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Don't Allow Over-training to Undermine You


My JKD big brother, Bob Bremer, likes to tell the story about how he was watching Bruce Lee train very hard one day and asked him, “Geez, Bruce, aren’t you afraid you’re gonna be over-trained?” Bruce’s response was, “I’d rather be over-trained than under-trained.” An excellent point provided you keep it in the proper context. Bruce was working on skill-conditioning training (technical skills) at the time. And when it comes to technical skill, especially in combat, I think it would always be better to be over-trained than under-trained. In addition, Lee had already spent years developing his physical fitness to an extremely high level which allowed him to put forth the energy and effort he did.


Improvement in martial arts requires more than just routine training. It requires progressive increases in training. These increases are sometimes referred to as “overloading.” Overloading is necessary for any martial artist seeking to attain peak performance. However, if one is not careful, it can lead to a condition known as “over-training.”


Over-training is a pitfall that can affect any of us as martial artists if we’re not careful and diligent about our training program. Over-training refers to a state in which a martial artist is unable to perform or train at previous levels, and can be associated with emotional, behavioral, physical, biochemical, and performance changes. Symptoms of over-training can include such things as chronic fatigue, appetite disorders, insomnia, weight loss or gain, muscle soreness, anemia, depression, worsening athletic performance, decreased interest in the activity, etc. If you over-train and don’t allow sufficient time to fully recover, you run the risk of not only reaching a state of burn-out with regard to the activity, but also of increasing your susceptibility to injury while engaging in it. This is because when you over-train you lower your threshold for injury, and something that you would normally be able to handle can now produce an injury. Perhaps you’ve heard someone you know who has sustained an injury while they were training say something like, “I don’t know how it happened. It was a simple thing. I’ve done it thousands of times and never had a problem.” Depending upon the situation, over-training may be the culprit.


It’s important to keep in mind that over-training is more a process than an event. It usually happens over a period of time, as opposed to being a one-time thing. The primary causes of over-training are

(a) Too much volume

(b) Too much frequency

(c) Too much intensity

(d) Not enough recovery


Oftentimes it can be a combination of several of the above causes. If you keep it up your body will start to rebel against the over-training. But unless you’re aware and paying attention you may not recognize it as over-training (especially if you self-train) and instead put it down to slothfulness or laziness. But it isn’t. Many martial art students nowadays become anxious and fret if they are not in the gym or school everyday or doing some kind of training every single day. The basic reason behind this type of mentality is that we’ve been entrained to think this way by the martial art industry (More and more is always better). For some people it’s become a form of neurosis.


What can a person do to help avoid the pitfalls of over-training? The first thing is to get rid of any knee-jerk notion they might have that tells them they must keep training no matter what; that they’ve got to get back to the school, that they’ve got to do more of whatever they do. (My question to such a person would be, “What are you actually training for? Are you training to experience yourself or punish yourself?”) If you’re a professional fighter preparing for an upcoming bout that is a different matter entirely, because you hopefully will have good trainers who are helping with not only making sure you do the work required, but also that you get adequate rest and recuperation. The second is to keep in mind that the goal is to use their training for positive change, not negative, and use their awareness to maintain strict control over their training program. Remember that training is a dynamic balancing act of work and recovery. And bear in mind that over-training can result from too much of the right thing as well as too much of the wrong thing.


What can an individual do if they discover they’ve fallen victim to over-training? The best treatment for over-training is simply to back off and reduce training. They need to cut back the amount of time they spend training and/or the intensity of their workouts and allow their body the time it needs to recover properly. How long that might be needs to be determined. Severe over-training may require a complete cessation of the activity for a period of time. In the long run, however, it is much better to prevent over-training to begin with.


Finally, keep in mind that, like the yin yang, training is a dynamic balance of work and rest, output and input. It’s constantly moving and adjusting. The main things is to avoid running to extremes in either direction. Don’t simply train hard, train intelligently.

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