Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Countdown to Promotion: Ultimate Week

For reasons I'll explain in a future post this entry has been delayed.  Sorry!

It is normal to want to train very hard in the days leading up to your promotion/ event/ competition/ whatever.  You're probably in great shape, you're worried about losing the edge off your skills right before you need them most, and you're psychologically probably very "up" for your chosen field.  I have one very general piece of advice:


The last few days (and I have no scientifically precise data on the exact number, let's say 3-6) before your peaking event should be mostly restful.  This is not when you're going to make gains - this is when you can rest, heal, recover, and make the most of the hard work you've been putting in at the dojo.  Here's what you need to do:

Gently increase calories.  You need to eat at or even a little bit above maintenance this week.  You don't want to get fat, but unless you really pig out you're not going to gain noticeable amounts of weight in 3 or 4 days.  You don't want to be depleted at your event.  You don't need to eat giant bowls of spaghetti or whatever each night to refill glycogen levels, but you do need to make sure to get a moderate amount of carbs each day while avoiding heavy exercise.

Don't train heavy.  No heavy strength work starting at least 3 days before your event, no high intensity intervals in that same time.  You're just not going to get de-conditioned or weaker in 3 or 4 days - your body isn't that plastic - but you might hurt yourself or just get sore and depleted.  This is not the time to get in shape - the 3 months before this were the time to get in shape.  If you did your work then, you'll be fine.  If you didn't, nothing you do in the last week is going to be enough to matter.

Meditate and relax.  Your mind is very possibly your worst enemy now.  You're probably stressing a lot about the competition.  If you have to think about it, actively visuallize yourself being successful - acing your kata, winning a trophy, meeting your own personal goals for the event.  If you can, avoid thinking about it altogether.  Spend time each day meditating.  Enough anxiety will ruin your performance just as quickly as a physical injury - maybe more quickly.

Stretch and do light skill work.  You don't want to train heavy so your body can heal and regenerate, but you also don't want to let it stiffen.  Keep your motor patterns grooved with short, light workouts.  You're not going to get any better at anything in this last week, but you can easily avoid backsliding.  Go over kata in your head - visualize the moves - which is both good for your technique and very good for remembering the sequences.  Do lots of light, dynamic stretching to keep your body limber.  If you have to wring your shirt out after a workout you're working too hard.

Don't do anything new.  New movements/ techniques lead to soreness, which you don't want to deal with on your event day.  This is not the time to take up hill sprints or Olympic lifts. 

Sleep lots; do soft tissue work.  Get an extra hour or two a night if possible.  You're healing and recovering.  If you can, get a massage - even an amateur massage - get in as much sex as you can handle, and do extra sessions of foam rolling or whatever myofascial release work you prefer.  You're preparing your body for an event, treat it the way a Formula 1 team treats their car the day before a race. 

For me, the mental aspect of this week was the toughest.  As I mentioned before, I get nervous, and if I let myself I'll run through doomsday scenarios in my head and generally work myself into a nervous frenzy.  Then, when the time comes, I forget an astounding percentage of what I used to know.  This is bad!  You have to do whatever it takes (other than binge drinking) to take your mind off the event or to think positively about it.

If you have to travel a long way to your event, bring clean food to eat and try to arrange the schedule so you get as much sleep as possible (not always possible, I know).  Pack early.  Stay calm!

Remember, the last week is the time to recover and relax, not to make improvements.  As hard as it is to do, focus on recovery and not training for a few days.  This works - when I took my nidan promotion (not this one, for reasons I'll explain later) I was in my all time best shape - because I spent 3 months kicking my ass in the dojo, then took a week to recover enough to feel how much I'd improved.  You can certainly do the same.  Stop the heavy training, sleep and eat, and you'll be fine for your event.

If you're reading this while preparing for some peaking event in your life, good luck! 


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