The Myth of Overtraining – Endurance, Physical and Mental for Muay Thai

This piece flowed out of my experiences that led to writing The Fragility of Western Masculinity, and responses to this post lead to me writing Endurance is a Skill....

This piece flowed out of my experiences that led to writing The Fragility of Western Masculinity, and responses to this post lead to me writing Endurance is a Skill.

Read All My Articles on Overtraining

Preface – I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long while and two things happened recently that have allowed me to finally pull it together. The first thing was writing to Lewis Pugh, who is an incredible athlete and ocean advocate who swims in extreme conditions in order to draw attention to the effects of climate change on the earth’s oceans.  (Picture swimming in the North Pole and Everest.  You can watch his amazing TED Talk on swimming the North Pole here.)  I’ll speak more on him and that communication in a moment.  The second occurrence was taking a rest day just a few days ago, except that I still attended the 1.5 hours that I’m at O. Meekhun Gym with Phetjee Jaa and her family at the end of every day.  I’d been having a rough go the past couple days and decided to take most of today off to rest.  The result was staying in bed (other than taking my dog out several times, but that’s just up and down the stairs, really) until nearly 5:00 PM and heading to training at 6:00.  After nearly 20 hours of rest I was still tired in padwork.  This showed me something very important: a day off does very little for you physically; but it does a lot mentally. I know that people have strong opinions on this, and I happen to have strong opinions as well. There are portions in the post below that are a little bit of a rant – because I can’t stand to see people limited by vague misconceptions, or worse, meaningless internet wisdom – and some of it is about the strategic embrace of rest – but most of it is about what we gain, especially as fighters, when we conceive of things as possible rather than limited, and we push ourselves to new limits often beyond what we imagine is possible, or what other “experts” advise.

The Myth of Overtraining

First off, what is a myth? How do I mean “myth”? – A myth is a story that we tell ourselves to make sense of the world. They often work to help us deal with and make the most of our fears and our hopes. Myths can be good things, as they can work in coded and symbolic ways to help us tap into deeper potential that we cannot completely conceive of or plan for ourselves, a kind of thinking in pictures. But myths can be bad things, in their patent falsity, holding us back and limiting our potential, often in the service of empowering others or feeding our fears and limitations. – thus, the title of this post could also be “The Powerful Story of Overtraining”. I’m talking about the stories we tell ourselves (and others) to explain our very real experiences. When I talk about myth I’m not saying that our experiences are false or unreal.

Overtraining is a myth, in this way. But first let’s talk about rest.

I hear a lot about overtraining.  I see it as a buzz-word online with advice on how to avoid it, tips on how to recognize it (should it be hard to recognize?), and lots and lots of people talking about how terrified they are of experiencing it.  And it’s pretty much undefined.  The tell-tale signs appear to be synonyms for fatigue and the worst of it seems to be risk of injury or even depression.  The way to avoid it is often to tiptoe around your training and “listen to your body” – I do agree with that one, but while you should “listen” to your 5-year-old that doesn’t mean you have to (or necessarily should) follow their orders/advice/complaints – although, generally, listening to the body is coupled with the advise to shut it all down if you get in too deep.

I’ll come out and say it: I don’t believe in overtraining.  Yup, I’m serious.  That isn’t to say that I don’t believe you can tax your body through exertion beyond current physical limits, but I don’t think that the folks talking about the risk of, or tips on how to avoid overtraining are, on the whole, getting anywhere near it.  That is to say, overtraining is theoretically real but few, if any, of us is actually experiencing it.  To use an analogy, one can technically overdose on water for example, but the amount you’d have to consume is so great that considering it a risk that you have to keep in mind or monitor daily is a little bit silly – although high-performance athletes do have to watch their water to some degree, and the dangers of its toxicity ironically enough because the Sport’s Drink Industry worked to make everyone over-vigilant and paranoid about dehydration. Training paranoia is not a good thing.  Overtraining is possible, but the likelihood that you or anyone you’ll ever know personally in your life is actually experiencing overtraining is low. I train pretty hard, I’ve even had some of the symptoms people like to attribute to it, but I don’t think I have overtrained.  It’s a concept that was developed to describe a rare phenomenon among world-class, elite athletes and now it’s being used to refer to a “common condition” that is somehow a great risk to average, “active” persons.  The kind of dehydration Tour de France cyclists experience where they’re taking an IV in the back of a van or a tent is the same word but not the same thing as the “dehydration” the electrolyte-obsessed gym rat is at risk of.  One is much closer to thirst.  I’ve had a guy on my Facebook comment that he’s sick of been told he’s overtraining with his “1-2 hours per day, 5 days per week.”  What?!

Two Kinds of Rest

The assumption that everyone is overtraining, or at risk of it, rather than just training hard or perhaps attempting something beyond their current capability (which, incidentally, has to happen periodically in order to progress), reminds me of a Sarah Silverman sketch.  A very clearly pregnant Silverman is astonished when a home pregnancy test comes up positive and she exclaims, “I thought I was missing my period because I was ballerina thin!”  I’m not sure how many men are going to relate to that one, but I hear her voice in my head whenever dudes around me are saying they need to take it easy or rest or not train every day or whatever in order to avoid overtraining.  They’re assuming themselves to be situated in an extreme while the reality – and more likely explanation – is not that they’ve trained too hard (like body weight dropped so low that amenorrhea kicks in), but more likely that they have not trained hard and regularly enough to acclimate to the twice-daily workouts of a Thai gym (they are either not training toward progressive increase or they’re under-resting). Important:  Under-resting does not mean not enough days off, it means finding adequate quality rest within your training schedule for the work that you’re doing.  Rest is like nutrition. Think about it.

When you run out of energy because you haven’t eaten right,  you don’t cut down your training to match your eating habits. Instead you look at your calories and nutrients, you make adjustments and eat better or more in order to fuel your workout. It is the same with rest. If you are fatigued (mentally and or physically) you need to treat rest like food. Get higher quality rest in, rest that can support your workouts.

The quality of rest is very important, perhaps more than the quantity. The rest should be an active part of training, not a hiatus. When attempting to achieve higher states you rest to train, you don’t stop training to rest. But not all rest prescriptions are the same. What irks me about most of the things I’m seeing online in all the concern trolling regarding overtraining is that what is basically being said is that when you hit a wall of significant fatigue stopping, resting, pulling back and being back in a comfortable zone is pretty much the only way to go. “Stop! Slow down!” becomes the panacea of achievement.  You’re regularly tired in training? You can’t hit the bag as hard today as yesterday or last week? Must be overtraining, you should rest.  Here’s the thing though – physical exertion makes you tired. Lots of physical exertion makes you very tired.  If it’s hard, that means you have to do the thing that’s hard in order to gradually make it easier.  And the cruel joke is that it never becomes easy because if you keep your intensity going then you’ll be hitting the bag harder and maybe not even realizing it, so you think you’re weaker than last week and maybe that’s not even true.  Is the bag going to tell you?  It is about hitting and reaching new plateaus. Imagine a weight-lifter struggling to lift 200 lbs and deciding that they ought to back off, rest, and shut it down and just miraculously be able to lift it the next time.  Nope; you just have to take it down a little bit for the purpose of building up to it.  Mindless rest begets more mindless rest.

