One thing’s for sure, at some stage, every fighter will push their training too far and burnout. Likely, getting sick or injured, along with feeling grumpy, depressed and lacking motivation to train at all.

You can both catch this before it happens and recover from it quicker, IF you understand the three stages on the overtraining continuum. Only then can you choose the right recovery methods, to match where you are on this continuum to promote recovery and avoid making things worse!

In this episode, you’ll learn exactly what to do and when, in order to fall back in love with your training again.

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by Don Heatrick

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Fighter Burnout

To get the best results from your training, it’s crucial to find that sweet spot where you challenge your body enough to trigger positive changes, but not push yourself beyond your limits.

Overdoing it can lead to diminishing returns and increase the risk of injuries – something I’ve experienced firsthand, especially now that I’m over 50! Getting older reduces the tolerance of this sweet spot, and reveals the wear and tear you may have needlessly inflicted when you were younger!

Avoiding burnout minimum effective training dose

As fighters, our attitude towards pain and discomfort is often ingrained in us to excel in the ring. However, applying this mindset to every training session can lead us down a path of self-destruction. It’s a classic example of your strengths also being a flip-side weakness – we’re all equally cursed and blessed.

But don’t worry, I’ve got some valuable insights to share! In a previous episode, I discussed planning your training to avoid these pitfalls, and you can find the link in the further resources below.

For now, let’s focus on what to do when you’ve gone a bit too far and experienced burnout. It happens to the best of us, and it’s essential to recognise the signs early on.

Three Levels of Burnout

There are three different levels of overtraining. Functional Overreaching, for instance, might cause a few days of underperformance but leads to full recovery. It’s like a well-planned peak in your training.

On the other hand, Non-Functional Overreaching is more concerning, resulting in underperformance for up to three weeks before bouncing back. We definitely want to avoid this level, so it’s crucial to make adjustments to your training and recovery protocols before it gets to this point.

The most severe stage is Overtraining, where underperformance can linger for two months or more, and recovery might take months or even years. That’s why it’s essential to be vigilant and listen to your body for any warning signs.

Overtraining continuum avoiding burnout

Preventing Burnout

To catch yourself before pushing into the serious state of overtraining, watch out for a combination of the following:

  • An increased RPE on baseline tests such as a 5km run, or maximum push ups before form breaks down
  • Failing to hit the majority of target loads and reps in resistance training sessions on high week
  • Persistent illness or injury
  • Higher than normal resting heart rate
  • Reduced heart rate recovery in 30 secs after reaching anaerobic threshold heart rate (I’ll link in the show notes if you need to know more on that)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Poor sleep/changes in sleep quality
  • Altered appetite and weight loss
  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of motivation to train
  • Irritability, quick to anger

On Noticing Several Burnout Symptoms

If you suspect you might be moving towards NON-functional overreaching or overtraining, there are initial steps you can take. You can:

  • Prioritise rest and scale back your training
  • Emphasise soft tissue work, such as foam rolling or massage, alongside low-intensity swimming
  • Focus on improving your sleep quantity and quality
  • Pay attention to proper hydration and nutrition
  • Treat any injuries or illnesses promptly
  • Adjust your training plan to find the right balance between intensity and recovery.

Recovering From Burnout Quicker

To recover even quicker, it’s important to use specific methods that address either overreaching or overtraining, as they have different underlying hormonal responses. And using the wrong method will make things worse.

When overreaching, your body is in a state of high stress, triggering sympathetic tone – the fight or flight system. Your body is responding to stress hormones circulating your body, but has turned down its sensitivity to them.

 To counter this, incorporate Relaxation Methods that promote parasympathetic tone:

  • Gentle soft tissue work (not too uncomfortable)
  • Hot water therapy (around 39°C or 102°F) for 5-25 minutes
  • Deep water floating or swimming for 10-20 minutes
  • Meditation or breathing practices to reduce stress, such as box breathing

In contrast, if you find yourself in a full-blown overtrained state, your stress hormone production has decreased. In this case, use Stimulating Methods to kickstart your system and trigger a return to balance:

  • Intensive deep tissue work (going for uncomfortable)
  • Cold water immersion for 1-3 minutes, followed by a 2-4 minute rest and repeat a few times
  • Contrast therapy with 2-3 minutes of hot and 1 minute of cold water repeated 2-4 times
  • Sauna sessions

Only use these specific overreaching or overtraining recovery methods when needed, or they lose their effectiveness.

Ultimately, with correct planning and progressive training, you can achieve Functional Overreaching regularly and avoid reaching the stage of Overtraining and total burnout.

As fighters, being tough is part of our nature, but let’s not ignore the warning signs that can lead to extended periods of unproductive training. Always prioritise your well-being and recovery, and you’ll be back in the game stronger than ever!

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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