nyc trainer

How Do You Know if You're Over-Training?

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Overtraining is a funny topic, because it’s so profoundly misunderstood. It’s misunderstood at levels that get people feeling like they’re lazy if they don’t train that day; or on the other end of the spectrum: feeling like their workout allows them to sit the rest of the week out in hopes that they "hit it hard enough already."  Neither are correct. That's more neurosis than simple objective feedback from your body.

I sometimes even hesitate to dwell on this topic in any sensationalist way because, while it's incredibly important, I never want to come off as the "told ya-so" disciplinarian parent, nor do I want to coddle and excuse what could simply be a lack of effort and discipline on the part of the trainee. Both outcomes are negative and lead to the athlete simply tuning out to what could be good advice.  So for the athletes and coaches reading this alike, I encourage you to be very aware of how to deal with overtraining in athletes and the signs of it, but trust that you have the knowledge, education and intuition when the problem arises. Don't stress; the stress is much worse.

Overtraining quite simply is the state you find yourself in after chronically overreaching in your training effort. Much can be mitigated by recovery efforts, but even the best laid recovery practices can’t outrun a body that can’t recover, adapt, and come back stronger.

I made mention a few weeks ago in my article on The Athlete of Over 30 Best Practices, that you should alter your training plans for the day if you’re feeling over-trained. But how do you know if you’re overtrained? Let’s discuss…

 

Did you over-reach in the past 2 days?

 

Overreaching in strength and conditioning circles refers to the temporary over-exertion of yourself to reach a certain short-term goal. Maybe it was you going the extra round in jiu jitsu (past your normal capacity), or having multiple consecutive two-a-days.

In the gym, it may mean that you went for your PR in a squat or deadlift in the past 48 hours. Maybe you had a two-a-day: sprints in the morning, strength training in the evening. The actual practice of this isn't "bad," but the chronic repeating of it can get you in trouble (why do you think so many programs have "de-load" weeks and times where you alter your volume and intensity?)

You can conceivably overreach for a number of sessions in a row to produce a desired training effect, but you’ll be in slippery territory if you do this unsupervised or chronically. Sometimes, high level athletes will overreach to achieve a certain goal. 

Whatever the case, you've dealt a slightly larger than normal blow to your nervous system that your body is recovering from and adapting to in order to come back stronger.  While this is happening, you’d be wise to move, but somewhere in the 60-70% total exertion/effort range max for the immediate 48-72 hours after. This could include longer duration cardio/running/biking, practicing your technique for your lifts by doing higher volume and low weight sets, drilling in jiu jitsu, etc.

To be clear, you are not overtrained at this point. However, if you chronically trained in this fashion, you’d probably be pushing into over-training territory. Precisely how much is a personal approximation and number, and is in part, measured by some of the small giveaways listed below. To figure it out first though, you must take an inventory of your body.

 

reflect, but don't get too "heady"

There are many reasons a mental malaise and brain fog can onset that are not a result of physical fatigue. Stress, distractions from work, life, family or otherwise, and simply not being present can easily disrupt your focus, and have physical manifestations. You’ll feel tired, cranky, or just physically drained.  Should you train on those days? That depends…

It’s hard to distinguish between this “attitude fatigue” and actual physical over-training.  A quick way to tell which is which is by thinking to your last 4 training sessions. Are you usually happy and enthusiastic to go and knock it out of the park? Then you may be actually in need of that extra rest day if you're feeling sludgy. Conversely, if you’re always hemming and hawing the whole way to the gym and don’t really get focused until your first set, then you’re probably simply psyching yourself out… in the bad way. In this case, training would probably be a good idea.

It simply comes down to being disciplined. You won’t always feel like training, but you should. Compliance and how much you show up and complete what’s outlined is what’s most important.

So if you’re certain it’s not an attitude fatigue incident, let’s explore these four clues:

 

Find a “benchmark exercise”

Everyone has an exercise they’re good at and simply have a higher aptitude in relation to other exercises. My personal one is the Farmer’s Walk. Besides simply being a strength and strength capacity building exercise, the Farmer’s Walk gives me a good indication to my balance that day, basic coordination, and how tense or tight I am feeling.  On most days, if I pick up a heavy kettle bell, dumbbell, or any thick-gripped implement, I feel ready to move with it. However, there’s some days where I am simply off and even grabbing a 16kg or 20kg kettle bell to do a simple warm-up is asking a lot. Moving is tough, coordination of my legs while walking is off (more on that below), and everything just feels heavier than it should.

Simply put, if an exercise is hard that you know should be easy, you may want to reconsider training that day. Take a longer warm-up, get into some harder working sets to see what happens, but don’t be surprised if you need to alter your workouts.