With all the talk of overtraining, it’s amazing to me that nobody seems to believe in undertraining, which also makes you tired, unmotivated and likely to injure.

Sylvie-von-Duuglas-Ittu-Overtraning-and-Muay-Thai-w1200

Physical

I’ve been in Thailand for over 2 years now and the number of guys (sorry, it’s always guys – they’re 99% of who I interact with here) who come into the gym afraid of overtraining is just astonishing.  They’re afraid of being tired.  And yet, they acknowledge being out of condition for where they’d like to be but they take the “pull back” on their already moderate approach as a means to get stronger.  It makes literally no sense.  No runner in the history of marathoning has ever decreased their mileage before increasing it in order to get stronger.  If it’s killing you to do 50 kicks (and you want to be able to do 50 kicks) in a row then start with 20 and work up until you can do 50 kicks all week. You have to get tired first to not get tired later. There is no short cut, no “hack”.  Keep doing what you want to be good at; if you want to be good at resting, keep resting.

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

A story about rest: So the other day I took the morning off and didn’t go to the first half of my afternoon session, meaning I only did 30 minutes of padwork and 30 minutes of clinching. I stick pretty regularly to my day in and day out schedule (see at page bottom), rain or shine, fatigue or not, but  I’d been struggling through padwork in the afternoons already, just feeling drained after coming off my bagwork and an hour of clinching/sparring and conditioning at my other, second gym.  But more than anything I just had a shit attitude about it, feeling like I shouldn’t be this tired rather than acknowledging that I do a lot, every day, so sometimes I’m going to be really tired.  So I rested all day, about 20 hours worth, and it felt great.  I loved staying in bed all day, snuggling my puppy and sleeping.  (He and I could take Gold at any Olympic sleeping event; we sleep hard.) A big, rare treat.  When I got into the ring to do padwork with Phetjee Jaa’s dad Sangwan I was very well rested and I felt great.  Within a couple of rounds I was really struggling again, feeling physically drained and my face was flushed red.   There’s just only so much rest can do for you physically – I’d probably have to take a few days off in order to have a full physical recovery from what I do every day, but by the time I took three days off I would have done some detriment to my strength anyway.  The time you have away from training takes away from your physicality even while it’s helping physical recovery.  Runners say it takes twice as long to get back to where you were as the amount of time you take off.  So one week off means two weeks getting back to where you were before in strength and endurance.  It’s a tricky balance, one an athlete is always exploring.

What my day off did for me was mostly mental.  I was fatigued in my head more than I was in my body.  I mean, I feel it in my body but that’s not really where the difficulty is.  But one has to use that rest like a training tool in order to get the mind right to be able to get the body right as well.  If you don’t realize where the rest is actually needed and you come back and are still tired and think, “shit, I need more rest,” then you’ll just always be resting and waiting to feel better.  A lot of the guys I talk to and some of the people playing “expert” online about overtraining may consider the hour of work I did at O. Meekhun to be “overtraining.”  An hour – I was already over my limit.  But the physical manifestation of fatigue could not really be coming from physical over-exertion; it’s a physical experience of symptoms from a mental phenomenon.

Mental – The Hidden Strength…and Limitation

Lewis Pugh does things that seem impossible.  Even after he’s done them, they still seem impossible.  He doesn’t accomplish these feats by hanging out in the shallow end.  When he swam a kilometer at the North Pole the water was so cold that if he gave into fatigue and began to sink he would be dead at the bottom of the black waters before his team even had time to jump in and rescue him.  Surely he had to physically train his body for these extreme conditions, swimming in ice-water and conditioning his body to be able to keep moving when the temperatures might literally freeze his blood.  But what got him through that impossible feat was mental strength, the will to keep going rather than to climb back into the boat or simply stop.

I read Pugh’s books on my computer while sitting in ice-baths after fights.  It’s incredibly inspiring and truly works to recover my mind and spirit while the ice-bath recovers my body.  A refrain I’ve seen from him many times is that quitting is dangerous because it can become a habit.  The fear of overtraining is not one of experience, like, say, the fear of touching a hot stove after you’ve already been burned.  It’s an irrational fear borne of habit, a habit of thinking – of habitually pulling back before ever even getting close to the limit.  This isn’t to say that people don’t experience terrible symptoms that they attribute to overtraining, like extreme fatigue, mood swings, depression, chills, aches, etc.  I’ve experienced these things, too.  But I don’t believe it’s from the physical push so much as the mental break-down, the stress response by the mind.  We could, I believe, experience exactly these same symptoms under non-physical stress, like trying to pass the Bar Exam or be a rookie Marine learning to search for live IED’s.

I asked Pugh about the concept of overtraining, knowing that his level of mental and physical performance is incredibly high and he is, quite frankly, the kind of athlete who might be at risk of overtraining.  Here’s what he said:

I agree with you [that people are extremely reluctant to push through their fatigue, their pain, under this myth of limits] – the only thing I would say is that rest is important.  I see rest as part of my training.  So I am like a metalworker.  When a metalworker cuts steel or welds, he concentrates 100%.  He does not think about women, Facebook, beer, football, etc.  If he does – he can lose a hand.  So I constantly concentrate on making each stroke as good as possible.  Especially when I’m tired.  And I am not shy to train at 100% – and to race in training.  But when I have finished – I am happy to take 2 days [of] complete rest – so my body can recover.  Rest is as important as training.  Rest is also good for the mind.

One thing I really appreciate about Pugh’s response is his consideration of rest as part of training.  That concept helped me crystalize my own experience, how I have come to feel about rest on my own, and what I wanted to talk about in this post. For most of the guys I come across here in Thailand who are just arriving and trying to “wade in” to training or who have been at the gym for months already and are still taking it easy to get into the swing of it, it’s very clear that their rest is very much a break from training.  And yet, as I have said, the word “rest” appears to be the most common – if not the only – prescription offered by the blogosphere and online articles for this concept of overtraining.  The way rest is treated in these cases is basically a full stop, and that’s precisely why these guys never get going. I wrote a little about this in my previous article: Why Your Muay Thai Dreams May not Come True.

