How Rest Can Make You A Healthier (And Better) Martial Artist

1 Posted by - January 6, 2017 - Training, Wisdom



If you love martial arts enough to be keeping up with our martial arts blog here, chances are that you hit 2017 running. Whether you’re gearing up for the first competitions of a tournament circuit,  taking the first steps toward a New Years resolution, or simply trying to reestablish your routines after the distractions of the holiday season, you’re probably feeling pretty excited about your training right now and are ready to go all-out with new or renewed dedication to your goals.

So what we’re talking about this week might seem a little counter-intuitive, but hear us out: one of the best ways to maximize your goals just might be to slow down. Just a little bit.

We touched on the importance of rest and active recovery in our blog about making and keeping fitness resolutions last year (and all of those tips are still effective and worth another peek if you’re looking for a little help in that department). But for this year’s resolution blog, we’d like to focus on how the right amount and type of downtime can help you reach your goals and stay healthy.

Much like training too little – or training inconsistently – can hamper your progress as a martial artist, training too much can lead to plateaus in your progress. It can also lead to serious health problems if you’re not careful.

“It is no secret among athletes that in order to improve performance you’ve got to work hard. However, hard training breaks you down and makes you weaker. It is rest that makes you stronger. Physiologic improvement in sports only occurs during the rest period following hard training. This adaptation is in response to maximal loading of the cardiovascular and muscular systems and is accomplished by improving efficiency of the heart, increasing capillaries in the muscles, and increasing glycogen stores and mitochondrial enzyme systems within the muscle cells. During recovery periods these systems build to greater levels to compensate for the stress that you have applied. The result is that you are now at a higher level of performance,” Mark Jenkins, MD writes for Mid-America Martial Arts.

“If sufficient rest is not included in a training program then regeneration cannot occur and performance plateaus. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists then performance will decline. Overtraining can best be defined as the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. The ‘overtraining syndrome; is the name given to the collection of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms due to overtraining that has persisted for weeks to months. Athletes and coaches also know it as ‘burnout’ or ‘staleness.’ This is different from the day to day variation in performance and post exercise tiredness that is common in conditioned athletes. Overtraining is marked by cumulative exhaustion that persists even after recovery periods.”




Symptoms of overtraining syndrome can include fatigue, problems with concentration, trouble sleeping, decreased performance, delayed recovery from training, elevated resting heart rate when you first wake up, an increase in injuries, chronic muscle soreness, changes in appetite, changes in attitude, and a loss of enthusiasm for training. (For a more detailed look at possible signs and symptoms, Grapple Arts’ Stephan Kesting offers an excellent breakdown here.)

According to Mark Jenkins, MD, the best way to treat overtraining syndrome is to rest. Like any treatment, the exact dose depends on the individual and their needs (although he offers some basic guidelines for treatment here). Rest is also the best way to prevent overtraining syndrome – and finding that particular balance comes with its own challenges.

In general, most experts recommend a common sense approach to finding the right amount and type of rest for your training program. Many fitness professionals – including this blogger – are firm believers in taking one full day off a week, although some light stretching is also OK if you can’t stand the thought of doing nothing for a whole day. Breaking Muscle’s Nick Grantham recommends ignoring fancy recovery techniques like cryotherapy and designer juices in favor of a simple, three-part recovery cycle that includes passive and active rest, proper nutrition, and sleep (more details here).

Author Sean Cochrane similarly stresses the importance of nutrition and rest in the “repair, prepare, compete” cycle that he suggests for tournament martial artists in his book, Complete Conditioning For Martial Arts. He also brings up the value of being in tune with how you feel while you’re training and resting. “Your body will tell you what is going right or wrong when you’re preparing and repairing your body for the martial arts. Your body is smart if you let it be.”

Writer and self-proclaimed “Karate Nerd” Jesse Enkamp, who offers some helpful suggests for finding your balance between work and rest in his blog  “How To Plan Your Karate Training (According to Science),” sums up his vision with this incredibly practical advice: “Practice as much as possible, but stop immediately if you notice symptoms of overtraining (joint pain, lack of focus, sore muscles, illness, altered resting heart rate, insomnia, silly injuries etc.). As a general rule of thumb, the start of every Karate class should feel better than last time.When you find your sweet spot, keep it up!”

Here’s to a brand new year of preparation, rest, and finding that sweet spot in your own martial arts training so that you can reach all new heights in 2017!


Have you found your “sweet spot” between work and rest? How do you keep yourself healthy while training? Let us know in the comments!


And be sure to check out our online store for all of your training needs when you’re ready to return to the mats after some well-earned time off!