(Reproduced & adapted from a three part series I wrote for Martial Arts Illustrated in 2016)
Part 1 – The Training Program
This will be part one of three posts I will be sharing on numerous strategies that will hopefully gives you some tools, that if used diligently may increase your training productivity & longevity. Everything we do in life has some form of inter-dependence. For anyone practicing Silat or any martial arts, this simply means how you live life will either add, maintain or take away from your training progress and development. This is true for everything and not just martial arts. Finding your equilibrium or centre is what every one of us is after. Happiness in our personal and professional life, seeing and tasting the fruits of our labours, good health and hopefully a long life are universal hopes to each and every human. We look for all of these things in many different ways. Life is such a fabulous kaleidoscope of experiences and possibilities isn’t it? One of the ways we seek to find that centre is of course through our practice and training of martial arts. If you are reading this post it’s more than probable that you use Silat or another style as one of the vehicles in transporting you along your personal path of happiness and fulfilment.
Within this vast genre there exist many different reasons why you might train. Whatever drives and motivates you is for you to know and often times re-evaluate but hopefully you are making headway and progressing nicely. My interest and hence the reason for this trilogy of posts is to look at what slows you down and stops you from making progress in training. We have all been there haven’t we? A time where we were on such a great run of training and then bang! Injury strikes or for no apparently reason we don’t feel like training for a day which turns into a week and so on. So much of why we fall off of the training wagon is common sense and it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out many of the reasons why. However sometimes, had we had prior knowledge or perhaps applied a different perspective we may have been able to avoid an injury or perhaps seen and read the signs of over-reaching and over-training and re-directed our training course. Understand that you will read certain things perhaps repeated in these posts simply because of the interlinked nature I was referring too. Still, it never hurts to be reminded of the basics even if we already know them well.
Our starting point on this journey is your training program itself. The first question you need to ask is why do you train? As simple as it sounds often times what you hope or expect relative to what you are actually doing is poles apart. Many martial artists don’t even have a program, they just ‘train’. Honestly, if that really works for you then stick with it. If you are a seasoned trainer and know why you have “missed the mark” then do whatever you have to do to get back on track. Asking yourself why you train will help determine what is needed to reach your objectives. The training variables for a mixed martial artist will be totally different from someone that just wants to learn some decent self defence and feel safer in their own neighbourhood. Anyone looking to build a house will have a blueprint and then source and utilise the building materials as required. For your purposes your training program is your blueprint, and all the multitude of training methods, systems and formulas are your building materials.
This well used acronym stands for frequency, intensity, time and type. It is a great tool to help you plan your own training blueprint. Looking briefly at each in turn:
Frequency. How many times per week do you train? Could it be possible that you are kidding yourself and doing too little or perhaps too much in order to meet training objectives? Are you a training addict? Over-reaching and over training are both sure fire ways to shut you down and halt progress. You need to honestly evaluate training frequency, especially if you are training too much. Could time be spent more effectively on another area of your life perhaps, such as family or education? Remember, for martial artist balance and harmony in all things is the goal, especially if they are holistically minded.
Intensity. I am all for people training really hard and ‘putting it in’ to see progress. We need to hit them training peaks every once in a while. For fighters and competition martial artists it’s absolutely essential. However I see and know so many people that train with such a ferocious intensity all the time to the point of exhaustion thinking it’s going to improve them, when in fact in most cases it will simply stress the nervous system, over work the adrenals and give them aching joint. These are the ones that train hard through injuries all the time only to regret it in later years. It’s not like there is a huge cash prize and fame that’s on offer! The adage ‘stimulate do not annihilate’ comes to mind here. Do enough to continue making progress. Do enough based on what your goals are. Why would you want to play all your trump cards so soon? Keep something left in reserve because remember tomorrow is only a day away and training hopefully is a life-long discipline. There are seven days in a week so use them wisely.
Time. This component is by default the most important. Time is our biggest commodity. We all have a set time in life. Never ever waste time. Use it to your benefit to get to where you want to go. In your training plan, how long are you training for? If you are doing your own training could you get more out of your session by perhaps condensing it down or do you need more time because you are working to really refine technical aspects of your art. During a two-hour training session for example how much of that is productive? Yes, you need to take the odd break but excessive resting in training is just plain wasting time. Concentrate all your effort and energies into your allotted time frame and make the most of it. This way you complete your session positively which has a perpetual effect for other areas of your life.
Type. Is your training balanced relative to your specific goals? If you are looking to build strength and power are you perhaps spending too much time on cardio work which will inhibit muscular gains? It’s important to try and use as wide a variety of training methods to help you meet your objectives for various reasons. Variety will keep you interested but it will also ensure you are not overusing the same muscle groups or energy systems. If you are recovering from injury, the type of training differs greatly than if you are fit and six weeks out from a competitive fight. A very important aspect of the type of training you do is to always ensure you PRIORITISE YOUR WEAK LINKS. This is an essential an often overlooked aspect of training and one that if ignored might possibly set you back weeks or months because of chronic injuries. Focus on your weak areas, whether this is related to your body directly or via more technical martial training.
Periodisation & Cycling
Okay, so now you are armed with a few principles, as you look over your own training structure you may begin to notice certain imbalances. Perhaps you are overworking certain areas and not working others at all! Whatever you might notice, it is for you to take the steps to bring about BALANCE – remember this is the key to being a well-rounded martial artist and in fact any holistically minded person.
A great way to set out your training plan where you can really focus on prioritising is by the tried and tested principle of periodisation. The basic premise behind this system is that it allows you to structure and break down your training elements into workable units. This system works perfectly for competition and sport based martial artists but it can also work very well for those who don’t compete. A typical program of periodisation has the following components:
A Macro-cycle which perhaps could be a twelve month period or a competition season. Essentially it is the whole training program.
A Meso-cycle would be defined as a phase or block of training. This could be anywhere from several weeks to several months depending on objectives.
A Micro-cycle could be defined as the broken down units of a meso-cycle, in other words days or perhaps a week. Units of training inside the micro cycles would be your specific training components and variables.
This is a somewhat overly simple illustration of periodisation simply because of space limitations. There are plenty of great resources on the net and examples of programs you could adapt. The point is that within all of this you are working on not only improving all technical and physical attributes but also there is a great deal of rest and recovery in the most effective periodisation plans. The very top athletes in ANY discipline know when to peak, when to cut back, and when to rest so if it works for them it can surely benefit you too! Now the vast majority of you might not compete so is there a way of adapting this system? There certainly is and that is by using the seasons as your training guide. This view is somewhat more sublime and esoteric but defining training according to the seasons has proven to be really useful to many individuals, so there certainly is anecdotal evidence that it can work. So how might you be able to implement that into your own plan?
As the days get shorter and colder, things tend to happen to us on a physiological level. We may often find ourselves more tired and perhaps even a bit moodier. Some of this could be because of suppressed melatonin hormone levels relative to less sunlight. This could be a time to work on shorter sessions. Also the cold season often means we will need to warm up for a longer period of time as a prehabilitation tool. Many injuries occur because of lack of structured warm up and in winter when it is cold and damp we need to give extra time for this essential training component. Extra mobility and stretching will pay dividends here. On the flip side during spring and summer when we feel more energised it’s a good time to work on longer cardio sessions and increase training intensity in general. There is so much scope for really modelling an effectively periodised program whatever your objectives are so research and plan away and see your progress soar.
It’s my hope that this post might spark some interest and that you can begin to look at ways in which you can optimise and really balance your own training plan. This is by no means an exhaustive thesis, but it serves merely to plant a few seeds and get you thinking about ways you can streamline your own training workflow so that you too can go the distance.