Thursday, July 21, 2011
Catching, then Boarding, the Wagon
There are various reasons we fall off the wagon - injuries and illnesses, lapses in motivation, personal and work situations that interfere with our diet or training, travel, holidays... I'm sure I missed something. In each case your long term success depends on one thing: getting back on the wagon.
How you go about doing that depends somewhat on why you were off track and how out of shape you are. Here are a few tips:
1. Ease back into training. This is super important. There is something about the body that causes your fallloff in work capacity to happen much slower than your ability to resist the stress of training. What I mean is, after a layoff you might find that you can do 90% of what you used to do in a workout, but the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) will be much more severe.
This is a bad thing for several reasons. DOMS will keep you out of the dojo or gym for a few days, slowing your attempt to get back in shape. It's also demoralizing for some people. Also, and more seriously, if you make yourself sore enough your muscles will adapt by building up non-contractile tissue inside the muscles - like scar tissue or connective tissue - to increase their resilience. The last thing you want, as a martial artist, is more dead weight on your body. A little soreness is okay; really bad soreness will have long term detrimental effects on your body.
Do less than you think you can do for a few workouts as you get back into shape after your layoff. Keep quite a bit "in the tank" - stopping well short of complete exhaustion - until you're back in fighting shape.
2. Ease back into your diet. If you've managed to eat clean during your layoff, that's great. If you haven't, though, trying to go back to a 100% clean diet might be too big of a change. Ease your way back into eating clean the same way you did it the first time - though feel free to accelerate the timetable.
For example, suppose you were pretty close to eating clean Paleo. Suppose you backslide by drinking diet soda, eating milk chocolate, then eating ice cream. Maybe during your "fall" from the wagon you ate a lot of chocolate, soda, and ice cream. When you try to get back, give up the ice cream first. Then, a few days later, the chocolate (or at least cut back a lot). Then the soda. Trying to do all 3 at once is too much for most people (though if you can handle it, by all means do so, there are no physiological reasons to stick with the Diet Coke if you don't have to).
3. Pursue different goals. If you're coming off an injury and can't train with the intensity you'd want, try going after a different goal. For example, I've been eating more calories to support hard training and strength gain leading up to my promotion last week. I wanted to have the highest quality workouts I could, and I wasn't actively trying to lean out (I didn't get very fat or anything, but I also didn't get any leaner). Now, with promotion done and my shoulder messed up, I can't do hard karate workouts even if I want to. So now is the time to cut calories, increase my sub-maximal intensity training (more casual walks, fewer snatches), do more mobility work, and lean out in preparation for my next round of intense training.
You could also take this time to do a dedicated cycle of strength training, do some longer duration endurance training (not too much, maybe a couple of weeks worth), and focus on mobility work and stretching.
4. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can't. It's easy to dwell on what your body can't do. Doing so won't, however, make you any better. So... if your arm hurts? Work your legs. Back hurts? Work on mobility. Everything hurts? Do visualization training, study your terminology, watch instructional videos. Almost any injury leaves you with modalities you can train safely - it's up to you to figure them out and work them.
5. Be patient. After a 12 year break people told me everything would "come back to me" right away. It didn't. It took a long, long time for me to re-learn what I'd once known and get to be even a shadow of the martial artist I'd been at 23 (and I wasn't very good at 23, either). But it is possible - I'm still not very good, but I'm better than I was at 23 - it just takes a while. Be in it for the long haul. If you train intelligently, eat right, and drive carefully (slow down at intersections - trust me!) you can be healthy and make progress for a long, long time.
6. Forgive yourself. Berating yourself for sliding off your training or eating schedule is counterproductive. I'm not trying to get all touchy feely with you, but while it's good to try to figure out what led you to backslide there's no point beating yourself up over it. Brush off the dust and get back on the horse.
The ultimate cure for a long layoff is ending the layoff. Motivate yourself (watch some movies, read some books, attend a tournament, whatever) and get back in there!