Endurance is a Skill – The Practice of Belief and Fatigue in Overtraining

This post is a continuation of thinking presented in The Myth of Overtraining: Endurance Physical and Mental for Muay Thai and also The Fragility of Western Masculinity before it....

This post is a continuation of thinking presented in The Myth of Overtraining: Endurance Physical and Mental for Muay Thai and also The Fragility of Western Masculinity before it. For those that have a significant belief in Overtraining as a diagnosis for things you have experienced I do not mean to demean either your experiences or the meaningfulness of the term for you. These are only alternate thoughts on how one might look at the Overtraining concept, and it’s role in framing our limitations. This is how I’ve come to see it in my 2 and a half years of training at a very high level and fighting over 90 fights in Thailand in that time.


The Training of Endurance As a Skill

Endurance is not a gift, an in-born physical quality or a short-term attribute of youth.  Endurance is a skill.  As such, it must be practiced, honed, and maintained just as any other skill must be.

For example, I used to play the violin.  I started when I was 2 or 3 years old and finally quit the practice in my 20’s, when at college.  In all those years I had to learn how to practice, and for many of those years, much to the chagrin of my poor instructors, I did not practice and kind of progressed very slowly due to other skills, like having a very good ear and unusually good memory (which allowed me to get by without actually learning how to read sheet music for a long time).  There were times, however, when I would actually have to practice and improve in earnest.  When I would have a recital, I would have to learn a new piece for it.  To learn a new piece of music I would have to play it, over and over again, literally a hundred times or more.  But that’s in its entirety; I would also have to break it down into small chunks, measure by measure and note by note until it wasn’t even recognizable as music.  I couldn’t leave my violin in the case for a day or so after a hard practice session; I’d have to go back over the same measures and correct the mistakes I’d made in the previous session.  Comfortable doesn’t pave the way to a concert-level performance, I had to make all the mistakes in practice before the recital – I had to make the mistakes, correct the mistakes, and even practice getting back on the beat after losing my place in the song.

Endurance is exactly like this.  You have to make mistakes; you have to be tired and move slowly through the mechanics before you can flow through them with any kind of expression.  In understanding endurance as a skill, you have to understand that what you are practicing is endurance.  If you want to be able to keep going, you have to keep going.  There are no shortcuts, there are no “hacks,” and there are no secrets.  To be able to go through stressful physical exertion without stopping or fatiguing, you have to have already put yourself through stressful physical exertion prior – the more times you’ve done it, the more smoothly you’ll get through it again.  And this includes getting adequate rest in order to keep both your mind and body healthy enough to retain what you’ve gained toward this skill of endurance.

Unfortunately, you keep what you train regardless of whether it benefits you or not.  More than a year ago I was standing ringside here in Thailand, screaming at one of my western teammates having his first (and last) Muay Thai fight.  Both he and his opponent (another westerner) were visibly exhausted; it was round 3.  My teammate would heave himself forward into the action, the two would throw a few strikes at one another and then they’d both stumble backwards for a break.  My teammate, we’ll call him “A,” would turn his back on the opponent and stroll in a semi-circle, hands on his hips, as the fight was on.  My trainer, Den – a man with 300+ Thai fights, was losing his voice with how much he was screaming at “A” to stop doing this.  But “A” couldn’t stop; he was tired and in fatigue our minds break down a little, so we do what we know.  What we “know” is what we have repeatedly done, and for “A” that was walking around the ring with his hands on his hips and, at training, putting his gloves over the top rope and leaning over it while gasping for air.  He didn’t know how to do otherwise because he’d spent so many hours doing this.  Here’s the thing though: “A” ran the Doi Suthep mountain numerous times per week, a constant uphill climb for about 10 km roundtrip.  He had the fitness to keep going.  If he’d just get his fucking hands off his hips and calm down, he’d find that he had lots left in his reserves.  He was stressed, not actually gassed.  “A” had admitted to me prior to his fight that his greatest fears about fighting were 1) the pain of shin-on-shin blocks; and 2) gassing out.  I’d assured him that adrenaline takes care of the former and that the latter is physiologically impossible.  People lift cars off of their children.  People sprint for a full mile away from an exploding building or tornado or whatever – they don’t stretch first; they don’t train for it, they just go.  So physically speaking, I don’t believe it’s possible to literally have nothing left in the tank in a 15 minute fight with breaks in it, as long as you breathe.  Mentally, yes, you can gas out.  But that’s not how people experience it.  The thought “I can’t go on,” is not one of acknowledging mental stress, it’s one of experiencing the body as being incapable of continuing on.  And it’s a lie.  “A” had spent countless mornings running that mountain, training and honing his endurance to keep moving despite fatigue, but he hadn’t trained how to do this under mental stress.  The mountain is not stressful, it’s rather serene.  Under the stress of padwork and maybe some sparring, “A” had practiced taking these breaks to show his fatigue, to express how hard he felt this all was.  And so that’s the skill he got to demonstrate here in this fight.

