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Are You Too Tired To Train?

Three methods to determine if you should train or stay home

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by Paul Kindzia in Recovery

The question that I received today was:

“You stress the importance of sleep and I agree with this.  But what about today for me?  I have had only about 5 hours of sleep due to travel woes.  Should I go to jiu-jitsu tonight or rest up and assure that I can go tomorrow?  What would you advise?”


There are three ways that I approach situations like this when I am either over-tired or bordering on over-trained.  Let’s go through a summary of each of those.

  1. I do an honest self-assessment from a qualitative perspective. This is “touchy-feely.”  I’m going by feel based upon years of training experience.  Generally, I can tell when I am over the edge based on my ability to concentrate.  If I am so tired that I can’t comprehend if I am reading, I can’t focus on what somebody is talking to me about, or I can’t mentally do my job as sharp as required, then I know I am smoked.  I hate missing training, but I will miss/skip if I feel it is in my best long-term interest.  This isn’t a way to give myself a free pass to skip class.  It’s not a cop-out or an excuse.  It’s reality and the reality is, I am very dedicated to my training but do not want to dig a hole that I can’t dig out of or run myself down to where my immune system is compromised.  I would ask myself, “Would showing up at class help or hurt me?  Am I harming myself by digging a deeper hole or am I improving myself by pushing through barriers?”
  2. The second way is an old trick that I picked up from my Ironman triathlon days where we were always pushing it and risking over-training. It’s a resting heart rate exercise.  Each morning I take my resting heart rate.  Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute first thing in the morning while lying down.  You must have a benchmark to do this.  Here’s the important thing when doing this exercise.  If my resting heart rate is normal, but I feel tired, I go ahead and train and push through.  If my resting heart rate is about 5% elevated over my benchmark, then I know I am in the gray zone and need to proceed with caution.  I would train but back off the intensity.  If my resting heart rate is 10% or more above my normal benchmark heart rate, I know I am smoked and, on the verge, (if not already) overtrained (or getting sick).  I would take the foot off the gas pedal and emphasize rest over more training.  For reference, my resting heart rate is a very low 42 (yours is probably in the 60 to 80 range).  I just have years of endurance training under my belt along with some interesting genetics.  If my resting heart rate is 45 (+5%), I take note and back off intensity or too much volume.  If my resting heart rate is 47/48 (+10%) or above, I just know from experience that I’m playing with fire and I’m better off skipping training and making sure I catch up on sleep, eat superior nutrition and don’t do anything that puts me in a physical hole or compromises my immune system.
  3. The third way is my preferred way and is the most quantitative (although considers how I feel as well). I use a tool called a Morpheus Band and App.  It measures my Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which is now becoming a big thing in the sports world.  HRV is becoming a very scientific and quantitative way of measuring your rest, recovery, and ability to train at different intensities.  The app will specifically tell me when I am “over-trained” and need to back off volume or intensity.  If Morpheus is telling me, “Look dude, you may feel like crap, but physically you are fine,” then I toughen up and try to fight through the fatigue.  But I am relying on that data to help me make that assessment.  Morpheus provides a daily score of between 0 and 100.  Anything over 80 and I know quantitatively that I am very well recovered and should do whatever workout or training is on the schedule.  Below 80 and I have to back off either volume or intensity.  The more I am below 80, the more I have to back off.  If I’m below 60, I know physically the wheels are falling off and I need to focus on rest, recovery, nutrition, sleep, massage, physical therapy, and the rest of my recover tricks.

With all of that said, I much prefer a volume-based approach to jiu-jitsu training and emphasize consistency and momentum over intensity.  I try and push through mental and physical barriers.  I try and show up to class however possible.  If that means I roll light or take it easy, then I roll light and take it easy.  If tired, I mainly drill with a preferred partner.  But if I genuinely know I’m smoked, the data is showing me that I’m smoked, and I know I’m digging myself into a physical hole, I can’t think straight, I am under-performing at work, then I stay home and make sure I go to bed super early.  I don’t stay home and then stay up late watching TV or surfing the internet and screw around.  I make myself go to bed so the next day I am ready to reset, reload, and apply myself to the best of my abilities full-tilt.

One additional point, how many times have we all shown up to training tired and worn out only to find that once we get to class, warm-up, and start rolling with our friends we feel like a million bucks at the end of class.  We break a sweat, get some laughs, work on our games and I’m always proud of myself for making the effort to push through and show up.

Nothing makes me happier than consistent training built upon momentum and good habits.

Peace, Love, and Jiu-Jitsu!

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