I used to have a coach that was always telling me about how I was over training. I’d get so frustrated because I was exactly following his directions at every turn. He told me how much I should be running, he told me what to do during practice, he told me what to add in here or there on outside conditioning to make changes. How was I possibly over training when I was exactly, to the letter, following only his instructions? And also, these bodies were not designed to be sitting in desk chairs. They were designed to be moving all day! Working hard to farm, hunt, gather….so how does some term like “over training” even exist?! No, I had it made up in my mind that this coach just thought I was training too much for a woman because I was not even training as much as some of the pro males around me.
Well, turns out I was wrong. I just did not at all understand what he was talking about. It absolutely had nothing to do with me being a woman, and as much as I hate to hear the words come out of my mouth, I hear myself often telling people that they’re over training too. I hope though that I’m explaining what I mean a whole lot better at least.
Overtraining is one of those catch phrases that coaches use sometimes and that you have to ask a lot more questions to know what they’re really getting at. Sometimes a coach is talking about overtraining in a specific area of your training plan: maybe a specific muscle group, a specific type of training (such as explosive training or weight training). However, more often than not (and definitely in my case) your coach means that you aren’t giving your body proper recovery in relation to what you’re doing in the gym and in life. In order to know what to tell you to specifically fix, a coach would have to know your life pretty inside and out, so it’s really hard to get into further instruction unless your coach is just watching you 24/7, and obviously a coach can’t do that for all of the people in the gym all the time, so lets get into some basics:
1. What Job do you do for money? I was mowing lawns and serving tables at the time. Like, a LOT of lawns and working almost two full time jobs worth of hours in serving. I did not have a desk job, and my body was working all of it’s muscles all of the time when I wasn’t training. Nothing in my body ever got a break—ever. On the flip side, when you go from extreme workouts to sitting at a desk for 8 hours straight without moving those muscles just lock straight up if you don’t have an intense stretching program coupled with something like our dailies (See Doing the Dailies) that keeps your body moving and working without letting it be in a sitting position for a full hour.
2. What is your stress release? We’ve all got one. We all have to have one area of our life that we just let go and are not perfect in. Think about how that stress release is affecting your body and how often you partake. My ex-husband used to always have this rule to only do one bad thing at a time in order to not end up with natural or legal consequences. What’s your thing that you know you shouldn’t be doing but, you are a human after all? If you drink, not only is that calories of nothingness (not fuel) that you’re putting in, but you probably need extra sleep after to be fully recovering-plus, do you snack more or go out and do other things when you drink? If you go dancing (even totally sober), well, like it or not, that’s more muscle use then you probably realize. How about having sex? Yeah, lots of muscles of all kinds being used. So if you haven’t taken your stress release into account then you’re not properly recovering from it. It’s better to just be honest with yourself about what you’re currently doing to relieve that stress and to plan it in or else pick something new that is going to better your training instead of hurting it. For example, as I’ve gotten older and am definitely not so interested in going out, I decided to start investing in regular massages. Even with this I need to add in to my training plan when it will make me extra tired and how much water I’m going to need the days before and after.
3. How much sleep are you getting? Very rarely do I meet people that are getting too much sleep, but sometimes I do! But for the majority of the population, we’re just not even close to getting what we need. We have a recommended 8 hours a night that we all know about, but that’s like saying that your average person needs 2000 calories a day. That’s not specific at all to your life or body. While I never get enough sleep, compounding that problem is the fact that my sleep is rarely restful. In order to tackle your sleep problems, you have to start with clearing the obstacles from your life. For example, I am on a fairly regular schedule. Even if I don’t set an alarm to wake up, my body wakes up at about the same time every day because it knows.
I have removed all items like TV, even my phone is turned over and plugged in across the room, no alarm clocks, my sheets are regularly cleaned and I make my bed every morning so that when I get into it my body just shuts down for the day. I have two kids, so this sleep thing has been a real battle in my life that I feel like deserves it’s own whole series. It’s hard, but it’s like food in your training: you won’t get anywhere no matter how hard you’re working until you are getting the right fuel and sleep. I know you may be saying that it just isn’t possible in your life. I get that. There have been periods where it’s come down to our family surviving or not and I just have to not get sleep. However, there have also been times where I’ve realized that I have to let go of some things that aren’t actually necessary for our survival and just be okay with not getting everything done. Also, even if you are in a period where it’s not possible to get enough sleep, chances are good that you can at least start changing small habits to make sure the little sleep you do get is actually restful.