He actually fought quite well, especially for a first fight, and he won the decision.  Afterwards he was really pumped and proud, but after a few days he let the memory of feeling so tired grow on him like a fungus and that’s what he ended up keeping from the fight: a fear of being tired.  He stopped training and when he did come back he never ran the mountain anymore.  “A” never did have another fight.

Happily, endurance is one of these things that you can train while training anything and everything else.  You endure pads when you don’t feel like it.  You endure a morning run when it’s cold, when you’re sleepy, when it would feel much more comfortable to stay in bed.  You don’t have to focus on the endurance element, you just have to push through discomfort, even a little.


The Symptoms of “Overtraining” Are Real – but are not principally caused by physical exertion

The above subtitle is my belief. I’ve formed it through a combination of personal experience with my own physical and mental limits, as well as through reading as much of the academic and pseudo-academic literature on the subject of fatigue (and overtraining) as I could.

When framing the relationship between the mental and physical limits consider the case of amateur cyclists tested in time-to-exhaustion trials in a Wales study, detailed in the New Yorker article What is Fatigue?  The experiment is describe as such:

Such “time to exhaustion” trials are a well-established method of measuring the limits of physical endurance, but in this case the experiment also had a hidden psychological component. As the cyclists pedalled, a screen in front of them periodically flashed images of happy or sad faces in imperceptible sixteen-millisecond bursts, ten to twenty times shorter than a typical blink. The cyclists who were shown sad faces rode, on average, twenty-two minutes and twenty-two seconds. Those who were shown happy faces rode for three minutes longer and reported less of a sense of exertion. In a second experiment, the researchers demonstrated that subliminal action words (GO, LIVELY) could boost a subject’s cycling performance by seventeen per cent over inaction words (TOIL, SLEEP).

Below are screenshots of what was shown subliminally to the riders:

What is Fatigue - Overtraining - Mentality - Study

and you can see a slowed down video example:

The Two Cyclists

What is Fatigue - Overtraining - Fatigue - Study

Now ask yourself: Which rider, if they trained to near exhaustion regularly under these conditions would be more prone to showing the proposed symptoms of Overtraining? Would it be the rider who rode 17% longer and reported less of a sense of exertion? Or would it be the rider who rode the shorter time and distance, did less work but experienced a greater sense of fatigue and an earlier onset of muscular failure in doing so? Is it the actual physical work, the work done by muscles, that causes symptoms ascribed to Overtraining? Because this is really the crux of the Overtraining picture of the mind/body.  Or, is it the frame of mind under which we journey to fatigue, the meaning and value we give to what we are doing when we repeatedly approach and attempt to pass our limits? It is my belief and experience that it is the latter. The negative rider, as a model, even though he/she is doing less work would be more prone to showing depression, loss of appetite, apathy, loss of competitive drive, increased stress hormone levels, sleeplessness, and even the inability to complete routine training (as one list of symptoms gives it), and the positive rider would be more resistant to these symptoms if they cropped up, able to work to overcome them, and simply less likely to have them.

