The ideology seems simple: the more you train, the better you become. In an ideal and perfect world, you will train every day, 365 days a year and you will become the best you can ever be. But in this world of ours that is far from being ideal, with our imperfect bodies, is training every day feasible? Is it beneficial? Or is it actually detrimental?
Earlier in May, I went back training after a month out from the gym due to a rib injury. It felt immensely good to be back after the hiatus and I was training with such fervour I ended up at the gym every day. This lasted for about 3 weeks before I had to give myself a break as I was experiencing severe fatigue and had developed cold symptoms. Wait, isn’t exercise supposed to give us more energy and make us healthier?
After checking with a personal trainer friend and several online sources, it appears to be early stages of overtraining.
What is Overtraining?
As the name implies, overtraining means to train beyond what the body can handle or recover timely from. It is a well known syndrome in almost every sports and very common in bodybuilding, long distance running and high intensity training such as Muay Thai. These activities place a high amount of stress on the body, so when combined with overzealousness, can easily lead to overtraining.
The consequences of overtraining -if not remedied early- can be severe. Lethargy and exhaustions are just the tip of the iceberg. In severe cases, overtraining can even lead to chronic heart, blood vessels and diseases of other organs when the body cannot cope with the high levels of stress.
Signs of Overtraining
If you are skipping training because you feel lazy or mildly sore from yesterday’s sparring, you may just need to get off your butt and train some more. So then how do you know if you are overtraining? Watch out for early symptoms and nip them at the bud before it deteriorates. Here are some signs to look out for:
Prolonged or Acute Muscle Soreness: It is normal to experience muscle soreness for for 1 to 3 days after training. Most muscle soreness are manageable and you will be able to continue with training. Your performance may be affected when you train but this is all part of the process of getting stronger. If it extends beyond the third day with no sign of improvement, it is a sign that the muscles are not getting sufficient rest for proper recovery. And if there is an acute muscle pain of any sort, then you may want to rest it off for a couple of days to prevent it from exacerbating.
Chronic Fatigue: Studies have shown that regular exercise increases energy levels. But when you keep feeling fatigue and lethargy with constant dips in your energy levels, you may need to go easy with the training frequency. Constant feeling of fatigue can affect a person’s quality of life.
Frequent Sickness: Insufficient rest can result in a lowered immunity. If you find yourself catching a cold and falling sick more, it’s definitely a big sign for you to take a break. Overtraining causes the stress hormones to increase which in turn causes a drop in the number of immune cells. Upper respiratory tract infections are particularly common as a result of overtraining. Heed your body’s warning signals and take a break when it’s needed. (See related article: “Training Muay When Sick”)
Injury-Prone: Overtraining leads to a drop in performance and you are more likely to get injured when you train in a weakened state. At the same time, if you have injuries that are not adequately rehabilitated, training can aggravate it and cause potentially serious damage. Any way you look at it, injuries are cues for you to go easy on yourself. (See related article: “Beginner Muay Thai Training Injuries”)
How to Avoid Overtraining
How many days do you clock in at the Muay Thai gym every week? What is the optimal amount of hours to train per week? Unfortunately, there is no one single formula to follow as our bodies are all different. It is surely not logical to compare a twenty year old body to a forty year old. It is also more plausible for someone who has been training for years to put in more hours at the gym compared to someone just starting in the combat sport. Ultimately, it all boils down to listening to your body. Additionally, it is paramount to give your body the nutrition it needs. Here are some rules you can follow to avoid or reduce the risk of overtraining.
Rule Number 1: Prevention is better than cure
It is tempting to try to emulate the full-time fighters and rev up your training frequency and intensity to their levels. But for many of them, it can take years to build up to their levels of training along with the guidance of a professional trainer. If you are just starting out, incrementally build up the frequency at which you train.This allows you to gradually adapt to the rigours of Muay Thai without overtraining. Fools rush in. Slowly up your game rather than dive straight into the dangerous territories of overtraining.
Rule Number 2: Get sufficient rest and sleep
As an adult, you need a recommended 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep everyday. Adequate sleep is also vital for muscle repair. In fact, muscles grow not when you train but rather, when you rest. If you aren’t resting enough, it’s hard to get stronger. And when you don’t get enough rest, it’s just logical that you feel more fatigue and restless. Try and make it a habit of getting sufficient and good quality sleep. The more you train, the more rest you will need.
Rule Number 3: Stay hydrated
Water is vital for proper functioning of the body. If you have been training hard at the gym, you need to be getting at least 2-3 litres (and more) of water daily. A strenuous Muay Thai training session always leads to ample perspiration. Insufficient hydration on a consistent basis can lead to chronic dehydration with effects such as fatigue, digestive disorders, joint pain, and even high blood pressure. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks are best avoided. Go for pure drinking water.
Rule Number 4: Eat right
Food is your main source of fuel. You should ensure that you are getting the right amount of energy especially when you are engaged in a high intensity sport like Muay Thai. If you haven’t been eating enough and eating right, it’s time to make some changes to your diet. A balanced and nutritious diet will provide you with the energy for training and aid in muscle recovery. (See related article: “Foods to eat before Muay Thai”)
Training in Thailand
At the Muay Thai gyms in Thailand, it is common for fighters to train twice a day, 6 days a week. The intensive schedule includes runs prior to the training sessions and each session lasts about 2-3 hours. The training is intense and encompasses all aspects of a competitive training program from techniques to strengthening and conditioning. In between the morning and afternoon training, the fighters indulge in an essential nap to recuperate. Then comes Sunday (typically), and everyone takes the day off. The hardworking Thais understand that rest is as important as training. You simply can’t keep pushing your body to its limits everyday without giving it time to heal.
It is safe to establish that training Muay Thai everyday is not a norm. At least not with the same, high level of intensity of a typical Muay Thai training every day. While we all continually challenge ourselves on this path of self-betterment, it is beneficial in the long term to be aware of the perils of overtraining.
As inspiring as it seems to train with the kind of commitment that pro fighters do, it can takes years to build up to that level of intensity. Everyone is built differently, and you need to figure out what works best for your body. Even a top level fighter like Saenchai or Buakaw takes a day off every week from training. There is a Chinese saying, “To rest is to prepare for the longer journey ahead”. Train hard, but understand that rest is just as important as training.