4. How do you care for your muscles? When you’re making quick gains it’s especially important to keep a regular stretching schedule in order to not lose that flexibility and cut into your agility. During my heaviest periods of training, I built one small session into my mornings—every morning—of yoga. I was making such giant gains every week that I would have lost mobility very quickly if I hadn’t figured out how to work those sessions into my schedule. However, stretching is only one of the ways you should be caring for your muscles. What about other ways like hot Epsom salt baths? Tiger balm and massaging with pressure? Foam rollers? The deep tissue massages that I mentioned earlier? Are you even properly warming up and cooling down before and after practices?
5. Food. Yep, it’s its own whole category. The biggest, most important aspect to food is the fact that it is no longer anything except fuel to you. Yes, you get endorphins from eating really great food—especially something like chocolate. It’s very easily confused in your body with an emotional connection. The smells remind us of certain times in our lives, and some foods just make us feel good. But when you’re planning what you eat each day you have to detach yourself from the emotional in order to ask what your body needs to keep doing what it is you want it to. For more basic information about foods, take a look at these posts: Taking the Angle on Food, Keeping on Food Goals Through the Holidays.
6. How many cooks are in the kitchen? Are you getting all of your training from only one place? Within that one gym, do you have only one coach yelling directions at you? And if you have more than one, do you have someone that knows that they're specifically in charge of your training and the others have talked to him? Your training schedules matter. If you are getting conditioning from somewhere besides your boxing coach, then you may end up with legs of all the same kind for six workouts in a row while your arms turn into those of a t-rex and even those newly giant legs can only move in one direction now. Are you in multiple sports or multiple physical activities? Because chances are that none of those coaches are talking to each other and so your training plans are going to make absolutely no sense and possibly even just negate each other.
Sometimes these types of things can feel like a luxury. And honestly, how many of us have the time or money to actually do all of these things and then fit all of our training in too? Yeah, none I’m guessing unless you’re being paid large amounts of money to just focus on your boxing and are attached to no other human beings (in which case you really might need to look into the post How Whole is Your Soul?). But you have to remember that what you do in that gym is physically breaking down your muscles in order to let them heal back stronger and bigger. So...what happens if you only are breaking them down repeatedly without ever letting that second part of the process happen? (And as I've had to remind more than one of my athletes, you do remember that your heart is also a muscle, right? So when you're not feeding your body to rebuild what you've broken down and your body starts eating your muscles instead...that heart is on the menu too) That’s why I have a final point on recovery for you:
7. What’s distracting you? I have a lot of people who want to do more than boxing as recreation. I totally get it. It’s good to go and get your mind off of everything, and if you’re a kid especially it’s important to try out new things. But here’s the thing, if you’re expecting to do both real life and step into that ring then you just can’t. It’s hard enough to manage to provide for our families while fitting in everything that we have to in order to compete that you’re going to have to prioritize. This isn’t soccer where if you’re medium good at it you’ll be able to continue to compete. This is boxing. The aim is to get the other person on the ground unconscious. Even if you’re super amazing and focused and doing everything correctly and win you will still take blows back. Honestly, we are only able to seriously box for a small portion of our lives. The problem is, it’s at that same peak point in our lives when we’re trying to have kids and get married, and go to school, and create the rest of a career. You’ve got to choose and prioritize what you want. There’s a reason that taking boxing competitive is just for a very tiny percentage of the world. How hungry are you for the win? Because the ring does not care about any “reason” that you can come up with in your mind about why you didn’t take care of all the things you needed to in order to be in there.
There's also one last reason to get serious about your recovery: Burnout is no joke. (See Every Fighter Has Burnout Eventually) If you don't have heart because you only worried about training and no recovery...you're really going to be in trouble in there. But if you don't have heart AND your muscles are on the fritz?