There is no doubt that training extremely hard leaves you very tired. And being very tired can be a stress inducer that can complicate all the other emotional components (baggage) that we bring to our training: our motivations, pressures put on ourselves and put on us by others, body image issues, powerful judgements of success or failure, winning and losing, and so on. No doubt. But dealing with the complications of physical fatigue, what comes from just the muscles working, is a skill that we learn. It is an acquired expertise by which we are able to see that it is not the “tired” that is really putting us in bad places, even when those bad places manifest themselves physically. The debt of physical work is easily paid.  It may be something we don’t remind ourselves of often, but the simple fact is that across the world there are people who are working harder than you, and they are working harder than me.  And you – and I – are not fundamentally (physiologically) different than they are. The body is not fragile. The body is infinite (compared to our low expectations of it).  It can do the work. The mental work is where the real training happens.

If test subjects can experience very real, concrete limitations of their muscles seeming to fail them, with subliminal (unaware) thresholds of influence such as faces and words changing those limitations, think how powerful the conscious circumstances of your training are as well. The faces of coaches and trainers that you are seeing every day and very likely trying to please or at least impress, the tones of voice (not only of others, but of the habitual tone of your own voice), the attitudes and dispositions of those that train around you, even the physical atmosphere of your gym or workspace, the roads you run. All of it works powerfully upon you delivering an experience of your own muscular and cardiovascular capacities, which then gets fed back into your self-image and ultimately love, or lack of love for yourself. You may very well be working to exhaustion, and your exhaustion is very real, it is felt to be the failure of just “the body”, but it is the entire mental framework we are talking about that establishes that limit, and your experience of it. If you are training seriously you need to take serious control of the mental, starting first with your own house, and as much as possible move yourself to positive influences. If not, you do risk experiencing not only lower limits of what you can physically do, you can store up considerable amounts of stress that indeed can produce the kinds of symptoms regularly associated with Overtraining.  Those symptoms are real, but they’re symptoms; there remains to be seen a scientific quantification of what physical overtraining is. Anecdotal evidence for what physically qualifies as “overtraining” is just that, anecdotal; it’s just as valid to attribute these symptoms to the mental response to the exact same stresses that believers in overtraining are often attributing to physical exertion.

Anecdotally, I’ve fought more in the past few months than ever before in terms of fight-rate (14 fights in 2.5 months, several times back-to-back days) without having built up in any way, often coming back to training the day after my fight, much to the surprise of my trainers.  Most people (nearly all people) see resting after fights as an important and necessary step in keeping the body healthy in order to return to the physical demands of training.  Naturally, that makes sense.  Fights can take a lot out of you and the body and mind do in fact need recovery.  But, for me, in this time “recovery” has included coming back to the gym and getting right back to it.  My trainers have started to expect me at the gym the next day.  Kru Nu at first talked about it with a shaking of his head, expecting me to crash; now he speaks about it with pride.  He has started calling me “Terminator,” and pretended not to understand me one morning when I said I was sleepy.  “Machine not get sleepy,” he countered. All this time between fights I maintained my 3 sessions a day training regime at both my gyms, more regular training than any fighter I’ve seen in Thailand, a regime I see as important in making me able to withstand frequent fighting both physically and mentally.

In this period I traveled great distance for some of my fights, which is exhausting in itself, spending hours on the road and sleeping in strange places.  I also fought some of the best fighters I’ve faced, as well as some opponents outweighing me by a great deal, and yet I experienced no difference in my recovery from any of these fights compared to any others.  All of these things could have reasonably dampered me, made me run-down, sick, exhausted, and physically depleted.  I’m actually happier and more mentally strong than I’ve ever been before.  This is not a cataloging of my super-human abilities or a brag sheet.  I write this as evidence that mental limits are likely more important than physical limits, but our experience of physical discomfort stops us short. This has been my experience.