When I first arrived in Thailand two years ago, I hit the ground running.  I did not take a week or even a few days to ease into the two-sessions-per-day training schedule.  I’d been running at home in order to kind of get ready for what was in store for Thai training, but I wasn’t doing anything remotely like what I would be doing at the camp prior to my arrival.  In other words, it was a shock to my system.  I’m not saying everyone has to do this, but I am pointing out that I didn’t die.  I didn’t get sick or injured; I just got stronger.  That said, the first week or two upon arriving in Thailand and training like this you are going to be sleeping a lot.  A lot.  I still sleep throughout most of the middle of the day between training sessions and during my couple weeks upon arriving on Thai soil I was passed out in bed by 8 PM, approximately an hour after finishing training.  Just shower, food and then out.  That’s rest – if you’re trying to go out drinking at night or sight-seeing during the day, you’re going to be under-recovering and your training will suffer.  This initial blast of fatigue (and sometimes injury) is what gets a lot of very ambitious people when they come to Thailand. It can just kick your ass, and if you are armed with the “overtraining” diagnosis, it can seriously derail what you are capable of. Taking a few days off or only training a couple sessions per week or only doing part of the session every day – all of those things are ways of easing in and letting your body adjust but unless you increase your participation and intensity each time you’ll never actually get into the swing of it.  Wading in means steadily moving forward into the deeper waters.  Not going in a little bit and then getting out of the water.  I guess what I’m saying is that you need to be realistic about your goals.  If you’re interested in doing a little bit of training as part of a vacation, that’s fine – but you’re not overtraining when you get very tired.  If you want to “train like a Thai,” as people like to say, and fight in Thailand as a Muay Thai fighter, then your focus should be on your training and you’re going to have to be training hard.  Training hard is still not overtraining.  And trying to go full-bore once every now and then after stretches of inactivity or light training is just an unwise way to go about acclimating and strengthening your body and mind. And no, as some people believe the Thais are not capable of training that hard because they are “born into it”. I train regularly harder than any Thai I’ve been around and I was born into nothing. It took me about 1 very focused month before I was acclimated (that is, not feeling like my ass was completely kicked after every single session), and it took me about 2 weeks to adjust to any significant change in my program (as we experimented with it).  I’m sure there must be Isaan gyms that would put my work to shame, Wung warned me that his father in Isaan would “make you want to die”, but I’ve at least surpassed my surroundings.  And I don’t care that nobody else is training like I am, I do it for me.  It is just committing yourself to training increase and proper rest. It is about building and reach to new plateaus, if you are trying to get to elevated states.  Your best.

Pugh’s analogy to being a metalworker and the importance of focus is really the crux of it all.  I push hard every day.  What’s amazing is that there are times when I feel like I can’t do it, like it’s just too much and I want to stop and take a hot shower and just sleep.  And there are rarer times that I do take a day off and just sleep through it, maybe once every couple of months.  But I don’t stop at the moment that I feel this way,  I just tell myself that tomorrow I will have the day off.  I still have to complete what’s in front of me, even though it’s hard, even if I have to dial down power or speed and just focus on relaxation.  And just as Pugh says that he becomes more focused when he’s tired, that’s what I have to do.  And the fact is I can always get through what’s in front of me.  No matter how tired and fatigued I feel, no matter how much I’m pitying myself and wanting to stay in bed, my body will keep going.  And I want that to be part of my training because in a fight I might feel tired, I might feel like I can’t but I want my body to know – through the experience of having done it – that it can keep going.  This is why I’ve fought while injured and while sick with the flu.  Not because I’m a sucker for punishment but because I want to know that whatever I think is bad is never bigger than I am – when it’s in front of me it seems big and intimidating, but once you put it behind you, it always seems so small.  I never want quitting to be a habit.  It’s my mind that’s crying mercy and quite frankly that’s what I’m really mending when I rest.

Last week I was having a hard afternoon and really pushing to get through basic training on the bag before being called into the ring for sparring and clinching.  After the sparring I got back on the bag and was astonishingly more relaxed – maybe simply too tired to be critical – and suddenly everything was easier, better, more fluid.  I was struggling because of my mind, not because my body couldn’t do it.  So when I feel like it’s all too much, I’ve discovered, it’s a mental issue.  My body can literally do everything I’m asking of it but my mind is crying out for me to stop.  It’s certainly a protective device that the mind uses for self-preservation – like how fear is a survival tool – but it’s a hammer, not a scalpel; your mind will try to get you to stop for the sake of physical homeostasis way before you ever approach actual risk.

Lewis Pugh pointed me toward Tim Noakes and his theory of the “Central Governor.”  In short, the Central Governor is the brain working to maintain homeostasis in the body. The way it does this during heavy physical exertion events is by creating illusionary experiences of fatigue and discomfort. It is telling you to stop your limbs from moving when you’re running (for example) in order to prevent real physical fatigue long before actual risk. Your experiences of fatigue and discomfort are like the factory red engine warning light going off in your car; you don’t have to slam on the brakes and immediately exit the vehicle.

as exercise performance is centrally regulated by the CNS, then fatigue should no longer be considered a physical event but rather a sensation or emotion, separate from an overt physical manifestation—for example, the reduction in force output by the active muscles. Rather we now suggest that the physical manifestation of any increasing perception of fatigue may simply be an alteration in the subconsciously regulated pace at which the exercise is performed. Hence the novel suggestion is that the conventional understanding of fatigue is flawed because it makes no distinction between the sensation itself and the physical expression of that sensation… [find citation here on Wikipedia]

Tim Noakes expresses the delusive nature of fatigue in the context of distance running in this podcast transcript. The podcast here is a very nice introduction to the thinking and work of Tim Noakes.

My view is that the sensations of discomfort are the way the brain regulates the performance. The symptoms are utterly, completely illusory. They are generated by the brain and they have nothing to do with the state of the body at that time. They only are related directly to how close you are to the finish.

Anyone who’s run enough or exercised enough in competition knows that your symptoms of discomfort rise as a fraction of how close you are to the finish. It doesn’t matter whether you run 10 miles or 100 miles. When you’ve gone about 60% of the distance, you start to feel really dreadful and you want to start to quit. Therefore, it’s not related to the exact distance you’ve traveled, but to how close you are to the finish.

We gave in further and we think that the best athletes are the ones who make the illusion interfere less with their running. The less good runners, the symptoms are more illusory or worse and they therefore slow you down more than the elite athletes, who are not resistant to the symptoms.

That’s what people say, “I’m a great athlete. I don’t feel the symptoms.” If you’re a great athlete, you actually don’t generate the symptoms.

Given that in exercise and training your brain will be generating all sorts of alarm bells that will be working to keep you at a homeostasis that you are looking to transform, a plateau you are seeking to change, models of performance that are already quite concerned about establishing your body’s limits and that you may already be bumping up against them makes for a potent pairing. If you are pushing yourself rigorously enough your brain will be telling you to stop, and if you experience significant post-training fatigue, overtraining buzz-wordism will be telling you to stop some more. Everything is saying “stop”, while what you are seeking to do is transcend.

I Digress – More About Rest – It Does not Automatically Heal

Allow me to digress for a moment to tell you about Santino.  First of all, Santino is an awesome guy.  He’s in his late teens and came out to Lanna to train in Muay Thai with a little MMA training under his belt.  His attitude about everything was positive and he brought great energy to the gym.  After a few months of training he had his first fight and by a roll of the dice he ended up with an opponent who took him down with leg kicks – a common tactic of Thais against farang who can be punch heavy and perhaps apprehensive about blocking with unconditioned shins.  Even after losing by KO, Santino’s attitude was great.  He said, “I feel like a man now!” regarding his fight. Most farang don’t have this kind of attitude after their first fights and I was impressed. After this I didn’t see him for a while though, which is typical of western fighters who take a week or several weeks off after a fight.   When I checked in on him after three weeks (on Facebook) he told me “I’m great,” and then he said had nerve damage in his leg from the low kicks and had been unable to walk in all this time.  I’ve taken some really nasty leg kicks and, yes, it’s hard to walk for a couple days afterwards, but I’d never seen anyone – ever – with “nerve damage” from a fight.  I told him to come by the gym and let Nook work on him a little bit.  He said he’d been seeing a doctor for physical therapy, but that he’d stop by to say hello.

