Monday, June 27, 2011

Countdown to Promotion: Penultimate Week

My promotion for sandan (third degree black belt) starts next Friday (July 8).  I wish I had another six months to prepare, or better yet a year, but I don't.  If you're new to the blog, here are the important details:  Promotions in my style are fairly rigorous physically (but not insanely so - we don't regularly hospitalize people during promotions or anything) and are taking place this year over a three day weekend.  I've been training since 1988, but I took a 12 year break from 1994 - 2006, and another year from late 2008 to late 2009, so I'm nowhere near as skilled as I should be.

Assuming you're trying to peak for an event like a promotion, a major tournament, or whatever kind of karate event you're participating in, there are a few things you should be doing.  Note that I'm going to assume that you: a) are not a professional athlete - no 3/day workout schemes here, I assume you have a real life that can't be put totally on hold; b) not a beginner - if you've been training for 3 months and you're testing for your first yellow stripe or whatever in two weeks, you need to just keep on training, not peaking; and c) not injured.  If you're hurt then you need to be dealing with that injury.

The first thing is to come to terms with what you can and cannot do in the last two weeks before a promotion.  If you've been training for years you're not going to get siginificantly better, skill-wise, in two weeks - you're not getting any better at kicking and punching.  You might be ablea to fix some technical errors of memory - for example, suppose you tend to punch with the wrong hand at a certain point in a kata - that's something you can work on, but if you just suck at something, you're probably still going to suck when the test date arrives.

You're also not going to get significantly stronger in two weeks.  Unless you are brand new to strength training (which you shouldn't be) neurological adaptions are slow to come by, and you can't build much muscle tissue at all in such a short time.  Getting stronger takes years, not weeks.

Your'e also not going to get much leaner in two weeks.  If you still have bodyfat to lose it's not going to happen now - putting yourself into a serious energy deficit at this point in time will leave you depleted and weak for your test, which is NOT how you want to present yourself.  If you're competing in a weight class event that's another story, but otherwise don't run yourself down by cutting back on food.

What you can do is improve your conditioning.  Maybe not by miles, but you still have time to add a few extra percent to your endurance while maintaining your skill and strength.  Here's what you have to do:

This week do some planned overtraining (sometimes called over-reaching).  Here's how:
  • Every day do a hard session of skill training.  Don't focus on any one thing - remember, you're not going to improve much.  Do a few reps of everything in your syllabus - every kata, every combination, etc.  This is the time to make sure there aren't any kinks in your skills.  You're not going to develop wicked spinning kicks now, but if you haven't done any in three months you can sharpen them up quite a bit.  If you want to devote some time to really focusing on one thing, like your punches, do it after the test.  If you are sparring keep the pace high but the contact very controlled - this is NOT the time to do hard full contact sparring (because of the injury risk).
  • Follow each skill session with a serious conditioning session.  As always, think in terms of doing high intensity intervals - work very hard for 10-45 seconds, rest, repeat.  Jump rope, sprint, do kettlebell swings, air squats, thrusters, burpees, bike sprints, etc.  Rotate your efforts - don't choose the same thing every day.  And don't do exercises that you've never done before - the soreness from starting swings for the first time can really hamper your efforts the rest of the week.  Also, do more than you think is probably good for you - really toast yourself.  And DON'T use karate skills for this part of your workout - don't do kicks until you're gasping for air.  It's bad for your kicks.
  • Do just enough strength work to maintain your strength levels.  Maybe twice this week do an even more abbreviated session than usual - and follow it with skill training and more conditioning.
  • If you can handle it, add a second conditioning session in the morning.  I try to get in a 4 minute workout - Tabata style sets of swings and thrusters with a kettlebell (Tabata protocol means 20s work/ 10 s of rest/ repeat).
  • Do light stretching every day.  You're not going to work yourself into a split for the first time, but you want to work near the limits of your range of motion for all your muscles every day to stay limber and help with recovery.
  • Eat plenty of clean food.  DON'T cheat by chowing down on ice cream and candy - instead eat plenty of protein and carbs in the form of meat, protein shakes, and starchy root vegetables - think lots of steak and sweet potatoes - to keep glycogen stores high and to improve muscle recovery.  This is NOT the time to try to trim off some excess weight - for two reasons.  First, cutting calories will hamper your body's ability to adapt to the training and make it more likely that you stay sore or get some mild injuries.  Second, if you managed to change your body composition now you'd throw off your balance and technique and you won't have time to adjust before the test.
  • Make a special effort to cut back on possibly inflammatory foods.  Even if you think you're okay with dairy, this is not the time to push it.  Cut back on dairy, grains like rice and corn (you shouldn't be eating wheat ever anyway), vegetable oils (again, you shouldn't ever eat them, but...) and peanuts. 
  • Do a TON of recovery work.  Foam roll yourself, use a self - massaging tool on sore spots (even better, get a massage or two, if you can afford them), sleep extra, eat more often (this is the week to be less than strict on your intermittent fasting schedule).
  • Supplement with creatine, beta alanine, and acetyl-l carnitine to improve endurance.  Will they help?  Maybe, maybe not, but if you have the money this is the time to splurge.  Remember, we're peaking!
I'll write another post about the last week before promotion, but the general idea is we're going to taper off our training a lot and give our bodies a few days to heal, recover, and adapt to all the training.  If you time it right you can come into your test in the best shape you've ever been - and that's pretty much all you can ask for.

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