Combat sports have so many athletic qualities and technical and tactical skills demanding attention, that training opportunities are inexhaustible! But, is fighter performance training healthy?

In truth, the objectives are different when either training for health or training for optimal fighter performance – even if both walk hand-in-hand for part of the journey.

There’s a tipping point, leading to divergent paths when the need for short-term performance in competition outweighs the need for long-term health.

by Don Heatrick
@donheatrick

Peak Fighter Performance vs Optimal Health

In this episode we explore balancing training for peak fighter performance while also maintaining good health. Because optimal health and peak fitness are not one and the same.

Not enough fitness is certainly unhealthy, but pushing beyond the sweet spot into extreme fitness (or peak performance) starts to cause problems too.

Where general fitness levels can constantly remain relatively high, peak fitness is a temporary window that can’t be held forever, or even beyond a week typically! Attempting to train for peak fitness for too long will see fitness (and health) fall off a cliff.

Optimal Health vs Peak Fighter Performance

If we think of optimal health as being the most reliable, robust version of yourself, able to deliver the most consistent physical and mental output over the longest possible lifetime… Then peak fighter performance is delivering the most skillful, most strongest, explosive, and relentless performance in your next fight, and hang the consequences!

Pain is temporary, glory is forever, right?

It’s clear that short-term gain can lead to long-term loss. It’s important not to just burn bright for a short time, only to either prematurely cut a competitive career short or remain burned out and broken for the remainder of your days!

And with a little thought, we can exploit the best of both reliable, repeatable short-term peaking and long-term health or awesomeness.

I see many fighters stuck in a cycle of fight camps that simply aim to get back to the fitness peak they achieved before their last fight, instead of building up beyond the last peak. The difference is one of either going around in a fitness circle, or continually stepping performance ever upward.

Fighter Performance Gap

It‘s useful to think of ourselves as a special kind of battery that can improve its performance over time. One that can be developed to produce even more charge, and for even longer. But, only if we not only progressively push our training higher, but critically we recharge our energy properly too.

Wasting your energy on activities that don’t improve your performance, or that continually leave your battery flat when you need it, isn’t helpful.

It may feel hardcore, but it’s uncessary wear and tear and leads you away from sustainable progress and into unsustainable breakdown.

Sustainable progress builds ever higher performance levels, whereas unsustainable breakdown leads to a boom and bust cycle, doomed to merely match the same performance peak as last time and an unhealthy level of wear and tear on your body.

In a recent coaching call, one of my online clients commented that now he had added strength and conditioning to his practice, that coming to Taekwondo competition later in life had him at an advantage in senior contests over those that had been training since they were young (because others had now accumulated injuries and joint problems that he hadn’t).

Personally, I’m also at an age where I’m reaping the effects of a misspent youth!

In the past, I overused movement patterns and lacked a balanced training structure. And although it went unnoticed at the time, now my body reminds me that my shoulder is worn from excessive overarm throwing, and that my hips have also had more than their fair share of extreme range of motion and high repetition. 

None of this is serious at all, and I’m still functioning well above my age matched peers. But, knowing what I know now, and applying that 30 years ago, could have seen me even more capable than I am now. I did the best with what I had at the time, but it’s crazy to consider how much human performance science has evolved in 30 years and now better informs physical training.

We know far more about both what helps and what hinders performance, both in the short-term and over the long-term too.

I mention ageing as an acid test of training practices that have either proved to be productive or not over the longer-term. However, being the most productive in your training is equally important when you’re in your prime too! It’s just as painful to consider all that wasted effort I spent working hard going in the wrong directions!

And for us fighters, effort is part of the culture and often misused. We get caught up in our passion for the sport, which ultimately drives a real personal purpose. And when we manage to balance the optimal amount of work needed to progress the quickest with the amount of work we can physically tolerate, at this point, our activities are sustainable and everything is good.

But fuelled by a fighter’s culture, it’s easy to tip beyond passion and purpose into obsession and burnout. Now our activities aren’t sustainable and things don’t look good, either in the short-term, or when you graduate in the long-term.

Being supremely fit often isn’t healthy. However, although both peak fitness and optimal health may start pushing in opposite directions on an overlapping spectrum, well-managed training can see you sustainably achieving both.

In my next video, I’ll delve into just how you can achieve this, whatever level you train or compete at.

Heads up, here’s your chance to save money and work with me on your fight performance…

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Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

Follow Don Heatrick on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donheatrick/

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