A few days later Santino showed up at the gym.  Indeed, this kid couldn’t walk.  He was on crutches and his leg was very, very immobile.  He’d been prescribed some kind of muscle relaxer by his doctor who diagnosed his nerve damage and had been given instructions to just “rest.”  I asked Nook – the resident fight-worn veteran trainer of the gym – to take a look at Santino’s leg, to which he nodded as he does and meandered over to his cubby to grab some of the oils he uses to massage his own leg several times per day.  (Nook has a long-standing injury from a motorbike accident that ended his fighting career years ago and he’s always rubbing his leg when he’s not in the ring.)  Nook got to work on Santino’s thigh, just above the knee.  Santino began writhing in pain and letting out silent screams, his mouth wide open as he rocked backwards and squirmed under Nook’s massage.

This is an appropriate response.  Someone brought Santino one of his muscle relaxers and he swallowed it – there isn’t time for it to help, but when I suggested he take off his shirt and bite down on it he was quick to do so.  He was in acute agony. Nook worked on him for a good 30 terrible minutes.  When Santino was released from Nook’s elbows and forearms (his massage tools) you know what happened?  He walked.  He was limping, but he walked around the gym.  And the next day when he came for more massage he didn’t have his crutches; within a week he was training again and not limping at all.

above is an example of Nook’s mode of massage, on an elbow “knot” of mine

For all the “nerve damage” and pills and rest that his medical doctor had prescribed to Santino, he had three weeks – 3 weeks – of being unable to walk.  Within 30 minutes of actually doing something to aid the recovery of his leg, Santino was walking.  His doctor isn’t an idiot by any means – he’s probably not familiar with Muay Thai injuries and the symptoms pointed him toward nerve damage -, but my point here is that “rest” doesn’t really mean anything.  We interpret it as a passive prescription, to just lie inert on a bed and wait for something to change.  Getting the massage from Nook is still resting, but Santino could now walk around and get blood flowing to the leg, taking slow strolls as an active rest.  Nook always looks proud of himself when he helps someone with his massages and points to himself with his thumb and says, triumphantly, “Doc-tor Nook!”  Indeed.  For those of us who see Muay Thai injuries all the time, from training and fighting and in Nook’s case probably thousands of cases, all signs point toward your run-of-the-mill swollen leg.  He knows what to do with it and it’s nothing to get all excited about.  It’s the same with overtraining – it’s nothing so severe as all that, you’re just tired.  Who knows how long Santino might have been on those crutches, just waiting for his leg to get better on its own. I imagine it is even possible that this could have been a very lengthy injury, given the belief that he had nerve damage.  This is what I see when people need to “rest” to avoid overtraining.  What are they actually doing?  Rest does not mean lying inert on a bed.  And it certainly doesn’t mean going out for beers and video games until 3 am. Rest means actively recovering.

The Origins of Overtraining and Ulatramarathon Running

There may be many origins of the myth of overtraining but a central source of it seems to be a 2008 Running Times article (if my Internet sleuthing is correct) that cited Tim Noake’s “Runner’s Bible” The Lore of Running originally written in the late 1980s long before Noakes discovered the Central Governer Theory in 1997. He was an MD then and a long distance runner. The book itself contains some prescriptions that Noakes now renounces, such as advising the high-carbohydrate diet, but it’s the overtraining passages that have became authoritative across the internet and are still being quoted by runner blogs 30 years later. The overtraining lesson talked about there was derived from the discovery of the very concept and symptomatology of overtraining by Bruce Fordyce, who was a runner specialized in the South African 56 mile Comrades Marathon, the world’s oldest ultramarathon.  Fordyce won the race 9 times. As Noakes explains in his latest book, in the 1970s the excepted way of training for this very tough, hilly marathon in May was to begin your training January 1st and train harder and harder, more and more miles, until the race. Fordyce happened to suffer an injury and had his training in this fashion interrupted at length, but he still ran and won the marathon. Thus was born at least one major source of the overtraining story, and the notion that 6-8 weeks was an ideal training length for a major marathon (coincidentally what is now commonly prescribed in so many “fight camps”).

But one has to really see that there are likely worlds of difference between the kinds of grueling, year upon year miles training that marathon, ultramarathon and triatheletes runners do, and the kind of training that even the hardest core Thais do for very long fight seasons, let alone the sporadic peak training that is done in the west for occasional fights, or the 3-6 months of training a committed farang fighter might attempt in Thailand. The picture of training that was born from endless, monotonous training on the road, in preparation for a 2 to 8 hour physical endurance event, was somehow graphed onto training for a 15-25 minute event. And very few people stopped to think of the differences. Fighting a fight is not ultramathon running. It simply is not.

Instead a legion of training specialists (internet and otherwise), coaches armed with degrees, gym owners who had vested interests in convincing their clients that they alone held the recipe for “peak” performance in a variety of science training schedules locked onto the myth of overtraining, onto the picture of it. Training schedules that largely work to convince their subjects/clients more of their limitations in submission to the authority of the schedule and of the sports guru than understanding of themselves. They used it, many of them unconsciously because they themselves are converted believers, to position themselves as irreplaceable influences in the unlocking of your potential… “hacking” the body.  Somehow, someone sold the idea that your greatest potential can be reached through comfort and minimalism.  Know what’s uncomfortable?  Growth.

The concern in all of this is that insofar as overtraining operates as a myth, explaining to you the meaning of all sorts of physical and emotional experiences that come from training hard, repeatedly athletes are being trained in how to deal with and respond to both fatigue and (secretly, importantly) fear. For many the myth has come to interpret and guide the athlete’s inner, experiential world, and as such often sits at the door to her or his human potential.

Sylvie-von-Duuglas-Ittu-Fears-of-Overtraining - Muay Thai Regimines-w1200

Fatigue and Fear – the World of Fighting

A fighter who is convinced that the biggest obstacle to winning and performance is their body is missing the most important thing. The body is the tool, but in the 15-25 minutes of a fight event, if you have trained reasonably hard, it’s not the body that will win the fight. It is the mind. And as much as the body becomes the focus in fight training, peak training, the entire time what is being conditioned is the mind… how it will respond to fatigue, and more importantly fear. One of the major concerns in the impact of the overtraining myth is how it conditions us to respond to and think about our own experience of our own (thought to be) physical limitations. If the symptoms of training very hard start to show – and they will – and are greeted with the immediate thought picture “pull back”, “you’re training too hard”, “don’t overtrain” the result can be less than ideal. The result can be a habit of mind. You can see this in some of the best conditioned athletes who do not perform well on fight day, I think. They feel that they are in very good condition, but when they suddenly encounter unexpected fatigue, fatigue they are not accustomed to in very similar circumstances in training, they can be ill-equipped to mentally deal with the meaning of that fatigue in the context of their abilities. While there is an enormous mental game involved in distance running, the fight game poses very different obstacles to the mind. Not only is there physical taxation, and the mental pressure put upon yourself to perform, it is an agonistic activity. You have an opponent opposite you who, for a very short time, is doing their best to convince you that your doubts about yourself are real. And the main tool your opponent is using is fear. She or he is trying to trigger your fear response – more dangerously your doubt – and likely this is not a state you have acutely trained in frequently. How you handle your fear will largely determine how well you perform.