The same goes for combat sports, particularly grappling. If you’re feeling really sluggish and a lack of sharpness after 10-15 minutes of warming up and a few times through your favorite pass or sweep, you may want to stick to drilling that day.

Check your breathing

If you are sore, tight, stressed, or simply not having a good day, the chances that you are dysfunctionally breathing are quite high. You're probably breathing through your mouth, and/or possibly infrequently, and sighing and grunting a lot. If that's you, simply take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths and see what happens. I wager you'll find a lot more calm.

On the bright side of this practice, you'll have focused and altered your state in a very positive way for your training session. The relaxed demeanor and increased mobility of your tissue will allow you to fully utilize everything you have for the training session.

On the other side of the coin, if this still reveals some fatigue, you'll have taken the first step to putting your body in a "healing" state by blunting your sympathetic nervous system, and moving yourself into the parasympathetic realm, allowing your body to start healing better.

Grip strength

I notice amongst athletes and avid gym-goers alike, that grip strength is one of the first things to go as they approach overtraining and chronic overreaching territory. This observation is only valid of course, if people have a standard warm-up or some exercise that they’re used to using a heavy gripping effort for that we can compare it to session-to-session.  

We usually notice this at the beginning of a workout when someone is going to pick up a dumbbell or kettle bell they’re used to handling for warm-up purposes, or if they go to hang from a bar. Invariably, when they’re a little overly fatigued, it feels heavier to them than it should.  This has a lot to do with your nervous system readiness, that is, how quickly your body and brain are communicating to execute what you’re asking of it. The physical therapists I work with often equate grip strength issues to core issues as well; so if you're overly sore and damaged through the torso, and your grip isn't up to snuff, then we may have a reduced training load on our hands.

I particularly like to do a shoulder warm-up series with kettle bells to warmup before workouts. On the days in which I am a little over-trained, I find myself a little slower to process the grip of the thick handles, and it simply feels more difficult than it should to work with 12 or 16kg. 

Balance

Tripping on the mats? Doing a farmers walk and having issues staying under center? Not unlike grip strength feeling weak, your balance and all the systems that dictate it (vestibular, etc) can be the first to go when your body is shuttling its resources elsewhere. Often times, it takes a set or two to get your body and balance in sync, but if it’s going past the initial warm-up, you’d benefit from scaling back that day.

 

PROGRESSION AND PERIODIZATION ARE REAL THINGS

I find there’s two ends of this spectrum: people who very obviously have a lot on their training plate and are feeling burned out, and people who train much less frequently, but still feel burned out.  Both individuals are making mistakes of programming and periodization.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re feeling a bit over-trained and it’s coming from just a few workouts per week. You should already be logging your exercise (if you take it seriously), so go back and see what your total number of workouts was in 1 month. Increase that number by roughly 10-15% the next month to help build your capacity. Secondly, heed the next bullet point (more on that below. Spoiler alert: improve your recovery habits).

However, maybe you’re the opposite; maybe you’re burning out and it’s because you’re training TOO much. Remember, give yourself 48 hours if necessary between strength training bouts, and don’t expect to be king of the ring/mats the day after a hard strength training session either.

 

Identify Your Recovery Errors

The best laid plans can be easily laid to waste if your recovery efforts are tainted. The tried and true advice of proper sleep, diet and stress management go a long way. If you feel like you do everything perfect, but are chronically stressed and subsequently, under-slept, you WILL suffer. There is no way around this and I see it ALL the time. Stress management can derail all your training efforts and increase your chance for injury, blunt your progress, and make you retain unwanted weight. This is not an exaggeration and it's something I deal with almost weekly with clients and athletes (I live and train in NYC, after all...).

 

don't worry...

The worst thing you can do is worry. Remember, all these markers and symptoms are objective feedback from your body that something is off. They aren't a statement of judgement about you as an athlete.

Start becoming more mindful of everything above and you'll give yourself a much deeper window into your recovery habits. If you are indeed overtrained, you will be able to diagnose and appropriately respond to keep yourself healthy. It bears repeating that the majority of people reading this article may not need this advice now, but being mindful of these things can actually enhance and help you train harder and smarter later, as you can proceed full speed ahead if you are covering the spread and having no ill effects. We didn't cover everything, because that could be a book in itself, but I hope this got you all thinking about the topic.

Be well,

Mark

 

ps- If you have any rituals or signs you notice in recognizing overtraining, leave a comment below.

 

There Are Two Ways to Lose Weight

I would characterize a lot of what I do as weight management.

Weight loss goals can vary. For some of my clients, the goal of losing weight is to better their life and health, whereas I have others who do so for sport. I even have people who want to gain weight, usually because they want to be stronger or for aesthetic purposes.

