds like you, read on, because I am going to give you some very important information that will not only make life a little easier for you, but will also make it possible to make consistent gains and progress without major setbacks.
As a trainer, over-training has probably been the single most common problem among the serious athletes that have come to me for help. Invariably they will indicate they have “hit a wall” or worse yet, their progress is actually declining. Although they realize something is wrong, they continue to push themselves beyond the point of no return. That is, until they become injured, ill or simply burned out. Once they crash and burn, it can take them out for weeks or even months.
The reality of over-training occurs in all sports, so regardless of the sport you are involved in, the following information will be helpful to you.
First, let’s review some of the common signs & symptoms of over-training:
1. Fatique – You are tired or exhausted and just can’t seem to get that spark of energy and motivation back.
2. Injury – You have recently begun to feel pain in a particular area, and the pain seems to be getting worse with every workout.
3. Ilness – You keep getting headaches, sore throats or colds. In fact, it is hard to tell when one stopped and the other began. This adds to your fatigue level. Realize that intense training places a demand on the protein (amino acid) demands of your body. The immune system is made up of proteins, so when your muscles require enormous amounts of protein, due to constant intense training, the immune system can begin to break down. A well planned program will help avoid immune system compromise.
4. Poor progress or performance – You’ve stagnated and each workout seems to be a downward progression of the last poor session. You are losing ground.
5. Irritability – You are irritable, cranky and find it hard to find enjoyment out of any aspect of life, especially your workouts.
What we all need to know and remember, is the fact that recuperation must be equal to or greater than the demands of your training. In other words, if you put recovery and training on a two sided scale, the recovery
side should either weigh the same or preferably a little more than the training side. The planning of our recovery must be as well defined and executed as our training program. If not, then sooner or later you are going to end up with
problems. The serious issue is, by the time you recognize any one of the above mentioned signs/symptoms, it is very likely already too late. You are well down the road of over-training, which is much more difficult to correct than most realize.
So my first rule of thumb is, prevention. Here are four big factors affecting recovery:
1. Sleep – Although there are some individual differences in the amount of sleep needed, if you engage in frequent intense training, then you will need at least 8 hours of sleep per day, and possibly even more. Sleep is not something you can short-cut for very long without short-cutting your progress. Do I sound like your mother? Good, mom’s old advice on sleep is probably the single most important aspect of recovery! Don’t believe me? Try getting 8 hours of sleep or more a night for just one week and see how you feel. you’ll be surprised!
2. Nutrition – I have found that in many cases, martial artists are among the worst when it comes to investing time and effort into their nutritional planning. As long their technique is good, they often feel it doesn’t matter what they eat. Nutrition is key however, to effective recovery and long term training success. If you want to reach your full potential, then take serious note here.
It is not just about adequate protein intake to avoid muscle catabolism (muscle breakdown), or adequate carbohydrates to fuel the body, but it is also about the timing of meals, shakes, etc. One should eat a meal high in protein and carbohydrates with a small to moderate amount of fat about 2 hours prior to their workout. This will ensure those ingested carbs and protein are available in the blood during the work out. Following the workout, there should also be a meal or at least a shake high in carbs and protein. This will ensure these macronutrients are available as soon as possible for the recovery process that will occur immediately following and for hours after the workout. I recommend five or six smaller meals throughout the day, rather than 2 or 3 huge meals spread further apart. This will help ensure that proper amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat are available to the body on a more consistent basis. This will also help prevent ingestion of excess calories during any one meal, which will only be converted to body fat.
And yes, I did say carbohydrates! With all the latest on low carbohydrate diets and such, I want to make something clear. If you want to maximize your performance, then you must have adequate amounts of carbohydrates in your diet. Check out these articles that give ample evidence of this fact: Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Regulation and Carbohydrate and Fat for Training and Recovery.
In fact, carbohydrates should be the largest portion of your diet, unless you have a medical condition that warrants otherwise. Where do you think our muscles obtain their fuel? You got it, from carbohydrates. We eat carbs for fuel and protein to repair and build muscle tissue. Protein should be the next most abundant macronutrient in our diet and fat the least. Remember however, moderate amounts of fat are necessary to keep every cell in the body healthy, for the production of hormones and to provide protection to the body. So get with the program and invest a little time into the planning of your nutrition program.
3. Training Regimen – Once again, we all adapt differently based on our genetics, age and all kinds of other varying factors. Here is some general advice that I think is worth considering. Try limiting any training session that requires intense effort and leaves you utterly exhausted, to somewhere between 1 to 1 1/2 hours maximum. Also, try limiting the number of these intense sessions to no more than 3 or 4 per week. Use other training sessions during the week to focus on technique and skill, rather than all out conditioning. Remember, as you plan a training program, keep in mind that training too intensely for too long will simply tear the body down beyond what is necessary, and will require even more time for recovery. Building and conditioning the body requires time and patience. The body can only adapt so fast to the demands placed upon it, so try to build it little by little and you will be amazed at your progress, especially when that progress is not beset by illness and other consequences of over-training.
4. Training Cycles – Often referred to as periodization, this is a fundamental principle of any effective training program. Because the body is extremely capable of making adaptations to specific demands, one program will only work for so long before the body has fully adapted to it. It is at the point of full adaptation or preferably before, that the program should be changed in some way to avoid stagnation and to avoid tendonitis, faciitis and other overuse problems. Full adaptation could occur as early as 6 weeks into a program or as long as 3 to 4 months. This just depends on the individual and the specific nature of their training program.
There are several factors that can be changed to provide a new program. These include, specific exercises, repetitions, sets, intensity, frequency of training, duration of training and periods of rest. Don’t be afraid to change to a routine that is less demandingthan a previous intense cycle. Some of your best progress will occur after goin g on a recovery cycle. Again, it’s overcoming the mind set that more is always better. Nothing could be further from the truth when we are talking about long term progress. The saying should be, the right amount is always better, not more is always better! So get creative and plan your training program for 6 months or even a year and divide that into 4 to 6 periods or cycles of varying intensity and duration. Lastly, plan into your training cycles periods of one to two weeks of rest from training. This will let the body fully recover for the next phase of training.
So there you have it, don’t just train harder, train smarter!!
Shane is the head strength and conditioning coach for Fusion Academy, a martial arts academy located in Salt Lake City, Utah providing instruction in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and other grappling arts. Shane is a certified personal fitness trainer with over 16 years of martial arts and training experience.