My take on over-training and burnout (Part 1)

It’s often hard to know when you’re over-training. You might be on a roll, turning up to every training session and attacking drills like Richard Simmons on speed, then all of a sudden you hit a wall – and a big fat concrete wall at that.

I feel like it’s worse when you’re training for a fight. You know your opponent is training harder than you. You want to push yourself more than they are. But the over-obsession may be doing you a disservice rather than a favour.

I know when I start getting deep into training I become very obsessed. I have to train ten times a week. I have to do it all perfectly. I have to push myself at 100% all the time. What I’ve learned, much to my demise, is that going 100% all the time is simply not possible, and if I try to push myself to meet that expectation, I almost always get sick, injured or both. Worse case scenario I burnout.

Recognising when you’re over-training or burning out

There’s a couple of other articles I’ve found that discuss burnout and over-training, what it means and how it affects Muaythai fighters. A good example is the article by Muaythai Guy – a post about training as a foreigner in Thailand, and tips on overcoming burnout. Although the article is targeted to foreigners training in Thailand, Sean (the guy that wrote the article) provides some really good insights.

There’s also a good article about the three stages of over-training, and I found it useful because it gives a great explanation on what over-training is and what happens to you biologically. There’s loads of information out there, and from what I can conclude through personal experience, knowing yourself and what to do when you start declining is a key part of maintaining consistency with training.

Before I get into this post a bit more, just remember I’m not a sport scientist or fatigue specialist –  this post is based on my own experiences. Everyone is different and whether you take on board what I’ve written or not, that’s entirely up to you.

What burnout feels like


Burnout for me is when my body slows right down and everything feels 10 times harder than what it should. It’s not just physical fatigue either. Mentally, I’m drained. Emotionally, I hate everything and cannot cope because I’m over-sensitive. I’ve been through this a few times now.

The worse burnout I experienced was back in 2012. I was trying to train three times a day at 100%. At the same time, I was also trying to perform the same way in my full-time job. It was sustainable for a while, but then things started slowing down.

I wasn’t recovering properly. I wasn’t eating enough. I’d wake up for my morning run and I couldn’t run anymore. My body was slowing down big time, training turned into a chore that I hated, and, suddenly, I couldn’t continue operating at 100% anymore. What was worse, I didn’t really know what was going on or why.  

I eventually made the decision to take a break – a long one. I took a year off and didn’t go near training. I knew it was time to return when the fire started coming back and I was itching to get back into the ring.

Aside from this burnout experience, there were other times where I’d be at training and I’d pass out or collapse. Those were clear indicators for me that I was overdoing things. The goal after this was to recognise the warning signs before I went past the point of no return. These warnings signs were:

  1. Physically slowing down over time despite doing the same things week in and week out.
  2. Perceiving training as a chore.  
  3. Being emotionally resistant to training (i.e. attitude towards training was akin to a child having a tantrum).
  4. Over-obsessing about training to the point where it had a negative effect on me mentally and physically.

All signs don’t have to be present for me to know things are going downhill – it could be one or two and I’d know. Trying to catch myself and identify these warning signs early on hasn’t been easy, but the more I practice recognising them the better I get.

Knowing yourself is something I cover a bit more in part two of this post. I’ll also be talking about over-obsession and how that plays a part in burnout, knowing when to push through or slow down in training, and doing things by trial and error to know what works best for you.

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