One of the most interesting things about fear in the fight context is how fear can manifest itself. I’ve cited this quote before in a different article, it’s by Mike Tyson’s founding trainer Cus A’mato. When a fighter starts to be bested, he says, one of the first things she or he will experience is fatigue, instead of their own cowardice. The fighter may go through quick moments of physical panic, and fear flashes, but the reality that sets in is that she or he is tired.

“Fear is the greatest obstacle to learning in any area, but particularly in boxing. For example, boxing is something you learn through repetition. You do it over and over and suddenly you’ve got it. …However, in the course of trying to learn, if you get hit and get hurt, this makes you cautious, and when you’re cautious you can’t repeat it, and when you can’t repeat it, it’s going to delay the learning process…When they…come up to the gym and say I want to be a fighter, the first thing I’d do was talk to them about fear…”

“The next thing I do, I get them in excellent condition….Knowing how the mind is and the tricks it plays on a person and how an individual will always look to avoid a confrontation with something that is intimidating, I remove all possible excuses they’re going to have before they get in there. By getting them in excellent condition, they can’t say when they get tired that they’re not in shape. When they’re in excellent shape I put them into the ring to box for the first time, usually with an experience fighter who won’t take advantage of them. When the novice throws punches and nothing happens, and his opponent keeps coming at him…the new fighter becomes panicky. When he gets panicky he wants to quit, but he can’t quit because his whole psychology from the time he’s first been in the streets is to condemn a person who’s yellow. So what does he do? He gets tired. This is what happens to fighters in the ring. They get tired. This is what happens to fighters in the ring. They get tired, because they’re getting afraid….Now that he gets tired, people can’t call him yellow. He’s just too “tired” to go on. But let that same fighter strike back wildly with a visible effect on the opponent and suddenly that tired, exhausted guy becomes a tiger….It’s a psychological fatigue, that’s all it is. But people in boxing don’t understand that.” …[Heller, 61]

“… However, I should add that at no time does fear disappear. It’s just as bad in the hundredth fight as it was in the first, except by the time he reaches a hundred fights or long before that he’s developed enough discipline where he can learn to live with it, which is the object, to learn to live with it…”

Now think about this and how fighting uniquely connects to the overtraining myth. One of the largest hurdles one faces in a fight may be how you respond not even to fear itself (consciously), but to fatigue. You may find yourself fatigued no matter how conditioned you are. And in fact, if you experience yourself as an extremely conditioned athlete (out there in the gym and on the road), you may be ill-prepared to deal with your fear-generated fatigue. Being mentally prepared to process and overcome your fatigue, right there, on the spot, under duress is very likely one of the most important factors in fight performance. Ultimately one has to ask about the concept of overtraining and how the picture of it affects our experiential response to fatigue. In short, does unexpected fatigue stimulate us to performance, or does it diminish us? And how have we trained this response in our hours and hours of work (and rest).

Gassing Out fears: One of the biggest fears expressed to me by first-time or inexperienced fighters is the fear of gassing out.  I have a friend who is incredibly gifted at Muay Thai, just the picture of talent, and she’s terrified of gassing out in a fight.  Her cardio isn’t great, but she doesn’t work very hard to change that, so the fear remains.  Even so, her fear of insufficient cardio is far greater than the reality of it – it’s actually stifling and keeps her from fighting.  These guys who are afraid of gassing proceed with extreme caution in their fights, trying not to overwork in any single round in order to “save up” for some later time that never has a trigger point.  I remind the newbies that it’s pretty much impossible to be completely spent after only 15 minutes, the length of a fight, if you just remember to breathe.  They train longer than that, regularly.  It’s in the mind, not the body.  In fact, there have been times in fights when I think there’s no way I can lift my arms and yet within a minute or two I’m recovered – that’s not a physical reality to recover that fast, it means the fatigue is a mental trick in the first place.  But I’ve trained to not save anything.  These guys are paralyzed by caution – something that I see a direct parallel to in the cautious approach to not overtraining.  Everyone knows you fight how you train; their fights in which they save and proceed with caution are microcosms of how they’ve trained, always holding back and saving… but for what?  I don’t know.  If there’s ever a time to spend all the pennies, it’s in the ring.

Losing Because of Overtraining: In watching for instance the latest episode of TUF (TUF 19), there was a remarkable event where BJ Penn’s “best conditioned” fighter, who had been doing extra training on his own, early in the show lost a fight he may have been favored in. He appeared to lose it due to fatigue. What could explain this? Well, overtraining of course – certainly not the pressure of an elimination fight! It may have been the edit but after the loss BJ Penn announced to his whole team that they must not train so much, training had to be drawn down, and citing the example of what happened to their best conditioned fighter Penn announced that training would be halved to once per day for everyone. As it was presented this is a perfect example of the overtraining myth at work. The fighter had foolishly pushed his body too hard, had not listened to the coaches. There was no subsequent follow up explanation why BJ Penn’s fighters continued to lose, one by one, despite the overtraining draw down.

Returning to running as an example, Tim Noakes talked about his theory of how second place finishers are specifically targeted by their own experience (and excuse) of fatigue:

I have this really interesting explanation for why an athlete comes second, and particularly if it’s a close race. In my view, the athlete who comes second justifies the performance by producing symptoms which are more severe that they really need to be. “Oh gee, this symptom, I really tried my hardest but I was exhausted.” In fact, that’s a justification.

If you understand that those symptoms are generated by yourself, you realize how you could influence the outcome by believing you want to be more tired that you really are.

 

Given how dramatically the mind will use fatigue to build an experiential argument towards our own inadequacy, and given that in a fight – unlike in an ultramarathon – there is an opponent actively working to stimulate the experience of fatigue (as a symptom of our fear), one of the most important things we as fighters can and should train is our response to and mental pictures of our fatigue. While endurance training can indeed lead in very exceptional cases to lasting physical debilitation, this simply is not the world that a fighter lives and performs in. The harshness of Thai training – and Thais train differently from each other, there is no universal “Thai regimen” although there are strong consistencies – is designed to condition the mind to surpass fatigue over and over again, and to do so without building models of our own limitations that rely on a ready foot on the break. The Thais indeed have established peaks and valleys in training, designed to make sure you are capable of the very important rest needed to recover, but these pictures of the body and the soul are not driven by essential pictures of human limitation. Instead they are touch-and-feel traditions of work, based on the experience of the trainer, conceived to make impervious fighters capable of a huge number of frequent fights (certainly by western standards). Thai trainers indeed can be hypersensitive to work and rest, almost superstitiously so – including the role of sticky rice, or mandatory 2 day pre-fight rest or massage for some – but these are quite different than the western images of human physical limitation, a limitation which ends up functioning as the overall determination of performance. If you could get a fighter into optimum physical condition, you would produce a fighter who would win.

