Friday, July 21, 2017

The Importance of Breaks

When you’re 50, physical activity gets very interesting. Training as hard as you can feels great and anything you can do to build muscle is a good long-term investment in an old body. On the other hand, I see people who end up with stress and overuse injuries that end up taking a long, long time to recover. While I have not had any major injuries (seriously knocking on wood here) since I started Krav Maga about two and half years ago, I am very much aware of the possibility of injury and potential loss of fitness that could arise from a forced recovery period that takes longer than a few weeks. 
What my millennial training partners see. Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Almost all of the serious injuries I have seen in others are related to some sort of overuse or overtraining. I’d even posit that most of the minor injuries I’ve seen (or sustained) due to accidents have their roots in overly exhausted training partners. In many cases they are the result of not being in good condition to start with and then amping up to 110% in a stressful training drill.

Now that I have a decent base of fitness, I am going to be more mindful of how I train. I’ve observed that during particularly hard weeks, sometimes my control falters during drills and will execute poorly on techniques that I usually have down cold. I also noticed that after a few intense weeks of training, especially now that I have added weight training and bicycle commuting into the mix, that I would be very low energy, irritable, have disrupted sleep and often I’d get colds or some other malaise that would cause me to sleep late or otherwise miss workouts. 

Right around every three to four weeks of hard training, I would often crater in my willpower and sit on the couch watching Netflix, eating crap food and feeling sorry for myself. I’d still exercise on an abbreviated schedule, but my form would be sketchy and I’d be riddled with self-doubt. I hate skipping workouts and I have a couple of “all you can eat” memberships at gyms, and just like similarly styled buffets, something in my background leads me to take those as challenges to see just how much I can consume. But keeping track of workouts has helped me think it through. 
The number of hours exercised weekly in the past year. You can see a pretty steady progression as well as some cycles. The big upward spike was the week of the Level 2 belt test with 12 hours in one day. The big downward spike was when I was in New Mexico right after my Dad got seriously ill.
There is a general pattern of peaks and valleys when plotted out. You can also see that over time, the amount of time I spend exercising is increasing. I averaged 7.5 hours a week of workouts in 2016 and I’m averaging about 9.3 this year. I’m happy with my general fitness and a minimum of two times a week of weight training. I’ve gotten a little bigger and hopefully that is more muscle to hold on to before I’m seriously old like these people.   
I could probably take these happy old grapplers. Photo by Lotte Meijer on Unsplash

It is clear that a regular break is good and actually helps me get stronger. Not only does the recovery time also help me think about a bigger and possibly happier world than blocking knives, kicking groins and punching faces, but I’m probably most at risk for a debilitating injury when I’m fatigued by over training. I just started a little bit of reading on “deload” weeks and it sounds like everyone’s peaks and valleys are a little different depending on age and overall fitness. In the past, my work and travel schedule tended to force breaks, but then I discovered that most of the Krav Maga Worldwide affiliated gyms will honor my membership and are also very welcoming, so I rarely have to miss a workout wherever I am.

I’m going to start scheduling my breaks more thoughtfully. This week I’ll probably exercise hard for about five hours at most and I may even do less on the next break cycle. I’m (mostly) not sitting on the couch eating crap food and watching Netflix, though. I’m taking hour long walks with my associate and trying to make myself do 30 minutes of mobility work every day. I hate stretching, but I know I need to do it. I’m reminded of it every time I get up from a chair or reach around to scratch my back. I’m also getting a side benefit of being super excited to go back to class after the break, a little fresher and hopefully happier and with a better attitude as well.