For those who are looking to lose weight for their health, or who may just be looking for a big change in their fitness, there is an important distinction one must understand:

There’s a difference between dieting and losing weight as a lifestyle change, and dieting and losing weight aggressively for a goal. The time tables vary greatly, as do the speed of results, but both are equally valid approaches. I say this upfront because you must go into your weight loss with the right expectations.

Lifestyle Changes

The "weight loss as a lifestyle change” idea gets thrown around all too often without proper context. I do believe we should always aspire to be doing better in our everyday life and it should be reflected in our actions. But to lose weight progressively as a result of a lifestyle change is much different than planning a short term weight loss where the goal is purely changing the number on the scale.

With this approach, I won’t be asking you to very strictly measure your food. Instead, I’ll give you strategies to help you become mindful of your portions, we’ll keep a food diary (at first), but I won’t necessarily recommend calorie/macronutrient counting, or even weighing all of your food. I want you to learn bigger concepts, and to learn to read how your body feels. This takes time and longer term, you will become a better person for it. In the short term, however, it’s important to have your expectations aligned with the reality of dieting this way.

These are realities to losing weight this way:

·  It sometimes means slower weight loss for those already at a healthy weight. Those who are overweight will lose weight quickly at first, but it will eventually be a bit more measured.

·  You will inevitably hit plateaus, and they may last a while. You will have to do work to figure out how to overcome these plateaus.

·  You have very low risk of ever rebounding to your old weight.

·  You will create new healthy lifestyle habits, improving not only your overall physical health, but also your mental health and quality of life.

 

Aggressive Plans

You’ll always move more quickly with shorter term weight loss plans (or “diets”) simply because the parameters of the plan are a bit more aggressive in nature. They mean to accomplish a very clearly defined goal that is tied to numbers or some measurable performance marker.  

They are profoundly effective. I am of course speaking only to safe, responsible programs here, and nothing that is drug induced or depriving in a dangerous way.

What are some of the reasons you’d lose weight like this? You’d be trying to do any of the following on a shorter timeline:

·  You’re trying to “reset” your body and clean the palate. Some would call it a “cleanse,” but it’s really just a fresh start.

·  You’re trying to lose a stubborn amount of weight.

·  You’re trying to “transform” your physical appearance quickly.

·  You’re trying to lose weight for performance reasons.

·  You find that you just do well with a disciplined, strict approach.

When losing weight this way, you’ll have to measure what you take in, be it portions, calories, macronutrients. Whatever the metric is, it must be measured. This isn’t always the case for “lifestyle changes,” and it’s the reason why aggressively dieting works the way it does.

 

It’s important to know that this is not always meant to be permanent. The idea of permanence is flawed anyway, but the real key is that these plans get you to where you want to be and from there, you can manage. I don’t think most people would care to spend their life measuring everything on a food scale or traveling with measuring cups. That’s why these plans should not be something you do “forever.” Most people WILL burn out eventually. It’s the reason people "yo-yo" when going off a temporary weight loss plan or “diet”: they may have pushed themselves too hard and tried to maintain an impossible standard.

Here are some realities to losing weight this way:

·  You’ll move much more quickly in the direction of your goals.

·  There will be more sacrifice.

·  You’ll learn a tremendous amount about yourself and grow mentally.


Overall, neither one of these plans is inherently more difficult than the other as it ends up being very personal. I would wager that lifestyle changes are a little more difficult to make depending on your level of malleability, but they exponentially increase in ease and happiness as you go through your everyday life.

The main reason I took time to write this is because I want to make sure everyone understands what they're getting into whenever they choose the path that they do to lose weight. Like I said, there's nothing wrong with either one, but they all present unique challenges. 

If you have any experiences to share, I encourage you to comment below or send me a message sometime. I always like hearing the journey of others. 

Be well,

Mark

My Morning Rituals & How to Make Your Own

Me demonstrating the Hindu Push Up at Maui Jiu Jitsu. Photo Credit: Kristie Andreula

 

Each morning, I have a wake up ritual that I do all or most of, no matter where I am. Coming out of deep sleep is a delicate thing: from a physical, but also mental perspective. 

How often do you hear about the person (or maybe it's you) who wakes up just in time to get dressed and run out the door to catch a subway or shoot to the expressway to make it to work or school on time... barely. 

That's such a shocking way to start your day. There's a physiological response to that as well: one that you probably don't want if you're trying to maximize fat loss, maintain healthy body composition, stay primed for your best performing self.... Oh and did I mention that the scenario I described above is super stressful? 