Placebo Effect – Believing in Overtraining

I don’t mean at all to say that belief in overtraining automatically leads to poor performance. In fact I strongly suspect that your belief in your training, no matter the training regime, can enhance your performance. This is the placebo effect. You must believe in your training, and there are elements in the overtraining myth that can make it very believable. It feels very science-like, governed by math-oriented training schedules, supported by social structures of gym and trainer authority. Training under this ubiquitous myth can improve your performance, especially in formal environments. But what I suspect is that for fighters in particular many of the overtraining metaphors and analogies, as they are interpretively experienced in training, can leave you ill-prepared for the adversity that can arise in contested fights. Further though, one might also talk about the possible negative placebo effect, wherein the belief in overtraining gives rise to the symptoms it anticipates, locking in the reality of the model for the athlete. Belief in overtraining, the myth, may produce real symptoms of overtraining itself.

As Ronda Rousey has said, You don’t train to become a champion. You train to become a champion on your worst day. As a fighter you need to spend a lot of time getting familiar with, and experiencing and overcoming what “worst” is. We are not just training our bodies, in fact we are constantly training our minds, our greatest weakness or our greatest strength. I would suggest that if you came out of fight you lost thinking primarily “I overtrained” you are probably not training optimally.

The Takeaway

I’m not trying to write that anyone who doesn’t train at 100% all the time is a loser.  One morning after a particularly difficult run of padwork, Kru Nu kind of made fun of me for being slow and then offered, “No problem.  Body not the same every day.”  Some days you’re awesome and some days not so much, but those days when it’s harder aren’t an error.  They’re a very special and important part of growth.  Everyone has different goals, everyone has different abilities, and everyone has different motivations.  If you’re working a full-time job and training a couple hours per day or even a few sessions per week on top of that, you’re probably already pushing really hard without having to be at the gym 30 hours per week.  What I want the takeaway to be here is that symptoms of fatigue are in your head – they’re as real as you want them to be.  Your body will do what you want it to do.  I hate to see these guys come through the gym with aspirations of working really hard and talking the talk about getting into the grind and then they simply never do.  They talk about overtraining and how they’ve “hacked” tricks to avoid it as if they’re soldiers who survived the front line, when in reality they’re afraid of pushing.  They’re mentally fatigued before they ever really get going and they falsely attribute it to physical excess – which it’s not.  That means you’re tired without having actually done the work.  You’re tired either way.  But if you realize that it’s mental, and that when you rest you are resting as part of training and not in lieu of training, then you can actually push yourself toward whatever goal you’ve dreamed for yourself.

I remember reading an article in a SHAPE magazine (or some similar publication) that described one of the contestants on “The Biggest Loser” being called out of her workout to do the talking-head interviews used in the show.  The contestant was doing box jumps or pullups or something like this and was struggling, so being called into the interview room was probably a relief.  In the article, the trainer of this contestant, Gillian Michaels, told the interviewer or camera man or whoever to wait a minute, to let this contestant finish her set of box jumps or pullups or whatever it was.  “She needs this for her confidence,” Michaels explained.  And the contestant finished the set.  Why this story stuck with me is that it doesn’t matter at all physically whether those two more box jumps were completed – there’s no extra ounce of weight being lost, probably no measurable increase in strength or muscle tear – but the point of finishing was about mentally knowing that she could; for her self-esteem.  That’s what I’m trying to drive home with this long blog post and that’s what pisses me off about all these concern-trolls online who try to control and limit under the guise of “experience” or advice.  I’m pissed off by it because the overarching message seems to be that you are fragile and need to be protected from your ignorance.  The message I want people to be reading over and over again from people who are supposed to be selling “peak performance” is that you are badass!  You should absolutely and primarily believe that you can do incredible things and the only warning that should come with that message is that it’s going to take hard work to get to those achievements.

More than once in Chiang Mai I had the experience of running up Doi Suthep mountain from the gym while a group of newer folks would be driven up to about 1 km from the turnoff point to the waterfall.  So their run was about 4 km, mine was about 10 km.  As these runners were just starting to hit the toughest incline on the way to the waterfall I’d run past them, giving a wave or a tip of the hat.  Sometimes their faces would fall, which is unfortunate.  At the top, with the rushing water in front of us, these runners would catch up to me and, faces flushed, ask me, “how do you do it?”  I know they want a secret-revealing answer, but the simple truth that I always offered was, “I do it every day, that’s all.”  I can do it because I’ve done it before.  I’m not special, I’m not particularly gifted other than that I don’t stop.  At the gym, too, I will sometimes hear (maybe a couple times per month) someone remark how amazing it is that I’m never tired.  To this I always laugh.  Like Bruce Banner being able to turn in to the Hulk at will because he’s always angry, my secret is that I’m always tired.  It just doesn’t mean anything anymore – tired doesn’t mean stop, it’s not an indication that something is wrong or amiss.  It’s like learning to keep working or sit through class or keep taking care of the kids or whatever it is you have to do even though you’re experiencing hunger pangs.  It’s a physical sensation but it can be ignored, postponed, whatever.  And like hunger, you can stop feeling the fatigue.  You still have to eat, eventually, because your body is sending you a signal – so yes, you have to rest when you’re tired but not at that very moment and it’s not a signal that you’re doing damage to yourself.

All this said, I need to get better at my rest also.  Meditating regularly (daily) and getting massages at least once per week would do me a world of good and yet I find myself being “too lazy” to accomplish either on a regular schedule.  As much as I’m advocating working toward increase in training, part of that means working on quality rest and I know I can, and should, do better.  Everything is a work in progress.

Vasbyt – The Importance of Biting Down

Lewis Pugh’s chapter from his book “21 Yaks” is an illustration of what amazing feats the body can accomplish.  Everyone has heard the stories of mothers picking up cars to rescue their trapped children or a man cutting off his own arm to escape being pinned in a cave.  These are extremes and while the body is capable of incredible things, obviously the body isn’t doing these things on a regular basis.  Why this story is so inspirational and important for this post, however, is that Pugh had already learned how to keep going.  It’s not that he was particularly well-rested before this test began.  He’d trained to keep moving forward. “Peak Performance” is not all the conditions being right, but rather you being able to perform to the best of your ability, given any conditions.

Lewis Pugh - 21 Yaks and a Speedo

click to shop Lewis Pugh’s much recommended book

 

“When you start feeling sorry for yourself, it’s all over.”

