Fighters burnout all the time. Hobbyists, amateurs, and pros alike must learn how to balance high intensity fight training with adequate recovery, to not only peak on fight night, but to optimise long term fight performance and health too.

We all have a training “Goldilocks zone” that boosts our performance without sending us into either overtraining burnout, or injury blowout. Spoiler alert, this zone is a moving target!

But there are tricks of the trade you can use to plan your training just right. And the same principles apply regardless if you’re balancing the demands of work, family and friends alongside either a full time fight career, an enthusiastic Muay Thai hobby, or anything in between.

by Don Heatrick

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Avoiding Overtraining Burnout And Injury Blowout

In this episode I’ll break down exactly how to personalise your own training workload to not only make the quickest progress, but also drastically reduce your odds of breaking yourself in the process too.

We’ll start by looking at how much training is needed to make you better. We know that too little training is ineffective. If the combination of training intensity and quantity is too low for you, your body ISN’T stimulated enough to bother adapting (getting fitter). Because your body can already cope, it won’t change.

When you only just break this threshold, your body WILL change to better cope with this kind of training stress in the future – you become fitter. You’ve reached the ideal minimum training dose. The sweet spot, with just enough training to make you better, without either increasing risk of injury or illness, or wasting progress by jumping steps that will cause your development to stall in the future. This is the most sustainable and effective level of training you can achieve.

Avoiding burnout minimum effective training dose

Pushing above the minimum training dose becomes increasingly less effective AND less sustainable. You’re wasting effort and heading into an early training plateau, where others, with more patience, will continue climbing. Not only that, but your risk of injury shifts into the danger zone too!

This training sweet spot, or “Goldilocks” zone, is unique to you, and moves up or down depending on your level of activity. For example, if you’ve recently taken a break from training due to illness, injury, holidays, or whatever, your training momentum has reduced.

Understanding Training Momentum & Avoiding Burnout

Training momentum is my own term, and I’ll explain what I mean…

It’s like riding a bike up a hill. If you’re already rolling and built momentum, you can pedal along in a higher gear, no problem! But if you need to stop, then trying to start off in the same gear isn’t going to be the best idea. Changing down to a lower gear will see you getting back up to speed again the quickest (and safest).

The same is true of your athletic training. You’ve either built up momentum, and can successfully use higher training intensities and longer durations, or you need to build that training momentum up.

But how much training is too low and ineffective, and how much training is too much and wasting long-term progress and increasing risk of injury and burnout? Where is the most effective, most sustainable sweet spot for you?! 

Just like cycling up the hill, it depends on how much “training momentum” you have. And I have a trick for determining what your momentum currently is and how hard to push your training to hit your sweet spot.

We can think of your current week’s training load as being the combination of how intense your sessions are, how long those sessions are, and how many sessions you had that week. And we can think of your training momentum as the rolling average of this weekly load over the last 4 weeks.

Comparing next week’s training load to the training momentum (the rolling average over the previous 4 weeks) will tell you all you need to know.

Avoid burnout managing training load vs training momentum

Researchers Blanch and Gabbett call this the acute:chronic workload ratio, and they’ve determined both how much training is too little and too much, both resulting in the highest probability of injury.

As I said in the previous video, too little training leaves your body less capable of handling physical challenges without injury or illness, and too much training leaves you too worn out to handle challenges either. Either way, performance and health will both suffer.

It turns out that if this week’s training load is either below 80% of the training momentum your body has become used to over the previous 4 weeks of training, or above 130% of it, then your risk of injury increases significantly. And at 150%, you enter the danger zone, where the risk far outweighs any possible reward.

Avoid burnout using acute chronic ratio

Quantifying Burnout Risk

It makes sense, but how can you quantify training to this extent? I’ll share with you how I do this for the clients I work with online…

First I plan each session’s average target intensity on a RPE (rate of perceived effort) scale of between 1 to 10. “1” being so easy you can do it all day, every day, and “10” being flat-out maximal, like you could die any second!

I do this for every session in the program – resistance training, cardio conditioning training, and Muay Thai training. And I also note down how long those sessions are in minutes.

Multiplying the RPE intensity score by the number of minutes gives me a training impulse (or TRIMP) score, which quantifies the training load and how tiring that session is likely to be.

Quantifying Training Load to Avoid Burnout

By totalling those all up for the week, and comparing that to the rolling average of the previous 4 weeks, I can ensure the program is shooting at the sweet spot. It’ll be the most effective at boosting performance without causing injury or overtraining burnout.

For those that like to dig a little deeper, I also plan each 4-week training block with 3 weeks of progressive loading (that’s Low, Medium, and High weeks), and one deload week for recovery before entering the next targeted 4 week training block.

Weekly work load for long term progress and avoid burn out

Below you can see what these numbers look like for every week of training for the whole 16-week first phase of training in my Heavy Hitters program.

That’s 4 weeks of Mobility & Movement, followed by Functional Strength, then Explosive Power, and finally Maximum Speed before tapering for peak performance in the most important fight at the end of the whole first phase. Just as I show in my Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint download. And you’ll find links to both the blueprint and Heavy Hitters in the further resources at the end of this article.

Planning acute chronic ratio to avoid burnout and injury

When coaches consider both the chronic monthly training momentum and the acute weekly training load, fighters can get stuck into their training without having to worry if they’re either doing too much or too little, and make the best out of their training time.

And regardless if you’re a Muay Thai hobbyist or a full time pro, your training must both progressively scale up, and be consistent over the long-term if you want to make significant progress.

Finding your personal (Goldilocks) sweet spot makes all the difference. It can bring you back safely after a layoff from training, and safely push you on when you need to find that next gear in your training program too!

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.

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Unlock Your Muay Thai Potential

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