Treat yourself a little better. That's the #1 reason to do this. We could sit and discuss the intricate X's and O's of adrenal hormone response, cortisol and fat storage, and the history of successful people and wake up rituals, but the real reason you should plan a morning ritual is because it's simply time for you.  Time you make for yourself always results in a good return on the investment: you're happier, calmer, have time to think, be more creative, etc. 

Getting beyond the physiological and philosophical reasonings and justifications, I also enjoy my routine for these two reasons:

  • The ritual itself signals to me it's time to wake up, gets me out of a groggy state, and ready to train or do whatever I need to that morning. 
  • I've found tremendous benefit mentally in waking up and not putting my mind on anything except what I'm doing to get the day started. 

 

My Morning Rituals 

 

Tongue Scrape

I always do this, no matter what. It's probably the oral health routine most people do the least, but would feel the best after doing. I use Dr Tung's metal tongue scraper, as the plastic ones never work and aren't particularly durable, and using a brush just sort of has the effect that smushing mud with your shoe into your shag carpet would. You'd be shocked and possibly disgusted as to what comes off your tongue, so it's best to get it off! I do this before drinking any water. I'll let you Google the sulphuric compounds that build up on your teeth and smell like death...

 

Brush My Teeth

This is what most people (hopefully) do anyway, but after a good tongue scrape, I brush my teeth. Self explanatory as to why, and you can debate what toothpaste you want to use. 

 

Coconut Oil Swish and "Pulling"

This is something that I've found to be the most refreshing and waking of any morning habit, and it's so easy to do! Simply take about a tablespoon of coconut oil (unrefined, extra virgin works best and is all I recommend), and swish for 15 to 20 minutes. Besides the different benefits people commonly write about across the Internet and literature of the oil pulling away impurities and acting as an antimicrobial, I find that it has the effect of "moisturizing my mouth." On the east coast, much of the year is very raw and dry, and your skin and sinuses get pretty baron. The throat is no different. The oil feels really refreshing on your gums, mouth and throat and takes away any scratchy or overly parched feeling. It's like a moisturizer for your mouth.

 

Drink a glass of room temperature water

I make sure the first thing I drink after the steps above is water: never coffee. After going about 8 hours without fluids, it's a good idea to hydrate. I also feel, intuitively, that it starts to wake up my "insides" and helps get the digestion or "elimination mechanisms" primed.  

 

My Choice Mobility Exercises

If I wanted to, I could do a movement for each joint in very little time (5-10 minutes), but usually in the morning, I do the most important areas for me: neck, shoulders, spine, hips.

Most days, after I do the specific joint mobility of what's listed above, I'll do:

  • A minute or two of Hindu Push-Ups (no rep prescription
  • A minute of two of Hindu Squats
  • 10 straight legged forward bends, bringing my forehead to my ankles.

I don't always assign rep counts, and usually go for time because I like to move until I don't hear any more crackly creeks or pops in the body or joints. That's my sign that I'm mobile and I've started to get the joints and connective tissue lubricated. 

NOTE: This is NOT a morning workout, it's simply getting my body moving and ready to move for the day.

 

Don't Eat Until Moving My Bowels

While this one may be controversial for some (or a giggle-inducer), it really shouldn't be. I was introduced to Dr John Tilden's book, Toxemia Explained a little over a year before writing this. In it, he makes the case for us essentially being digestive machines. In other words, we are only as healthy as what we can digest. When we are burdened digestively, it's not a bad idea to fast and let our body deal with what's already there. 

The logic for me in this practice is this: Most people poop in the morning, so after that morning "movement," they accumulate a whole day of eating, drinking, etc. That stuff is just waiting in que to exit the body all day. Then when you sleep, there's a host of metabolic processes that happen overnight, not to mention a nice little "gravity shift" on you when you stand up in the morning.  I like to let all this run its course, drink water (as stated above), and if necessary, some coffee for "added stimulation" to let the process happen. Then you start the day with a clean slate. You aren't piling shit on top of shit, so to speak. 

Making Your Own Morning Routine

Beyond that- it's up to you. Many people have really awesome rituals that are worth reading about, Steve Maxwell and Nikolai Amosov come to mind, but I think what's most important is just having a routine. Famously, Tim Ferriss loves to ask all his high profile interviewees about this topic, and while I do believe the best performers in the world have morning routines, that's not why YOU should- I just think it's a nice thing to do. 

 I believe and benefit from having a morning routine and I think it's less important to get caught up in the minutia of what to do, or why doing it will "put you on the path to excellence," but rather concentrate on constructing a routine that you find beneficial and puts you in your unique, calm headspace. Then, just do it.

(If you come up with a cool one, drop me a line!)