I wrote in my last post on the myth of overtraining that there does come a time every now and again when I just have to stop.  I may crash and end up sleeping for 20 hours.  I haven’t had a day like that in many months though, which I don’t believe is due to a change in anything physical but rather entirely due to a huge change in my mental approach to my training and fighting.  One part of that is my dismissal of a very western concept of “reward.”  In the west, we reward ourselves for everything.  A few weeks spent training up to a fight and restricting foods means a splurge at the end of it; once the number on the scale reads on point the indulgence begins.  Many people probably keep it in check to some degree until after the fight, which is generally the next day in the west, but once the fight is complete there are days of binging on food, drink, activities that were avoided for the sake of training, etc.  And quite frankly I think the celebration is a good thing and it’s part of the celebration of the fight itself.  What I’m about to rag on here is the micro-version of it.  People want reward for any discomfort.  You trained hard in one session so you can skip the morning run; you trained hard at the start of the week so you can take it easy at the end of the week.  You can, absolutely, pull back when you’re extra tired or after very difficult, draining days of training.  But you can’t do so as a reward; you do so in order to balance.  If you take it easy as a reward for having gone hard before, then what you’re telling yourself is that going easy is the gain, it’s the profit.  A lot of critics of my other blog post bring up weight-lifting as an example where rest is required for muscles to recover and literally build – essentially, overtraining is a weight-lifting concept.  I understand the physiology there, but I also read enough memes to know that there’s such a thing as “leg day,” which means you’re not at home every other day, you’re just working different muscle groups.  I’m going to steal the weight-lifting example for another comparison, one that I think pairs well with the point I’m trying to make about rest (or idleness, really) as reward: when a weight-lifter really pushes and stresses the body by adding weight, the reward is that this increase is the new weight – it sticks.  You used to bench X and then really burned yourself by benching Y, the reward for which is that you now will continue benching Y.  You powered up.


Class (and Race) and the Diagnosis of Overtraining in Fighting

I hesitate to write this because I’m afraid it’s going to piss people off so much.  But it needs to be said.  Full disclaimer, I am not exempt from this criticism: I am exactly who I’m talking about here.  By knowing and acknowledging that I’m privileged, I do not get to be immune to everything politically uncomfortable about that status.  So readers, please know that I am not writing this to point fighters and claim that I’m one of the good ones and “you” or “they” are the bad ones.  The comedy duo Key & Peele had a great bit about how “Racist is the N-Word for White people.”  It drives us fucking crazy to be called “racist.”  But, while it’s uncomfortable to confront our own racism, it’s also meaningful to do so.

Here goes: I suspect the very concept and discussion of “overtraining” is endemic to middle-class and (mostly) White experiences.  The class designation is the stronger one of the two. I mentioned before in the first section of this post that there are people all over the world who are working much harder than you or I, and they probably don’t have a concept of overtraining.  In Thailand there is very little upward mobility in terms of class.  The people of Isaan, the North-Eastern area of Thailand that covers a huge portion of the country and is home to the majority of the population, is also the poorest.  The people are also generally darker-skinned and the exact same racist attitudes you can find anywhere in the world against dark skin go right with it.  Isaan is an intensely agrarian culture and it’s a strong cultural identity among the Isaan Thai people; they work incredibly hard and are also labeled as “lazy,” and “stupid,” often called buffalo by the more affluent and metro folk of Thailand.  As buffalo, the Isaan bodies are seen as rugged and beasts of burden, able to take workload and damage that the more refined bodies of the affluent can’t handle.  (You can read about the different bodies of fighters and styles, judged by class in Thailand here)

I see this exact same sentiment echoed in the westerners who come to Thailand for “training holidays.”  Even those of us “roughing it” in Thailand are still rich compared to the destitute here, so while these backpacker types may not identify as affluent it can easily be argued that anyone with enough money to even fly to Thailand is in the realm of “middle class.”  I will refer to these westerners as “he” and “men” out of convenience and because they are by a vast majority male.  These guys come here with fantasies about Thailand that take on many layers, but among them is to “train like a Thai” at a Muay Thai camp.  Some of these guys train hard, but none of them to the extent of even average Thais.  Part of this is mathematical in that many of these stints by westerners in Thai camps are pretty short: a week, a month, a few months; even a year is incredibly short on a Thai fighter’s career line.  Many of these western guys will come face-to-face with the fantasy of “training like a Thai” and simply turn away from it, citing that these Thai fighters have been raised in Muay Thai, some even going so far as to say they’ve been born to it.  That Thais genetically have some kind of advantage that makes them suited to this kind of training and the western physiology or disposition simply isn’t.  This might be couched in words of “badass” or praise about how tough Thais are, but it’s not a different thought from the Isaan buffalo or the exotic bodies being able to handle something that the refined western body isn’t.

