Whenever I post something online about the importance of rest and recovery, I always get at least one comment claiming that rest makes us weak as martial artists.

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I used to have this mentality. When I started karate, I had a reasonable training schedule. I’d train 3 nights per week at the dojo, with at least one night off in between classes. This was a great schedule for me. It allowed me to progress, but it also gave me enough time for recovery in between workouts. I was also training at home every day, but not at the same intensity level as in class, so I was able to sustain this schedule for quite awhile.

But then… I decided to up the ante. About 6 months after I started karate, I started training in two other martial arts at the same dojo: Kobudo and Japanese Jujitsu. I was still only there 3 nights per week, but each night I was now there for double the time. 3 karate classes per week, followed by one Kobudo class and two Jujitsu classes. By this point I was used to the karate training, so it didn’t take long to adjust to this new training load.

But then… I upped the ante again. I joined the tournament team. So this was a tournament every month or two, as well as an intense 4-hour training session one weekend per month. Plus all the rest of it. So 3 nights per week at the dojo, with back-to-back classes, plus daily training at home. And it did take a bit to adjust, but I eventually got used to this new routine.

But then… I wanted more. I was training for a tournament, and I was going to be performing a team kata with two other people. One of the members of our group had a weird work schedule, and with my current training schedule (3 nights per week) we wouldn’t be able to get much practice in for the tournament. So I and the other team member decided to show up at the dojo every night (5 nights per week) so that we could train with the third team kata member at every available opportunity. So I went from 3 nights per week to 5 at the dojo, plus daily sessions at home. So that was 5 nights per week of karate classes, one kobudo class per week, two Jujitsu classes per week, tournament team practices once per month, tournaments every month or two, and daily training at home.

And for awhile, I was able to sustain this with no problems. But then… I started seeing signs of training burnout.

Exhaustion. Illness. Injury. Slower recovery. Low energy. Lack of drive. Poor sleep. I was overtraining and it all caught up to me.

It did take awhile though. I was really fit when I started martial arts, so I think it took longer to catch up to me than if I hadn’t been used to a regular and fairly intense training routine. And each new thing I added, I did give myself time to adjust. But eventually I reached my limit. And that’s when all those symptoms of burnout started.

If I had been smart, I would have prioritized rest and recovery. But I had this mindset that doing so would set me back. I’d lose progress; I’d get behind; I’d become weak. I also adored training all the time like that; it was so much fun for me. So I felt really reluctant to give up something that made me so happy.

So I never took time off. The day after a belt test: I’d be back at it. The day after a tournament: I’d be back at it. The day after an injury: I’d be right back at it. I’d modify for injury or illness, but I never wanted a day off. Ever.

And training burnout was the result. And all of my concerns that taking breaks would make me weak resulted in me actually becoming weaker. Overtraining made me weaker. All of the benefits of that training schedule were obliterated by training at my limits for far too long.

Think of a sprint vs a marathon. That sprint mentality—push through as hard and fast as you can—works very well for a short duration. But for a marathon, a sprint mentality does not work.

I had that sprint mentality for that team kata. I knew we needed to train hard and as much as possible in order to do well in that tournament. And training at that level would have been totally reasonable up until the tournament. My mistake, I think, was in not cutting back after the tournament was over. Even if 5 nights per week was my new normal, I would have been smart to cut back on classes for a period of time after each tournament. So hard training, then tournament, then recover. Sprint, recover. That would have been a much smarter and more sustainable training routine.

And that burnout wasn’t great, but it did teach me something valuable: I become aware of what my limits actually are so that I don’t push myself too hard for too long again.

We want to be tough as martial artists. We want to perform well and be good at our art. But the best way to do that is to create a training plan that is sustainable for the long term, not to push ourselves to the point of burnout. We do want those hard sessions to see what we’re capable of, and pushing ourselves will help us perform far better at belt tests and tournaments. But rest and recovery need to be part of that plan too. And the combination of all of those—hard training plus sufficient rest and recovery—is what allows us to perform well not just for the short term, but for life.

Podcast Show Notes

There’s a viewpoint online that taking breaks makes us weak as martial artists. But this mindset can cause far more harm than good. Join me in this episode in a discussion of training burnout. I talk about my own experience with overtraining in karate, and the importance of devising a training routine that is far more balanced and sustainable.

Thank you for joining me on my martial arts journey, and in the exploration of all the ways we can perform better in life and martial arts.

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You’re reading Training Burnout in Martial Arts by Sabrina Bliem, originally posted on The Karate Shrimp. If you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to follow The Karate Shrimp on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!