Every Fighter Has Burnout Eventually
A few years ago I was running with a friend of mine who is pro, and had just come off of a loss. It’d broken him down, probably because this wasn’t his first loss in a row, but it would be his last. As we’re jogging, and I’m talking about what we’re going to change in his work and the next fight we’re going to need to be looking for, he stops running, dumbfounded. “Damn…fighting wants more from me?” I laughed. I couldn’t help but laugh, although it wasn’t the most sensitive response.
Yes. Fighting always wants more. It’s like a hungry beast that can never be satisfied. No matter what you’re doing right now, there’s a fighter out there that’s close to your weight class that is doing 10 more push-ups than you, running 10 seconds faster on his mile pace, and shadow boxing that extra round each day. There’s a fighter that’s doing the exact same amount as you, but has that extra natural talent dose than you, has more challenging sparing options, or started a year earlier than you. Yes. Fighting always wants more from you. It’s about what you’re willing to give—that will dictate where you end up.
Every fighter experiences burn out, eventually.
That’s a pretty bold statement, I know. But it’s true none the less. Our sport is simply too intense—and so are we—to not eventually experience it. You don't become a fighter unless you've already had to fight for your life in someway or another, and chances are good that you're still fighting for it. Fighting doesn’t pay enough that any of us are really only fighting unless we have a spouse or parent that is doing everything else and we have no kids—even then, if you have someone that cares that much about you, you probably still have to dedicate some time to that relationship now and again. But for most of us? We’re working at least one full time job, usually two and three. We have kids and sometimes a significant other, and we have responsibilities and feelings. Oh man, if only we could just get rid of feelings that mess with a solid training schedule or our heads in the ring.
Here’s the difference though between fighters and “other sports players”: It is either in you or it isn’t. I have tried to walk away. Almost all of my friends have thought, even for a day or so, about walking away. But we just can’t—not if it’s in you, if it’s part of who you are. It’s your “get right”. It’s your core being. It’s that part of you that you always knew was empty before you found fighting. What we're doing with our fighting changes during different seasons of our lives, but nonetheless, if it's in you, you can't be you without it. After another friend had taken a bad blow to the head, his wife wanted him to quit, he told me what we all know to be the bitter-sweet truth: “She loves who I am. Part of who I am is a boxer. Without it, I’m not the man she loves-she knows that even if it’s painful sometimes.”
So how do we not let the hungry beast eat the other parts of us? We build our rest and recovery into our training schedules. Even those annoying feelings. No, we can’t plan for everything of course. But we can do things to prevent the unexpected from ruining a great plan. For example, when building a six to eight week out plan, I always put two “flex” days into the schedule. By this I mean that I write two more days worth of training than is necessarily wise, and then I write a deadline. If the athlete hasn’t taken the first one by this date, then they have to take one. If they haven’t taken the second one by this other date, then they have to take it. We sit down together and work through what they will have coming up: birthdays, anniversaries, big school tests or finals, kids' recitals, a project at work that will be due, when we know the weather might be starting to turn bad. We write our schedule around those things to start with.
We write our schedule to include times that I expect you to eat, and when you plan to food prep all of those meals or go to the grocery. We write in days that I want you do to absolutely nothing: including the food schedule, including watching boxing, including getting showered and out of your pajamas. Tell your partner or kids: this day is totally yours, and then actually stick by that schedule. For me and my kids, every Friday night is “Friday night sleep over night”. They get my undivided attention, we eat junk food that they love, and we cuddle up in my bed with all phones and computers and anything else that might distract me from them turned off. I have a set time that I stop with the rest of everything, and I have a set time that I “restart”. This is built into my training plans for myself. When I had an important client that needed Fridays, I talked to my kids and we decided on Sundays for a while.
People ask me a lot how, when I don’t compete myself anymore, do I maintain my boxing schedule. Well, I mess up and I don’t always. Learning to forgive yourself when that happens is also part of avoiding burnout. But for me, it’s part of who I am. When I let myself burn out by not including the proper food, rest, and love time into my schedule, my training goes south quickly. I find myself going through the motions, and feeling see-through as I do so. I end up so tired I snap at everyone, and feel bitter to be out at another run in the cold, but I’ve been through the cycle enough to know I’ll feel empty inside if I say, “I’m through” to boxing. Balance. When you start to feel the joy of boxing slipping through your fingers as you wrap up, it's time to pause and look at what you're doing. Your mind, heart, rest, and relationships are just as important to maintain as your traps and glutes if you expect to win that next match.