To my mind, this is a very clear class distinction.  As westerners, we come to camps in order to learn as students or as tourists.  We fight from completely different motives than nearly any real Thai career fighter.  My own class is very strongly evident in choosing to fight as often as I do.  My trainers have often shaken their heads in disbelief, not because it can’t be done but because it’s not something you’d do unless you have to.  Sakmongkol, who has a couple hundred fights, waves his hand in dismissal of my goal of 100 fights, casting it off as something that only kids do as they’re trying to “come up,” and more than that it’s something poor kids do.  Sakmongkol can tell me for days about how hard he trained in his youth, just endless sounding in its intensity, and he acknowledges that this made him really strong.  But he believes in overtraining – he believes in it more than any Thai I’ve met, just in terms of how little he wants me to train when I work with him, he was always telling me “enough” – it should be noted though, he did spend more than a year training middle class Americans just 20 minutes from where I grew up in Boulder CO, before returning to train more affluent westerns, largely ex-pats in Pattaya now at WKO gym.  He once trained extremely hard as a kid out of necessity, or out of the hardness of his life; now he and his wife and two daughters are comfortable.  They bought a brand-new car, something I could never afford even though I pay inconceivable sums toward my overpriced education loans every month, a sign of my class.

My trainer at Petchrungruang is a perfect example of the rare change in class altering his methods.  It starts with his father, Bamrung.  Bamrung grew up on a farm, which is hard work anywhere.  He wanted to be a fighter but his parents forbade it, so he would just fight with his friends at the end of the work day.  He did so because he wanted to and I’ll wager it was exhausting.  Because he loved Muay Thai so much, he started a gym and raised his own two sons in it, the younger of whom was Kru Nu.  But they were still farmers.  So Kru Nu’s day looked like this: wake up at 4 AM and run; take the oxen out to wherever they go during the day to graze; go to school all day; come home and move the oxen again; run and train for a few hours; eat dinner; homework and chores and then in bed.  Start again the next day.  Kru Nu was a high-level fighter and shared a trainer with Kaensak Sor. Ploenjit, although Nu and Kaensak never trained together.  The instructor traveled between Bangkok and Pattaya, so you know Kru Nu wasn’t messing around when this guy had traveled two hours to train him.  That kind of work, school, training and fighting is truly amazing.  It’s much harder than what I do, for sure.  But that’s not how Kru Nu’s son, the next generation, is trained.  Bank has it pretty easy.  He wakes up and runs, eats, goes to school, trains again and then has the whole night to do homework or play videogames, etc.  Many days he’s not even training; for two whole years a few years ago Bank decided he didn’t want to fight anymore, so he just didn’t – for 2 whole years.  Now he fights at Lumpinee.  Bank probably only has about 20-30 fights and he’s 14 years old.  Kru Nu only wants him to have a small number of fights, maybe become champion and retire.  That’s what Master K told me to do, also.  By comparison, the O. Meekhun gym where I train with Phetjee Jaa and Mawin, is a struggling, scrapping gym without much money.  Mawin is exactly Bank’s age, they’re birthdays are one day apart.  Mawin has over 200 fights.  When I talk to Kru Nu about how he was raised and how hard it was, he clearly has a recognition for how strong it makes someone. But Bank doesn’t have to do it like that and that’s because of the accomplishments of the fathers, Bamrung and then Nu, the success of the gym and going from having oxen to move every morning and farm chores to do every day to the middle-class comfort they live in now.  The struggle is not something fathers want for their children, even if they do acknowledge how it informed their own strengths.  A hard work ethic is admirable in most cultures, Thailand included.  It’s how affluence is acquired or maintained.  But hard physical work is low-class; I can feel that sentiment when Kru Nu talks about Mawin, even though the two families are friends (more or less).

