It’s Saturday morning and I’ve just finished a conditioning session. It was an hour long high intensity interval training (HIIT) bootcamp which involves 30 seconds of flat out exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest. It’s three circuits of 12 stations (including two rest stations). The first thing I did when I got home was ran to the bathroom and threw up. It sucked.
Getting myself to the point of revisiting my breakfast doesn’t, and shouldn’t, happen regularly. In fact I can only think of one other time I’ve pushed myself that far, during a 5k run when I was trying to beat my personal best. Pushing yourself that far, in my opinion, shouldn’t be the goal of every training session. It’s a classic ‘gym bro’ attitude that you have to push yourself to the limit every time, going to failure every session in order to grow. But I see that sustainable growth occurs when you stop before that point, let yourself recover, and then go again. Each training session should compliment the next one, not leave you broken down and aching, and stop you from working hard next time you train. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be working hard each time you train, you definitely need to be, but there’s a distinct difference between pushing yourself, and pushing yourself too far.
This goes double for training that isn’t sport specific (conditioning training rather than skill training). As a fighter your fight training, in my case Muay Thai, needs to come first. I want to get better at Muay Thai, not better at conditioning, so if my conditioning takes away from my Muay Thai training then it’s totally counter productive.
However, that being said, I also think that occasionally you need to push yourself as far as you can go. How do you know your limits if you don’t go there?
Sometimes, rarely for sure but sometimes, I feel like it’s beneficial to go as far as possible. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, especially with cardio and other conditioning work. When you’re running it’s easy to get into the groove and just stick to the same pace rather than progressively getting faster and faster. It’s easy to get into the habit of just lifting the same weight, or doing the same number of repetitions. And that’s when you plateau and the improvement stops.
In the same way that a powerlifter tests the maximum amount they can lift in a single repetition, when you go all in for a session, and get yourself to a point where you’re unable to go further, in my experience you can often be surprised how much more you can give. It lets you reassess how far you can go, and reassess what your ‘working level’ is, ensuring you can keep growing. You may not have noticed that you’ve been stuck in a training rut, but suddenly it becomes clear that you weren’t pushing yourself each time, you were cruising along in your comfort zone. And like all those Instagram gym motivation pictures with lions say, nothing grows in the comfort zone.
‘At least one time in your life, train with the will to die’ – Enson Inoue
There’s a quote from Enson Inoue I saw recently; ‘At least one time in your life, train with the will to die’, which strikes a chord with me. I’m a proponent for training hard and training smart but sometimes, every once in awhile, you’ve just got to give it everything. Till your lungs are burning, your hearts pounding out of your chest, your muscles are screaming to stop and your vision starts to narrow. Till you run out the room and throw up.
As well as pushing you out of your comfort zone it also has a strong psychological benefit. In the ring you can’t stop and take a break. Your opponent is going to keep coming at you till the bell goes, when you get a quick sit down, and then it starts over. You don’t want to leave the ring thinking that you could have given more, you need to be able to take yourself past the point you want to quit, when you feel exhausted, and still drag something out of the tank to keep you going. Part of building this mental attitude will come from pushing yourself when you don’t think you can go anymore in training. Finding that limit and then trying to go that little bit further. Your body is always going to want to quit before it has to, it’s what you’ve been programmed to do over thousands of years of evolution, to leave yourself enough energy to escape if you need to. But your mind can override that, your mind can tell your body to suck it up and keep going, and that’s a skill that you need to practice.
I’m going to write in the future about my opinion on overtraining and recovery, which are hugely important factors in training, and definitely play a role in pushing yourself as hard as you can go. But as I’ve said, working at that extreme level should be an occasional thing, not a goal for every session. I think of it as a tool in a toolbox, it serves a purpose, but it’s not going to be suitable for every job.