 

It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to be left on the mountain to die, but it’s a moment you never forget. I was lying on an exposed slope with a busted knee on the wildest, wettest Welsh night in living memory. The sleet was coming in sideways. It was freezing cold, and my colleagues on the final test of the Special Air Service (SAS) selection course had just abandoned me to my fate. As I watched their backs disappear into the black night I wanted to curse them, but I was too exhausted.

The Afrikaans word vasbyt is so expressive, and we don’t have an equivalent in the English language. It means bite down hard. Don’t quit. Keep on going! And because of the physical nature of what I do I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve had to vasbyt. But that gruelling final run on the SAS Test Week is the one I remember most vividly.

My father was a military man, and I had dreamed of serving in the British Army ever since I was a young boy. But even before I ended up sheltering in that ditch, my prospects had not looked good. The SAS selection course is tough; on my first attempt, I failed to make the 24-hour cut-off time on the very last day after sustaining a knee injury, and I got very sick on the second try. Now I was over 30 years old, and I had been given a third chance. I was, to my knowledge, the first person in 60 years to be given such an opportunity to become an SAS reservist. So I knew this attempt really would be my last. 

The final day of Test Week took place in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. It was an 80km run over marshy and mountainous terrain, carrying over 30kg on your back and a rifle in your hand. It’s called Endurance – for good reason. The cut-off time was 24 hours. It sounds easy enough, but it came after a week of non-stop running and just a few hours of sleep. We had started the week with over 100 recruits , and less than half remained . This night they would drop like ninepins.

My feet were badly blistered and I had been struggling all week with my right knee. Add to that the appalling weather conditions. It was midwinter and the rain that week had been the heaviest locals could remember. There were observers from a Scandinavian Special Forces unit with us who said it was the coldest night they had ever experienced. When soldiers from that part of the world tell you that, you know it’s cold ! It was a wet cold , with pouring rain, howling wind, and driving sleet and snow. The wind chill makes it feel much colder than the dry Arctic cold. And rumours that the training staff might cancel Endurance due to the severity of the weather proved to be unfounded.

This was not my first time in the Brecon Beacons . Besides the fact that I’d attempted the course twice before, I had spent many pleasant days hiking there. I had family in the area (my parents are both Welsh), and just a few months earlier my mother had come out from South Africa for a visit. We’d spent some wonderful days in the nearby Erwood Valley watching chestnut-coloured red kites, recently brought back from the brink of extinction , soaring above us. We had marvelled at the beauty of the place and at the resilience of the environment and its species when proper measures are taken to protect them.

The mountains were a very different place the night of Endurance. At 5pm we were over halfway through the route , and time was of the essence. It was getting dark fast and the snow and the sleet were driving into our faces. However, because I was familiar with the area, I knew some sheep tracks for getting around some of the more difficult parts, and was able to save valuable time . I was with about eight other recruits at this point, and more than once they thanked me for getting them through the boggy spots.

We’d just made it to the summit of Cadair Berwyn and begun our descent to Lake Gwyn when my knee suddenly gave out. I’d been managing it with a combination of anti-inflammatories and painkillers. But when I felt it buckle underneath me I knew I was in deep trouble. Even through the analgesics, it felt as if someone had driven a six-inch nail through the outside of my right leg. ‘Guys,’ I screamed, ‘my knee has gone! Give me a minute to get some food and painkillers into me.’

Now, the instructions we’d been given at the beginning of Test Week were clear: if one of your fellow recruits goes down, you stop and make sure they’re OK before you move on and get help. Put up a bivouac, get some food into them – but do not leave them until they are 100% safe. Hypothermia has killed more than a few SAS recruits over the years. Any time spent helping a colleague would be subtracted from your finishing time , so there would be no penalty. As my exhausted comrades contemplated my situation, I could see the cogs moving in their collective brain. They were desperately tired, and worried about the time limit. Hypothermia might also have muddled their thinking. ‘Sorry, pal,’ a Scottish recruit eventually spoke for all of them. ‘We can’t afford to wait in this storm.’ So much for the buddy who had guided them around the bogs and showed them the short cuts. I had just become a burden, and I was being abandoned.

As I watched them disappear into the dark night, the terror came over me. I had been left on the side of the mountain in freezing conditions. Snow had already begun building up around me. The last rendezvous point was a kilometre back up the mountain, and no one would be able to hear my calls for help above the noise of the storm. I was not sure I had the strength even to crawl back up the mountain. I was in a life-or -death situation.

I crawled into a ditch for shelter and took some food and some painkillers. The combination of sheer exhaustion and the cold made me drowsy, and I fought the urge to sleep. In those conditions, once you lie down it is very difficult to get up and get going again. Hypothermia was threatening, and that would be the end of me. My choice was stark and simple: move or die.

That cold realisation was like a shot of adrenaline. I managed to lever myself upwards, used my weapon as a walking stick (a punishable offence, but what choice did I have?) and continued down the mountain.

I still had 25km to go, and I knew I was now well behind time. It took me over an hour and a half to stumble and slide down that mountain. I fell on the icy path dozens of times; I just had to get up and carry on. In the SAS the instructors always say: ‘Self-pity is a weak man’s emotion.’ They are not wrong. When you start feeling sorry for yourself, it’s all over.

Once I was off the mountain, I still had another eight hours to go, including the infamous VW (Voluntary Withdrawal) Valley – so called because so many recruits have given up in it. But some words of encouragement from an officer at the rendezvous point spurred me on. Eventually I caught up with some of the recruits who had left me behind. One of them had already succumbed to hypothermia and had dropped out. Of the original eight, only one would make it to the end. I didn’t know this then, as I continued on, alone.

The temptation to give up was there throughout those last gruelling kilometres. But I remembered what Winston Churchill famously said: ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’ So I made a deal with myself. Whenever I thought of quitting, I would just ask myself a simple question: ‘Lewis, can you take just one more step?’ If the answer was yes, then I would take it.

I asked myself that question many times. And each time I took that next step, swinging my damaged right leg stiffly along beside me. ‘You cut that fine, Pugh!’ the Training Officer said when I crossed the finish line. ‘Twenty-three hours and 58 minutes.’ I’d made it, just two minutes before the final cut-off time.

I’ve that course in my mind many times over the years. It was the first time I experienced how powerful the mind can be when focused on a goal. As Nietzsche said, if you have a why you can bear almost any how. I had my why in my long-held dream of serving in the British Special Forces. That dream gave me the strength to withstand the how, to grit my teeth, to vasbyt, and to keep on going.

When you come to the end of your resources, when you feel utterly beaten and exhausted, ask yourself, ‘Can I take just one more step?’ If the answer is yes, take it. As sure as the sun will rise in the morning, you will get through the challenge, one way or another. And you’ll have the rest of your days to remember how you did it.

excerpted from: Pugh, Lewis (2013-05-15). 21 Yaks and a Speedo – How to Achieve Your Impossible. Our Blue Future. Kindle Edition.

Lewis Pugh - 21 Yaks and a Speedo

click to see Lewis Pugh’s 21 Yaks and a Speedo

 

Some Internet Reference and Context

1) What is Fatigue? by Alex Hutchinson in The New Yorker. This short article does a good job of positioning the debate and focuses on recent study by Samuele Marcora of the University of Kent’s Endurance Research Group which demonstrated explicit and subsconcious connections between motivation and “time to exhaustion”.