The Thai kids who have hundreds of fights do so out of necessity, out of the equal or greater hardship of their lives.  And they train almost mythically hard (I’ve heard about the intensity of training, but never seen it) in order to be able to handle that workload of fights without getting seriously injured, and certainly in order to win as gambling plays a large part in how money is made in rural fights.  So when I show up at the gym, White and western and affluent in comparison to the overwhelming majority of fighters, and tell my trainers that I want to fight all the time there is an intense why? with which it’s met.  But when they see that I mean it, they then understand the training.  When I asked Kru Nu about his training regimen, which is largely for young boys who are brought up to be Lumpinee and Rajadamnern fighters – kids, generally, putting years in and then starting the climb toward becoming “known” fighters when they’re just hitting their teens – he said that too light of training makes you not strong, but too hard of training makes you “bored.”  Not sick, not too tired or damaging to your body… “bored.” Boredom is something that Sakmongkol also described to me, when relating the sheer tedium of endless rote drills that for him as a kid had no meaning.

And I think that’s an interesting entry into the overtraining argument.  I think a lot of people who Google “overtraining” in order to know whether or not they’re experiencing it, or whether they’re at risk for it have become unmotivated, perhaps to an extreme degree.  This leads to mental strain which can then manifest physically (and may develop into deeper symptoms like depression, chronic fatigue, stress, insomnia, etc).  In this case, taking time away from your training might “mix things up” and help you come back anew, but unless you do the right things to mentally restore yourself – because it might not be a physical issue – then you will have wasted that time.  If it is mental, then you can make changes in your training without stopping and still feel rejuvenated.  From Kru Nu and Sakmongkol and simply middle-classness at all, I’ve seen that there is a resistance to hard work if you don’t have to do it.  Coming to athletics from a middle-class standpoint, the option to stop or rest is always there and so we take it with the explanation that we need it.  And my more uncomfortable point, the White privileged body has a political narrative of being refined, unable to handle the heavy workloads that aren’t required of it without adequate pause, nutrition, and care.  From a White, middle-class standpoint all the backbreaking work is for “them.”  When presented with evidence that others are withstanding more, the defenses go up.  And why wouldn’t they?  The White, middle-class narrative is the one most represented in the world; we are so rarely challenged that even a small opposition sends us whirling into a frenzy of defending our lived-experiences as not only valid but normal.

I’m not saying that these experiences of the symptoms attributed to “overtraining” are not real.  I do believe people experience them in a very real way and I have, in fact, experienced them myself; quite powerfully.  But I am challenging the notion that they unavoidable even at high levels of physical endurance, or that they even need be accomodated if it is your interest to overcome them.  The often repeated refrain is “listen to your body,” which has become the slightly more autonomous “consult with your doctor.”  I do believe we should listen to our bodies and that we have profound intuition when it comes to knowing what we need on an unconscious level.  As such, my body does not have a frequently lit “warning light,” and I don’t believe most people’s do.  I believe all bodies to be far more hearty than they are fragile.  In the end what’s best for your body depends on what you want from it; what you want from it.  Ultimately, I’d rather send the message that neither you nor I know what your body is capable of but that feeding it messages about how it’s incapable of doing more is probably a question of what you’re giving it permission to do: stop or go.



This post was an outgrow of a conversation in comments on my Facebook page, which made it clear that my original article only told part of what I am trying to say. You can see that comment thread on Overtraining here. Below is an overarching clarity I tried to reach, in response to some of the questions that were being raised in the discussion:

Not only is every body different, but each situation and context has its own stresses both physical and mental. My main point has been to investigate how the story of Overtraining itself may work to undermine our ability to negotiate those stresses, as it in many people poses a fear and often a warning from those in authority. People who encounter the edge of their limitations these days are ever concerned with the Overtraining boogie-man, and this boogie man, at least as far as in those who I’ve seen who come to Thailand to follow their dreams, most of them ill-prepared for the heat and very hard work, can keep people from negotiating those very real physical and mental limits. They are always told “Pull back!”, “Stop!”. What I’ve been suggesting is that instead of a fear of Overtraining, people should be thinking about Under-Recovery, thinking about how to rest and recover properly when they feel the wheels coming off. And “stopping” isn’t always the answer. Instead of taking a complete day off at the gym and staying in your room playing video games (as many westerners who come to Thailand do – newsflash, video games may be fatiguing the very same areas of stress that made you stop in the first place, they are not active recovery)…instead, maybe come to the gym anyways, and work softly on the bag, do lots of loose shadow, maybe play spar without gloves or guards, very lightly. There are lots of important things you can train at light intensity. Keep things moving, don’t shut things down. Early on in Thailand when I struggled I would come in and just move around a little bit it would keep me not only from just feeling sore and tired, which is kind of a depressed feeling, I would often find that I could do more than I thought I could do, and that gave me confidence. Don’t go from 100% to 0%, and then back to 100%. Go from 100% to 80% or 25%, then to 75%, then 100%, and find your way back up to the breaking point plateau so you can work yourself over it. In my first year here when there were times when I returned to the gym just absolutely beat from the past day, but committed to still working, just maybe at a lighter level, and in those times I’ve found an unexpected well spring of energy and really surprised myself at what my body had in me, once I started moving without the pressure to bust it. A lot of these times of fatigue, I’ve found, are times of mental fatigue. And knowing that you can come to the gym and be light, if you have to, has lead to some very hard work.

 Also, great point about kinds of activity. As my article discusses, the Overtraining Syndrome picture, as far as I could tell, grew out of ultra marathon training experience, people logging 1000 miles for months and months, in preparation for an incredibly long and grueling race. How this diagnosis came to be graphed onto the training for 15 minute fights, I have no idea. But these are very different activities, and very different training schedules. At the other end of the spectrum far from ultra marathoning, the other most contested debate in overtraining is in body-building. Someone like CT Fletcher denies the concept of Overtraining in body building, or at least strongly suggests that the fear of Overtraining serious limits what body builders are capable of, and he takes his own “overtraining” set rep approach as proof, shrugging off the experts. But just as fighters are not ultra marathoners, they certainly aren’t body builders either. I know of no fighter specific study of training methods fighters would use that diagnoses schedules at which overtraining would or could be expected. None. All of the overtraining talk seems to be trainers in the sport extrapolating from much debated topics in sports quite far from the fighting arts. And the result is a very vague notion and fear of overtraining.

I might say as well, we certainly should be wary of medical authority, even if there was one, in things like sports medicine. Fear of dehydration was basically the medical community confirmed central concern in long distance running. For decades everyone was concerned about dehydration as a possible threat to even the life of the runner. Study after study confirmed how much of a threat dehydration was, and more than a generation of distance runners grew up with the adage “If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.” Well, it turns out that sports medicine was likely dead wrong on this – and several long distance runners actually died because they reached a level of water toxicity, trying to hydrate themselves, and because medical professionals treated their collapse with emergency rehydration. The very picture of hydration and the body at extreme limits was wrong, and almost all of “Science” got it wrong. What we thought was proven fact, was in fact dogma. For me Overtraining seems like something like this. It is very ill-defined, and evidence towards it is sporadically and anecdotally drawn from diverse activities and examples, it comes to be a constellation of thinking about the body and its risks. A floating concern. But recent research on fatigue, at least as far as I’ve read, is suggesting that the standard model that sports science has been working from may very well be wrong, or seriously incomplete. It doesn’t mean that people don’t experience very real depletions, very real depressions, very real fatigue, but it may mean that the vague concept of “Overtraining” is ill-equipt to satisfactorily explain what is happening. And that simply shifting the concept to Under-Recovery may allow us to think more effectively on how to avoid depletions, on an individual basis, and work to surpass our limits better as athletes. At the very least things like researcher Tim Noakes MD’s’ Governor Control model, and findings on the relationship between motivation and fatigue should be woven into our concept and even experience of our own fatigue, as they may enrich and pinpoint the nature of our mind/body limits.



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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay


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