2) “8 Signs You Are Overtraining” by Mark Sisson of Marksdailyapple.com  Mark is the spearhead of the wildly successful Primal Blueprint, which is in line with Paleo and Crossfit and Barefoot Running.  Mark is also against endurance cardio as a method of staying fit, arguing that there is scientific evidence that endurance exercise results in long-term damage to the cells of the body.  That said, he does appreciate that people do marathons and long cycling races for sport and for the love of it.  To put it succinctly, anything more than sprinting a few times per week and lifting “heavy things” here and there is likely to result in “overtraining.” ()

3) Men’s Fitness “12 Signs You’re Overtraining”
Anything more than 5 hours per week in the gym.  Altered resting heart rate, being super thirsty and muscle soreness are the first three.  All three of those are pretty typical results from training at all, so I guess the moral here is that you might need an expert to read back to you whether or not these totally common symptoms are actually nefarious.

4) Experience Life has a different take with “Overtraining: Myths, Facts and Fantasies”  I like the approach that it’s at least CONCEIVABLE that you’re undertraining or training too irregularly for what you’re trying to achieve in your workouts.  Went to the gym twice and then didn’t perform well at a 5K race?  Maybe, just MAYBE it’s undertraining.  This article has case studies to illustrate different, fairly common scenarios.

5) The Fitness Elite “The Overtraining Myth” takes a look at the prevalence of overtraining from the standpoint of 1) selling magazines, and 2) taking into account your fitness goals. Certainly it’s meaningful to consider the difference in “overtraining” between an after-work elliptical fan and a bodybuildier, for example.

6) Muay Thai Guy’s “Overtraining and Muay Thai” This post describes author Sean Fagan’s personal experience with overtraining and the symptoms he has attributed to the phenomenon, which by his account is somewhat inevitable.  He admits that he doesn’t participate in the full training regimen of most gyms in Thailand, although he also implies that not being Thai is a reasonable explanation for the standard workout being too demanding on the western body. He has stated that he has the goal of fighting at and winning in both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums this year.  I do appreciate that he reiterates a few times that one ought to “try and see” what their own abilities are, and does break down some tips on how to avoid overtraining when in Thailand.

7) Fightland’s “An American in Thailand: The Lure of Overtraining” by Lindsey Newhall.  Lindsey gives a run-down of an average range of weekly hours for training (24-36) if training full-time on the gym’s schedule and offers some insight into the breaks that Thai fighters take here and there, to heal injuries, to rest, or surrounding fights.  Her personal insight is into the guilt she feels about NOT training and so she feels compelled to go even when she believes her body needs the rest.  She also echoes a sentiment I see from a few other folks on Facebook that trainers don’t give much quarter to a student who is struggling to complete the demanded set of kicks, for example.  This is a cultural thing, for sure – Thais simply do not “show” how hard they’re working, even if it’s really, really hard.  Westerners just let that all hang out.

I’m quoted in this article, although the editor disappointingly clipped my statement to read as if my training made me ill, rather than what I’d actually said, which is that I had fought while sick and was now taking an extra day or two of rest than I normally would have after a fight in order to get well.  Training camps are fantastic vector-points for colds and flus, with travelers moving through with different germ sets and close contact with training partners on a regular basis.  It’s like how teachers are prone to colds from exposure to their students – they’re not “over working,” they’re just working under conditions where it’s very easy to pick up some germs. My account was edited to present something of an overtraining picture.

8). “The Myth of Overtraining” on Ironmanmagazine.com – which raises the conceptual difference between “overtraining” and “overreaching” in the context of body building, specifically how a weight lifter strategically can overreach in training for an extended period of time to slingshot themselves to a higher level of performance. I’m not a weight lifter so I cannot comment, but it does point to the very broad over application of the term and the fears it gives rise to.

Reference – My Current Schedule

I’m placing my current training schedule to give readers a grounded reference point. Here is this woman talking about training and overtraining, well what does she do? I’m actually training harder and longer now in Pattaya than I was in Chiang Mai I think, where I trained and fought for my first two years, but this is where I’m at. I don’t consider this a particularly hard training schedule, as far as training goes, but it is very hard experientially, with one rest day a week.  It pushes me and I feel myself getting better and stronger, and while this schedule is not shared by anyone I train with it certainly is not, for me, “over training.” For those who don’t follow me, it is my mission and passion to fight 100 fights in Thailand before I leave here some time in 2015. At present time I’ve fought 72 since arriving in April of 2012. I train the way I do in large measure because training at high levels like this I believe is the number one way to prevent injury in the kind of accelerated fight schedule I’m attempting. You simply harden yourself. There may be many people who train much harder than this, longer runs for instance may be common, but this right now is my level.

7:00: 6 k run
8:45 – 9:15: arrive at Petchrungruang Gym. 10 minutes of shadow, begin my 5 rounds on the bag (4 min), until Kru Nu calls me in.
9:15 – 9:30: 3-4 rounds of pads (3-4 min).
9:30 – 10:30: 100 kicks monitored by Kru Nu, 100 teeps, 300 knees, a “play knees” round (taught to me by Sakmongkol). Finish my 5 rounds (whatever is left). 10 minutes of shadow and 250-500 shadow blocks. Clinch pulls ups, standard pullups, squats, 150-200 situps
11:00 – 12:00: make and eat breakfast, catch up on Internet communications
12:00 – 3:30: nap time
3:30 – 3:45: Pack up gear for afternoon training
3:45: Leave for Petchrungruang
4:00 – 5:00: 5 min of shadow, work through my 5 rounds on the bag (4 min), 300 knees, a “play knees” round, 10 minutes of shadow 250-500 shadow blocks, Clinch pulls ups, standard pullups, squats, yes-no-maybes, 150-200 situps.
5:00 – 5:45: clinching, man-in-the-middle with various Thai boys, sometimes a few rounds of sparring.
5:45 – 6:00: drive over to O. Meekhun Gym where PhetJee Jaa and her family is.
6:30 – 7:00: 5 rounds of padwork with Sangwan, Phetjee Jaa’s father (5 min).
7:00 – 7:45: 3x 15 minute clinch rounds, with PhetJee Jaa and her brother Mawin – each of us the man in the middle per round.
7:45 – 8:00: A long sparring round with PhetJee Jaa (a few times a week).
8:15 – 9:00: come home get ready, 7 km run
9:00 – 11:10: Do laundry, make or go out to dinner. Catch up on electronic communications, maybe write a blog post, watch some shows/movies on the computer with Kevin. Tea or snack if I can muster it.
11:00-12:00: fall asleep.

Read All My Articles on Overtraining

 [Update 1/4/2015 – we shot a 25 minute film of where my typical 6 days a week training day had evolved to:]

Here is a post talking about training in Thailand, and the film.

The topic of Overtraining has been opened on the Roundtable forum.

You can support this content: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu on Patreon
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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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